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Protection Of British Subjects At Spitzbergen

Volume 180: debated on Thursday 15 August 1907

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To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he is aware that some months ago an attack, which nearly had fatal consequences, was made upon a British subject in Spitzbergen, that British lives and property there were in serious danger, and that a message was sent requesting British assistance; if he can state whether any negotiations are in progress to have Spitzbergen placed under responsible national or international control; and whether he will consider the advisability of promoting some such arrangement. (Answered by Secretary Sir Edward Grey.) His Majesty's Government have received reports of an outbreak which took place in Spitzbergen last spring, in the course of which injuries were inflicted upon a British subject. The long interval that elapsed between the outbreak and the date when it became known here made it impossible for any British warship to reach the island in time to afford any help, even had the actual situation warranted such a step. In reply to the last part of the hon. Member's Question, His Majesty's Government cannot undertake to initiate negotiations with the object of instituting some kind of control over Spitzbergen Any British subject going to that island for trade or other purposes must do so at his own risk, and we cannot exercise any jurisdiction or assume any responsibility there.