HC Deb 28 March 1871 vol 205 cc781-801

rose to call the attention of the House to the serious international complications which have arisen from the existing state of our municipal law relating to the export of arms and munitions of war to belligerent States; and to move a Resolution. The hon. Gentleman said it would be unnecessary to occupy the time of the House with any reiteration of complaints which had been addressed to the British Government by foreign nations, which were, unhappily, too fresh in the recollection of hon. Gentlemen. He had never, individually, had the slightest doubt that our municipal law was in harmony with International Law, and, under certain qualifications and exemptions, was practically identical with the municipal law of almost every European nation. He thought it was also practically the same as the American law. The subject was also, in his opinion, one which was purely for our own consideration as a matter of municipal law, and one in which we were in no wise bound to act, unless we chose to act along with other Powers. But he might be asked why, while entertaining these views, he had complicated this question by introducing into his Motion any reference to communications with foreign Powers; and in reply to that hypothetical objection he reminded the House that any arrangement which might be arrived at by the British Parliament without previous communication with foreign Powers would be only too likely to lead to a renewal of the difficulties with which this subject had been always beset, and that we should be as far from a final and satisfactory settlement of the question as we were at the present moment; with the addition that our responsibilities and complications would be largely increased. This course of communicating with foreign Governments had not by any means originated with him. Lord Granville, in reply to representations which had been made to the English Government by the German Confederation, stated that it would be a difficult thing for any decision to be arrived at by the Government with a view to recommending any alteration of our municipal law, unless some common understanding between other Powers could be obtained. He went on to say, in a despatch dated the 15th of September, that— Her Majesty's Government would be prepared to enter into consultation with other nations as to the possibility of adopting in common a stricter rule. The course, therefore, which he ventured to suggest to the House was one which had already received the sanction of Her Majesty's Government. There was another reason why he thought the House would be of opinion that a common agreement between the various Powers should be a preliminary to any legislation on the subject. It would be in the recollection of hon. Members who had read the Blue Book to which he referred that Count Bernstorff drew a contrast between our action in the late war and that between Denmark and the German Bund in 1864. He stated that the reason why the exportation of cannon to Hamburg was on the latter occasion prohibited by the British Government was because, by a Treaty dated so far back as 1670, the King of Denmark and the Sovereign of Great Britain had mutually engaged to prohibit the exportation of soldiers, arms, engines, and ships in time of war. Now, we had within the last few months heard of a doctrine which had been hitherto unknown to the students of International Law—the doctrine of "benevolent" neutrality. A doctrine more untenable or absurd he ventured to say had never emanated from any statesman, or found its way into any State Paper. He should not, therefore, be justified in trespassing on the time of the House by endeavouring to combat it. But he would ask the Government how they could reconcile the Treaty to which he alluded with a complete and impartial neutrality in the event of any war breaking out in which Denmark happened to be engaged. A state of things so anomalous demanded, in his opinion, their serious consideration. It would, he thought, be very generally admitted that our law on the subject was by no means satisfactory. As matters now stood we might find ourselves engaged, whenever a war occurred in any quarter of the globe, in controversies and complications not, perhaps, without danger, so that the question was one which required to be settled in one direction or another. The law of England dealt in no way with the export of arms or munitions of war. The Foreign Enlistment Act, even as amended last year, provided penalties for such acts as sending out men or ships to any of the belligerents, or whatever might be wanted to complete the complement of a vessel. Now, how was it that under those circumstances we could avoid seeming to occupy in 99 cases out of 100 a one-sided and partial position between two contending nations? It almost always happened that one of the belligerents had a preponderating force at sea. What, therefore, must be the feelings of that belligerent who found himself debarred from our markets for the purchase of commodities to which the other had free access? He might be told that he was referring to unfounded allegations which had emanated from belligerents while in the heat of strife, when the feelings gained the better of the judgment, and when they were in a feeling somewhat like that of a man suffering from gout, and that when they became restored to a state of calm and reviewed the position they would give us credit for our good intentions. He must, however, remind the House that in the case of the Russian War, when we ourselves were belligerents, we took advantage of some provisional order in force in Prussia, and that the Government of England, composed in a great degree of the Colleagues of the right hon. Gentleman now at its head, had occasion to address a remonstrance to the Prussian Government; and though this remonstrance failed, the cause which led to it nevertheless produced very considerable ill-feeling in this country, and also in France, against the policy which was then pursued by the Prussian Government. It was not, however, denied that Prussia, on that occasion, exercised