HL Deb 13 April 1954 vol 186 cc1182-203

2.47 p.m.

THE LORD CHANCELLOR (LORD SIMONDS) rose to move, That the Visiting Forces (Application of Law) Order, 1954, reported from the Special Orders Committee on Wednesday last, be approved. The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, this Order in Council is one of three Orders which are necessary to bring into effect the Visiting Forces Act of 1952. One of those Orders is an Order which brings the Act into effect, for it is prescribed by the Act that it shall not come into operation until there has been an Order to that effect. The second is the Order which designates the countries, other than Commonwealth countries, to which the Act shall apply. Neither of those two Orders has to be laid, but they will be made as soon as the Order which I now bring to your Lordships' notice has been approved. The Order which is before the House to-day is an Order under Section 8, and by the terms of the Act requires to be approved by Affirmative Resolution. The Order, as those of your Lordships who have looked at it will appreciate, is an extremely complicated enactment, and for those of your Lordships who, like myself, are not very familiar with this branch of the law—or perhaps I should say were not very familiar—it may be expedient if I say one or two words of introduction because, in effect, an enactment of this kind might well seem somewhat strange, at any rate to those who first saw the light in the days of Queen Victoria.

The position is this—and I must hark back to the year 1933. In that year, an Act was passed, called the Visiting Forces (British Commonwealth) Act, and that Act, after making certain provisions with respect to the discipline and internal administration of visiting forces, being Commonwealth Forces, prescribed by subsection (3) of Section 2, that: Subject as hereinafter provided,"— I ask your Lordships to mark those words— any enactment (whether contained in the Naval Discipline Act, the Army Act, the Air Force Act, or any other statute) which— (a) exempts, or provides for the exemption of any vessel," — and so on, mentioning a number of limitations upon Acts of Parliament, and continues— shall, with any necessary modifications, apply in relation to a visiting force as it would apply in relation to a home force of a like nature to the visiting force: That Act contained a number of other provisions with which I need not trouble the House. That Act applied only to Commonwealth Forces, as I have said, but in 1940 it was applied by the Allied Forces Act to any naval, military or air force of any foreign power allied with His Majesty … for the time being present in the United Kingdom. to which it should by Order be applied. And it was by Order in Council applied to the visiting forces of a number of Allied Powers. Accordingly, the state of our municipal law was that under the first Act I have mentioned, the second Act and consequent Orders in Council, a number of provisions were made which applied to visiting forces the same powers, immunities and exemptions as were applicable to Home Forces.

In addition to that, on June 19, 1951, His late Majesty's Government signed an Agreement called An Agreement regarding the Status of Forces of Parties to the North Atlantic Treaty. The Preamble to that Agreement is in these terms: The parties to the North Atlantic Treaty signed in Washington on the 4th April, 1949, considering that the forces of one party may be sent by arrangement to serve in the territory of another party, bearing in mind that the decision to send them and the conditions under which they will be sent, in so far as such conditions are not laid down by the present Agreement, will continue to be the subject of separate arrangements between the parties concerned, desiring however to define the status of such forces while in the territory of another party, have agreed as follows". Then follows the Agreement, which in terms imposes obligations upon the State to which a visiting force is sent to enable them, in effect, to administer the affairs of the visiting force in an efficient and expedient way.

That being the position of our municipal law, and those being the obligations imposed by this Agreement, which has not yet been ratified by this country but which will be ratified as soon as these Orders are brought into operation, the Visiting Forces Act, 1952, was passed. Your Lordships will remember that we had a considerable discussion upon that Act in this House. That Act provided that the Act should apply to

  1. " (a) Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Union of South Africa, India, Pakistan or Ceylon, or
  2. (b) any country designated for the purposes of that provision by Order in Council …"
As I have told your Lordships, an Order in Council will be made designating those countries which have ratified this Agreement. The Act then provides for the exercise of powers by service courts and authorities of countries sending visiting forces and for a number of other provisions in regard to jurisdiction which were folly discussed and which are not substantially the subject of the present Order.

