HC Deb 24 November 1954 vol 533 cc1230-2
18. Mr. A. Henderson

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he will make a statement on the interception of two British merchant ships off the China coast by Chinese Nationalist warships.

26 and 27. Mr. S. O. Davies

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (1) if he will make a statement regarding the British merchant ship "Inchwells," boarded and plundered by pirates off the Foochow coast on the morning of 14th November;

(2) what report he has had on the British merchant vessel "Incharran," which was detained by a Chiang Kai-shek warship while on its way from Shanghai to Foochow on 13th November.

Sir Anthony Eden

The s.s. "Incharran" reported being intercepted outside Foochow by a Chinese Nationalist warship on the night of 12th-13th November. The warship ordered the "Incharran" not to enter Foochow, the port for which the ship was bound. The "Incharran" then went back to sea but entered Foochow on the evening of the 13th without incident.

Another ship, the s.s. "Inchwells," reported being stopped by a Chinese Nationalist patrol boat at 00.45 hours on the 14th November. The ship was boarded by the Nationalists and taken to a Nationalist-held island at 07.30 hours. The "Inchwells" then reported that she had been released and was proceeding to Foochow.

So far as is known, no damage or injury was caused in either case. Her Majesty's Consul at Tamsui has protested to the provincial authorities in Formosa.

Mr. Henderson

In view of the large number of interceptions by Chinese Nationalist warships during the last two or three years, does it not appear that the Chinese authorities in Formosa are completely indifferent to the views of Her Majesty's Government on this matter, and will the Foreign Secretary indicate what active steps it is proposed to take to bring home to the Chinese Government the fact that this is not going to be tolerated?

Sir A. Eden

The right hon. and learned Gentleman has made some sweeping statements in what he has said. As I think I have reported before, Her Majesty's ships have full instructions to protect our merchant vessels on their lawful missions on the high seas. That still stands. There have been these interferences, as we know, but it is also fair to say that since July, 1953, there has been no incident which involves serious damage as a result of Nationalist interference with British ships. That does not mean that we excuse what has happened or that we do not continue to protect our ships whenever we can, but I do not think we should exaggerate what is actually happening, in view of conditions in that part of the world.

Mr. Henderson

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that I am not seeking to exaggerate. I have been looking at an answer which he gave two days ago, in which he said that during the last three years there had been at least 140 interferences and 30 to 40 interferences during the past 12 months. I hope, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman is not going to accuse me of exaggeration. Does he not remember that in February last year he said that the Government intended to protect British ships carrying on their lawful business? We are not able to find out what steps have been taken. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us?

Sir A. Eden

Of course, I have not denied the seriousness of the interference with our ships. 'I hat is perfectly clear, and we have given Her Majesty's naval forces instructions to protect our ships. At the same time I think it is fair to add that even if these ships have been stopped on many occasions there has been no case of serious damage. That does not excuse the matter, but makes it slightly less grave than some of the statements which have been made.

Mr. Davies

Is it not possible to make representations on these matters to the proper quarters, knowing that every piratical ship of Chiang Kai-shek is really a United States ship? Why does the right hon. Gentleman not go there? This, to my knowledge, is about the eighth incident of British ships on their lawful occasions being held up by these piratical expeditions of foreign-owned ships. Why does the Foreign Secretary not do something?

Sir A. Eden

I look forward to the support of the hon. Gentleman on other and more serious occasions.

Mr. Davies

More serious? Do not be flippant.

Mr. Speaker

Mr. Noel-Baker.

Mr. Davies

On a point of order. I beg to give notice that I shall raise this matter on the Adjournment at the first opportunity, when I hope that I shall get an answer from the right hon. Gentleman.