HL Deb 11 March 1947 vol 146 cc263-89

2.42 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. The Bill contains some thirteen clauses, which is an unlucky number, but, notwithstanding that fact, I think that in the main the Bill will prove uncontroversial. I say "in the main" because Clause 9 is a clause which may give rise to some controversy, and will certainly give rise to some discussion. But even with regard to Clause 9 I hope that the area of controversy, if controversy there be; will in the main be confined to subsection (8). I will in due course deal separately with that clause. Before I proceed to discuss the Bill in detail, may I give your Lordships a picture of the general position with which we find ourselves confronted and with which we have to deal?

We are all aware of the very gallant services which our Polish Allies rendered to us during the war. We are aware, too, of the obligation to which we have been put by those services, and we are all anxious to see that that obligation should be carried out and honoured, both in the spirit and in the letter. At the present time we have, or have had, responsibility in some form or another for something like 217,000 Polish troops. Of these, 131,000 are now in the United Kingdom, 25,000 are in overseas theatres, and 6i,000 have either been repatriated to Poland or at least have emigrated from this country. Our immediate responsibility is, therefore, in respect of the 131,000, and our prospective liability extends to the 25,00o, making a total in all of rather over 155,00o. Our policy with regard to these Poles has been that we must give them a fair opportunity of making up their own minds whether or not to go back to Poland. We must not compel them to go, and certainly we must not prevent them from going. We should give them every opportunity of forming for themselves a correct appreciation of the situation, and making up their own mind as to whether they should or should not go home.

Those who decide to stay here have been placed in a Polish Resettlement Corps. That is a quasi-military organization, and persons serving in it are subject to British Military Law. They are not armed. They are receiving training, and our desire is to pass them through the Corps so that they may be absorbed into civilian life as soon as possible. For this purpose they are receiving training and instruction in the English language. That accounts for some 8o,000 in that Corps. Rather less than 23,000 have opted for repatriation or emigration, and we shall get them out in accordance with their desire as soon as we can. Some 20,000 have not yet given a decision, but have had the various alternatives fully explained to them, and some 7,000 have not yet been approached. I sincerely hope that the 20,000 will soon make up their minds one way or the other, and I think it is only fair to us that they should. We shall press on with the putting of the alternatives before the 7,000, and I hope that they too will come to an early decision, freely arrived at, one way or the other.

Up to the present time the financial matters concerning the Poles in this country have been dealt with by an Interim Treasury Committee, consisting of a comparatively small number of our civil servants, responsible, of course, to the Government and to this House. Under this Committee there have been working a body of Poles, and the chief Polish representative on the Committee was Count Raczynski, formerly Polish Ambassador in London at the time when the London Government ceased to receive recognition. The number of Poles so working has been progressively reduced from 15,000, the number at which they started, to 600, and down to the present number of 400. An expenditure of nearly £11,000,000 has been incurred on behalf of the Poles in this country, with, in addition, an expenditure of over £3,000,000 for Polish refugees abroad. The time has now come to wind up the work of the Interim Treasury Committee, and to distribute amongst the various organs of government in this country the work which that Committee have been doing.

That brings me to the various clauses of this Bill. Clause 1 brings within the scope of the Ministry of Pensions all those Poles who have served with our Forces and who have sustained injuries in the war in consequence of service under British command. It is proposed that they shall receive pensions on the same basis as British soldiers or their dependants. The cost for 1947–1948 is expected to be of the order of £600,000. I believe that would be a diminishing charge. I would only say in regard to that clause that we have limited it to the Poles who received injuries in consequence of service under British command, and though I have the most profound sympathy for those Poles who received war injuries under other conditions, I must warn your Lordships that the financial situation of this country to-day is such that we cannot possibly play Lady Bountiful to a large number of people, however deserving their case may be.

Clauses 2 and 3 deal with allowances from the Assistance Board. These allowances have in the past been paid by the Interim Treasury Committee, and have been paid at a somewhat higher scale than those paid by the Assistance Board. It would not be right to continue to pay them more than is paid to our own kith and kin. They will be treated on exactly the same footing in the future. The number of persons who have been receiving either full or supplementary relief from the Interim Treasury Committee is about 2,500, and the monthly cost is of the order of £30,000. The Poles earning wages will in future be expected to contribute out of their wages towards their keep, so long as they are in camps. I need merely add that at the present time most of these Poles, together with their wives, children and other dependants, are being looked after in camps.

Clause 4 deals with the health services. The Interim Treasury Committee took over from the London Polish Government the various arrangements they had made in regard to providing convalescent homes for their service men. In addition to such homes there were training centres for the disabled, and there were medical dispensaries in various great cities. The Interim Treasury Committee administered these institutions at an average cost of about £250,000. These institutions will now become the responsibility of the Ministry of Health, and in view of the large number of Poles now in this country they may have to be extended. Clause 5 provides for the temporary recognition of doctors and pharmacists. The Defence Regulation dealing with this matter expires next December, and accordingly this clause extends only to that date. Thereafter any necessary provision will be made by legislation covering the whole field of the Defence Regulation.

Clause 6 deals with education services. We arc anxious to continue these services and to find as many places as possible for the Poles in British universities, but we really cannot give them any preference over our own students. Your Lordships will know how short accommodation for our own people is at the universities. Accordingly, we propose to support a Polish University College, where the curriculum will be upon British lines, so as to qualify the Polish students to partake in the British way of life, either here or in the Dominions. It is expected that the number of students will be about 1,30o. The students will be confined to those in the Polish Resettlement Corps and will receive grants of from £180 to £240 a year exclusive of fees. In addition to this scheme, there are a number of primary and secondary schools established in England and Scotland which have been the responsibility of the Interim Treasury Committee and which will in future become the responsibility of the Ministry of Education.

