§ SIR LAWRENCE PALK
said, he rose to call the attention of Mr. Attorney General to—A rule obtained for a Commission to examine the Pacha of Egypt and other witnesses at Cairo, to obtain evidence against the Steam Rams detained at Birkenhead; and to ask how long this investigation is likely to take, and the probable expense of it: Whether the trial of the Birkenhead iron-clads will be postponed from May next, until this information be obtained: And, why this rule was not applied for when the vessels were first detained?He believed the Foreign Enlistment Act was framed to prevent armed ships from leaving our ports with the intention of taking part in a war against belligerents in amity with England. The question was intimately connected with the question of neutral and belligerent rights, and of these rights he could not give a better definition than was contained in a letter from Earl Russell to Lord Lyons, dated March 27, 1863. Now, Earl Russell wrote to Lord Lyons—I said to Mr. Adams that the most stringent orders had been given long ago to watch the proceedings of those who might be suspected of fitting out vessels of war for Confederate purposes; that if there were six vessels, as it was alleged, fitting out in British ports for such purposes, let evidence be forthcoming, and the Government would not hesitate to stop the vessels, and to bring the offenders before a court of justice; and that Mr. Adams was no doubt aware that the Government must proceed according to the regular process of law, and upon sworn testimony.Now, although the Foreign Enlistment Act was framed in good faith, it was certainly not intended that the Government of the neutral should be bound to issue a roving Commission for the purpose of finding evidence to convict those who were connected with the supposed war vessel; but as Earl Russell expressed it, the evidence was to be forthcoming upon which the Government was to act in the matter. The evidence, in short, was to be brought before the neutral. Earl Russell wrote to Mr. Adams on the 14th of September—When the United States' Government assumes to hold the Government of Great Britain responsible for the captures made by vessels which may be fitted out as vessels of war in a foreign port, I have to observe that such pretensions are entirely at variance with the principles of international 691 law, and with the decision of American Courts of the highest authority; and I have only, in conclusion, to express a hope that you may not be instructed again to put forward claims which Her Majesty's Government cannot admit to be founded on any grounds of law or justice.It appeared to him that before the neutral Government could legally seize a ship on any grounds whatever, it was for the Government asking for the seizure to prove that the vessel was built, fitted out, and intended for the purpose of taking part in the war with a belligerent State. He thought it must be admitted that the onus probandi rested with the Government making the claim, and not with the neutral Government; but in the case of the iron-clad vessels there could not be any pretence for asserting that they had been built for any underhand purpose, because the Messrs. Laird had published a correspondence between them and Her Majesty's Government, ranging over a considerable period, and giving the Government the fullest information it was possible to give, affording them free access to the vessels whenever it was required, and pledging the Messrs. Laird, as mercantile men of honour, station, and repute, that no advantage should be taken of the Government. The Messrs. Laird had at all times faithfully performed that promise; and therefore he could not think they could be accused of having in any way misled the Government. A letter was written by the Secretary of the Treasury to those gentlemen on the 7th of October, which really was somewhat of a curiosity in literary correspondence. It stated—Gentlemen,—Referring to your ready acceptance of the offer of Her Majesty's Government to prevent any attempt at the forcible abduction of your property, the iron-clad vessel now nearly completed at Birkenhead, and understanding that the trial trip which has been the subject of former correspondence has been abandoned, I am directed by the Lords Commissioners of Her Majesty's Treasury to acquaint you that, from information which has been received, it has become necessary to take additional means for preventing any such attempt.The House would observe that in the latter part of the letter a supposition was expressed that steps might be taken which the former part stated to have been abandoned. On the 1st of September, Earl Russell wrote to Mr. Adams—In the first place, Her Majesty's Government are advised that the information contained in the depositions is in great measure mere hearsay evidence, and generally that it is not such as to show the intent or purpose necessary to make the building or fitting out of these vessels illegal under the 692 Foreign Enlistment Act. Secondly, it has been stated to Her Majesty's Government at one time, that these vessels have been built for Frenchmen, and at another that they belonged to the Viceroy of Egypt, and