§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Herbert Morrison)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
It may strike the House, as indeed it struck me, as curious that the Home Secretary should be called upon to deal with a Bill which is really concerned with shipping. This Bill, however, makes certain changes or innovations in constitutional and legal practice, and as it sets up a new jurisdiction and legal machinery, it falls to the Home Secretary to deal with it. It really is the case that, fundamentally, the Bill is intimately connected with the Battle of the Atlantic and is concerned with a vital part of that battle. It has an important relationship with the success of that battle, because it is well known that, in that struggle of the seas, we and our Allies need the use of every available ton of shipping. That means that we and our Allies need the services of every man of seafaring experience and capacity, because the failure of even one man to report for duty on a ship, may have grave consequences in relation to the actual departure of that ship.
I would, therefore, ask the House to deal with the Bill with all possible speed and alacrity, not entirely as a Bill concerned with legal matters and their constitutional repercussions, but as a Bill which aims at securing the maximum use of Allied shipping, in order that we and our Allies may win this battle of the Mercantile Marine and particularly the Battle of the Atlantic. It is the case that the Bill involves a constitutional novelty. It means that in this island are to be set up courts which would be within the jurisdiction not of His Majesty's Government but of foreign Governments. The House, I am sure, freely recognises that those foreign Governments have been compelled by a ruthless, cruel and barbarous enemy to leave their own shores and that, in this country, our Government and Parliament have recognised those foreign Governments and their rights as foreign Governments and have freely given them status accordingly. The House will also recog- 1106 nise that it was right that those Governments should be so treated. Indeed our attitude towards those Allied Powers is in typical and notable contrast with the attitude of the Nazi Government of Germany towards the Governments of those countries which they have either conquered, or won to their side by the signing of some treaty or pact. The foreign Governments which have been made subordinate to the Nazi Government, as a result of the supposedly free signature of pacts or treaties bringing them within the orbit of Nazi diplomacy, are treated as Governments in a servile position, and, generally, with contempt. In the case of this country, the Allied Governments who are enjoying our hospitality are accepted as sovereign Governments and treated with respect as sovereign Governments, in strong contrast with the attitude of the Nazi Government of Germany towards the other Governments I have mentioned.
This brings me to my second point in regard to the exceptional case which exists for this exceptional Bill. My first point was the vital importance of the Battle of the Atlantic. My second point is that this exceptional Bill, which legalises the establishment of courts in this country by foreign Governments, also follows from our association with our Allies. It follows, inevitably, logically and properly from our recognition of those Governments as sovereign Governments, with sovereign powers in respect of their own people and citizens. Therefore, if this Bill is exceptional in character, if it introduces a legal innovation and brings about certain constitutional changes that, indeed, is a compliment to our own people and our own country because we feel that if we recognise these Allied and associated Governments as sovereign Governments, then logically, we must give them the rights of sovereign Governments. Accordingly, the House is being asked to accept what is admittedly an exceptional Measure for those reasons and I am certain that the House will accept the Bill in that spirit.
The Bill is designed to ensure that full use is made of the 6,000,000 dead-weight tons of Allied merchant ships and of the 30,000 Allied officers and men of their Mercantile Marines. This is a considerable mercantile shipping force. It is vitally important to us in the conduct of the mercantile traffic between this 1107 island and America and other parts of the world. Therefore, the Bill puts at the disposal of the Allied Governments the machinery to maintain discipline in their ships and to deal with offences committed on those ships. It is the case now that certain anomalies exist. For example, an Allied seaman committing a serious offence on an Allied ship on the high seas would be subject, I am informed, to no court and no jurisdiction. If he were to commit murder or manslaughter, or larceny, I understand it to be the case that there is no court which could try him, because he would not be subject to the jurisdiction of the British courts if the offence took place on the high seas, and there is no court of his own Government which could function. On the other hand, a British seaman committing a similar offence on a British ship on the high seas would be subject to the jurisdiction of our courts. Therefore the situation is not only anomalous but is, by implication, unfair to the British seaman as compared with the seamen of Allied Powers.
The Bill also requires the nationals of those Allied States to serve on their own ships if that is necessary, and of course similar powers are possessed by the Minister of Labour here in respect of British subjects. I am sure that the House will join with me in paying tribute to the devotion and gallantry of Allied seamen. —[An Hon. Member "And to all seamen."]—Yes, Sir, but this Bill deals with Allied seamen, and I am seeking, if my hon. Friend will permit me, to be relevant to the Measure. These Allied seamen have been away from their homes and their country, and inevitably they have been living a life of some difficulty. Nevertheless, they have played their part, by going to sea and risking their lives, in the common struggle of their. Allies and themselves. Therefore I am confident the House would wish me to say that all of us greatly appreciate their devotion, courage and gallantry in this difficult and vitally important task.
When the Bill passes into law more effective use will be made of the Allied ships, according to the powers which will be given to these maritime courts. The Bill may be regarded as a measure of reciprocity to the Allied Governments for their action in requisitioning their vessels and bringing them into the common effort. 1108 The addition of these ships of the Allied Powers has been a material addition to the Mercantile Marine forces at our disposal. The House will, I think, agree that it would be ungrateful on our part if we were to be difficult in according to these sovereign Governments the rights which sovereign Governments normally possess. If it be the case that these rights must be exercised on our soil, that certainly is not their fault. It is the fault of the cruel, vindictive foe which has driven them from their own country, and we all hope and believe that in due course they will be able to return to their country when the enemy is defeated.
The essential feature of the Bill is to enable Allied Governments to establish maritime courts in this country. For some time these Governments have made strong representations to the Foreign Office through the usual diplomatic channels to this effect. They tell us that in the case of offences against laws or regulations, which all Mercantile Marines, including our own, experience, they are in an impossible position. These Governments have no legal jurisdiction, and they have no courts at their disposal at which such cases can be tried. In consequence, they are unable to enforce the laws of their own countries, and they feel, therefore, that there is a limitation on their usual rights of sovereignty. They have been making representations to the Foreign Office on this matter, and they wish to be granted these powers. Under this Bill, and through the maritime courts, they will be able to try the following offences: Offences committed by aliens on board their merchant-ships; offences committed on their ships by the masters and crews against their merchant-shipping laws; and offences committed by their seafaring nationals in contravention of their conscription laws. The jurisdiction of the maritime courts, which are to be set up, will not, however, extend to British subjects, who will be dealt with by British courts. The Allied Governments are fully in accord with His Majesty's Government on this principle.
It may be the case that people who are not on the face of it obviously British subjects may take the view, or make the claim, that they are British subjects—indeed, in some cases they may be, and there might, therefore, be a risk of mistakes being made. It is not always a 1109 simple thing, as hon. Members who have had experience of these matters know, to decide who is a British subject and who is not, and what particular subject a person may be. The Government have given very careful attention to the insertion of safeguards on this point. Therefore, we have made this provision, namely, that persons required to appear before a maritime court who claim to be British subjects will have the right of appearing before a local tribunal. These local tribunals will be geographically situated and distributed as conveniently as may be. Such persons can appear before these local tribunals and have their claim to be British subjects examined. These tribunals will be British and will be appointed by the Lord Chancellor. All persons will be informed of that right to appear before a tribunal and to have their claim to be a British subject examined.
§ Mr. Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
The right hon. Gentleman will remember that there are large numbers of people in this country who are not nationals of the Allied Governments or British subjects. How will the Bill apply in those cases?
§ Mr. Morrison
This provision is for safeguarding the rights of British subjects which is the rightful jurisdiction of this House. If a person claims that he is not a subject of the country with which the maritime court is associated, his case will have to be argued before the maritime court. It cannot be argued before our own British courts, because that is a court with jurisdiction over persons claiming to be British subjects.
§ Mr. Silverman
So far as I can see, such a person would have no rights before the maritime courts. It is only in a case of a person who claims to be a British subject that the maritime court has no jurisdiction.
§ Mr. Morrison
Such a person will not have this particular privilege, but he can put his case to the maritime court and claim that it has no jurisdiction in his case. It is a close legal point and perhaps my right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General may be able to deal with it later on with greater ability than I. All persons are to be informed of that right. It will, of course, be the case that if a person claims to be a British subject, and if for the purposes of this Bill, and for the purposes of this Bill only, he is 1110 declared to be a British subject he will thereby, as regards seafaring law, be subject to the jurisdiction of British courts—otherwise we might reach the position where it would be difficult to put him under the jurisdiction of any court. The machinery provided in the Bill, and the safeguards against the maritime courts exceeding their jurisdiction, have been very carefully and painstakingly considered. They include the following provisions: First, when it is desired by an Allied Government to bring a person before a maritime court, a British justice of the peace must issue process before that person can be brought before a maritime court. Secondly, the new maritime courts cannot review offences, whether they are offences by British subjects or non-British subjects, already dealt with by a British court. If such a court has acquitted, or found guilty, that is the end of it as far as that instance is concerned.
Thirdly, there is an express saving of the jurisdiction of British courts to deal with offences against British law. Fourthly, machinery is provided for application to the High Court when it is alleged that the maritime court has exceeded its jurisdiction. Fifthly, the new courts can only authorise sentences of detention and fine. They cannot go beyond sentences of imprisonment or fines, and there is therefore a limitation of an important character upon their powers. Sixthly, the persons will be kept in British prisons unless the sentence is for more than a year, when a prisoner may be transferred, with the Home Secretary's consent, to any place within the territory of the Power concerned. But clearly it would not be the case that we should transfer a prisoner to territory which was under the control of the enemy. Subject to that understanding, a person with a sentence of more than a year could, with my consent, be transferred to territory within the jurisdiction of the Power concerned, but otherwise he would be kept in a British prison, and of course, he will be subject to the discipline of the British prison and, insofar as there are automatic reductions of sentence as a consequence of good conduct and so on and other matters of like nature, he will be treated in the same way as a British subject in a British prison would be.
The Bill, with these safeguards, which I suggest are considerable, will meet the 1111 just requirements of the Allied Powers and will not unduly limit their sovereignty. There is perhaps one aspect of these legal provisions that I ought to mention, in their application to Scotland. Suitable provision is made in Clause 18 for the modification of the Bill in its application to Scotland. The appointment of tribunals and the making of rules will be in the hands of the Lord Justice-General, and the sheriff takes the place of the justice of the peace and the county court judge. This is a Bill which demonstrates to the point of proof that we intend to treat our Allies and their Governments as full partners, and not to follow the Nazi practice of taking their friends into protective custody. It follows that many of the issues which would arise on the Floor of the House if this were a Bill setting up British courts with a jurisdiction applicable to British subjects, and would quite properly arise, because it was a Bill applying to British subjects and they were British courts to be set up—those meticulous legal arguments which I can appreciate arising properly on such a Bill—are rather out of place on this Measure. Once we concede the point that an Allied Government is a sovereign Government, permitted to exercise a measure of jurisdiction here because the enemy has made it impossible for it to exercise that jurisdiction in its own country, we are, if we start to impose fetters and limitations on those Governments as to how they shall exercise their jurisdiction, beginning to treat them in much the same way as Hitler treats Rumania and Bulgaria, and I am sure that will not be done by the House of Commons.