Clause 7 deals with emigration and places the responsibility upon the Ministry of Labour and National Service to continue the work previously done by the Interim Treasury Committee. Clause 8 removes the limit on the number of alien soldiers who may be employed in the British Forces. Clause 10 is the Interpretation Clause, Clause II is the Scottish Application Clause, and Clause 12 deals with Northern Ireland. Therefore, with the exception of Clause 9, it is fair to say that the object of this Bill is to distribute amongst a variety of Government Departments the work temporarily done under the Interim Treasury Committee at the cost of the British taxpayer. Every single provision deals very largely with finance and each single provision is, therefore, a matter which this House will approach with considerable circumspection.

I turn now to Clause 9, and here I find myself in some difficulty. I was given some friendly advice the other day by the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, who said that I must never more use the gambit of saying, "I very much dislike this Bill or this clause, but, on the other hand, I commend it to your Lord-Lordships."


I hope my noble friend will continue to do so.


My evil example has spread. In dealing with the Summer Time Bill yesterday my noble friend Lord Ammon adopted the same gambit. But the long and short of the matter is that in these wholly exceptional times I am afraid we have to face the fact that we must have these measures and provisions which, in more spacious and happy days—I will not say "happy" days; I will content myself with saying "more spacious" days—none of us would have looked at for a moment. So it is with this Clause 9. It is quite unprecedented, but then the situation which gives rise to it is quite unprecedented too. We have never had a situation like this before. I say quite frankly, therefore, that although I dislike intensely the machinery of the clause, I have been unable to devise one that is any better, and I commend it to your Lordships as being a real endeavour to make the best of a bad business.

Many of these people, be it observed, do not speak our language. They have come in their military formations from Italy; they have not served in this country at all and many of them cannot speak a word of English. They come here as soldiers, and there is a mass of them. It would have been easy to say, "We will subject them to British law as we have done the Polish Resettlement Corps." But if you subject them to British law, then you must have instructors in the English language, because most of them do not speak one word of English, and you have to get from the Army authorities a sufficient number of men who can help to administer the law. The dilemma in which we are is this. It is not merely that they do not speak the English language and that therefore British Military Law would mean nothing to them at all, it is also that the Service authorities cannot possibly spare the large number of men who would be required to look after them.

Therefore we have reluctantly had to abandon that idea, and what we have done in relation to these people is that we have, as it were, incorporated for the time being into the British law the Polish law. It is quite common to find in matters of contract that a particular contract is to be governed by a particular law, and very often a foreign law. When that happens in English Courts, the Courts have to do the best they can to ascertain as a matter of fact what that foreign law is, and then to apply it. Although that is done quite commonly in contractual matters in that way, it has never been done in this way before. With regard to these Poles we have incorporated into the British law, as it were, the body of Polish Military Law, and we have taken that Polish Military Law as it existed on January 1945. After all, that is the law under which these Poles have been living for years past, that is the law which their officers have been administering, and that is the law which, so far as they understand any law, they are much more likely to understand, than British law.

We have said, "That shall be the law which applies to you", but we have made this whole scheme subject to the control of a person skilled in military law—a distinguished General or somebody of that sort. He will be in supreme command and everything that is done will be clone under his control, although he will have the right to delegate and to entrust to the existing officers of the Polish Corps the administration of the law. He will have supreme authority, subject to the Secretary of State—and the Secretary of State, of course, is amenable to Parliament. The effect of subsection (5) of this clause is to make it legal for any person duly sentenced under the preceding subsections to be detained in a British prison. As I have said, quite frankly, I would have preferred to set out the British law, but I believe it to be impracticable for the reasons I have given—first of all, because none of these people understands it, and many of them do not speak our language, and secondly, because we have not the officers to enforce it. I submit to your Lordships that in the circumstances the only sensible thing we could do was to continue with the existing law, about which they do know something, taking the precaution of putting at the head of the whole organization some British officer who would exercise control.

I now come to another subsection which gives rise to even greater difficulty. There is not a shadow of doubt but that the legal position of these Poles is obscure. It may well be that the administration which has taken place since we withdrew our recognition of the London Government is irregular and invalid. It may even be that those who have been dealt with under the law would have rights of action in respect of illegal imprisonment and the like. It is not for me here and now to express a definite opinion one way or the other, and I merely say that the matter is one of ambiguity and of doubt. It is an ambiguity and doubt which we must regularize and put straight.

We recently brought to this country from Italy, as I have said, a large number of Poles, complete with their military formations. They have not been subjected to the ordinary restrictions and control which govern the entry of aliens into this country. It would not be fair to them, and it would not be fair to the people of this country, that this ambiguity should be allowed to continue. Accordingly, we think we have no option but to regularize retrospectively that which has been done since January 1945, by enacting that Section r of the Allied Forces Act, 1940, shall be deemed to have been in force as though the Polish Forces had still been recognized by the Government of Poland. The difficulty which justifies this wholly exceptional and indeed unprecedented procedure is that tire existing Government of Poland have refused to recognize these Forces, and on the other hand it is at least doubtful whether the bulk of these Forces are willing to go back to their own country.

