§ The following Regulations of the Defence (General) Regulations, 1939, namely—
§ Regulation fifty-two (Use of land for purposes of Her Majesty's forces);
§ Regulations eighty-two, eighty-three, eighty-four and eighty-five (False documents and false statements, obstruction, restrictions on disclosing information and entry upon, and inspection of, land);
§ Regulations ninety-one to ninety-three, ninety-seven to one hundred and two, and one hundred and five (General, administrative, legal and supplementary provisions).
§ Parts I, II, III and IX and Schedules I and II of the Defence (Agriculture and Fisheries) Regulations, 1939.
§ Parts I and II and Schedule I of the Defence (Agriculture and Fisheries) (Northern Ireland) Regulations, 1940.
§ Regulations one and six of the Defence (Armed Forces) Regulations, 1939.
§ Regulation one and paragraphs (4) to (10) of Regulation five of the Defence (Burial, Inquests and Registration of Deaths) Regulations, 1942.
§ Regulations one and two and paragraphs (3), (4) and (5) of Regulation three of the Defence (Patents, Trade Marks, etc.) Regulations, 1941.
§ The whole of the Defence (Sale of Food) Regulations, 1943.272
§ The object of this Motion is to secure, in respect of the Defence Regulations set out in the Schedule, the same result as for the main body of Defence Regulations continued in the Supplies and Services (Transitional Powers) Act and covered by the Motion just approved by the House. I think it is rather interesting just to make three points. Last year, the corresponding Schedule under this Motion contained more than 20 entries. As a result of the review during 1953 of all emergency Regulations, the list was reduced this year to nine entries.
§ I have already explained to the House the proposals we have in mind for legislation next Session to replace Defence Regulation 52, which is now the only substantive Defence Regulation continued by this procedure. Therefore, I shall not repeat what I said in the last discussion.
§ Two of the codes, the Patents, Trade Marks, et cetera, Regulations and the Sale of Food Regulations, are being dealt with in legislation in the current Session, while the Burial, Inquests and Registration of Deaths Regulations will be revoked when the Visiting Forces Act, 1952, is brought into effect. The two sets of Agriculture and Fishery Regulations are bound up with the problem connected with the future marketing arrangements for bacon, livestock and milk.
§ The House may be assured that a further substantial reduction in the surviving provisions continued under this procedure is in prospect during the course of the next 12 months.
§ 7.33 p.m.
§ Mr. F. Willey
I beg to move, in the Schedule, to leave out:Regulation fifty-two (Use of land for purposes of Her Majesty's forces).I am in some difficulty because the right hon. and learned Gentleman has anticipated the powerful plea I was going to make to him. He has twice now, with anticipation, referred to what I was going to say. I have been further advised by the hon. and learned Member for York (Mr. Hylton-Foster) not to move this Amendment at all, and my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) has told the House that, having moved it, it would be our intention to ask leave to withdraw it. But the point made by the right hon. and learned Gentleman is one of substance, and I am sure 273 that he expected that this year again we would move this Amendment.
As I understand it, Regulation 52 has a limited effect. It is largely concerned with the temporary use of land for what I think are described as "non-damage training activities and danger areas." I do not think that any of us dispute the usefulness of the Regulation, but we are concerned with the limits of its use. We want to be sure that it is not being used more widely than need be, and not more extensively than the requirements of the Service Departments warrant.
I think there is also agreement that this is not a Regulation which ought to continue in force longer than need be. The Under-Secretary has used the phrase that this is an aftermath Regulation. It is now a long time after, and we should like to see the Government deal with it.
May I put two questions to the hon. Gentleman? He told us last time that the extent of the land affected had been reduced to 120,000 acres. I wonder whether he can tell us how much further the extent of the land affected has been reduced. Last year also—the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Home Secretary has anticipated me raising this—the Under-Secretary of State for War, in replying to the debate, said:But I should like to think about whether something can be done in the way of a consolidation Act or a modernisation of the situation.It is true that he went on to qualify it by saying:I do not want that to go out as a promise from me. I would merely like to examine the possibility. I admit that there are a lot of complicated Acts in existence."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th November, 1952; Vol. 508, c. 827.]We would agree with him about that, too.
I gather from the Home Secretary that thought has been given to this problem, and I further gather, from the remarks he made in anticipation of this Amendment, that he can give the House some assurance that at any rate within the next 12 months he will be able to say in what form this can be put into permanent legislation. In other words, he is not in a position to say that he can do it in the present Session, but if we are discussing these Regulations again in 12 months' time he will then be able to say that the problem has been examined and a satisfactory solution found.
§ 7.38 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Blenkinsop (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East)
I beg to second the Amendment.
I wish to give the House an illustration of the way in which this Regulation operates, which is a matter of great concern to many of us living in the North-East. While, of course, we are all glad to hear that in future the powers given under this Regulation will be used in a reasonable way, I am not sure that that will give a great deal of happiness to my constituents unless we can be told that some positive action is being taken about this and other comparable cases.
In Newcastle, the Army have taken over, under powers given under this Regulation, a fairly large area of land in the centre of the city which used to be open for general public access, and have established on it a series of temporary hutments of not very delightful appearance, and have blocked up a number of public rights of way. The Newcastle Corporation have on many occasions raised this matter very strongly with the War Office because they feel that this area should long since have reverted to the local authorities for the general use of the public.
When I raised this matter in Questions in the House last July, I received the rather dusty answer that the War Office could not forecast when this piece of land would bede-requisitioned. I had hoped that on this occasion I would have the support of the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith), who spoke so feelingly about the people of Britain flourishing best in a climate of freedom. I wish he could have been here to give a little support to his expression and desire for freedom in a case of this sort.
Here are the people of Newcastle-upon-Tyne who have prided themselves for many generations upon Tyne Moor, an open space in the centre of the city, and here is the War Office which has established itself upon a section of that open space. While the general public in Newcastle have rightly regarded this as a matter of necessity during the course of the war and for a reasonable period afterwards, they have become increasingly and justifiably restive about the use of this land and the apparent inability of the War Office to find any alternative area to go to.