an undoubted right. Regarding the state of our own law, Count Bernstorff, in a despatch dated 1st of September, said that the British nation would be held morally responsible for the blood which had been shed through the agency of certain individuals referred to in the despatch, as the war would, but for them, have ended sooner, and fewer German soldiers would have been killed if the Government had not permitted such abuses of the International Law. He did not mean to defend this language of Count Bernstorff, as he thought we were acting within the limits of our International Law; but he would ask the House to consider whether, as a matter of wise domestic policy, and with the view of maintaining friendly relations with foreign Powers, it would not be desirable that the existing state of things should be brought to an end. The legislation hitherto had been partial and one-sided. It was usually urged, in opposition to the view he was advocating, that the law was the same for all parties, and that, of course, the market being open to the world, one belligerent had as good an opportunity of obtaining what he required as the other. He thought, however, that the amendment of the law, in the sense he proposed, was one that would hardly meet with any serious opposition, unless it were on two grounds; one was the difficulty of enforcing such a law. The House had been told last year by the Attorney General that they would find constant evasion of such a law. Now, of course, no moral distinction could be drawn between the sending out of ships, and arms, or cartridges, and common sense and a perusal of the Blue Book would, he thought, show that the most specific information was constantly forthcoming with reference to such a commerce as that which he was deprecating. He found that Count Bernstorff occupied the first days of September in writing constant despatches to Lord Granville on this subject. Lord Granville did not immediately inform Count Bernstorff that the Government were not prepared to interfere with the trade, and before any announcement was made Count Bernstorff was constantly furnishing the Foreign Secretary with lists of the alleged exports. It could not be expected, indeed, that the Government could be called upon to prohibit the export of infinitestimal proprotions of arms; but it might be supposed that they would undertake to prevent wholesale exportation. It was a matter of notoriety, in every port of Europe that orders had been issued to certain manufacturers in certain portions of the globe. There was very little concealment in the matter. In the case of ships, however, they were almost invariably ordered for the Tycoon of Japan, or some other distant potentate, who had suddenly acquired a taste for naval expenditure. These ships generally bore some Eastern title, and were ordered by agents of the most peaceful Governments. He thought the Government might have put down any organized supply in the shape of arms. It was also objected to the proposition he now made that the law as it stood was essentially favourable to this country as a maritime nation. That was an objection which, if proved, would go a very long way to convince him. He confessed to having so much of selfish policy in his eye to be chary of interfering with anything that was beneficial to us as a nation; but, recollecting the trade in warlike materials carried on through Prussia during the Crimean War, he maintained that all the navies in the world could not prevent a trade in contraband between inland States. Therefore, if this country were engaged in a war with an inland State, the law now existing would not operate in its favour; for the inland State would get its supplies of armaments from its near neighbours without hindrance from the maritime power of England. It would hardly be maintained that a country possessing such preponderating manufacturing strength could be much affected by the import or export of arms. If an enemy were possessed of Woolwich and Enfield the case might be different; but that was an alternative he did not anticipate. The alteration in the municipal law last year was effected under considerable disadvantages. Any comprehensive treatment of the question was almost impossible. He had called in question the advisability of selecting that moment for legislation, be- cause hostilities were just then beginning. The Government must have seen that if the question was ever to be fairly approached it must be in time of peace, when our legislation might be free from the charge of being hasty or one-sided. It was said that the export of arms was a legitimate branch of trade, and productive of employment to large classes of our countrymen, and that it added to the wealth of the country. Did the despatches of last year bear out these statements? Lord Granville came to the conclusion that the profit derived by this country from the export of arms was infinestimal in the extreme—that the supply had been almost entirely drawn from America, and that the amount of profit gained by the English people was next to nothing. He therefore asked the House whether there was any equivalent advantages to counterbalance the disadvantages of permitting such a trade to go on. Was the game worth the candle? The trade was one with which that House should have no sympathy. Count Bernstorff wrote that prohibitive measures would not diminish the lawful trade of the English people, but would merely compel some rapacious individuals who had profited to desist from their trade. The existing state of the law had been fraught with great peril to the peaceful relations of this country with foreign nations, and he thought it was the duty of the Government to communicate with foreign nations with a view to some united conclusion on the subject being adopted.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That, in the opinion of this House, it is the duty of Her Majesty's Government to endeavour to arrive, in conjunction with Foreign Powers, at a settlement of the question of the export of arms and munitions of war from neutral to belligerent States."—(Mr. James Lowther.)


