HC Deb 09 May 1861 vol 162 c1763

said, he wished to ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, Whether it is not a criminal offence against the provisions of the Foreign Enlistment Act for any subject of Her Majesty to serve on board any Privateer licensed by the person assuming, as President of the Southern Confederacy, to exercise power over a part of the United States, or for any person within Her Majesty's dominions to assist in the equipment of such Privateer; and, if so, whether he will take measures to prevent the infringement of the Law, either by Her Majesty's subjects or by any agents of the President of the Southern Confederacy who are now in England? and, also, whether any such Privateer equipped in a part of Her Majesty's dominions will not be liable to forfeiture?


Sir, it is in the contemplation of Her Majesty's Government to issue a Proclamation for the purpose of cautioning all Her Majesty's subjects against any interference in the hostilities between the Northern and Southern States of America. In that Proclamation the general effect of the common and statute law on the matter will be stated. The general principle of our Law is that no British subject shall enter into the service of any Foreign Prince or Power, or engage in any hostilities that may be carried on between any two foreign States. With respect to the precise effect of the Foreign Enlistment Act in the case supposed, it would not be proper for me to undertake to lay it down, inasmuch as the construction of any statute is matter for judicial decision rather than for any opinion of my own. The general bearing of the law will, however, as I have said, be set forth in the Proclamation.