§ On the Order of the Day for the House resolving itself into Committee of Ways and Means being read,
§ MR. MILNER GIBSON
said: I rise, Sir, to bring forward the Motion of which I have given notice, that instructions should be issued to Her Majesty's cruisers not to interfere with neutral vessels, carrying goods the property of the enemy, if not contraband of war. Sir, I have thought it consistent with my duty to call the attention of the House at the present time to the question of the rights of neutrality which may be enjoyed by other nations, in case that war with which we are now threatened should take place. A short time since I gave notice of a Motion I proposed to make, that an Address should be sent to the Crown expressing the opinion of Parliament that privateering was not a species of warfare which ought to be sanctioned by the British Government. I did not proceed with that Motion, because I was informed by the right hon. Baronet the First Lord of the Admiralty that he had the subject under his consideration, and that on an early day he would state the views of Government to the House. I have therefore, in this Motion, abstained from asking the House to express any opinion upon the subject of privateering. The subject of my present Motion relates simply to the position in which neutral vessels may find themselves during the coming hostilities. My main object is, that the country should be put in possession of the decision to which the Government must by this time have arrived in reference to the 956 rights of neutrals. If complete silence had been maintained—if no information had been offered to the country upon this most important subject—if the Government had merely said, "It is under consideration, and we shall in a short time be in a position to communicate our opinion fully to the country," then I would have observed silence upon the subject. But we have had information communicated to us through the newspapers of an imperfect character, and it has therefore become absolutely necessary, that no misapprehension may take place, to ask the Government to supply us with full and complete information as to the decision to which they have come on this most important subject. We have had a despatch from the chief of the Foreign Department, addressed to the British Consul at Riga, stating certain views, and explaining the liabilities which merchants would incur by carrying on trade with the enemy. Then in the newspapers of to-day we have a letter from the Board of Trade, addressed to a gentleman in the City, explaining what the consequence would be of certain transactions with Russia, in case of a war with that country. I may be told that if merchants want to learn their liabilities in time of war, they have only to study the law of nations, to consult learned civilians and authors who have written on this subject, and there they will get full information as to their position. But it must be obvious to every one that, after a forty years peace, the usages which might have been adapted to the last war may not be equally adapted now. Opinions have changed—institutions and laws have changed—the mode of conducting commercial transactions has changed—and we all know that that mighty power, steam, has been introduced since the last war, and effected important alterations in maritime communications. I think also that this is a most favourable moment for entertaining the question whether great changes may not be introduced, because we are now in a position which we have rarely been in before. We are on terms of the most perfect amity with France and with the United States of America—two of the most important naval and commercial Powers in the world besides ourselves—and therefore we might probably obtain their assent to such an alteration of international law upon this subject as would be befitting the times in which we live, and as would give liberal scope for commercial transactions in time of war. On these 957 grounds I think this is a favourable moment, by negotiations with foreign Powers, and in the exercise of our own discretion, to endeavour to carry on war with greater respect to private property than has yet been done, and with greater liberty to carry on commercial transactions than has ever before been allowed. I wish to give no opinion on the question, whether the war itself is politic or impolitic—I merely assume, for the sake of argument, that you are in-a state of war, and I ask you to consider whether that war cannot be carried on without infringing, to the same extent as formerly, on the rights of commerce and of private property? I have put the present notice of Motion on the paper for the purpose of cliciting from the Government the decision to which they may have come on the subject. But I do not wish to convey the impression that the Government themselves are disposed to take an illiberal view of the subject, or to have recourse to extreme and rigorous practices without necessity. I give them full credit for being actuated by the desire to take a liberal course, but I thought it necessary to put my views on paper, to show what they are, and which I have authority for saying many gentlemen who are thoroughly competent to judge consider would give satisfaction. I do not ask the House to commit itself to any abstract principle. I do not propose to give up any of our maritime rights. I only ask that special instructions may be given to the officers commanding Her Majesty's cruisers, in the event of war, to abstain, at the present time, from