275 I therefore want to use this occasion to impress upon the War Office the very great anxiety felt in Newcastle about its attitude. While the Home Secretary may say that he hopes to put the whole question of the operation of this Regulation into some better form—and I hope that will bring about a distinct limitation on the powers of the War Office—I must say it is very disappointing to be given the response, regarding a practical case under the Regulation, that there is no end to this requisitioning procedure.
The local authority wish to take powers, as a competent authority, to make proper use of this land, but cannot do so as long as the War Office remain there. I make no complaint about the attitude of the local commanding officers and others, who in this case have been very reasonable and very anxious to come to some satisfactory settlement. But clearly, the War Office themselves must bear the responsibility, and I ask that we should be given some illustration, in a practical case such as this, of the War Office's anxiety to withdraw from the use of these exceptional powers, and to use merely the normal powers of acquisition which are open to statutory bodies of all kinds.
To that, I would like to add a plea which is on the verge, or just within the bounds, of order. The War Office, at the same time, should carefully review from year to year the areas of land that they have in their possession for manoeuvres and other activities, where there are very natural conflicts between amenity interests and the proper training of our troops. It may be found that areas which are being taken, both under the emergency Regulations and other provisions, and thought to be necessary, at one time, for the proper training of troops may, in practice, be shown to be more extensive than actually required.
There are certain places near the Border, in some of our most lovely country, where land has been in occupation by the War Office for some years and little or no use has been made of it. There is strong feeling there, where there are alternative amenity demands of some importance in an area which may well be designated as a national park before very long. It is right and proper, I think, that there should be a review, undertaken on 276 the initiative of the War Office itself, to try to make absolutely sure that no unnecessary area of land is reserved to them for their use. If, as I think can be proved, they are not likely to make much use of it, it should be restored to the general amenity use that we all so much desire.
With that invitation to the War Office to show, in a practical way, their anxiety to make as little use of their powers as possible, I have pleasure in supporting the Amendment.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Tudor Watkins (Brecon and Radnor)
I trust that the House will not mind, if, while supporting this Amendment, I seek further information. The Home Secretary, who is also Minister for Welsh Affairs, did not give the acreage of land in Wales held by the War Office at the present time. We, as Welsh Members, have always insisted that the War Office has taken a greater proportion of Welsh land than of land in Scotland or England. I should like to be told, at some other time if it is not possible today, how much land is actually held now in Wales by the War Office.
I welcomed the statement made by the Home Secretary, when he moved the first Motion, with regard to this particular Regulation in the future. I think it would be a very good thing to have some other type of legislation in order to get land for Her Majesty's Forces. That would give assistance to those who have protested all along against this particular Defence Regulation, particularly when local authorities and town and country planning committees are not informed what use is made of land. In fact, not much information is given at all.
While welcoming the legislation mentioned, I would suggest to the Home Secretary that, until such legislation is on the Statute Book, we might have an undertaking—and the Government must have something definite in mind—in regard to co-operation with local authorities, and to have a spirit translated into that Defence Regulation. I ask that, because the Under-Secretary of State for War knows that I am to meet him tomorrow in connection with it.
I do not want to raise that matter now, but I give due warning of what I shall say to him tomorrow, which is, that I shall not be a contented party, being 277 Welshmen we never are, but, at the same time, I commend the fact that new legislation is to be introduced. I am sure it will be welcomed if its provisions are acceptable to the whole House, and if there is greater co-operation with local authorities in particular I myself will welcome it.
§ 7.47 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for War (Mr. J. R. H. Hutchison)
After the House has heard my right hon. and learned Friend speak on the broad lines of what is proposed I do not think I am left with a great deal to explain, but I am left with some rather minor points which I would like to deal with as quickly and as reasonably as I can.
First of all, I think I must remind the House, of the powers which are held under this Regulation 52, because I had great difficulty, last year, in distinguishing and differentiating between the powers under Regulations 51 and 52. At the moment, of course, we are only talking about Regulation 52. The powers under that Regulation only give us, as the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) realised, training rights of a temporary and part-time character. Consequently, the illustration which the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Blenkinsop) gave does not come under this Regulation at all but under one which we have already disposed of. But I do not want, on a technicality, to slide out of answering him, if you, Sir, will allow me.
We are, of course, anxious, as my right hon. and learned Friend said, to get rid of these Regulations, and to get rid of the need to use them, as extensively and quickly as we reasonably can, but Parliament cannot impose upon the Army the tasks of having to train and prepare the Forces, and then to deny them the facilities for carrying out that training. Wherever we go we are not particularly popular. I, in my own home in Scotland, would be as aggravated as anyone else if the Army came and trained on my ground or built things upon it, but I do ask the House to bear in mind that it cannot have its cake and eat it. It cannot expect the Army to train and manoeuvre and yet deny it the possibility so to do.
The powers under Regulation 52, as I have explained, are merely to train over 278 land. It is largely non-damage training, that is to say, to use land temporarily, and only on certain limited occasions, for certain training purposes. An illustration would be the closing off of a certain area, such as a danger area behind a range, on days on which the range is being used. All the rest of the time, all the rest of the year except for this use on those days, that land is available to that owner, and is being cultivated in the normal and usual way. The minimum of interference with agricultural production takes place.
The hon. Member for Sunderland, North, asked to be assured that the extent of the land affected was reviewed and that we did not keep control over more than we needed, and he asked for an illustration of what we had done in the past year. I will give the figures quite quickly. At the peak time, 11 million acres of land were held under this Regulation; that is to say, we had limited training rights over 11 million acres. At the end of last year we held 120,000 acres. At the end of November, 1953, it will be 87,000 acres.
Although those figures may still seem a little significant, of those 87,000 acres we are at the moment negotiating long-term agreements over no less than 80,000. That leaves 7,000, of which 3,000 are under discussion as to their future with several Government Departments, and as to 1,000 acres we are negotiating for alternative areas. A thousand more will be given up when we have cleared them of unexploded ammunition, and we are left with only 2,000 acres in doubt. I think that is very considerable progress, and that it shows that we are not relying upon this Regulation at all for our current needs. We have not used it in one case in the past year, and it is extremely unlikely that we shall have to use it in the future while the legislation to which my right hon. and learned Friend referred is being prepared.
