HL Deb 24 November 1970 vol 313 cc9-59

2.53 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. This is the first occasion on which I have sought to introduce legislation in your Lordships' House, and I do so with a considerable sense of trepidation, though I am comforted by the knowledge that the Bill before the House has two virtues. First of all, it is small. Its text covers barely a page, and it concerns only a handful of individuals. It concerns the liberty of the person, and as your Lordships, very properly, have often spent many hours discussing the liberty of individual human beings, I make no apology for that.

The second virtue of the Bill is that it is moderate. On occasions I have expressed views which place me in a minority in your Lordships' House, but I would not presume to introduce legislation before your Lordships if I were not convinced that this is a moderate and reasonable measure, which deserves to have the support of all sides of the House. And so I ask your Lordships, as I am sure your Lordships will, to consider the argument with care, even though the Bill seeks to give some measure of protection to deserters from Allied Forces and even though many of your Lordships may have views about deserters which may dispose you to oppose the Bill.

The purpose of the Bill can be very shortly stated. It seeks to amend a part of the Visiting Forces Act 1952. Under our present law as contained in that Act, a British police officer has the power to arrest any deserter or absentee without leave from any of the forces of a NATO, Allied or Colonial power. Once arrested, the deserter will be brought before a magistrate and, provided that the court is satisfied that he is a deserter, he will be handed over to the military authorities of his own country. Once handed over, he will normally be flown out to be tried according to the laws of his own country. It is, in effect, a special kind of extradition procedure which we offer.

Under this Bill that power to arrest will be limited to cover only deserters and absentees without leave from Allied or Commonwealth Forces if they have deserted from a base situated in the United Kingdom. Anyone who deserts elsewhere and then comes to Britain would be treated as though an immigrant. The Bill achieves this object I trust, but in a somewhat obscure way—and that is because Section 13 of the Visiting Forces Act applied the existing law relating to British deserters to deserters from Allied and Colonial Forces. My Bill deletes a section of the 1952 Act and substitutes a new section, applying the existing law only to deserters who desert while within the United Kingdom. That explains the reference in the Bill to a number of provisions of the Army Act 1955 which regulate the procedure for deserters from the Royal Forces.

That in brief is what the Bill seeks to do. It may be that the reaction of some noble Lords is to ask: Is it not normal for us to assist our Allies in this way? Would they not do the same service for us? The answer to both questions is, No. So far as I can discover, we are the only country, at least among the NATO Powers, which hands over, or in effect extradites, their deserters in this way. We offer to our Allies a facility which none of them offers to us.

To explain how this comes about, it is necessary to go back to 1951, when the NATO Powers signed an agreement regarding the status of forces of parties to the North Atlantic Treaty (Cmnd. 8279). That agreement regulates the situation where the forces of one party (called the sending State) are stationed under the North Atlantic Treaty in the territory of another party (called the receiving State). It provides, very reasonably, that certain offences committed by visiting troops should be dealt with by the civil authorities of the receiving State and certain other military offences, including of course desertion and absenteeism without leave, should be dealt with by the military authorities of the sending State.

By Article VII 5 of the Agreement: The authorities of the receiving and sending States shall assist each other in the arrest of members of a force or civilian component or their dependents in the territory of the receiving State and in handing them over to the authority which is to exercise jurisdiction in accordance with the above provisions. By Article 1 of the Treaty the word "force" is defined as follows: 'force' means the personnel belonging to the land, sea or air armed services of one contracting party when in the territory of another contracting party in the North Atlantic Treaty area in connection with their official duties. So the agreement quite clearly refers only to what one might call generally visiting forces. That Agreement was a thoroughly reasonable and sensible provision, and I do not seek in this Bill to detract from it one iota. Our law, if this Bill were passed, would continue to give effect to that Agreement in full.

To give effect to that Agreement it was of course necessary for the British Parliament to pass a law; and that was done in 1952 by the Visiting Forces Act. As the name suggests, the Act dealt mainly with visiting forces; that is, forces stationed in the United Kingdom. But with regard to deserters and absentees without leave, and with regard to them only, the Act went much wider than the NATO Agreement by authorising the arrest not just of deserters from visiting forces, but all deserters and absentees without leave from any of the forces of any Commonwealth or NATO country, wherever and for whatever reasons they had deserted.

In the debates on the Visiting Forces Act little reference was made to this particular provision. In your Lordships' House, where the Act was introduced, Sections 13 and 14 were virtually ignored. In another place, the then Home Secretary, Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, in introducing the Bill, explained the meaning of Sections 13 and 14 and added only this: These provisions are somewhat wider than is strictly required by the NATO Agreement, but they repeat the arangements which were made in the 1933 Act for the Commonwealth Forces and were extended during the war to Allied Forces. The House, I hope, will agree that such a provision is as much to our advantage as to that of the other Members of NATO."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, 17/10/52; col. 568.] It is true that in the days of Empire and in days of war, in very different circumstances, this kind of power of arrest was in force. But if the then Home Secretary, in the last words of that quotation, was expressing the hope that other countries would reciprocate by granting us similar arrangements, he was to be disappointed. I have made inquiries of the attaches of our NATO Allies and I have so far received replies from eight of them. They are all to the same effect. In the United States, Canada, Italy, West Germany, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands and Luxemburg the position is similar. In none of those countries does their law go further than the provisions of the NATO Agreement; in none of those countries is there any provision for the extradition of deserters; and all say that an Allied deserter who absconded within another country and then entered their country would be treated under the normal immigration procedures: that is to say, he might be refused admission; he might be deported; but there would be no power to arrest him and return him specifically to the authorities of his own country. From other sources I am informed that the law of France is the same. So it appears that, so far as our Allies are concerned, in passing this particular provision we are completely out on a limb.

Those are the circumstances in which the Visiting Forces Act, with this anomalous provision, was passed. In the succeeding years the power of arrest given by Section 13 was, I believe, very little used. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, when he replies to give the Government's view, will be able to give us some figures of the number of persons, and particularly the number of deserters from abroad, who were arrested under these provisions. But until recently it was perhaps unlikely that many Servicemen from other countries would desert, find their way here and be apprehended, even though the Act in theory applies to a vast number of countries as far removed as Greece and Zanzibar.

The new factor that has caused so many people to question the justice of this clause is the war in Vietnam. Let me say this at once. Whether your Lordships believe that the Americans are right to be fighting in Vietnam, or whether you believe them to be wrong, is not an issue in or relevant to this debate. What is relevant is that this war is one which, as your Lordships well know, has agonised the United States of America. It is a war which has caused tens of thousands of young men to choose exile rather than submit to the draft. It is a war which is bitterly and sincerely opposed by millions of American citizens. It is a war the opposition to which has penetrated inside the heart of the United States forces themselves.

The figures for desertion from the American forces, as distinct from absenteeism without leave, are startling. I quote from the 1969–70 Report of Amnesty International, where it is said: United States Defence Department figures on desertion from the American Army indicate that whereas in 1967 there were approximately 43,000 deserters, in 1968 there were over 55,000. In 1969, the figures are estimated to be well over 70,000. Figures on A.W.O.L. ('absent without leave') are roughly treble the numbers for desertion. The relevance of that feeling in the United States and of those figures to this Bill to-day is that from those many thousands some few have wanted to settle and work or study in this country. For that laudable wish they have been not merely deported, not merely refused admission, but handed over to the very military forces whose policies they have resisted and which they deplore.

Your Lordships may think that these are misguided young men; you may think that their actions are wrong. But that is not the point. The point is that their actions were actions motivated by sincere conscientious belief, which your Lordships will, I believe, respect, whether or not you agree with them. I personally have been involved with two such cases. The first will be remembered by my noble friend Lord Stonham and it concerned a young man called Jeremy Tupper. He has been drafted into the Services in the United States. He was not opposed to war, as such, but he was bitterly opposed, and said so, to the war in Vietnam. When his unit was due to be posted to Vietnam he applied for conscientious objection and that request was refused. As my noble friend Lord Brockway, who can speak with so much more authority on these matters, will bear out, selective conscientious objection is not granted by the United States law. So this young man had no alternative but to desert. He came here with a young wife; he lived here openly for some six months; he entered this country legally, and he applied for a work permit. Suddenly, without warning, he was arrested, handed over and flown out to the United States, and there he stood his trial. I am not able to finish the story of Jeremy Tupper because I do not know what sentence he received, but I do know that the average sentence imposed upon deserters from the United States Forces is three years and two months, with hard labour, in a military stockade.

The second case occurred only two months ago. It concerned a young man called Richard Lee Haygood who had made Britain his home. He had married an English girl. She was expecting a baby. He had for many months worked, legally and with a work permit, for the North Thames Gas Board, and he had lived here in all for 15 months. Suddenly, in the space of about five days, the happiness of these two young people was shattered. Although he had committed no crime against our law, although he was not in breach of any conditions of entry and although under the normal law he had committed no offence for which he could be extradited from this country (for in none of our extradition provisions is desertion an extraditable offence), yet suddenly, in the middle of the night, he was arrested, handed over and is now awaiting his trial in custody in the United States. All this because, after long and careful and conscientious deliberation, he had decided that he would not return for a second spell as a marine in Vietnam.

These two cases taken alone are enough to make us pause, to make us question whether our law is decent and proper, and would justify the Second Reading of this Bill. But they are not isolated cases. In an Answer given in another place on November 5, 1970, the Home Secretary said that ten United States deserters had been arrested under the 1952 Act by the British police in the last three years. There may have been many more, for the Home Secretary continued—I quote from column 1250 of Hansard of November 5: … the United States Service police in the United Kingdom may, under the Act to which I have referred, arrest their own deserters. I do not agree that there is power under the 1952 Act for American military police to arrest deserters in this way; and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, can tell the House whether that statement is correct. As it stands, it is most disturbing.

