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Diplomats (Travel Restrictions)

Volume 497: debated on Wednesday 19 March 1952

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9.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs how far the diplomatic missions of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and other countries in the Russian sphere of influence accredited to the Court of St. James now enjoy facilities or privileges that are not similarly accorded to Her Majesty's diplomatic missions in those countries concerned.

I will, with permission, circulate a summary of the principal differences, which are very numerous, in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Would my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, within the limits of what is practicable, it would be far better that we should proceed, on this question, upon the basis of full reciprocity?

Well, we are seeking to achieve something near reciprocity. Even so, the position of the representatives of those countries in Great Britain will be substantially better than that of our representatives over there.

Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman assure the House that it is not the intention of the Government to commit in our name and on our behalf every one of the follies committed on the other side of the Iron Curtain?

We have stopped considerably short of certain of the steps that are taken in most Iron Curtain countries towards our representatives. If any relaxation of the sort of conditions imposed upon our diplomats is shown by any of the Governments concerned, we shall be only too happy speedily to reciprocate.

Who has the responsibility for enforcing these restrictions in this country—the Foreign Office or the Home Office?

Following is the summary:

The following are the main respects in which the treatment accorded to Her Majesty's representatives in the countries of the Soviet orbit compares unfavourably with that granted to the Missions of the same countries in the United Kingdom.
As the Report of the Committee of which Lord Justice Somervell was Chairman shows, immunity from civil jurisdiction is accorded in the United Kingdom not only to diplomatic officers of Embassies and Legations, but to the entire staff, including clerks and typists (unless they are British subjects and personal servants of whatsoever nationality). Likewise immunity from criminal jurisdiction is accorded not only to the diplomatic staffs, properly so-called, but also to subordinate officials and servants of a foreign Mission who would not be prosecuted except after consultation with the head of the Mission concerned and with his consent. The Soviet Union accords immunity from civil and criminal jurisdiction only to the diplomatic staffs, properly so-called, of a foreign Mission. Recent incidents have shown that the Governments of Roumania and Bulgaria interpret jurisdictional immunity in the same restricted sense.
Large areas of the Soviet Union, Roumania and Bulgaria are closed to travel by members of Her Majesty's Missions in those countries. Soviet and Bulgarian representatives here are not prevented from travelling to any destination, although, under arrangements recently announced, they are required to give advance notice of journeys outside a radius of 25 miles from Hyde Park Corner.
In the United Kingdom all foreign Missions arrange their accommodation and settle other domestic problems by dealing directly with the private persons, agencies, firms or institutions concerned with these matters. In the Soviet Union the Diplomatic Corps must conduct all their domestic business such as renting accommodation, engaging local staff or consulting a doctor through a special bureau. This bureau makes exorbitant charges for many of its essential services. Somewhat similar monopoly organisations exist in Sofia, Prague and Bucharest.
The Customs privileges and facilities which are ordinarily accorded to diplomats appointed to the United Kingdom are, in general, considerably wider than those granted to members of Her Majesty's Foreign Service in the Soviet orbit. The discrepancy is greatest in the case of Roumania.
Her Majesty's Government do not require any foreigner to obtain an exit visa to leave the United Kingdom. Members of Her Majesty's Foreign Service, on the other hand, are required to obtain a special permit for every journey out of the Soviet Union, Roumania, Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria. Moreover, under a recent decision the Czechoslovak Government now provide members of Her Majesty's Foreign Service proceeding to Czechoslovakia with visas for single journeys only, whereas Czechoslovak diplomats coming to this country are at present granted a permanent return visa which is valid for as long as the appointment in London is held.