The only other point that I am left to answer is that which was referred to by the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Watkins). The answer is that I believe he is coming to see me tomorrow and I shall be very glad to tell him the percentage of training areas held in his country. He said that not much information has been given locally in the past. I do not know how much was given in the past because we have made 279 practically no use of this Defence Regulation, but I can say that co-operation with local authorities and consultation with interests concerned would certainly be one of the considerations which the Government would have in mind when considering the whole problem of legislation.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
While appreciating the mistake into which I have fallen, may I ask the hon. Gentleman whether he will be kind enough to look into this case again to see whether any greater progress can be made, in view of the rather disturbing answer which was given earlier on that no hope could be held out of any progress? Would he also consider whether some temporary use could be made of the area by the public?
§ Mr. Hutchison
I certainly will do so. I apologise for having missed out that point. I should be glad if the hon. Gentleman would send me information of any particular case he has in mind so that I can track it down in our files, as well as particulars of any land held by the War Office under Regulation 51 or Regulation 52 of which, as he indicated, practically no use was made. I should be glad of that information so that we can ascertain whether we need it any longer.
§ Mr. Willey
In view of the explanation that we have had from the Under-Secretary, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Hale
I beg to move, in the Schedule, to leave out:Regulation one and paragraphs (4) to (10) of Regulation five of the Defence (Burial, Inquests and Registration of Deaths) Regulations, 1942.This part of the Schedule refers to the Defence (Burial, Inquests and Registration of Deaths) Regulations, 1942. Perhaps the most remarkable feature about these Regulations is that most of them have already been interred. But we still have what must be by far the most remarkable Regulation that we have ever had to discuss in this House, because it arises in a most unusual way and it deals with a most unusual matter. It attempts to provide for a situation which no one could ever consider as having been at any time, even in war-time, normal.
280 The Regulation deals with the holding of inquests arising out of the presence of American soldiers in this country. One might well understand that there was some desire for reciprocity in this matter. One might understand that there might be circumstances in which inquests could be adapted because of the very great difficulties in reconciling two systems of law. But this Regulation goes on a great deal further than any such Regulation ever ought to have done, because it provides two things. It provides that if the death of an English man or woman is caused in circumstances in which there may be some blame imputed to an American serving soldier, the coroner shall not hold an inquest on the English man or woman if any charge is being presented before an American court in this country arising out of the death.
Regulation 5 (5) says:If, on an inquest touching the death of a person other than a member of the American forces, the coroner is satisfied before the inquest is completed that a member of the American forces has been charged before a court of the United States of America with any offence involving responsibility for the death of the deceased person, or is being detained by any authority of the United States of America with a view to his being so charged, then, unless the Secretary of State otherwise directs, the coroner shall adjourn the inquest and, if a jury has been summoned, shall discharge the jury, and shall furnish the registrar of deaths with a certificate stating the particulars necessary for the registration of the death….He cannot resume the inquest without the authority of the Secretary of State in any circumstances. If he does resume it, he has to start the whole procedure de novo. That is the case of the death of a British subject caused in circumstances in which there may beblame imputed to an American—as I understand it, whether criminal or civil.
What happens when the death of an American is caused by an Englishman? We get the answer to that in paragraph (4) of Regulation 5:If any coroner having jurisdiction to hold an inquest touching a death is satisfied that the deceased person was at the time of his death a member of the American forces, then, unless the Secretary of State otherwise directs, the coroner shall not hold the inquest…So we get the worst of both worlds. In both cases American law prevails. In both cases the ordinary process of English law is suspended in connection with the death of a British citizen on 281 British soil, or some alleged responsibility on a British citizen for the death of an American. That seems to me to be perhaps the most surprising of all the Regulations which were ever passed.
When I rose to speak on an earlier occasion, I began by saying that there were two things for which I was grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. It may be that I so rarely express gratitude to him that it explains the fact that I forgot to mention the second of the two things. I wanted to express gratitude to him, as representing Her Majesty's Government, for the fact that we were discussing the matter today at a reasonable hour.
One of our difficulties about this Regulation is that we commenced the discussion of these matters last year at about 10.20 p.m. after a long and somewhat heated discussion of an important Measure. Such was the urgency of the business of Her Majesty's Government at that time, that matters of this kind and of this importance had to be taken very late at night. The right hon. and learned Gentleman will remember what happened.
At about 6.30 in the morning the right hon. and learned Gentleman came to the conclusion that the business for the following day, or indeed for that day, was so important that we must not jeopardise it, and we made an effort to terminate the proceedings with as much rapidity as possible and inevitably with as little information as possible. I remember that the Motion was almost ruled out of order by the Chair before it was moved, and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Brixton (Lieut.-Colonel Lipton) rose to move it in order that he could explain that he did not want to withdraw it. One minute was occupied over that. Then my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) moved—and I seconded—an Amendment, which was negatived in a matter of four or five minutes.
I hope that that will not happen again. I think I can say that we are now all happy. I do not want to emphasise it, but there were some signs, at that time, that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House was occasionally lapsing into an irritability quite uncharacteristic of so genial a figure, and we all regretted it. There it was, and we had to suffer for it. I remember that 282 night, because when I surveyed the benches opposite I saw a scene which I knew, instinctively, that I had seen before. It was not until I returned home and saw the famous picture of "The Death of Sardanapalus" that I realised it was a complete repetition of the scene, with the eunuchs standing round in the foreground with an air of worry, despair and distress. There were the voluptuous curves of the recumbent forms reclining along the chaises longues opposite—the forms of the Tory back benchers.
The only thing which gave some lack of verisimilitude to the picture was the fact that the ancient king had departed, about 10 hours before, to his bed at No. 10 Downing Street. We hope that in the future we shall be able to discuss these matters as happily and in as friendly a spirit as we are doing now, but I must emphasise that we do take a serious view of this question of continuing legislation, however justified it may have been in time of war or in the years immediately following.