interfering with neutral vessels on account of any goods or property not contraband of war that may be contained therein. This has no reference to the right or power of blockading; that right remains unaffected by the proposal, which only amounts to this—that special instructions may be given that neutral ships on the high seas should not be interfered with by British cruisers on account of ordinary mercantile produce contained therein. I will tell the House why I bring forward this Motion. The Foreign Minister, in his letter to the Consul at Riga, says that unless such special instructions are given, private property in neutral ships, under certain circumstances, will not be respected. He distinctly says it will require special instructions to prevent their stopping neutral ships in time of war, with the view of searching them in order to ascertain whether they contained 958 property in which the enemy may have a direct or indirect interest. I think, in the first place, that such a proceeding as searching neutral ships for enemy's goods is totally nugatory for the purposes of this war. What is the state of affairs in reference to the Russian trade? All the Russian produce, or very nearly all, on the high seas, has been sold and paid for, and all Russian interest therein has ceased. Such, with a small exception, is the course of trade with that country. I have received a letter on this subject from a gentleman largely engaged in the Baltic trade, in which he says:—I have consulted about six influential merchants, and I find that the proportion of Russian ownership in goods from Russia cannot be estimated at more than fifteen per cent.So that the great bulk of the property, the produce of Russia, upon the high seas, is not the property of Russians, but the property either of neutrals who have acquired it by purchase, or of British subjects, who may also have acquired it by purchase. In the first case, as to the neutrals who have acquired the property by purchase, there can be no question, I apprehend, that neutral produce, in which the only proprietary interest is in a neutral, cannot be deemed lawful prize when found upon the high seas in the ships of a neutral, though it may have been bought in a country with which you are at war. Therefore, with regard to all that portion of property upon the high seas which neutrals have acquired by purchase, your power of searching neutral ships would have no effect whatever in producing pressure upon the enemy's trade, because, if you found the produce of Russia in neutral ships, and it had been purchased by neutrals, you could not make it lawful prize. Then there is that portion which is British property. I put it to the right hon. Baronet the First Lord of the Admiralty, if, at the beginning of this war, Russian produce have been bought and paid for, and in which, therefore, all Russian interest has ceased, and which has become exclusively British property, and it be found upon the high seas, is it fitting that that should be lawful prize? Whether in a neutral or in a British ship, is it fitting that such property should be lawful prize? It appears to me that the whole world would consider it a great injustice if a British cruiser were to stop and detain a ship containing British property which had been bought and paid for before war had been declared, and before there was any enemy, were you to make that property 959 prize. But I am informed that such a doubt exists upon this question in the present state of the law of nations that, unless special instructions be given, which is what I ask, it is possible that such British property may be stopped and detained on the high seas, parties thrown into the Court of Admiralty in this country, and the property be condemned as lawful prize. I do not give any opinion whether this is the law of nations or not; but I feel I am correct in saying it is a matter of grave doubt. Then, would it be right to exercise this extreme power when it is obvious that a Russian having received the money for the produce, and the produce having become exclusively the property of British subjects, to capture and make it prize would have no effect in producing pressure upon Russia, but would only injure the interests of British subjects. These are two of the grounds why I wish the power of searching neutral vessels on the high seas not to be exercised now. Let us ask ourselves, also, whether it is a very satisfactory thing to contemplate the exercise of this power in British cruisers in reference to neutral ships? I am quite ready to admit that it is the settled law of nations—perhaps it may be too strong a word to use, the word "settled;" but I do not dispute that it is the law of nations according to the authority of the most learned men of various nations, with some exceptions—that enemies' property may be taken out of neutral ships, and that the neutral flag does not give protection to the cargo; but it is altogether discretionary in a country whether it will exercise these extreme belligerent rights or not. We make no surrender of the principle—we do not deprive ourselves of the power of exercising those extreme rights whenever we think fit, by not allowing them to be exercised now; but I ask the House to contemplate what may be the course of proceeding, unless the power of searching neutral vessels upon the high seas for enemy's property be undertaken only after the most grave and serious consideration. As I understand, this power is a power given to British cruisers, when war is declared, over