Therefore I ask the House to accept the Bill on that constitutional basis that it follows logically from the recognition of the sovereign power of those Allied Governments, and, once it is recognised that these Allied Governments are sovereign Governments geographically located in this country it is not for His Majesty's Government meticulously or unnecessarily to interfere with the application of their sovereign powers. Nor indeed should the House of Commons do so, for, if it did, it would be running in the direction of treating those Powers in the same way as Hitler treats nominally independent countries associated with him in the Axis.
1112 My second reason for asking the House to be more tolerant and more speedy about the Bill than it would be about a British Bill applying to British subjects and judicial institutions is that the Battle of the Atlantic is raging, and we have to win it. It is therefore vitally important that every available ship of an Allied Power shall be mobilised in the common cause and the common service. In that vital respect this is a war Measure, a vitally important Measure, which I hope will pass through. But it is important to recognise that it is a Bill which is regularising the position of sovereign Powers in this country, and that one must concede in principle that all sorts of issues—legal rights, constitutional rights, consultation with various bodies—which would quite properly arise in the case of a British Bill are matters between the Allied Governments and their subjects, and not between the British Government and the subjects of a foreign Power.
§ Mrs. Hardie (Glasgow, Springburn)
Are not the maritime laws of those countries much more severe than the laws that obtain in this country?
§ Mr. Morrison
That is the business of the foreign country and not, in principle, of the British Government. Once we concede the point that we are accepting these colleagues of ours with full recognition of their political jurisdiction and their sovereign rights, we cannot start controlling the domestic laws of their own country. That is the real principle that is involved. Basically, on all that field of argument, which I can imagine and well understand, the real issue involved is whether we are to treat these Governments in the British way or, to some extent, in the Hitler way. This is vital to the Battle of the Atlantic, and how vital that battle is was indicated by the Prime Minister [Interruption]. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is trying under his breath to be offensive.
§ Mr. Shinwell (Seaham)
I was not trying to be offensive. I merely said I cannot understand why it should be vital, and I am waiting for an argument to convince me.
§ Mr. Morrison
I thought I had given the argument to the general satisfaction of the House. I never have too much hope of doing things to the satisfaction of my 1113 hon. Friend, but I will do my best. [Interruption.] I am being perfectly courteous. As to how important this Battle of the Atlantic is, I would quote from the broadcast of the Prime Minister on 27th April:But how about our lifeline across the Atlantic? What is to happen if so many of our merchant ships are sunk that we cannot bring in the food we need to nourish our brave people? What if the supplies of war material and war weapons which the United States are seeking to send us in such enormous quantities should in large part be sunk on the way? What is to happen then?General Smuts, the Prime Minister of South Africa, quite rightly said on the same date:If Great Britain defeats invasion and keeps her lifeline open, she will have broken Hitler. That is the crux of the war which dominates everything else. In relation to this, all other efforts in the war are side issues.It is quite clear, I suggest, that if these Governments have no power to require from their citizens similar services in their Mercantile Marine which are broadly, but not: necessarily precisely, analogous to the powers which we have of requiring service from British subjects in the British Mercantile Marine, then the mercantile fleets of these States cannot play the part in the Battle of the Atlantic they otherwise would. It is well known that even a limited number of seamen who do not join a ship when they ought to, or breaches of the law which impede the progress of a ship, may well hold up a ship. That is why, as I have explained, the Bill is so vital in this struggle. I have sought to explain, in the first place, the principles of the Bill, and, in the second place, the broad provisions which are made for the safeguarding of British subjects by the limitations of the powers of the courts; and in view of the nature of the Measure and its purpose I hope that the Bill will commend itself to the House and that it will be passed with all practical speed.
§ Mr. de Rothschild (Isle of Ely)
Will my right hon. Friend give some information as to the time during which this Bill will be in force? It states at the end that it will remain in force until the expiry of the Emergency Powers Act. Can my right hon. Friend state that this Bill will not be extended any further than is necessary?
§ Mr. Morrison
Certainly, that will be so. As soon as the Allied Powers can get their 1114 own courts going in their own countries, they would prefer to do so, and so should we. The duration of the Act to which my hon. Friend referred is limited to the duration of the war, so that I can give him a complete assurance on that point.
§ Miss Eleanor Rathbone (Combined English Universities)
Will my right hon. Friend clear up a point of interpretation? Suppose a seaman is a man of long residence in this country, perhaps a householder, but he came long ago, perhaps in childhood, from a country which was then part of the territory of one of the Allied nations, or has since become so. How would that case be affected? Would such a man come under this Bill? In other words, what is the test of his nationality, seeing that in many cases the passports of such people are rather nebulous?
§ Mr. Morrison
I am told by my right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General that the book on nationality which this question involves would be a very big book and would necessitate extensive reading and knowledge. I confess, therefore, that I am not competent to answer it. If at the end of the Debate my right hon. and learned Friend can give an answer, I am sure that he will.
§ Mr. Shinwell (Seaham)
I am advised by the party on this side that this Bill should be accepted without opposition. A loyal member of this party as I am, I naturally accept that decision. I am bound to say, however, that if the arguments had been presented to the party in the form in which they have just been delivered to the House, it is doubtful whether there would have been anything like unanimous acceptance of the Measure. My right hon. Friend has just made a statement of a most profound and far-reaching character. He says that once you accept the sovereignty of an Allied Government, you cannot impose limitations on their actions in this country.
§ Mr. Morrison
I did not go as far as that. My hon. Friend has said that Allied Governments would have unqualified power, but I did not make an unqualified statement. I said that if you grant them sovereign rights, you must not be over-meticulous in the way in which they are exercised. In any case, we reserve the right as regards any Government, Allied or otherwise, to make diplomatic representations if we see things 1115 going on that we do not like. If you grant the Allied Governments sovereign rights, you must accept the logical conclusion of such a grant, but even this Bill, as I explained, does not give full and unfettered jurisdiction over every subject. It would have been a misrepresentation on my part if I had gone as far as my hon. Friend has interpreted me as having gone.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I hardly think that my right hon. Friend's qualification affects the argument. He is right in his assumption that once you grant sovereign rights to an Allied Government it is difficult to draw a line of demarcation. If it is once agreed that Allied Governments may establish in this country maritime courts for the purpose of putting on trial recalcitrant seamen, they may equally claim the creation of civil courts for the purpose of trying recalcitrant nationals of any other kind. It will be difficult for my right hon. Friend to resist such representations, and I have not the least doubt that when this Bill is accepted and applied, claims of that kind will be submitted to the Government. Therefore, I say that my right hon. Friend's statement was of a profound and far-reaching character. Indeed, the Measure itself is a complete departure from our constitution and a complete break from old tradition and precedent. There is no precedent for it unless we go far back into mediaeval and pre-mediaeval times. I believe that there was an instance of a high ecclesiastical dignitary demanding what might be called extraterritorial rights in this country. I doubt whether even the extra-territorial rights that we claimed for ourselves in China and Egypt in bygone years ever proceeded as far as the sovereign rights claimed by Allied Maritime Governments in this matter.
What is the object of the Bill? My right hon. Friend said that it is vital for the Battle of the Atlantic, and that was the reason I ventured to offer an interjection. I listened with interest to the quotations which my right hon. Friend read from the broadcasts of the Prime Minister and General Smuts. I agree that the Battle of the Atlantic is itself vital, but no one supposes that an occasional case of murder on the high seas in a foreign-going vessel owned by one of the Allied countries and the difficulty of trying the person concerned or of imposing 1116 sentence on him are vital to the Battle of the Atlantic. My right hon. Friend contradicted himself, because, as he pointed out, the Bill provides for no more than detention and fine. If there is a case of murder on the high seas and you do not know what to do with the person concerned because there is no country to take him to except this, there is only power of detention and fine. The courts cannot impose the capital sentence, because the Bill does not give the power. What, then, is the precise purpose of the Bill? It is to impose more rigid discipline on foreign citizens employed by Allied countries to make certain the smooth running of their ships. That is the purpose, and no more than that.
All the powers in this Measure for the purpose of imposing that discipline are already in operation. Many of the powers are embodied in the merchant shipping laws of this country. There is already power to deal with British citizens, but there is also power to deal with foreign seamen who are troublesome on board ship in dock. If a foreign seaman gets drunk and assaults the chief mate or the second engineer, he can be taken ashore by a British policeman and dealt with by a court of summary jurisdiction in this country. There is no difficulty at all there. But we are now operating under the Defence of the Realm Act and are in a quite different situation. If my right hon. Friend wants the necessary powers I will give him the powers—out of his own mouth, or out of the Government's mouth. I will read the relevant passage from the Defence of the Realm Regulations:No person lawfully engaged to serve on board any ship to which this Regulation applies shall neglect or refuse without reasonable cause to join his ship or to proceed to sea in his ship or desert or be absent without leave from his ship or be absent without leave from his duty at any time.I stop there to point out that those are the offences to which my right hon. Friend has directed attention. It is those offences which are perhaps vital to the Battle of the Atlantic; not murder on the high seas, or petty larceny, but the possibility that at a critical moment men may refuse to join their ships or desert and thus hold up the ship. I digress to ask how many such cases have actually been reported to the Government, because obviously if there are only a limited number it would not be worth while to 1117 promote this Measure? There are additional offences. For example, if a person on board ship is in a state of drunkenness, so that the performance of his duty is neglected and the navigation of the ship is impeded, he can be brought within the scope of the Defence of the Realm Regulations. To which seamen does the Regulation I have quoted apply? The ships to which it applies are:—Every ship belonging to His Majesty, and every ship, whether British or foreign, chartered or requisitioned by or on behalf of His Majesty.Every ship. I observe that my hon. Friend is shaking his head in disapproval.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Peake)
I only wish to point out that ships chartered or requisitioned by the Government do not include the ships with which this Bill is primarily concerned.
§ Mr. Shinwell
Now that makes confusion worse confounded. Surely the Bill is not so limited in character. Surely we do not propose to grant sovereign rights, with all embellishments, to these Allied Governments for the purpose only of dealing with ships not requisitioned by His Majesty's Government, because it would be interesting to know how many Allied ships have not been requisitioned by us under the charter arrangements. Does the right hon. Member know anything about it? Apparently not. He referred to 6,000,000 dead weight tons. That is the first time that figure has ever been made public. Now it has been made public by a Minister of the Crown that the Allied shipping at our disposal is 6,000,000 tons dead weight—which is not 6,000,000 gross tonnage, but never mind about that. It is very interesting to know that this Bill is not intended to deal with a few vessels un requisitioned but to deal, as he will concede, with all ships that come under the ownership of shipowners in Allied countries and all the ships that have been taken over by the Government. We need not argue about that at all. Therefore, my first point is that all the offences which are likely to occur on board Allied ships can be dealt with without recourse to a Measure of this kind by the Defence of the Realm Act.