Now those are wholly unprecedented circumstances. None of us can conceivably like a provision such as this, but in view of those circumstances I ask your Lordships to say that we are taking the only practical course which is open to us. Although it will be very easy to criticize our proposals and to point out that they are wholly unprecedented, I shall be very interested to hear any practical suggestions which may he made of any other way in which we can deal with this problem. Those are the circumstances of this Bill, and I beg to move that it be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Lord Chancellor.)


Might I ask a question of the noble and learned Viscount? There is a provision for the imprisonment of Polish troops in British prisons. What is not clear to me is whether the Polish. Resettlement Corps will run their own detention camps, or whether British military detention camps will be used for this purpose.


I could not tell the noble Lord which course it will take, but I will find out and let him know.

3.3 p.m.


My Lords, it is customary in this House, after a Minister has introduced a Bill on Second Reading, to thank him for the explanation which he has given, and we all do feel grateful on those occasions; but I must say, having spent a little time examining this most complicated Bill, that I think we owe a double measure of thanks to the noble and learned Viscount for what he has just said. Certainly I do not want to occupy time in mere criticism, although l think it very necessary for your Lordships' House to consider what we really are doing. We shall all agree with the noble and learned Viscount's first observation, that we owe and feel the deepest gratitude to those gallant Poles who threw themselves into the fight on the side of liberty and who rendered such very distinguished service. There is no difference at all 'between us on that point. We shall further agree that it is right that not only the Government, but the people, should be prepared to make such provision as is proper on such matters as are dealt with in Clauses i to 8 of this Bill, to meet the needs of these people who are on British soil or who are serving the British cause elsewhere.

The noble and learned Viscount, the Lord Chancellor, said more than once that we should not, after all, treat these people better than we treat the ordinary subjects of this country—that they should not be given, as it were, preferential treatment. Well, we would agree with that, because there has been much gallantry shown by our own people as well. But perhaps he will explain to the House—at the moment I am not quite clear on the matter—whether in fact these earlier provisions in the Bill do not involve an element of preference. Take, for instance, the provision which is made in respect of need arising from unemployment. The British subject who may get that help is a person, of course, contributing to the unemployment fund, week by week, on a card. I do not know—I am only asking for information-but I should rather suppose that that is not so in the case of these people, and hardly could be so. Therefore the assistance which is being given to them—although I do not think we should object to it—has an element in it which is rather different and rather more open-handed than that which our own subjects get. I think the same thing would be true, although I speak subject to correction, about some of the other provisions in the first half of the Bill. Nevertheless, I do not myself see how it could have been done otherwise; and therefore, subject to one point, I would suggest to your Lordships that we ought to be satisfied with this Bill.

The point about which I should like the noble and learned Viscount to tell us a little more is this. With reference to one of these provisions, he said that the Poles who were here would be expected to contribute out of their wages. That is not the way, of course, in which our law deals with the British subject. The Chancellor of the Exchequer does not say to the taxpayer, "Now I expect you to contribute out of your wages." He has a much more effective and summary way of securing that that contribution is made. I do not know whether these Poles are at present paying any Income Tax, or whether they will pay any. They will certainly be very fortunate inhabitants of this country if they do not. Possibly one might learn whether or not in such matters as that, and in respect of the contribution which they should make for accommodation provided, it is not merely expected that they will make contributions but that provision will be made to see that they do. I am sure that in saying this no one will think I am seeking to make a niggling criticism. It is important for us to know what is really meant by the clauses which are in the Bill, and there is nothing in them, so far as I can see, which to that extent says that there really shall be what I call equality of treatment.

Now I come to the clause which the noble and learned Viscount, the Lord Chancellor, particularly selected for a not unusual combination of denunciation and advocacy. Indeed, in the present case he excelled all previous form, because he told us about Clause 9—I took down his words—"I dislike it intensely." He went on to say that it was wholly objectionable and was admittedly dealing with unprecedented circumstances. In fact, the Lord Chancellor ought to be depicted as the walrus. "I weep for you," the Walrus said, "I deeply sympathize"; but it did not alter the fact that he collected the oysters.

I wish shortly to call the attention of the House to what Clause 9 does. It is certainly very unusual in Parliamentary history that the Bill, as originally introduced in another place, did not contain this clause at all. The Bill, as introduced, contained a clause to which I have already referred, and which (subject to the comment I have made) I should have thought would be generally all right. Then suddenly, on the Committee stage of the Bill in another place, there was introduced not this Clause 9 but a different Clause 9. Indeed, I think I am right in saying that the clause we now see in the Bill is the fourth attempt of the Government to produce an enactment on this subject. It was originally put on the Order Paper in the House of Commons in a quite different form. It was withdrawn; it was redrafted; it was moved in Committee; and it was again withdrawn. The Home Secretary wrote down a third version which he suggested should be substituted on Report. The present clause however, is not that version, but a fourth version which was finally adopted in another place. That illustrates what a very difficult thing it is and thoroughly justifies the noble and learned Viscount, the Lord Chancellor, in his observation that it is one of the queerest and most bizarre topics which we have to consider.

I am not going to be captious, but we ought to see what it really does. I quite agree that the Polish Forces must be under some discipline; I suggest that they are in need of a little more discipline than they at present suffer. I dare say some of us have reason to think that might not be entirely without justification. That few of them speak English seems of little present importance considering how some of them get on with English or Scots-speaking. girls. But perhaps not much conversation is needed for that particular kind of social companionship. The question is: who is to provide the discipline? I ask your Lordships who is to provide it and anybody who happens to have a copy of the Bill can see who it is. I do not think that on this point the noble and learned Viscount, the Lord Chancellor, gave us a full explanation. 1 am not speaking for the moment about the law which is to be applied, but about who is to apply it.

