HC Deb 30 March 1944 vol 398 cc1558-61
Sir H. Williams

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether, in view of the prolonged negotiations which have taken place and the importance of an immediate announcement, he is now able to make a statement upon the question of civil claims against members of the United States Forces in this country.

The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Eden)

I am very glad to be able to announce a settlement of this problem. Since this is a very complicated matter, I will, with permission, circulate a full statement of the details in the OFFICIAL REPORT. I would, however, mention two points, which apply equally to future and outstanding claims; first, that the basis of the solution we have reached is the assumption by His Majesty's Government of general responsibility for making all necessary payments in settlement of the claims in question as a matter of reciprocal aid and, secondly, that claimants will have as effective recourse to the Courts of this country as they have where British service personnel are involved. I believe that this is a satisfactory solution, and I am confident that it will remove the principal difficulties which have hitherto been experienced in the settlement of these claims. I trust that when they have informed themselves of the details, hon. Members will share this view.

Sir H. Williams

In congratulating my right hon. Friend, may I ask this one question? Does the term "outstanding claims" include claims where there has been in the past an unsatisfactory settlement because those concerned would not settle on satisfactory terms? Will there be any chance of re-opening unsatisfactory claims?

Mr. Eden

I would not like to pledge myself to that. That is one of the difficult points. I think my hon. Friend is right, but I would rather that he looked at the document itself.

Colonel Greenwell

Can my right hon. Friend say whether the arrangement entered into will cover cases of accident to British subjects who have been stationed in Iceland?

Mr. Eden

It is reciprocal aid and, therefore, of course, it would cover British subjects in the United States, for instance, because the United States will give us the same conditions as we are giving them in reciprocal aid. But I would like to have notice about Iceland, as I am not sure.

Mr. Bowles

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the War Claims Commission or the Army will deal with these claims on behalf of His Majesty's Government before they go to the court?

Mr. Eden

Yes, Sir, that is the intention. Hon. Gentlemen will see it set out in the statement. These claims will be dealt with in part by them and in part by the United States.

Captain Duncan

In view of the satisfactory arrangement with America, will my right hon. Friend re-open negotiations with Canada and make a similar arrangement?

Mr. Eden

That is not a matter for me.

Following is the statement:

Civil Claims in Tort Arising Against Members of the United States Forces m the United Kingdom.

As the House is aware, "training and manoeuvre" claims (arising for the most part out of damage to crops, etc.) and claims arising from damage caused by aircraft crashes have for some time been settled by His Majesty's Government on behalf of the United States Government as a matter of reciprocal aid. Arrangements, including Collision Agreements, were originally made with the United States authorities in this country for the settlement of other claims arising from, torts committed by members of the United States Forces, but these arrangements later proved incompatible with the United States law and practice, and accordingly lapsed in the autumn of 1943. Although in consequence some claims have been delayed, the United States Claims Commissions have since settled large numbers to the satisfaction of the parties concerned. These Commissions, which are governed by United States law and practice, were not, however, authorised to treat judgements of the United Kingdom courts as binding upon them and were, moreover, subject to a financial limit of 5,000 dollars. While, as has been explained, a large number of claims were settled satisfactorily, it became clear, having regard to the limits imposed by law upon the United States Commissions, that other arrangements were necessary. Accordingly, with the co-operation of the United States Government, a settlement has now been reached in regard to claims arising out of:—

  1. (a) traffic accidents;
  2. (b) accidental shootings;
  3. (c) accidental explosions;
  4. (d) loss of or damage to chattels in requisitioned premises occupied by United States Forces under arrangements made with Departments of His Majesty's Government;
  5. (e) certain other incidents (e.g., practice gunfire, fires in billets, etc.) where His Majesty's Government would in certain circumstances accept responsibility had members of His Majesty's Forces been involved.

Claims in these classes against members of the United States Forces will be settled upon the following lines:

Claims Arising from Torts Committed on or after the 20th March, 1944, by Members of the United States Forces on Duty.

His Majesty's Government will take over and settle all such claims as a matter of reciprocal aid. These claims will be dealt with by the British Claims Commission in exactly the same way as they would be if they had arisen against members of His Majesty's Forces in the United Kingdom. British law and practice will apply, and any claimants who may be dissatisfied with an award will be able to sue the defendant in the same manner as if he were a member of His Majesty's Forces, any judgement so obtained being satisfied by His Majesty's Government in the same manner as judgements obtained in comparable circumstances against British Service personnel.

Claims Arising from Torts Committed before the 10th March, 1944, by Members of the United States Forces on Duty.

It is understood that there is a considerable number of such claims outstanding against members of the United States Forces. The British Claims Commission could not assume responsibility for the settlement of this accumulation without serious prejudice to its present work of settling claims against members of His Majesty's Forces and to the settlement of future claims against members of the United States Forces for which it will now be responsible. With the exception of claims for more than 5,000 dollars which will at once be taken over by the British Commission, the United States Claims Commissions will therefore continue to investigate and settle all claims in this class, consulting the British Commission in order to ensure uniformity of treatment of these outstanding claims with the current claims which are to be taken over immediately by the latter Commission. His Majesty's Government will, however, undertake responsibility for making as a matter of reciprocal aid all necessary payments, including the payment of any court judgements. This arrangement will make possible the reinstatement of the Collision Agreements and will greatly facilitate the rapid disposal of these claims.

The above arrangements will not apply to claims arising from torts committed by members of the United States Forces while off duty. The United States Commissions will, however, continue to deal with such claims as at present and to make awards in appropriate cases.

The arrangements described in the preceding paragraphs will apply only in the United Kingdom. The United States Government have given the fullest assurance of their cooperation in these arrangements and have agreed to a number of detailed conditions which will enable them to operate satisfactorily. They have further undertaken to continue to take strict disciplinary measures against any members of their Forces who are found to be at fault in incidents which give rise to these claims and to grant reciprocal facilities for the settlement under lend-lease of similar claims arising against members of the United Kingdom Forces.