Section 8 of the Act then provides as follows, and I think I should read that Section to the House because it is upon it that this Order is made: (1) Where under any enactment a power is exercisable by any authority or person—

  1. (a) as respects any of the home forces or their members or service courts or other persons in any way connected therewith, or
  2. (b) as respects any property used or to be used for the purposes of any of the home forces, or for taking possession of any property to be so used, or for acquiring (whether by agreement or compulsorily) any property so used or to be so used,
Her Majesty may by Order in Council make provision for securing that subject to any conditions specified by or under the Order the power shall be exercisable by that authority or person in the case of any visiting force to which the Order applies to any extent to which it would be exercisable if the visiting force were a part of any of the home forces. (2) Her Majesty may by Order in Council made as respects any visiting force make provision—
  1. (a) for exempting that force or members or service courts thereof or other persons in any way connected therewith, or property used or to be used for the purposes thereof, from the operation of any enactment specified in the Order to any extent to which the force, members, courts, persons or property would be, or would be capable of being, exempted therefrom if the force were a part of any of the home forces;
  2. (b) for conferring on that force or any such members, courts, persons or property as aforesaid any other privilege or immunity specified in -he Order, being a privilege or immunity which would be enjoyed by, or would be capable of being confer7ed on, the force, members, courts, persons or property if the force were a part of any of the home forces, …"
That rather long quotation states clearly enough what was the intention of this section and I do not think I need read any other part of the section. It is under that power that the draft Order in Council which I now submit to your Lordships for approval, before it is submitted to Her Majesty, is to be made.

The Order is a long and elaborate document because, as your Lordships will have observed, Section 8 of the Visiting Forces Act, 1952, differs from the previous Act in that, instead of authorising what I might call a general cover, it requires that those sections which confer immunity, and so on, are to be specified in the Order. Accordingly it has been a long and laborious task to introduce into this Order every possible Act which it may be required to call in aid in order to place visiting forces in the same position as Home Forces with the necessary modifications and adjustments. If your Lordships would be good enough to look at the Order, you will see that the forces to which the Order applies are, first of all, the Commonwealth Forces (I am referring to paragraph 3 of the Order) and then those of the United States of America, France, Belgium, Norway and the Netherlands. All these are countries which have ratified the Agreement.

I should weary your Lordships if I took you through this Order, referring in detail to every one of the many Acts which are made to apply. Paragraph 4 deals with the provision of supplies, giving the Minister of Supply power to acquire for visiting forces in the same way as he has for Home Forces. Paragraph 5 deals with the provision of land. That is a matter specifically mentioned in the Agreement made by the N.A.T.O. Powers and enables us to do that which the Agreement had contemplated. Paragraph 6 is a somewhat small matter; it deals with the appointment of special constables. Paragraph 7 is more important; it deals with postal, telegraphic and wireless services, and excludes visiting forces from the provisions of the various Acts dealing with these services, enabling them to collect their own letters, transmit their own telegrams and so on.

Paragraph 8 is an elaborate one, dealing with road vehicles, again placing visiting forces, in respect of their vehicles, in the same position as the Home Forces. Paragraph 9 deals with exemption front rating, and paragraph 10 with exemption from harbour dues. Paragraph 11 deals with the miscellaneous exemptions, immunities and privileges referred to in the Second Schedule to the Order. Paragraph 12 is of some importance, because it provides the machinery which enables the service courts of visiting forces to exercise jurisdiction which is conferred upon them by the Act of 1952. Paragraph 13 deals with penalties for inducing or assisting desertion from the visiting forces. Paragraph 14 deals with certain provisions of the Public Health Acts, and Paragraph 15 with certain provisions of the Factories Acts. Your Lordships will notice that in the Schedule there is a long list of enactments which are made to apply to the visiting forces.

In all this we have been guided throughout by twenty years' experience of what has been needed in the case of visiting forces, and by the experience that we have also gained in respect of our own visiting forces abroad. I shall be glad to answer any question dealing with, the enactments referred to in the First: Schedule, but I doubt whether there is anything to which I ought specifically to call your Lordships' attention. The Fourth Schedule, which contains provisions relating to service courts of visiting forces, is perhaps worth, mentioning. Your Lordships will notice that any order summoning a witness to attend the service court of a visiting force must be issued, not by an officer of that force, but by an officer of the Home Forces. Similarly, it is worth mentioning that the detention of any person sentenced by a service court of a visiting force in one of our own prisons must be under the authority of the Secretary of State or the Admiralty; that is to say, that although the service court is given jurisdiction, it does not lie within the authority of that court to send a person sentenced to prison to one of our prisons, except under the authority of one of our own Secretaries of State.

