HC Deb 13 December 1956 vol 562 cc759-83

10.16 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. W. F. Deedes)

I beg to move, That the Draft Visiting Forces (Application of Law) Order, 1956, a copy of which was laid before this House on 20th November, be approved. The Order which we ask the House to approve arises from our obligations under the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. I do not think it requires a very long speech from me, but the House should know how the need for it arises.

It will be appreciated that under N.A.T.O. we have to envisage the stationing of troops of one member country in the territory of another. This relationship was broadly regularised under the N.A.T.O. Status of Forces Agreement, 1951. In order that we should play our part in that Agreement, we enacted in 1952 the Visiting Forces Act and in 1954 the Application of Law Order. We had some discussion about these Measures, particularly the 1954 one, and there will be hon. Members present tonight who will recall the main points which were then involved.

The need for tonight's Order arises from the fact that the 1952 Act and the 1954 Order were limited to those countries which had ratified or acceded to the Agreement by the early part of 1954. Since then there have been additions. Luxembourg, Turkey, Greece, Denmark, Portugal and Italy have ratified or acceded to the Agreement. We are under a clear obligation to extend our legislation so that it may cover any forces which those countries may send here under N.A.T.O. arrangements.

Accordingly, Article 3 of the present draft Order re-enacts Article 3 (1) of the 1954 Order, extending it to the visiting forces of the six countries which I have mentioned. I think it relevant to add here that at the moment the only visiting forces permanently stationed in this country are Canadians and Americans. There is no reason to suppose that there will be others in the foreseeable future, for that is unlikely.

It will be observed that the Order is not confined to Article 3. It has a second purpose, which can be simply explained. On 1st January next, the Army Act, 1955, and the Air Force Act, 1955, will come into force. They are the fruits of much industry and discussion by hon. Members here and in another place. Some of their provisions ought to be extended to visiting forces, as were the corresponding provisions of the old Acts. The old will expire in a matter of days from now. In all cases I can assure the House that the new powers are substantially the same as the old. Cross-references to the Army Act will be found in the second, third and fourth Schedules of the Order.

There is one final purpose of the Order. We have included in it references to legislation which has been passed since 1954 and which could have some significance for visiting forces. The new Road Traffic Act is an obvious example and the Landlord and Tenant Act, 1954, is another. In effect, what the Order does is bring our statutory relations with visiting forces of N.A.T.O. countries up to date. It embraces later members now excluded and covers later legislation, notably the Army and Air Force Acts. I can assure the House that it introduces no fresh principle of policy and simply accords with our recognised obligations under the N.A.T.O. agreements.

10.21 p.m.

Sir Frank Soskice (Newport)

As the Under-Secretary of State has said, we had some discussion, some rather animated discussion, on the 1954 Order when that was laid by the Government. The Under-Secretary has explained why he thinks it now necessary to bring in the new Order, but I want to take this opportunity of shortly reverting to one or two of the topics which were discussed in the course of that 1954 debate.

As the Under-Secretary has explained, certain new countries have been added to the list of countries brought within the ambit of the Visiting Forces Act, 1952, and it may well be for the reasons he has given that it is necessary that they should now be included. But that does bring up this perhaps somewhat vexed question of the reciprocity conditions which are at present in force or will be brought into force in other countries which are within the scope of the 1952 Act.

I remind the Under-Secretary that when we had the debate in 1954 on the 1954 Order certain questions were put to the Government which were answered as at the then state of affairs, and I should like him to say what the position is at the moment. I refer particularly to the question of reciprocity in the United States. At that time, as the then Attorney-General and the then Home Secretary explained, it was thought that the necessary reciprocity conditions could be introduced in the United States of America without the necessity of legislation passing through Congress.

Indeed, doubts were expressed on the other side of the House as to whether it was possible to implement or introduce reciprocity conditions without such legislation. It was doubted whether such legislation was constitutionally possible in terms of the United States constitution. The Attorney-General at the time gave such information to the House as he was able to give. I should now like the Under-Secretary to say what has now been done in the United States about introducing adequate and satisfactory reciprocity conditions which ensure for any forces or any individual service personnel who may be there the same protection, the same immunity and privileges as are accorded to members of visiting forces in this country, in particular whether any cases have actually been brought up in which the question of the situation and status of British personnel in the United States has been tested.

I think that when we had that debate in 1954 one such case had arisen, but the state of administrative or other regulations in force in the United States was not, so far as the then Government spokesmen were aware, tested or brought into issue. I should be grateful if the Minister would enlighten the House as to the present situation in the United States.

I think that we were also told at that time that in the Commonwealth countries there was complete reciprocity, with the possible exception of India and Pakistan, in which countries it would be quite simple to introduce the necessary reciprocal provisions. I should like to know what the state of affairs is in those two Commonwealth countries now. We were also told that our European partners in N.A.T.O., as at that date, had made the necessary provisions in their own domestic legislative systems. I should like to have an assurance from the Minister that he has taken up with the Governments of the countries which are now being admitted the question of reciprocity, and that they have given him satisfactory assurances that they either have made or will at an early date make the necessary provisions in their own domestic legal systems.