In the two cases to which I have referred, my noble friend Lord Stonham two years ago, and the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, two months ago, both stated that there was nothing that they could do. Neither the police it seems, nor the courts, nor the Government have any discretion in the matter whatsoever, even in the most deserving of cases. Therefore, I have presumed to take the only possible course to bring this practice to an end; that is, to seek to change the law which makes it possible. I believe that the Bill before your Lordships makes that change in a reasonable and logical way. If the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, can suggest a better way, such as, for example, by the insertion of a conscience clause or a discretionary clause into the 1952 Act, he will no doubt say so, and the matter can be considered carefully in Committee. I hope that I have said enough to persuade your Lordships that at the very least this Bill deserves a Second Reading and a fuller consideration from this House.

Before I close, let me make quite clear what the consequences would be if this Bill eventually became law. Some noble Lords may fear that if the law were changed the country would be invaded by hundreds of deserters making nuisances of themselves, living off the Welfare State and claiming sanctuary in this country. That would emphatically not be the case. As I have already said, they would be treated like any other alien. If they could qualify as a visitor, as a bona fide student, or as a worker with a work permit they would be welcome, as all such aliens are. If they had no means, if they had no legal job, they would no doubt be refused admission or deported, or asked to leave, as all such aliens are.

There are at present a number of young Americans—not very many; perhaps 100 or so—in Britain to-day who are draft resisters. They are not subject to being suddenly arrested; they earn an honest living; they create no problems, and should they do so they can be sent away. Our immigration laws, coupled with our extradition laws, render the wide power of arrest which I am seeking to limit totally unnecessary, just as it has been considered to be totally unnecessary by every other country of which I have particulars.

I have tried to explain the meaning of this Bill. I have endeavoured to show that our present law is unnecessary; that it is unique among the laws of all our allies; that it is not forced upon us by any treaty, and that in individual cases it causes severe hardship. But there is, I believe, a wider principle at issue. It is a principle which was aptly summed up by the Canadian Minister of Manpower and Immigration, Mr. Allan MacEachon. Speaking for the Canadian Government's policy on this very issue on May 22, 1969, he said: The question of an individual's membership in the Armed Services of his own country is a matter to be settled between the individual and his Government and is not a matter in which we should become involved. The United Kingdom, like Canada, is a country which is widely, and rightly, respected among the countries of the world for the decency and the tolerance and the liberty of our way of life. It is not in our national character to ban these young men from our shores, and to persecute them should they dare to arrive, for the sake of a law passed, almost inadvertently, eighteen years ago. It is not worthy of this country and its traditions to continue to persecute young men in this way. The honourable and decent thing is to admit that in passing this provision of the 1952 Act we made a mistake, and to take the necessary steps to rectify it.

I have received a great number of letters of support for this initiative; but there is one which encapsulates in better words than I can find the message of this Bill. It comes from a Brigadier and his wife, living in retirement in an old vicarage in a Suffolk village. They say this: We hope that the House of Lords will show a civilised compassion and humanity to the conscientious deserters from this brutal war in Vietnam, or any other war. We may then not be so deeply ashamed of our recent treatment of them. It is in this spirit that I commend this Bill to your Lordships. My Lords, I beg to move.

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

3.20 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, first on a very reasonable and closely drawn Bill, and secondly on a most admirable speech, which your Lordships will be reassured to hear will cut down my oration by several minutes. I agree with the noble Lord that the Bill is not about the Vietnamese war at all, however passionately we may feel about it on either side; it is not about the rights and wrongs of conscientious objection and various conscientious-objection laws; it is not about individuals—and I shall not produce any individual cases, although I wish that circumstances were such that we could raise instances that have happened from other countries. The noble Lord mentioned Greece and Zanzibar. Those countries are both covered by this legislation and these provisions. I think your Lordships would find yourselves in a difficult spot if you had to defend the application of the law as it stands at the moment to deserters from Zanzibar. Fortunately, or unfortunately, it is not likely to happen, but I think your Lordships should have it in mind that that is the state of the law at present.

Indeed, it is possible to feel extremely strongly that the Americans are right to be in South-East Asia, and to have a tough view about conscientious objection, and still to support this Bill. I believe that my father, whom a number of noble Lords will have known in another place as a rather Right-wing Conservative Member of Parliament, would have taken exactly this attitude to this particular situation. As the noble Lord said, it is not as if we are offering all these people free entry. There are any number of safeguards. Our immigration laws are not wide open; nor are we without powers for dealing with people once they are in this country if they are a nuisance. Our obligations to our allies will be completely fulfilled, as the rest of our NATO allies fulfil them, when we pass, if we pass, this Bill.

What the Bill is about, and what I hope this debate will be about, is whether we should extend unnecessarily provisions which debar us from giving asylum to people when we want to; whether we should limit our sovereignty unnecessarily—totally unnecessarily—on the whole question of political asylum which has been for so long a great tradition in this country. The reasons for the present laws, as the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, said, are mysterious. I believe that this Bill should be passed. I shall listen with great interest, as always, to what noble Lords have to say, and particularly to what the noble Lord who speaks for the Government will have to say on this matter. After he has spoken, I am glad to say that the noble Lord, Lord Reay, will be speaking from these Benches and can possibly comment on the Government's point of view. But, my Lords, at the moment I feel that this Bill certainly should be passed, and I would urge noble Lords to pass it.

3.24 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, explained the purpose of this Bill with clarity in his speech; and in a speech of quite remarkable brevity from the Liberal Benches we have heard that the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of 'Whitley, agrees with what he has said. It might therefore be helpful to noble Lords who intend to take part in the debate if I were to say with equal clarity early on in the debate that the Government are not able to support this proposal to amend the law relating to deserters from the United States or other visiting forces in this country. We believe that a change on the lines proposed would do more harm than good, and if at the end of the debate the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, decides to put the matter to a Vote, I must recommend your Lordships to vote against the Bill's being given a Second Reading.

I shall try to avoid making a long speech, but I want to comment on some of the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, in moving the Second Reading of his Bill. In doing so I shall arrange my remarks under two heads: first, the detailed arguments for and against the Bill, including a summary of current practice in this country and overseas; and secondly, the wider context in which this Bill must be seen. The present practice is that under the provisions of the Visiting Forces Act 1952 a visiting force may itself arrest deserters from units stationed in the United Kingdom, since by virtue of Section 2 of the Act it exercises jurisdiction over members of its own forces here. A serviceman who has deserted from a base in this country, or goes absent without leave, is therefore liable to be arrested by the appropriate branch of his Service. If he gives himself up to our own police he may be handed back to the military authorities without any court proceedings. These powers would not be affected by the Bill.

In addition, however, the 1952 Act provides, as the noble Lord has explained, that on request by the Service authorities the police may arrest a person who is suspected of being a deserter and take him before a magistrates' court. If the court is satisfied as to his identity, and that there is sufficient evidence to justify his being tried for desertion or absence without leave, it will hand him over to the Service authorities. For this purpose it is immaterial whether the desertion occurred within or outside the United Kingdom. The 1952 Act is wide enough to allow deserters or persons absent without leave to be returned to any designated authority in this country, such as a military attaché, even though the country concerned may have no visiting force here.

My right honourable friend the Home Secretary was questioned in another place on November 5 about the current practice as regards deserters from the United States Armed Forces. It was suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, in his speech (and he was good enough to give me advance notice that he intended to raise this point) that a misunderstanding might have arisen about the powers of the American authorities in this respect. Let me therefore underline once again the distinction I have just made between the powers relating to those who have deserted from a unit in this country and those who have deserted from a unit based outside this country. The power of a visiting force to arrest a deserter itself is limited to persons who desert from units stationed in this country. No inference that the United States authorities go further than this should be drawn from my right honourable friend's remarks. I hope that this statement will amplify the previous replies. The noble Lord can be content that there is no question of a general rounding-up by the American authorities of deserters irrespective of what the Act permits.

However, the Bill in front of us does not deal with the position of deserters from bases within the United Kingdom. What we are considering to-day is the situation concerning persons deserting elsewhere. Much has been made of the argument that in its application to deserters and people who go absent without leave the Visiting Forces Act goes further than is necessary to meet our obligations under the Agreement regarding the Status of Forces of Parties to the North Atlantic Treaty—which, as an historical footnote, I see was signed by the noble Lord, Lord Inchyra, on behalf of the Government, in 1952. When the Bill was introduced it was made clear by the Home Secretary of the day that it was intended to go further than the provisions of the NATO Agreement.

For reasons which I shall explain the noble Lord is in eror in saying that this was inadvertent. What he and other noble Lords must remember is that the Visiting Forces Act is not only confined to the forces of NATO countries: it applies also to the forces of Commonwealth countries, and arrangements of the kind provided in the present Act date back to the Visiting Forces (British Commonwealth) Act 1933. It is just as much in our present interests as it was in 1952 to retain the well-established procedure for the apprehension and return of deserters wherever they desert from, and we see no reason to disturb the situation now. Nor is it only a question of restricting the procedure to those who desert here. One consequence of this Bill would be to remove any power to apprehend a deserter who had remained in this country after his unit (which might have come here for a training exercise) had departed. This kind of problem has arisen in relation to our own deserters in at least one NATO country.

My Lords, it has been pointed out—and this is a central part of the noble Lord's argument—that our NATO partners have not assumed obligations beyond those imposed by the Agreement. This is true, but it does not follow that we should not go further. It was never intended that our legislation should rest on the basis of reciprocal arrangements with other NATO countries, since there were already in existence these wider powers which had applied since 1933 to members of Commonwealth forces. The noble Lord who has brought forward this Bill has been assiduous in pursuing his researches about the practice of other countries, but I can supplement the picture he has given.

In six Commonwealth countries there is legislation similar to the Visiting Forces Act 1952, and thus their authorities have power to arrest and hand over deserters not only from visiting forces stationed in their country but also from forces stationed elsewhere in the world. The New Zealand legislation was extended as recently as 1969 to facilitate the apprehension and return of deserters known to be in New Zealand. The NATO Powers, on the other hand, including Canada, have in most instances limited themselves to legislation on the lines required by the Status of Forces of Parties to the North Atlantic Treaty. They therefore have no statutory powers under visiting forces legislation to arrest and hand over deserters other than those members of those forces stationed in their own country. There are, however, some important qualifications.

