Diplomatic Privileges

Bills Presented – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 14th December 1964.

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10.0 p.m.

Photo of Mr Cledwyn Hughes Mr Cledwyn Hughes , Anglesey

I beg to move, That the Diplomatic Privileges (Citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies) Order 1964, a draft of which was laid before this House on 20th November, be approved. I will explain briefly the reason for the Order. It is that there are a very large number of persons in the Commonwealth who have citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies and citizenship of a Commonwealth country as well. Notwithstanding that the newer member countries of the Commonwealth have legislated against dual citizenship—including Pakistan, Ceylon. Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Tanganyika and Kenya—there are bound to be instances of people having dual citizenship serving in the mission of a Commonwealth country in London.

Dual citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies and of a foreign country is, by comparison, very rare. If any of these persons with dual citizenship should be posted to London they will not, unless the Order is approved, be able to enjoy the privileges and immunities which Parliament has decided to be appropriate for those serving in a diplomatic mission.

I should emphasise that the draft Order does not refer to members of a Commonwealth commission who are permanently resident in the United Kingdom. These, whether or not they are dual citizens—that is, citizens of the Commonwealth country concerned and of the United Kingdom and Colonies—mill be entitled only to the privileges and immunities described by Article 38 of Schedule 1 of the 1964 Act, which is that the head of the mission and those who are members of the diplomatic staff … shall enjoy only immunity from jurisdiction, and inviolability in respect of official acts … but other such members of the staff of the mission will be entitled to no privileges or immunities whatever.

It will be clear that the Order in no way extends the range of diplomatic privileges and immunities conferred by the 1964 Act. I stress this point.

It is, in essence, a legislative device for equating the position of non-resident Commonwealth diplomatic personnel who may happen to possess dual United Kingdom and another Commonwealth citizenship, with that enjoyed by virtue of the 1964 Act, by members of foreign diplomatic missions in this country.

I therefore commend the Order to the House and ask hon. Members to approve it by affirmative Resolution.

10.4 p.m.

Photo of Lady  Grant of Monymusk Lady Grant of Monymusk , Aberdeen South

My hon. Friends and I welcome the Order because it was referred to as being necessary during the passage of the Diplomatic Privileges Act, 1964. We are glad, too, that the Order was made subject to the affirmative procedure, because it concerns matters of considerable interest to all hon. Members.

I am glad the Minister said that the Order did not extend privileges, since the House is always jealous of this fact. The 1961 Vienna Convention and the 1964 Act tended to reduce to some extent the immunities from our jurisdiction, while making a few changes in privileges which do not alter the situation to any great extent. I am also glad that the Minister made it clear that the Order does not apply to permanent residents.

When one considers Article 38 of Schedule 1 of the 1964 Act, one sees that that made considerable changes from what was the previous position. Up to that time all such United Kingdom citizens enjoyed complete immunity from suit and legal process in respect of their official acts, unless a head of the mission felt it necessary to waive immunity. Now it is different because all other ranks enjoy no immunity, as the Minister said. It therefore gave rise to certain anomalies. That is why we very much welcome the fact that this Order, which applies particularly to those enjoying dual citizenship within the Commonwealth, will give them all the privileges and immunities accorded to the members of foreign missions and their private servants.

I note that Southern Rhodesia is included in the Order, for, although not a State, she is represented by a High Commissioner. Hon. Members may recall that we discussed her position during the debates on the 1964 Measure. It was then pointed out that the provision in what was Clause 8(2) had to be included as, otherwise, Southern Rhodesia would have enjoyed wider immunities than other Commonwealth countries because Section 1(1) of the Diplomatic Immunities Act, 1952, was being repealed. I am glad that this Order puts Southern Rhodesia on a par with all other Commonwealth missions.

I hope the Minister of State may see fit to ask leave of the House to speak briefly again, as I want to ask him one or two questions. First, has he been able to make any estimate of the number of people who are affected by the Order? Second, can he say what will be the practical effect of the gap in time between the 1964 Act becoming law on 2nd September and this Order coming into force? The Order does not provide for any measure of retrospection. For instance, if the United Kingdom citizens of all the countries listed in paragraph 2 of the Order are now to enjoy the full privileges and immunities accorded to foreign missions, they will be exempt from dues and taxes on the emoluments they receive by reason of their employment.