On the top of page Io occurs the word "Administrator". So far as the Bill is concerned—Clause 9(1)—the Administrator is to be a person "of British nationality," but not necessarily of British parents. It may be somebody who is naturalized after the Bill is passed. It might even be a Pole, if he has lived here long enough. The Administrator is to be of British nationality, and is to be appointed, I presume, by the Secretary of State for War, if the person appears to him to have a good knowledge and experience of British Military Law. There is a humorous element in that stipulation. He is not going to administer the British but Polish Military Law. Yet the essential qualification for the candidate is not that he should know a single word about Polish Military Law, either now or any past time, but that he should be acquainted with the system which our own Military Law follows.

The noble and learned Viscount said in his speech that it would be some distinguished: 1;ritish General. I dare say that that is right, but it is riot in the Bill. All we are told is that somebody called an Administrator is to be appointed. The next thing I notice is that this unknown Administrator X, who is a British subject, and who knows our British Military Law, is given tremendous powers. He can, if the law is applied, inflict any sort of punishment, short of the death penalty. That is excluded because, I understand, the Polish legal system does not in fact impose the death penalty. I do not know whether all penalties which are imposed according to Polish Military Law are penalties which we recognize as suitable or not. But that is not the point. He has to administer this law and these penalties as best he can, though he is not required to know anything at all about the subject.

Moreover, under Clause 9 (5) the administrator may delegate generally, or in particular cases, to such person or persons as he may think fit, the power to do the things that are within his jurisdiction or power under the preceding subsections. That is really a most astounding provision. I never before dreamed that it was possible: for a British Parliament to enact that: a man suitably selected should exercise judicial functions—and judicial functions of a criminal kind which might involve the imposition of very severe penalties—and be enabled to delegate that duty to any person or persons he might think fit. So far as the language of the clause goes, he might of course—though it is riot intended—delegate it to the door-keeper. I have never heard such a provision in an Act of Parliament. Surely we must: see if something ought not to be done to make good the substance of what the noble Lord said in his speech, which I have no doubt is what really is intended—namely, that in the proper cases this Administrator, who may have a good deal on his hands and who does not know any Polish Military Law, may call. upon a Polish officer who, I suppose, is in some way skilled in Polish Military Law, to undertake the duty.

I would, very respectfully—and I hope the Lord Chancellor will think I am making a reasonable point—submit to your Lordships that we ought not to pass a Bill on the face of which it is said that an unknown General X. is to be appointed as a final authority to try people for breaches of discipline and to apply to them severe punishments, and that he may choose anyone he likes to do if for him. Surely we can have some clarification on that point. I am not seeking to be discourteous, but I wished to call attention to these few points in the fourth version of this Bill.

Then comes what is a most troublesome matter—the noble and learned Viscount, the Lord Chancellor, obviously, feels strongly that it is so. It is not a technical matter, it is not what some people might contemptuously dismiss as a "lawyers' matter." One would have thought that it was universally true that before law is applied to any set of people, especially criminal law, Parliament should have some notion of what the law is. You do not deliver foreign law like a pig in a poke. I do not suppose that there is anybody, not even anybody in your Lordships' House—I would even, with great humility, suggest that the Lord Chancellor could not do it who could tell us what Polish law on January 1945, was on this matter.


May I be allowed to reply to that? Unfortunately I cannot read Polish, but there is a Polish military manual setting out the Polish law as it was at that date, and that manual is available.


That is very good. It would perhaps be an improvement in this Bill if we did in fact refer to this manual. That would, at any rate, be embodying a definite and known code of law. This leads me to make another suggestion—I am sure that the noble and learned Viscount, the Lord Chancellor, will not resent it; it is put forward purely with a view to seeing if this Bill cannot be improved. I doubt very much whether it is wise in this Bill to say, once and for all, that the law to be applied is the law as it stood on January r, 1945. I did not know that there was a Polish manual of military law of that date or relevant to that date, but of course I accept that there is. I doubt very much, however, the wisdom of the course to which I have just referred. I should have thought that it would be very much better, and more in keeping with the whole scheme of this clause, to say that the law to be applied by the Administrator and those he selects as aids is to be the law as defined or prescribed in an Order in Council, even though the Order in Council, at least in the first instance, simply said that the law to be prescribed is the law in this manual. I hope your Lordships will observe that if we enact—as it is in the Bill now—that the law to be applied is the law on January 1, 1945, we shall not be able to alter it without another Act of Parliament, and it may work out very badly.

These people are to live in this country, and they will be in a very curious situation in that, although the war is over, those who are thought to deserve punishment are to be punished for certain kinds of offences by an entirely novel tribunal—namely, an Administrator, or those whom he may chose to select as aids, and the law is to be this law defined in this roundabout way. My humble suggestion is that, instead of this, we should put in the Bill that the law is to be the law as defined in an Order in Council to be made at once. By doing that you will not do any harm to the scheme of the Bill, and you will secure the great advantage that this would not, in fact, be law of which the Government or Parliament or the War Office might really not approve because of some feature in it which they really could not justify. Without going back to Parliament you could then, if necessary, alter your Order in Council, and have a certain flexibility in determining what the law is to be.