The Federal Republic of Germany, for example, has a bilateral agreement with the United States under which deserters from United States forces anywhere in Europe, if discovered in Germany, can be returned to United States jurisdiction. The United States places considerable emphasis on visa requirements for entry and powers under the Immigration and Naturalisation Act. I am also informed that, on the rare occasions when a deserter from NATO forces outside the United States has been apprehended within the United States and proceedings have been taken under the immigration laws, the Federal authorities have, on the request of the Government concerned, approached the prosecutor with a view to securing his agreement to the surrender of the individual to his own national authorities. Whether or not the prosecutor decides to comply with this request is entirely a matter for his discretion. This is regarded as the normal practice.

I hope that those of your Lordships who are going to speak in this debate and are in support of the Bill will be quite honest and will come out into the open. There is much more at stake here than just an amendment to the Visiting Forces Act. I wonder how many of your Lordships, with the exception of the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, who has exchanged views on this subject with the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, on a number of occasions in the past have any deep knowledge of the Visiting Forces Act. What is really at issue here, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, would accept, is whether those who desert from the American Armed Forces because they object to the war in Vietnam should be enabled to eater this country and freely remain here. Estimates of more than 80,000 persons a year have been given as the total numbers of American Servicemen who have deserted. Although this figure is considerably inflated by the fact that anyone who goes absent without leave for 30 days is classified as a deserter, it is still a substantial total. Very few have come to Britain, and we do not want to do anything to encourage a greater flow.


Hear, hear!


Since January, 1968, police records indicate that there have been only 10 cases (8 from units outside this country, and 2 from units based here) in which deserters from the United States Armed Forces have been arrested by our own police and, after the appropriate proceedings in a magistrate's court, handed over to the Service authorities. Occasionally there is a case which attracts public comment and sympathy. One recent instance mentioned by the noble Lord was the young American marine, Richard Lee Haywood, who had married an English girl.


My Lords, before the noble Lord leaves that point, I should like to say something. I think he has made a valid case, but may I ask him this question? In view of the fact that the German authorities have the bilateral agreement with the United States, but only as regards deserters from within Europe, can he give any indication as to the flow of American deserters into Germany? If one had those figures one could weigh them against the point which the noble Lord made: whether, if we met the case put forward by my noble friend Lord Gifford, it would cause a flow of deserters into this country.


My Lords, I do not have that information available, but—


My Lords, could the noble Lord seek to find out?


My Lords, I can seek to find out that information, and if it is possible to get an answer before the end of the debate I will give it to the noble Lord.

My Lords, I was about to move on to describe the establishment and the activities of an organisation called "The Union of American Exiles in Britain". This now exists as a pressure group to try to change our laws to enable deserters and draft resisters to be granted political asylum in this country on the grounds of their opposition to the Vietnam war. I will quote the actual words used by the organisation itself to describe its current British campaign: There has been no fair play whatsoever shown by the British Government to American citizens who have been made refugees because of their refusal to become complicit with their Government in the continuing crime which has been and is the American devastation of Vietnam. Every British subject can help restore a sense of fair play and of justice, and of adherence to codes of international law and order (not to mention the U.N. Charter) by aiding the British campaign in calling attention to the complicity and silence of the British Government in response to the question of American refugees. Incidentally, my Lords, this is not the first time that attempts have been made to relax our practice concerning deserters from the United States armed forces, and I shall listen with great interest to what any noble Lord speaking from the Front Bench opposite has to say. When in Government the Labour Party were quite explicit in their opposition to any attempt to relax the law concerning American deserters. Perhaps I may refer your Lordships to a Written Answer in another place on July 4, 1968 [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, col. 255]: MR. FRANK ALLAUN asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will introduce legislation to amend the Visiting Forces Act to prevent the United States servicemen who have deserted because of conscientious objection to the war in Vietnam from being handed over to the United States military forces. MR. ELYSTAN MORGAN: No. My Lords, I do not base my case, in asking your Lordships to reject this Bill, simply on a distaste for the opinion of extremist organisations which aim to bring pressure on Parliament, whatever language they employ. Nor do I propose to be drawn into a discussion on whether the United States is right or wrong in its interpretation of what does or does not amount to justifiable conscientious objection to military service. That, my Lords, is surely a matter for them. Whether or not the United States Government decides on compulsory military service, and the means by which young men are selected for that service, is no business of ours. We would resent it if the United States Congress expressed opinions on our domestic legislation and Americans would be entitled to resent our trying to tell them who should or should not serve in their armed forces.

What is within our control is the grounds on which we grant political asylum, and here there are some well recognised guidelines. I can do no better than quote my predecessor at the Home Office, the noble Lord, Lord Stonham. On March 5, 1968, the noble Lord told the House (OFFICIAL REPORT, col. 1334): In considering applications, our practice is to grant asylum if it is reasonable to suppose that the result of refusing admission to a foreign national will be his return to a country in which, on grounds of politics, race or religion, he will face danger to life or liberty, or persecution of such a kind and extent as to render life insupportable. … The fear of persecution must be well founded, and the persecution which is feared must amount to more than a penalty imposed for a breach of the law. In other words, it has to be shown that the penalty imposed on an individual by the legal processes of his country, and which may be awaiting him if he is forced to return, amounts to persecution and not just to punishment. It follows that where, in a democracy, a man seeks to evade the military service to which he and his fellow-countrymen are liable, and is thereby vulnerable to criminal proceedings, such a situation cannot be regarded, in itself, as satisfying the criterion for political asylum. A foreign national with conscientious objection to military service should make his case for exemption to the authorities of his own country. In conclusion, we see it as a sensible part of our relationship with out NATO allies, and with the countries of the Commonwealth, that we should be ready to assist them in the recovery of persons who have deserted from their armed forces. The obligation of a member of a country's armed forces—and it does not matter which—must for obvious reasons be strict, and it is unrealistic to believe that the law can recognise some sort of "justified desertion" which excuses the deserter from the normal consequences of his act. It would be inconsistent for the Government to appear to condone conduct which we should regard as inexcusable in members of our own Armed Forces. Nor do we believe that it would be in our interests, either at home or abroad, to encourage disaffected members of the forces of friendly countries to look for refuge in this country.

Neither the war in Vietnam, nor the activities of the Union of American Exiles in Britain, nor the eloquence of the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, are grounds for altering our practice. We have a law which has worked perfectly satisfactorily in practice for 18 years and, like our predecessors, the Government see no reason to change it now. Accordingly, my Lords, I must advise the House to oppose a Second Reading.


My Lords, the noble Lord mentioned that there was one instance where the British Government had had difficulty in the case of a deserter—I think he said in another country. I take it that he is not basing his case on the need for any reciprocity; he is just saying that this law suits us. Could he tell us the name of the country in question and the outcome of that particular instance? I do not know whether it is material, but since he mentioned it perhaps we should know.


My Lords, I am very willing to give the noble Lord the information for which he asks. I may not have been explaining my argument as clearly as I should have been, because it is a subsidiary point and not in the main line of the argument. The point I was making was that under the Bill there would be no power to apprehend a deserter who had remained in this country once his unit had departed. It is a half-way house; it is not exactly a unit based in this country, nor is it exactly a unit based overseas. It is one that has come here for training; the chap deserts; the unit goes and he stays. It is a very complicated situation. The country where there have been problems of this sort is Canada.

3.47 p.m.


My Lords, I feel impelled to begin by expressing my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, for introducing this Bill. I am quite sure that I am speaking on behalf of Members of the House on all sides in paying a tribute to the ability with which he introduced it. That has been recognised by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, and also by the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, in his tribute to its clarity. May I say this? I find one argument in favour of hereditary Peers in this Chamber is the ability of their young sons to put a case to the House. May I also just say to the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, that I regret that I am replying to him. I should much have preferred to speak before him, because in all my personal contact on many issues I have found how reasonable and responsive he has been. I hope that, despite the speech which he has just delivered, he will listen to the arguments which will be put forward in this debate and be prepared, in that broadminded way which I know he holds, to consider the case that we are seeking to put forward.

I appreciate that this issue goes beyond the war in Vietnam, but I want to respond to the appeal of the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, and be quite frank about this matter. It is the war in Vietnam which has made this issue of immediate importance. As he indicated in a rather strange phrase, my attitude on this issue does not date only from the Vietnam war, but in facing this issue one must recognise the climate in the world about the Vietnam war. One must recognise that world opinion generally is probably more critical of this war than of any war since the Boer War at the beginning of this century. It is in that atmosphere and climate that we must look at this particular issue this afternoon. I do not know whether there has ever been a situation in which a Government engaged in war has aroused so much opposition within its country, as there is in the United States of America to-day over the war in Vietnam.

The figure which the noble Lord gave, of 80,000 men who in one year are refusing, either by tearing up their draft cards or by deserting, to fight in the Vietnam war is absolutely amazing—


No, my Lords; I qualified that figure. First, it is not my estimate; I merely quoted the estimate that has been made. And I qualified it by saying that the figure is inflated because it includes numbers of people who go absent without leave for a period of just over 30 days. They may have deserted not on grounds of opposition to the Vietnam war, but for some other cause.


My Lords, but does it not exclude the men who have deserted but have not yet deserted for 30 days? Would not the numbers of such cases balance the others, and about make up the number?


My Lords, I am not going to argue about that because I have never used such a large figure as the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, used today. It is absolutely unique in history that when a Government is engaged in war there should be such opposition from within its country to the war, and so much refusal to serve. I am not arguing that this should be the determining reason for our vote to-day; I am saying that in the climate of world opinion, opinion in this country and opinion in America itself, we have at least to consider whether or not this Bill should be supported.

I want to address this argument to the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham. It is the general principle that a country does not deport and extradite from its territority anyone who has committed an offence which is not an offence in that country. Under British law, many of those who are now extradited, or are in danger of being extradited, would not have committed an offence. It is doubtful whether they would have been deserters at all. We have a law which is more tolerant to those who feel it wrong to engage in war than the laws of any other country in the world; and to that I pay my tribute. Our laws regarding conscientious objection are extraordinarily broad in their interpretation; they not only apply to a man or woman who is a religious objector, or an absolute pacifist; they apply also to men and women who believe that a particular war is wrong. I have knowledge of this issue because I took a test case to the appeal tribunal, and the tribunal agreed that if any man or woman felt it within themselves to be wrong to fight in a particular war they should be accepted as conscientious objectors.

