HC Deb 23 July 1985 vol 83 cc519-21W
Mr. Howard

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he will publish in the Official Report the guidance he has recently issued to members of diplomatic missions in London on how they should behave.

Mr. Renton

In April this year my department prepared a memorandum for all new diplomats in London drawing attention to various matters of public concern and giving guidance about their behaviour. It is now being issued to all members of diplomatic missions on arrival. In addition, the Permanent Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs circulated it to all heads of diplomatic missions on 22 April asking them to ensure that it was seen by all members of their staff and their dependents who were entitled to diplomatic immunity. The text of the memorandum is as follows:


This memorandum is intended to be of assistance to all persons entitled to diplomatic privileges and immunities and particularly to those newly appointed to London. It draws attention to a number of matters of public concern.

It would be helpful if you could make sure that members of your family who are with you in London are aware of its contents, since they also apply to all those in a position to claim immunity. Your co-operation and that of your family in maintaining the high standards of conduct expected of the Diplomatic Corps, and in ensuring friendly relations between the corps and the residents of London, will be greatly appreciated.

Diplomats and their families are expected to respect the laws and regulations of the United Kingdom, in accordance with article 41 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. Diplomatic immunity in no way absolves diplomats from their duty to obey the law. All allegations of breach of the law which come to the attention of the police are thoroughly investigated and the results reported to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office draw these to the attention of the Head of Mission (or sometimes a senior official) in the expectation of disciplinary action.

In serious cases additional action will be taken. Where a waiver of immunity is not granted to permit trial in this country, violent crime, incitement to or advocacy of violence, espionage and drug trafficking will, as a general rule, result in the offender being declared persona non grata. In addition the following categories of offence normally lead to a request for the transfer from post of the offender in the absence of a waiver: (a) Firearms offences: A firearm or shotgun certificate from the police is required for all firearms, whether acquired in the United Kingdom or imported. In no circumstances will certificates he granted for firearms or shotguns use for personal protection. Any breach of firearms regulations will result in a request for withdrawal of the offender. This is almost always an automatic consequence of an offence of this kind. It should be noted that the possession of other types of weapon, including gas canisters, is also illegal in this country; (b) Drink-driving offences: Driving while under the influence of alcohol (or drugs) is a very serious offence. Even a first offence of this kind could lead to a request for withdrawal, particularly if aggravated by violence or injury to a third party. For a second offence this would be automatic; (c) Other serious traffic offences: These include incidents involving death or serious injury or driving without third party insurance. Drivers must not only hold a valid driving licence but also be covered by third party insurance. A failure by a diplomat to hold third party insurance for himself or any member of his family who drives a car is likely to lead to a request for his transfer from the United Kingdom. Cars must be kept in roadworthy condition; if they are more than three years old, they have to have an annual MOT test of their roadworthiness. Drivers are required to stop if they are involved in an accident and to report the accident to the police within 24 hours, unless no personal injury was caused and they provide details of driving licence and insurance to the other driver at the scene of the accident. Exceeding the speed limit can also be regarded as a serious offence; (d) Theft including shoplifting: Customers found outside shop premises with goods which they have taken and intentionally not paid for are normally prosecuted for theft. If a diplomat or a member of his family should be found in this position with no satisfactory explanation, the police will be called and the facts reported to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. This type of offence may lead to a request for the transfer of the diplomat from the United Kingdom and will certainly do so if repeated; (e) Other serious breaches of criminal law: These include fraud and serious sexual offences as well as any other offence normally carrying a prison sentence of more than 12 months; (f) Civil claims: A serious view is taken of any reliance on diplomatic immunity from civil jurisdiction to evade a legal obligation. Such conduct could call into question a diplomat's continued acceptability in the United Kingdom. The criteria for dealing with alleged offences are applied with both firmness and discretion, but not automatically. Full account is taken of the nature and seriousness of the offence and any inadequacies in the evidence.

Parking: Diplomats are required to comply with local parking regulations and to pay any charges for parking meters and residents' parking spaces. Illegal parking is a matter of considerable public concern in London. It can cause traffic congestion as well as great inconvenience to local residents and traders. The very large number of cases involving cars with diplomatic number plates brings the Diplomatic Corps into disrepute. Cars are liable to be towed away if they cause obstruction or danger. Detailed records are kept of unpaid parking tickets by both individual diplomats and official cars. Persistent failure by individual diplomats to respect parking regulations and pay fixed penalty notices will call into question their continued acceptability as members of diplomatic missions in London.

Finally, diplomats are expected to show consideration towards their neighbours. Inconsiderate behaviour, such as the holding of noisy parties late at night, can bring the name of the mission of the sending state and of the Diplomatic Corps as a whole into disrepute. It can in some cases also constitute a breach of the law.

Whatever action the British Government may decide to take following an incident involving a diplomat or a member of his family will of course depend on a most careful consideration of the nature of that incident. The purpose of this memorandum is to explain informally the possible consequences of breaches of British law. It cannot be taken as determining any particular course of action in any particular case.

More detailed guidance and information on many of these subjects has been communicated in separate notices to diplomatic missions. Protocol Department will be glad to provide further information or answer specific queries.

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