The Order raises a factor which is undoubtedly of major importance, and I am quite sure that the Minister will agree that there is natural anxiety among hon. Members on this side of the House that that aspect of the question will always be borne in mind by the Government should any further orders of this nature be introduced. He will appreciate our anxiety to be assured that adequate steps were taken by the Government before presenting the Order.

I should like to touch upon that part of the Order which relates to the road traffic provisions. At first sight, I concede that it does no more than adapt the existing 1954 Order by making reference to the latest Road Traffic Act introduced by the Government. The Minister has already assured the House that no changes of principle affecting that aspect of responsibility for road traffic accidents are introduced by the Order. I think I am right in saying that we were assured in 1954 that, broadly speaking, under the Visiting Forces Act the situation was that if a member of any visiting force drove a private car in this country he had to comply with the legislative provisions of our own domestic law with regard to compulsory insurance, the manner in which the car was driven, and so on. If he were driving a Service vehicle on duty, however, under Section 9 of the Visiting Forces Act, 1952, the Minister of Defence would deal with any claims that arose as the result of an accident in which that vehicle might be involved.

The third category of case concerned members of visiting forces who were driving Service vehicles, but not on duty. We were assured, if I accurately recollect the debates at that time, that in such circumstances the driver of the vehicle came within the scope of our own criminal law, imposing an obligation with regard to compulsory insurance and as to the manner and care requisite in the driving of that vehicle. I should like the Minister to direct his mind specifically to the question whether it is a fact that no change is made in the situation by the references, now incorporated into the Order, to the Road Traffic Act, 1956.

As he has said, there are some apparently purely formal changes with reference to the existing legislation affecting the Army and the Air Force. I observe, however, that a completely new Schedule is incorporated in the Order, in substitution for that which existed in the previous Order, relating to matters of considerable importance. Two major topics are dealt with in that Schedule. The first is the position of witnesses, both civilian and Service, who may be required to give evidence before Service courts of visiting forces, and the other is the question of the detention of members of the Services of visiting forces who are sentenced to periods of imprisonment and detention.

I should like to know from the Minister why it was necessary to have a completely new Schedule. I have tried to compare the new Schedule with the old, and, so far as I can ascertain, there are no fundamental changes introduced; though the question of witnesses before the service courts and the detention of persons sentenced to imprisonment are both matters of great importance, and I should be grateful if the Minister could specifically assure the House that I was right in thinking that the changes introduced by the new Schedule are purely formal and technical and make no changes whatever of any substance in either of those two matters.

Subject to satisfactory answers to the various points, which I hope the Minister will be able to give, and speaking for myself, I may say that we recognise the necessity for this Measure, and, as I say, subject to satisfactory answers to those points, I should advise my hon. Friends that that is the view they may properly take of this Order.

10.31 p.m.

Mr. Wedgwood Benn (Bristol, South-East)

The Minister has introduced this Order in a very mild manner and with his characteristic charm. He has told the House that really it is a technical matter, which simply makes an automatic and understandable extension of the Visiting Forces Act to certain other countries and makes certain consequential changes, following recent legislation in other fields which has to be brought into line. If indeed this were such an Order, I should not be addressing the House even for the few minutes which I propose to take.

In fact, this is an Order, as indeed is the Visiting Forces Act itself, which, as we have seen in the last few weeks, has an application which makes it a highly charged political issue. I wish briefly to explain the reason why I am saying this, and to ask the Minister for answers to these questions.

Section 1 of the parent Act lays down that the Act shall apply to any country provided for by Order with regard to arrangements for common defence to which Her Majesty's Government are, for the time being, parties. As the Minister said when introducing the Order, the magic letters "N.A.T.O." explain everything which is to be done under the consequential Orders. At the same time, the most recent example of the use of the Visiting Forces Act—I must raise this in order to find out the new applications of it—has been in regard to French troops in Cyprus.

I should not dream of entering into the controversy we have been going over in the House in the last month or so, but it does not require a moment of thought to realise that the presence of French troops in Cyprus, and the application of the Visiting Forces Act to them. has nothing to do with N.A.T.O. at all. In fact, when certain hon. Members of this House have urged in the past that Cyprus should be the main concern of N.A.T.O., Ministers have replied that they regarded it as a domestic British matter and not a matter which could, or should, be raised at N.A.T.O. Therefore, that is the first reason why I think it strange that the Visiting Forces Act should apply to French troops in Cyprus.

