HL Deb 08 October 1986 vol 480 cc235-7

2.48 p.m.

Lord Brougham and Vaux

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether there has been any decrease in the number of unpaid parking fines incurred by members of diplomatic missions over the past 12 months.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Young)

My Lords, diplomatic missions incurred 33,904 unpaid parking fines in the 12 months up to 30th June 1986. This represents a decrease of over 63 per cent. over the total of 92,285 for the previous 12-month period. We welcome the co-operation of diplomatic missions with the stricter policy introduced in May 1985 and are looking for a further reduction.

Lord Brougham and Vaux

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that welcome news. Can she tell the House whether, in the light of those welcome trends, there has been any mission which has gone against this significantly?

Baroness Young

My Lords, none significantly. Nearly all missions have reduced their fines since 1984, some more dramatically than others. We are intensifying our efforts to persuade those which have not yet fallen into line to do so.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, we welcome the decrease announced by the noble Baroness. Can she say how much money has been lost as a result of these claims for immunity, and whether there have been any automatic expulsions as a result of the tightened procedures?

Baroness Young

My Lords, on the question of the money, not without notice! But on the question of the second part of the noble Lord's supplementary question, I can tell him that 14 diplomats were sent home in 1982, 17 in 1983, 13 in 1984, 25 in 1985 and that 13, so far, in 1986, because of serious parking offences, have been removed from the United Kingdom at our request or on the initiative of their own government.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, while welcoming what my noble friend has said about the reduction, may I ask whether wheel clamping can be appropriately applied to these particular offenders?

Baroness Young

My Lords, on that particular point, because diplomats have immunity from criminal jurisdiction and clamping is a penal measure both in intent and in effect, it in fact contravenes the Vienna Convention. If my noble friend would like to refresh his memory, this point was fully set out in Cmnd. 9497 of April 1985 on Diplomatic Immunities and Privileges.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, when this matter was raised on a previous occasion the House was assured by the Minister that vehicles of diplomatic missions which were in dangerous positions could be towed away; and figures were given. Could the noble Baroness assure us that that is still the position? Further, has she any figures available of the numbers towed away in the last 12 months?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I cannot, without notice, give a figure for vehicles towed away, but that of course is allowable and many cars have been towed away.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, would my noble friend consider publishing a list which shows those diplomatic missions who have made a marked improvement, and equally those diplomatic missions who are still recalcitrant in this manner and seem to take no account of the inconveniences and law-breaking caused by their diplomats? Would not a list of this sort be quite salutary and probably be of greater effect than any Answers given in this House?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I can give my noble friend some further information. The ten nations with the highest totals of unpaid parking fines incurred in the June quarter were, in order: Saudi Arabia, France, China, Nigeria, Sudan, Ghana, Turkey, Egypt, Iraq and Malaysia. Preliminary statistics for the September quarter indicate that of these missions Nigeria has achieved a significant decrease in parking fines.

May I take the opportunity to correct something which I said in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, when I gave him the figures of those diplomats who have been sent home? It was those accused of serious offences, which is not quite the same as the question he asked.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, would the noble Baroness the Minister enlighten the House as to the procedure adopted with the various embassies when there is a question of an unpaid parking fine? Is the Foreign Office involved in a protest to the ambassador? Is the Department of Transport involved in some protest? What procedure is adopted in order that the embassies know at a proper level how much we dislike this sort of happening?

Baroness Young

My Lords, the new policy was introduced in April 1985 and we determined that we would keep detailed records of unpaid parking fines incurred by all diplomatic cars with diplomatic registration plates, both official and private, from the 1st May. We (that is, in this case the Foreign and Commonwealth Office) notified them at the same time that persistent and deliberate failure to pay parking fines would call into question their acceptability as members of diplomatic missions in London. We have since followed that policy. So far we have issued 57 letters requesting the withdrawal of offenders unless satisfactory arrangements for payment of fines were made, and where there is clear evidence of the abuse of parking regulations we do at that point issue a warning. We would ask for the withdrawal of an individual when it became clear that our warnings were not having any effect. However, I hope the noble Lord will agree that the figures I have given show a steady downward trend and we hope very much that, as certain missions have brought about spectacular reductions in fines, we shall continue to see a steady downward trend in this matter.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, would the noble Baroness not agree that it is a matter for comment that France should be so very high on the list? Would she express the hope that these things will be improved when the Channel Tunnel has been completed?

Baroness Young

Yes, my Lords.

Lord Renton

My Lords, can my noble friend say whether it is an offence for a person who is not a duly accredited diplomat to put CD plates on his or her car? If so, has my noble friend any idea of the number of prosecutions which take place for such an offence?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I do not have the specific information my noble friend asks for, not without notice.

Lord Strabolgi

My Lords, arising out of that question, can the noble Baroness say to whom diplomatic immunity applies in the individual missions? Is it just the ambassador and the senior staff or does it extend right down to junior clerical and ancillary staff?

Baroness Young

My Lords, diplomatic immunity would apply to certain named people in the embassy. I think one has to remember what its purpose is. It is not to benefit the individuals but to ensure their efficient performance of functions in diplomatic missions as representing individual states. The Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations codifies this longstanding international practice.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, can the noble Baroness tell the House what instructions are in force to British diplomats about paying parking fines in for instance, Paris?

Baroness Young

My Lords, we would expect all British diplomats to obey the laws of the countries to which they are accredited.