HC Deb 27 February 1961 vol 635 cc1196-7
Mr. Healey (by Private Notice)

asked the Lord Privy Seal what protest Her Majesty's Government have made to the French Government concerning the interception of the British ship "West Breeze" in international waters off the Algerian coast.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. J. B. Godber)

Representations were made to the French Government both in London and Paris on 24th February. They were asked for a full explanation of the circumstances surrounding this incident. We are now considering what further action we should take.

Mr. Healey

Can the Under-Secretary tell us whether he has had a reply from the French Government in the light of which he could give further consideration to this matter? Is it not the case that the French Government are not at war in Algeria, the only situation in which such interception would be legally permissible, and that the interception therefore represents an illegal interference with the freedom of the seas? Can he explain why Her Majesty's Government have taken such a different attitude toward the French Government on this issue compared with that taken towards the Icelandic Government, which is also an ally in N.A.T.O., on comparable issues? Is it simply that France is big and Iceland a small country?

Mr. Godber

The answer to that last question is, "No, Sir". Quite obviously, no considerations of that sort arose. This is a matter on which we obviously need further information before making further representations. We shall, naturally, want to see the master's report. We do not accept that the action of the French Government in this case was in any way correct and we shall wish to take further action, but we wish to have our facts first.

Mr. Paget

Do we also take it that the action of the French Government in arresting this ship amounted to a recognition of the belligerent rights of the F.L.N., aid that from now onwards all nations are entitled to treat F.L.N. as a lawful belligerent?

Mr. Godber

That is an interesting question, but I do not feel disposed at the moment to say what interpretation should be placed on the actions of the French. This is not the first occasion on which the French have intercepted a vessel, although it is the first on which a British ship has been involved.

Mr. S. Silverman

On a point of order. While I am sure that all hon. Members will have been glad that it was possible to have this Private Notice Question put and answered. would you care to explain, for the guidance of the House, Mr. Speaker, why it was so urgent a matter as to justify a Private Notice Question, as the ship was released long ago?

Mr. Speaker

I thought that it was and, the House giving the judgment to me in these matters, I cannot do better than that. I am not prepared to make declarations about general principles, because I think that that is too difficult to do.

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