I have told your Lordships that we have not yet ratified the Agreement that I have mentioned, but that we intend to do so as soon as this Order is approved. I have already told your Lordships that the foreign countries named in Article 3 of the Order have, in fact, ratified the Agreement. The constitutional system in some countries is not the same as in our own. In this country, as your Lordships know, it is not sufficient that we ratify the Agreement: to become effective, it must be made part of our municipal law, so far as it is necessary to give effect to its provisions. I am advised that that is not so in other countries, and that in those countries which have ratified the Agreement nothing further is needed to enable effect to be given to it; that is to say, that, on the Agreement being ratified, it automatically becomes part of the municipal law of that country. That, I believe, we have discussed before in your Lordships' House, and I am sure that it is so. Your Lordships will notice that the United States is one of the countries in respect of which effect is given to this Act, and the United States Embassy have given the assurance that the United States Government, in ratifying the Agreement, have undertaken to meet the claims for reimbursement referred to under Article 8 of the Agreement. That, I think, is not strictly relevant to the Order which I am asking your Lordships to approve.

It might be a matter of comment that we have attempted (and I believe we have succeeded) to bring this within the ambit of one Order: that is to say, we have not sought by a kind of bilateral bargaining to make an Order with each State to which reference is made. On the contrary, we have dealt with the matter compendiously, in one Order, in a way which we believe gives effect to the spirit of the Agreement and also complies with what we have by experience ascertained to be the needs of visiting forces and which we know by our own experience to be the needs of our own forces in foreign countries. We have not done more than we think is necessary to enable those forces which are in this country for our defence, for the defence of Western civilisation, to perform their task with efficiency and preparedness. As I have said, this is a terribly complicated Order. I have sought not to weary your Lordships by going through it in detail; but I can assure your Lordships that it has been most carefully prepared by all the Departments concerned, and, as we believe, it gives effect to the purpose and spirit of the Act of 1952 which was fully discussed in your Lordships' House before it received the sanction of Parliament. If there is any question your Lordships may have to ask upon the details, I will do my best to answer from my rather formidable brief; but unless your Lordships have some question to ask, I hope I have put it before you with sufficient clarity. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Visiting Forces (Application of Law) Order, 1954, reported from the Special Orders Committee on Wednesday last, be approved.—(The Lord Chancellor.)

3.8 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure your Lordships will be grateful to the noble and learned Lord on the, Woolsack for giving us the history of this matter and, so far as is possible, simplifying it for us. As he has said, it is a very complicated matter, and the long list, of privileges, immunities and so forth, which are to be conferred on visiting forces requires rather more consideration than your Lordships' House has had the opportunity of giving to it. This Order was deposited here on March 18, and came before the Special Orders Committee only last Wednesday, April 7. Your Lordships will know that the Special Orders Committee reported That, in their opinion, the provisions of this Order raise important questions of policy and principle: That the Order is not founded on precedent: That in the opinion of the Committee the Order cannot be passed by the House without special attention, but that no further inquiry is necessary before the House proceeds to a decision on the Resolution to present an Address to Her Majesty praying that the Older be made. Your Lordships will appreciate, therefore, that the Special Orders Committee have taken the view that there are in regard to this particular Order important questions of policy and principle which are not founded on precedent. The view of my noble friends on this side of the House is that your Lordships' House should have a further opportunity of considering this matter, having regard to the many questions which are involved in the Order. The Lord Chancellor told us, as I understood it, that ratification by other countries was equivalent to the making of an Order in this country.


I think we mean the same thing. What I said was that when a foreign country—I do not say all foreign countries, but those with which we are concerned—have ratified an Agreement, it becomes automatically part of their municipal law. It is not a question of making an Order. It is just as if we were making it part of our municipal law, whether by an Act of Parliament or by an Order made under an Act. I do not think there is much between us.


I am obliged to the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, because a serious question arises as to whether, assuming these powers, exemptions and immunities are granted to visiting forces in this country, putting them in the same position as our own Forces, with all the consequences which may follow, reciprocal treatment is being given to us by these other countries. Whilst I gather that the effect of ratification does grant reciprocation, I am not absolutely clear (and I do not knew whether the Lord Chancellor is) whether other countries have granted, or have undertaken to grant, our Forces in those countries the powers and immunities which it is proposed by this order to grant to the forces of those countries.