If I have made my point plain to the noble and learned Viscount, the Lord Chancellor, and to the House, I do not wish to say anything more about it. But it does seem to me that it is an extraordinary provision to say in this clause, first, that people living in this country, after the war is over, are not to be governed by our own Military Law but by the Military Law of a foreign country, and, second, that that law is to be described as the Law of Poland on January 1945. As a result of that you may find out—I do not say that you will; I do not read Polish law any more than does my noble and learned friend—that you have committed yourself to a system which is in some respects (I do not want to use any strong adjective) not what we should think is proper.

I was challenged to produce a practical suggestion and not indulge in mere criticisms. There may be answers to what I have been saying, but I think it is worth considering. Those are the circumstances we have to consider in connexion with this Bill. It is, as I understand, a permanent Bill, though it is hoped that it will not be in actual operation for a great length of time. Unless I misunderstood this, something was said in the course of the debates in another place about the Bill being operative for seven months. I do not, myself, understand what there is in the Bill which reduces the period in that way at all. It may, however, have been a mere flourish or a general expression. But I should like to know, and I think the House would like to know, how long it is expected that this measure will continue in operation. As it stands, it is not a temporary Bill, but a permanent Bill. At the same time, let me say frankly that I see the extraordinary difficulty of deciding what ought to be done. I am certain that the Government are trying to get the best scheme that they can, and, certainly they have tried more than once, because this clause was produced in another place four times.

I gather, from reading the Report of the debate, that when it was introduced in another place challenge was made that it was outside the title of the Bill. I think perhaps some people would have thought that was no very great argument. The Speaker said something to the effect that this Bill was going to another place, that that other place was full of lawyers, and that no doubt the legal authorities, having now seen the red light, would look into the matter before-hand. I do not take any point on that, and I do not think that your Lordships would be debarred from doing what you thought right by arguments about title. I put this as a matter of substance. I say, are not the observations which I have made observations which show that it may be useful to amend Clause 9 in these respects? I greatly sympathize with the noble and learned Viscount, the Lord Chancellor, because he has had to discharge, in what he feels is the only possible way, what must he for anyone trained in our English law, a rather disagreeable task. I do not see how he could have done otherwise, and I am only suggesting that these amendments may be practical amendments to be considered in Committee.

3.28 p.m.


My Lords, we on these Benches welcome this Bill as giving some small expression to the gratitude and the admiration which we feel for the gallantry of the Polish Forces who fought in the recent war often under our command. I do not propose to follow the noble and learned Viscount who has just spoken in his criticisms and his proposals with reference to Clause 9 of the Bill. I have read the Report of the discussions which took place on this particular clause in another place, and, frankly, I remain rather confused. I still do, even after the explanation which has been given to-day by the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor. But I would like to support the proposal made by the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon, that the law to be administered should be set out in or prescribed by an Order in Council. That seems to me to be a very practical proposition, for it would give the opportunity of altering the law to be administered should it be found not to be suitable after a certain lapse of time.

But there is another point to which would like to call the attention of the noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack. It is with regard to the possibility of granting British nationality in suitable cases to those in the Polish Armed Forces who served under our command yet would not qualify by five years' residence in this country. I do not suggest that anything other than a permissive. authority should be given to the Home Secretary, but it seems to me to be harsh—I think the Lord Chancellor will agree—that while a Polish refugee who came here in 1941 would qualify for the grant of British nationality, a Pole who fought under the command of Field-Marshal Alexander in Italy for four or five years would not be able to obtain that nationality.

The point was discussed in another place, and it was very sympathetically received by the Home Secretary. It was so sympathetically received that I rather thought he indicated that an Amendment might be produced in your Lordships' House which would satisfy those who felt strongly on the point. Naturalization should not be granted wholesale or by classes, but in limited cases of that kind such an arrangement would afford a great consolation to a certain number of individual Poles who fought for us. I think, too, that by so doing you would not be creating any dangerous exceptions because, as the noble and learned Viscount, the Lord Chancellor, himself has said, the case of these Poles is unprecedented. Therefore, I hope he will give it very favourable consideration.

3.33 p.m.


My Lords, the Bill we have before us this afternoon is, I am convinced, a sincere and honest attempt to do justice to the Polish ex-Service men, and I would concede that in many respects the measure is eminently sensible. There are, however, certain points to which I would like, as briefly as possible, to draw attention. In the first place, I would allude to the five-year limit in Clause I (1), which refers to the pensions payable to ex-Service men and the dependants of ex-Service men who have died as a result of the war. It limits the payment of these pensions to five years, but it gives to the Minister of Pensions, with the consent of the Treasury, statutory power to prolong the scheme of pensions for any period that he may see fit. I have studied the arguments that were used in another place in defence of that arrangement. The idea behind the proviso is that a time may possibly come when with regard to these pensions some more satisfactory arrangement may be made with the Government of Poland which may exist at the time. That seems to me a very illusory hope indeed. As it is, however, it appears to indicate that we cannot approach the Polish ex-Service man with a perfectly frank and unqualified statement that we are going to treat him with regard to disability pensions and dependants' pensions in the same way as we treat our own ex-Service men. I hope, however, that it will be possible to convince him that we are entirely sincere in our desire to treat him on an equal basis with his war-time comrades, and that he may rest assured that the pensions scheme will be continued.

There is also a small point which I would raise—although perhaps it is not so very small—in Clause 5. That clause makes provision for Poles to become doctors in this country. I observe that there is no allusion to dentists or, for that matter, to opticians. As there is a very grave shortage of dentists in this country, and as there are, presumably, some qualified Poles, I should be grateful if the noble and learned Viscount would deal with that point, either now or when we reach the clause on the Committee stage.