The second thing is that the purpose of the visiting French troops in Cyprus was again nothing whatever to do with N.A.T.O. Indeed, we had the speech of the French Prime Minister a few days ago in which he said deliberately that the decision was taken not to consult with other N.A.T.O. countries, particularly the United States, for fear that if they knew they would prevent the operation from taking place. Therefore, on those two grounds; first, the fact that Cyprus itself is not a N.A.T.O. concern, and secondly, that the Anglo-French Expeditionary Force build-up in Cyprus was done without consultation with other N.A.T.O. countries—I make nothing of that, 1 use it as an example, and I am not trying to argue whether either of those things should have been done—but the circumstance being as it was, I regard it as highly improper, in fact out of order, for this Act to be applied to the French troops in Cyprus. I am particularly glad that the Minister was so straightforward when introducing this Order and murmuring "N.A.T.O." all the time as if N.A.T.O. were the only consideration, as the Act says it is, which justifies application of these Visiting Forces Orders.

A second question arises here—the application of these Orders to the Colonies. Another Section of the parent Act, of which I simply give the reference —Part III, Section 15—lays down that any territory may be specified in a supplementary Order and automatically the provisions of the parent Orders apply to that territory. In September we had the news that the Privy Council had met urgently at Balmoral, or wherever Her Majesty was at the time, to give consideration to and enact an Order which brought Cyprus into play as a designated territory in which N.A.T.O. troops might be stationed.

The reason I raise this is that the presence of French troops in Cyprus makes all sorts of situations possible. Within a few days of them arriving in Cyprus we read in the newspapers that they had come into conflict with Eoka forces. Supposing that as a result of that fighting between Eoka and French forces the French subpoenaed Cypriot citizens, brought them to courts-martial and convicted them? What would happen to Cypriot witnesses who refused to give evidence, or gave evidence?

What is the position under these Orders? This is particularly relevant as paragraph 3 of the Order before us tonight lays down that Luxembourg, Turkey, Greece, Denmark, Portugal and Italy are brought within the provisions of the Visiting Forces Act. If Her Majesty's Government were to decide to send Turkish troops to Cyprus for any purpose at all, there would be a very important political development. I am not at all sure that tonight we should not have from the Minister answering this debate some clear statement about the extent to which the Act would be applicable in those cases.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice) very rightly raised the question of reciprocity. He raised it in a legal sense; are we sure that we are getting as good as we are giving? That is right, but the question arises, if reciprocity is to apply. whether British troops might be invited to Algeria. We indicate by this Order that we are making provision for the treatment and behaviour, powers and authority of those troops if they were sent to Algeria because the French are members of N.A.T.O. It is arguable whether it would be in order for the French to invite a force to Algeria. The Portuguese—in difficulties in Goa—might say, to Britain, "You are being turned out of your base in Ceylon; would you like a base in Goa?" This Order provides under the reciprocity provision that British troops in Goa would then enjoy certain rights and privileges while they were there. It is obvious that if there were British troops in Algeria or Goa, or Turkish troops in Cyprus, or French troops there as they are there now, matters of great moment might arise.

I wish to ask two questions. I realise that this is a big thing to ask, as I have not had an opportunity of giving the Minister notice of it. First, will he give an absolute assurance that the provisions of this Order will be applied only for the movement of troops within the strict meaning of N.A.T.O.? That is to say, in future no foreign troops will benefit from this Order unless N.A.T.O. has been consulted and has consented to the operation? I am bound to ask this in view of the very strict wording of the parent Act and in view of the very phrases which the Minister used in introducing the Order.

Secondly, I want an absolute assurance that if these troops who are authorised by this Order to be sent to British Colonies are in fact sent to those Colonies, there will not be a general authorisation for them to take action and to use their powers in any local emergency which might exist. This is a very serious question in Cyprus today. The terrorism there seems to be worse rather than better, and while French troops remain there, there is grave danger that this situation might arise again.

I hope the Minister has been able, by means of the traditional manner of getting information in the middle of a debate, to obtain information to give some answers to those questions.

10.41 p.m.

Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)

I shall differ slightly from my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) in one of the points which he made. Neither the parent Act nor this Order gives—nor could it give—any immunities to British troops either in Algeria or in Goa, or anywhere else. We have no power to grant immunity to our troops or to anybody else outside our jurisdiction.

That is the point to which I want to apply my mind. When the Act was passed, we pressed the then Attorney-General, now Lord Kilmuir, to give us assurances that the immunities which we were granting to Americans here would be granted to us in America by the American Government. He gave us specific assurances that the same immunities would be granted to us as we were granting. Has that been done? I will answer that question for the Joint Under-Secretary of State: not one single immunity has been granted by the United States, nor could it be granted by the United States, because there is no power under the United States constitution for the American Government to do so. The United States constitution provides no power to the American Government to place people within the United States outside and above the law of the United States.

Will the hon. Member please acknowledge that now? Exactly the opposite was promised to the House when the parent Act was passed. Precisely what was said would happen has happened—nothing. Will the hon. Member please confirm that now? Will he have something to say about why the House was induced to pass the original Act under what were false pretences?

Whether we have reciprocity or not as a matter of convenience—and it is right that we should have it—I think we ought not to be deceived as we were deceived on that occasion.

10.44 p.m.