There was no occasion for this Measure, except this—to satisfy the amour propre of our Allies. The Allied Governments made 1118 representations to the British Government to be allowed to deal with their own nationals in their own way and in their own courts on British soil. The British Government, not for technical reasons, because really there are no technical reasons involved, but for reasons of courtesy, perhaps, or because representations have proved too strong, now want to mollify the Allied Governments, and this Measure comes before us. I am with my right hon. Friend all the way, 100 per cent., in my desire to promote the successful prosecution of the war. I may even say 101 per cent., because I go 1 per cent, better than the Government, in that I want to see a more vigorous prosecution of the war. I would not impede the progress of the Government in any way. If they regard a Measure of this kind as being essential to induce more vigour, and as likely to achieve success in our war effort, by all means let them have it, but we must be careful not to give to the Allied Governments, however useful they be, powers which are a departure from our Constitution, are without precedent and may have far-reaching consequences. We have to decide when we are going to stop, whether we shall stop here, or allow these Governments to come along later with further applications, asking for the right to deal with all their nationals, and, indeed, to have civil courts set up in this country.
Having disposed of the principle, I want to say a few words about the provisions of the Measure. Apparently there has been no consultation with the Foreign Seamen's Union. I made inquiries about it. If there have been consultations I should like to know what was the result. If the Allied Governments are to be consulted, and if, possibly, the shipowners were consulted, why not consult these 30,000 foreign officers and men and give them an opportunity of saying whether they want to be tried by courts under the jurisdiction of their own Governments or by British courts? They ought to have been consulted. That was the reason why my right hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith) asked that the Committee stage should be deferred for a few days longer. It was to get an opportunity of consulting the foreign seamen and at the same time promoting useful Amendments. I hope that the suggestion will be received favourably.
1119 I have already said that the usual offences aboard ship with which it is intended to deal are of the kind referred to in the Defence of the Realm Regulation, but in fact the offences which occur aboard ship are usually to be ascribed to difficulties about wage rates and labour conditions. Let me give an example. There has been a good deal of trouble, and it is no longer secret, with the seamen on Allied vessels because of wage difficulties. When the ships were originally chartered by the British Government at the beginning of the war, freight rates were very high, and the arrangement made was very remunerative to foreign shipowners, and seamen, Norwegian, Dutch and so on, managed to secure very high rates of pay, compared with the rates of pay operating in this country. It has been said that some of these seamen received as much as £50 a month, while rates in this country, even with war risks, were no more than about £15 a month. These rates have been reduced very considerably since, and quite properly. We have no desire that variable rates shall operate as between the different classes of ship. It would be most invidious if Allied seamen were being paid higher rates than British seamen, or vice versa We want to have more or less uniform rates, having regard to certain factors.
The kind of offence which is most usual is that which arises from difficulty about wages, not so much the standard wage, as overtime rates and extra payment for certain kinds of work done aboard ship, particularly when the vessel is in dock. If men are to be brought before their own courts and not before a British court by ship owners, the prosecution will always take place at the instance of the shipowner or shipmaster on an issue of wages or labour conditions, it seems to me that any lowering or worsening of the conditions of the foreign seamen will have a detrimental effect on the wages and conditions of British seamen. Everybody knows that, in such circumstances, one set of wages and conditions is used against another set. If we are able to say some months hence that the wages on certain ships have been reduced or that conditions have been worsened, it will be the easiest thing in the world to impose the same kind of conditions upon British seamen. Therefore, and as a safeguard, I make a 1120 suggestion to the right hon. Gentleman which I hope will be accepted, although it may not be possible to embody my suggestion in the provisions of the Bill.
We ought to secure an assurance that, just as we have a National Maritime Board for the purpose of regulating the wages and conditions of British seamen, so we ought to have a maritime board for Allied seamen, and the wages and conditions decided upon by this board should be closely co-ordinated with the wages and conditions imposed by the National Maritime Board. I hope that we shall be able to get some assurance before the Committee stage of the Bill. I do not think it is possible to embody this suggestion in the Bill, but we ought to have an assurance of that kind. I am anxious, much as I am also anxious to improve our shipping position and to win the Battle of the Atlantic, to improve the wages and conditions of British seamen, who are undergoing great risks and enduring great privations.
§ Mr. Shinwell
Yes. There is another matter. Are these courts to be held in public or in camera? British courts are always open to the public. It would be a point to be seriously considered if these Allied Governments were able to constitute maritime or any other kind of courts where the proceedings were not available to the general public. I hope we shall be able to get also an assurance of this kind; otherwise we may require to put an Amendment on the Paper in order to secure that the proceedings of the courts be in public. I hope that the Solicitor-General does not demur to that suggestion. There is no valid reason why-it should not be accepted. If Allied Governments want to establish their own courts in this country and do not want anybody to know what, they are doing, it is a serious matter.
Arising from that matter, I should like to know whether measures will be taken to provide for the defence of the men. I understand that the men are to be subject to the law of the particular countries concerned. I do not know what the practice is in those countries. My right hon. and learned Friend knows, of course, much more about these matters than I do, but let us assume that a Norwegian 1121 seaman is brought before the Norwegian maritime court. He needs legal defence. Will he be entitled to call upon a British lawyer or must he go to a Norwegian lawyer? It occurred to me when I saw this Bill for the first time, which was last Thursday, that the main reason for the Bill might be that there are in this country Norwegian, Dutch and Greek lawyers who have had to leave their own countries and are very anxious to find employment. [Laughter.] Well, probably that is an ignoble suggestion, and I do not press it, but it just occurred to me; no more than that. At any rate, I want to be assured that these Allied seamen can call upon British lawyers; after all, there is no reason why we should not assist our own legal profession to obtain employment also. I hope that we shall be assured that men concerned may be defended by British lawyers.
There is one point which has given me a good deal of trouble. Let us assume that, in one of these Allied maritime courts, a man is sentenced to a term of imprisonment for 12 months for what might be regarded in a British court as a minor offence. It often happens on a coal-fired vessel that somebody in the stokehold does not like the language of some other person, or somebody may be in his cups and, disliking certain language or a certain threat, may seek to protect himself. He may be charged with assault and, under this Measure, would be arraigned before the Norwegian maritime court. He would probably be sentenced to 12 months' or 2 years' imprisonment. It would be most invidious to find next day that a British marine fireman from a British vessel had been sent to prison for only 30 days for a similar act, and we should have a great deal of controversy immediately as to whether the Allied maritime courts were not more severe than the British courts. That would be a most undesirable position. We need some kind of assurance that sentences will be of a maximum character, so far as possible, and related to British criminal law. I do not propose to proceed further than that, but I hope these observations will not be regarded as irrelevant, because they seem to me to be most important. To begin with, this Bill seems to be quite unnecessary except for the purpose of mollifying the Allied Governments. All the powers applied for are embodied in the Defence Regulations, 1122 and if the Government insist on proceeding with the Bill, if they feel that it ought to be done and will help with the war effort, I offer no objections. But I do want these necessary safeguards embodied in the Bill, and I hope the Government will not press the Bill forward too quickly.
§ Mr. Goldie (Warrington)
I must confess that when I received my copy of this Bill I was completely misled by the title—"The Allied Powers (Maritime Courts) Bill"—and I, for one, expected to find on perusing this Measure that it was in fact an attempt by friendly Powers to set up admiralty courts in this country. I read the Bill carefully, and I confess that I have considerable misgivings about it, but, unlike the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell), I was completely satisfied by the opening speech of the Home Secretary. I realise to the full the necessity for the Bill, and without any hesitation whatever I shall support it. But the right hon. Gentleman drew attention to the fact that undoubtedly constitutional changes are involved, and I feel that I should be failing in my duty if on this, one of the rare occasions on which I have addressed the House, I did not draw attention to one or two features which I seriously think are worthy of consideration.
This is the first Bill which has come before the House in which, quite unintentionally, we may be prejudicing the position of friendly aliens. Let me explain what I mean. I would ask the House to take their minds back to those early days in September, beginning on the very day when war was declared, when for some six weeks, day by day and night by night, we sacrificed in our own cause the personal rights of the citizens of this country. It was our duty so to do, and I remember how in those very early days the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot) and the hon. Member for the Hartlepools (Mr. Howard Gritten) took points which were obviously meant to be helpful but which in my view seemed captious. We sacrificed an enormous amount of the interests and constitutional rights of British subjects for the war cause. To-day it seems to me that the real danger in this Bill is that we are going to deprive the friendly alien of the fundamental right of extradition.
I notice that in the Explanatory Memorandum the matters with which the Bill 1123 deals are divided under three headings. I personally have no criticisms whatever to make with regard to (b):Offences committed by the master or members of the crew of a merchant ship of that Power in contravention of the merchant shipping law of that Power.and (c):Offences committed by a person who is a national of that Power, and a seafaring person. …But I think that exactly the same end as is sought under (a) might have been obtained by requesting Allied Governments to extend the jurisdiction of our own courts. I see that the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman) who, like myself, has had considerable experience of the Northern Circuit, agrees with me. We have had experience after experience there of offences committed within territorial waters by foreign seamen. They are brought in to Liverpool and are tried at the Liverpool Assizes. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor-General will correct me if I am wrong, but I think there is a Section in one of the Acts which makes all criminal offences committed by British seamen triable at the Central Criminal Court in London. But what happens here? The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary said that there is no court at all, so far as one can see, in which a man guilty of an offence on the high seas can be tried. I must confess that it is rather a shock to me to find that in the case of murder committed on the high seas, as the hon. Member for Seaham said, the man is brought back to this country, and instead of being tried by the criminal jurisdiction of this country and sentenced to death, as I should prefer, he is brought to this country and tried before a court in the jurisdiction of his own country and possibly sentenced only to imprisonment or to a fine. There is an extraordinary anomaly. Assuming for the moment that something goes wrong and the man has been tried at a court of criminal jurisdiction of this country and sentenced to death, the punishment already inflicted upon him will have to be taken into consideration.
My point, therefore, is that the effect of this Bill could have been better obtained if the friendly Powers had been told that here at their disposal was the great criminal jurisdiction of this country and 1124 that they should not hesitate to use it. Under this Bill, however—and I put this criticism forward in a friendly spirit—we are saying that we will hand over their own subjects to them. What becomes of the whole basis of extradition in this country? What would have happened in the past? Let us assume for a moment that a man committed a serious criminal offence on the high seas, on a foreign ship, and worked his way back to this country. Extradition proceedings would have been instituted at once in order to bring within the jurisdiction of the foreign Power the man who was an alleged criminal. At one time, the senior Metropolitan Magistrate at Bow Street spent much of his time with writs of Habeas Corpus in order to determine whether or not an alien should be handed over to a foreign court. But under this Bill, if the unfortunate alien lands somewhere on our coast, the village policeman issues a summons for the man to appear at a foreign court. It is indeed a big constitutional change, and that is why I venture to point out that, whether we like it or not, under this Bill we are to a certain extent prejudicing the position of friendly aliens.
§ The Solicitor - General (Sir William Jowitt)
I am sorry, but I do not quite follow the hon. and learned Member. To where does he think we could extradite a Norwegian who has committed a murder on the high seas? To what country could we extradite him for trial?