I come now to an aspect of the Bill in which I feel that we have been less than generous and something less than just. I am going to venture to put a case to your Lordships in the hope that it may have some influence upon His Majesty's Government, who alone can enlarge the scope of the Bill. I do so under a very great handicap because the noble and learned Viscount has, to some extent, prejudiced the House against my remarks by his use of the phrase: "Playing the Lady Bountiful all over the place." May I anticipate him, and give the phrase he is very likely to use in his reply? He will say that "hard cases make bad law." If, in spite of the handicap of those two phrases which are against me in this matter, I still venture to make an appeal to the House, your Lordships may take it as evidence that I feel very strongly that what I am about to say is justified. I wish to deal with the question of the widows of Polish soldiers killed fighting against our common enemies.

Under Clause 1, the dependants' pension is treated on exactly the same basis as the disability and Service pensions. The time-honoured phrase "disablement or death" occurs throughout the clause. It is natural in dealing with British cases that we should lump these two categories together. Whether a man has been killed or whether he has been disabled does not affect the matter; in either case the pension is payable to him or to his widow, orphans, or dependants. I venture, however, to question the justice of lumping together widows' pensions with disablement pensions in the case of the Polish Forces. If a Polish ex-Service man goes to a Government Department in order to claim a pension he must, with perfect justification, be asked: "Were you a member of the Polish Forces under British command; and if you were not a member of these Forces while they were embodied, did you join the Resettlement Corps?" If he has failed to join the Resettlement Corps, or was not in one of the Armed Forces at the time they were embodied, he can have no grievance whatever at being refused a pension. It is his own fault.

But you cannot ask that question of a widow. You cannot ask the widow of a Polish soldier why he did not join a Force under British command or the Resettlement Corps. If you do so you may get a very tragic answer. I am going to suggest to your Lordships that it would have been a just, generous, and great-hearted measure if His Majesty's Government had decided to treat the widows of Polish ex-Service men on an altogether broader basis and if they had said: "While we will confine an ex-Service man's rights to the Forces under British command, and in the Resettlement Corps, we will take a larger view of the widow's pension, and if a Pole was killed while fighting against our common enemies, in whatever Force he may have served, she shall receive the pension which may be represented as being her due."

I have recently been dealing with a very tragic case, which, if I may, I will briefly recount to your Lordships. There was living in Warsaw in 1939 a Polish family consisting of a middle-aged couple, a daughter aged nineteen, and a schoolboy son. On the outbreak of the war, the man was allotted, with some sort of non-combatant military status, work in a hospital in Warsaw. During the Siege of Warsaw that hospital was hit by a German shell and he was killed. The daughter was a gallant girl and old enough to be of some service. She joined the Polish Home Army, and gave he: life for her country; indeed perhaps for more than her country. The widow and the schoolboy tried to carry on in Poland for a time, but, under the conditions of the occupation, the widow felt it wiser to flee the country. She came at last as a refugee to Italy, and from there last summer she reached this country, penniless, with only the clothes she stood up in. There is a bright spot in this story, for the boy has been granted an educational grant. I believe he is a very brilliant young scientist. I rather hope it may be possible to get him into a British university. He has a grant on which with some difficulty—indeed with great difficulty—he can just manage.

The widow, being declared ineligible for any sort of interim grant, got work at very low wages and under very hard conditions in a hospital. The work was of a laborious nature. She had been weakened by the privations she had endured as a refugee, and had not been bred to very hard work. To-day, her health has completely broken down and she is penniless. I do not know whether, under Clause 2 of the Bill, she will be found eligible for any sort of sickness benefit. I hope she may, but I cannot speak with confidence because I am not skilled in that branch of the law, and it would seem to depend to some extent on the view which the Minister of National Insurance takes of her case. That is an individual case. I do not suppose there are many like it, but there must be some like it.

There is something hard in saying that we arc riot responsible for the death of a Polish soldier in the Siege of Warsaw. We have not the same direct responsibility, as in the case of Poles killed while actually under British command, but it is very difficult to deny a high degree of moral responsibility of a real kind in such cases when we recall what British policy was in 1939, when we recall the encouragement which we gave to the Poles to resist at Warsaw, and when we recall the gratitude with which we learnt of that resistance, which seemed to us to give time to allow the landing of our Forces in France. It would be open to His Majesty's Government, even at this late stage in the proceedings, to give high-level consideration to the case of the widow and dependants of the Polish soldier. I do not believe that there is such a vast number of persons in the situation of the lady whom I have described as to make it wholly impracticable to broaden the Bill and to treat such women with the ampler justice for which I appeal.

3.46 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to ask the noble and learned Viscount, the Lord Chancellor, one question: What is the position with regard to members of this Polish Resettlement Corps who are desirous of joining the British Armed Forces? We have been told that the Polish Resettlement Corps is a non-military body, in the sense that it is not armed, but it contains professional soldiers, sailors and airmen, many of them of very high quality and of life-long experience in the Forces of their own country. It seams to me that these men, with little or no experience of civilian life, might be most difficult to adapt into the professional, agricultural, or industrial sphere, but would be extremely valuable to our own Forces. They might also welcome the opportunity of joining our Forces, and might be anxious to volunteer. They would be of great use to us in the Armed Forces, and it would provide the opportunity for them to continue the profession which they had been following throughout their lives. It seems to me that it would be a good thing if this could be arranged, and I rise simply to ask the noble and learned Viscount, the Lord Chancellor, whether, under this Bill, there is any scheme by which these excellent people can volunteer for the British Forces.