Mr. Deedes

A number of questions have been asked and I will do my best to produce the right answers to at least most of them.

The right hon. and learned Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice) began with a question to which all three hon. Members opposite who have spoken have referred—reciprocity. He asked, first, whether there had been any developments since this was discussed in 1954, with particular reference to the United States. The answer in relation to the United States is that the position statutorily is the same from their point of view. There is no change. I would add that the remarks which were then made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald), who was then Attorney-General, carry as much force now as they did then.

Mr. Paget

In other words, he is still wrong.

Mr. Deedes

No cases have arisen of the type about which the right hon. and learned Gentleman asked.

Mr. Paget

Let us get a straight answer about America. Nothing has happened in America, has it?

Mr. Deedes

I have just said that there has been no statutory change in the United States.

Mr. Paget

And there cannot be.

Mr. Deedes

Nor has there been any statutory change in India and Pakistan. There has been no legislation. The only country which has passed legislation since this matter was discussed in 1954 is Canada.

I was also asked about reciprocity in relation to the six additional members. I think I should give this information. The Status of Forces Agreement has now been ratified by all the member States of the Atlantic alliance, except Iceland and Germany. Iceland will probably not ratify the Agreement because the foreign troops on her soil are covered by a separate agreement and she has no forces serving abroad. Negotiations with the Federal Republic are continuing.

None of the six States listed have at the moment forces in the United Kingdom, but the position statutorily from their point of view is as follows. Luxembourg will not require special legislation to enable the Status of Forces Agreement to be put into effect. The act of ratification itself makes the Agreement part of Luxembourg law. In the case of the countries where additional legislation is necessary—that is, Italy, Greece, Denmark and Turkey—the necessary legislation has been enacted in those four countries. The position in Portugal is not at the moment very clear, but I understand that it will be clarified satisfactorily pretty soon. That accounts for the countries which arise for discussion today, as opposed to those discussed in 1954.

Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South East)

Before the hon. Gentleman leaves that point, may I remind him that there are 18 countries shown here to which this Order applies. Can he say shortly in how many of these 18 countries the same arrangements are applied by them to us?

Mr. Deedes

I am sorry, I cannot give the answer statutorily in relation to those countries. I can give the information in relation to their entry into N.A.T.O. I thought that the six new entries with which this Order deals were the countries which particularly concerned the right hon. and learned Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice).

On the question of the Road Traffic Act, on which my right hon. and learned Friend gave some assurances in 1954 regarding compensation and so on, I can assure the House that there is no change in the provisions which apply here. Most of the provisions of the Road Traffic Act, 1956, will now apply to visiting forces, so that the position will be strengthened rather than otherwise by the Order.

Mr. A. J. Irvine (Liverpool, Edge Hill)

Does the hon. Gentleman offer any explanation of the unworthy and unsatisfactory failure of these other countries to introduce reciprocal provisions in their own legislation?

Mr. Deedes

With respect to the six member countries that we are discussing tonight, I thought I had been able to give not unsatisfactory accounts of what had been done. With regard to the others, statutorily the reciprocity is not complete.

Mr. Paget

Not complete? It does not exist at all.

Mr. Callaghan

No doubt, from time to time we shall have additions to this list, and we shall go on adding to them, may be quite rightly. What diplomatic initiative have the Government taken during the last two years to see that these things become reciprocal?

Mr. Deedes

What matters, and what I think can be said, is that there is no reason to suppose that any of these countries would be unable or unwilling to fulfil the obligations which are expected of them under this Agreement.

Mr. Paget

The hon. Gentleman will agree that, as far as the United States is concerned, unless the Americans are prepared to carry a number of constitutional Amendments, they are not only unwilling, they are unable to provide reciprocity on anything like these lines.

Mr. Irvine

Is this country to be the only country which allows other people to tell it what to do?

Mr. Deedes

I do not at all accept the last intervention by the hon. Member for Edge Hill (Mr. Irvine).

I apologise for the rather diffuse replies which I am giving to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, but I am doing my best. We now come to the Fifth Schedule, to which he referred. The changes in the Schedule, I can assure him, are purely formal and they are not changes of substance; they do not alter the present position in any way.

The hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) sought, I think, to get me into even deeper waters by asking what he was pleased to call two questions, which, I say quite frankly, I do not think arise directly from the Order we are discussing. I am not seeking to burke the questions.

With regard to the position of the Colonies, the hon. Member may like to consult Statutory Instrument No. 637 of 1954, which applies to Cyprus, Hong Kong and Malta. Perhaps I may explain it in this way. Section 1 of the Visiting Forces Act. 1952, provides that references in the Act to a country to which a provision of the Act applies are references to Commonwealth countries and to any country designated for the purposes of that provision by Order in Council. The Visiting Forces (Designation) Order, 1954, designates certain countries, including the United States of America.

The purpose of the Order No. 637 of 1954, is to extend to certain Colonial Territories the provisions of the Visiting Forces (Designation) Order, 1954, in so far as those provisions relate to the United States of America. That is the Order dated 1954 to which. as it were, there is nothing statutorily to add.

