§ 19. Mr. PERCY
asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, with reference to a statement recently made on behalf of the Foreign Office that Spitsbergen was a no-man's land, whether he is aware that Henry Hudson raised the British flag on Spitsbergen in 1607 and it was formally annexed to Great Britain as King James his New Land in 1614; whether the British sovereignty has ever been abrogated; and, if not, whether it is intended to maintain that sovereignty in the interests of the present or future settlers?
I am aware that Henry Hudson visited the island in 1607; I have, however, no evidence that he raised the British flag there. It appears that the British claim was intermittently acknowledged by the Dutch interests concerned, but there is no evidence that it was ever formally recognised by the Dutch Government. Even if British sovereignty at that time were proved, it would be difficult now to base a claim on it as occupation ceased for more than two centuries. Apart from this, all the Powers interested, including Great Britain, recognised at the Spitsbergan Conference in 1914 that the island was a terra nullius.
Having been a party to the decision of the Conference of 1914, His Majesty's Government cannot take independent action, and the whole question of Spitsbergen is one for international arrangement.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
In view of the fact that there is a good deal of coal there cannot this matter be referred to the Coal Commission?
§ Colonel YATE
What right had the British representative at the Conference to agree that Spitsbergen was a no-man's land?
The hon. and gallant Member must allow me to make some research before answering that.
§ Colonel YATE
Is it a proper thing for a Foreign Office representative to give away the interests, of this country gratuitously?
§ Sir H. BRITTAIN
Is it likely that this question will be considered by England with the Allies with the view of re-establishing possible British rights which have been abandoned?
I had hoped that the question would be considered by the Paris Conference, and I am not yet without hope that that may be done. It must be considered in conjunction with our Allies.