HL Deb 18 November 1964 vol 261 cc572-4

2.54 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will state the circumstances in which a British subject was recently killed by a motor vehicle driven by a chauffeur in the employ of the Soviet Embassy; whether any request was made by the Foreign Office for diplomatic privilege to be waived in this case to enable an inquiry to be held and whether any compensation has been paid to the family of the deceased man by the Russian Government.]


My Lords, this accident occurred on August 9 of this year at Hounslow, on the Great West Road. A Russian Embassy coach carrying members of the Embassy to Winchester for a day's visit and driven by an Embassy driver of Russian nationality was in collision with a minibus travelling in the opposite direction. The driver of the minibus sustained fatal injuries. At the inquest the accident was said to have been caused by the Russian coach swerving to the right to avoid a boy pedal cyclist who moved out from the nearside of the road with the intention of turning right. A verdict of "accidental death" was recorded.

The accident was first brought to the attention of the Foreign Office by representatives of the Soviet Ambassador who called at the Foreign Office soon afterwards to give their version of the accident, to express their sorrow at the death of the minibus driver and to offer their full co-operation to the police if further information was required. The Embassy also offered its co-operation direct to the police, and indeed I should like to take this opportunity to say that the Embassy's general attitude throughout has never been less than correct and helpful.

No request was made by the Foreign Office for the diplomatic immunity of the driver to be waived. In these cases, where the attendance of a witness entitled to diplomatic immunity is required at an inquest the correct procedure is for the coroner or the police to ask the Home Office for a waiver of immunity. At the request of the Home Office the Foreign Office would then communicate with the Ambassador concerned asking him to grant the waiver. No such application for waiver was received by the Home Office in this case.

The question of an inquiry other than the Coroner's inquest has not arisen.

With regard to fine final part of the Question, about the payment of compensation to the family of the deceased, diplomatic Missions in London are expected to insure their vehicles against third-party risks. Claims for compensation in respect of accidents involving diplomatic vehicles are therefore conducted through normal insurance channels. We understand that a claim is, in fact, being pursued by the legal representatives of the estate with the Soviet Embassy's insurance company.


My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Lord for that reply. Have any steps been taken to inform coroners of what is the correct procedure in cases of this kind, as it is quite obvious from the newspaper reports that the coroner in this case did not know what procedure to follow?


My Lords, coroners are expected to know the correct procedure in their own offices, and it would not be for the Foreign Office to acquaint them of it. I have no doubt at all that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State at the Home Office will pay attention to what has happened, and if it is necessary to remind coroners as to where their duties lie, and what their rights are, in this case I am quite sure that he will take the necessary steps.


My Lords, does the noble Lord's answer mean that if the offer made by the insurance company in settlement of the family's claim is not accepted and it is desired to start legal proceedings, immunity will be waived so that there can be a defendant of these proceedings?


My Lords, that, of course is an entirely hypothetical ques- tion. At the moment the negotiations are going on through the normal private channels between the legal representatives of the deceased's family, his estate, and the Soviet Embassy. If any future legal proceedings should arise, no doubt through the appropriate channels application may be made for a waiver of diplomatic immunity, which will then undoubtedly be passed on to the Soviet Ambassador.