That law applied not only under conscription; it applies to-day. Any man in the British forces who adopts the attitude of conscientious objection has the right to go to a tribunal and appeal on that ground. Therefore, if this position had arisen in this country, and we were at war—not only when we are at war: it applies in peace time—a man in the forces would have the right, under the broad law in this country, to make an appeal of conscientious objection on political grounds. Therefore I am right in saying that by the practice of extradition we are now denying the basic principle of our law to these men opposed to fighting in Vietnam. In this country they would have the right to appeal to a tribunal and receive its judgment.

The noble Lord has referred to the law in America upon this aspect. He is probably aware that in America the right of conscientious objection to war is limited to those who have religious objections. In some States it is limited only to those who belong to a religious organisation which has that principle, and even only to those who are descendants of families which have that principle. Therefore in this Bill we are extraditing people to America who would not be breaking a law in this country. I urge the noble Lord to look upon that deep-rooted principle and consider whether we are not repudiating it when we, under this Bill, are sending back to America those who would not necessarily be guilty of any offence if they were in this country.

I want to go further than that. There are many precedents in this country when extradition laws have applied and when the people concerned have been regarded as political refugees. I can illustrate a case from my own experience of a boy in Spain who refused to fight in the Spanish Navy. He came to this country illegally and, after a debate in another place, was not returned to Spain, where he would have come under prosecution and suffered severe imprisonment for his offence. That is not only a ruling in this country. I take a recent example: Turkey has now refused to extradite hijackers from Soviet Russia on the grounds that it is a political offence. I want to urge upon the Minister that we have to accept the principle that these men are, in spirit and essence, political refugees when they refuse to take part in a war which they regard as wrong, even if only from a political point of view—


My Lords, I wonder whether my noble friend will allow me to ask him a question for the purpose of clearing my mind, and maybe the minds of others as well. He mentioned the case of the person who was to have been extradited to Spain. I remember the case particularly and, as my noble friend may recall, I spoke on it. But is the noble Lord now saying that there is no difference between the situation in Spain and in the United States; that in the United States they have no more politcal liberty or powers than in Spain? Is he saying that the case is on all fours?


My Lords, I would never think of that. I have been to the United States of America and have been tremendously impressed by the tolerance and freedom with which one can express views there. I have been there and denounced the Vietnam war, and been allowed to do so. That would not be permitted in Spain, which has a neo-Fascist régime. All I am saying is that if these men are extradited to the United States of America, at the very minimum they are liable to imprisonment for five years, and they may be liable to imprisonment for 20 years. Therefore the consequence of their extradition is probably as severe as it might have been in Spain if the man had been extradited there.

I have listened with great interest, because my knowledge has been increased, to the examination by the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, of the position of other NATO nations upon this issue. So far as I can understand, we are the only country in NATO which goes beyond the NATO Agreement. The noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, mentioned the Federation of Western Germany. If I was hearing him aright—I may not have been, because I was interrupted—he was saying that Western Germany has an arrangement with the United States of America whereby deserters from other European countries who go into Western Germany may be extradited.


My Lords, deserters from the United States forces anywhere in Europe.


Anywhere in Europe, which is exactly the point I was making. They must go to Western Germany from another European country before extradition. If they go directly from the United States of America into Western Germany they are not liable to extradition in the same way that they are here. Therefore that instance which the noble Lord gave as supporting the attitudes in this country hardly bears examination.


No, my Lords, I think it is very relevant, because it is an instance of where the practice of a NATO country goes further than is required by the NATO Agreement. Western Germany also has provisions similar to the other NATO countries, but beyond that it has entered into a bilateral arrangement with the United States.


My Lords, I accept that; but to say that because one other country has some departure is justification for this country going very much further is not an argument that I can accept. I was going to point out that there are two other NATO countries which signed the NATO Agreement and which took a very different line from ours. There is Canada—Canada very near to the United States of America; Canada very much under the influence of the United States of America. In May, 1969, the Canadian Government decided to give de facto immigrant status, with the right to work, to deserters and draft resisters, except those who were in American bases; and that is the argument in the Bill which is now before this House. The other case is that of France, which has given de facto asylum both to draft resisters and to deserters entering that country from the United States of America. They must report to police stations, and when they have done that they are given the right not only to stay but to obtain work in France.

I speak deeply on this issue because, though it may not be understood, I have enormous appreciation of the tradition of liberty which is allowed in this country. I have deep appreciation of the law in this country which respects those who believe that war is wrong and that a particular war is wrong. That, with our tradition of tolerance, we should now be extraditing these men back to America for an offence which would not necessarily be an offence in our country, and which, from my contact with many of them, is to them a deep moral issue—believing the Vietnam war is wrong, believing it would be wrong for them to engage in it, believing that they would be destroying the very soul of their own personalities if they continued to fight—that is a thing of shame to me. I hope that the majority in this House will support the Bill which the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, has put forward.

4.5 p.m.


My Lords, having listened to the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, with great interest, I shall be very brief. While I do not for one moment doubt the sincerity of the views which motivate the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, in moving the Second Reading of his Bill—if I may say so, he did it superbly—I am bound to say that I take a completely opposite view to him, and I consider the purpose of the Bill to be indefensible.

What are we being asked to do? Put simply, we are being asked to amend the present law and henceforth permit young men from the United States, and indeed from other allied and Commonwealth countries, who have deserted from the service of their own forces on so-called "grounds of conscience", to remain at liberty in the United Kingdom as deserters. In my view, and I speak now as a former soldier, apart perhaps from cowardice in the face of the enemy there is no more despicable crime that a serviceman can commit than to desert. Let us be under no illusions as to what this means; it means deserting his country and his comrades. You cannot class deserters as being similar to political refugees. In my view, they are not one and the same thing. What the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, is really seeking to do is to get Her Majesty's Government to grant political asylum in the United Kingdom to all those who wish to come here, having deserted from the United States forces because they perhaps object to the Vietnam war. As my noble friend Lord Windlesham has already pointed out—


My Lords, before the noble Lord leaves his general comments about deserters, may I ask him whether he would apply the term "a despicable crime" to, for instance, a young Russian soldier who deserted from the invading forces in Czechoslovakia, because I would not.


Yes, my Lords, I would. As I was saying, my noble friend Lord Windlesham has pointed out that successive Home Secretaries of both political Parties have consistently maintained the view that conscientious objection to military service is not, in itself, a ground for political asylum. My Lords, is it really for us to interfere on whether or not the United States Government should require its own nationals to serve, on a selected basis, in its own armed forces? I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, is not suggesting that the United States Government is not democratically elected. I believe any such interference on our part would be greatly resented. I put it to your Lordships that some noble Lords opposite might perhaps be a little busy in poking their noses into the affairs of other sovereign States. I suggest it is an impertinence.

As the law stands at present, as your Lordships know, it is obligatory that, once arrested, a deserter shall be handed over to the military authorities of his own country. It is automatic. I hope it will remain so. I know of no case where the Act has not worked satisfactorily over the past 18 years, and I can see no justification whatsoever for altering the present situation. I shall oppose the Bill that is before us, and I hope those other noble Lords who, like me, do not wish to see our country become a haven for deserters and drop-outs—and it could do so—will do the same.

4.10 p.m.


My Lords, I listened fascinated to the noble Lord, Lord Napier and Ettrick. He spoke as a soldier, he spoke as a patriot, and I think the key to his entire philosophy of life was shown when he replied to my noble friend Lord Gifford that he would consider a Russian soldier who deserted at the time of the invasion of Czechoslovakia unworthy of pclitical asylum. I understand that point of view, and the point of view of those who deeply believe, "My country, right or wrong", or "My Party, right or wrong".

I came to the House this afternoon pleased that on these Benches we had a free vote; but I was dismayed to be told that the Government Whips will be on on the other side. The noble Lord opposite indicates that I am wrong. It is only a recommendation. Good! I think one has here the basic distinction between two different philosophies which are not allowed to exist side by side in authoritarian countries whether of the Right or of the Left. It is something which makes us love our country.

It has been a great tradition in this country that when a man or woman had real conscientious objection, we should not confine that objection to a narrow religious base, and if that objection was held on broad terms it would be respected by one's fellows. We are dealing with a profoundly important issue this afternoon. I do not believe it matters whether those involved can be numbered in tens or in hundreds. I believe that the numbers are very small, but that is not the essence of the matter. The essence of it is that we live in a country where, again and again, men have suffered agonies because of a point of view which, at a particular moment, might not be that of their country or of their Party.

When I heard my noble friend Lord Brockway speak, I remembered what it meant as a child of a little over nine years of age to have a father who was opposing his trade union movement; opposing the Labour Party and opposing his Labour Member of Parliament. That was before the 1914–18 war. There can be agonies for those who are out of line. The soldier in the front line has to face dangers and take all the risks, but I hope noble Lords will accept from me that there can be real agony not only for the men who stand apart, but also for their wives, their children and their parents. There can be punishments which go far beyond the period of gaol which may have to be served, and people's work may be undermined.

If we look back at the history of our country, can we really say that men and women who have been personally known to many of us in your Lordships' House were cowards and second-rate citizens? I remember that the loneliness of my father's position was changed during the First World War when "Peace by negotiation" came into my home. There was Ponsonby, E. D. Morrell, Charles Trevelyan, Wedgwood Benn and Lord Brockway. Where is Lord Archibald, who ought to be here? There was a whole array of them. They had to face their punishments and their dangers. I remember a meeting about "Peace by negotiation", which Lord Kirkwood held in our area. When the crowd got rough he said, "If there is a better man here, let him come and take my place from me", In other words, he was not my noble friend Lord Soper; he was not a pacifist. But again and again we have added to the status of our country, and to the respect which it has in the world, because we have not been afraid of disagreement. That is the issue which we are considering to-day.

Many of us cannot take the view of, "My country, right or wrong". That does not mean that we disagree on small issues. I have never been able to take the view, "My Party, right or wrong". I was out of it for 13 years, and one does not do that lightly or frivolously. It means breaking with one's closest friends, with one's background and all the rest. But if we have a law in this country which respects the conscientious objector with political or social objections as well as with religious objections, is it right that we should send back to America these young Americans who are going back not to a neo-Fascist Spain, as my noble friend Lord Brockway pointed out, but to a country which does not make provision for a person whose objections are basically social and political?