I thought I had made it clear that, isasmuch as ratification was equivalent to the relevant municipal legislation, we should have those advantages the moment we ratify. If I am not interrupting the noble Lord, I should like to say this. It strikes me as rather strange—although I admit the debt we all owe to the Committee which looks into this matter—to say that this is "without precedent," That is rather wide of the mark, because in effect the Orders prescribe exactly what the existing legislation does, but with some modification. The Visiting Forces Act, 1933, and the Allied Forces Act, 1940, will be repealed, and the position will be substantially the same as it was before.


I should not presume to comment upon the decision or the views of a Committee of this House who have in fact said, after due consideration, that this particular Order is not founded on precedent. I do not know their grounds. They may be good grounds, or grounds which are not so good, but that is the view of your Lordships' Special Orders Committee. In any event, the first question is whether the Government can assure us in terms that the reciprocal rights in all these respects have been or will be granted to our Forces in those cases where our Forces are in other countries. That is the first and, perhaps, the most important question. I do not know how far the Lord Chancellor can go with that assurance, but I gather that he is more or less satisfied that ratification of the Agreement by those other countries does in fact give our Forces the powers which we are proposing to give to visiting forces in this country; but I think the House at a later date would wish to have the most explicit assurance on that point. It is obviously essential that, where we are granting immunities, privileges and exemptions from the ordinary law of the land to the citizens, though in the armed forces, of other countries, then our Forces should be granted similar and wholly reciprocal rights in those other countries.

The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack gave us the history of this matter, for which we are obliged. The section of the Visiting; Forces Act, 1952., on which this Order is made, is of the widest possible character. If I may read a portion of Section 8 (2), it says: Her Majesty may by, Order in Council made as respects any visiting force make provision— (a) for exempting that force or members or service courts thereof or any persons in any way connected therewith"— which would not appear to limit the exemption to the members of the forces alone— or property used or to be used for the purposes thereof, from the operation of any enactment specified in the Order to any extent to which the force, members, courts, persons or property would be, or would be capable of being, exempted therefrom if the force were a part of any of the home forces; (b) for conferring on that force or any such members, courts, persons or property as aforesaid any other privilege or immunity specified in the Order, being a privilege or immunity which would be enjoyed by, or would be capable of being conferred on, the force, members, courts, persons or property if the force were a part of any of the home forces. Those are tremendously wide powers and, in my submission, this particular Order which your Lordships are discussing to-day takes advantage of that section to the fullest possible extent and seems—as, indeed, the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack agrees—to cover a vast variety of matters which it is quite impossible to discuss in detail. As your Lordships will see from the explanatory note on the First Schedule: By Article 5 and the First Schedule a number of powers vested in Government Deparments to acquire and use land and rights over land for the purposes of the home forces, are extended so as to enable those Departments to acquire and use land and rights over land for the purposes of the visiting forces. With regard to Article 8, the explanatory note says: Article 8 extends privileges attaching to vehicles of the home forces, and persons connected therewith, to visiting force vehicles and persons connected therewith. Your Lordships will see that Article 8 says: Except as provided by this Article, the Road Traffic Acts, 1930 to 1947, and Part I of the Road and Rail Traffic Act, 1933, shall not apply to any vehicle in the service of a visiting force, or to anything done or omitted in relation to any such vehicle by a person being a member of such a force when acting in the course of his duty as such. Presumably that entitles vehicles of visiting forces to disregard the Road Traffic Acts in some respects—to travel without lights or disregard the zebra crossings, or whatever it may be. The Road Traffic Acts are apparently not to apply to visiting forces any more than they apply to home forces.

Similarly, there are a number of other detailed criticisms one might make. The Second Schedule to the Order sets out the various exemptions, immunities and privileges which the Home Forces enjoy, and they are to be extended to the visiting forces. Paragraph 1 of Article 14 adapts (and this may be an advantage) sections of the Public Health Acts making provision for the notification of infectious diseases contracted by members of the Home Forces. I do not know whether that imposes on the visiting forces a similar obligation to notify as it applies to the medical officers of Home Forces, but presumably that is so. The Lord Chancellor has dealt with the question of summoning civilian witnesses—a not unimportant matter. The Fifth Schedule deals with the custody, detention and treatment of persons sentenced by service courts of visiting forces. I do not know, but perhaps the Lord Chancellor can tell us whether the courts of visiting forces are entitled to try and sentence British citizens. Presumably that would be a matter for our own courts alone.