Some specific undertakings were given by the right hon. and learned Gentleman in this matter. I am not suggesting that he has broken them. We know what has happened, but it is as well to bring out the fact. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East in moving the Motion raised some very specific matters on the last occasion. He said:The first question I wish to ask of the Minister is whether this Regulation is necessary at all? Very recently the House passed the Visiting Forces Act which, we were told, was intended to deal with all aspects of the relations between ourselves and our friends in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. So far as I can see there is nothing in the Regulation which is not covered by the Act.The right hon. and learned Gentleman said, in reply:I can come very near to the point that the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) has put to me, because the intention is that these Regulations shall be replaced by Section 7 of the Visiting Forces Act when it comes into force and is applied to the American Forces."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th November, 1952; Vol. 508, c. 911–4.]The Visiting Forces Act was apparently one of those urgently important Measures which necessitated the House sitting until six o'clock. Apparently the Government thought it so urgent to get that Bill through that we had to sit through the night.
§ Mr. Hale
At any rate, it was one of the Bills which jammed up the Session. Apparently it was dealt with a month or two before. That makes it worse. The defence of the right hon. and learned Gentleman on this occasion is not a mitigation but an aggravation. If I am technically wrong in saying that that was the particular Bill which caused our time to be taken up and which resulted in a late sitting at a difficult hour, it only means that the Visiting Forces Bill had been passed for just a little longer, so it was even less urgent than I thought.
As I understood the earlier interjection of the hon. and learned Member for York (Mr. Hylton-Foster) it has never come into force at all. The appointed day has never been fixed. One understands the reason for that. The Second Reading debate took place on 17th October, 1952, and the debate to which I have just referred was on 27th November, 1952, so they were very close to each other, even if the Prorogation of Parliament occupied a few days in between.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman said—although I have not found the precise quotation—"We pass this Bill and then the Senate of the United States will pass a similar Bill in respect of British Forces serving in the United States." We recognise that they are not comparable problems, and it was a matter of preserving a balance of dignity on each side rather than the relative importance of the problem, because there is a greater number of American troops here than there are, or ever will be, British troops in America.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman, in his opening speech, referred to a whole series of Acts—the Commonwealth Forces Act, the United States of America Visiting Forces Act, 1942, the Allied Forces Act, 1940. As I understood it, there was to be reciprocity in this matter, and we were to establish a principle—which I think is a bad one—and a recognised and accepted rule between the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty countries in the matter of reciprocity in dealing with visiting forces. These Regulations were to be superseded by the Visiting Forces Act when it came into force. But it has not come into force.
I remember, a week ago, when something of this kind was being discussed at Question time, feeling a little surprised to 284 be told that there had not been any reciprocity in this matter, and that the reciprocal Measure had not been passed by the United States Senate, and we were alone, vis-à-vis the United States, in having passed this Bill.
Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Hopkin Morris)
It is not in order to intervene to ask a question of the right hon. and learned Member in the middle of another hon. Member's speech.
§ Mr. Hale
Perhaps I can assist my hon. Friend. Can the Home Secretary tell us whether the United States have passed a reciprocal Act? If so, why has not he fixed a date for the coming into force of the Visiting Forces Act?
§ Mr. Hale
The information will be forthcoming in a moment or two.
In the absence of that information we are still left to deal with the Regulations as they exist. Here we come to a very serious difficulty. It is a difficulty of substance and of law. The hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) called attention, on the Adjournment a week ago, to the fact that things were happening in Lincolnshire which caused a great deal of alarm and despondency amongst Her Majesty's subjects. The hon. Member for Louth rather indicated that there was a possibility of a large-scale evacuation of his constituency. He said:I wish to bring to the notice of the House a question that affects my constituency and, 285 especially, villages just North of Mabelthorpe. Near the village of Saltfleet there is a bombing target range which was established in the early 30's. The burden of all I wish to say on behalf of my constituents can be put into one sentence, please will the Air Ministry take the range away? We do not mind if they take it to Scotland, we do not mind if they take it to Wales, we do not mind where they take it so long as they take it away.I am not sure that the people of Louth have that international spirit which I should like to see them possess. The hon. Member for Louth went on to say:If they take it to some place where no one lives that would be a good thing."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th November, 1953; Vol. 520, c. 1944.]The real fear is that if it remains it will eventually be in a place where no one lives. Hon. Members will remember that the day after this debate a live bomb was dropped on another farmyard near Louth, and it was only a matter of sheer chance that there was no loss of life. It is all very well for us to sit here and treat these matters in a lively spirit, but the facts are sufficiently serious to warrant some attention.
The terminology of the Civil Service is a matter which always occasions me a great deal of delight. The terminology of Government Departments is even more delightful. When bombs are dropped on unhappy farmers in the direction of Louth, the Air Ministry classifies them, tables them, enters them into a record, according to the Under-Secretary of State for Air, under the heading of "Irregular Releases."
I hope I shall not be thought to put it too high if I suggest that to many of us that would seem to be something in the nature of a euphemism. Really, it is quite possible that the inhabitants of the rural districts have, perhaps, more forthright terminology. The farmer on whose family a bomb drops has, perhaps, a shorter but on the whole clearly descriptive term for it.
How many have there been? The Under-Secretary of State for Air said there had been only 16—up to now. This was, of course, before the bomb dropped the next day. The hon. Member for Louth made a few inquiries and ascertained the fact that four incidents had taken place in the last five weeks. The tally is now five in five weeks and one day.
286 What happens when one of these does kill someone? They have been through the lavatory window of a public house, the Indian Queen—or some sort of queen, I am not quite sure which it was. They have been in a farmyard, and then near a school and just missed two or three children, apparently by a yard or two. Seventeen irregular releases. What has happened? I understand that in fact some of these bonnes bouches have been brought over by American planes stationed in the southern parts of France.
If I were to pursue the technicalities of this matter I should be on the verge of getting out of order, but one may wonder if it is an offence to carry live bombs over England in peace time. It is not over Kenya, we are told, although I have some doubts about the law on that matter. But over England? Is it really legal for American troops flying their planes to carry live bombs over England? If so, what happens if one drops?
