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Road Accidents (United States Service Vehicles)

Volume 395: debated on Wednesday 1 December 1943

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4.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether there exists in respect of the United States army a Claims Commission similar to that established for the Home Forces; whether it is now functioning; the number of claims, both agreed and otherwise, and still outstanding; and what steps he is taking to effect settlements?

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he is aware of the increasing number of British citizens who have suffered personal injury or material damage from negligent driving of American army vehicles; and what progress has been made in the negotiations referred to on 10th November?

His Majesty's Government have no evidence to show that the number of accidents in which members of the United States forces are involved is in any way the result of unduly negligent driving or disproportionate to the increasing numbers of United States troops and vehicles at present stationed in this country. A United States Claims Commission has been set up and is operating in this country. It has power to consider all civil claims brought against the United States forces or members thereof arising out of the activities of such forces in this country, and to pay compensation, subject to the prior approval of Congress when the sum involved exceeds 5,000 dollars. I have no information as to the number of claims with which the United States Claims Commission are dealing but I understand that there are in fact extremely few cases in which it has not been possible to reach a satisfactory settlement. His Majesty's Government are still engaged in discussing with the United States Government the matters referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Ilkeston (Mr. Oliver) on the 10th November and hope that a solution satisfactory to all Concerned will be reached before long.

Will my right hon. Friend state what further progress has been made since the discussions on 10th November and whether British-owned vehicles in America are subject to the same kind of restrictions, that is to say, do they come under British or American rule with regard to road traffic?

Some progress has been made, and a position has been arrived at where some of the accumulated claims, which were agreed by the Commission and were held up by the authorities in Washington, will be paid out of the United States Army funds. This will dispose of some of the more difficult cases. Perhaps my hon. and gallant Friend will put the second part of his Question down.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his reply might be interpreted as meaning that the Foreign Office accept the view that an increase in road accidents must necessarily follow an increase in American and other vehicles on the road? Will he assure the House that that is not the meaning?

I am not suggesting that an increase is inevitable where there is an increase in the number of persons and vehicles on the road, but the reason for that paragraph in the reply was to point out that, taking into consideration the number of American troops and vehicles, the number of accidents is not disproportionate to the average for the country.

I understood my right hon. Friend to say that certain outstanding claims would be amicably settled in the near future; does he mean in about a month or so?

I cannot say that. It takes some time when there has to be correspondence with the State Department in Washington, but we hope that settlements will be effected as soon as possible.

Why cannot the British Claims Commission deal with these claims in the same way as agricultural claims?