Further, I should like to know whether, for example, Ghana and the United Republic of Tanzania, which have their own problems, provide the same facilities as will be accorded to them under this Order. Again, it would be rather interesting to know the extent of any immunities that are granted to our nationals and permanent residents under Article 38(2), and now to understand the difference between that position which those with dual citizenship enjoyed with the new position they will have under the Order.

As I understand it, persons affected by the Order will be divided into three categories. First, there will be the heads of mission and diplomatic staff, or agents, who will have full personal immunity from the jurisdiction of our courts. Secondly, there are the members of the administrative and technical staff, who have a large measure of immunity in connection with their duties but can be sued in our courts for private acts such as breach of contract or careless driving. Third, there are the private servants of members of a mission, who will enjoy immunity from jurisdiction only in respect of their official acts. They will be subject to both criminal prosecution and civil suit for their private acts. There are, of course, the privileges in which the House is always interested which vary according to the three categories of persons as laid down in the various Articles 29–36.

I have a question of a domestic character to ask. It concerns a matter that has often engaged our attention, namely, diplomatic immunity concerned with motoring offences which, I believe, total about 2,000 a year. Under the Order, it will surely mean that, for example, the private servants referred to can claim diplomatic immunity when on official duty. I understand that the police have been sending to the Foreign Office weekly totals of driving accidents involving persons claiming diplomatic immunity, and that the Foreign Office and the Commonwealth Relations Office bring these to the attention of the mission concerned; and also that the Doyen of the Diplomatic Corps in London reminded heads of missions of the obligation diplomats possess to obey the laws of this country even if they cannot be enforced against them——

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Lady, but she is getting a little wide of the Order itself. It is not in order to discuss diplomatic immunities in general. It is merely their application to the groups in the two paragraphs in this Order.

Photo of Lady  Grant of Monymusk Lady Grant of Monymusk , Aberdeen South

Naturally, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I abide by your Ruling, but you will appreciate that I was referring to the fact that under this Order certain Commonwealth citizens with dual citizenship will now be able to enjoy privileges and immunities given to those in foreign missions and thus we shall extend the broad problem of diplomatic immunity to which I referred. Perhaps the Minister may be able to keep in order in replying to that point.

We are all only too well aware of our need to ensure adequate protection to our own diplomatic staff overseas, many of whom serve in countries whose courts and customs are very different in character from our own. Although the Vienna Convention may not be all that we wish, I think that on the whole it will strike a right balance between the receiving and the sending State. For that reason we welcome the Order, which will remove the differences concerning those with dual citizenship within the Commonwealth.

10.11 p.m.

Photo of Mr Charles Doughty Mr Charles Doughty , East Surrey

While we welcome this Order, we must realise that it is an extension of diplomatic privileges which, over the years, have been extended from the original idea that foreign diplomats in this country—of course on a reciprocal basis—should receive tremendous privileges against the criminal and fiscal laws of this country and other matters. From that we have gone to foreign military missions, N.A.T.O. and so forth, until now we are asked to pass an Order which grants to citizens of this country privileges which up to very recently have been granted only to members of foreign diplomatic missions.

We want to know what numbers will be affected. That perhaps is the most important question of all. If the number is trifling there is nothing much to worry about, but the Parliamentary Secretary who asked the House to approve this Order should be aware of some of the possible abuses when it is the case of allowing United Kingdom citizens to have these privileges and immunities. There are many who would like to be an honorary First Secretary or representative of a Ministry in this country, perhaps on a no-salary basis because their reward would be in not having to pay taxes. Incidentally, as the hon. Lady the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir) pointed out, they would be exempt from the criminal laws of this country but, most important, they would be exempt from the taxation laws. If we are to allow United Kingdom citizens—even though they may have technically or otherwise dual citizenship in various parts of the Commonwealth—to have these privileges, we are opening the door very wide indeed; how wide perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary can tell us.

