HL Deb 18 March 1952 vol 175 cc778-83

3.2 p.m.

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Ismay.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly:

[The EARL OF DROGHEDA in the Chair]

Clause 1:

Immunities of representatives of Commonwealth countries and Republic of Ireland and certain other persons

1.—(1) Subject to the provisions of this section—

  1. (a) a person for the time being recognised by Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom as the chief representative in the United Kingdom of any country to which this section applies, whether he is known by the title of High Commissioner for that country or by any other title, (in this section referred to as "a chief representative"), shall be entitled to the like immunity from suit and legal process, and the like inviolability of residence, official premises and official archives as are accorded to the envoy of a foreign sovereign Power accredited to Her Majesty;
  2. 779
  3. (b) such members of the official staff of a chief representative as are performing duties substantially corresponding to those performed by members of the official staff of an envoy of a foreign sovereign Power shall be entitled to the like immunity from suit and legal process as is accorded to members of the official staff of such an envoy:
  4. (c) members of the family of a chief representative or of a member of the official staff of a chief representative entitled to immunity under the last preceding paragraph shall be entitled to immunity from suit and legal process to the like extent as members of the family of such an envoy or, as the case may be, of a member of the official staff of such an envoy; or
  5. (d) members of the domestic staff of a chief representative shall be entitled to the like immunity from suit and legal process as is accorded to members of the domestic staff of such an envoy:

Provided that a person who is a member of the official or domestic staff of the chief representative of any country, and is a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies and is not a citizen of that country, shall not be entitled under this subsection to immunity from suit and legal process, except in respect of things done or omitted to be done in the course of the performance of his duties, and the members of his family shall not, as such, be entitled to any immunity from suit and legal process.

On Question, Whether Clause 1 shall stand part of the Bill?


I wish to ask a question on this clause. It is the same question as that which I indicated to the noble Lord during the Second Reading debate the other day. Before doing so, however, I should like to say this. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Ismay, has had a comparatively brief stay in Ministerial office, and I understand that he will shortly be leaving us. On behalf of noble Lords on this side of the House I should like to say what I am sure all sides of the House would say—that we wish him the very best of luck in the new task which befalls him. He will understand that he undertakes that task with the complete good will, not only of his own section of the House but of the opposing section also. We are all at one in hoping that the noble and gallant Lord will have happiness and success in the great task which he has undertaken. I am glad to have had the opportunity of saying that, and now I will turn to the question I want to raise on Clause 1.

The question arises out of the proviso to subsection (1). If I had drafted an Amendment—and I say, quite frankly, that I did not think the matter suffiently important for me to do so—I should have moved to leave out: "and is not a citizen of that country,". The point relates to dual nationality, and the position, as I understand it (the noble Lord will correct me if I am wrong), is really this. Dual nationality is very common, particularly in the Commonwealth countries. Many people born in the Commonwealth countries come to live over here, and identify themselves completely and absolutely with this country. In the case of Ireland, too, I have no doubt that there are many noble Lords who, by accident of birth, happen to be both citizens of the Republic of Ireland and citizens of the United Kingdom. The situation is one which, as I have said, is quite common. Now this clause concerns the type of immunity and the extent of immunity which people shall have, and paragraph (d) of the clause deals with the immunity to which members of the domestic staff of a chief representative shall be entitled. May I tell the noble Lord at once, in order to avoid any misapprehension, that I entirely agree that members of the domestic staff of a chief representative should be entitled in all circumstances to immunity in respect of their official acts. I concede that. The question is: should members of the domestic staff be entitled to a wider immunity than that if they possess dual nationality?