I think it is right and wise that we should not dwell too much in this debate on whether or not we think America is justified in its Vietnam policy; I think that that would obscure the issue. But there is a considerable minority opinion in America which believes that America has entered a war which cannot be supported, so it is inevitable that there should be young Americans in this country with that point of view. What are we going to do? Are we going to give them the traditional British right of asylum? Are we going to allow them to remain in a country where there is this right of political and social objection? Or do we really think that it is in the British tradition, that it is worthy of our past and worthy of what we hope our future will be, that we should take such a narrow legalistic view? We shall not be robbing America of one single soldier, because although a brave man fights for what he believes in he cannot be made to fight when he does not believe in something.

Having listened to the compassionate and very moderate case which my noble friend Lord Gifford put, and which has since been supported, I hope that we shall not regard this as a Party issue when we come to vote. This is a great humanist issue and it is a reflection of our total values. Therefore, I hope that my noble friend Lord Gifford will have your Lordships' support.

4.18 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to make what will surely be the shortest speech in the debate, which has so far been remarkable for the fact that everybody who has spoken has held the strongest possible convictions, but has expressed them with the greatest possible moderation. I think we received an extremely good lead in that respect from the noble Lord, Lord Gifford.

I wish to make only three points. I came with a speech absolutely peppered with constitutional and legal points, every one of which has been swept up with great ability by my noble friend Lord Windlesham. I am not going to follow the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, into that strange shadowy country which Marshal Saxe, that great European soldier, once described when he said that the science of war was full of shadows as to what constituted a respectable war and what constituted the reverse.

In very sincerely praising the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, for its clarity and moderation, I could not escape the feeling that an undertone was there when he spoke of the draft-dodgers, as we call them, and the deserters. He admired them for their act of conscience. When they were called up they either fled the country in the first place, or took the Oath and enlisted and then fled the country afterwards. I think that when he reads his speech in Hansard he will feel it is not unreasonable that many of us are driven to the belief that he sees these men as possessing a much higher quotient of conscience and honour than those who are actually risking their lives in the field of battle. He may or may not have intended that, but when he reads his speech in Hansard I think he will find that that impression is there.




Perhaps when he reads his own speech he will think it over himself.

Now Canada was mentioned, and I should just like to make one very small point on that. I was five years in the Canadian Army during the war and, for 24 years after it, on the Reserve, and I am very interested in two quotations made about Canada, one by Mr. Allan MacEacher, and one about Canada in general by Lord Brockway. It is really very important, to get the true picture, to realise what a massive argument geography provides: 3,000 miles of unpatrolled and unpatrollable country, with a border which, from the point of view of those born in the countries on either side of it, you can pass with as little formality as you pass from England to Scotland or vice versa. That has a very important bearing, I think, on Canada's attitude.

Last of all, in order to be quite sure that my speech is the shortest, I should just like to express this view. We in this country have never been a great land Power, although we were once a very great sea Power. We have always been a genius in alliance. Alliances, like friendships, remain strong so long as you keep them in repair. I believe that if we took such a gratuitous action as passing this Bill, though not many people may be involved, it would have a very bad effect on our relations with the Americans. For that reason, and for others that other noble Lords have stated as well, I shall feel impelled to vote against it.

4.22 p.m.


My Lords, I thought, as did many other noble Lords who followed him, that the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, made an extremely well-argued and well-delivered speech in support of his own Bill. However, I do not accept some of the reasons (even what I suspect to be the main reason, because it is the emotional reason, and the reason mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Tweedsmuir) held by most of those who support this Bill and advanced by them as reasons why we should support it. I do not accept that we should be asked to vote for this Bill, which would benefit deserters from the Armed Forces of foreign countries, out of a respect for their integrity of conscience, out of a duty to pay regard to decisions taken on that superior moral level.

It seems to me that liberals feel themselves obliged to give a moral description to the behaviour of anyone whose cause they wish to advance. In this case, of course, I am not using the word "liberal" in order to focus an attack on my colleagues on these Benches. Far from it: I am using it in a much wider sense. I am using it to refer to what is perhaps the idealistic element in all of us. The reason why I do not accept this argument is partly because this is an inadequate description of the person who will benefit by this Bill and partly because, even if it were an adequate description, it would not provide an adequate reason for supporting the Bill. I do not believe that we should change the law in order to accommodate the refinements of conscience of this particular foreign minority.

The sponsors of this Bill, and some of its supporters, are very anxious to engage our respect for those who desert from foreign, and in particular the American, Armed Forces. In a document which I still believe emanated from the authorship of the noble Lord who introduced this Bill rather than from one of the massed lobbies which we were warned he had assembled behind him, there is this sentence: What was conceived"— referring to the 1952 Act— as a convenient means of dealing with the conventional type of deserter has been used to oppress young men who, whether one believes them to be courageous or misguided, have acted according to their conscience". The noble Lord, Lord Gifford, expressed similar sentiments in his speech.

A little further on in this document the author goes further. He compares the inequality of treatment accorded in this country to those who have resisted the draft as compared with those who have deserted from foreign forces, and he says: Indeed, there is reason to pay greater tribute to those who have been to Vietnam, experienced the reality of the war and have the courage to obey their conscience rather than their superior officers". I believe that such arguments are nonsense. People who desert from armies do so for a variety of reasons. If you bring morality into it, you must consider that some have base motives if you wish also to believe that some have motives which are sublime. I appreciate the humanity of the noble Baroness, Lady Lee of Asheridge, but on the whole I do not consider it necessary to bring morality into this argument. Personally, I would tend to expect deserters to include a fair number of disturbed or psychotic individuals, of those who are anti-social rather than social; and I do not believe that we can measure the value of this Bill by the contribution that they are likely to make as a group to our society.

However, the fact that the sponsors of this Bill have adduced reasons for supporting it which are invalid, even if they have put great emphasis on those reasons, does not mean that the Bill itself is bad. On the contrary, as I shall argue, there are very good grounds for supporting this Bill. The inequality of treatment given to deserters as opposed to draft resisters, who may legitimise their position in this country by qualifying as visitors, as students or as alien workers, is a good argument.

But I consider there is a better argument. It seems to me that the intention behind international agreements of this sort—and I call the existing law an international agreement, because it has the function of an international agreement by being a law in support of other Governments' institutions—must be to support foreign Governments in situations where their interests are common to ours, and such laws as these have in the past grown up in response to the demand of particular situations in which this community of interest was recognised.

Now I should like to repeat some of the words which were used by Sir David Maxwell Fyfe (as he then was), in introducing the Visiting Forces Bill in 1952, and which were quoted by Lord Gifford. He said: These provisions are somewhat wider than is strictly required by the NATO Agreement, but they repeat the arrangements which were made in the 1933 Act for the Commonwealth forces and were extended during the war to Allied forces".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, 17/10/52, col. 568.] In other words, it was only under the exigencies of war time, when a community of vital interests was undeniable, that provisions such as those now in force were extended to nations other than those of the Commonwealth. The noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, said that it was in our own interests to retain the 1933 provision in relation to the Commonwealth. But, so far as the Commonwealth are concerned, there are surely few who would now dispute that our expectations for common military action in the face of common danger are not the same to-day as they were in 1933. And, of course, in many cases the status of the countries within the Commonwealth has changed from that of Colonies to that of independent countries. So far as the post-war situation is concerned, which the 1952 Act was designed to fit, it was admitted even by the movers of that Bill that it went further than our obligations under the Treaty demanded.

Now it does not seem to me an important matter whether this was intentional or whether this was inadvertent. It seems to me understandable that in the early days of NATO we should have agreed to go beyond our strict requirements in the interests of a new international organisation for mutual defence of which we were then recent members. Such enthusiasm towards co-operation was perhaps our way of expressing that we really wished to be a member of that organisation; for we are aware that we otherwise should have some difficulty in persuading foreign countries that we really wish to join associations of foreign Powers for particular purposes, where these are not based on the Commonwealth, even when we do wish to join them.

But even if that is not the explanation, the situation since those days eighteen years ago has changed again. In the last few years the United States has been engaged in a war to which it has committed vast resources, material and emotional, of its own. This war has been a far more important consideration, a far more vital problem, to that country's Government—indeed to its successive Governments—than has NATO defence It has brought down an Administration; it has fragmented a society; and yet in that war we have had no vital interest.

It does not matter whether you approve or disapprove of that war; it does not even matter if you argue that the United States' conduct of that war was important to us because it was, globally speaking, essential to defy Communism at that point and because Communism is our dedicated enemy. Even such an argument is unimportant; and it is unimportant because one single fact proves that the Vietnam war was not vital to us; it was not vital to us because in defence of vital situations we have a tradition of committing troops of our own. It is one of our finest traditions, a tradition to which, perhaps, we owe our survival. Yet to the Vietnam war we never sent a single man.

Throughout such a period, however, this law remained to support an ally in a military capacity in a field in which we were not allied. This seems to me to be a superfluous capacity, one which has not been characteristic of laws such as our present law nor of our present law itself as established in 1952. When the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, gave us his example of the problem of the man who has been left behind following the withdrawal of his unit, I would say that that may be a problem; but in that case let us have a reciprocal agreement. He brought in the question of the United States Agreement with Germany. All right! But that was a bilateral Agreement. A precedent for the general support for foreign Governments' military policies has developed by accident, and I see no argument for continuing it. In 1942 or 1952 we extended assistance in return for assistance that was being extended to us. In 1970, there is no longer a reason not to revert to this admirable principle. To pass this Bill, therefore, would be to revert to tradition and not to abandon it.

To those who say that this matter is not important, that it is not worth this debate or these arguments, I would say that it is important because it gives us an opportunity of defining more clearly the manner in which we wish to have relationships with foreign countries. Therefore I feel that we should be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, for introducing this Bill; and, for the arguments I have given, I believe that it should be given a Second Reading this afternoon.

4.33 p.m.