said, he wished to state the grounds on which he hoped that neither the Government nor the House would assent to the Motion of his hon. Friend. His hon. Friend sought to induce the Government to enter into correspondence with Foreign States, with the view that the exportation of arms might be treated in a Conference as an international question. The speech of his hon. Friend was directed to the point that it was advisable that we should at once prohibit the export of munitions of war. He would remind his hon. Friend that when this question was discussed in August last only 29 Members acquiesced in the view which his hon. Friend placed before them, and unless circumstances had arisen since that time to lead the House to alter the decision which it then arrived at, he presumed it would be admitted that there was no ground why they should reverse their former decision. With reference both to municipal law and the Law of Nations, he contended that the Motion of his hon. Friend was entirely without foundation. By general International Law there was entire free trade in all arms and munitions of war, and even vessels of war. It was in 1713, on complaint being made by the Swedish Minister, that the Judges decided, upon a reference to them for their opinion by the House of Lords, that all armed ships, ships of great power, and firearms, might be supplied from this country to any neutral State. That was not only the municipal law of this country, but the International Law; and so it remained in relation to every other country until 1793, when the French Government, being at war with us, were using the ports of America for fitting out privateering vessels against our commerce. We remonstrated with America, and an Act of Congress was passed in 1794, which was in 1818 confirmed, putting an end to the fitting out and arming vessels of war from the United States. There was gratitude among nations; and, therefore, in the Bill introduced by Lord Liverpool in 1819 a reciprocity clause with America was inserted to prevent vessels being armed and equipped in this country. The Liberal party, led by Sir James Mackintosh, protested against it as interfering with the free trade permitted by International Law; but the overwhelming power of the party then in office carried the Bill, with that clause, against these remonstrances. He concurred with his hon. Friend in thinking that the law was in an unsatisfactory state, because, unfortunately, we did then deviate from that perfect freedom of trade which existed by the Law of Nations, and which would have existed till this moment if that Act had not passed. His hon. Friend would now extend the difficulties that arose on the construction of the Act of 1819 by enacting a law which could never be carried into effect in its letter and entirety—a law by which we were to prohibit the exportation of all arms and munitions of war. Would that be more beneficial to the people of this country, or more likely to lessen the probability of our coming into conflict with foreign nations? Our principle, as a commercial country, was to keep our ports and harbours open—to deal freely with all nations, to serve all parties alike—to offer every nation coming here to purchase anything they were willing to buy; but his hon. Friend proposed that we should refuse to sell to other nations what they were willing to buy. Would it be beneficial to this country that our sales should cease, and that we should be buyers only in the markets of the world? Such a system would drain this country of its wealth, and bring no accession to its power or influence. At the same time he did not think we should in this way be more likely to avoid the chance of coming into collision with foreign Powers. He thought the question ought to be looked at in a broader view. If the Government legislated in the spirit of his hon. Friend, did he not see that the Government would be compelled to assume responsibility if the law were infringed? If they adopted the principle advocated by his hon. Friend the export of every gun, and of every barrel of powder, would enable any country to say that it had cause of complaint. What answer would it be for us to say that we had done all we could to prevent such consequences? The answer would be—"You should have made your Custom House officers more vigilant." By adopting the legislation proposed they would be raising causes of complaint, and we should be debarred from saying that we were acting in accordance with municipal or International Law. If munitions of war were to be made no longer obtainable from this country, they would be procurable from other countries. So long as we were asked to do what no other nation had ever done in respect to this matter we were, in effect, being asked to drive out from this country the trade in the conveyance of arms and munitions of war for the benefit of the other markets of the world. No complaints against us on this head should be allowed to guide the legislation of this country unless they were well-founded and con- sistent with justice. Now, no one could fairly argue that there was any foundation for the complaint made by Count Bernstorff in his letter to Lord Granville. On the 4th August this matter was fully discussed in that House; the Government, in order to avoid any complications arising from the ambiguity of the Act of 1819, having introduced the Foreign Enlistment Act of last year. In the discussion to which he was referring the Attorney General stated distinctly the opinions and policy of the Government upon this question, which in effect were that the freedom of trade should be maintained in respect to all the markets of the world. That policy was approved of by a considerable majority of the House. Now, although war had then been declared, the first blow had not been struck. Count Bernstorff