§ Mr. Goldie
I do not mean extradition in that sense. What I was suggesting is this: Instead of the procedure by summons issued by a local magistrate, there should be proceedings in the nature of extradition before one of our own courts before the man is handed over to a foreign court. That is the point I wish to suggest for the Solicitor-General's consideration. Apart from that, however, I can see no difficulty in the point raised by the hon. Member for Seaham. I happen to be a member of the Bar Council, and as one who has had some experience, I do not think that there will be the slightest difficulty about barristers and solicitors appearing in these foreign tribunals. For years past what has in fact happened in this country is that many counsel—myself included—have had the honour of being briefed, and firms of solicitors have regularly instructed counsel 1125 in the ports on behalf of the various parties.
§ Mr. Goldie
My hon. Friend has less faith in the interpretative powers of the police force than I have. He has not enjoyed the privilege that I have had, of listening to the interpretation of many languages in the courts. I think we can safely trust to the police on that matter. The test, to my mind, is: Does this or does it not, assist us in the prosecution of the war? The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary has said that it is required for that purpose, and for that purpose only. When I am assured by the Home Secretary that it is necessary I realise that, when we British subjects have had to make considerable sacrifices of our legal rights, the least we can do is to ask aliens to realise that they must come on to the same basis as ourselves. Since the Home Secretary has shown the necessity for the Bill, I, for one, give it my support
§ Mr. Mander (Wolverhampton, East)
I support the Second reading of the Bill. I think the Home Secretary made a perfectly clear case for it. But there are certain aspects upon which something will have to be done, I think, to protect the rights of all the persons concerned. I agree that, having given diplomatic status and things of that kind, to our Allies over here, we cannot cut at the root of that recognition and say that for certain purposes they must not be allowed to exercise the freedom which they would have had in their own country. The Home Secretary spoke of "States to whom we have given full sovereign rights." Let us be clear about that. We have not given full sovereign rights to Free France, but I take it they will come in on the same basis as the Powers to whom we have given full sovereign rights, and that there will be no differentiation between one Ally and another. In some cases, the Governments 1126 are provisional. Those which would appear to qualify at the present time are Norway, Belgium, Holland, Free France, Poland, Yugoslavia, Greece, and, I suppose, under certain circumstances, our Allies, Egypt, Iraq and Turkey might also qualify, in view of the fact that they are on the sea. I notice that the term "Allied and Associated Powers" is used. I should like some explanation as to the precise significance of that term. I can imagine what it is. There is a vacant chair left for some important friend who might be coming from over the water at a later date—a possibility that we ought to provide for. However, some explanation might be given about it.
The main weakness of the Bill seems to me to be this: In the case of a British subject, he comes before a British court, and is dealt with by that court; but the position of an allied subject who comes before a court may be different. I think the Governments over here at present are doing their very best to be just and reasonable. I know there have been a certain amount of criticism, but I do not believe it is well-based. I think that, for instance the Poles, whatever their history may have been before the war, have at present a very broad-based and representative Government, as far as they can possibly get one together in present circumstances, and that they have at their head, in General Sikorsky, a man with a very progressive outlook, who is anxious to see justice done to every section of the Polish community, irrespective of creed or race. I believe that the same thing applies to the other Governments, too. But you may have a subject brought before, say, a Polish court, who says that he is a Czech or a German or a Russian, or that he belongs to some other foreign State. Who is to decide? As I understand, at present it is the court before whom a person is hailed that makes that decision. That does not seem to me a fair way of dealing with the issue. I imagine that there will be very few disputed cases, because I believe that the Governments intend to make as little trouble as they can, and that they will not insist on any case where there is even an equitable ground, let alone a legal one, for releasing the claim against the person concerned. But I think you will need some court of appeal. It will have to be not altogether a British court, but an inter-Allied court, to decide between one Allied subject and another.
§ Mr. Goldie
As I understand, under Clause 2 any person other than a British subject can be tried. That is to say, if an offence is committed in a Polish ship by a Czech subject, he can be tried in a Polish court, and vice versa. The Clause is not limited in any way in respect of persons who are not British subjects. It refers to:any act or omission committed by any person on board a merchant ship of that Power
§ Mr. Mander
That requires very searching investigation. I do not see why these courts should have power to try any persons but their own nationals. I think that if there is a dispute about nationality, it would be better for it to go to an Allied court of appeal. If you are to carry out the spirit of the arrangement made with our Allies at present, that must be done. The point was raised as to the type of offences and punishments which foreign legislation on these matters provides for. The Home Secretary said that that was entirely a matter for the foreign Governments concerned. I agree, but I think that, in all the circumstances, it would be reasonable for us to ask for information as to what the practice is, so that we can see for ourselves the sort of sentences that would be given. I do not think that any Allied Government could possibly take exception to a request for information, seeing that the House of Commons is being asked to legislate. I hope that my right hon. Friend will be good enough, at some stage, to give the House information on that point. I presume that the courts will sit at the ports; and that the appeal courts, if there are any, will sit at the ports, too. It seems to me that the action we are taking is perfectly justified for carrying on the war, and that if we can avoid dangers which have been pointed out we shall be taking a step which some of us have been advocating for some time past, by associating together our Allies in some common body. It has been suggested that there should be a Joint Allied Council. That seems very desirable. Here there seems an opportunity for some kind of joint tribunal, for deciding these cases is going to be extraordinarily difficult if the Bill goes through in its present form.
§ Mr. David Adams (Consett)
I am very glad to support the Second Reading of this Measure, subject to certain important considerations being given to the Bill in 1128 Committee. It is certainly desirable to have consultations with foreign seamen's associations, and the Home Secretary should have little difficulty in arranging such consultations. I am certain, from my personal knowledge, that these associations would be most anxious to lend their best support to the progress of the campaign and therefore to the handling of these foreign vessels to the best possible advantage. There does not appear to be, as has been mentioned, an adequate court of appeal. There is an appeal, subject to the initial court consenting, to a higher court. That is a very qualified liberty, and it ought to be made clear that in reasonable cases the first court shall not be in a position to refuse further consideration of a case. I myself have been a very strong advocate of adequate appeal courts owing to my experience of the mining industry, in which we had the umpire acting as the final court of appeal. Incidentally, there ought to be a further appeal against his decision, but nothing of the sort exists. But in this case we would certainly remove a grievance by making a court of appeal obtainable by those, who, in a reasonable situation, desired to take advantage of it.
We have been informed that all the powers are contained in the Defence of the Realm Act or in the Merchant Shipping Act in this country. If that be so, I can only say that shipowners on the North-East coast appear to be ignorant of the same. During the week-end some of our leading shipowners have advised me that they have had great trouble in sailing Allied ships which they are managing on account of the truculent outlook,of many of the foreign seamen, who have given an undertaking, often in writing, although they have not signed the articles, to sail in a particular ship. The shipowner informed me that when they came aboard a Danish vessel they were fearsome, and asked, "Is there a Danish captain on the ship? "He said," No, an English captain", and they replied, "All right, we will not sail"—a very arbitrary and unreasonable attitude to adopt. I have heard of foreign engineers who have actually signed the articles in regard to these Allied vessels using every device, reasonable and unreasonable, not to sail in the vessel. In some cases ships have been held up for a whole week, and others, having lost the convoy, have been held up for a further 1129 period. I am certain that if this Bill enables shipowners to deal with cases of this character, they will be able to save a very considerable amount of what is to-day lost tonnage. I have heard shipowners state that a lot of the trouble is due to the very large advances that are granted to seamen before a vessel sails— sometimes as much as 10. The temptation is too great; the men become inebriated and do not join the ship at all, and so it is held up. That, of course, is a private matter which might be dealt with by the National Maritime Board. If that is a cause of delays in vessels sailing, some better steps ought to be taken to handle that financial matter.
The question has very properly arisen as to whether, in view of the powers which we are to give to Allied Governments to deal with their nationals, there may not be a tendency for them to pay lower wages than those which are prevailing at the present time. I am sure that Allied seamen are without exception under as good conditions as or even better than British seamen under agreements made by the National Maritime Board, which governs the wages and conditions of the British seamen. But there might be a tendency, as you confer greater powers on these Allied Governments, for them to be tempted to pay less wages. That is a point that might very well be cleared up, or some assurance should be given to the Home Secretary by these Governments that they will undertake that conditions are no worse and the wages paid no less than those prevailing in all British ships. I believe that, apart from the matter of prosecutions, the very existence of such an Act will have a very salutary effect. At the present time, whether it be well founded or not, these aliens believe that they can be entirely independent and can come and go and break their undertakings without let or hindrance. The very fact that there is an Act which will enable them to be brought before their own courts will have a most salutary effect. For a considerable time, personal friends of mine who are shipowners have asked whether something could not be done by the respective Governments in the nature of a police force to compel these men to adopt a more rational outlook, clearly showing that such an Act is essential.
Another matter that ought to be cleared up is whether there is the power to trans- 1130 port persons from this country and from our prison regime who may be sentenced to a period of more than 12 months' imprisonment. Is not that a really extraordinary power to be asking for in this Measure? Perhaps we shall learn the particular reason for that course. I think these were the main points with which I was anxious to deal, but I know of my own personal knowledge of the North-East coast that this has been a matter of the gravest concern. Vessels have been held up for a considerable period, quite unreasonably, and it may be that this Bill will end the disabilities which are being suffered. Everyone knows that these foreign vessels are manned by foreign seamen, masters and engineers. There may be an all-British crew, but there is a feeling growing that no vessel should be permitted to sail unless it is manned exclusively, from the master down to the cabin boy, by its own nationals. That is a most unreasonable attitude to adopt and will hinder us in the great Battle of the Atlantic which was properly referred to by the Home Secretary as paramount if we are to preserve the life-line of this country.
§ Mr. Edmund Harvey (Combined English Universities)
I think the last speaker has made it clear that there is need for some legislation at this time to deal with the very difficult problem that has arisen. But I think it has also been made quite clear, by what previous speakers have said, that it would be most desirable that the Government should be willing to postpone the Committee stage to a little later date than the date which has been suggested, so that the various points raised by different speakers can be adequately considered and possible Amendments to the Bill considered very carefully by the Government. It would be very regrettable, in view of the importance of the principle of the Bill, that it should be rushed through in a few days. This problem has not arisen during the last fortnight or three weeks. It must have been exercising the mind of the Government and Allied Governments for some considerable time, and surely it should be possible to postpone for two or three days longer the Committee stage of the Bill in order to take into careful consideration the very important points which have been raised in the course of the Debate. I do not want to go over 1131 the ground which has already been covered and dealt with so adequately, but I feel that we as a House ought to realise that this Measure—so technical—raises a very big principle. We are according to foreign Powers under the terms of this Measure the rights of jurisdiction not only over their own subjects but over others, not British subjects. The consequence of that may be very serious, apart from the important legal questions involved. We are also allowing British subjects to be fined and imprisoned for three months for contempt of a foreign court held in this country. That kind of thing is a new principle, and I think it ought to be possible, even if it is necessary to have the principle of this Measure accepted with regret as a war-time necessity, in view of the urgent claims of war conditions, to meet a number of the objections to the details of the Measure.
