HC Deb 13 March 1854 vol 131 cc698-700

said, he hoped that the Government would shortly state their intentions as to the course they mean to take with respect to neutrals. It was the more incumbent upon them to do so, because the trading and commercial classes in this country were naturally most anxious on the subject, and because the statement made the other night by the hon. Secretary of the Treasury appeared to be entirely irreconcilable with the document which had been issued by the noble Lord the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. A very large proportion of the mercantile community, he believed, were making preparations to send goods by land from Russia through Prussia, with a view of avoiding the blockade. Under these circumstances, he hoped that an explanation would be given by the Government.


said, that this was a subject of the greatest importance, and one which called for the most careful consideration of the Government. He could assure the hon. Member that the subject had occupied the consideration of the Government for some time, and they would be prepared at the earliest possible moment, consistently with their public duty, to state to the House and the public the course which they intended to pursue.


said, he would take the liberty of stating, that a public declaration had already been made, in the shape of a despatch from the noble Earl at the head of the Foreign Department of the country to the Consul at Riga, and the earliest opportunity ought to be taken to inform the commercial world what course the Government intended to pursue. He hoped they were not to consider the despatch of Lord Clarendon as the rule that was to be adopted in the Baltic, because, not only would it be calculated to create collision with friendly Powers and neutrals—not only would it have no effect in bringing the war to a close, but it would rather, on the contrary, have the effect of prolonging it. He was sorry the Government had not long since informed the world of the course they intended to adopt in reference to the ships of friendly nations, and the ships of British subjects; because if this information should only be given when the ice broke up in the Baltic, and when merchants had already made arrangements in ignorance of what the Government intended to do, many persons might fairly complain that they had been taken by surprise and robbed of property which they would think themselves justly entitled to retain. The Government must have foreseen long ago, that if war was in the distance the most important of all questions was this—how are we to deal with the vessels of friendly nations and the rights of neutrals. That question, of all others, presented itself in the most pressing form in the coming hostilities, and unless it should be dealt with in a different spirit from that which was manifested in former times, it might bring this country into a collision with the United States of America. If the despatch of Lord Clarendon, which was no doubt sound public law, was to be acted upon, what course should we take? Why this—that every American packet, every American merchant ship, upon the surface of the seas would be boarded by British cruisers—that our officers would go on board American ships and rummage their cargoes, to see if they could find some bale or package in which there might be, directly or indirectly, a Russian interest; and should such a discovery be made, the ship would have to be carried into some port and be condemned by some Admiralty Court. He was in hopes that the sounder policy would be adopted—that free ships would make free goods and that the country would be spared the risk of being brought into collision with friendly Powers. He was sorry to have to trespass on the attention of the House at such an inopportune moment, but he had felt it necessary to do so in consequence of the remarks of the right hon. President of the Board of Control, because public declarations had already been made in that House inconsistent with what had been made in the despatches, and they were of a character calculated to mislead the commercial world.


said, that he wished to correct a mis-statement of what he said on Friday night, which had appeared in several of the public papers. The question put to him had nothing to do with im- ports to or exports from Russia. It was solely a commercial question, which had been decided by the Treasury, having reference to Russian produce imported by a neutral Power, in a neutral ship, the property of neutral subjects. He was sorry that his observations had been misreported in several of the papers, whilst in others they had been correctly given. The question put to him was to this effect:—If Russian produce were shipped in a Russian port on board a Prussian or other neutral vessel, would such produce be held sacred or liable to seizure? This was entirely different from questions which might arise with respect to direct trade to Russia.

Subject dropped.