who clearly had watched the debates in the House, remained for some time silent and dumb, and did not renew his complaint. The fortunes of war having, however, declared in favour of Prussia, the German Minister reiterated his complaint to Lord Granville, declaring that this country was bound to observe "a benevolent neutrality" during the existence of the war. Count Bernstorff admitted that neither International Law, nor the municipal law of this country, had not been broken; but he said that Prussia and Germany being our allies, they asked us, in effect, to cease to be just to France, to break our municipal laws as regarded that country, and to interdict any further dealings with her. If that request had been acceded to it would have been justly said that compliance was an act of hostility towards France, and that we had been coerced into acquiescence by a powerful State. The remonstrance which we addressed to Prussia at the time of the Crimean War was effectual as regarded the transit of arms from Belgium through Prussia, but ineffectual in relation to the trade of Prussia. His hon. Friend opposite said that we were bound under such circumstances to prevent the exportation of arms. Now, what did that mean? It meant simply that in case of war between two other nations every vessel that left our shores during hostilities should be searched. It would be no answer for us to make to any complaint from a belligerent that we had no Custom House force appointed for the purpose of searching vessels, because the rejoinder would naturally be this—"You should have established such a force when you took such obligations upon yourselves." The hon. Gentleman's Motion would break down the simple laws of political economy, and cause great injury to this country if carried out, as well as create a state of things which would be a constant ground of complaint. It was the opinion of many that it was the passing of the Act of 1819, and the evasion of that Act, which involved this country in a contention with America in regard to the Alabama, the complaint being, not that international, but that municipal law had been evaded. He asked whether it was advisiable to extend such bonds, and pass a law which would of course be evaded 100 times more easily than the present law—for every evasion of that law would be a cause of complaint against the Government of this country? The opinion of Mr. Jefferson, of Mr. Canning in 1826, and of Mr. Huskisson in 1830, had all been expressed against the principle involved in this Motion, and he trusted that the House, anxious for the prosperity of our commerce and the maintenance of peace, would unanimously reject the Motion before it.


wished to observe that to a great extent he agreed with the views so ably expressed by his hon. and learned Friend; but he confessed he did not participate in the feeling which his hon. and learned Friend seemed to have in respect to the value and importance to the artificers of this country of the trade in munitions of war. He rather took in that respect what seemed to him a somewhat higher view of the obligations which he believed to be incumbent upon traders as well as on the Government. When this country was neutral, it seemed to him that all its subjects should be neutral also; and, if so, they would not do those acts which, when they were done, were considered to justify the exercise of belligerent rights at sea against those who had committed such acts. On what principle was it, when British subjects exported articles of contraband of war to countries at war with each other when we were neutral, that we permitted those goods to be afterwards seized, and the persons engaged in carrying this trade on to be treated as having committed acts of hostility against one of the belligerents? Manifestly, it was because those acts really partook of the nature of acts of hostility. He could not think, therefore, that it was sound commercial morality which drove a trade of this description and endeavoured to get profits out of it. Neither did he think it was a kind of trade which the Legislature of this country ought actively to protect. Indeed, he confessed he should not be ill-pleased if the law of this country went a step further than it did at present, and said it would not give the assistance of our Courts to the enforcement of contracts which involved British subjects to that extent in aiding foreign wars, and which made them liable at sea to the exercise of belligerent rights. The hon. Member opposite (Mr. Lowther) had justly said that this ought to be considered as a question of domestic interest and policy. The moment the hon. Member said that, he seemed to him to put an end to his own Motion, which declared that it was expedient to endeavour to arrive, in conjunction with foreign Powers, at a settlement of the question. If we told foreign Powers that our domestic interest was the regulating principle with us, we should not be very likely to arrive at a settlement in which they, equally with ourselves, would keep that principle in view. If that were the true principle, we ought to settle the matter for ourselves, without calling in the aid, on that ground, at all events, of foreign Governments. He confessed he should have no great confidence in any agreements of that kind. International Law was a matter depending on the general sentiment and established practice of civilized nations, as to the mutual obligation of States one to another. A convention was of the nature of a treaty; but when war took place between nations all treaties, as between the belligerent parties—though not as between them and neutrals—were dissolved. Looking at our own policy he agreed entirely with the hon. Member opposite that it ought to be our object to avoid increasing to a dangerous extent our responsibilities as