Can we hold an inquiry? In the case of a Naval man hazarding his ship there is an inquiry. Is there any inquiry about the hazarding of a plane or hazarding releases deemed irregular? Apparently no inquiry can take place. The coroner cannot inquire into the deaths of men, women and children of Louth, killed in these accidents, because we are carrying out this archaic Regulation, passed in the war and yet to be repealed by Section 7 of the Visiting Forces Act.
It is a serious situation, and I know that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will agree with me when I say this. I think the decision that we took to surrender some portion of our laws for visiting Forces was a very considerable gesture of respect to the people of the United States. It was something Members of this House, I imagine, rather reluctantly did, rather regretted having to do. When American forces were coming here on a substantially large scale, having their own organisation, having their own direction, there was, I recognise, a substantial case from their point of view for this decision, for they would like to have their own law. There was a very substantial case from their point of view.
People do not know the law of a foreign country. They do not particularly trust the machinery of law of a foreign country; they do not specially 287 trust the law courts of a foreign country. If I had been serving in British Forces in America, particularly having read accounts from time to time of American trials, I think on the whole I should have been happy to have been tried by British court-martial rather than have trusted myself to a law I did not understand or to Congress tribunals presided over by Senator McCarthy or someone of that sort. I say that believing, as I do, that the Supreme Court has been one of the finest courts in the world and has made as great contributions to the subject of the law of the liberty of the subject as any international tribunal as exists.
But there it is. I suggest we have reached the stage where there should be some finality about this. We should know what the intentions of the Government are. We passed through Second Reading, Committee stage and Third Reading a Bill designed to clear this all up, under the impression that we were clearing it up, and that it would be brought to an end under the Visiting Forces Act and be settled. Now, 13 months later, the Government come along and say, "We have not brought that Act into operation yet. We want to renew this Regulation for another year—this curious, archaic survival of Regulations passed during the war." I do say that it is a most unsatisfactory situation.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)
I beg to second the Amendment.
Speaking for myself, I think it is quite intolerable that we should be asked to renew these particular Regulations. The House has been left in a very unsatisfactory position. I think the position is even worse than my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) has pointed out, because, after all, what we are being asked to do by renewing these Burial, Inquests and Registration of Deaths Regulations is this, as I understand it:we are being asked to renew for a further period the present most unsatisfactory state of affairs which permits British subjects to be killed by members of the American forces without the relatives of the British civilians who are killed having any opportunity of ensuring that the calamity will be ventilated either in a British court of law or in any other court of law. There is 288 no guarantee that there will be any satisfactory trial either in public or in private of an offence by which British subjects lose their lives.
That is a state of affairs which I for one regard as absolutely intolerable, and I am surprised that after what was said last year the Home Secretary can have the effrontery to come here and ask this House to renew this state of the law. The only ground on which he attempted to defend it a year ago was that it was part and parcel of reciprocal arrangements that would be made with the United States of America. As my hon. Friend has said, this matter was debated at some length on Second Reading, in Committee and on the Report stage of the Visiting Forces Act of last year. That Act was to make reciprocal arrangements between the visting forces of various N.A.T.O. countries, and the Home Secretary conceded that it was on that basis of reciprocity that this House was asked to pass that legislation.
He admitted the Act would not apply to the forces of any country other than the United States unless there were reciprocity, and we pointed out to him that so far as this country was concerned it could apply only to the American forces. He said, "I hope we shall obtain reciprocity with the United States." I want to have it clearly on record what the Home Secretary did say a year ago. The Home Secretary, I am sorry to say, had to change his ground several times during the course of the Bill. When first tackled on the subject he said, in response to an observation of mine:I said, and I think I intervened to say it again, that I hoped to get reciprocity."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd October, 1952; Vol. 505, c. 1081.]The Home Secretary was tackled on the matter, and several of my hon. Friends pointed out that it was very unlikely that he would get reciprocity. We pointed out to him the difficulties of enacting legislation in the United States where the Congress has separate powers from the President, and where, unlike this country, there is separation of powers and what the President wants is not always the same as what the Congress may decide to enact.
We pointed all that out to him, but then, in explanation of what I thought to be his extraordinary conduct, he agreed that there was an alternative by which 289 the Visiting Forces Act would be made conditional on the application of a Bill to the United States. That was what we urged him to do, and he pointed out that it was an alternative. He gave his reasons why he did not accept that alternative, and this is what he said on 27th October, as reported in column 1588 of HANSARD.…in the view of the Government it was not unreasonable to work on the assumption that the United States Government will ratify the agreement they signed last year.In view of what the Home Secretary said a moment ago, I do not know whether the Visiting Forces Act has been applied or not. I do not think that very much matters, because in effect what the House is being invited to do tonight is to renew for a period provisions which have the same effect as the Visiting Forces Act would have if it were in operation. The substance is, therefore, precisely the same whether we are dealing with these Regulations or with the Visiting Forces Act. In either event, it cannot be justified except on the basis of reciprocity.
A year ago, the Home Secretary told us, first of all, that he very much hoped we should get reciprocity and, secondly, that the Government were proceeding on the assumption that we should get it. We want to know tonight whether he has got reciprocity or whether he has not, and, if he has not, we want to know what are now the prospects of getting it.
A year ago the Home Secretary went into considerable detail, arguing contrary to the representations which we made on these benches, in giving us his reasons why he felt quite confident that he could assure the House that there would be reciprocity with the United States in this matter within a year. These are the details which the Home Secretary gave us, as reported in col. 1590:With regard to the present position, the President sought the consent of the Senate to ratification on 16th June, 1952, but the agreement has not yet been considered by the Senate….I omit some irrelevant words. The right hon. and learned Gentleman continues:…the next meeting cannot be until after the election.That was the reason why he wanted the Bill at that time and why he could not have reciprocity until the next Session of 290 Congress, starting in January, 1953. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said:Therefore, one has to accept that this matter will be dealt with in the next Session, which begins on 5th January.That was 5th January, 1953. He continued:I understand that it has been recommended to the Senate as important and meriting their early consideration.That refers to the decision about ratification. The right hon. and learned Gentleman continues, as reported at column 1591, and I will quote what he said—
§ Mr. Fletcher
This is 27th October, 1952, and it is on the Report stage of the Visiting Forces Bill, when we ventilated the matter at great length.
