HC Deb 07 April 1938 vol 334 cc508-9
33. Mr. Arthur Henderson

asked the Home Secretary whether he is aware that a German cruise-ship, "Wilhelm Gustloff," is to come to the Thames to be used as a polling station by those German citizens resident in the United Kingdom participating in the plebiscite on Sunday next; and whether, as such voting is compulsory, he will take steps to ensure that all such German citizens are allowed to exercise their votes without being subject to any interference or restraint?

Sir S. Hoare

According to the information in my possession, it is proposed that this ship shall put in at Tilbury on 10th April with a view to taking on board such German subjects resident here as may wish to record their vote in the plebiscite, and that the ship shall then proceed beyond the limits of British territorial waters before these votes are recorded. The voting will, therefore, take place outside British jurisdiction. There can, of course, be no question that German nationals in this country have, under our laws, complete freedom in this matter, and if need should arise, the police would take proper steps to secure to them the freedom to which they are entitled under our laws.

Mr. Henderson

Is it not without precedent for a foreign Government to send a ship into the territorial waters of another country for the purpose of a plebiscite, and does it not constitute a most objectionable form of propaganda, having regard to the circumstances which have led to it?

Sir S. Hoare

I believe it is true that there is no precedent for action of this kind.

Mr. H. G. Williams

Is it not the case that in 1918 a quarter of a million soldiers then in Germany voted in our general election?

Lieut.-Commander Fletcher

Has an intimation been conveyed to the German Embassy that the visit of this ship should not be made the occasion for Nazi propaganda here?

Mr. Macquisten

Did not the same thing happen in America—[Interruption.]