neutrals. Well, that was the very reason why he opposed the hon. Gentleman's Motion. There was a growing tendency on the part of all belligerent Powers to quarrel with other nations for being sincerely neutral. There could be little doubt that the great grievance of the United States in regard to us was our assumed want of sympathy with the North. From beginning to end all the differences between this country and the people of the United States had, to say the least, been exaggerated to a great extent by their disappointment at the existence of a considerable amount of sympathy among a portion of the people of this country with those who were unsuccessful in that contest. It was precisely the same in regard to the recent war on the Continent of Europe. Germany was angry because we did not see she was so clearly in the right, and it was said that our neutrality was not benevolent because we did not feel we ought to go out of our way to prevent France profiting by supplies from this country. France also had entertained some hope, though he thought upon insufficient grounds, that she would receive active assistance from us. In reality the exigencies of war were such that, while it was going on, every party at war naturally looked out for assistance from every quarter whence it was possible to obtain it, either by getting active aid for themselves, or by stopping that intercourse, which, according to International Law, might be legitimately carried on with their adversaries. It was obvious that no nation had ever yet persevered after peace had been restored in treating as a Breach of International Law the kind of traffic to which he had just referred; but the moment we began to enter into special legislation or stipulations on the subject there would at once arise complications and embarrassments. He would, therefore, strongly advise the Government to steer clear of these special laws, where the nature of the case was such that the want of them was not likely to involve us in controversies, which might lead to war. He quite agreed with his hon. and learned Friend who had just spoken that prior to the Civil War in America no jurist, either British or American, nor any jurist of authority in any nation, had laid down a doctrine favourable to the proposition that any of the things prohibited by our Foreign Enlistment Act were contrary to the Law of Nations. While hoping that the Foreign Enlistment Act of last Session would prove to be a satisfactory measure, he confessed he had not received much encouragement from the first illustration which had occurred of its working. It appeared that during the passing of that Act there slipped into it something which had not been recommended by the Neutrality Commissioners—namely, a provision concerning military telegraphy. The question arose as to what military telegraphy was, and a ship had been seized which was going to lay down a cable between Bordeaux and Dunkerque. The Court of Admiralty released the snip, not holding the case to be within the Act; but he supposed that if the telegraph wire which was being laid down had been of material assistance to the French in the course of the war, the Germans would have found in it a great cause of complaint. Our main object, then, in dealing with this question should be to stand within those limits where we should undertake nothing which we could not perform, and assume no obligations which at present everybody knew were not laid upon us. The hon. Gentleman opposite referred to the present state of things as showing that transactions of this kind were known to the Custom House authorities, and could, therefore, be stopped without difficulty. But, as the law now stood, such transactions being lawful, there was no motive for concealing them. If they were prohibited, we must be prepared for a very different state of things, in which such transactions would take place under all the conditions of blockade running and smuggling; and was it to be imagined that when great profits were to be made by blockade running, or smuggling, or anything else that was not carried on in public, people would not engage in it? In fact, nothing would be more difficult than to prevent them. Why, we had found it most difficult in things so visible as ships. What was the difficulty? To get at the destination of the ships and their warlike purpose. But if there were difficulties in that case, how much greater would they be with regard to the general trade in arms and munitions of war? He apprehended it would be perfectly impossible to prevent people from engaging in an export trade of arms, and then it would be said that we had contracted obligations and had not fulfilled them. Had the hon. Gentleman considered that, to accomplish his object, we must stop the export of arms not only to the belligerent nations, but to every other part of the world; because, if we stopped the trade to France but not to the United States, the arms would go first to the United States and then to France? His hon. Friend limited his Motion to two matters—arms and munitions of war. But everyone knew very well that if we once adopted that principle it would be said—There are other things by which you can assist nations, besides arms and munitions of war. There are loans of money, for instance. In time of war, the belligerent treated as contraband everything which was very valuable, for any warlike purpose, to its enemies. Coal, for example, and military clothing; in fact, there was nothing which, being exported for purposes of war, and being of material assistance to the belligerents, would not be treated as coming within the range of the same principle if once we adopted a new rule. His advice, therefore, was, that we should be content with the rather heavy responsibilities we had already assumed, and by no means enlarge them.