In particular, I hope the Government will consider a modification of Clause 2, Sub-section (1) (a).Surely it is desirable that if these courts are established, the rights of non-nationals of a country concerned, who are not British subjects, should be safeguarded. I do not wish to use the name of any country, because I do not wish to cause any ill-feeling, but, let us say, a Ruritanian court might try an American citizen who happened to be on board a ship belonging to Ruritania and condemn that citizen to a long sentence of imprisonment. I think that is an undesirable thing.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Colonel Llewellin)
If countries like Norway and Holland had their own countries In which their courts could operate, that is the very thing they could do. If the hon. Gentleman or, I went on a trip on a Dutch ship, and either of us misbehaved ourselves, we should be liable to be tried by a Dutch court, and we are merely saying to these countries that they can now exercise, in the hospitality of our shores, what, if they had not been overrun by the Germans, they could have continued to do in their own countries. That is really all the Bill does, except that, as is being done in this country, we have excluded British citizens from their jurisdiction although, formerly, if they had been on a ship they would have been within that jurisdiction.
§ Mr. Harvey
I quite recognise that a good case can be made out on those lines, but looking at the technical position I think my right hon. and gallant Friend will see that the position is a difficult one. It may be that an American student is engaged temporarily as a sailor, as many are during their holidays. He may happen to be engaged on a boat which is suddenly involved in war by the aggression of the German Government. Technically he is a sailor, although he does not want to continue so, for understandable reasons. He intended to join for only a short period and had no intention of going into the war. He could be dealt with under this Clause of the Bill by the court of the country concerned and given a severe sentence for desertion or attempted desertion. I know personally of a case of another citizen of a friendly State, not an American, who might have been in that position. He went on to a boat temporarily as a sailor, and war came along. That sort of case ought to be carefully provided for. We are not dealing with the position as it would be in time of peace. We are making a very great concession of principle to our friends in the Allied Governments in passing this Measure, and it is not too much to ask them in turn to make some concession to meet the real difficulties that many of us feel might come about if this Measure is passed as it stands.
§ Colonel Llewellin
Really, that position can never arise, because all the Powers concerned are Allies of ours and are in the war.
§ Mr. Harvey
Perhaps my right hon. and gallant Friend has not quite seen the point. This Clause deals, not just with the subjects of Allied Powers, but with any non-British person, whether his State is in the war or not, and I ask that the Government should consider this point and see if it is possible during the Committee stage to make some alteration which would further protect those persons who are not citizens or subjects of the Power in question.
§ Colonel Llewellin
I think we are at cross-purposes. I was dealing with the case which my hon. Friend put of somebody of a neutral country going on to a ship and unfortunately finding while he was engaged on a voyage that that country was at war. That cannot happen to any 1133 of the Powers under this Bill, because they are already with us in the war. The only thing that it could apply to is if an American or a citizen of some other country were to desert in the ordinary way before completing his voyage, and I do not see why he should not be just as much tried for that if he went on such a ship as if he was on a British ship.
§ Mr. Harvey
I do not want to press that matter further, but there is one other point to which I ask the Government to give attention. It is important that there should be an opportunity to consider these questions before we reach the Committee stage. I think the Clause relating to offences by British subjects is one that will need further consideration, and I hope care will be taken to see that, in any provision that is made to establish the rights of nationality, protection is given to persons who have been in this country for a long time and who have retained, perhaps simply because of poverty, the nationality of their country of: origin, but who are to all intents and purposes British subjects, having ceased to have any connection with their country of origin. At present the Bill affords no protection to persons of that sort, and that is, in effect, a serious injustice.
§ Mr. Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary recommended the Bill to the House on two broad grounds of principle. He said, first, that we could not win the Battle of the Atlantic without the Bill, and secondly, that any other method of dealing with the situation with which the Bill proposes to deal would be imitating Hitler. If I thought that my right hon. Friend had established either one of those propositions, I should take a very different view of the Bill from that which I take, but I think he totally failed to establish either. Obviously, our effort in the Battle of the Atlantic would be considerably weakened if there were no power to enforce discipline on these ships, but I think it has been amply shown throughout the Debate that there is power under the Merchant Shipping Act and the Defence Regulations, and if there were any doubt about this, there was nothing to prevent the Government from introducing a short Bill applying the Merchant Shipping Act and the Defence Regulations to the sailors on these ships in exactly the 1134 same way and to exactly the same extent as they apply already to British sailors. Had the matter been dealt with in that way, no question of principle would have arisen, and no kind of opposition could have been offered by any reasonable person.
When my right hon. Friend said that to deal with the matter in any other way would be to imitate Hitler to some extent, I cannot help thinking that his controversial enthusiasm simply ran away with him. That claim which he made simply has no meaning—the position is to the contrary if anything. I invite my right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General, who is, I understand, to reply to the Debate, to say whether I am wrong in stating that it has always been fundamental in our constitution and in the British approach to questions of law and citizenship that once a man lands on the soil of this country he is subject to our laws and courts, and to nothing else. Why is slavery not recognised in our courts? There was a time when it was said that it ought to be, and that when a man who was legally and properly, according to the laws of his country, a slave in his own country, if he escaped and landed on these shores he ought to retain the status of a slave. Our courts would not have that proposition. They said that when such a person landed on our soil, he had no status, and could not have any status that was not recognised by our law. That appears to me to be a fundamental principle. It might be that if the circumstances necessitated it we should have to make inroads upon that principle, but no case has been made out for making any inroads upon it.
The Home Secretary said that if we recognise these Governments as sovereign Governments, then, logically, we must not curtail their sovereign powers. I am certain my right hon. Friend did not mean what he said; he could not possibly have meant it. Are we to allow these Allied Governments to set up schools in this country and to teach their own languages in those schools? Are we to allow them to set up their own courts to administer their own municipal law on their own citizens or nationals who happen to be here? Are we to give them the right to raise revenue and to impose taxes upon their nationals? All these are necessary and logical parts of sovereignty, and if they are denied those powers, then we are 1135 to that extent limiting the sovereignty which we recognise. I do not know anybody in the House who would readily afford any one of those powers to any one of these Governments. Why not? Because we have not recognised them as sovereign Powers for that purpose on our soil. What we have said is that since they have been driven out of their own countries, we shall not allow that act of aggression by Hitler or by Mussolini to interfere with our diplomatic recognition of them as the lawful sovereign authority in their own country. Our recognition goes no further than that, and it could not and ought not to do so.
The true ground for passing Measures of this kind, or like the Allied Forces Act, which is the only near parallel to this Measure, is necessity, or if not necessity, convenience. We do not do it because we say that, once we have recognised them as sovereign Powers, we have to give them full sovereign authority on our soil over their own nationals. We have never said any such thing, and I think the Foreign Office would be horrified by any suggestion that we should. I feel certain that my right hon. Friend simply allowed his controversial enthusiasm to run away with his very loquacious and eloquent tongue. We do not recognise the sovereignty of these Governments in anything like that full sense. Any special powers which we give them have to be justified, and so far always have been justified, by convenience and necessity. It seems to me that to act in the way in which we are asked to act now is really not so much a logical recognition of the implications of their sovereignty. Actually, it is a derogation of our own. The Bill preserves—I suppose we must be thankful for it—the powers of British courts to apply British laws to British citizens or anyone else who happens to be here. It is no longer an exclusive right and an exclusive jurisdiction.
One of the points which I invite the Government to consider between now and the Committee stage is whether that Clause which preserves the jurisdiction of British courts ought not to be strengthened so that any offences committed, which are already by our own laws triable by British courts, shall not, under this Bill, be triable by any other courts. I suggest in all earnestness to the Government that they could do that without in any way militat- 1136 ing against any of the purposes which it is intended by this Bill to serve. If the Government say that they need this Bill because without it offences may be committed by persons and no one has any control over them, that is a good ground for having some such measure, but there is no ground whatever for giving away any powers which our own courts now have, or exercising them by the courtesy of any other jurisdiction or parallel jurisdiction of any other court. Why cannot we amend that Clause to make certain that no powers are given to any Allied Government where at the moment sufficient powers are already exercised at our own courts?
Profoundly as I dislike this Bill, I recognise that it will probably go through, and therefore I should like to try and improve it constructively. The other point with which I wish to deal is the question of those who are neither nationals of any Allied Government nor British subjects. When the hon. Lady the Member for the English Universities (Miss E. Rathbone) intervened during the speech of the Home Secretary, I thought her question was treated rather lightly. Take the practical cases which have already occurred in the operation of the Allied Forces Act. They can apply equally in the case of this Measure. Indeed, they apply more so under this Bill because this Bill gives powers to Allied Governments to conscript seamen, whereas the Allied Forces Act carefully avoided giving them any powers to conscript men for the Army. Take the case of a man born in Galicia, in 1914. At that time Galicia was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. That man was an Austro-Hungarian citizen. That man came to this country, and lived here for a long time. He may have come to this country as a baby. In 1914 Austro-Hungarian nationality disappeared—there is no longer any such thing. Galicia became part of Poland, but all the people living in Galicia or originating from there did not automatically become Polish subjects. Such persons only became Polish subjects if they so elected on or before the date specified by the laws of Poland. None of the people for whom I am now speaking did or ever will so elect for reasons which may be good or bad which I do not propose to discuss here. That man is no longer an Austro-Hungarian subject. He is not a Pole, and he is not 1137 a British subject. He is stateless, and there are thousands of such people in this country. There is nothing in the world to prevent the Polish Government from conscripting these people under this Bill for the Polish maritime service.
Lest anyone should imagine that I am raising a purely theoretical difficulty which would never arise in practice, let me assure my right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General that such cases have already arisen in large numbers, under the Allied Forces Act, where there is no power to conscript at all. What was said there was, "We are not seeking to conscript. The Allied Forces Act gives us power over members of our Forces and we are exercising that power" It needed a very great deal of pressure from this House and outside to get that position rectified. I suggest that there ought to be something in this Bill to make sure that it does not apply to people of this kind. Let me state another case. I have been dealing with people born in those countries and coming to this country at an early age. Let me give another type of case, namely, that of a man born in Vienna who is of Polish parentage. This is an actual case of which I sent particulars to the Secretary of State for War under the other Act. I am not sure that that man was not born in Poland and taken to Vienna at a very early age. At any rate, he lived the whole of his life in Vienna, did not know a word of Polish, had never returned to Poland, had no friends in Poland, no relatives in Poland, and had no communications with Poland of any kind.