3.49 P.m.


My Lords, I should also like to ask the noble and learned Viscount, the Lord Chancellor, one question, to which he might perhaps see fit to reply, either now or at a later stage of the Bill. I am informed that Section I (3) of the Visiting Forces (British Commonwealth) Act, 1933, deprives persons to whom these provisions apply of having in any circumstances the protection of the writ of habeas corpus. Clause 9 (6) of this Bill includes that particular subsection among other provisions which may be applied in the casa of the Polish Resettlement Corps by Order in Council. My question is whether it is the case that such persons would, unless special provision is made, be deprived of the protection of the writ of habeas corpus and, if so, whether a modification of the clause would be made by Order in Council adapting the other provisions of that Act.

3.51 p.m.


My Lords, I had not intended to intervene in this debate, but I would like to say a few words as a result of the discussion which we have had. First of all, I wish to say that it is quite clear that everybody in this House welcomes the intention of the Bill: it is in that respect entirely uncontroversial. We all know that we have a deep moral obligation to the Polish Forces. As my noble and learned friend Viscount Simon and the noble and learned Viscount, the Lord Chancellor, both said, they fought in the cause of liberty, and many of them have lost absolutely everything. They have lost their homes, they have lost their sources of livelihood, they have lost their families. They are exiles in a foreign land for the remainder of their lives. I do not know if it has been the experience of other noble Lords, but I have heard tragic stories of individual Poles who have, and have had, nothing to look forward to. Whatever other nations may do, it is clearly up to us, if it is possible and if they so desire it, to give these Poles a new home in which they can settle down. I think that is common ground between us all. It was an obligation which was recognized by the National Government, and noble Lords on this side of the House are extremely grateful to the present Government they they also have recognized that obligation.

Other speakers have dealt with the details of the Bill with a great deal more authority than I could hope to deal with them, but I trust the Government will—and I 'am sure they will—take account of what has been said. One or two points were made by my noble friend Viscount Simon. There was the point about the personality of the Administrator. The noble and learned Viscount, the Lord Chancellor, was good enough in his opening speech to give us some indication of what he had in mind. He said, as I understood it, that some personality like a high officer of the British Army would occupy this position. I do not want to press the Government to-day, but if they could put some further description of this Administrator in the Bill I think it might be useful. The same thing applies to the point about officers to whom the Administrator can delegate his powers. I do not think that any of us believes that the sort of Administrator that the British Government would appoint is likely to delegate his powers to an unsuitable person, but we are passing legislation, and if anything can be done to indicate that they should be perhaps high-ranking Polish officers, or some personalities of that kind, I think it would be helpful.

Then there is the point about the widows and orphans of Poles, which was put with such moving sincerity by the noble Earl, Lord Iddesleigh. I am sure that is worth further consideration by the Government. The noble and learned Viscount, the Lord Chancellor, was, of course, right in saying that in our present financial position there are limitations as to what we can do. But do let us go as far as we can, and if it turns out that this is, as the noble Earl, Lord Iddesleigh, indicated, not a very large problem (I do not know what the figures are) it may be worth doing that little extra in order to give a complete sense of fairness to the Poles and show our gratitude for what they have done.

Finally, there is the suggestion of the noble Earl, Lord Perth, about speeding up the naturalization of Poles. I feel great sympathy with what the noble Earl said. I know the difficulties. The naturalization laws arc extremely complicated and a little like the laws of the Medes and Persians—not at all easy to alter. At the same time, this is an unusual problem, and if anything can be done it would be generally welcomed. In addition, it would help to do away with the anomalous situation by which these men may continue to be governed by Polish Military Law. The further we can get out of that unhappy situation the better. I wish to say one thing above all to the noble and learned Viscount, the Lord Chancellor. I hope he will believe that in what we have said this afternoon we have had no desire to criticize at all. We are anxious only to help. We know the Government are faced with an extremely difficult task in dealing with the Polish problem and we are concerned only to offer the combined wisdom of this House to the Government. We have a great many experts here on most subjects, and if our experience can be of value it is at the Government's disposal. I hope that the noble and learned Viscount himself, and the Government, will take the comments we have made this afternoon in that spirit, so that we can make this Bill what in essence it is—uncontroversial in the highest sense.

3.57 p.m.


My Lords, I am very grateful to your Lordships for the tone and the temper of the whole debate and I can assure your Lordships that all the points you have been good enough to mention will receive our careful consideration. The noble Viscount, Lord Simon, said that we had had four shots at this clause. That may well he true. I myself have had one shot and that was not the first—I think mine was the third because I felt it so exceedingly difficult. I was responsible, I believe, for the idea of bringing in the British Administrator, because I thought it would be desirable to have a British man at the top. If we have had four editions I am perfectly willing to consider a fifth. I do not think that the last word has been said and I am not the least ashamed at the record that we have tried and gone on trying to do what is best. I will certainly look at these matters again.

There are a few points with which I might usefully deal now and many other matters which can be dealt with at a later stage of the Bill. One subject which I confess I feel to be most important is the question of the naturalization of Poles. I rather anticipated that this question would come up and I have discussed the matter only to-day with the Home Secretary. We are riot prepared to deal with it in this Bill at all but we anticipate that in the near future we shall have to deal with this question of British nationality. We do think there is a case made out for giving some special concession to these Poles who, as the noble Earl, Lord Perth, said, have fought for years side by side with their British comrades under British leadership, even though they have not been to this country. I can assure the noble Earl, from what I have heard from the Home Secretary, that the point which he has made will not receive an unsympathetic answer when the time comes.