Mr. Benn

With great respect to the hon. Gentleman, it was just because that Order mentioned only the United States that the Government had to rush a special Order through in September to include France. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has the Order that included France; perhaps he is just coming to it. But the point surely arises that, whereas the 1954 Order was a general Order and nobody took any objection to it, in September it was a specific Order to allow French troops to move to Cyprus, outside N.A.T.O. and without N.A.T.O. having been consulted.

Mr. Deedes

I quite appreciate the point which the hon. Gentleman is trying to lead me to. But may I say that the Order which is under discussion relates to forces entering this country, none of which can enter this country without the permission of Her Majesty's Government? That is the position arising out of the Order under discussion. I am not prepared to go off into the deeper waters into which the hon. Gentleman wishes to lead me, because the question does not arise under the Order we are discussing.

Mr. Benn

I am very much obliged to the hon. Gentleman for giving way again. Surely, he will confirm that this view is correct. The Application of Law Order, 1954, was extended, for designated coun- tries, by the other Order to which he has just referred, to British Colonies. Will he not confirm that the provisions of this Order will, as soon as they are passed, immediately come into operation for any troops mentioned in article 3 who happen to be in British Colonies at this particular moment?

Mr. Deedes

Yes, that is a correct assumption; I accept that.

The second point which the hon. Member raised related to its application to the Colonies, and I think I have dealt with that.

Finally, the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) raised this general question of reciprocity. He will recall the broad policy which was outlined by the then Attorney-General in 1954, which was that there was no reason —I have said this once already—to suppose that the countries concerned would be unable or unwilling to fulfil their obligations, and that it was the essence of the contract that there should be a degree of trust in this matter. To that there is at the moment nothing further to add. This Order in no way alters the situation on that aspect from what it was in 1954.

Mr. Callaghan

But there is something to add, with respect to the hon. Gentleman. He has to add this. What initiative has been taken by Her Majesty's Government to ensure that these other nations adopt the same relationship with us as we have with them?

Mr. Deedes

The question which all hon. Members have asked is what statutory effect—

Mr. Callaghan

I am asking another question, which is, what have Her Majesty's Government done about it?

Mr. Deedes

We cannot compel other countries to give statutory effect to these obligations.

Mr. Callaghan

I quite agree that the hon. Gentleman cannot compel anybody in another country to do this, but that is not my question. I think that mine is quite a simple question. Has anything been done by the Government to try to get this reciprocity with other countries?

Mr. Deedes

What I have to satisfy the House about is that these obligations would be fulfilled if the occasion arose. That being so, it does not fall to us to press for legislative action by other countries.

Mr. Paget

The position is surely this. Two years ago, when this matter was raised, the then Attorney-General assured us categorically that certain action would be taken by the Americans. That action has admittedly not been taken. We at that time told the then Attorney-General that he was talking nonsense, that the Americans would not and could not take the action. What we should like to be told now is that we were quite right and that the righ hon. and learned Gentleman was quite wrong. That is what has happened in two years.

Mr. Deedes

The then Attorney-General did not in any way suggest that the United States would give statutory effect to the obligation. I think I am right, if my memory serves me correctly.

Mr. John Strachey (Dundee, West)

The hon. Gentleman said that he would like to refresh his memory. Perhaps I can do it for him. The then Attorney-General said: I was asked whether I had given an opinion on this matter, but, as I am not qualified in United States law, that would be a very foolish thing for me to do, and it is not a thing which I should do. I did take the precaution of getting the best possible opinion, from the legal advisers to the American Government, who tell us that there is no doubt that what Mr. Bedell Smith said was said with the greatest possible care and after the greatest possible consideration, and is right."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th April, 1956; Vol. 526, c. 1300.] What Mr. Bedell Smith told us was that the United States Government were in a position to give us reciprocity in this matter. Now we find it is perfectly clear—

Mr. Nigel Fisher (Surbiton)

It is purely academic.

Mr. Strachey

The hon. Member for Surbiton (Mr. Fisher) says that it is purely academic. That is an entirely new view. Up to now we have been told that it was of the highest importance that the United States should give us reciprocity. Now we are told that it is academic. It is very interesting. If the Government put this view to us we shall naturally take an entirely different attitude to the Order, because we were told that this was being passed on the basis of reciprocity. The hon. Member for Surbiton, speaking apparently for his Minister—he is in very close contact with official sources on this matter—tells us that it does not matter at all. Perhaps the Minister disagrees with him. That is a better defence than the other one, but we should like to know where we are on this point.

Mr. Deedes

The discussion is being taken a good way beyond the Order, although I am not taking exception to that. We are going back to the foundations that were discussed fully in 1954. The purpose of the Order is clearly defined. No assurance was given in 1954 that statutory effect was likely to be given by the United States to these obligations. We said that we had no reason to suppose that they would not fulfil their obligations. Nothing has happened since that date to alter the assurance that was then given or the fact that I can give the assurance again tonight.

