HC Deb 31 July 1940 vol 363 cc1218-20
17. Mr. Granville

asked the Minister of Information why it was that the news of the bombing and sinking of the "Lancastria," and the story of the heroism of the British troops on board, was not published in this country until after it had appeared in the American Press?

18. Lieut.-Colonel Sir Assheton Pownall

asked the Minister of Information what were the reasons which caused him to withhold for five weeks the news as to the sinking of the "Lancastria"?

20. Mr. Shinwell

asked the Minister of Information whether he can explain why a request by the "Journal of Commerce," submitted on 24th June, to publish a paragraph on the sinking of the steamship "Lancastria" was refused; why, though the Minister promised to make a report on 2nd July, no report appeared until 24th July, when the American Press disclosed the facts; and is he aware that the attitude of the Ministry has caused bewilderment in Liverpool and in shipping circles, where the facts were known three days after the event?

Mr. Cooper

The reasons for holding the news of the bombing and sinking of the steamship "Lancastria" were the following. This ship was engaged on a military operation, and it was evident from the German wireless announcement that the enemy were totally unaware of the identity of the ship which had been sunk. Further, it is contrary to the general policy of His Majesty's Government to announce the loss of individual merchant ships. The number and the total tonnage of merchant ships lost is given in a weekly statement. The tonnage of the steamship "Lancastria" was included in the statement issued on 2nd July. This policy is well known, and I cannot, therefore, understand why on this occasion bewilderment should have been caused in Liverpool and shipping circles.

Mr. Shinwell

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I have in my possession a copy of a letter in which his private secretary, writing to the "Journal of Commerce," promised that a statement would be made on this matter on 2nd July, and that, in fact, no statement appeared in the British Press until the American papers reported the matter? Why did the right hon. Gentleman's private secretary make that statement to a British newspaper?

Mr. Cooper

It referred to the normal statement which appeared giving the total tonnage sunk during the period.

Mr. Granville

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the story of this heroism was known on Merseyside two or three days afterwards, that it was given out on the German wireless, that it was in the "New York Sun," and that it was not until five weeks later that it was referred to in the B.B.C. News Bulletin; and is he further aware of the considerable anxiety in the public mind due to this delay?

Mr. Cooper

There were so many stories of heroism connected with the evacuation from Dunkirk that this one, I regret, did not receive at the time the publicity it deserved. I am quite sure that all those concerned deserved it.

Mr. Granville

In view of the statement of the Prime Minister that he would reveal the losses of warships and merchantmen as soon as possible, does not the right hon. Gentleman think that it is better for a statement to be made in this country, rather than that it should come from Germany and America?

Mr. Cooper

I do not think that the Prime Minister ever made a statement to the effect that he would give the names of merchant ships.

Mr. Logan

As one who knew many of the crew who were lost on board that ship, may I ask how it was that the parents were not notified, and why, when it was public property all over the City of Liverpool when the loss occurred, publicity was not given to the people particularly concerned whose sons had gone down to the sea in ships?

Mr. Cooper

I am sure that the relatives of those who were lost were informed as soon as their identity was established.