My Lords, we have just listened to a most thoughtful and, in the context of the debate, unusual speech from the noble Lord, Lord Reay. I find myself experiencing a certain pleasure at hearing a speech not wholly in favour of Lord Gifford's Bill coming, if not from the Labour Benches, at least from the other side of the House; for it looked as though there might be a certain polarisation across the Floor; and that would be a pity. I am going to speak against the Bill but I do not identify myself for that reason with my Party. I feel that it would be a pity, as the noble Baroness, Lady Lee, said, if we came out for or against this Bill according to Party lines.

About the debate initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, I wonder whether the noble Lord himself, having made what others rightly described as an admirably restrained speech on the subject, is quite happy at the way the debate has turned out. It may be that he is. But what has happened, it seems to me, is that we have had a debate about the rights and wrongs of conscientious objection. The Bill is not about conscientious objection at all. It is not even about conscientious desertion, so far as I know, although it certainly was on that aspect of desertion that the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, placed his emphasis.

We might do well to consider exactly what is a conscientious deserter. Can any noble Lord tell me how, when a man who has deserted, whether it be in Vietnam or in Berlin, arrives in England, it is possible to tell whether he deserted for conscientious reasons? Surely the conscientious factor must be established before he deserts. It is easy for a man to say that he had to desert because he does not believe in what his country is doing, or because he loathed the jobs that he was called upon to do. The story of the American who married the English girl, who came here, was arrested and was sent away, it seems to me (without withholding sympathy for the young man) has nothing to do with any kind of evidence that he was in fact a conscientious deserter.

If a man joins the army, particularly the American Army, and has a conscientious objection, he still is drafted in (as can happen under American law); and he may find himself in action against the enemy in Vietnam and may be appalled by what he finds. There is the story of the man who deserted, having been withdrawn from Vietnam. He was in Europe and he could not face a second term. What upset him in the first place was to find himself in a helicopter ordered to shoot at anything that moved in a village below. He saw his cannon-fire destroying women and children. That is a horrifying experience; but it is not reasonable to say that desertion, even under the strongest compulsion of con-science, is the only course open to him. There is another course open and that is next time to refuse to obey the order. The American forces, like our own and like every other, are subject to the same kind of military law which requires a man in general to obey orders. If a man thinks that those orders are unlawful—and shooting women and children is unlawful—he is not only allowed to disobey them but it is his duty to do so. That defence is open to him at a court martial; and that defence is the same in the American Army, Air Force and Navy as it is in ours.

So I think it goes a little far to suggest that when a man in such a position elects to desert and to run away he is taking the most courageous line. It may be that he is; but I should myself have greater admiration for the man who stays and refuses to obey the orders, even if the orders are lawful, and faces the music, goes to prison and takes it like a man. I have more admiration for him than for the man who withdraws himself from the position of ever having received an order that he disliked, and who runs away to escape the consequences of his action. I do not care for that man.

And when he has done it and comes here, how are we to find out whether he has done so conscientiously or not? But suppose we can. Let us suppose that the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, intended that this Bill should be about conscientious objection. We then have the argument which formed the greater part of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, who said that in deporting these men we should be deporting them for something which would not be a crime if committed by members of our own forces. I do not think that that is quite true. What we are deporting them for—if "deporting" is the word—is desertion. It is quite simple. That is what the Bill is about. No man is deported from here and handed over to the American forces, whether he is stationed in Great Britain, Germany or Vietnam, for refusing to obey orders to fight the enemy. He is arrested and handed over for desertion. The two things are not the same. It is possible to refuse to obey orders; to refuse to shoot the enemy; to refuse to serve in Vietnam. Surely, if you do that, you will promptly be arrested and tried by court-martial; but by the time you get here you have done something else as well—that is, deserted—and that is what these men are handed over for.

Now, my Lords, with that in mind I turn to my last point. Suppose the thinking behind the speeches of the noble Lords who have spoken, including the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, be accepted (as your Lordships will see, I do not accept it) and what was desired now was to exempt conscientious deserters from the provisions of the Visiting Forces Act 1952. If that were what was intended, the Bill we are debating would not be the one required for the purpose, because there is nothing whatever in it, by innuendo, implication, print or anything else, to suggest that it has the slightest connection with conscience. It may be a good Bill or it may not be a good Bill; but it certainly does not follow from anything that has been said by the noble Lords who have argued the case on the grounds of conscientious objection or conscientious desertion.

My Lords, in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, and the noble Lord, Lord Reay, I would simply say, in a word or so, that whether or not we should have reciprocal laws with other countries, whether we should rescind our perfectly good law, as it seems to us, because others do not have it, seems totally irrelevant. We make our own laws, my Lords, and I hope that we shall not make this one.

4.42 p.m.


My Lords, from time to time I felt that I was in agreement with the noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery. Although he said that this Bill was not about conscientious objectors, he seemed to keep coming back to that; and, if I may say so, the noble Earl rather contradicted himself. As I thought my noble friend Lord Gifford made clear in his admirable presentation of his Bill, this is a Bill concerned with desertion. It is not the quality of desertion with which we are concerned; it is the act of desertion. It is desertion by a soldier from a visiting force, but who has not deserted from a base in this country. The noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, put the case to us of what one does with the deserter who deserts from a visiting force's base and then the visiting force leaves? I am not a lawyer, but it would seem to me that he is a deserter in the terms of the Visiting Forces Act as those of us would like to see it amended by my noble friend Lord Gifford.

I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Reay, kept us rather on a tightrope, because until the end of his speech I did not know whether he was for or against the Bill. He must have raised the Minister's hopes only to let him down at the very end. The noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, said one thing that rather surprised me. I am sure that he did not intend it in that way, but it seemed to me that there was a slight element of smear in his remark that nobody knew about the Visiting Forces Act and that very few people were concerned about it until the Vietnam argument started. I put it to the noble Lord that ignorance should not always be said to be motivated by some sort of sinister attitude; and that the reason why many people did not know about the Act was, presumably, there were not so many deserters, and therefore we did not know about it at all. Regarding my own very minor Act of Parliament, which I got through at the end of the last Parliament—the Indecent Advertisements Act—I would not have known anything about the old law which I was amending unless the matter had arisen because of some action we were taking. I think that perhaps the noble Lord—as I am sure he intended to be—might have been a little more generous about the motives of some of us, and certainly of those of us who support this Bill.

The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, that this applies also to the Commonwealth, is rather a boomerang because the Commonwealth, certainly as it was in 1933, was really the Empire; and even to-day one may argue that the Commonwealth is a family affair and, therefore, there should be a family relationship between members of the Commonwealth. But one cannot call NATO a family affair—perhaps not even an extramarital affair. It is a group of allies, and often we find ourselves with some very strange bedfellows. I should like to ask the Minister—I will certainly give way to him if he wishes to comment on it—whether the way the Act operates at the moment is that if a Greek soldier deserted from the Greek Army, and the present Greek Government or the Greek Army asked us to arrest the man and send him back, we would then, would we not, be forced to do so? I take it that the answer is, "Yes".


My Lords, that sort of question is not best put quickly across the Floor of the House in the course of an exchange of this sort. It is a detailed one. If the noble Baroness wants to give advance warning, or would like a reply afterwards, I should be happy to give it.


My Lords, I must say to the noble Lord that if I were going to put something about which I felt that he should have had advance warning, I should certainly have given it. But, in the context of this debate on the Bill, Greece is a member of NATO and, therefore, if the noble Lord is hesitating about that, what is the whole thing about? Either it is legal and it is an Act of Parliament, in which case it must be followed for all contracting parties, which I think was his own phrase; or, if we are going to differentiate, then we are getting involved in the very sort of thing that those of us who are supporting Lord Gifford's Bill are very worried about getting involved in; and this goes far beyond the question of Vietnam. I think I have proved that quite clearly. This is why, apart from the morality—about which my noble friends Lord Brockway and Lady Lee of Asheridge spoke most movingly—there is a lack of common sense. There is an unreasonableness about it and it is getting us into the sort of situation (it may do so even more in the future) which creates tremendous complications for us because of an involvement that we should not have.

The noble Lord, Lord Napier and Ettrick, said that we should not be poking our noses into the affairs of other sovereign States. With great respect, my Lords, that is exactly what we are doing at the moment; and it is exactly what my noble friend wants us to stop doing. It is not a question of deciding whether somebody is a conscientious objector, whether they are a draftee, or whether they should have political asylum. These things are quite irrelevant to this Bill. All the Bill says is that we should not accept the request of another Power to arrest a deserter, unless that deserter has deserted from a base in this country; in other words, it applies to visiting forces. As the Minister pointed out in the first part of his speech, which he headed "Detailed arrangements", the situation at the present time is that the person is brought before a magistrates' court and the magistrates have no choice, once the identity of the person has been established and they are satisfied he is a deserter, but to hand him over to the authorities of the country from the army of which he has deserted.

If we did not keep on saying "America", but related this matter to the whole of NATO, and even the Commonwealth if you like, we should perhaps get it in a better perspective. I am a magistrate, and up to now I have been fortunate in not having had a case of this sort before me. I should have to interpret the law—I should have no alternative. It is no use the Minister shaking his head: that is so. I should be extremely unhappy about it, because although it may be the law to my mind it certainly would not be justice. I find it uncivilised because we are put in the position of indulging in a manhunt which really should not concern us.

Finally, my Lords, the fact that the last Government did not change the law does not mean that it is necessarily right and I should have thought that this was an opportunity for this Government to put it right. I firmly believe that if the Visiting Forces Act in its original form had been before Parliament to-day it would not have got through in that form. From both sides of the House and from all political Parties, Members would have pointed out the defects and the Bill would have been amended. We should not have had the present Act of 1952, but an Act much more along the lines of the Bill proposed by my noble friend Lord Gifford.

4.50 p.m.


My Lords, we have had a most interesting debate this afternoon, and the views which have been expressed from all parts of the House have gone from one extreme to another. At the outset I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, on introducing what is in essence a controversial Bill with, if I may say so, moderation, great care, great clarity and with much persuasion. He certainly made out his case as well as it could be done. I commend his Bill for one good reason—that it is brief; but I regret that that is as far as my commendation of it can go.