Mr. Strachey

The Minister should give a little more than that to the House, which has felt more and more disquiet about the position disclosed. We must press this matter of reciprocity. Let me read a few more words of what the then Attorney-General told us: All I can say is that surely if we are to work with our ally, the United States, and we are told that the American Government have been assured by their legal advisers that all that is necessary has been done, it is a difficult way to approach our loyalties under N.A.T.O. if we say that some legal gentleman has given an opinion casting doubt upon that."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th April, 1954; Vol. 526, c. 1300.] The opinions of the legal gentlemen were the opinions of a very great United States constitutional lawyer and of United States senators, and showed that the thing could be done.

We ask the Minister whether the thing has been done in the United States, and whether our troops have, when they are in the United States—[Interruption.] Who is to say that we shall never have troops in the United States under N.A.T.O.? We have a few troops there, and from time to time our naval forces go to the United States. To say that it is academic is fantastic.

Here is an Order under an Act which, on this side of the House, we have always been willing to accept, because it is something which this country can accept with good feeling and without the slightest humiliation, as long as it is reciprocal. Now we find that it is not reciprocal at all. We are told by a Government supporter that that is quite academic.

Very hard words have been used from the Government benches recently on this alliance; a good deal too harsh for us. It is a great pity, because on an issue of this sort it is important for good feeling and the morale of the alliance that this should be reciprocal. The Government have done absolutely nothing about it. [Laughter.] I can imagine why there is laughter from the Government side of the House. Government supporters have made it clear recently that they care nothing about this, and have expressed most extreme views. This is not a big issue but it is of some importance, and we have been told nothing about it. It seems to mean absolutely nothing to the Minister.

Mr. Deedes

It is not true that this means absolutely nothing to the Minister. The right hon. and learned Member asked what had happened since 1954 and I gave the answer that statutorily there had been no change at all. That is rather different from what the right hon. Gentleman has just said. The point about what would happen were British troops to land and remain in the United States as American troops are here has not arisen. [Interruption.] We have not got troops stationed in America.

Mr. Paget

There are British troops stationed there.

Mr. Strachey

Surely that is an error. British naval forces call from time to time at American ports. It is highly likely that there are some there at the moment. It is surely not the case that it does not arise.

Mr. Paget

There is a staff of at least a hundred in Washington at the moment.

Mr. Deedes

What I am trying to say is that, despite the absence of statutory reciprocity, there is no reason to doubt that the United States would fulfil its obligations to our troops as we fulfil our obligations to American troops. That is what was said in 1954, and that is the assurance that I am repeating tonight. I really do not think the right hon. Gentleman is entitled to say that no answer at all has been received to the point which has been raised.

Mr. Paget

The American common law is based on our common law. Any American can prosecute any of our troops there in the same way as anybody in this country, but for the Order and the Statute, could bring a prosecution against members of the American forces here. My view all along has been that the Act was necessary, right and convenient, but that there could not be reciprocity. This is what we are complaining about. We were categorically assured—

Mr. Paul Williams (Sunderland, South)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have been trying to follow the latter part of the debate. I apologise for having come into the Chamber just for the last part. I have rather lost track in my mind of who has the Floor of the House and how many speeches are being made by hon. Gentlemen opposite. Is it possible to have a Ruling about the matter?

Mr. Speaker

I have certainly observed that the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) has already addressed the House on the topic, and it seemed to me that he was trying to make a second speech. I think that when I came in the Floor of the House was occupied by the right hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey). I do not know whether or not he has finished his speech.

Mr. Paget

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. I indicated to the Joint Under-Secretary, who then had the Floor, that I wished to intervene. With the courtesy with which he always treats the House, he gave way to me. I was taking the opportunity to explain the point with which I wanted him to deal.

Mr. Speaker

I appreciate what the hon. and learned Gentleman says, but I would point out that an intervention is one thing and a second speech is another.

11.8 p.m.

Mr. A. J. Irvine (Liverpool, Edge Hill)

I intervene because I think this is a moment of some significance at which one can consider the background of the Order.

We have here the conception of Western society getting together on a basis of collaboration, agreement and mutual support to establish resistance against compulsive forces emanating from the East. With that objective in mind, it is decided by Western society that certain mutual arrangements shall be made to protect the rights of forces in the countries of the Western alliance.

Up to that point, and bearing in mind the nature of the objective, I do not think the Joint Under-Secretary would find any kind of objection from this side of the House. It is, indeed, from many points of view an admirable thing that, in this context of political relationships, the countries of the West should proceed to devise measures and provisions which will enable the combatants of the Western nations to receive in the various countries of the Western alliance similar advantages, privileges and status.

Up to that point all is well and in harmony with our objective. Surely it is a most distressing thing that there should be a complete breakdown in the implementation of that objective. It is a most unsatisfactory circumstance that we should proceed to pass into law the most elaborate, detailed and specific legislation determining that visiting forces from other countries in the Western alliance should be bound by this and that provision in our law when, at the same time, in the other countries of the Western alliance nothing has been done of any similar or parallel kind. This goes to the very heart of the alliance.