There came a time, however, when the Germans invaded Austria and transported across Europe thousands of Polish-born persons and deposited them in a kind of no-man's land between Prussia and the Polish frontier. The Poles refused to admit them, and they were right. They said that these people were not their citizens, that they had no obligation towards them, and that they were not going to lend themselves to support acts of Nazi policy in this matter. There they were for nine months, without houses, food, medical attention or anything. One of these men ultimately escaped and came to this country. After some months, under the Allied Forces Act, the Polish authorities arrested him and imprisoned him. He was not a Polish citizen when 1138 it was a question of getting into Poland, but he became a Polish citizen when his services were required. If a man, in these circumstances had said, as he did say, that he would serve the Polish cause and that he was willing to do it in the British Army, but not in the Polish Army, was he taking an unreasonable view? In this Bill there is nothing to prevent countless numbers of people of that kind being conscripted by the Poles to serve in the Polish Forces. Cannot something be done about that? Ought there not to be something in the Bill—I am certainly not objecting to conscription—to give such people a reasonable option where they will serve?
Let me ask another question. I do not wish to deal with it in any detail, because the ground has already been covered. Whatever case can be made out for giving these Governments power over their own nationals, there is no ground for giving them power over persons who are not their nationals at all. Suppose a question of disputed nationality arises. The Bill provides a procedure if the man claims to be a British subject, a reasonably quick and effective procedure, which decides the question, not for all purposes, but for the purposes of this Bill. I have no objection to that, but why is it limited to British subjects? Suppose a man claims not to be the subject of the Government seeking to exercise jurisdiction over him. As I see it, unless he happens to be rich enough to begin proceedings in the High Court, the sole judge of whether the maritime court has jurisdiction is the maritime court itself. You are making the Allied Government the judge in its own case when the whole question to be decided is whether he is subject to the Act or not. Why should not the question be tried by a British court, or a mixed court? It ought certainly not to be tried by the Government which asserts the jurisdiction. They are not proper judges of the question. They are the plaintiffs. They are asking for the question to be determined in their favour, and the Bill allows them to determine the question themselves.
The Bill gives powers to those Governments which are not enjoyed by our own Military Forces. If a member of our Military Forces absents himself, he cannot be arrested by the nearest soldier, or by an escort, and taken back by his regiment. That would be an unlawful 1139 arrest. If the Army allege that a man is an absentee from his unit, they must lodge a complaint with the civil authority, and the civil police arrest him, and a court of summary jurisdiction determines whether he is an absentee or not, and, if the civil court determines that he is an absentee, it orders him to be handed over and taken back to his unit. But you do not let a military court decide that question. Why not have a similar procedure under this Bill when there is a dispute whether the Allied Government have jurisdiction? You compel the Allied Government to go to a magistrate and take out a summons. Why not have the summons returnable before that court and let the court determine whether the man is subject to the jurisdiction alleged against him before handing him over? I make that constructive suggestion, and I hope it will be considered. When we have had so little time to consider the Bill, and in a short Debate of this kind so many points have arisen which will require re-examination, it reinforces the plea against rushing the Bill through and regretting it afterwards. Let us have proper time to consider it. There is no immediate hurry for it. The Battle of the Atlantic is not going to be lost for want of it within the next few days.
To return to the point of general principle, it seems to me that we are giving away with both hands things which are not points of legal punctilio but which go to the root of our way of living and our conception of justice. They ought not to be given away if there is any other way of meeting the problem. There is really no necessity whatever for the Bill. The discipline which it is necessary to maintain on board these vessels can already be maintained by the Merchant Shipping Act and our Defence Regulations. If there are doubts as to whether those powers exist, a one-clause Bill removing them is all that the Government really need, and they ought not to ask the House to give wider powers and to give away more of our hard-won liberties than the necessities of the case require. No case has been made out for the Bill, and I should like to see it withdrawn, but, if it cannot be withdrawn, I hope ample opportunity will be given for drastic reconstruction in Committee.
§ Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)
After listening to the discussion, and after studying the Bill, I cannot understand why there is not a definite and concerted opposition to it. I gather from what has been said that some decision has been taken in the Labour movement either to support it or to let it go through. That is very bad, for obvious reasons. The thing that becomes clearer and clearer from all that goes on is the need for effective opposition in order to bring out many of the bad features of policy which are being developed at present. The Home Secretary was arguing to try to convince himself, and he hopelessly failed. I have never heard such puerile arguments to back up a Bill of the kind—as though it were possible to have sovereign States operating within this country. It is not possible. It is an absurdity. You cannot legislate by arguing on absurdities, and you cannot win the Battle of the Atlantic by arguing on absurdities. It is quite possible to discuss a Bill and make it an Act of Parliament which might be of very great assistance to the Battle of the Atlantic, but it is also possible to discuss, and pass a Bill which would do very great harm to the Battle of the Atlantic. Merely to talk about the urgency of the Battle of the Atlantic does not get us anywhere. What is it that we have to face? Not a case of murder or petty larceny on the high seas. It is a question of getting ships cleared at the speediest possible moment.
I am afraid that, even when the Minister pays tribute to the bravery and devotion of these Allied seamen, he, and Members of the House, and the people generally do not give enough consideration to just what it is that these lads are facing and enduring. I know quite a number of them, and I have heard stories which are almost incredible as to how these men manage to carry on. If I were engaged in the Merchant Service, possibly I would continue to carry on, but I know that every time I went to the ship I would go in dread. It is not only a question of dread, but a question of the appalling hazards and experiences that these lads have to go through. There has never been anything like it. Here you propose quite calmly, as though you were discussing some abstraction that did not matter, to place these lads under the control of these so-called national Govern- 1141 ments without any question of considering their unions or themselves in the character of these courts. It is a callous and brutal attitude and shows that Members do not understand what these lads are enduring and facing day after day while we are sitting here. I have spoken to some of these lads and seen them come ashore with every nerve on edge, but they are braced up in a day or two and go back to their ships. I do not know how some of them face it.
This Bill will give the Polish Government national sovereignty. They were merely a Fascist Government, and the court will have to be set up according to their Constitution. Before Hitler came to power they were notorious for their anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic programme and for the unspeakable poverty of the masses of their workers and peasants. Are we to put their seamen, without any consideration for their unions, under the control of this Government? What is the use of the Home Secretary talking about national sovereignty and denying all that he and his party have always stood for by refusing the seamen and their unions the right to have a say in the character of the courts? Take the case of the Greek Government. Nobody will deny the courage and endurance of the Greek people, but the Greek Government are Fascist. The hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) said that we must not try to limit the rights of these Governments to act as they would in their own countries. All the Liberals in Greece are in gaol or have been deported, and if we allowed the Greek Government to act here as they did in their own country, it would be a bad lookout for the Liberals here. The Greek Government are a rigid Fascist Government. Are they to be allowed to decide the character of the court that is to be set up, without any consideration for the seamen's organisations? If it were a case of setting up courts in their own country, the Labour movement in this country would assist the seamen's union and the Socialist organisation there so as to strengthen them in the democratisation of the courts.
Why should the Labour movement at a time like this take up their present attitude instead of demanding that the fullest consideration should be given to the seamen's union and demanding that they should be consulted as to the course to 1142 be taken to help the turnabout of ships? Instead of that, we hear nonsense talked about the subtleties of national sovereignty. There is no such thing in this country as national sovereignty independent of, or separate from, or operating apart from the sovereignty of this country. I would suggest that the Labour movement and trade unions of this country should take an active interest in this matter and demand the withdrawal of this Bill and demand also consultation with the democratic organisations in order to reach an understanding as to the best method of ensuring the quickest turnabout of the ships and the greatest concern for the lives and well-being and the democratic rights of the men who have to sail the ships.
§ Mr. Rhys Davies (Westhoughton)
It is obvious that the Government spokesmen are not very enthusiastic about the provisions of this Bill, and I am not surprised at that. What has astonished me is that the Bill is regarded more or less as a quid pro quo. The Allied Governments have apparently agreed that we should use their ships at a price, provided they secure their rights in this country as sovereign Powers. That, however, takes us into the realm of high politics, and I do not want to dwell upon it. I should have thought that, apart from one problem, the Allied Governments would have been willing for their nationals to come under the British legal code. That exception is what might happen on the high seas; but if foreign ships are controlled by His Majesty's Government, I should have thought they would have been British territory for legal purposes, like any British ship. Perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman will be good enough to clear up that point.
The issues that I want to raise are small but important. Will these courts be conducted in the language of the nationals concerned? If we are to set up Norwegian, Dutch and Polish courts here and the proceedings are to take place in the languages of the courts on British soil, will the Solicitor-General see that Welshmen in Wales are entitled in future to speak their own language in their own courts? I see at least three hon. Members here who understand the Welsh language, and I would like to press that point home. The right hon. and learned Gentleman will be 1143 faced in due course with a powerful agitation for that reform from parts of the Principality. If nationals of other countries are to be tried in their own language on British soil, Welshmen should certainly be allowed to use their own language in their own country. Imagine a Norwegian court held in Wales in the Norwegian language while Welsh people living in Wales are not allowed to speak their own language in their own native courts. What an anomaly. I am sure that this Bill will do one thing, and that is to remove that anomaly in connection with the Principality of Wales. I am sure that the Solicitor-General will be able to reply," I will see that the Cabinet deals with that problem right away."If he does not, I shall be very much offended.
§ The Solicitor-General
I cannot see that there will ever arise circumstances in which an invader will be able to drive out from Wales a Welsh Government.
§ Mr. Davies
That has been done in the past, but it was not our fault. The next point is as to who is to meet the expenses of these courts? The Bill says that the expenses are to be shouldered by the Allied Governments, but I would like to know where they get their money from. The right hon. and learned Gentleman ought to assure the House who is to foot the bill in the end. Another point is the position of the conscientious objector. Under this Bill the men will be conscripts; the point about which I am anxious is whether the Allied Governments, in the courts which will be established in this country, will be able to impose upon their nationals penalties more severe than would apply if they had come under British law. I have been in some of those countries, and I know their attitude towards trade unionism. I was in one country in Central Europe, long before Hitler came on the scene, attending a trade union conference, and I was watched by two detectives while at that conference. One of those Governments from Central Europe will be establishing courts within this country, and I shall be interested to know what their attitude will be if their nationals form a trade union. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman thinks it right that a Government from a foreign country should establish itself in this country, why does he not try to persuade it that conscientious objection to service shall be 1144 acknowledged in the case of its nationals exactly as it is allowed in the case of our own nationals?
Now I come to another point which may appeal to the right hon. and learned Gentleman and other members of the legal profession. Who is to undertake the defence of men who are accused? Are the lawyers supposed to be able to speak the language in which the proceedings of the court are conducted? Imagine a Welsh or an English lawyer pleading the case of one of these men in a court carried on in the Norwegian language. What would happen then? Or are we to understand that there are plenty of Dutch, Norwegian and Polish lawyers in this country ready to argue cases in these courts? I am sure that this point will appeal to every lawyer in this House. It is no use passing a law unless you give work to lawyers.