that they were not intended for the so-called Confederate States. It is true that in your letter of the 25th of July you maintain that this statement as regards French ownership is a pretence, but the inquiries set on foot by Her Majesty's Government have failed to show that it is without foundation. Whatever suspicion may be entertained by the United States' Consul at Liverpool as to the ultimate destination of these vessels, the fact remains that M. Bravay, a French merchant, residing at Paris, who is represented to be the person upon whose orders these ships have been built, has personally appeared, and has acted in that character at Liverpool. There is no legal evidence against M. Bravay's claim, nor anything to affect him with any illegal act or purpose; and the responsible agent of the Customs at Liverpool affirms his belief that these vessels have not been built for the Confederates. Under these circumstances, and having regard to the entire insufficiency of the depositions to prove any infraction of the law, Her Majesty's Government are advised that they cannot interfere in any way with these vessels.Therefore, on the 1st of September, Her Majesty's Government were of opinion that, whatever suspicion might be entertained by the Government of the United States, the fact remained that a French merchant had ordered those vessels. He wanted to prove that, from the beginning to the end of this affair, Mr. Laird had stated that M. Bravay had ordered those vessels, and that as far as they were concerned the transaction was a bonâ fide one. He would show that by the despatches of the noble Earl the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, as also by a speech of the noble Lord at the head of the Government. He also contended that if there was any justification for the seizure in the first instance, that justification was still the same; and it was both unfair and prejudicial to the interests of commerce that delays should take place to obtain information in foreign countries where that information could not have anything to do with the question, and could not prove anything that might be alleged against those ships. On the 5th of September Mr. Adams, in an angry tone, wrote—In my belief, it is impossible that any nation retaining a proper degree of self-respect could tamely submit to a continuance of relations so utterly deficient in reciprocity. I have no idea that Great Britain would do so for a moment.On the 11th of September, Earl Russell observed—But law, as you are well aware, is enforced here as in the United States, by independent Courts of Justice, which will not admit assertion 693 for proof, nor conjecture for certainty.… With respect to the Egyptian Government, it was only on the 5th instant that Her Majesty's Government received a despatch from Mr. Colquhoun, Her Majesty's Consul General in Egypt, which is conclusive on the subject.He should like to ask the Attorney General what had taken place since the 11th of September to render it desirable that a roving Commission should be sent to seek evidence in Egypt. On the 27th of October, after some more angry correspondence had taken place between Mr. Adams and the Foreign Office, the cupola ships were detained; and many months after a rule was obtained to issue a Commission to examine the Pasha of Egypt and other witnesses to find evidence against those vessels. On the 23rd of July, 1863, on the question that the Appropriation Bill do pass, the noble Lord at the head of the Government said—Now, what is the duty of a neutral in regard to two belligerents, and what are the rights of neutrals? The American Government have laid down the position for themselves, because they have declared that a neutral is at liberty to furnish a belligerent with anything that the belligerent may choose to buy, whether it be ships, arms, or anything else. I cannot, in the abstract, concur with my hon. Friend in thinking there is any distinction in principle between muskets, gunpowder, bullets, and cannon on the one side, and ships on the other. Those are things by which war is carried on, and you are equally assisting belligerents by supplying them with muskets, cannon, and ammunition as you are by furnishing them with ships that are to operate in war.If it was the duty of a neutral to send a roving Commission to Egypt to obtain evidence, one would suppose it was their duty to act when there could be no difficulty in obtaining evidence at home that arms, cannon, and men were shipped for a belligerent. It appeared from a correspondence between Mr. Hammond, of the Foreign Office, and Mr. Hamilton, of the Treasury, that the Collector of Customs at Liverpool had stated to Messrs. Klengender and Co. that, if certain fort guns which they intended to ship on board the Gibraltar were for the Federal Government no obstacle would be placed in the way, and that such shipments to New York were very common. It appeared from the explanation given by Mr. Hamilton, that the collector referred to guns shipped as merchandise, and not as part of an armament of a vessel-of-war, so that, according to the policy of Her Majesty's Government, guns might be shipped as merchandise to