all the surface of the globe. Wherever the neutral ship is, it may be searched to sec if it contains enemy's property. Just conceive this state of things. A large American packet arrives at Cowes from the United States, bound to Hamburg. It may have among its multifarious bales of goods some consigned to persons in Hamburg, with the view of those goods being afterwards sent 960 to houses in Russia. There may be a Russian interest in those bales of goods. The commanding officer of one of Her Majesty's cruisers detains the vessel; he says, "I have an interest in certain goods in your ship which are the property of the enemy, and I mean to try my right in a court of law, in order that I may condemn them as lawful prize." The American packet is detained, and all the parties are put to great inconvenience from being kept in a British port until the trial takes place. Suppose it to be decided that these bales of goods were not Russian property, though it appeared there was a primâ facie case for detention, and there is restitution of the property, do you suppose there will not be a bitter feeling left behind if an American ship is brought in, under such circumstances, without compensation, and large expenditure incurred, merely to test the question whether a particular officer has a vested interest in certain property in the vessel? I put this as a case which may possibly happen; and it is to provide against the possibility of such an unfortunate thing as the creation of a bad feeling with neutral and friendly Powers that I call upon the House to take the question into its most serious consideration. I have no doubt that the officers of the Navy will exercise their powers of search with discretion. I do not impute to them any desire wantonly to detain ships without good reason for supposing that enemy's property is on board; but recollect that the officer detaining a ship has a distinct pecuniary interest in the matter. He has, alone, to decide whether it is a primâ facie case for detention; and it may happen that neutral ships might be detained under circumstances that would give rise to feelings of great bitterness, and even to hostility from neutral and friendly nations. I think I have shown that, in this particular war—if war there is to be—the exercise of this power can have no effect upon the enemy, from the peculiar character of the Russian trade. The only effect it can have will be occasionally to give a prize to a few individuals at the risk of creating a bad feeling with great nations with whom we are now upon the best terms. I think, therefore, I have shown some good grounds why, at least, the immediate exercise of this power of searching the ships of friends upon the high seas should not take place. I admit there ought to be a visit, to ascertain if a ship is what she assumes to be, namely, a neutral, and not an enemy in disguise. But I stop there. When the officer has 961 ascertained that there are on board no munitions or contraband of war, and that the ship is really a ship of a neutral nation, I wish to prevent that ship from having her cargo rummaged, her packages and bales broken open in searching whether there may or may not be some portion of the cargo that comes under the description of enemy's property. It appears to me that the Government must consent to this proposition. But I know there are those who attach the greatest importance to this power of taking enemy's property out of neutral ships, because it is said that neutrals might carry on the whole trade of the enemy, and prevent you from putting any pressure upon his commerce, and so stopping his means of accumulating wealth. Is that the case now? I think not. You have the power of blockade, which must produce a material effect. This power relates to ships upon the high seas, and not at all to ships that may have broken a lawful blockade, or may have placed themselves in the position of infringing your belligerent rights, and, therefore, are liable to capture or condemnation. I ask you, therefore, simply to issue special instructions that this right is not to be exercised at once; and I do so because Lord Clarendon says, unless these special instructions are issued, the neutral flag will afford no protection to any cargo, and that the officers of Her Majesty's cruisers will not respect the ships of friendly nations. But I must call the attention of the House, and particularly that of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, to the grave objection there is to the giving imperfect and partial information upon this important subject through the newspapers of the day. There is a letter in one of the papers of this morning, signed by one of the Secretaries to the Board of Trade, which is as follows:—Gentlemen—In reply to your letter of the 24th of February, requesting to be informed whether, in the event of war between this country and Russia, Russian goods imported from neutral ports would be considered contraband, or would be admissible into England? I am directed by the Lords of the Committee of Privy Council for Trade to inform you that, in the event of war, every indirect attempt to carry on trade with the enemy's country will be illegal; but, on the other hand, bonâ fide trade, not subject to the objections above stated, will not become illegal merely because the articles which form the subject-matter of that trade were originally produced in an enemy's country.