Then the noble Earl, Lord Iddesleigh, put a case which moved us all. I cannot accept—I must say this quite definitely—that we are under a duty to place upon the shoulders of the British taxpayer the. burden of supporting and maintaining some unhappy woman whose husband was killed by a German shell in Warsaw. That is a case which should enlist oar private charity but we must have one test for what we do for ourselves and another and a different test for the obligations which we are going to impose on our taxpayers. I do not think it would be right that we should accept such a burden as that might involve, and it would be a bad example to apply that principle to even a few cases. What I do say is that if the lady in question is a Pole, as I presume she is, she would appear to be qualified under Clause 2 for a grant from the Assistance Board if she is in need. Of course, her case, as the noble Earl will realize, must be investigated by the Assistance Board in the same way as they investigate any other case.

The noble Earl also asked me about dentists. I do not know the answer to the question about opticians, but I believe the answer to the question about dentists is that they were not mentioned in the Bill because they can be admitted to practice under the existing law. Whereas the doctor has to have a special clause in the Act to enable him to practise, I believe that is not necessary in the case of the dentist. I do not know the position about the optician, but I will verify that and let the noble Earl know on another occasion. With regard to the phrase "expected to contribute," may I say that any charge fixed by the Assistance Board under Clause 3 (6) will be enforceable on the person charged. That is provided in Part II of the Schedule. As to the time limit, certain clauses—Clauses I, 3 and 8—have time limits peculiar to themselves, but there is no time limit on the whole Bill. Indeed, certain clauses, such as Clause 3, may be needed for a long time to come. Clause 9 will not be required after the last Polish soldier has either returned to Poland or has joined the Polish Resettlement Corps. It may be possible to bring this about—and I devoutly hope it will—at a fairly early date. The sooner the better for all of us.

Then I was asked whether members of the Polish Resettlement Corps who want to do so can join other units of the Service. We do not intend to establish a Foreign Legion. There is no reason whatever why they should not apply in the ordinary way to join whatever particular Service they like, and if they are considered suitable they can join. By this Bill we have struck out the limit which is, as your Lordships know, in the Army Act, wherein it is said that there must not be more than a certain proportion of foreigners in the Army. I was asked about the Polish Resettlement Corps. Of course, Clause 9 does not affect members of that Corps; they are subject to British Military Law and administrative arrangements. Those subject to Clause 9—Polish troops who are not in the Resettlement Corps—are a diminishing class, but so long as they exist they will be subject to administrative arrangements made by the Administrator. The necessity for a separate detention camp will depend on circumstances.

The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, asked me a question about habeas corpus. I think the answer is—I will investigate it and give him a more positive answer at a later stage in the Bill—that anybody can apply for habeas corpus. The question is, when you show your return to the writ, do you show a justification for the detention? Under Section I (6) of the Visiting Forces (British Commonwealth) Act, 1933, if a person is sentenced by a Court, the sentence and the detention pursuants to the sentence are presumed to be legal. Therefore the return to the claim for habeas corpus would be: "I hold the body of this man, but I hold him legally and I need not give him up." It is not quite right to say that habeas corpus does not apply; the effect of incorporating sections of that Act is rather to make it permissible to detain the body of the man and therefore to give the gaoler or anybody holding him an answer to the claim for habeas corpus. I think that is the way in which to put it and that is what I think we should desire. If anybody were sentenced by one of these Polish Courts he might have to be detained, and we should want to give the British gaoler a justification for holding the body of the man.

As to the difficult Clause 9, I am grateful for all the criticism which has been made. I do not myself like the idea of setting out or scheduling the actual law. We could do it by reference, by simply referring to the law as set out in a particular text hook, but then I have no doubt that there are a variety of text hooks which are probably not strictly in accord one with another. The book to which I referred would be merely a little manual of law, dealing no doubt with the principal features of the law. My theory as to the way in which the thing would work is this. I should like to see an Administrator. I do not think it matters if he does not know Polish law. What I want to get is some distinguished officer who knows about discipline, the handling of men and that sort of thing—that is the important thing to have, and men of that type are perhaps rarer and more difficult to find than mere lawyers. I want some distinguished British officer of that sort. I do not at the moment see any objection to naming the class of man—somebody like a General in the British Army. That is the type of man I want to see at the top.

He is to be appointed by the Secretary of State. It does not necessarily follow that that is the Secretary of State for War—I think in constitutional theory there is only one Secretary of State. It might he the Secretary of State for the Home Department, but that does not matter. The man I would like to see would be a man of the world, a man of experience and savoir faire—a Britisher. He would have to delegate the administration of the Polish law, and the obvious people to whom he would entrust it would be Polish officers. Speaking on the spur of the moment and without the instructions of my colleagues. I think that is the scheme which we want to get. We have made inquiries about Polish law and we have found, for instance, that there are no forms of punishment which would be repellant to us. They do not allow any form of torture, they do not allow flogging and there is no death penalty. There is nothing to which any of us would take exception. Indeed, I believe it is said that on the whole the Polish military law is less strict than our own. I will gladly look into these matters. I think your Lordships realize that we have really tried to meet this situation. We are dealing with a wholly unprecedented and exceptional state of affairs, and when we come to the Committee stage I shall invite the collaboration of your Lordships in all quarters of the House to see if we can make the Bill even better than it is. I am very grateful to your Lordships for your assistance.

On Question, Bill read 2a and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.