Mr. Deedes

The hon. Member will recall that in answer to a question put by the right hon. and learned Gentleman I accounted for four out of the six countries which form the main substance of the Order, and gave accounts of what they had done with their legislation. I am sure that he would not wish to be inaccurate in this matter.

Mr. Irvine

I have no desire to be inaccurate about it, but one of the facts that we cannot disregard is that the United States is central in all this, and the United States has not taken any action subsequent upon this agreement. I do not think that Canada has taken action.

Mr. Deedes

Canada has. I said in answer to a question that legislation had been passed in Canada.

Mr. Irvine

The United States has not taken any action, and cannot. We proceeded to pass Statutory Instruments, elaborate and detailed in character, against a background in which, as I understand it, the Government were assuring us that there would be reciprocity from other countries in the Western alliance. Not only are they incapable of introducing any measures of that sort but they show no sign of overcoming the obstacles which exist to prevent their doing so.

All I say is that this fact vitiates the whole relationship. It is entirely contrary to what we understood would be the position when we agreed to the provisions of the 1952 Act. I remember the occasion perfectly well. I thought that the position as it was going to develop was to be one in which the United States would bring forward provisions governing visiting forces in the United States from this country in precisely parallel and reciprocal terms to those we had for her. It seemed to me a matter of very little moment if in practice it was unlikely that we would seek the advantages over there that were being sought by United States forces over here. That was a relatively insignificant matter; the important matter was that there should be not merely an agreement in the abstract that these reciprocal provisions should apply, but also that the necessary legislative measures should be taken in the two countries to make them practicable.

I do not want the hon. Member to think that this is merely one of those passing occasions in which matters of minor moment and small significance are being raised; it is regarded by some hon. Members on this side of the House as a very unsatisfactory matter that there has been no reciprocity here. Nothing would surprise us about the Government's policy in terms of the communication of what is thought of the United States by people in this country. There have been a hundred and one instances to make it abundantly clear that the United States has not been kept sufficiently informed about the opinion held by people over here. This Order is another example of that—not to be gainsaid and not to be dealt with too lightly.

Here we are, going into all the detail of the matter and all the particularising of it, and there is no kind of reciprocal action on the other side. The relationship between the United States and ourselves is such that if it was clearly and reasonably conveyed that this feeling existed on this side, action would at once be taken. I say that this is evidence of a failure in the channels of communication.

What we ask is something essentially reasonable and formal in character. [Interruption.] There is a good deal of formality, and it ill becomes hon. Members opposite to disregard matters of form. I do ask the Under-Secretary and his colleagues to draw the attention of the United States, through the channels which are available, to the special circumstances about which my hon. Friends have spoken. Reluctantly, we are put into the position of having this detailed and particularised legislation to ensure that forces visiting this country from the United States are treated on a different footing from that of British Service men. The Under-Secretary is asking us to do this in the knowledge that there is no kind of equivalent courtesy emanating from the other side.

Mr. Deedes

Of course, the hon. Member's remarks will be noted. A little earlier I was asked a number of questions by the right hon. and learned Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice) on the Order which was then under discussion and which, I think he will agree, I did my best to answer. Since then there has been a much more general debate such as there was in 1954 and to which I have not seen fit to add by way of answer to the general observations made then. What the hon. Member for Edge Hill (Mr. Irvine) has said will, as I have told him, be noted; but I am not prepared to take a general argument such as he has raised, and which is not applicable to the Order under consideration. as a matter for discussion tonight.

I hope that I have been able to give all hon. Members, as well as the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Newport, specific answers to their specific questions, and I trust that the House may now pass the Order.

11.18 p.m.

Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South-East)

I am sorry, but that is not satisfactory. The Under-Secretary has done his best, and we all acknowledge that he has answered our questions as patiently as he always does; but this is the sort of Order which is put down for after ten o'clock in the hope that it will slide through, with the Whips hoping that everybody will have gone home. Had it not been for the vigilance of my right hon. and hon. Friends, that is what would have happened tonight.

The Under-Secretary, we know, is too honest at heart to say that the assurance given in earlier debates about the attitude and the position of the United States has been fulfilled; and according to my right hon. and hon. Friends, it cannot be fulfilled. The hon. Gentleman does not answer, but I understand that he does not dissent from that, and I must tell him that, although there are a number of British Service men at this moment in the United States, the principle of reciprocity does not apply to them as it applies to the Service men of the United States who happen to be in these islands. When he asks the House to approve this Order to extend the provisions of the Act to another group of countries, we must ask what he has done to ensure that the rights of our own men are safeguarded in those countries. That, surely, is the only sound basis for the validity of this Order; and that was why we were so pertinacious in trying to find out what the Government had done about the extending of equal rights to our troops.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will acquit me of any discourtesy if I say to him that I do not think he knows. Perhaps it is right that he should not know, and we should have a member of the Foreign Office here—one of the many Ministers whom the Government have at the Foreign Office—who could tell us what diplomatic initiative has been taken by the Government.

