HC Deb 18 February 1924 vol 169 cc1315-6
Viscount CURZON

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if his attention has been drawn to the sentence of 15 days' imprisonment passed upon the master of the British India Steam Navigation Company's liner "Australia" by the Chambre Correctionnelle at Antwerp; if he is aware that the action has aroused great indignation in British maritime circles at the disgrace imposed upon a British shipmaster by a foreign State for a disaster which arose out of an error of judgment on the part of an expert pilot whom the master was legally bound to engage for the safe navigation of his steamer in foreign waters; whether he will at once take steps to secure an immediate explanation from the Belgian Government and compensation for the officer; whether the Belgian Government can be informed that such proceedings cannot be tolerated and that action against the master of British ships in such cases must rest with the Government of this country?


I am awaiting a report on this matter from His Majesty's Consul-General at Antwerp, and on its receipt will consider whether any action is possible or desirable. I am advised, however, that the Belgian claim to jurisdiction in this case is technically correct, as the collision occurred in Belgian waters.

Viscount CURZON

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Board of Trade has already been into this question and decided that no official inquiry shall be held, as the action of the master was perfectly proper, and that the chief of the experts who presided over the Commission against the captain in the Chambre Correctionnelle was a colonel in the Belgian Army, and what authority has he to be an authority on pilotage?


I should like to see that question on the Paper. I had to revise the Noble Lord's first question, and to strike out words which seemed to cast reflection on a friendly Government.


While the right hon. Gentleman is considering this matter, will he note that the Pilotage Committee of Antwerp, who have had this matter under consideration, have exonerated the captain, while the other authorities have condemned him?


I think it is necessary that hon. Members with such valuable information in their possession should either communicate it to me before asking the question, or put it into the quest ions which they address to me.

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