Is there anything in the Bill to deal with industrial troubles? That is the most important point of all that I want to raise. Some of these foreign Governments are as democratic and as sympathetic towards trade unionism as we are, very friendly indeed; but one of them is, I think, very antagonistic to trade unionism. I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman to tell us whether, in the event of a legitimate strike for better conditions of employment on ships, this Bill will prevent the foreign workmen from exercising the same rights in order to alter those conditions as they would have if they were British seamen on British ships. Having said that, I come back to the point that I am highly intrigued about whether these courts will be conducted in the language of the foreign country. And will the right hon. and learned Gentleman tell us how many languages are spoken in some of these countries. They are not always a one-language community. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman) mentioned Galicia in Poland. There were three languages in Poland alone. I can recall an interesting experience of my own when seven Ukrainians came to me about their nationality. The policeman had told them, "With that nationality you are bound to be enemy aliens" That is not an uncommon impression. My last word is to repeat that I am very much concerned to see that no penalty shall be inflicted upon any of these nationals which is more severe than that which 1145 would be inflicted upon a British national for the same offence.
§ Mr. Gordon Macdonald (Ince)
I have a few words to say in support of this Bill. The decision at our party meeting was that we should support the Bill, but I think my hon. Friend the Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) is right in saying that at the party meeting the case was not put before us in quite the same way as the Home Secretary put it to-day. It may be that it is because of the way in which it was put to us that we came to a decision which otherwise we should not have taken, but I do not think it would be correct to say that, and in any event I feel sure that before the proceedings are terminated today we shall get the same explanation as caused us to come to the decision we took at the party meeting. I am rather pleased that the Bill has been brought in. It shows how different our attitude towards Governments that have been subjugated is from that taken by the enemy, and as a House of Commons we are entitled to take some pride in that fact. I agree that this Bill will not decide the fate of the Battle of the Atlantic, and I am equally certain that the Solicitor-General does not think so either, but if we have found that there is need for machinery of this kind in order to deal with difficulties which have been experienced by the shipowners and the shippers of this country I think that machinery ought to be set up.
I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Seaham, who always prepares himself to deal with the questions which he handles in this House, showed us that the powers granted under the Defence of the Realm Act would permit of much which we are told needs to be done being done without this Measure, but, all the same, we must be certain that the shipping at our command is used to its maximum capacity, and I understand that is the reason for bringing forward this Bill. Difficulties have been experienced by somebody somewhere and this Bill is designed to get over those difficulties. Most of us in this House are anxious to see the war won. I wish the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) were still here, for I should like to say that I am getting tired of listening to people who look for opportunities ever' time to criticise the Government although they have never come forward to support them since 1146 the war started. My hon. Friend the Member for Seaham has fought as hard as most Members in this House for a vigorous prosecution of the war, and he is entitled to criticise, but I deny the right of hon. Members to seek every opportunity to criticise the Government while never taking an opportunity to encourage them. But that is by the way.
These foreign Governments ought to have our sympathy and be helped by us to whatever extent we can help them. Supposing we were driven from this country—we never shall be, of that I am certain—but supposing we were. We could have the advantage of settling in a part of our Empire, and we should not need to seek the powers for which these foreign Governments are asking. Let us give fair play to these Governments, of whatever complexion they may be, who are to-day settled in this country. If the Dutch Government had settled in a part of the Dutch Empire, they could have exercised more authority over their own nationals than this Bill gives them, but their presence there would not have been as convenient to us as the present arrangement. It is better for us to have the Dutch Government here than in the Dutch West Indies. This Bill is the inevitable outcome of the way this war has gone. I am not prepared to take the line of my hon. Friend the Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher). If his attitude were sympathetic to the Governments concerned, it would be different. He objects to the Polish Government having these powers because he considers the Polish Government to be a dictatorship such as he does not like. You could not get a Bill to say, "We shall exclude those Governments because their complexion does not suit us and is not acceptable, and we shall include the others because it is"
I support the plea made by my hon. Friend the Member for Seaham. I hope that the Solicitor-General will give us some assurance that the interests of the seamen will be safeguarded. That is of vital importance. A disgruntled body of seamen would not help us in this war. The appeals that are to be dealt with will come upon the shipowners, but cannot be made an instrument to serve the interests of the shipowners. Naturally, we should resent such a situation. I support the Bill on the ground that it will make for 1147 more effective action in shipping. Furthermore, I think it is a gesture to those Governments, which, despite a brave fight, have been driven from their homes. It is a gesture of good will and an indication that we give better treatment to subjugated Governments than does the enemy.
§ The Solicitor-General (Sir William Jowitt)
We have had a very interesting discussion, and the speeches from all over the House have shown that Members have understood and considered the implications involved in the Bill. The hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) said, quite truly, that the Bill was completely without precedent. I agree with him; unless we go back to those far distant, mediaeval ecclesiastical courts, it is completely without precedent—but my hon. Friend has never been an undue stickler for precedent. I may point out to him that, unhappily, the circumstances in which we find ourselves are also completely without precedent. Never before have there been some half dozen Allied Governments functioning, recognised and having their being, not in their own countries, but in this country. Therefore, while I admit his statement, I answer it by saying that the circumstances of to-day are such that we must not mind if we depart from precedent as long as we can make a good case for so doing.
The next proposition I do not think any Member doubts, that is, that there is an unanswerable case for doing something. As things are to-day, if a crime is committed on the high seas by a foreigner on board a foreign ship, the normal law that applies is, of course, the law of the flag, and the court that tries that crime is the court of the country of the flag. Where those courts cannot function to-day, it remains a solemn fact that any crime committed on the high seas to-day is not amenable to any court, or triable in any way. No-one will suggest that that is a possible state of affairs to continue. Obviously, something has to be done. Our system being a unitary system, our courts can never declare an Act of Parliament to be ultra vires or invalid. They must always accept it, however far it goes. Therefore, this House can legislate, either by Act of Parliament or under the Defence Regulations, and impose the duty upon British courts 1148 to try crimes committed on the high seas, by, let me say, Norwegian nationals on Norwegian ships.
The question is whether it is desirable to do it. To some small extent it has been done under the Defence of the Realm Act. The particular Section which the hon. Member read out provides—and the hon. Member will find I am right if he has the Act before him—for what I may call shore offences, that is, desertion, or not turning up when the ship is due to sail, and so on. Only one other offence is covered, and that is drunkenness at any time on the voyage. The offence of being drunk during a voyage on the high seas can be tried under that Regulation, but to commit a murder on the high seas cannot. I agree, and I do not conceal it for a moment, that we can extend the Regulation and, by Regulation or Act of Parliament grant to British courts jurisdiction to try all these cases. It therefore becomes a question of expediency. It being obvious that some court has to try these cases, is it better that it should be a British court operating on British territory and under British law? That is one possibility. On the other hand, is it better that we should apply the law of the flag and allow the courts of the countries of the law of the flag to operate on British soil? Should we disregard the fact, the accident, that they have been, by force of circumstances, expelled from their own countries?
§ Mr. Gallacher
Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman make any attempt whatever to control the conduct of those courts, or would he allow a whole series of courts to operate in this country, according probably to different laws or to different conceptions of law?
§ The Solicitor-General
If the hon. Member will hold his patience, he will find that I shall deal with that problem. At the moment, I am merely posing the general question. No one has suggested any other course. Either British law is to be extended to apply to all these cases and British courts are to deal with them, or, to take the other course, we extend to the countries concerned the right to hold their courts, be it observed, exactly as they would have done had they not been driven from their own territories. I would here protest that it is, to my mind, wholly fallacious to suggest that this is the thin end of the wedge and that we are going 1149 to allow these foreign Governments to come over her, set up a system of tax collecting and so on, and generally to deal with their own nationals. It has been suggested in the course of the Debate that that is so, but, of course, no such thing is intended. We are proposing to do away with the fact that these Governments have been driven from their own territories.
On the whole, we definitely came to the conclusion that it was better, with all the disadvantages it may be said to entail, to take the latter course, and not to impose British law and have British courts trying these people, but to allow their own courts to function on British soil. In taking that course, we have undoubtedly met the wishes of the Allied Governments I venture to say to the House that that is not a small matter. If we had taken the other course, we should have ridden roughshod over what they wanted. It seems to me that to ride roughshod over people who are in unfortunate circumstances is taking a page out of Hitler's book.
§ Mr. Silverman
Does the Solicitor-General really mean that if we take the view in this country that to carry out an agreed object in one way is more reasonable than to carry It out in another, that is riding roughshod over people?
§ The Solicitor-General
Of course not, but in making up your mind which of two possible courses to take, the fact that one meets with the approval of these Allied Governments and the other meets with their bitter opposition is one which I should have thought would have appealed to any Englishman—any British subject—but not, I understand, to Hitler. That is one reason. Let me consider what follows from that. It follows that, if we are to extend to those Governments the courtesies which we should have expected them to extend to us in like circumstances, we cannot go behind their backs and ask what this or the other organisation thinks of it. When I say that, it does not mean that we cannot use such information as we have and discuss these matters with the foreign Governments in a friendly way. Since this Debate has largely turned upon Norwegian ships—I am, unlike my hon. Friend, ignorant about these matters, but I presume it has been because a very large proportion of the ships are Norwegian—let me tell him this: The 1150 Norwegian seamen are, of course, organised in this country in a union which is recognised both by the owners and by the Norwegian Government. We know that the proposal we are here submitting meets with the approval not "only of the Norwegian Government, but of the Norwegian Seamen's Union. They prefer this method of being dealt with by their own courts sitting in this country to being dealt with by British courts under British law.
§ Mr. Shinwell
May I ask whence the right hon. and learned Gentleman derived that information? Was it from the Norwegian Government or from the Norwegian Seamen's Union?
§ The Solicitor-General
It was from the Norwegian Government. I have already said we cannot go behind their backs. Surely my hon. Friend is not going to suggest that the Norwegian Government have given us inaccurate information. We cannot go behind the Norwegian Government to find out from their union, which they recognise, what its wishes are. That, we regard as being a matter for the Norwegian Government, but, if the Norwegian Government tell us that the proposal in this Bill is in accordance with the wishes of the Norwegian union, we have no doubt whatever that they are telling us what is a fact. Although I cannot say that in respect of the other Governments, I can say that the Dutch, Belgian and Polish Governments have their unions, or at any rate have their machinery by means of which they regulate wages, and that they are all pressing or at any rate requesting that this method of dealing with the difficulty should be adopted. I have no doubt that they also have taken similar soundings, although I cannot give the House an assurance on the point.
It is perhaps pardonable that an Englishman should above all things like best to be tried by a British court. But do not let us too readily assume that Norwegians would prefer to be tried by a British court, in a language which they do not easily understand, rather than in a foreign court. Surely it is easy enough to understand that it is natural for these men, if they have to be subject to discipline— and, of course, particularly at a time like this they must be subject to discipline— to prefer to be dealt with by their own courts on their own lines.