The Home Secretary was put in a very great dilemma. I want to be perfectly fair to him; it was a most uncomfortable position for any Minister of the Crown to occupy in the House. He had the very difficult and, I am sure, personally most uncongenial task of trying to persuade the House to pass that legislation—legislation which, in my view, is a complete affront to the dignity of this country, as it would be to the dignity of any country.
I felt very sorry for the Home Secretary, as I am sure we all did, and I must admit that I thought he made the best of a very bad case. I want to do the right hon. and learned Gentleman justice; I have no doubt that when he gave this assurance last year about what he thought the United States Congress would do, he believed it. What I am complaining about is that now he has been proved wrong he should again come to the House and ask us to pass these Regulations.
I hope the Home Secretary will follow what I am saying, and I shall now quote from what he said on 27th October, as reported in column 1591. This was part of his defence and he was saying, in effect, "We must pass this Bill now; I am sure the United States Congress will give us reciprocity in the New Year." He said:Legislation to supplement ratification has not yet been introduced, but I am informed that work is being done on it now, and that it is likely to be introduced at about the same time as the Senate Committee begins work on the agreement itself. Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite did say that I should have 291 had particulars of the legislation, and I accept the position that, had there been any extract available, I should have had it; but the legislation is still in the stage of drafting.I shall not read the next paragraph, because it is not necessary to weary the House with it, but the right hon. and learned Gentleman subsequently said:Therefore, as regards the United States, we are advised that there is no constitutional difficulty, that the agreement has been sent to the Senate for ratification, and that the legislation is in preparation. When we take account of our experience with regard to the other Act, I do not think that we need expect any great constitutional difficulty. Certainly, that is the advice which we have had on the matter."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th October, 1952; Vol. 505, cc. 1588–91.]That was a year ago, and on the basis of those representations, and with great reluctance in the House, the right hon. and learned Gentleman secured the passage of that Bill into operation. Today, there is a great deal of mystery as to whether it is in operation or not. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Exchange (Mrs. Braddock) is quite right; she raised this matter a few days ago. A moment ago the Home Secretary asked for information about it, and I want to give him the information. My hon. Friend put a Question to the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation as recently as Wednesday, 18th November, as to whether his regulations in respect of the insurance of motor cars applied to foreign Service men in Britain when driving public cars on the road.
The Home Secretary will realise that that is the most common way by which British subjects, unhappily, on occasion lose their lives at the hands of foreign Service men. It is in those cases that the Home Secretary is inviting us to say that there shall be no inquest. Regardless of whether there has been an inquiry for the American forces, he says that there should never be a British inquest, that those who have suffered, the victims, should have no redress in any court of law in this country and that the coroner should not even be allowed to make a certificate about the cause of death.
I am not saying anything against the method by which United States Service courts deal with their own personnel. I have no doubt that they are admirable and that their methods of discipline are admirable. I do not want to be 292 construed as casting any reflection on the disciplinary or judicial methods of the American forces in this country. But this is not good enough. Where British subjects lose their lives an inquiry should take place. I repeat that it seems to me a perfect scandal that in this country we should continue to put up with a state of affairs which prevents the normal course of the law being followed in such cases.
Will the Home Secretary tell us what is the position? Are these foreign Service men supposed to have driving licences or are they not? The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation was not very clear about that. I am not entirely blaming him, for he was only recently translated to that post. The Questions which my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Exchange put and which were followed by supplementary questions by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) were left unanswered. In one reply the Joint Parliamentary Secretary said:If a breach of the regulations was committed, the police would make representations to the military authorities or whoever was responsible for the visiting forces."—[OFFICIAL REPORT 18th November, 1953; Vol. 520, c. 1723.]As a result of a subsequent question, the House was left in a state of complete uncertainty as to what regulations if any applied to members of the United States Forces when they drive on the roads of this country. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Exchange gave notice that she would raise the matter on the Adjournment, which I very much hope she will have an early opportunity of doing, even if she does not pursue the matter in this debate, to which it seems most relevant.
That seems to be the position as it was left last year, and I hope that before the House agrees to these Regulations being continued for another year we shall know on what basis they are being recommended to the House. Is it intended that the Visiting Forces Act should come into force? Will the Home Secretary tell us what steps are now being taken in the United States to give the reciprocity which he admitted is the basis of these Regulations?
It is common ground between us that undesirable though these Regulations are—and I agree with my hon. Friend the 293 Member for Oldham, West and I do not approve of them in principle—it would be much better when a British civilian is killed, even though an American soldier is involved, that there should be an inquest as to the cause of death in the ordinary way before a British coroner so that people may be satisfied and may know what has happened.
Be it noted that we are not dealing at the moment with the punishment of offences or with cases of civil liability for torts committed by American soldiers. All that we are dealing with is an inquest by a British coroner and jury, and whatever arguments there may be about American forces being responsible for the discipline of their troops I still do not understand why a coroner should be prevented from holding the traditional British inquest. As the Home Secretary knows, the coroner's court dates back centuries in this country.
While I do not accept the necessity for Regulations of this kind at all, I am sure that the whole House will agree that the Home Secretary ought not to sponsor them tonight unless he can give a more definite assurance than he gave a year ago that this basis of reciprocity with the United States will be established shortly.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
I think the simplest way of beginning an explanation of these Regulations is to 'remind the House of the legal history with regard to coroners. Up to 1926, coroners used to hold an inquiry whether criminal proceedings were likely to succeed or not; that is, whether somebody was arrested on a criminal charge and whether it was quite obvious there would be criminal proceedings. That was generally thought to be a bad state of the law. I am not giving the actual details, but I think that broadly this was the position under the Act of that year. If criminal proceedings were likely to succeed, the statutory duty was put on the coroner to adjourn his inquest so that there would be no duplication in those circumstances.