—I am, Gentlemen, your obedient servant, J. EMERSON TENNENT.It appears then that an indirect trade with 962 the enemy is illegal; bat that a bonâ fidedirect trade with him is legal. What is a bonâ fide direct trade? Suppose a Russian merchant sells his produce to a neutral in Russia, and that neutral brings the produce to a neutral port in Prussia, and there sells it to a British merchant. The British merchant trades with the neutral. Are we to understand—inasmuch as that would be an indirect trade with Russia, because the neutral had previously bought it from the Russians—from this letter that this is illegal, but that if the British merchant had bought the produce directly from the Russian himself bonâ fide, it would be legal? I cannot understand the meaning of this letter. It appears to me that it attaches liability to indirect trade with the enemy, but that trade with the enemy, if it is bonâ fide, may be legal. What an argument is this letter for caution in the right of search? Who is to say that the property of a neutral found in a neutral ship, which he has acquired by purchase in a country with which he is entitled to trade, because he is a neutral, may not, under such a doctrine as this, be called an indirect trade, as it may be assumed that the neutral is going to sell the produce to a British subject? What difficulties may not arise from the exercise of this right of search in consequence of doubts as to what is legal or illegal trade. It appears to me that no proposition whatever can be more clear, as a matter of natural justice, than the idea that the property of a neutral, which he has acquired by purchase himself directly, can by no possibility become lawful prize; yet I should infer from this letter from the Board of Trade that this is a species of indirect trade—namely, to buy property through a neutral from the enemy. In a former debate upon this very subject, some years ago, the then Lord Chancellor of, England laid it down as a monstrous and unjust proposition that—England should consider as enemies' property such goods as having formerly belonged to the enemy, had since been acquired by, neutral nations.Therefore, I think it would be impossible to lay any hold whatever upon the property purchased by a neutral of the enemy, and that the doctrine of the indirect trade being illegal and the bonâ fide trade legal is unacknowledged, and calculated to mislead persons engaged in commercial transactions. The proposition I have taken the liberty of making consists of two parts. In the first place, I ask you not to exer- 963 else the power of searching neutral vessels for the purpose of finding enemies' property; and I also ask you to consider the policy of entering into treaty stipulations with the United States of America and other foreign countries willing to entertain the subject, that free ships shall make free goods, and that the neutral flag shall give neutrality to the cargo. I propose, not that you should bind yourselves to agree to such a treaty stipulation by assenting to this Motion, but merely that the Crown should direct its Ministers to consider the policy of such a measure. I believe there is very good ground for considering at the present time the policy of entering into a treaty with the United States and other foreign countries, in order that free ships may make free goods. I believe, and I speak upon the authority of the ablest writers in the United States on this subject, that the Government of that country is willing, and always has been willing, whether in time of war or in time of peace, to enter into such a treaty. If England enters into such a treaty with the United States, you will grant to the United States this privilege—that the neutral flag of the United States shall be respected when England is at war; and you will obtain from the United States a similar privilege, that when the United States is at war, the neutral flag of England shall be respected. Thus, in entering into such a treaty stipulation, England obtains as much as she gives. Remember, we are not now in the position with regard to the United States that we were half a century ago. It might be a matter of less importance to receive the privilege of neutrality from other States in those days than at the present time. It is possible that the United States may, unfortunately, be engaged in war with some powerful country. Your ships will then enjoy the privilege of neutrality, and will not be interfered with in their lawful callings; and in the same way, if the treaty I suggest existed now, the ships of the United States would not be interfered with in the carrying of ordinary mercantile produce. I will here read a short passage from a distinguished writer in the United States upon this very question which we should enter upon even if there were no probability of war. The question is one which this House may entertain in time of war as well as in a time of peace; in fact, it has nothing to do with the present position of the country. It is a question of universal policy which may be en- 964 tertained at any time. Chancellor Kent, the great American jurist, says—It has been the desire of our Government to obtain the recognition of the fundamental principles consecrated by the treaty with Prussia in 1785, relative to the perfect equality and reciprocity of commercial rights between nations, the abolition of private war upon the ocean, and the enlargement of the privileges of neutral commerce. The rule of public law, that the property of an enemy is liable to capture in the vessel of a friend, is now declared on the part of our Government to have no foundation in natural right, and