HC Deb 26 April 1990 vol 171 cc305-6W
Mr. Bowis

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs how many serious offences were allegedly committed in 1989 by persons entitled to diplomatic immunity; and how many foreign diplomats were withdrawn from their posts in Britain in that year as a result of alleged offences.

Mr. Sainsbury

Forty alleged serious offences by persons entitled to immunity were drawn to the attention of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 1989 (four fewer than in 1988). "Serious offences" are defined in accordance with the report to the Foreign Affairs Committee "The abuse of diplomatic immunities and privileges (1985)" as offences falling into a category which could in certain circumstances attract a penalty of six months or more; we are advised that very few of the alleged offences would have been likely to attract a custodial sentence. The majority involved drinking and driving and shoplifting.

Fourteen diplomats were withdrawn from their posts in Britain in 1989 following alleged offences (the same number as in 1988).

Mr. Brazier

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what progress has been made in the handling of diplomatic immunities and privileges since the publication of the Government's White Paper "Diplomatic Immunities and Privileges" Cmnd. 9497, in 1985.

Mr. Sainsbury

We have fully implemented the guidelines set out in the 1985 White Paper, with the objective of reducing the abuse of diplomatic immunity and privileges, while fulfilling our obligations under the Vienna conventions on diplomatic relations and on consular relations.

We have applied stricter standards to the size of diplomatic missions and the notification of staff. New legislation was introduced in 1988 to prevent the abuse of United Kingdom immigration laws by persons employed as locally engaged members of mission staff. The legislation ensures that locally engaged members of the staff of a mission who have no pre-existing legal or immigration entitlement to work in the United Kingdom are no longer exempt from the United Kingdom immigration laws. Such staff fall to be refused leave to remain for employment with a mission unless there has been prior notification to, and acceptance by, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The FCO continues to monitor closely all new appointments to diplomatic missions in London and elsewhere in the United Kingdom. Arrangements are being made to clarify the status of staff whose term of service in the United Kingdom exceeds 10 years. There has been little growth in the size of individual diplomatic missions.

We withdrew recognition of diplomatic status from 17 national tourist offices in 1985. In 1987 the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act was introduced to enable the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary to control the acquisition and disposal of diplomatic premises in London. This Act also provides for the acquisition by the Secretary of State of premises formerly used for the purposes of a diplomatic mission. The Secretary of State has so far used these powers once in relation to the premises of the former Cambodian embassy in London which were occupied by squatters.

We continue to play a full part in United Nations discussions on the regulation of the use of the diplomatic bag. Procedures for the scanning of diplomatic bags in certain circumstances have been notified to the diplomatic corps in London.

The guidelines set out in paragraphs 57 to 73 of the 1985 White Paper on the handling of alleged serious offences by diplomats have been followed fully. Statistics on such alleged offences are made available to Parliament annually. We have repeatedly made clear to members of the diplomatic corps the standards of behaviour we expect and the way in which any alleged offences committed by persons entitled to diplomatic immunity will be handled. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office takes action with the appropriate diplomatic mission in the case of every alleged offence by an entitled person notified to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office by the police. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office also continues to intervene on behalf of individuals who are precluded by diplomatic immunity from pursuing through normal legal channels valid claims against members of diplomatic missions in London.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has dealt firmly with the problem of unpaid parking fines by diplomatic missions in London. With the assistance of a computerised system, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office monitors all such fines left unpaid by members of diplomatic missions in London and by official cars owned by diplomatic missions. In 1984, there were 108,845 unpaid fines outstanding; in 1989 this figure had fallen to 7,831, representing a drop of 93 per cent. between 1984 and 1989. Detailed statistics on unpaid parking fines are published in Parliament every six months.

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