Then came the impact of the United States of America (Visiting Forces) Act during the war. I do not think it really helps us to go back over debates which took place during the war, but, if my memory is right, it was debated in this House before I was a Law Officer of the Crown. I think it was in 1940, but I am 294 speaking from recollection as a Private Member. I think I am right in saying that the matter was debated and eventually, for better or for worse, this House agreed to giving the American authorities jurisdiction over their own affairs. That course was taken with the general approval of this House. Therefore, qua an American citizen the criminal courts which would operate in his case, if he were a member of the American Services, would be the American courts in this country.
On that the Regulations were brought into force and, as the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) correctly said, there are two relevant paragraphs to the Regulations. The first is paragraph (4), which provides that:If any coroner having jurisdiction to hold an inquest touching a death is satisfied that the deceased person was at the time of his death a member of the American forces, then, unless the Secretary of State otherwise directs, the coroner shall not hold the inquest…The other paragraph is paragraph (5), which provides that if, on an inquest touching the death of a person other than a member of the American forces, the coroner learns that a member of the American forces has been charged before an American court with an offence involving responsibility for the death, or is being detained with a view to being so charged, he can adjourn the inquest. That is the provision which I think was rightly based on Section 20 of the Coroners (Amendment) Act, 1926, under which the coroner must adjourn an inquest if he learns that a person has been charged with homicide before any English court in respect of the death he is investigating. That was the procedure under the war-time Acts.
The next stage was that the Visiting Forces Act of 1952 was brought before the House. I make no complaint against the hon. Member for Oldham, West. All I was referring to—and he picked up the point—was that that was at the end of the previous Session and the discussion to which he referred was a few weeks after the beginning of the next Session. I merely referred to that point because I thought he had in mind that they followed each other very closely, but he made that quite clear. It is quite obvious to any of us who remember that the major point put to me by the House when I was in charge of the Visiting Forces Bill was the question of reciprocity. 295 There was strong feeling in the House that there ought to have been reciprocity. Again I am speaking from memory, but I think it was expressed by many hon. Members that the Bill should not have been introduced until reciprocity was obtained. The broad line I took was that I hoped for reciprocity in the case of the United States, and I think—although I have not checked this—that I said with regard to anyone else I would see that there was reciprocity before the Act was implemented. The House will not hold me to a word, but that is my recollection of the sense of what I said.
I do not think that anyone who looks back dispassionately can underestimate the feeling on that point. Considerable feeling was shown in the House. I seem to remember one debate where we spent a considerable time on this point. I think it was in Committee, and it was raised again on Report stage. I said, and again this is the effect of the quotation—if the hon. Gentleman thinks I have it wrong he will correct me—that I hoped for reciprocity. As the hon. Gentleman was good enough to say, he believed I was saying that honestly, I hope he will accept it from me that I was.
That was the position at that stage. I am taking it in this order because it gives the position clearly. On 27th November, when this matter came up during the debate on the Emergency Laws (Miscellaneous Provisions), which was a similar debate to this, I made a speech, which is reported at col. 918 of 27th November. I said, in relation to what was said by the hon. Member for Oldham, West:Thirdly, he asked me about reciprocity. If he looks at the previous debate he will see that we hope to see what the reciprocity will be when Congress meets in the new year. I have no further information than I gave the House on the last occasion. I think that answers the points raised, and I hope that with that the House will allow the Regulations to stand."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th November, 1952; Vol. 508, c. 914.]That the House did.
That was the position. Now let me remind the House of the position about bringing this Act into force. It was mentioned earlier today. To bring the Visiting Forces Act into force three Orders in Council are required; one under Section 19 (2) fixing the date for it to come 296 into force; one under Section 1 (2) stating the countries to which it applies; and one under Section 8 which applies to the visiting forces, in certain respects, the law applicable to the Home Forces.
It is necessary, and I considered this point very carefully, that all the Orders should be brought into force at one and the same time in order to apply the Act properly and with the proper application of our own legislation—a difficult and complicated matter—to the American forces. I wish to be entirely frank with the House. I had to consider, this summer, whether I should bring forward these three Orders at that time. There is, roughly, a six-week gap. One has to lay an Order six weeks ahead—again I hope the House will not bind me to a time; it is either six weeks or 40 days. That would have meant I should have to lay the Order somewhere about Whitsuntide in order to get it in before the long Recess. At that time when I considered that point, the United States Congress had not ratified the Agreement.
I felt that I was properly interpreting the feeling of the House. It is entirely my responsibility if I was wrong. I want everyone to understand that I do not seek to put it on anyone but myself. I thought that I ought to be in a better position to deal with reciprocity before I brought in the Order. That is what I decided, and I hope that the House will not think that I was too wrong. Hon. Members may disagree with me but I think that they will see the force of my argument. I wanted to wait until that Agreement had gone through Congress before I brought in the Order.
That is why the Order has not been brought in until this Session of Parliament. I am told that the United States Senate ratified the Status of Forces Agreement in July, 1953, and so bound themselves to give to our Forces in the United States reciprocal facilities to those given to United States Forces here. The reason why I have not got full details tonight is that I shall be laying that Order in a short time and I shall, of course, come before the House with full details. I hope that I shall be bringing that in shortly and that the three Orders applying the Act will be put before the House early next year.
That is the position. That is why I took that course. There are other difficulties. I wanted the House to know 297 what was in my mind last summer. It was my responsibility.
§ Mr. E. Fletcher
We are all obliged to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I gather that the United States Congress have ratified the Agreement. Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman tell us what the position is about legislation required to make the Agreement operative in the United States?
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
I am sorry. I have not got details on that point, but I shall have them when I bring the Order before the House. I have given the House the information which has been given to me. There are other countries involved. I want to leave the matter open. I think that the House would wish me to leave the point open as to whether we could not draft an Order applying the Act which will deal not only with the Americans but with other countries that have by this time ratified and given us reciprocity. I should like to leave that open.
I should not like the House to take it that I am giving an undertaking about a purely American Order when it would obviously be for the convenience of the House to have a more general Order. I hope that the House will take what I have said tonight as maintaining freedom on that.
