HC Deb 29 May 1963 vol 678 cc1288-91
4 and 5. Mr. Hector Hughes

asked the Lord Privy Seal (1) if he will state the text of the note handed last Saturday by the Icelandic Foreign Minister to the British Ambassador in Reykjavik, the reply sent to it, and the action taken as a consequence; and if he will take steps to have the trawler "Milwood", now detained in Reykjavik, restored to her owners in Aberdeen who are now suffering loss by her detention in Reykjavik;

(2) if he will make a statement on the recent interview between the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and the Icelandic Ambassador Mr. Henrik Bjornsson, about the detention in Reykjavik of the Aberdeen trawler "Milwood".

Mr. Heath

The Icelandic Ambassador called on my noble Friend on 10th May to discuss the Icelandic Note of 4th May. This gave the Icelandic Government's views on the "Milwood" incident and requested that Skipper Smith should return to Icelandic jurisdiction. Her Majesty's Government replied on 17th May giving their views on the incident and expressing the hope that it would not disturb AngloIcelandic relations. Our Note explained that although Her Majesty's Government had no power to compel Skipper Smith to return to Iceland to stand trial, we hoped that he would do so. We are awaiting the Icelandic Government's response to this Note.

The Icelandic Government have not published the text of their Note, but I am circulating in the OFFICIAL REPORT the text of our Note of 17th May. As for the detention of the "Milwood", I would refer the hon. and learned Member to the reply given to his Question of 22nd May by my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State.

Mr. Hughes

May I thank the Lord Privy Seal for that full reply? Does he realise that I have full confidence that the Icelandic Supreme Court will administer the rule of law when the case comes before it? Does he also realise that this trawler was seized by force in mid-ocean without any order of the court, that the case is in no way sub judice and does not depend on the evidence of Skipper Smith? Will he approach the Icelandic Government on that basis with a view to resolving the conflict between the Icelandic court and the administrative authorities who control the gunboats which fired on and seized our trawler, and on that basis have the trawler released?

Mr. Heath

I am very glad to hear the hon. and learned Gentleman's confirmation of his belief in the justice of Iceland. This will support our view that Skipper Smith should return to its jurisdiction. The "Milwood" was detained upon a ruling by a judge of the Icelandic court pending an inquiry into the incident. That is the situation at present and presumably it must remain so until the inquiry is completed.

Following is the text of the Note: Her Majesty's Principal Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs presents his compliments to His Excellency the Icelandic Ambassador and has the honour to refer to the Icelandic Government's Note of the 4th of May about the incident involving the Aberdeen trawler "Milwood" and the Icelandic Coastguard Vessel "Odinn". As Mr. Edward Heath stated in his message of the 30th of April to His Excellency the Icelandic Minister for Foreign Affairs, Her Majesty's Government were most distressed to learn that the incident had taken place. They share the serious view of it which is taken by the Icelandic Government. Her Majesty's Government recognise that the Commander of the Icelandic Coastguard Vessel "Odinn" refrained from using force to arrest the trawler. Her Majesty's Government, however, wish to invite the attention of the Icelandic Government to the fact that the Commander of H.M.S. "Palliser" used his best endeavours to ensure the arrest of the "Milwood" by the "Odinn" with Skipper Smith aboard. As a result of this co-operation from the Royal Navy the trawler was in fact arrested. However, in the interval between the transfer of "Milwood's" crew to H.M.S. "Palliser" and the arrival on board "Mil-wood" of the Icelandic boarding party. Skipper Smith's conduct and state of mind led Lieutenant-Commander Hunt to the conclusion that the only mean open to him of preventing Smith from endangering his own life was to transfer him to the trawler "Juniper" Lieutenant-Commander Hunt took this action in the firm belief that "Juniper" would be ordered to proceed at once to Reykjavik and would do so. He was surprised and dismayed when "Juniper's" owner declined to order "Juniper" to go to Reykjavik. Her Majesty's Government deplore the fact that Skipper Smith evaded arrest in this manner and wish to tender their sincere regrets. They also accept full responsibility for the action of H.M.S. "Palliser" on the 27th and 28th of April. While Her Majesty's Government are obliged fully to reserve their position on the issues of fact and law that may be involved, Her Majesty's Government have on several occasions advised the owner of the "Milwood" to persuade Skipper Smith to submit to Icelandic jurisdiction. It remains their hope that he will agree to do so. They very much hope that after this explanation the incident involving the "Mil-wood" will not be allowed to disturb the good relations between Iceland and the Untied Kingdom to which the British Government attach so much value.
25. Mr. Jeger

asked the Lord Privy Seal what action has been taken by the British Embassy in Iceland to assist the crew of the arrested trawler "Milwood".

Mr. Heath

Five members of the "Milwood" crew have stayed in Iceland at the request of the owners. I am informed that they are not in need of assistance.

Mr. Jeger

Can the Lord Privy Seal say whether the men are in touch with the embassy or whether the embassy is keeping a supervisory eye on them? Can he give an assurance that if these men, who have been deserted by their skipper, who has come back to England, require assistance it will be readily given to them.

Mr. Heath

Yes, Sir. The Ambassador is in close touch with the men. He has reported that the owners asked the men to stay there and so far they have agreed to do so. If they are in need of any assistance, I am sure that they will be in touch with the Ambassador, and he will, naturally, do everything possible.

Mr. Hector Hughes

Does the Lord Privy Seal realise that great financial loss is being inflicted not only on the crew but also on the officers and the owners of the ship by its unlawful detention in Reykjavik, and that the owners have given a banker's guarantee to the Icelandic Government to pay any fine or costs which may ultimately be inflicted on them, and that it is up to the British Government to support the owners in that very proper and fair guarantee? What is the Minister doing about it?

Mr. Heath

I have explained the legal grounds on which the ship is being detained in Iceland pending an inquiry. I understand that the men are being paid by the owners while they are on the ship.