That arises out of the Act itself.


There are a tremendous number of points which seem to require further consideration than we are able to give this Order to-day. One has read of many cases—I do not know how far this Order affects them—of affiliation orders made in this country against members of visiting forces. Provision is made, presumably, in this Order or elsewhere for proceedings to be taken in this country against members of the visiting forces against whom such orders are made. Is there any means or reciprocal arrangement whereby those orders can be enforced in other countries —for example, the United States of America? The same applies to maintenance orders. One reads of a member of the visiting forces of some other country coming to England, marrying an English woman and leaving her here. In some instances she obtains a maintenance order. Can that maintenance order be enforced in the countries of the visiting forces, and to what extent, if at all, does this Order deal with that matter? Presumably, it does not do so directly, but if there is reciprocity then, one would hope, some provision should deal with that matter.

Then there is the question of judgments for damages. I gathered from this Order that if a citizen of this country obtained a judgment against some member of the visiting forces, that could be enforced against him, but I am now told that that is not dealt with by this Order. Now are we taking advantage of the consideration of this Order to clear up all these anomalies which may affect our citizens to such an extent? There have been a great many cases of injuries, of wives who have been left in this country, of children where affiliation orders have been made and so forth, where it has not been possible to execute the judgments made by our courts. It would seem necessary, if this Order does not deal specifically with those matters, at any rate that as a matter of reciprocity the House should be assured that if this same provision is applied to our forces in other countries and that orders made in this country should be enforceable in those other countries.

I do not think there is a great deal more for me to say, except that my noble friends and I attach great importance to this Order. We express the hope that it may be possible to adjourn consideration of it and give us a further opportunity of looking into all these varied exemptions and immunities which are granted. They are numerous. The Visiting Forces Act under which this Order is laid received the Royal Assent on October 13, 1952. The Government have had one year and a half in which to draw up this Order, which your Load-ships are to-day asked to approve, yet we have had an opportunity of considering it, after its passing the Special Orders Committee, only between last Wednesday and to-day. In my submission, that is not sufficient time and the House ought to have a further opportunity. I venture to hope that the Government will agree that the further consideration of the matter be adjourned to a later date.

3.24 p.m.


My Lords, I had not intended to say anything about this subject, but I am a little disturbed by the remarks of my noble friend who has just spoken. He certainly puts this House on inquiry about the regulations. Obviously, they are far-reaching and difficult, as the noble and learned Lord who introduced them admitted. In fact, judging by the size of his brief, he must have spent many hours in mastering the regulations and their effect, and the circumstances in which they are being submitted. I realise that it is the duty of every Member to make himself master of the business that comes before the House, but some of us have other occupations and this is a difficult matter. What I would plead is that, if consideration of it can be postponed without injury, to enable us to look at it, we shall be greatly obliged. If it cannot be postponed, if it is in the public interest that it should be passed to-day, we must swallow it; but frankly we should be swallowing something without appreciating what we were swallowing. In the interests of good administration and good government, it really is better that the House should know what it is doing rather than that it should not. I very much hope that the noble and learned Lord will see his way to postpone it.

3.25 p.m.


My Lords, we are in a real difficulty about that. I would remind the noble Lord that the position in which we shall be, as the result of applying these several Acts conferring immunities of privileges upon visiting forces is exactly the same as that in which we are now, except that, instead of the general cover which was provided by the Act of 1933, and applied by the Act of 1940 and the Orders under it, we now have specified in the Order the several Acts which already apply. Except in certain respects there is no difference between the position now and the position which previously existed.

Noble Lords have asked me questions about one or two points which I shall be glad to answer. We are not really introducing something new. We are stabilising the position under the existing law, and we are carrying out the Agreement which was entered into by the late Government in 1951—but not in every detail. Let me say this—and it answers, I think, one of the questions put to me by the noble Lord, Lord Milner of Leeds. Of course, there is no exact reciprocity in every respect, because that will depend upon the legislation of the particular country concerned. If we give certain immunities and exemptions in respect of an explosives Act which is part of our municipal law, there can be no exact reciprocity in, say, France, unless they have a similar law in respect of which they can give us immunity and exemption. So you cannot: get exact reciprocity. What you can do is to carry out the spirit of the agreement in order, so far as possible, to enable the forces visiting this country to carry on with efficiency and preparedness and to enable our forces abroad to do the same.