said, the object of the Motion of his hon. Friend was to arrive at some satisfactory settlement of the question, and the country was indebted to him for bringing it before the House. We were in this position. We had been arraigned by Germany before the whole civilized world as not being willing to forego the profits arising from this trade, and were told that we should be held responsible for the prolongation of the war, as well as for the loss of life which had taken place, and in his opinion we should have shown a culpable sense of indifference to the challenge if the public attention had not been called to the subject. His hon. Friend must have been encouraged in the course he had taken by some words of the Attorney General in introducing the Foreign Enlistment Bill, for he said that the Bill had been prepared rather for the sake of ourselves and our own dignity than to satisfy any demands which might be made upon us by foreign countries. He hoped that the same tone would be taken on the present occasion. The hon. and learned Member for Taunton (Mr. James) had asked what was the use of re-considering a subject when the House had given a vote on it in August last. But the fact was that France and Germany were then at war, and it was therefore impossible for us to open so vital a question, and to take action which would have laid us open to the charge of shaping our legislation in a direction hostile to one or other of the bellige- rents. The question was in a very different position now, and was one of such magnitude that we ought fairly to look it in the face. It had been felt that such a traffic was not consistent with our dignity. Nor could it be denied that having so largely engaged in this traffic, our remonstrances would fall with less weight than they would otherwise have done. The hon. and learned Member for Richmond (Sir Roundell Palmer) had alluded to the case of the Alabama. But what was the lesson to be derived from that case? It was this—that, in spite of volumes of despatches proving our case in an unanswerable manner, we did not like to resist the outcry of an exasperated people; and it was not impossible that, after all, we might have to admit our liability. Notwithstanding the strong and almost unanswerable arguments of the hon. and learned Member for Richmond, he held that it was worthy of the highest statesmanship to see whether we could not arrive at a settlement of this question.


said, he had no sympathy with those who, for the selfish purposes of gain, ran the risk of embroiling us with foreign countries, and, therefore, in expressing his inability to agree with the Motion of the hon. Member for York as explained by him, he did so not in the interest of trade, but from the apprehension that in endeavouring to avoid one evil we might become involved in another and a more serious one. Nothing could be more generally recognized than the right of neutrals to trade with friendly neighbours. It had long, however, been the practice of neutrals to surrender so much of this right, in deference to belligerents, as appertained to what was called contraband of war, stipulating only that this should be accurately defined and fairly limited. Because it might be said that anything was available for warlike purposes—"for want of a nail the battle was lost." If the subjects of neutral States lost property, liberty, or even life in trying to evade blockading squadrons, or otherwise breaking the rules of war, they were very properly considered to have brought their misfortunes upon themselves; but it was not fair that belligerents should ask neutrals, in addition to giving up their acknowledged rights, to act as police for them, and interfere to prevent their subjects doing that which they conceded to belligerents the right to prevent their doing. Neutrals would in this way be only laying a snare for themselves, and be running a risk of belligerents fastening a quarrel upon them for the non-fulfilment of duties which were not duties before they were voluntarily assumed. Then let the House see to what liability such a neutral Power as this country might be exposed in consequence not only of the impossibility, as the hon. and learned Member for Richmond (Sir Roundell Palmer) had stated, of preventing the smuggling of munitions of war, but in consequence of such munitions with forged English trademarks, and even the British Government mark, being supplied from elsewhere to belligerents. The sale of the Alabama was not an offence against the Law of Nations, and we should have incurred no liability—supposing we had incurred any, which he did not admit—but we should have incurred no semblance of liability, had it not been for our own municipal law. There was nothing in International Law to prevent a neutral selling a ship of war to a belligerent. This was very different from fitting out an armed expedition from our shores, which would be a hostile operation in time of peace. The distinction was between what might be lawfully done in time of peace—the character of which was, to some extent, altered by a state of war—and what was essentially an offence against the Law of Nations. He thought it was very unwise to include telegraphic apparatus among forbidden articles. It had already caused us trouble. If nations quarrel, the injury that must almost inevitably be done to neutrals ought not to be enhanced by any artificial restrictions which could be avoided. And, looking at the question from a moral point of view, what difference was there between selling munitions of war to a nation actually belligerent or to one contemplating war? Simply this, that you furnished the nation preparing for aggression with the accumulated means of doing so, and left the nation upon whom the attack was made at the mercy of a richer or more unscrupulous enemy. As he had said before, he was not speaking in the interest of trade, upon which he was quite ready to impose the disabili- ties suggested by the hon. and learned Member for Richmond; but it appeared to him that however natural might be this desire on the part of a large number of people to put an end to what appeared to be taking advantage of the passions and adding to the sufferings of others, yet that, in the interest of the peace and independence of the country, we ought to be very careful before we placed upon ourselves burdens which might be too heavy for us to bear.


