§ 3.16 p.m.
§ The MINISTER of STATE, FOREIGN and COMMONWEALTH OFFICE (Lord Goronwy-Roberts)
My Lords, I beg to move that the Diplomatic Immuties (Conferences) (Papua New Guinea and Western Samoa) Order, which was laid before the House on 9th March, be approved. This order will have the effect of adding Papua New Guinea and Western Samoa to the countries to which Section 1 of the Diplomatic Immunities (Conferences with Commonwealth Countries and Republic of Ireland) Act 1961 applies. The order is required so that diplomatic immunities may be conferred upon representatives of Papua New Guinea and Western Samoa, and their staffs, attending inter-governmental conferences in the United Kingdom—for instance, the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting this year.
The order itself will not confer any immunities, but it will enable the Secretary of State to confer them upon any repre sentatives of Papua New Guinea and Western Samoa and their staffs while attending, for instance, the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, which I mentioned. The procedure required by the Act is that a list of the persons to whom it is desired to grant immunities shall be published in the London, Edinburgh and Belfast Gazettes.
The 1961 Act was used in 1969 when the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting was last held in London, but it has been used on only three occasions since then. We intend to use it for the purpose of according immunities to representatives of the countries attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting this year, among whom we hope to welcome representatives from Papua New Guinea and Western Samoa. My Lords, I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the draft Diplomatic Immunities (Conferences) (Papua New Guinea and Western Samoa) Order 1977, laid before the House on 9th March, be approved.—(Lord Goronwy-Roberts.)
§ Lord ELTON
My Lords, I do not think the content of this order is in any way controversial. We are grateful to the noble Lord for making it so clear and explaining it so succinctly. I think that the Commonwealth Conference will be an apt opportunity to welcome the independent members of Paupa New Guinea and Western Samoa to the Commonwealth. Today, as it is the birthday of the Head of the Commonwealth, the Sovereign of Papua New Guinea and Western Samoa and of this country, this would be an opportune occasion to voice the wish of many of us that Her Majesty will have many happy returns; and I am sure that her newly-admitted subjects will join us in that wish.
§ Lord DAVIES of LEEK
My Lords, while heartily endorsing the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, may I intersperse one point to which I should like to draw attention. While welcoming the immunity and the diplomatic privilege which is given, may I ask my noble friend this. Although this is not quite in the 1961 Act, has not the extension of diplomatic privileges now reached a pitch where nationals of the various parts of the Commonwealth and of foreign countries can have diplomatic immunity which gives them privileges which are not even allowed to the Royal family? We are getting into an anomalous position. Consequently, while welcoming this order, I think that the time has come for Parliament to look thoroughly into the whole question of diplomatic immunity. Without wishing to introduce a harsh note, which might be misunderstood, I think that this is an appropriate moment quietly to draw the attention of Parliament to this fact.
My Lords, this House has frequently voiced such sentiments as the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, has uttered on this order. I wonder whether the Commonwealth Conference would be a suitable opportunity to try to do something about the parking ticket scandals that go on, because I understand that some 274 of the Commonwealth members are among the biggest offenders in this matter. I understand perfectly well the desirability of being able to get reciprocity in foreign countries, but things are getting to a pretty pass when one gets Embassies totting up thousands of unpaid parking tickets. Before they get any diplomatic immunity, why not make them pay a deposit, to be used against these tickets?
§ Lord GORONWY-ROBERTS
My Lords, if I may reply briefly to the very interesting points made by noble Lords in welcoming this order, I would hardly say that my noble friend Lord Davies of Leek could raise any point quietly. But we understand his motive, that he wishes to make the point, which was supported by the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, about the extension—some would say, the undue extension—of diplomatic immunity and privileges. This is, as both noble Lords mentioned, a larger question and is, as I believe the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, said, a matter of reciprocation. Therefore, it would need to be taken up internationally. I note the suggestion he made that possibly, as a first step, it might be discussed by the Commonwealth Heads of Government. Of course, I can give no undertaking that their agenda will necessarily include such a discussion, but I note the point and also the quiet incisiveness of my noble friend's contribution to the argument.
I particularly welcome the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Elton. This is a day on which everybody can unite in warmly congratulating the Head of the Commonwealth on her birthday. The Commonwealth is a unique association of some 36 countries, among the most recent being Papua New Guinea, to which this order refers, and Western Samoa. Papua New Guinea have chosen to accept the Queen as their Head of State. She is equally their Queen as she is ours. Western Samoa, for their own good reasons, are appointing a Head of State indigenously. Nevertheless, both countries, like the rest of the membership of the Commonwealth, look to our Queen as the Head of the Commonwealth and I therefore, officially and personally, warmly reciprocate the sentiments expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Elton.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.