HL Deb 22 October 1940 vol 117 cc565-8

LORD STRABOLGI had the following Notice on the Paper: To ask His Majesty's Government whether their attention has been drawn to the allegation made by a Northern Ireland Member of Parliament on the nth of this month in Belfast to the effect that enemy submarines are being supplied from Eire territory; whether they are aware that this allegation has received publicity in the Press; and whether they are in a position to refute the allegation and to give the facts; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the Motion which I propose to put is not intended in any way to embarrass His Majesty's Government, and certainly not to embarrass the newly appointed Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, who is such a distinguished member of another place and whom—I hope a long time from now—we shall nevertheless welcome to this House in due course. I also want to make it immediately clear that, like all my friends in this House and elsewhere, we regret the fact that the Dominion of Eire declared for neutrality at the beginning of the war and has maintained that neutrality. We also regret the fact, arising out of that, that the magnificent Irish harbours in Eire are not available for the Royal Navy. Having said that, I do not propose to look into the reasons for it or to rake over the embers of past history, though I dare say I should have a good deal of support if I did from the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack. I have reason to believe, from information that has reached me, that the neutrality—whatever we may think about it—of the Government in Dublin has been strictly observed.

I raise this matter because of an allegation that has received very wide publicity in this country, and I believe also in other countries, made by a member of the Parliament of Northern Ireland, Dr. James Little, who represents County Down, and who declared, in a speech which has received publicity in the English papers, that the Eire Government are winking at, or permitting, supplies of petrol to German submarines from Irish territory. I wish to say at once that the distinguished divine in question, Dr. James Little, of the Castle Presbyterian Church, Belfast, a prominent member of the Orange Order, is quite wrong in his facts in supposing that submarines use petrol. My noble friends opposite, wearing the magnificent uniform of my old Service, will bear me out when I say that submarines have no use for petrol. Submarines run on Diesel engines, and the Diesel engine burns heavy oil fuel. I have had very happy experiences of the west of Ireland. I know it fairly well and know the people there, and the idea that you can convey large quantities of heavy oil fuel or anything else to Bantry Bay or any of the other harbours there to supply German submarines, without its being known, is grotesque. It is bound to be known. I would also remind your Lordships that a submarine is a very distinct type of warship which cannot be mistaken for anything else.

Dr. Little is wrong in his facts in saying that petrol is being supplied, and I do not believe the story for a moment. I want to give the Government an opportunity of explaining exactly what the situation is. I would also remind your Lordships that our very distinguished representative in Dublin, Sir John Maffey, has a naval adviser who would be alive to these things, and I cannot imagine that he would allow such a happening to escape his attention. This statement of Dr. Little has received wide publicity, and I would like to ask my noble friend the Deputy Leader of the House, Lord Snell, if he can explain why the Ministry of Information, who, as we have just heard in connection with Lord Maugham's Motion, are anxious to catch up with any lies of the Germans, have allowed this statement to be given such wide publicity without taking some action in the matter either saying it was true or untrue.

I understand further that the Eire Government has issued a démenti on this matter, but I have seen no mention of this in the British newspapers, and I would have thought that the matter was so important that when the Eire Government issued an official denial the British Broadcasting Corporation might have mentioned it. However, that is a matter really for the Government to give an opinion upon. I would be very grateful if my noble friend, in the interest of truth and also for the comfort of our own people, would tell us what are the real facts, whether pleasant or otherwise. We do not want these rumours disturbing the lieges, who have plenty of troubles in this country without supposing that these malpractices are going on in Ireland. If the statements are untrue I should be very grateful if my noble friend would tell us so. I beg to move for Papers.


My Lords, the question which has been raised by the noble Lord is one of great delicacy and of some importance. Let it be said at once that if the suspicions which he has mentioned were proved they would quite properly and inevitably give rise to some anxiety and to a situation of some urgency. I regret that I have no information upon the particular point about which the noble Lord asked me for information, relating to why the Ministry of Information allowed the statements to be put into the Press and why no statements have been made on their behalf at a later stage. All that I am able to say to-day, bearing in mind all that is involved, is that His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom have no evidence to the effect that enemy submarines are being supplied from Eire territory.


My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for the statement he has made. I made a slip which I am grateful to the Lord Chancellor for pointing out to me. The Rev. James Little, it appears, is a member of another place. I thought he was a Member of the Parliament of Northern Ireland, and I apologise to your Lordships for the mistake. I think that makes it all the more necessary that this matter should have been dealt with, and I am sure that everyone who reads my noble friend's statement will be glad to hear that His Majesty's Government have no evidence of these alleged malpractices. I therefore beg leave to withdraw the Motion.


My Lords, I would like to ask the noble Lord who replied for the Government a single question, and it is why no steps have been taken to obtain evidence. This statement is an extremely important one. It is not often I feel inclined to agree with the noble Lord opposite (Lord Strabolgi) but on this occasion I think he has rendered a very valuable service, and he ought to do his best to force a plain answer from the Government on the subject. The reply of my noble friend from the Front Bench does not seem to be absolutely conclusive. He says that His Majesty's Government have no information that these proceedings have taken place. What I would like to know is whether they have made any inquiries into the allegation.


My Lords, in answer to my noble friend I should say that His Majesty's Government are not in the habit of making general statements without having made some inquiry as to the facts.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.