I should like to say that when I said a few moments ago that the application of our law to the American Forces is not a simple matter, I was, if anything, understating the position. There are a great number of provisions in our law—there is the obvious one about carrying firearms—which have to be considered before we can have a proper Order. I am not absolutely certain about the point mentioned by the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher). He was good enough to realise that I would not be equipped to deal with the question of licensing. It is the sort of matter which has to be carefully considered.
There is another matter which I am sure the hon. Gentleman appreciates and that is that the question of attendance of witnesses at visiting forces' courts is something about which the House has always been jealous and to which it will want to give the most careful consideration before it passes the Order. There are a great many other matters—
§ Mrs. Braddock
Am I right in assuming from the remarks of the right hon. and learned Gentleman that it will be possible when the Regulations are laid to make alterations to cover the matter to which I referred in my Question? Will it be possible to discuss the matter on that occasion?
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
I am not absolutely sure whether the Order is amendable. My recollection is that a draft Order is laid and then it will be possible to raise the points, and, certainly, to have them considered. I should like the hon. Lady to assume that there is not power to amend the Order as there is with a Bill, but there will be an opportunity to raise points.
§ Mrs. Braddock
My reason for asking is that if it is possible to raise the matter when the Order comes before the House I should prefer to raise it then and not on the Adjournment, for I should then have a better opportunity to raise it than the Adjournment provides.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
If the hon. Lady will drop me a line on the point I shall be glad to give her the best advice that I can upon it.
The point I was making was that the Order itself is a difficult and complicated one. I wanted to make that clear to the House. It would not have been fair for me to put my excuse on difficulty or complication. I wanted to tell the House clearly what was in my mind about reciprocity during the summer, and that was the reason.
In these circumstances the position is that, until the Order is passed by the House, we are left with the war-time Act which operates in the way I have described. I earnestly hope that the delay will now be short. If the House thinks that I have taken a wrong view in waiting for reciprocity, I can only express my regret; but I assure the House that I was trying to interpret what I thought was a very strongly held feeling a year ago, and that was the reason for the delay. I hope that, on that understanding, the House will now approve the Motion and that hon. Gentlemen opposite will not now press the Amendment in view of the fact that there will be a chance of further discussion later.
§ 8.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede
It is a great pity that the hon. and learned Member for York (Mr. Hylton-Foster) is not present at this moment. In the course of a very genial speech earlier in the evening he made some rather flippant remarks about the Amendment. If he had heard the explanation which the right hon. and learned Gentleman has given us, I am sure he would have felt that, on the most serious grounds, the Amendment has been well justified by the course of the debate and by the painstaking and frank speech which we have had from the Home Secretary.
Undoubtedly, this is a matter of very great complexity. Negotiations about it started while I was still at the Home Office. As I told the House when we were discussing the Visiting Forces Bill, the difficulty which I always foresaw in getting legislation on the matter through the House was that hon. Members, irrespective of party, would strongly insist upon reciprocity being obtained from any nation to whose forces, when on our soil, the provisions of the Visiting Forces Act applied.
I am not quite as optimistic as the right hon. and learned Gentleman is about the future. It is true that we have obtained the agreement, but, as I understand, to make the agreement worth while, from the point of view of reciprocity, there will have to be some legislation in the United States Congress which would appear in some stages to infringe one or two of the very sacred principles enshrined in their Constitution. That matter was developed at some length by people more competent to deal with it than I am when the Visiting Forces Bill was before the House. For myself, I should have thought that, even if he has obtained the agreement, when it comes to getting legislation passed in the United States, we shall still be confronted with very considerable difficulties.
I think the right hon. and learned Gentleman was certainly right in withholding the laying of the Orders which he has in contemplation until he could assure us that he had managed to secure full reciprocity in this matter with the United States. I cannot think that, if he had come to us with an Order which declared that we granted facilities to the 300 United States which we were not going to get for such of our Service men as might be in the territories of the United States, he would have had a very difficult passage in the House, compared with which the discussions which we have just had might almost be regarded as acquiescence on our part.
I gather that the position at the present time is that, during the coming year, the right hon. and learned Gentleman has hopes that he may be in a position to lay Orders and to assure us that reciprocity has been obtained between ourselves and the United States. If that happens, next year we shall be confronted in a similar debate with a very different position from the one that arises tonight, and no one can therefore tell, in view of the fact that we are not merely dealing with what our own Government do but with what another Government may do. Although we sometimes seem to forget that there is a General Election pending at some time or another, they never seem to be able to get away from the feeling that there is to be an election this year, next year, sometime, not never, but, apparently, ever, in their country.
Therefore, I do not want tonight to give any pledge as to what we on this side of the House will do if and when the matter arises, as it seems to me it must arise, when we get to the similar Motion next year, but I would advise my right hon. and hon. Friends, if I may, that I do not think we should press this Amendment any further, but that we thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for the frank way in which he has dealt with it.
The noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) suggested that the Financial Secretary should stand up in a white sheet this evening, but the right hon. and learned Gentleman, even when he makes his confession, never does it in a white sheet, but always seems to be twanging the harpand having the crown on his head, while admitting that he has not lived up to expectations.
I hope that next year we shall be able to deal with the matter with a full knowledge, not merely of what the United States may intend, but of what the United States Congress has actually done, and, if we can be in that position, I sincerely hope that we may be able to get rid of these Regulations, for, certainly, it is very 301 repugnant to everyone in this country that our citizens may be, quite accidentally, but none the less certainly, maimed and killed, and the processes of English law not be available to investigate the causes of the maiming or death, as the case may be.
That is a position which I am sure everyone here feels is to some extent a humiliation in a country which has, for more years than the United States of America has even existed, upheld the rule of law in matters like this, and has been particularly proud of the way in which these matters have been open to competent and judicial examination in our own courts, no matter who the culprit may happen to be. I sincerely hope that, next year, we shall be able to deal with this matter on the basis of known facts with regard to action that has been taken elsewhere.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty under section seven of the Emergency Laws (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1947, praying that the Defence Regulations specified in the Schedule hereto, which would otherwise expire on the tenth day of December, nineteen hundred and fifty-three, be continued in force for a further period of one year until the tenth day of December, nineteen hundred and fifty-four.