New York—and were commonly—but that if the guns were intended for the Confederates, they would be 694 contraband, and liable to seizure. So common was this shipment of guns and ammunition to the Federal States become, that it was only the other day that he had read an account of how the Germania was detained at Southampton for some time, shipping some heavy siege guns from the Low Moor Ironworks. If it was the duty of the Government to send out roving Commissioners to seek for evidence against the Confederate States, he should like to hear the Attorney General's idea of neutrality as regarded the Federals. As the hon. and learned Gentleman was so anxious to strain the law in all its fulness, strength, and majesty against the Confederates, he (Sir Lawrence Palk) should like to know upon what principle of justice and of law the permission was given to the Federals to ship guns and ammunition in the broad light of day? So long as the policy of England was plain, straightforward, and honest, the people would support the Government in sustaining neutrality, as long as it appeared conducive to the interests of the country. But he believed that nothing would be so unpopular or so distasteful to the country as to see a different measure of justice dealt out to the two belligerent parties. If he had a feeling for one more than another it was towards the Confederates, who were fighting for liberty, while the Federals were fighting to enslave them; but that was merely a matter of feeling, and had nothing to do with the merits of the case. He begged the noble Lord to look around him, and to observe where his foreign policy was leading him. He supported freedom where it cost nothing, but when his assistance was most wanted he deserted his friends, as he had deserted Poland. The Government professed to hate treachery, and to dislike the company of those who consorted with conspirators, but it was but the other day that the friend of Mazzini had been a member of the Government. They had given advice to Denmark on all occasions, and led her to believe that she would receive from us actual co-operation; but in the hour of danger the Government had deserted her, as they had deserted Poland. The consequence was that at that moment England had not an ally in the world, and all nations were anxious to avoid her friendship. The English spirit of this nation was the only thing left for them to insult, but he was perfectly convinced, that if the partiality to which he had referred were continued, the English people would arise 695 as one man, and scatter the Government and their policy to the winds.
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
As I have already spoken, I will promise not to make a speech in answering the hon. Baronet.
§ MR. SPEAKER
It is only by the express permission of the House that the hon. and learned Gentleman can again address it, ["Go on!" "Go on!"]
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
I only thought of giving a simple answer to the question of the hon. Baronet, for I had no idea he would take so wide a circuit over all human affairs. My answer to him is that we did not send out a roving Commission, but having certain evidence—
§ SIR LAWRENCE PALK
said, he rose to order. If the Attorney General by the rules of the House could not fully answer his questions, he would rather take another opportunity of raising the question.
§ MR. SPEAKER
By the indulgence of the House, the Attorney General was replying to the hon. Baronet.
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
I will simply reply to the hon. Baronet's questions. With regard to his first question, I have to say that, of course, my attention has been called to a step which has been taken under my advice. The hon. Baronet seems to think that the Commission is a roving Commission to discover evidence. That probably arises from the fact that he does not understand the nature of these proceedings. There are persons in Egypt who, we believe, are able and willing to be witnesses for the Crown. Of course, we know perfectly well already what their evidence is, and when we got the Commission we were obliged to give particulars, and we gave a pretty full note to the other side. The hon. Baronet asks how long the investigation will take, and my answer to that is that the Commission is returnable on the 10th of May, which is earlier than the earliest day on which the trial could take place. Therefore, if the arrangements of the Court will permit of the trial taking place after next Easter Term, we shall be perfectly ready, and the Commission will cause no obstacle or delay. As to the expense of the proceedings, I really cannot undertake to say. The Crown has taken the least expensive mode of proceeding. A single Commissioner has been sent out—a consul from a neighbouring country. Of course, if the other side go to more expense, that is a voluntary action on their part. As to why we did not apply for a 696 rule when the vessels were first detained, my answer is that we were not ready to proceed to trial at an earlier period than we are actually now proceeding to trial; and to apply for a rule earlier would have been unnecessary and useless.