HC Deb 25 November 1953 vol 521 cc343-5
29. Mr. Wood

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs when Her Majesty's Government will ratify the agreement regarding the status of forces of parties to the North Atlantic Treaty.

46. Mr. Collick

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs when he anticipates an agreement being reached with the Government of the United States of America, whereby members of the United States armed forces committing offences in Britain will be subject to the criminal and civil law of this country.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Anthony Nutting)

Before Her Majesty's Government can ratify the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation Status of Forces Agreement, the Visiting Forces Act, 1952, must be brought into force by Orders in Council made under the Act. Her Majesty's Government intend to present these Orders to Parliament at an early date. The provisions of the Visiting Forces Act will then apply. American and certain other N.A.T.O. forces in this country will then be subject to the jurisdiction of British criminal courts except in respect of offences committed on duty or against the persons or property of other members of the American forces or against the property of the American authorities. Members of the United States forces are already subject to the jurisdiction of our civil courts.

Mr. Wood

When the Visiting Forces Act comes into operation and this Agreement also comes into operation, am I right in thinking that any offence committed by a member of a visiting force when off duty can be dealt with in a court in this country?

Mr. Nutting

When the Visiting Forces Act comes into force, any member of any armed forces specified in the Order in Council bringing the Act into force will be subject to British criminal jurisdiction, except in the cases I have mentioned in my original answer.

Mr. Collick

Is the Minister aware that where a British court makes an affiliation order against an American soldier it is not enforceable, and will the reply he has given cover that position? It does not appear to.

Mr. Nutting

I should like notice of that Question. As I understand it, the position is quite clear with regard to criminal jurisdiction, but in regard to a matter of that kind I should like to see a Question on the Order Paper.

Mr. Collick

If I understand his reply aright, the hon. Gentleman said that the present position covers civil cases. My information is that affiliation court orders by British courts are not enforceable against United States personnel, and that is the point I am raising.

Mr. Nutting

If I may say so, that is all the more reason why I should like to see a Question on the Order Paper, when the hon. Gentleman may receive a perfectly clear and straightforward answer.

Mr. Fletcher-Cooke

Is my hon. Friend aware that in the case of committal orders for civil debt many county court judges refuse to enforce them against visiting service personnel on the grounds that it is against the spirit of the Visiting Forces Act. Is that the considered view of the Foreign Office in this matter?

Mr. Nutting

The Act, as I have made plain, is not yet in operation.

Mr. S. Silverman

Will the hon. Gentleman recall the specific assurance given by his right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary when this Bill was in Committee and on Second Reading, that the Order in Council bringing the Act into operation would not be promulgated until it was clear that reciprocal arrangements were being accepted by the United States Government in their own territories? Are we to take his announcement now as meaning that this assurance has been given?

Mr. Nutting

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the United States have ratified the Status of Forces Agreement and the Home Secretary made an explanation at some length to the House last night, which was accepted by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede). We awaited the ratification of this Agreement by the United States before bringing this Order before Parliament. We hope to bring it before Parliament shortly.

Mr. Ede

Will the hon. Gentleman read what his right hon. and learned Friend said yesterday afternoon, because it would appear from that that there is no satisfactory answer yet regarding the question of reciprocity.

Mr. Beswick

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that authorities responsible to the Government, controlled by the Government, are tendering advice to citizens in this country that although in theory they have redress in a civil court, in practice, the difficulty of carrying out such an order makes it not worth the expense incurred?

Mr. Silverman

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of some of the replies which have been made, I beg to give notice that I shall seek an opportunity to raise this matter on the Adjournment.