HC Deb 27 November 1928 vol 223 cc202-3

asked the President of the Board of Trade on what grounds a shipping company owned by a foreign Government and trading in busi- ness in this country, ostensibly on the same basis as British shipping companies, is permitted to claim immunity from legal liability on the ground that it does not really exist as a company but is merely a trading name for its owner Government or for one of its Government Departments; and whether any steps are taken to compel such a shipping company clearly to indicate on its letter heads, tickets, and other contractual forms its ownership and identity as a Government Department and not as a company, so that prospective contractors, such as travellers, cargo owners, and business firms, may not be misled regarding the company's immunity from legal liability?


I understand that the grounds upon which the immunity referred to is based are, that our Courts will not exercise by their process jurisdiction over foreign Sovereign States, in accordance with the principle of International Law and international comity. As I think the hon. and learned Member is aware, negotiations are proceeding for the conclusion of an international convention upon the matter which, if adopted, would considerably limit the operation of the present principle. I have no power to take the steps mentioned in the last part of the question, but where foreign Government vessels are operated by a foreign company carrying on business in this country, those companies are required to file the documents and give the information required by Section 274 of the Companies (Consolidation) Act, 1908.


In the meantime, could the right hon. Gentleman make it known that anybody who travels on the United States Line and loses his baggage can be confronted by this plea of diplomatic immunity; similarly, any person who accepts a service agreement with this company cannot enforce it; and will the right hon. Gentleman take steps to make that publicly known? Alternatively, will he make it impossible for the United States Line to trade in this country without making it known on their note-paper that they are going to make this plea?


The hon. Gentleman has made the statement in a very public place.