that the usage rests entirely on force. Though the high seas are a general jurisdiction common to all, yet each nation has a special jurisdiction over their own vessels; and all the maritime nations of modern Europe have at times acceded to the principle that the property of an enemy shall be protected in the vessel of a friend. No neutral nation, it is said, is bound to submit the usage, and the neutral may have yielded at one time to the usage without sacrificing the right to vindicate by force the security of the neutral flag at another.So that although this eminent writer admits that it is the law of nations, yet he clearly puts forth the strong wish there is on the part of the Government of the United States to contract treaties with all countries that are willing to enact that as between themselves free ships shall make free goods. Now, I propose that Her Majesty's Government should consider this proposition. I do not wish to trouble the House with copious extracts, but I will take the liberty of reading one more—["Oh, oh!"] I know this may be an unpalatable subject. It is with great reluctance that I go into it; but, I contend, it is becoming a Member representing a great commercial and manufacturing interest to call the attention of this House to these important facts. More than that, when I say that this proposition will be seconded by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool (Mr. Horsfall), I say it is entitled to the consideration at least of this House, and that it is one which Parliament ought to entertain. One of the most eminent and strongest supporters of the doctrine, that by the law of nations there is no doubt a neutral flag does not protect enemies' property, is Lampredi, an Italian writer, who nevertheless says:—It is to be confessed that it would be a generous maxim, and favourable to the neutrality as well as to the freedom of trade, that the friendly flag covers enemies' property, not contraband of war. It would be desirable that all great nations, without exception, would agree to extend in favour of trade their moderation up to this point; but it must be permitted, also, to an impartial man, to question whether such nations as might feel inclined not to follow this maxim are infringing the 965 primitive law of nations, and, therefore, commit an injustice, if they continue to seize the property of enemies found in neutral ships, if they have not bound them by special treaty to refrain.These are two great authorities, both of whom distinctly declare it to be the law of nations that enemies' property is liable to capture its neutral ships, but both take the opportunity of expressing, in emphatic language, how desirable it would be if the great nations would agree by negotiations to get rid of this fertile source of wars and contentions. The question of the rights of the neutral flag has already involved this country in war. It involved this country in war not only with the United States, in connection with other questions, but also with the Northern Confederacy, who ranged themselves together in 1780, for the express purpose of an, armed neutrality to defend the security of the neutral flag. I do not know whether it may be in the recollection of the House, but I may just mention that the first Power that ever made a treaty to the effect that free ships made free goods was the Ottoman Porte. Turkey was the first Power that entered into such a stipulation, but since that period every great Power in Europe, England among the rest, has, by deliberate treaties, sanctioned this principle. I, therefore, give you not only great authorities for adopting treaty stipulations that free ships shall make free goods, but I also give you the authority of precedent, and of those precedents which will have the greatest weight—the treaties of your own country, in former times. Such treaties were entered into a century and a half ago with Portugal, with Holland, and, at a later period, with France; and, I believe, the time has now come when the great nations of the world should be inclined to consider a general negotiation upon this important subject. I, live in hopes that we shall hear from Her Majesty's Government that such treaty stipulations are under consideration with the United States of America, with France, and with other countries; and, I am sure, if they can succeed in obtaining this great good for mankind, they will also deserve and receive the gratitude of the commercial classes of all countries. I hope, in conclusion, that Her Majesty's Government are about to proclaim, in some public manner, the decision they may have come to upon this most important subject. I have just been told that the noble Earl the Foreign Minister has announced in another place some such intention. I, therefore, per- 966 haps, shall be considered; under these circumstances, to have said sufficient to indicate the views I entertain myself; and it is only from the duty which I feel I owe to those I represent that I have ventured to intrude these remarks. I feel sure that no apology is due from any Member of this House when he acts from a sense of public duty; and I repeat that, unable now to explain fully all my views, in consequence of the promise from Her Majesty's Government in another place, I shall not feel myself precluded, when these proclamations make their appearance, from endeavouring, if they fall short of the principle which conscientiously believe to be the only safe, one, from calling the attention of Parliament once more to the, subject.
