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Diplomatic Cars

Volume 931: debated on Tuesday 3 May 1977

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3.54 p.m.

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to regulate certain offences committed by drivers claiming diplomatic immunity; and for purposes connected therewith.
The problems created by drivers claiming diplomatic immunity after parking illegally, mainly on the streets of London, was a minor nuisance two years ago, is now becoming a medium-sized nuisance, and could easily become a major nuisance in the years to come. There are two aspects of this problem. First, there is the nuisance of obstruction caused by the flouting of our parking laws. Secondly, there is the loss of local revenue from the waiving of the fixed penalties.

In 1974 the number of parking tickets set aside because of diplomatic immunity of the car drivers was 52,839. The parking penalty was then £2, so that the amount of money lost, mainly by the ratepayers of London, was about £100,000. By 1976 the number of £6 tickets ignored by some members of the Diplomatic Corps had risen to no less than 92,985, and therefore the cost to the ratepayers of London was more than £550,000.

Over the years some embassies have acquired deplorable records of ignoring our traffic regulations. Nigeria has for many years been top of this particular black list and last year it claimed immunity for no fewer than 6,450 tickets, although one might say in mitigation here that the Greater London Council treats the High Commission of Nigeria even more harshly than it treats the ordinary motorist in London. It allocates the High Commission, I understand, only one special parking place.

Second on the list after Nigeria comes Egypt, with just under 5,000 claims for immunity, and then Cuba, with just under 4,500 claims for immunity. Then, of course, there are the oil-rich States, which are some of the worst offenders of all. Last year Iran ignored 3,584 parking tickets, Saudi Arabia 2,970, and Kuwait—which must take the wooden spoon when it comes to a per diplomat or per head of population count—claimed immunity on 2,274 parking tickets. The majority of embassies and High Commissions are much better behaved than that. New Zealand last year claimed immunity on only one parking ticket, and I understand that that was because of secretarial error within the High Commission itself.

Our Common Market partners usually abide very readily by the rules. Last year Holland claimed exemption on only 16 tickets, although France—not, perhaps, for the first time—was somewhat out of gear with her Common Market partners and claimed exemption on no fewer than 2,196 tickets. But France was the only member of the Community which was plainly in the wrong gear. Next, the United States of America, the country with the largest embassy and the greatest number of cars, asked for immunity in only 189 cases.

What can be done about this problem? The rules governing diplomatic immunity are both ancient and complex. The provisions of the Vienna Convention are enshrined in Schedule 1 to the Diplomatic Privileges Act 1964. Offenders cannot be brought to court, and diplomatic staff or buildings are not subject to normal taxation or rates. But some charges are levied on diplomatic buildings. Article 23 of the Vienna Convention lays down that missions may be charged "for specific services rendered."

My Bill would lay down that, when a mission claimed immunity in respect of more than 200 parking tickets a year, the Foreign Office should add a sliding charge for specific services rendered, namely, the provision of garage space on the Queen's highway. Positive action is needed to check this growing nuisance. My Bill will require the Government to take positive action.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Philip Goodhart, Mr. Kenneth Baker, Mr. Peter Brooke, Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg, Mr. Greville Janner, Mr. David Penhaligon, Sir B. Rhys Williams and Mr. Nicholas Scott.

Diplomatic Cars

Mr. Philip Goodhart accordingly presented a Bill to regulate certain offences committed by drivers claiming diplomatic immunity; and for purposes connected therewith: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 17th June and to be printed. [Bill 112.]