There are certain points that the noble Lord made, and particularly one in regard to judgments recovered in this country. If I may respectfully say so, that is nothing whatever to do with this Order, which is laid under Section 8 of the Act. That is a matter which was provided for by Section 9 of the Visiting Forces Act; it was a matter which was very much discussed upon the last occasion when this Act passed through this House. In fact, I am justified in saying that the Minister of Defence is making the necessary arrangements in order to implement Section 9 of the Act of 1952. Let me be quite sure about this because the noble Lord has raised this point. We are dealing with Section 8 of the 1952 Act: Application to visiting forces of law relating to home forces. Has the noble Lord a copy of the 1952 Act?




The noble Lord will see that Section 8 is the section under which we are proceeding, and that Section 9, Settlement of claims against visiting forces, is quite a separate section. All I would say about that is that the machinery for carrying that section into effect is, I believe, proceeding satisfactorily. That is very relevant to the question which the noble Lord raised, of affiliation orders and so on. In regard to that, because I realise the importance of what the noble Lord has said—it has been very much in our mind—let me observe that the new arrangements are really more restrictive than the existing arrangements. I will take Sections 144 and 145 of the Army Act. They are not applied to visiting forces by this Order, and therefore maintenance and affiliation orders made by United Kingdom courts against members of visiting forces will be enforceable, if payment is not made, by ordinary process of law. Of course, everybody must realise the difficulty. Supposing that an American soldier or airman gets a girl into trouble in this country and then goes back to America, it will be difficult to enforce an order that may afterwards be made against him—everybody must realise that. It is no part of this Order to save that situation; it could not be. But I have reason to understand that in those cases the United States authorities will do all they can to persuade members of the American forces to pay; and I have no doubt that in most cases they will succeed. That, if I may respectfully say so, is not really a matter with which we are concerned in the Order.

The noble Lord, Lord Milner of Leeds, referred, amongst other things, to the provisions of the Order in regard to the acquisition of land. No doubt that matter is important, but the position there is not changed in any way. It is obviously necessary. It does not require more than a few moments' consideration to see that it is absolutely essential that there should be power for the proper authority in this country to acquire land and buildings for visiting forces, in just the same way as it does for our own Home Forces. If I may respectfully say so, it does not really require a deal of consideration to be sure that that course must be taken. These forces are here for our protection as much as for the protection of Western civilisation, and precisely the same considerations apply for them as for our own Home Forces in regard to the acquisition of land. That, in rather elaborate language, is what Paragraph 5 provides. That, I may say incidentally, is one of the things for which specifically we are bound to make provision by the Agreement of 1951—I cannot find the appropriate passage for the moment, but I know that the noble Lord will take it from me.

Then the noble Lord, Lord Milner of Leeds, referred to Paragraph 8, which deals with road transport laws. There it is quite obvious, I would suggest, that exactly the same immunities and privileges are required for the vehicles of visiting forces as for those of our own Forces. The law in regard to that is, indeed, most elaborate. As the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said, I have had to spend some time in dealing with this matter, but, having dealt with it, I am led, inevitably, to this conclusion: that there really is no difference for this purpose between the Home Forces and visiting forces. If Parliament, in its wisdom, thinks that some kind of immunity or exemption or limitation of the law is necessary in regard to Home Service vehicles, it is quite obvious that the same relaxation of the law is needed in the case of visiting forces, if they are out on manœuvres or whatever it may be. The law of road transport being complex, the matter becomes complicated, but there again, the simple issue is that in this respect visiting forces must be treated in the same way as we treat Home Forces. Those were two of the special points to which the noble Lord referred. In regard to the provisions of the Public Health Acts, and also the Factory Acts, with regard to which I have all the details, I can assure him that it is necessary to apply the same provisions to the visiting as to Home Forces.

I think the Schedules, particularly the Fourth and Fifth Schedules, were the last matter to which the noble Lord referred. I think I have stated that the salient features there are simply procedural. The substance of jurisdiction was dealt with in the Act itself. It was a matter which created a good deal of discussion. I remember the late Lord Simon taking a considerable part in that discussion, and the difficult question of jurisdiction was established by the Act itself. These Schedules are nothing more than the machinery for enabling these courts to act efficiently, arid, as I told your Lordships, it appears to me that the salient features are these: first of all, that the summoning of witnesses (other than the members of the visiting forces, of course) is not a matter for the Service court of a visiting force, but for an officer of the Home Forces; and i a the same way, the detention or imprisonment of members of the visiting forces in one of our prisons can be achieved only under the authority of the Admiralty or the Secretary of State.