§ MR. HORSFALL
said, that in seconding the Motion of his right hon. Friend the Member, for Manchester, he must thank him for the clear and explicit manner in which he had brought the question before the House. He entirely concurred in the sentiments which had fallen from his right hon. Friend, and he could not conceive how Her Majesty's Government, or any hon. Member in that House, could object to them. He, was the more anxious to express his concurrence in them because he had heard it stated that the interests of the shippers of goods were at variance with the interests, of the British shipowners, and more particularly in that branch of the question brought under the consideration of the House by his right hon. Friend. For himself, he must say he could conceive no such thing. He could imagine that, as a literal matter of fact, whatever tended to give facilities for the conveyance of goods in neutral vessels, might be detrimental, to some extent, to, British shipowners; but he considered that a very narrow-minded view of the question, and one which he was sure would not for one moment be entertained by the great body of the shipowners this country. Upon every ground of equity, British goods and produce should have the same protection as British shipping. He regretted that his right hon. Friend had not gone into another and a very important branch of the question. It might be in the recollection of the House that he (Mr. Horsfall) had put a question to the noble Lord the Member for London, about a fortnight ago, as to how far the treaties of this country with foreign nations, or the measures which Her Majesty's Government were prepared to 967 adopt, were such as would give protection to British commerce? To that question the noble Lord replied that it was a very delicate and intricate subject; that it was necessary to communicate with other nations upon it; but that the matter was under the consideration of Her Majesty's Government. He (Mr. Horsfall) had not put the question in any factious spirit, and he expressed himself satisfied with the answer of the noble Lord. Not so, however, with other hon. Members upon both sides of the House, and it was somewhat quaintly said upon the occasion, by a Gentleman from the opposite side, who had had some official experience, that "everything was under the consideration of Her Majesty's Government." He was willing, notwithstanding, to believe that the noble Lord was sincere, and all he desired was a clear and explicit statement of the views of Her Majesty's Government, not only upon the question submitted to the House by his right hon. Friend, but also upon the larger and more important question of privateering. The noble Lord said most truly that the question was one of a delicate and intricate nature, and he (Mr. Horsfall) was quite prepared to admit that it was; but at the same time it was one in the right and speedy solution of which the whole population of the country was deeply interested. Increased expenses were already placed upon the shipping, and it was too well known that whatever increased the cost of import increased the cost to the consumer. He maintained, therefore, that the question was not one of interest to the manufacturer and merchant alone, but was also deeply interesting to the whole population of the country. He hoped Her Majesty's Government would be prepared to state in the course of the evening, or else to give en assurance that they would state shortly, the course to be adopted for affording protection to the commerce of the country. He held in his hand a Report laid upon the table of the House containing a copy of a letter written by the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary, which he thought was a most valuable document, and gave some evidence, at least, that Her Majesty's Government were in earnest. He alluded to the letter of Lord Clarendon, addressed to our diplomatic and consular agents abroad, informing them that Her Majesty's Government had entered into treaties with France for the purpose of affording mutual protection to the ships and 968 subjects of both countries. That valuable and important document, which he readily accepted as the prelude to further treaties for the protection of commerce, said in the first line—and it seemed to convey some censure upon Government—The time has now arrived when it is incumbent upon the two Governments to prepare for all the contingencies of war.The complaint now made was, that we were not prepared for all the contingencies of war. If the prospect of war had been one of recent origin, if we had been at peace yesterday and at war to-day, it might have been different, but when the prospect of war had been advancing with a slow but a sure and steady step for the last six months, he thought the House might reasonably express some disappointment that long ere this Government had not taken some clear and decided steps, or, if they had taken them, that they had not informed the country what those steps were, and what they intended to do. He had presented that evening a petition from the Liverpool Chamber of Commerce in some degree bearing upon this subject, which prayed that the House would enact a law to prevent any British vessel from being fitted out as a privateer, and also that Government would be induced to enter into a treaty with the United States and France with a view of putting a stop to privateering on the principle laid down by the United States in their war with Mexico in 1846. He hoped enough had now been said upon the point to which the attention of the House had been called by his right hon. Friend, and also upon an equally important branch of the subject—privateering and letters of marque. Whatever course other nations might adopt, he trusted this country would set a noble example, worthy a great and Christian country, and determine to fit out no vessel as a privateer.
To leave out from the word 'That' to the end of the Question, in order to add the words an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, that She will be graciously pleased to give special instructions to the Officers commanding Her Majesty's cruisers, in the event of war, to abstain from interfering with Neutral vessels on account of any goods or property, not contraband of war, that may be contained therein; and praying Her Majesty to direct Her Ministers to consider the policy of entering into treaty stipulations with the United States of America, and any other Foreign Country willing to entertain the same, on the principle that free ships shall make free goods, and the Neutral flag give neutrality to the cargo,'—instead thereof.
