HC Deb 25 November 1914 vol 68 cc1108-11

asked the Prime Minister if evidence has recently been received of breaches of neutrality on the part of the Republics of Colombia and Ecuador; and, if so, can he state the nature of such evidence; has a protest been lodged with the Government of the United. States of America, in which it is asserted that but for such breaches of neutrality the circumstances resulting in the loss of H.M.S. "Good Hope" and H.M.S. "Monmouth" could not have arisen; and is he satisfied that adequate steps have now been taken to prevent similar breaches of neutrality on the part of these two States in the future?


Information in the possession of His Majesty's Government indicates that the Governments of Colombia and Ecuador have, in certain respects, failed to observe an attitude of strict neutrality, and that their failure to do so is likely to be detrimental to the interests of this country.

In the case of Colombia, the principal cause of complaint has reference to the high-power wireless telegraph station at Cartagena. Mr. Bowle, His Majesty's Chargé d'Affaires at Bogotà, has repeatedly endeavoured, since the outbreak of war, to induce the Colombian Government either to remove the German staff from the station and to institute strict control to prevent the passage of messages of an [...]neutral nature, or, alternatively, to close the station completely. He has also made every effort to secure the adoption of measures by the Colombian Government which will effectively prevent the use of wireless installations by belligerent merchant ships lying in Colombian ports.

As the reports received from Mr. Bowle left it in doubt whether the steps taken by the Colombian Government, in consequence of his urgent and repeated representations, were of an effective nature, Captain Gaunt, Naval Attaché to His Majesty's Embassy at Washington, was sent to Colombia for the purpose of ascertaining the true position. Captain Gaunt reported, under date of 28th September, that the wireless station at Cartagena was working nominally under censorship, but was in reality entirely subject to German influence, of which he considered it very important to obtain the removal. He also reported, under date of 8th October, that German steamers in Colombian ports, though their wireless installations had ostensibly been dismantled, had been continuing to use them with the attachment of a muffler.

It appeared to His Majesty's Government that further representations to the Colombian Government, through His Majesty's Chargé d'Affaires at Bogotà, were unlikely to be of any avail, and they therefore decided to appeal, in conjunction with the French Government, to the good offices of the United States Government, asking them to use their influence at Bogotà to secure a more correct observance of the obligations of Colombian neutrality, and stating that, in the event of Colombia continuing in her existing attitude, the allied Governments might be obliged, in self-defence, to take such measures as they deemed necessary for the protection of their interests.

A similar communication was also made to the United States Government in respect of Ecuador, the grounds in this case being (1) that the Ecuadorean Minister for Foreign Affairs had himself informed Mr. Jerome, His Majesty's Chargé d'Affaires at Quito, and his French colleague, on 4th October, that German warships had converted the Galápagos Islands, belonging to Ecuador, into a naval base, and (2) that the Ecuadorean Government had failed to comply with the request of the British and French Legations that proper control should be exercised over the wireless station at Guayaquil to prevent its use as an intelligence centre for belligerents. Mr. Jerome and his French colleague were both of opinion that further diplomatic protests to the Ecuadorean Government would be useless, and His Majesty's Government, not being prepared to acquiesce in the disregard of Ecuador's obligations of neutrality, judged it expedient to refer the matter to the United States Government, as explained above.

The latter have consented to make a communication to the two South American Governments, but I am as yet unaware what result has attended their action. The Note addressed to the United States Government by His Majesty's Ambassador at Washington contained no assertion of the nature mentioned in the question.


asked the Prime Minister if information indicating Colombia as a probable source of German intelligence was filed with the Home Office and the Foreign Office on or about 29th August; if so, can he say what steps, if any, were taken to anticipate a breach of neutrality by that Republic; and when such steps were taken?


His Majesty's Government have no reason to apprehend that any breach of neutrality was ever contemplated by Colombia.


Can the hon. Gentleman answer the first part of the question?


Perhaps, if the hon. Member will put the next question.