HC Deb 19 July 1923 vol 166 cc2483-6
46. Captain BENN

asked whether the Committee which is considering the question of intoxicating liquor in British ships in American ports has yet reported; and whether it is the policy of the Government to come to some temporary understanding with the United States of America to increase the powers of the American authorities against smugglers outside the three-mile limit?


The answer to the first part of the question is in the affirmative. I cannot at this stage make any statement as to the line of policy upon which His Majesty's Government may ultimately decide.

Captain BENN

May we take it that the British Government will do their best to assist the American Government in putting down this smuggling business?


I would rather make no declaration at the moment.


Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that shipowners are complaining that Custom officers have to be shown a bottle of whisky, in order to prove that there is absolutely no liquor on board?


I am not aware of that.


asked the Prime Minister whether he is aware that large quantities of liquor are at present being shipped out of the West Indies and other British possessions to the United States with a full knowledge that they are to be used to violate the laws of the United States and break down the policy of prohibition; whether requests have been received from the American Government that clearance papers should not be granted to notorious rum-runners; whether such requests have been refused; and whether the Government are now prepared to take steps to prevent the issue of clearance papers to vessels known to be engaged in the rum-running trade, and thus discourage the open breach of the laws of a friendly State?


In reply to the first part of the question, I must refer the hon. Member to the reply given by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for the Colonies to the hon. Member for Bermondsey West (Dr. Salter) on 7th May last. A suggestion that the issue of clearance papers should be controlled was contained in a Note received from the United States Government about a year ago. His Majesty's Government were then, as they are now, without power to give effect to this suggestion under the existing law, which does not, either in the United Kingdom or in the West Indies, authorise the refusal of clearance papers on the ground that the vessel concerned is believed to be engaged in the liquor traffic. The hon. Member is no doubt aware that the whole position in this respect is at present under consideration.


Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the statements made in the first part of the question were made by Mr. Beck, Solicitor-General of the United States, publicly in this country; and whether he is prepared to take steps to have the law so amended that we shall be able to give effect to this desire on the part of the American Government?


Are the British Government prepared to do everything they can to prevent the breaking of American laws by British interests, which is a fruitful source of unrest and irritation between two great nations?

Viscount CURZON

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that only two days ago 100 cases of rye whisky were shipped to this country by Cunard liner from America?


As regards the first supplementary question, I cannot say whether His Majesty's Government will undertake legislation on the subject or not. That question should be put to the Prime Minister. In reply to the hon. Member for Wallasey (Sir B. Chadwick), the Government are fully aware of the desirability of doing everything in their power to dissociate themselves from this traffic, and I can assure hon. Members that the whole matter is being carefully considered.


Has the hon. Gentleman observed that my question was addressed to the Prime Minister in order that His Majesty's Government might state, if they intend to take steps to put an end to this state of affairs, and whether the Prime Minister is prepared to introduce legislation?