§ LORD JOHN RUSSELL
I think, Sir, the right hon. Gentleman who introduced this subject has undoubtedly raised many very important questions, and yet, important as those questions are, the hon. Gentleman who seconded the Motion has shown that such a declaration as that required by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Manchester would be insufficient, inasmuch as the very important subject of privateering is altogether omitted in the proposal for an Address. I can only say, as I have said before in answer to my right hon. Friend (Mr. M. Gibson) and the hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Horsfall), that it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government, not, as my right hon. Friend supposes, by referring to the law of nations upon the subject, to leave parties to make out from that law what their course should be—but it is the intention of Government, having for some time considered the various bearings of the case, to advise Her Majesty to issue, in some shape or other, a document which shall declare the policy of the Government upon these questions. But I trust that my right hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Liverpool will see that a document of this kind requires very great care; that there are questions of principle, questions of precedent, questions of policy, and questions of law, which are all involved in this subject. And there are not only these questions, but, amid the contending precedents and high authorities in former wars by which the course of the Government has been decided, the very wording of any such document will require especial care; and any mistake from an incautious style of expression of a particular document might lead to a misunderstanding with France, with the United States, and with the neutral nations of the north, that might be of the most serious consequence. Therefore I think that Her Majesty's Government are not to blame for giving the utmost care and deliberation to this question. Hostilities have not yet been entered into, and before they are entered into a statement of the views and policy of Her Majesty's Government will be made, and that declaration cannot be now long delayed, and will be very speedily produced after it is made. But I trust that the House will not call upon the Members of the Government to explain, more especially in speeches in this House, the policy that will be pur- 970 sued by the Government under such very serious circumstances.
§ MR. J. L. RICARDO
said, he was glad the question had been brought forward, because certainly what had been said by Lord Clarendon as Minister for Foreign Affairs, and what had emanated from the right hon. President of the Board of Trade were totally and entirely at variance; and therefore it was absolutely necessary that the commerce of this country should be placed on a proper and sound footing, that they might understand exactly what were the intentions of the Government on this subject. He would only say two words after what had fallen from the noble Lord—let them not be governed in this matter by old and antiquated notions. They had now adopted fairer and sounder notions on commerce; and when they imported to this country 13,000,000l. worth of Russian produce, he would put it to every Gentleman, that they did not import those 13,000,000l. worth of produce for the benefit of Russia, but because they wanted it, and exchanged for it produce of their own. For every pound's worth of goods which they prevented from coming into this country, they would stop a pound's worth of their own manufactures from going out of the country. In the same proportion as they would prevent the imports of Russia from coming into this country, they would injure and prejudice the manufactures of their own country. He rose more particularly to call the attention of the Government to this point, and he earnestly requested they would take it into consideration. He trusted they should soon have their decision; and that it might be clear and specific was the only reason why he had risen to say these few words.
§ MR. T. BARING
said, it had beet stated by the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) that hostilities had not yet commenced, and that, before hostilities should commence, he would state the course the Government would pursue; now, what he (Mr. T. Baring) wanted to know was, whether it was the intention of the Government to delay the declaration of their views until there was a declaration of war. He could assure the Government that a great injury was inflicted upon trade by this delay; for every day, under present circumstances, it created uncertainty in all commercial transactions, and as to the course a merchant must pursue. He thought, when so much time had elapsed, 971 and when war had been -expected for a long time, Her Majesty's Government were rather tardy in making up their minds as to what they would do. They heard that something was to be done in some shape or other, and at some time or other, but no assurance was given when the declaration was to be made, and when the doubts which now prevailed might entirely tease.
§ LORD JOHN RUSSELL
I can only say that I think it will be necessary to communicate with France on the subject; for, though the views of the Government are decided, it is necessary, with respect to France more especially, to state what our views are, and see whether they are agreeable to the Government of France. That is only one circumstance that I mention; but there are other circumstances with regard to the effect of certain words to be used. When Her Majesty's Government are ready to make the declaration, they will consider the interests of commerce, and will not delay the declaration any longer than they can help.
