HC Deb 02 November 1966 vol 735 cc496-8

Question proposed, That the Clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Humphrey Atkins

The Clause gives Her Majesty power to make Regulations for …the vesting of command over Her Majesty's forces, or any part or member thereof, in persons being members of forces of countries outside Her dominions…"— in other words, foreigners.

The Clause is very straightforward, although I am not entirely sure why the Act of Settlement creeps into it. I believe that it is not new for the Army and Royal Air Force, but is new for the Royal Navy. It appears in earlier Army and Air Force Acts, but the Navy being peculiarly the property of the Crown it has always been deemed that Her Majesty can do almost what she likes with it and that it is not necessary to lay down this power.

Evidence was submitted to the Select Committee on the necessity for the Clause, and when the witnesses were examined the matter was further gone into. In its evidence the Defence Council said as recorded at page 11 of the Select Committee's Report: At present, when a non-British officer is put in command of a British force, the powers of discipline remain with British officers, so that each man still has a British commanding officer. This practice will continue.

I ask the Minister to confirm for the record that it will continue.

I can readily see why it is necessary to have this power and how, in the Army and Air Force, small detachments of men will frequently be under the command of foreigners. The more we join organisations like N.A.T.O. and S.E.A.T.O. the more this is likely to happen. But it will be comforting to the Committee to know that in every case the men will have a British commanding officer.

The possibility of there being mixed-manned ships came up in the Select Committee, and a number of questions were asked about it by me. I particularly direct the Minister's attention to the examination of witnesses in the Select Committee's Report at page 56, Question 236, where I asked the Director General of Naval Personal Services what would happen in the case of a mixed-manned ship and his answer was: Well, we have to make special arrangements in that particular case.

I should like to know if the Government still have any thought of this proposition in mind, and if they have what special arrangements they can make. If they give, as I hope they will, the assurance for which I have asked, namely that every British man will have a British commanding officer whoever is commanding his movements, how will this work in a mixed-manned ship?

Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu

I sincerely hope that the mixed-manned force is a hypothetical question, but in the event of it happening I do not think that there will be any particular difficulty, because there would be more than one British seaman in a mixed-manned ship, one imagines, and one of those two would be senior. He would therefore be the commanding officer in the sense of carrying out discipline, though not of giving orders.

If the offence were so great that it was beyond the rank of the senior British rating or officer to deal with it, the man would be withdrawn from the ship and dealt with by higher authority exactly as in the case of the "Claude V. Ricketts". That was the arrangement there. The hon. Gentleman asks if I will confirm in the House the assurance given to the Committee, and I do so very gladly.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 17 to 20 ordered to stand part of the Bill.