Mr. Strachey


Mr. Callaghan

My right hon. Friend says that none has been taken at all. I wonder whether that is so. I suspect that it is. Having got the Order through, and having satisfied the House of Commons that we are going to get some reciprocity. the Government forget all about it, and nothing else happens until they want something for another country. That is not good enough. It is open to the Government to approach the Governments of other countries through the diplomatic channels and to ask what steps, if any, they propose to take in this matter.

I put it to the Joint Under-Secretary that until he can give us this information, he should withdraw this Order. I think the House is entitled to ask him, and I think he is almost bound to give us an answer, that the Government will specifically raise with these other Governments concerned the measure of reciprocity which they are willing to give to us. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that I, and many other hon. Members, are not over-enamoured of the idea of soldiers coming here from Turkey, Greece, Denmark, Portugal, Italy and Luxembourg, and having the right to drive along our roads without the provisions of the Road Traffic Act applying to them. Goodness knows, we see some had examples of driving on the roads at present.

The hon. Gentleman surely has a duty to the House to be able to tell us that not only are the Government going to satisfy the requirements of the Act reasonably, but that in fact our people are not to be put to any disadvantage when they are serving in other countries. I request the hon. Gentleman to approach his colleagues concerned with this matter to make sure that we take diplomatic initiative in the matter. I know that the hon. Gentleman cannot say more, but it is not sufficient for him to come to this House and say that these countries have the power to do so. Apparently, in the case of the United States even that is not clear, but in the case of other countries I understand that it is true that they have the power to do so, and that is all the more reason why they should get on with it.

I ask the hon. Gentleman to give an undertaking that before the Government come to this House with a fresh series of Orders for a fresh series of countries, they will actively take up this matter with the other countries in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and see whether we can have equal treatment as equal partners. Were the hon. Gentleman to give such an assurance, we should feel more satisfied that the Government were not trying to get some benefits for the visiting forces of other countries who come here without trying to ensure that our men overseas get the same sort of treatment. Can the hon. Gentleman give some assurance of that sort?

Mr. Deedes

The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the width and breadth of the decisions which can be taken by a Joint Under-Secretary at this hour of the night. Of course I undertake that the purport of what he and his right hon. and hon. Friends have said will be passed on through the proper channels, and that their observations will be noted. Beyond that he knows quite well—

Mr. Callaghan

No, I am only interjecting—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I think it would be more convenient for the House if the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) had made his speech before the Joint Under-Secretary replied the last time. We cannot have the hon. Gentleman making several speeches in reply to each hon. Member who intervenes. Has the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East concluded his address to the House?

Mr. Callaghan

Yes, Sir. But, if I may say so, the point is that I should not have had to speak at all if the Joint Under-Secretary had come armed with the facts. Because he has not, we have had to speak.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I can only try my best to preserve the rules of order in the House. This debate has become a series of speeches by an hon. Member on my left and then a reply by the Joint Under-Secretary, and another speech. That is not the way it should go.

Mr. Callaghan

Further to that point of order, could you please tell me, Mr. Speaker, in what way the rules of order have been transgressed by an hon. Member speaking after the Minister?

Mr. Speaker

That was not the point of order at all. What I objected to was the Joint Under-Secretary making several speeches—

Mr. Callaghan

By leave of the House.

Mr. Speaker

—at the request of hon. Members, one after the other. We cannot have it that way.

Mr. Callaghan

Further to that point of order, the hon. Gentleman was on his feet and I was trying to intervene. Have I your permission to intervene?

Mr. Speaker

Has the Joint Under-Secretary concluded his observations on the matter?

Mr. Deedes

Yes, Mr. Speaker. May I say that I apologise to you if I have in any way transgressed any rule of order tonight. It will be within your knowledge that a number of questions were addressed to me, not all at the same time, and I have done my best to answer them.

Mr. Speaker

That was the case. I do not think it was altogether the fault of the hon. Gentleman, but every time he made a speech there was another speech asking another specific question. That is not the way it should be done.

Mr. Callaghan

The hon. Gentleman has said that he will pass on the observations which have been made. He can say more than that. Does he not think that tonight we have made a sufficiently good case for him to promise that he will press those observations? If he is sufficiently impressed by what has been said he has a duty to press our point of view—which he must share when he thinks about it—that we need reciprocity on the matter. Will he give a specific promise that he will press that matter?

Question put:That the Draft Visiting Forces (Application of Law) Order, 1956, a copy of which was laid before this House on 20th November, be approved.

The House proceeded to a Division:

Mr. GODBER and Mr. HUGHES-YOUNG were appointed Tellers for the Ayes, but no Member being willing to act as Teller for the Noes, Mr. SPEAKER declared that the Ayes had it.