§ The Solicitor-General
No, the hon. Member is wrong. The only way in which a person could be dealt with by a court other than of their own nationality is this. It has always been the law that a person on board a ship, or a person who has signed the articles of that ship, is subject to the disciplinary powers and to the law of that ship—the law of the flag. What we propose under Clause 2 is to provide for three classes of case. The first isany act or omission by any person on board a merchant ship of that powerThat has always been the law
§ The Solicitor-General
The hon. Member is always right. It is a mere illustration of a general proposition. The second case provided for is:any act or omission committed by the master or any member of the crew …And there again he has signed the articles and is obviously subject to the law of the flag. The third case, which the hon. Member is dealing with, is a case of a person who is both a national of the Power and is a seafaring person. Now let me consider his case of the Galician who used to be an Austrian and who, when the Austro-Hungarian Empire ceased to exist, became a Stateless person or a Pole. I may say that this Bill deals with seamen, and whether there are in fact many ex-Austro-Hungarian Galicians who are seamen I do not pretend to know. I should have thought it was a very good point for a moot, but not one which is likely to arise in real practice. But be it so. Somebody has to decide whether or not that man is a Pole or is a Stateless person. Some court has to decide, and the hon. Member thinks it is better that a British court should decide. But what does the British court have to decide? It is a mixed question of law and of fact, and the law applicable would be Polish law. Therefore, the unfortunate British court would have to base its determination upon Polish law, which means to say that there would be a lot of Polish experts on one side and an equal number of Polish experts on the other side, and the British court would have to make out which set of experts were more likely to be right. 1152 What we propose under the Bill is that it is much more convenient that the Polish court, which is more likely to know Polish law, should decide the question. But there is, of course, a measure of control under Clause 11 (2), to the extent that our High Court can always intervene if the jurisdiction of the maritime court is being exceeded. In order that the maritime court may have jurisdiction, there must be both the qualifications set out in Clause 2 (1, b) of the Bill. I think the hon. Member will therefore see that in that way we have endeavoured to provide every possible safeguard, and that we have endeavoured to bring the matter before the most convenient court.
§ Mr. Silverman
Is it not a fact that the point I have raised is not one of academic interest, although the right hon. and learned Gentleman makes it out to be one? My own view is that it is not. I think there will be a number of practical illustrations of it, however recondite it may appear when discussed in Debate here. Ultimately, if the man concerned is well enough informed and is rich enough, he can call upon the British court to do all those things which the Solicitor-General thought it was so hard for it to do. But if he is not so well informed, or if he has no means, he will perforce have to be content with the decision of the maritime court in question. What I suggested to him was that the practical way of dealing with the matter would be to deal with it in exactly the same way as the question of absentees from the British Forces. Let the court which issues the process have the right to examine, prima facie, whether the man is or is not subject to the jurisdiction which it is sought to enforce against him. Surely that is practical, quick and easy.
§ The Solicitor-General
I will answer the hon. Member's point as best I can. Taking his illustration, it seems to us that where the question turns upon a point of Polish law, the Polish court should decide in the first instance, with an overriding power and right on the part of our High Court to check that court if it can be shown to be exceeding its jurisdiction. I do not want to be drawn off, if I may say so, on to Committee points. That is obviously a Committee point. Incidentally, it is obvious that hon. Members are already furnished with all this ingenious ammunition for a very early and speedy Commit- 1153 tee stage. I want, on the Second Reading, to consider the wider issues. With very few exceptions, the House desires that this Bill should get a speedy Second Reading. I cannot think it right at present that the Allied Governments should have greater difficulty in dealing with their seamen than we have in dealing with ours. We can, and do, send our seamen to serve on British ships. Is it not fair, not only to foreign Governments but to us, and to our seamen, that the nationals of foreign Powers, if they are seamen, should take their share in serving on the ships of those Powers? It is wrong to regard these Powers as merely fighting our battle. They are fighting their own battle, while they are fighting ours. It seems to me quite wrong to hesitate to give them the power which we have, and which we exercise, in respect of our own ships.
§ Mr. Shinwell
The whole case of the Solicitor-General, and of his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, rests on the assumption that there have been wholesale desertions and infringements of discipline aboard Norwegian, Greek, Dutch and other Allied vessels. Can he fortify his assumption with facts? In the course of this Debate, we have not had a single word to indicate whether there is a substantial case for granting such powers.
§ The Solicitor-General
If my hon. Friend had heard the speech of the hon. Member for Consett (Mr. David Adams), he would have heard that hon. Member say that, he knew, from his own experience, of the lack of discipline which has held up these foreign ships. It is no good the hon. Member shaking his head. If the hon. Member could get rid of difficulties by shaking his head, we should not be faced with the problem that we have to-day. I know the number of cases in which these foreign seamen have been charged under the Defence of the Realm Act. I am bound to tell the hon. Member that the number of cases is considerable, and runs into three figures. That being so, it is obviously not a fancied or imaginary thing. Real powers are needed.
Although I am not going to say that the Battle of the Atlantic depends on this Bill being passed in the next couple of Sittings or anything of that sort, I do say that the Battle of the Atlantic must depend on the 1154 skill, courage and discipline of the seamen—not only the British seamen, but all the Allied seamen—and that any measure which makes for the better discipline of these seamen, British and Allied, contributes its quota towards the winning of the Battle of the Atlantic and the winning of the war. Although hon. Members have raised points which merit attention on the Committee stage—if the House likes I will deal with them now; but I will certainly bear them in mind on the Committee stage, and do what I can to meet them— I want to deal now with one or two broader questions. Members in various parts of the House have asked, for instance, about divergent sentences. The sentences passed by a British court might be slight, while those passed by a foreign court for the same class of offence might be heavy. Nothing is more fallacious than to try to measure offences by one yardstick, because offences differ so immensely.
Mr. Shin well
What about murder? My right hon. and learned Friend has spoken about fallacies, but fallacies are not always on one side.
§ The Solicitor-General
The Home Office has considered these matters, even before having its attention drawn to them by the hon. Member. The foreign Governments have agreed with us that a marked discrepancy in sentences is, as the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) pointed out, very undesirable. They agree, therefore, that we shall, through the usual diplomatic channels, make representations to them; and they have given us an assurance that, so far as lies within their power, they will make their codes harmonise with ours. That is a very satisfactory assurance to have, and I hope it will meet the wishes of the hon. Member in that respect. With respect to professional assistance, a difficulty arises, owing to the lack of the necessary number of people; but the foreign Governments have assured us that it is their desire to see that professional assistance by fellow-nationals, who understand the language and, of course, know the procedure and the law with which they are dealing, is forthcoming for anyone who desires it. It has been arranged also that the more serious classes of offences—because hon. Members will realise that the British courts are maintaining a concurrent jurisdiction— such as homicide, rape, arson, grievous 1155 bodily harm, and so on, will, as a general rule, be dealt with, under the ordinary British procedure, by the British courts. The Allied Governments are willing, and indeed anxious, that that should be done. I think that that meets some of the Committee points. I am now prepared to give way to the hon. Member for Seaham, if he wishes me to do so.
§ Mr. Shinwell
May I point out, with very great respect, that when the right hon. and learned Gentleman is replying to the Debate, and dealing with points which have been raised, it is perfectly permissible for hon. Members to intervene? His attitude in refusing to give way seems to me quite unnecessary. He has made a great song and dance about national sovereignty. In the case of murder on the high seas, he says that these cases may be dealt with by British courts. But that was the basis of the case of the Home Secretary. My case was that that in respect of that class of offence on board ship, foreign or British, we have had no evidence as to the number of cases, beyond the statement of the right hon. and learned Gentleman that the number runs into three figures, whatever that may mean. It is the easiest thing in the world to deal with these cases under existing powers. If that is the class of case that the Government want to deal with, there is no need for this Bill.
§ The Solicitor-General
I am sorry if I did not give way before. It was not through discourtesy, but because I wanted to get on with my argument. Of course, it is quite obvious that we can deal with this matter by passing a law. Parliament can do anything, and the courts have to administer the laws that we pass. But what is the better course to pursue? Is to make a British crime, and to deal with it in that way; or to take the other course? We have taken the other course. I was saying that certain crimes such as murder committed within the territory or any criminal act committed while the ship is in dock, are to-day offences against the British law, unlike crimes on the high seas. The Allied Governments have agreed as a matter of convenience—we think it desirable, and I believe they think it desirable—that those cases where the offence is one which our courts here already have jurisdiction to try, and which the maritime courts also would have jurisdiction to try, 1156 should be dealt with by our courts. That was what I was endeavouring to tell the House, and I do not think that it in any way conflicts with anything that the Home Secretary said when he said that murder or crime committed on the high seas is not, as the law stands to-day, a matter which can be dealt with by our law. Of course, we could easily make a law which would enable us to deal with it, if we thought it a wise thing to do.
§ Mr. Mander
Would the learned Solicitor-General be good enough to deal with the point which I and others have put? If there is a dispute between two Allied subjects and a difference as to the nationality to which they belong, and they come before the court of one of the Allied subjects, is there to be any sort of appeal? It seems to me very desirable that there should be such an appeal.
§ The Solicitor-General
The only precedent we have is that the Allied court is left to deal with it. Take the concrete case, say of Holland and Belgium, contiguous countries. The question might arise whether a man born on one side of the boundary was by birth a Dutchman, or, being born on the other side, he was by birth a Belgian. A seaman is denned under the Act as a man who has been on active service in recent years on board ship. Cases like that would come before the Maritime Court. We propose that the Maritime Board, or the particular Allied court, should decide that particular point. They would have all the facts before them and be much better able to pronounce on the law of Holland and decide on the facts. The only control over it is to be found in Clause II (2) of the Bill. The hon. Member will find there that our High Court has power to interfere, if the jurisdiction conferred by this Measure has been exceeded.
§ The Solicitor-General
On the motion of nobody. If the hon. Member will look back to the Clause of the Bill dealing with the matter he will see what is the basis of jurisdiction. I am not saying that it might be wider or less wide, which is a matter for consideration, but it is a matter of information. That tells him how the Bill stands at present, and I think that he will find, when he comes to consider it, that there will be very obvious 1157 difficulties of doing more than that. Those difficulties will become apparent when he sits down and thinks it over. We shall welcome his assistance in showing us during the course of the Committee stage where we can improve the Bill and hammer out something better. But this is a real effort to meet a very practical difficulty, and, I think, it will contribute to our war effort.
§ Mr. Harvey
Will the learned Solicitor-General elucidate further the very satisfactory statement that he has made? He assured the House that the Allied Governments were prepared to allow legal assistance in all cases where it was desired. Would that cover free legal aid in the case of poor seamen, many of whom are illiterate and could not afford to brief any counsel or get legal assistance?
§ The Solicitor-General
My hon. Friend will realise that I cannot, speaking for the Allied Governments, say anything of the sort. But his observations will certainly be heard, and from what I can learn—I cannot bind anybody about this—particularly to the Norwegian Government. In many respects they set an example in their legal system generally which many of us might copy.
§ Mr. Gallacher
I heard over the wireless the statement that it is possible to send seamen from one ship to another. It is possible that seamen might be sent not only to British but to other ships. A British seaman might: be sent to a Polish ship and vice versa. Will the Solicitor-General see to it that where seamen are sent to other ships under another flag under the provisions of the Measure, if anything happens, they should be tried in their own Maritime Court?
§ Question, '' That the Bill be now read a Second time," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House, for the next Sitting Day. — (Mr. Munro.)