Then the noble Lord asked me whether I was quite satisfied about reciprocity. My answer to that I will state in the words which I have before me, because I cannot pretend that I am competent to examine the laws of all foreign countries. When we in our turn have ratified the Agreement, which we intend to do as soon as the Visiting Forces Act is in force—I should add, also, as soon as this Motion has been passed—and we are in a position to carry out our obligations, our Forces will be entitled in those countries to the privileges and immunities for which the Agreement provides, and these are the main ones covered by the Order. I should say that many of these privileges are already being enjoyed, by arrangement, in the countries where our Forces are stationed. As I have said, there cannot be exact reciprocity because the municipal laws of two countries are not in all respects the same—in fact, they diverge widely; but the spirit of the Agreement will be carried out in the countries which have ratified the Agreement, as it will in our own country. I cannot, I think, give any other answer than that.

I think I have already told the House that the foreign countries named in Article 3 of the Order have ratified the Agreement, and I ant further assured that in those countries no further steps are needed to enable effect to be given to the Agreement. As I say, I am not an expert on the laws of all foreign countries, and I can say only what I am told in regard to that matter. Article 8 of the Agreement is not immediately before us, but perhaps it will assist noble Lords if I say that in the United States legislation has been introduced to give effect to the provisions of Article 8, which deals with claims against the members of visiting forces, and the United States Embassy has given an assurance that the United States Government, in ratifying the Status of Forces Agreement, have undertaken to meet the claims for reimbursement submitted to them under Article 8 of the Agreement—not Section 8 of the Act. This is a matter of financial adjustment between Governments.

Purposely, having regard to the complexity and number of the Acts which are covered by this Order, I did not go through them one by one, because that would have made my opening speech too long. I hoped that, if there were any points of difficulty, they would be raised by noble Lords and that I should have an opportunity of answering them. I think I have answered all the points that were raised. I feel that, in the circumstances, it is impossible to postpone the bringing into force of this Order, and accordingly I have no other course to take than to ask that the Motion be agreed to.

3.40 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that all of us, and especially noble Lords who sit on this side of the House, are very grateful indeed to the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack for the explanation which he has given of some of the difficult points in this Order. I hope he will not think that we feel that he has in any way been failing in the manner in which he has dealt with this matter in the House this afternoon. He has been exceedingly helpful in the last address, which he has just given, and he has, in fact, cleared up two points which were troubling us. Perhaps our early pressure has been helpful in inducing him to make that second address to the House.

On the other hand, I am in some difficulty—and the noble Marquess the Leader of the House will, I think, sympathise with me—because my noble and learned Leader, Lord Jowitt, who is a lawyer of some distinction, addressed the House at some length on the Second Reading of the Bill which became the Act of 1952, and, unfortunately, in the short time which has elapsed since this Order came from the Committee dealing with these Orders, I have not had any opportunity to consult him as to the progress that this Order ought to make. Further, I am quite unable to understand why an Order of this kind, initiated, I understand, in your Lordships' House and not in another place—


In both Houses.


It will have to go to the other House?


I speak without the book, but I rather think that it is being taken in the other House too.


I see, pari passu. I did not know that was to be the case.


I am told now that it is not being taken in another place to-day but that it will be taken to-morrow.


I am unable to understand why this Order must go through immediately. If there is some specific reason why the Government must have it, I wish they would tell us what the reason is. I have no desire to be difficult in this matter and if they have a sound reason I shall sympathise with them, having myself had some sort of responsibility for things of this sort in connection with the Defence Department. But not knowing whether the Government have some strong reason, I should have thought that it would be easy to postpone the approval of this Order until, say, a week after the Easter Recess. That would allow us to deal with it after we had been able to have consultations. These things are more difficult for us in our position than for noble Lords on the other side when they were in Opposition because they can command a larger attendance, and have a larger number of authorities whom they can consult. If the Government tell us that there is a special reason —and what that reason is—why this Order must be approved to-day, we shall be only too glad to assent. If there is not a good reason, I should be glad if the noble Marquess would consider the strong representations which have been made from these Benches to postpone this matter until after the Easter Recess.