I start this consideration from the fact that in my view we should confer diplomatic immunity very sparingly. I think we ought not to go one iota beyond what is reasonably necessary. If the noble Lord told me that Dominion countries have stipulated for and insisted upon this provision, then that, to my mind, would be a complete answer. But I do not believe for a moment that they have done so. To illustrate the problem may I visualise a case of this sort? Suppose, for example, we have someone serving with the chief representative of Canada, and let us assume that he is a domestic servant who is both a Canadian and a citizen of this country—a common state of affairs. Should he be given immunity limited to his official acts—which I say he ought to have—or should there be further extended to him an immunity not relating merely to his official acts but to every private thing he does? For instance, if he drives his car negligently and causes an accident, or gets into a brawl or anything of that kind, should he have immunity, his action, ex hypothesi, having nothing whatever to do with his official duties? Starting from the assumption that these immunities should be limited as far as possible—because, be it observed, what is called immunity for one man is a deprivation of privilege for another—I ask: why, except in regard to his official acts, should this man possessing a dual nationality be entitled to any greater privileges than those enjoyed by a pure and simple Englishman?

I should like the noble Lord, Lord Ismay, to consider that point. As I have intimated, I do not pretend that it is a point of great importance, and I think I should say why. It is not a point of great importance because, in practice, these diplomatic representatives behave themselves very carefully and with such complete propriety that these troubles do not arise. In practice, they waive immunity. Therefore, it is, I entirely agree, a somewhat abstract question. I think it is right that that should be said. Nevertheless, we in this country pride ourselves on living within the rule of law. We pride ourselves—rightly, to my mind—that every one of Her Majesty's lieges is entitled to the protection of the law. It is not right, in my view, that if one of Her Majesty's lieges is knocked down by a motor car he should not have a right to bring his action and should have to be dependent on some representative waiving privilege. I think that that is undesirable. Therefore, although, for the reasons I have given, I do not pretend that the matter is one of great fundamental importance, there is here a. chance for all sections of this House—for I think I shall have supporters in all sections—to lay down the principle that in these matters they will not go one step further than is necessary. If the noble Lord tells me that various Dominion Governments have said that they attach importance to this provision and want it, I shall regard that as a complete answer, and I will say no more on the subject. But if they have not stipulated for this, I say that, so long as a man is a citizen of the United Kingdom, no matter what else he may or may not be, he ought not to have any immunity except in respect of official acts: and that immunity I would give him to the full

I have given the noble Lord notice of my intention to raise this question, and I should like him now, if he will, to tell me whether he feels that it is necessary to retain these word, and is not a citizen of that country. The matter is related simply to dual nationality and I put my proposition again quite shortly. It is this. If a man is a citizen of this country, and is serving as a domestic servant of a chief representative of one of the countries affected by this Bill, then he ought to be given immunity only in respect of his official acts and not in respect of the various private acts which he may perform. It is for that reason that I raise this question. I shall be most grateful if the noble and gallant Lord will apply his mind to it and give me an answer.

3.10 p.m.


I am deeply grateful to the noble and learned Earl for his kind references to my early departure from my present office. I can assure the House that my new appointment was none of my seeking, but I promise to do my utmost, and it will be the greatest encouragement to me to know that I have the good wishes of your Lordships. On the particular point which the noble and learned Earl has raised, I confess that I did not have notice of this question. I am afraid it was my fault. It is a technical legal question, and right outside my knowledge. I thought it was perfectly clear that in Commonwealth countries there would be a large number of people of dual nationality owing to the fact that their fathers were born here, and it was for that reason that we could not apply the same rule as was applied by the Foreign Office in the case of foreigners. But when it comes to the point of actions done on or off duty, in a personal capacity or officially, I would beg the noble and learned Earl to let me look into the matter and see what can be done at a later stage of the Bill. I hope that that course will be convenient to him.


That will be entirely convenient to me. I had a conversation of some considerable length on the telephone this morning with somebody who represented himself as a person who spoke for the noble Lord. I expounded to him the point involved, and said it over again to make quite sure he had it correctly. I am sorry that it did not filter through to the noble Lord himself. It will be perfectly convenient if he will look into it and tell us at a later stage of the Bill whether he really wants to retain these words. If he does, I shall not complain, but I think it would be wiser to consider whether these words might not go.


I am sorry I did not receive notice. I am sure it is my fault; but for the moment I am trying to do one job and get into another, and I have not been back to my office since early this morning.

On Question, Clause 1 agreed to.

Remaining clauses agreed to.

Bill reported without amendment.

House resumed.