HL Deb 15 August 1940 vol 117 cc244-6

House in Committee (according to Order); Bill reported without amendment.

Then, Standing Order No. XXXIX having been suspended:

4.10 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read the third time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3ª.—(Lord Croft.)


My Lords, there are very large numbers of these forces billeted in certain places—I do not wish to be more specific about it than that. I have found from my own experience that in one of these places, where there are some 700 to 900 officers concerned, while the liaison staff is adequate for their needs as between the War Office and those troops, the British staff really in touch with those troops is inadequate. For instance, in one camp where there are 700 officers under canvas, one British commandant has to look after the whole camp. That is not sufficient to do the work properly. I want to suggest to the War Office that it would be an advantage if they increased the number of the British staff in actual touch with these troops; and, of course that staff should be able to converse with the troops in French, Polish or whatever language they spoke. This point has come to my knowledge and is within my actual experience, and I think it is worthy of consideration.

4.12 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Viscount for bringing this matter to my attention. I was not aware that it would be raised, and there are so many camps of foreign soldiers at the present time that I cannot say I know anything about the particulars he mentioned. He suggests that there should be more British officers on the staff to advise these various units. It would be difficult to have any large number of officers who would in any way interfere with the military control of these organisations. The whole idea, of course, is that they should run their own formations as representing their country of origin. The intention is very clear that we should do everything in our power to increase the contact between ourselves and these forces; and we are embracing within our general scheme of welfare special provision for this purpose. Only last week (I think I am right in saying), in connection with the Polish forces to which the noble Viscount is referring, some very skilled linguists, who had previously been working in Poland and elsewhere for the British Council, by arrangement with ourselves went up there in order to promote general welfare and clear up by their knowledge of the language any little difficulties which might occur in the locality. We are extending that service wherever these Allied forces are in camp.

4.15 p.m.


My Lords, I am sorry; I did not realise—it is entirely my own fault—that this measure was to be brought up to-day; but I understand that certain persons with legal experience of other countries are extremely disturbed and disquieted by this Bill. I should like to know whether there is any precedent for this power which is being given to foreigners in this country to exercise their own laws here. It seems to me a somewhat peculiar position. I am informed that people who understand these legal points very much better than I do are not by any means happy about this matter and that certain rather peculiar situations might arise. There are, for example, a certain number of foreigners here who take exception to the particular group which conforms to what I may call the Provisional Government representing their particular countries and who have, I believe, expressed their willingness to serve in the British Array but do not wish to serve in their own Army. It seems to me that these persons might very easily be considered deserters, and I understand that under the laws of their country they would be liable to the death penalty. I trust that there is no prospect of the British authorities being requested to carry out any such sentence. I should, however, like to know whether there is any precedent for giving permission to carry out such an unusual power.

4.17 p.m.


My Lords, with the permission of the House I will reply to the noble Lord's question. The noble Lord need have no fear. As I explained in my speech on the Second Reading, we had indeed some anxiety whether there were not penalties in the codes of these sovereign States which might give offence in this country. When, however, we went into the whole matter and examined the codes of these countries, we were glad to find that this was unlikely. In regard to the death penalty, I think I am right in saying that except in face of the enemy it is not likely to be imposed. With regard to the point about joining other forces than these, I think the noble Lord will agree on reflection that the point does not arise on this Bill but is part of a question which is being asked by Lord Davies and which I will answer later in the afternoon. On the point of whether there would be various legal discriminations in this country: I think it is quite clear in the Bill that any civil offence—if that is what is concerning the noble Lord—will be dealt with in our civil Courts just as it is under the Visiting Forces (Commonwealth) Act, 1933, in regard to Canadians and Australians.


This would only affect their military offences?


That is in regard to civil offences. In regard to military offences, as laid down in the Bill, they are dealt with under the codes which are generally established in the countries of origin of these foreign forces.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, and I apologise for putting my question at the last moment like this.

On Question, Bill read 3ª, and passed, and sent to the Commons.