My Lords, this is undoubtedly one of those occasions upon which Parliament has a difficult problem before it. But after all, this extremely long and complicated Order is the result, I take it, of long, international discussion and negotiation. It has been before Parliament, I understand, since March 18. It is true that it has had to go to the Special Orders Committee, as the noble Lord, Lord Milner of Leeds, has said, but it has been back from that Committee now for a week.


Not quite.


One day less than a week, I think. It is now suggested that it should be further postponed. There is every reason why this Order should be passed by Parliament as soon as possible. There is the very simple reason which was given by the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack—that the United States is already acting in the matter. Nor, with all due deference to the noble Lords opposite, do I think it would be of very much advantage to have a postponement —except that it would, no doubt, enable noble Lords opposite to examine the matter perhaps even more carefully than they have been able to do—because this is an Order, and it must be either taken or left.

In view of the fact that it has already been the subject of protracted negotiations with other countries, it is extremely improbable that noble Lords and members of their Party in another place would wish to reject the Order. Therefore, in fact, at the end of the extra week—it would really be an extra ten days, if there were a postponement for the Easier Recess—even if noble Lords opposite spent the whole of the Recess profitably in examining the Order, as I have no doubt they would do, the result would be exactly the same. Therefore, in view of the importance of getting this Order as soon as possible, and in view of the fact that other nations besides ourselves are concerned, I hope that noble Lords will appreciate the importance of acting immediately. I do not pretend that there long and complicated Orders do not present Parliament with very great difficulties. If it were a question of rejecting the Order, that would be a different matter, but I am certain that no one in the House would think of doing such a thing. For these reasons—and I may say that I speak equally with the noble Viscount opposite, not as a lawyer but only as an ordinary Member of this House—I think the House would be wise to accept the Order. I can give every assurance that, whenever such cases do occur, I will give as long notice as I possibly can.


I am obliged to the noble Marquess. As I have already said, we have no wish to be unduly difficult, but we are sorry that we cannot have this matter postponed as I have suggested'. Perhaps the noble Marquess will take into account on future occasions what we have said, and see whether these complicated and difficult Orders cannot be laid for a fairly long period. There are a good many specialised Orders which come before Parliament and which are of legislative effect, and there are cases, I believe, where they have to be laid for sixty days. We have not had that in this case, of course, and there is no statutory obligation on the Government to lay an Order of this kind for sixty days. On the other hand, in my view we really have not had enough time to consider this Order. If, in the view of the noble Marquess, it is essential in order to meet the position with the United States of legislation collaterally or pari passu with ourselves, then I think perhaps we ought not to hold up this Order. I hope the noble Marquess will forgive us for pressing our view that in the future in such cases, if possible, we might be given a longer time.


My Lords, may I put this to the House? Like my noble friend who has just spoken I think that in the circumstances it would be wrong to suggest that there should now be a postponement. But the difficulty that we face —and speak as one who takes some part in the work of the House—is that until this Order was explained it was impossible for any of us, even those of us who are lawyers, to appreciate its effects. After the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor had introduced the Order then one could profitably examine it. If we do not realise all the implications of such an Order, I do not think it would help the House if we did have a little longer to have an Order of this sort in front of us. I think the most valuable thing that could be done would be, if possible, to have an arrangement whereby the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor gave an explanation of a complicated matter of this kind. We could then go away Lind think about it in the light of what he had said. We should then be able to think about it intelligently. It is not a method that one would wish to introduce on all occasions, but in a difficult and complicated matter of this kind I think it would be most useful. Ii wonder if the noble Marquess would consider whether something of that sort could be devised, so that, if we could come back in a week's time after an explanation, we could talk about the matter much more intelligently than if it were merely laid before the House for a long period.


I will gladly consider anything which noble Lords suggest, but I should not like the House to think that there has been no time for consideration of this Order. The Order has been before Parliament for nearly a month. There is an explanatory note attached to it. That note, of course, is not nearly so enlightening as the explanation which the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack has given to-day. Still there was that note attached to the Order. Having said that, I will consider whether there are any means of meeting this peculiar type of difficulty, which of course is not very common. Noble Lords may be certain—I am sure that the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor will agree in this—that we shall be anxious to bear in mind what has happened on this occasion.

On Question, Motion agreed to.