§ MR. BRIGHT
said, he could understand the reason why the noble Lord might not wish, or might not be prepared, to state anything explicitly, on the first part of his right hon. Friend's Motion, and why the House might rest content until, perhaps, the promised declaration was made; but the noble Lord had omitted to notice the latter part of the Resolution. His right hon. Friend (Mr. M. Gibson) had expressed his desire that Her Majesty's Government should enter, or attempt to enter, into treaties with the United States on the subject there referred to, and of course that was not a matter to be postponed. His right hon. Friend had said most truly, and he (Mr. Bright) thought he had good means of knowing, that the United States would have been heartily glad to co-operate with the Government of this country in establishing (as he believed their co-operation would establish throughout the world) the great principle that was laid down in that Resolution. There was one thing, however, which the House ought to bear in mind, and he said it more especially, because the noble Lord had not said a word in favour of any portion of the Resolution—the noble Lord had certainly said nothing against it, but he had said nothing in its favour—and that was, that the noble Lord had not given the slightest idea of the course the Government would pursue. He (Mr. Bright) hoped they would take a 972 wise course, and that they would agree to the principle of the Resolution which had been submitted to the House. It was not to be concealed that the opinion of the country was very different from what it had been at any former period. He was one of those who could never see any justice in what was called the law of nations on this subject. He could not see why the ship of a neutral should not be considered to be in the same position as the freehold of a neutral, or the absolute territory of a neutral. The property on board of a neutral ship should be as sacred from the intrusion of cruisers as the property of a neutral on shore. But the law on this subject had been made in all times by the powerful maritime nations, and they made the law, not with regard to what was justice, but with regard to what served their own objects in the war in which for the time being they were engaged. They should bear in mind that England was not now the only great Power at sea. The tonnage of the United States was approaching rapidly in amount to the tonnage of this country, and in twenty years hence, in all human probability, would far exceed it. That which they had been able to do at former times—whether it was just or not—they would not be able to do in time to come, and if the United States were disposed to arrange this matter by some permanent settlement with this country, the Government would be neglecting the true and permanent and future interests of this country if they were not willing to enter into the treaty which his right hon. Friend had proposed. He had been always aware that the dangers that environ this Eastern question were dangers that did not end in the East, but which might spread to the West. And at that moment that which pressed upon his mind almost as much as the war which apparently was about to commence was the quarrel which must inevitably spring out of the maintenance of that which hitherto had been considered the law of nations upon this subject. It was not to be expected that the United States people would tolerate that which he was quite certain the people of this country would not tolerate for one moment from them. And if it should so happen that the course the Government would take would leave the cruisers of this country at liberty (and that that liberty should be acted upon) to seize and detain American ships, and confiscate the property in them, there was no diplomacy that ever had been imagined 973 that could keep this country from a war with the United States, and he was sure it might happen that this struggle which seems now impending, instead of being confined to any portion of Europe, might spread over two hemispheres. For the sake of maintaining what he believed to be in itself radically and originally unjust, they might find this country involved in dangers and calamities equalling any of those that had been experienced at any former period of their history. He said this merely because he was unwilling that the question should be shirked or blinked in any way. If the Government were not aware of its importance—but he could not doubt that they were fully aware of it, and he entreated of them to give the subject their most serious consideration. It had nothing to do with the policy of their past proceedings with regard to Turkey or Russia. He could look to this question—never having expressed an opinion upon it before—as impartially as any man; and looking to the position which they occupied with regard to the United States, and to the fact that their ships and the ships of the United States were on every ocean and in every creek, be would say that the Ministers who would allow such a peril as that to continue, and would not take measures to avert that peril from them, would not be worthy of the confidence of that House or of the country. He therefore begged that the noble Lord, though he had not said a syllable in favour of the Resolution of his right hon. Friend, would allow him to believe that he was in favour of this principle, that the Government would consider it favourably, and that in their Proclamation they would give as much facility to commerce as was possible, if hostilities should break out.
§ LORD JOHN RUSSELL
I beg to say, that Her Majesty's Government are fully aware of the great importance of the question. They are as fully aware of its importance as the hon. Gentleman himself; but I do request of the House—what I am sure it will concede—some days of forbearance, and we shall then be able to acquaint the House with the decision we have come to.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.