The noble Lord has explained the main purpose of the Bill, which is to alter the existing law in order to allow young men who have deserted or gone absent without leave in other countries, and subsequently come here, to remain in this country and to prevent their being returned by the British authorities to the appropriate authority of their country. What the noble Lord is trying to do is perfectly simple. He took much care to explain this and to leave us in no doubt whatsoever. He is trying to alter the law in such a way that when an American Serviceman deserts or goes absent without leave from the United States Forces, because, for instance, he is opposed to the policy of the war in Vietnam and dislikes taking part in it (and I readily accept that there are those who have a genuine disapproval for the policy which results in that war as distinct from disapproval and dislike of the fact of war, which must be common to all), he may have the right (0 come to this country and be given asylum here, and may be allowed to live and work here. The British authorities, says the noble Lord, should not have the opportunity of returning such a man to the United States authorities, and the United States authorities should not have the right to request the British authorities to help in his return.

I appreciate the sincerity with which the noble Lord holds these views, but I must say that I cannot agree with them. My disapproval of this Bill is twofold. I believe that we should be putting ourselves in an intolerable position, if we were to interfere with the relationship which exists between the United States military authorities and their own personnel. Legal responsibilities and obligations must be to the United States authorities as a whole and cannot be to the individual and varying whims, however sincerely held they may be, of its personnel. We should be affronting an ally and, I suggest, doing a most unfriendly act to an ally if we were not only to refuse to return to that ally a member of their forces who had elected to desert but were prepared also to help him and give him asylum.

It is up to the United States military authorities to conduct their own affairs and the relations between themselves and their personnel in the best possible manner. They must make their own decisions about the right course to be taken with those who object on grounds of conscience and it would be wholly improper for this country, I suggest, to encourage, acquiesce in or condone, or to be thought to encourage, acquiesce in or condone, desertion from the forces of an ally.

The noble Lord, Lord Gifford, said that whether we feel that the war in Vietnam is right or wrong is not an issue here. I am not so sure. The noble Lord, Lord Brockway, based the whole of his argument in support of this Bill on his strong objection to the war in Vietnam. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, at the end of his speech, fell into the trap, having discounted one particular argument as not being an issue here, of quoting extensively from a letter upon which he obviously placed much reliance, because, as he said, it put it better than ever he could, but the author of which was clearly motivated in his writing by none other than the argument which the noble Lord previously discounted—namely, the war in Vietnam.

As I understand it, and as my noble friend Lord Windlesham said, the Bill stems from the activities of an organisation called the Union of American Exiles in Britain.


My Lords, if I may correct the noble Earl, the Bill stems from my own views on this matter and not from any other source.


I entirely accept that the Bill was introduced by the noble Lord, but I think it would also be fair to say, as I am sure the noble Lord will agree, that it goes very much with the views of the Union to which I have referred. I believe that it would be much resented if, in response to pressure from a body which is openly opposed to the policy of the United States Government, we in this country were to alter the arrangements which have existed for some eighteen years.

Secondly, I think it most undesirable that we should put ourselves in the position of being prepared to encourage the settlement here of people who have seen fit to desert from the forces of their own country, however genuine in their own conscience they may be. While I acknowledge that the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, has deeply and sincerely held views on this subject—and I respect those views—I believe that we should be wrong if we were to pass this Bill, because it would be seen, even if it was not so intended, as a direct encouragement by this country to the harbouring of those who have deserted from the forces of an ally; and that would be quite justly bitterly resented. Therefore, I hope that your Lordships will see fit not to give this Bill a Second Reading this afternoon.


My Lords, before the noble Earl sits down, I wonder whether he would clarify a part of his argument. Did I understand him to say that this Bill gives a deserter a right to come to this country and gain asylum? If he did say that, I would reply that it does nothing of the sort. The ordinary laws of immigration still apply. Anybody can be kept out or refused admission as an alien.


My Lords, would the noble Lord agree that if a person, having come to this country, were not handed back to the authorities, he would enjoy the right of asylum?

5.0 p.m.


My Lords, I apologise for my name not being on the list of speakers, but I have been a deserter in the Isle of Man and did not know that this Bill was on the Order Paper. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, for allowing me to speak before him and the summing-up of the debate. Before I say a few words on the Bill—and they will honestly be a few—I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, on his excellent and compassionate speech. I do not often use the word "brilliant", but I really thought he had surpassed himself and pleased the whole House by making a first-class speech.

I joined this debate actually in November when I took my daughter out to dinner one night to a little restaurant. An American was standing up, shouting so loud that we could not hear the music and we could not dance. I listened to what he was shouting. It was that he objected to going back to America to be put in jail: it seemed a reasonable enough argument. But I really thought that he had shouted for long enough, and so I joined in. I shouted back at him: "You would be much better busting rocks in America, and much safer, than fighting in Vietnam". Whereupon he replied to me, quite justifiably: "I will not take that from a dirty, lecherous, middle-aged slob taking a pretty girl out to dinner". My daughter, who has always been so loyal to me, jumped to her feet and shouted back at him: "My father is not a dirty, lecherous, middle-aged slob; he is a dirty, lecherous, old slob".

Of course we all feel deeply in our hearts about this rather terrifying thing that has happened to these young Americans, who infest all the countries. We all know that they have run away from the war and do not want to fight, although we do not know the reason. One could go on for a long time about that, but I do not wish to. I just want to say that I think what I call the ordinary, respectable, democratic Americans do not know what they are fighting for, but they do know what they are fighting against.

I was privileged to hear a man for whom I have a great respect, the noble Lord, Lord Stonham (Lord Windlesham has read what he said earlier, and I need not repeat it), state his views in your Lordships' House as the most compassionate Minister of State, Home Office, that it would be possible to get. I thought then, and I think now, that it would be a great mistake to let a Bill of this kind go further.

5.2 p.m.


My Lords, I am sorry to disappoint the noble Lord, Lord Strange, who was expecting a brilliant summing up from my noble friend Lord Beswick, but unfortunately my noble friend has had to attend some urgent meetings and has missed some of the speeches. Therefore it seemed more correct, out of courtesy to your Lordships, that I should speak from the Opposition Front Bench. Let me first, in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, state the position of the Labour Party in the House on this subject. It is entirely up to my noble friends who sit in the House, in the light of the discussion, to make up their minds as to how they intend to vote, whether for or against the Bill, or whether they abstain.

I think I should say to the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, although it is a fair argument, that the previous Government on a matter of this kind, when pressed in the House, took a particular point of view, and this was not significantly challenged. I am bound to say that the matter has been revealed in a much more detailed light following the really outstanding speech of my noble friend Lord Gifford. I am happy to say that it is quite obvious that your Lordships were deeply impressed by his exposition and moderation. Though I think the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, was fair in his reference to the quotation from the brigadier, of course my noble friend had to quote the whole of the letter. I hope that we shall never refrain from doing what we may conceive to be right purely on the grounds that such action is capable of being misinterpreted by other people.

I confess, my Lords (and here I speak for myself, because, as I have said, it will be for my noble friends who sit on these Benches to make up their own minds; and I know that some certainly will vote for the Bill), that it was my intention when I came in to listen to the debate, either to vote against the Bill or to abstain. However, I must say that at the moment I have not made up my mind, because certain matters have been revealed in the course of the discussion. I think it might be as well if the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, were to exercise the privilege, which the House always gives to the Minister, to speak again to see whether he can deal with some of the powerful points that have been made. The answers to some of the questions will certainly influence me. In my experience, the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham argues with great fairness and consistency, but I must say that I found some inconsistencies in his speech today.

As I understand it—this is a technical question, and it is difficult to come to a view—he was arguing that the Act which my noble friend seeks to amend derives from an earlier Act concerned with Commonwealth forces. I think we shall all agree that the environment in which that previous Act was passed was of a very different kind, and that the Commonwealth was of a different kind. The first question that I should like to ask the noble Lord is this. If the 1952 Act does arise from the Commonwealth Visiting Forces Act, is it a fact that in Canada there are not reciprocal arrangements so far as this country is concerned? I see the difficulty, and presumably the case which the noble Lord had in mind was that of a soldier, it might well be, whose unit was on a training exercise in Canada and who just stayed behind. I do not know whether it was that sort of case. But what I should like to know is whether Canada has reciprocity with this country. It may be, of course, that my noble friend Lord Gifford will be able to answer some of these questions.

Secondly, there is the position of the other NATO countries. My noble friend Lady Birk referred to a Greek soldier, though I do not wish to pursue that. However, as I understand it, the purpose of the original Act was to make provision in relation to the NATO Alliance for the purposes of NATO. I do not think that anyone, even my noble friend Lord Gifford, objects to it in that context. I am not seeking to make embarrassing remarks from a foreign affairs point of view, but let us take an example of one of our NATO Allies which has colonial possessions in which a civil war is going on. If a deserter from those forces were to find his way to this country, having perhaps conscientious objection, and possibly being a native inhabitant of the territory in question, would he be capable of being arrested by the civil police and brought before a magistrate, such as my noble friend Lady Birk; and would there then be no option but to hand him back?

I am not taking the Vietnam argument, because it is rightly said that to-day we are not debating the Vietnam issue. The noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, shakes his head, but I can assure him that I am not debating the Vietnam argument. I have listened to the arguments, and I want to make it clear that none of my remarks relates to Vietnam or anywhere else: but it does happen that that is a valid example. I should like to ask the noble Lord if he will answer the second question that I have asked him on this aspect.

The noble Lord, Lord Reay, made the point (I hope I interpret him correctly) that it is perhaps better to look at this matter in terms of a properly negotiated reciprocal arrangement, specifying more clearly the circumstances. It may well be that this Bill does not achieve fully the purposes that my noble friend Lord Gifford has in mind. The question that I, speaking for myself, have to make up my mind on is whether I should support the Second Reading of a Bill which may not be satisfactory. I therefore ask the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, whether he can provide any relief in regard to the anxieties which have been aroused in my mind and, I believe, in the minds of quite a number of noble Lords.

