HC Deb 03 June 1861 vol 163 cc471-3

said, he would beg to ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Whether Her Majesty's Government will exercise the discretion which by the Law of Nations they possess to prevent privateers sailing under the as yet unrecognized flag of the so-called Southern Confederacy from bringing their prizes into any port of Her Majesty's Dominions? He did not ask this question with regard to privateers sailing under the flag of the United States, simply because he had no expectation that any Letters of Marque would be issued by the United States' Government.


Sir, my answer must be rather wider in extent than the question which the hon. Member has put to me. The whole matter has been considered by Her Majesty's Government, and it has been determined, after consulting the Law Officers of the Crown, that orders should be given to interdict the ships of war and privateers of both parties from entering the ports and harbours of the United Kingdom, or of the Colonies and Dependencies of Her Majesty, with prizes. In order to make the matter more clear the House will perhaps allow me to read an extract from the despatch which has been sent to the India Office and to the Governors of the Colonies— Her Majesty's Government are, as you are aware, desirous of observing the strictest neutrality in the contest between the United States and the so-styled Confederate States of North America. With the view more thoroughly to carry out that principle we purpose to interdict the armed ships, and also the privateers, of both parties from carrying prizes made by them into the ports, harbours, roadsteads, or waters of the United Kingdom or any of Her Majesty's Colonies or Possessions abroad. The orders went out to the colonies on Saturday last, and they have gone to India to-day. I may also state that we have during the past week been in communica- with the French Government upon this subject. I stated to the French Ambassador the view taken by Her Majesty's Government, and asked him what course the Government of France intended to pursue with regard to this subject. The French Ambassador has informed me that the French Government propose to act in conformity with the existing law of France. That existing law is founded upon an ordinance passed in the year 1681; and the rule is that in case of a war in which France is neutral, no privateers are allowed to bring their prizes into the ports or harbours of France or its dependencies for a longer period than twenty-four hours. They are not allowed to sell the cargoes, or in any way to dispose of the prizes which they have taken; and after the twenty-four hours have expired they are obliged to leave the port. Therefore, the course pursued by France is not very different from that which we intend to adopt.


said, he wished to put a question to the noble Lord the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in reference to a statement which he saw in the newspapers of the day. It was said that the Government of the United States had expressed their intention of recognising the declaration in reference to privateering made at the period of the adoption of the Treaty of Paris in 1856. He wished, therefore, to ask the noble Lord, Whether Her Majesty's Government have received any intimation to that effect from the Government of the United States; and, if so, whether he can state what effect it will have on the policy which Her Majesty's Government have announced with regard to the belligerent rights of the Southern States?


Sir, the only answer which I can give to the right hon. Gentleman is that propositions have been sent to America founded upon the Declaration of the Treaty of Paris. Those propositions were made in concert with the French Government, and are restricted in concert with that Government. We have not as yet received any answer to those propositions. They have been gone, I should think, a fortnight, and I expect soon to receive some reply to them. Until that answer is received I cannot pledge the Government as to the course which they will pursue.


said, he wished to ask the noble Lord whether the course now proposed to be adopted of prohibiting the vessels of war and privateers of both parties from bringing prizes into the ports of the United Kingdom was not different from that which had in former times been pursued by this country?


said, he wished to know whether the law of France, as stated by the noble Lord, applies to the vessels of States, or is confined to privateers?


I stated that that law is applicable to privateers only.


said, lie asked what measures have been taken by the Government to inform British seamen who are at present at sea that it is their policy to observe a strict neutrality between the parties to this contest. Unless a notice was affixed to the mainmast of every British trader ["Order, order!"]


said, he must inform the lion. Baronet that he was not in order in entering into an argument.


A Proclamation has been issued by Her Majesty, declaring her neutrality in this contest, and of that proclamation, which has appeared in the Gazette and in all the newspapers, the crews of vessels calling at ports would receive intelligence.


Will the noble Lord lay upon the Table a copy of the despatch from which he has read an extract?


Yes, in a day or two.