All these countries listed in paragraph 2(2) of the Order may find it to their advantage to obtain the services of United Kingdom citizens in this country who perhaps have some technical citizenship in another country—be it the Republic of Ireland or elsewhere—who would be willing to accept a post without salary because the savings from taxation would be so large. This would be opening the door too wide. We must be certain when we open the door to citizens of our own country that it is equally wide open in a reciprocal sense. Do we share with any of the countries listed in this Order an arrangement by which our nationals may enjoy these wide privileges we are granting to citizens of these Commonwealth countries? Unfortunately the hon. Gentleman did not tell us about that, but no doubt he will do so.

Having made those short points without, I hope, having unduly delayed the House, I would add that I agree with the object of the Order, but we certainly ask for and require further information about it before we can give it our wholehearted support.

10.15 p.m.

Photo of Mr Jeremy Thorpe Mr Jeremy Thorpe , North Devon

I intervene to follow up one point put by the hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Doughty). As I see it—and no doubt the Minister of State will correct me if I am wrong—all this Order seeks to do is to ensure that those who have dual nationality who are in the service of a Commonwealth Government shall be in no worse position than similarly placed persons in the service for a foreign Government. We say, with this Order, that those who serve Commonwealth Governments shall not be disadvantaged.

Time and again we have known instances in this House where membership of the Commonwealth has proved to give less protection and less privilege than nationality of a foreign country. I shall not stray beyond the limits of the Order but we recall the unfortunate extradition case which took up much time in the last Session of the last Parliament.

The hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East, in raising this point, must realise that what we are prepared to accord to those who serve in foreign legations we are surely prepared to accord in equal measure to those in service with Commonwealth Governments. He suggested however, that people will be jumping on the band wagon of diplomatic immunity in order to take the benefits of tax free allowances and, no doubt, free liquor and so forth, together with exemption from criminal processes.

This is far less likely to occur in the case of a Commonwealth Government than in the case of a small foreign Government which does not keep, and sometimes does not desire to keep, a full diplomatic complement in this country. I would rather, for instance, that the information officer retained by the Australian High Commission, who is a United Kingdom subject, were given diplomatic immunity than someone who is in the embassy of Bolivia and living in Balham.

Photo of Mr Charles Doughty Mr Charles Doughty , East Surrey

The hon. Gentleman mentioned Australia. Do the same things apply to Tanzania and other places?

Photo of Mr Jeremy Thorpe Mr Jeremy Thorpe , North Devon

Unlike the hon. and learned Member, I find the new members of the Commonwealth just as exciting as the old members, irrespective of colour or time of independence. The answer to him, therefore, is "Yes".

10.19 p.m.

Photo of Mr Cledwyn Hughes Mr Cledwyn Hughes , Anglesey

By leave of the House, I will reply briefly. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) for his intervention. I think that he has effectively answered the point raised by the hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Doughty). The essential point of the Order is, as I tried to explain, to remove a fortuitous disqualification which may be suffered by certain persons who come to be posted to High Commissioner's offices in London.

It would not be appropriate for me to cover all the ground. The matters which the hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East has raised were fully covered in the debates on the 1964 Act both in this House and in another place. He and the hon. Lady asked about the numbers involved. There is no way of telling without writing for detailed statistics to all the High Commissions.

There must be many people who enjoy dual citizenship and do not know they have it. For instance, the parents of a hypothetical Australian diplomat may have emigrated to Australia 60 or 70 years ago. He is entitled to United Kingdom citizenship but may not know it. There are no doubt many such cases.

I was asked about the numbers employed on the staffs of the High Commissions in London. There are a little over 2,000 in Commonwealth missions but they are mostly junior staff who qualify for only limited immunity—for example, immunity when actually in the course of duty.

The last question the hon. Lady asked and it is an important one was about the gap between 1st October, when the Act came into force, and now. This has not affected any Member of the staff of any Commonwealth Mission. It could have been so if legal proceedings had been instituted, but I am glad to say that none has been taken.

Photo of Mr Graham Page Mr Graham Page , Crosby

Will it not affect tax liability for this comparatively short time? Would it not have been reasonable to introduce this Order in time to tally with the date of the coming into force of the Act?

Photo of Mr Cledwyn Hughes Mr Cledwyn Hughes , Anglesey

My understanding is that it does not affect it. I will look into the point in detail, in case I am in error, and inform the hon. Gentleman, but my present understanding is that it does not affect tax liability.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,That the Diplomatic Privileges (Citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies) Order 1964, a draft of which was laid before this House on 20th November, be approved.