HC Deb 01 April 1926 vol 193 cc2362-5

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he can now make a statement to the House on the ease of Mr. Macnamara, a British subject, who suffered arrest in humiliating circumstances at the hands of the French authorities in Tunisia; whether he will say what protection was afforded to this British subject by our consular representatives; and what action the Government is taking in the matter?

30. Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he has anything further to report regarding the arrest and incarceration of Lieutenant. Macnamara in Tunisia; and whether he can state when the British Consul was made aware of this gentleman's arrest?


I have now received a report of the triad and I am in agreement with the opinion expressed by His Majesty's Consul-General at Tunis that the hearing was full and impartial and that the accused was ably defended by his counsel. No information regarding the case reached any British consular officer until two days after Mr. Macnamara's release on parole, when the facts were telephoned to His Majesty's Consul-General at Tunis by a British visitor in Gabes to whom they had been related by Mr. Macnamara. Mr. MacLeod at once made representations to the local authorities in regard to the conditions of Mr. Macnamara's imprisonment, and subsequently engaged counsel for the defence, with whom and with Mr. Macnamara he held consultations in Tunis. He later proceeded to Sousse, where he held further conference with counsel and attended the trial. I am satisfied that Mr. MacLeod did everything he properly could in Mr. Macnamara's interest.

As the term of imprisonment inflicted was the minimum prescribed by the decree for the offence of which the accused was convicted, the action taken by His Majesty's Government was limited to representations to the French Government that in view of the hardships suffered by Mr. Macnamara, during his fifteen days' incarceration the remainder of the sentence should be remitted if there were power to do so. As Mr. Macnamara has now returned to this country, I do not think that I can usefully take any further action.


Is the right hon. Gentleman absolutely satisfied that this gentleman was properly charged and properly convicted?


I have already stated that I share the opinion of our Consular Agent, that Mr. Macnamara was very ably defended and had a perfectly fair trial.


Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether it is a fact that there was a, British Consul or Vice-Consul at Gabis during the time that Mr. Macnamara was incarcerated, and was it not the duty of this official to be in touch with these proceedings, or was it not the duty of the French officials to report the proceedings to him? In what way did this arrangement break down?


I think—I am speaking subject to correction—that there was a Consular Agent at Gabis. I must say that Mr. Macnamara was not wholly free from blame in the matter himself in not taking advantage of such opportunities as he had to communicate at once with the representatives of his country. I think the French local authorities ought to have made communication to the British Consular Agent.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen the reports of this episode, and especially those to the effect that this gentleman did send letters out which never reached our Consular Agent? Is it not usual in foreign countries for our consuls to be informed whenever a British subject is arrested?


I do not think that can be the practice. I do not think that in this country it is the practice of the police to notify foreign consuls on the arrest of any of their nationals.


In giving his official reply, did the right hon. Gentleman base it entirely on the statement of our consular authorities, or has the Foreign Office seen this man, and is the right hon. Gentleman aware that Mr. Macnamara substantially repudiates that he was given adequate assistance by our consul? Has the right hon. Gentleman investigated that?


I was not aware that Mr. Macnamara had repudiated having received proper assistance from the consul, and I should be very much surprised to hear that he made any such charge. He was seen by an officer of my Department, and he has derived some satisfaction for himself by publishing his story at length in one of the leading journals, where I had the pleasure of reading it.


Can the right hon. Gentleman state whether any Government Department had any extra knowledge, beyond the passport, of this gentleman's presence in the country until he was arrested? Was he there on any kind of Government business?


No. Certainly he was not. He went with a friend as a tourist. I think the friend returned, and he pursued his journey further into the interior. I do not think that it is really of any advantage to him or to anyone else that I should say more on this subject. When you are travelling in foreign countries, respect for the lawful authorities of those countries and a certain reticence in the expression of your sentiments is to he commended to all travellers.

Lieut.-Colonel POWNALL

Are we to understand that in future British visitors to Tunis cannot, even if they are indiscreet, be kept in jail under the conditions under which Mr. Macnamara was kept for 15 days?


The conditions of Mr. Macnamara's imprisonment were certainly very unfortunate, but it must be remembered that it was a remote part of the country, and this was the only jail available. I think that, with greater wisdom on the part of some local officials, he need not have been subjected to the hardship to which he was subjected at the earlier stage.


May I ask the nationality of this gentleman? Is he a Scotsman?

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