I share the view of noble Lords who adopt an argument about the position of a deserter. I fully accept that a deserter may appear to be somebody to whom no privileges are given. But the important thing about the effect of passing this Bill would be that, while anybody who entered this country illegally could be removed it would be under different processes and not simply as a result of arrest by the military police. It may well be that this Bill will make little difference in principle, but it raises issues of profound importance in terms of liberal human rights. The noble Lord opposite has really argued defending the position of his Government—and, indeed, that of my Government previously—that this is a convenient and workable measure. But, my Lords, it is clear now that anxieties exist, and that there are human rights issues on which the House is bothered. I am surprised to have come to the position that my own personal view is that, unless the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, can give a little more explanation, I am inclined to support the Second Reading of this Bill.

5.12 p.m.


My Lords, if it is the wish of the House, and if I am granted permission to speak a second time, I should be happy to take up a few moments. It would not be right for me to try to reply to the debate and deal with all the points that have been raised. This is a Private Members' Bill; it is not a piece of legislation introduced by the Government. It is for the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, to say what he thinks of the arguments that have been raised in support of and against his own Bill.

I can comment on one or two points that have been raised. The most important point is the question which still seems to be in the minds of noble Lords: it is that our law is unique; that we have an outdated law which applies to servicemen who have deserted on grounds of conscience. That is not true; we are not unique. It may be that our practice is a good or a bad one, but it is not a unique practice. It is shared by six other Commonwealth countries. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said that in 1933 the concept of the Commonwealth was rather different from what it is to-day. But as I explained earlier, the Government of New Zealand, for instance, extended the application of their legislation in 1969 to enable them to apprehend deserters particularly in South-East Asia, Singapore and Malaysia, whether they have deserted from units based in New Zealand or outside New Zealand. So it is not as though this is an outdated anachronism: it is a procedure which the Governments of six other countries have found it desirable to adopt for their own purposes.

I was asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Birk—and the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, followed this up—about the position of a deserter, let us say, from Greece or from any other NATO country. The position is that the Visiting Forces Act would apply to a member of the Greek armed forces or to the armed forces of any country to which the Visiting Forces Act 1952 applies.

The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, took me to task when I shook my head during his speech—I hope he was not disturbed by that—when he said that we should not conduct this debate as if it were about American Army deserters. But this is what we are talking about. So far as I know, and so far as anyone who has listened to this debate knows, the other cases are hypothetical. We have not had any instances of deserters from Greece or any other NATO country; but we have had quite proper examples from the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, and others, of deserters from the United States armed forces. That is what we are talking about.


My Lords, I think the noble Lord may have misunderstood me. What I said was that we are not debating the rights and wrongs of Vietnam.


Well, I hope that the noble Lord feels pleased with that interjection. We know what we are talking about. There is a serious issue, which was raised in a calm and rational way by the noble Lord, Lord Gifford. What this Bill aims to do is to alter our law so that young men who have deserted from the American armed forces, based outside and not just inside this country, should be enabled to enter this country, and to remain here within the limitations of the normal immigration control—as the noble Lord said, as visitors, students or in order to work.

I was asked by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, about the bilateral agreement between Germany and the United States, and whether it would be possible in the course of the debate to provide any information as to the number of deserters who had been arrested in Germany and the rate of desertion from the United States forces in Germany and in Europe as a whole. I can assure him that we have made efforts in the course of the debate to obtain this information. Unfortunately, it is not readily available. If I can get further information later, I shall be happy to send it to him.

Finally, I should like to say, after hearing what the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, had to say, that the Government believe that a change in the law on these grounds is not in the interests of this country. I therefore recommended to the House at the beginning of the debate, so that our position was quite clear, the rejection of this Bill. I hope that we shall have the support of noble Lords in different parts of the House. The noble Lord speaking from the Opposition Front Bench can make what play he likes, but as the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, will know better than I, this has been a consistent point of view, and a consistent argument by himself and his friends for some years now. The previous Government when in power had responsibility, as we have responsibility now, to do what they thought was right in the interests of this country, and I hope that some Members of this House on those Benches will remember and will act, and perhaps will vote with us on that basis.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I would say that he is doing his best to irritate me into voting against the Government. But will he answer one of my questions; namely, that in regard to the position in Canada?


My Lords, I do not think the position with regard to Canada is relevant. The Canadian practice is different from that of this country. Along with some other NATO Powers it limits its practices in a way that we do not. I do not see to what extent the noble Lord is going to be tipped over to vote one way or another on an issue of this sort according to what the practice is in Canada.


My Lords, the noble Lord is doing his best!


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, will vote as he wishes, and I hope that he will look back on it with credit.

5.14 p.m.


My Lords, at the end of this most stimulating debate, I find myself somewhat taken aback in perhaps having such a distinguished vote as that of my noble friend Lord Shackleton depending on what I may say. But may I do better than the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, and tell my noble friend Lord Shackleton exactly what the position is in Canada, as I have it from the Department of National Defence in London, from the Commander of the Canadian Defence Liaison Staff. He says: With reference to your letter, I am pleased to be able to assist you in your inquiry into Canadian law as is relates to the Status of Forces Agreement. The only authority for arrest of members of foreign Forces personnel by members of the Canadian Forces in Canada for the offence of desertion is to be found in Section 10 of the Visiting Forces Act, which section applies only to members of a visiting Force A member of a foreign Force who came to Canada otherwise than in the course of duty—as, for instance, your suggested example of entry as a visitor or a student other than a military or U.S. Government sponsored student—would not be considered as being a member of a visiting Force and, consequently, no legislative authority exists for his arrest as a deserter by members of the Canadian Forces. I think the question of my noble friend Lord Shackleton about members of other countries which are involved in wars, apart from their NATO responsibilities, was answered. They would of course be able to benefit by the Visiting Forces Act as it now stands.

My Lords, I do not propose, and your Lordships would not want me, to go over the questions that have been raised in this debate or to comment in detail

about the speeches which have been made. Many noble Lords have been kind and used the word "compassionate" about the attitude which I bring to this question, and I believe that that is a proper attitude to bring to any consideration of the liberty of the individual. In weighing up the arguments on either side, I would ask your Lordships to consider this. The present law allows the arrest of individuals within our shores. And in any question where an individual is arrested and loses his liberty it is necessary to ask: is that justified? Is that justified by the principles of our criminal law? It is not. Is it justified by any treaty? It is not. Is it justified by the principles and the law of extradition? It is not. Is it something done by our allies for us? So far as NATO is concerned, it is not. There may be six other Commonwealth countries which have the same bad law as we do, but in my view that is no argument against this Bill.

I would ask Members of the House to consider this matter compassionately and to recognise, as perhaps some noble Lords who have expressed views against this Bill have not sufficiently recognised, the hardship which in a very few cases the present law brings to the individual. Is there any proper justification for it? I ask your Lordships to say, No, and to give a Second Reading to this Bill, which I believe technically does what it should do: it brings these deserters into the general law of aliens. I ask your Lordships to give a Second Reading to this Bill.

5.24 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said Bill shall be now read 2a?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 54; Not-Contents, 95.

Amherst, E. Cowley, E. Hilton of Upton, L.
Avebury, L. Crook, L. Hughes, L.
Balogh, L. Davies of Leek, L. Jacques, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Diamond, L. Kilbracken, L.
Bernstein, L. Faringdon, L. Lee of Asheridge, Bs. [Teller.]
Birk, Bs. Fiske, L. Lindgren, L.
Bowles, L. Gardiner, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, Bs.
Brockway, L. Garnsworthy, L. Maelor, L.
Brown, L. Gifford, L. [Teller.] Milford, L.
Buckinghamshire, E. Gladwyn, L. Montagu of Beaulieu, L.
Burntwood, L. Gowrie, E. Nunburnholme, L.
Byers, L. Granville of Eye, L. Phillips, Bs.
Chalfont, L. Henley, L. Plummer, Bs.
Constantine, L. Heycock, L. Popplewell, L.
Rea, L. Shacklelon, L. Summerskill, Bs.
Reay, L. Shepherd, L. Taylor of. Mansfield, L.
St. Davids, V. Silkin, L. Wells-Pestell, L.
Segal, L. Stocks, Bs. Wynne-Jones, L.
Aberdare, L. Dundonald, E. McCorquodale of Newton, L.
Adrian, L. Eccles, V. Macpherson of Drumochter, L.
Ailwyn, L. Effingham, E. Mar, E.
Albemarle, E. Emmet of Amberley, Bs. Merrivale, L.
Allerton, L. Ferrers, E. [Teller.] Mersey, V.
Alport, L. Ferrier, L. Milner of Leeds, L.
Ampthill, L. Fortescue, E. Milverton, L.
Auckland, L. Geddes of Epsom, L. Monson, L.
Audley, Bs. Gisborough, L. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Baldwin of Bewdley, E. Glasgow, E. Napier and Ettrick, L.
Balerno, L. Goschen, V. [Teller.] Nugent of Guildford, L.
Belstead, L. Gray, L. Oakshott, L.
Berkeley, Bs. Greenway, L. Rankeillour, L.
Bourne, L. Grenfell, L. Reigate, L.
Brecon, L. Gridley, L. Rhyl, L.
Bridgeman, V. Grimston of Westbury, L. Rochdale, V.
Caccia, L. Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. (Lord Chancellor.) St. Aldwyn, E.
Champion, L. St. Helens, L.
Clifford of Chudleigh, L. Hankey, L. St. Just, L.
Clwyd, L. Hatherton, L. Sandys, L.
Colville of Culross, V. Hawke, L. Selkirk, E.
Conesford, L. Howard of Glossop, L. Strange, L.
Cork and Orrery, E. Hylton-Foster, Bs. Strange of Knokin, Bs.
Cottesloe, L. Ilford, L. Terrington, L.
Craigavon, V. Inglewood, L. Teviot, L.
Cromartie, E. Ironside, L. Thorneycroft, L.
Daventry, V. Jellicoe, E. (L. Privy Seal.) Thurlow, L.
De Clifford, L. Lauderdale, E. Tweedsmuir, L.
Denham, L. Leathers, V. Vivian, L.
Derwent, L. Lucas of Chilworth, L. Ward of Witley, V.
Digby, L. Luke, L. Williamson, L.
Drumalbyn, L. MacAndrew, L. Windlesham, L.

Resolved in the negative, and Motion disagreed to accordingly.