HC Deb 11 February 1944 vol 396 cc2111-3

Order for Second Reading read.

The Attorney-General (Sir Donald Somervell)

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

out of the country longer than the normal life of Parliament?

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member seems to be making another speech.

Mr. Eden

I can only speak again by leave of the House. I have made the decision of the Government plain, not once but three times. I have made the matter quite clear, I think.

Question put, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

The House divided: Ayes, 91; Noes, 10.

This Bill, which is a matter of some urgency, deals with prize salvage, which originated in the old days when a man-of-war, a ship of His Majesty's Navy, having recaptured a vessel taken as a prize by the enemy, was entitled to claim against the vessel. The law arose in the old days when a French privateer captured a merchant vessel and one of His Majesty's vessels saw what happened, pursued the privateer, rescued the ship and brought it home to claim against the owners. We are all confident that in the future, as the result of our combined operations, in which the Navy, Army and Air Force will take part, ports at present in the occupation of the enemy will come into our hands. In those ports there will be a number of British and Allied vessels, most of which will have been there either since the outbreak of war or since the occupation of Allied territories. The House will see how different a recapture of that kind is from individual action on the high seas, out of which this law of prize salvage originated. It is desired that when these ships come back into our hands they should be distributed to their different Governments, or owners, to take their part in the war. To make that subject to claims by members of one or other of the Forces which have taken part in the operation would be repugnant to the general principle on which we, as Allies, are conducting the war and it is, therefore, desired to enter into mutual arrangements under which, in effect, the various Governments concerned will say that prize salvage does not, in general, apply to these combined operations.

The Bill takes the form of giving the Admiralty or a Secretary of State control of these proceedings. We do not abolish the right of prize salvage in this class of combined operations and we do not anticipate anybody not joining in, but if one country was inclined to say, "We think we ought to make a claim," then we have power to say, "We think the same." The form we take gives the Admiralty or a Secretary of State control over prize salvage proceedings on exactly the same lines as has been applied for the last 90 years or so to ordinary salvage proceedings in cases where one of His Majesty's vessels is involved. I hope that is all I need say in explanation of this Measure. I must not be too brief if the House desires me to be longer, but this is a matter of urgency as discussions and negotiations are going on now. I hope the House will accept what I have said as a sufficient explanation, although I will be quite ready to answer any questions in the few minutes at our disposal.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House.—[Major Sir James Edmondson.]

Committee upon the next Sitting Day.