HC Deb 17 November 1937 vol 329 cc375-6
10. Sir Robert Tasker

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he is aware that two British subjects, Mr. Webster and Mr. Ashton, have been imprisoned in Bolivia since January last; that they were acquitted; that the acquittal has been quashed and they are now to be tried by a military tribunal; and what steps are being taken to protect these British subjects?

Viscount Cranborne

Yes, Sir. The matter has been receiving the closest attention of His Majesty's Government, and every effort has been made by His Majesty's representative at La Paz to protect their interests and to secure their release on bail pending a final settlement of their case. I would point out that the statement in the question that Mr. Webster and Mr. Ashton have been acquitted is not correct. They have in fact not been tried. The position is that the case was submitted to an examining magistrate who recommended that through lack of evidence the case should not be proceeded with. This recommendation was not accepted by the prosecution, who have now obtained a decision from the Superior Court to the effect that Mr. Webster and Mr. Ashton are triable by a military tribunal. His Majesty's representative at La Paz is in close consultation with the lawyer of the accused as to further action on behalf of the accused.

Sir R. Tasker

Will the Noble Lord give some assurance that protection shall be afforded to these men, who have been found innocent, and will he make further inquiries to find out whether a magistrate or the civil high court tried these men?

Viscount Cranborne

My information is that it was a magistrate and that they have not yet been acquitted. I can assure the hon. Member that we will do everything that we can in the matter.

Colonel Wedgwood

Is it not a fact that Bolivia is a dictatorship country at the present time?

Mr. Crossley

Can the Noble Lord say how long these two Englishmen have been under arrest?

Viscount Cranborne

I could not say without notice, but it is some time.

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