HC Deb 02 July 1923 vol 166 cc23-6
43. Sir W. DAVISON

asked the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he is aware that the Supreme Court of the United States, in their recent judgment, expressly laid down that the local sovereign, in this case the American Government, may always, out of consideration for public policy, forgo to exercise its jurisdiction in any matter, or exert such jurisdiction in a limited way without in any respect prejudicing or forgoing its sovereign rights; whether the attention of the United States Government has been drawn to this dictum of their Supreme Court, which entitles the American executive to forgo their strict legal rights should they desire to do so; and whether, having regard to the well-established principles of international law that a ship continues to be identified with its country of origin in foreign ports so far as its domestic affairs are concerned, and, and, if so, what, representations have been made to the American Government with regard to the seizure of spirituous liquors in British ships where such liquors have been placed in rooms specially sealed by the British Customs authorities and with adequate guarantees that such seals would not be broken while in American territorial waters, thereby precluding any possibility of the infraction of the American prohibition law while the ship was in the territorial waters of the United States?


My Noble Friend the Secretary of State gave in another place on 28th June a full explanation of the diplomatic action which His Majesty's Government have taken in this connection and the grounds on which their representations have been based. If, after reading that statement, there are any points on which my hon. Friend requires further information, I shall be happy to do my best to furnish it.


Having regard to the statement made in another place that the United States Government have full power in the matter, are we to understand their refusal to exercise that power is simply to bring pressure to bear on this country, in order to get us to extend the three-mile limit?

Viscount CURZON

Are we to understand that His Majesty's Government have given the United States Government an absolutely free hand, to do what they like in this matter?


The second supplementary question suggests quite a false interpretation. In answer to the hon. Member for South Kensington (Sir W. Davison), I assure him there are particular factors in this question requiring consideration. For example, in his question, the hon. Member assumes that the American Government has sovereign power, but that would not be admitted absolutely as within the meaning of the decision of the Supreme Court, if he means by the American Government, the Executive, or the President.


Has not the President full sovereign power to act on behalf of the Executive in a matter of the kind, and, having regard to the decision of the Supreme Court, that the sovereign power has a right to act, surely the United States Government has the power to fulfil the request of Great Britain and allow liquor to remain under seal, when it will not be consumed in their waters?


Is it not the fact that a false statement of law has placed the United States Government—which means very well—in such a position that it has become the laughing stock of the world?


I wish to know whether the fact that a full statement on a question of policy has been made in another place absolves the representative of the Government from making a full statement in reply to questions in this House?

49. Lieut. - Colonel HOWARD - BURY

asked the Prime Minister whether he has any information with regard to the intentions of the United States Government that in future they intend to seize foreign ships coming into their harbours with liquor on board, under seal, and to arrest their captains; and whether he will consult with other European countries with a view to taking up retaliatory legislation against American shipping coming into European harbours, in order to induce the United States Government to abide by the international comity, which has always existed between maritime nations?

50. Viscount CURZON

asked the Prime Minister whether he is aware that new regulations are now to be made which will entail the seizure of the vessel and arrest of the captain in the case of ships carrying liquor within American waters, whether under the Seal of the British Government and whether flying the British flag or not; whether the Government are prepared to recognise the seizure of ships and arrest of their captains under such conditions; and whether His Majesty's Government will take steps to get in touch with the American Government on this question?


I have no official information with regard to the alleged intentions of the United States Government to which these questions refer My Noble Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs recently gave, in another place, a full explanation of the present position, and I hope that the Interdepartmental Committee, which, as he stated, is now considering the question, will before long make definite recommendations which will enable his Majesty's Government to determine their attitude.

Lieut.-Colonel HOWARD-BURY

Can my right hon. Friend say whether the enforcement of this law by the United States Government is due to a desire to protect her mercantile marine and force foreign ships on to an equality—


We must not have an interpretation of the motives of foreign Powers.


Is it not about time for His Majesty's Government to declare that the interests of British trade and British shipping are of greater importance than are the alcoholic tastes of passengers on these ships?