said, his hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Lowther) had referred to a despatch written by Lord Granville, in which he intimated the willingness of the English Government to consider the present question in conjunction with other Powers, but he had not read the concluding paragraph, in which the noble Earl stated that the expectations of the Government of any practical result "in the light indicated by the North German Government were not very sanguine." As the matter stood, the Government saw no reason to change the opinions on the subject which they had expressed last Session. For his own part he objected to the Motion, because it tended to increase the obligations of neutrals, and to make more burdensome to them that which was sufficiently burdensome to them already. Last year we went a considerable length in taking obligations on ourselves, and his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Richmond (Sir Roundell Palmer) was perhaps right in contending that in one respect we had gone too far in that direction. We determined—not admitting there was any international obligation on us to do so, but for the sake of our own peace, security, and satisfaction—to undertake the duty of stopping every vessel which might be sent from any port in this country with the view to engage in the naval service of a foreign Power. That was going beyond the obligations imposed upon us by any international or municipal law. But they were now asked to incur a stronger obligation. Now, what had occurred to induce the House to accept a proposition which it resisted then? His hon. Friend rested his case on what he had described as the endless controversy and complications which had arisen owing to our having adhered during the late war to the rules of International Law. But although he was prepared to admit that there had been some controversy between Lord Granville and Count Bernstorff, he entirely denied that there had been any complications. Lord Granville had been able, he thought he might say without fear of contradiction, to give a conclusive answer to Count Bernstorff, because he was in a position to refer to one of those landmarks in International Law which was so clear and distinct that no one could venture to dispute it. It was by resting on that landmark that Lord Granville had, in point of fact, put an end to the controversy, and that nothing like a complication had arisen. Suppose it had been otherwise, and that the prohibition proposed by his hon. Friend had been in force, there would have been in all probability not only controversy but complications also. His hon. Friend, he might add, admitted that we could stop only wholesale exportation of arms. But how was a distinction to be drawn between wholesale and retail exportation? How could we expect that an angry belligerent would accept an excuse founded on such distinction? Why, the result of the adoption of the course advocated by his hon. Friend, would be that we should have endless complications, and ever so many claims for damages, because we happened to have failed to prevent the exportation of arms from Liverpool or some other port. As to the distinction between ships and arms, it was one which had been taken a very long time ago. In 1793 we had made a complaint to the American Government on two grounds—in the first place, because they allowed French cruisers to be armed and equipped in their ports; and secondly, because they allowed arms and munitions of war to be exported to France. The answer of Mr. Jefferson was that, so far as the equipping of ships was concerned, our complaints were well-founded, and Washington prevented the exportation of armed vessels. That was before the Foreign Enlistment Act was passed. But as to the other ground of complaint, the reply was that it was impossible to comply with our wishes, for to request the American Government, as Mr. Jefferson put it, to establish a system of espionage over the shops of their gunmakers would be most unreasonable. In that reasoning we had acquiesced, and from that day to the present, the prevention of the exportation of munitions of war by a neutral had never been insisted upon. It was true we had made a complaint to Prussia some years ago; but the complaint was that she had not enforced a municipal law of her own which prohibited the carrying of munitions of war through Belgium—a very different case from that for which his hon. Friend was contending. Under the circumstances, he hoped his hon. Friend would not press his Motion, because we had gone quite far enough in imposing liability on neutrals.


observed, that whatever might be the result of the Motion, it was quite clear that the law could not long remain in its present condition. International Law was pretty clear. It meant that the subjects of a State were not to levy war as adventurers or freebooters against one of two belligerents. But that view had of late years been widened, and by including ships of war under the Foreign Enlistment Act, and by the Act passed last Session, which so carefully went into the question of prohibition of exports either of ships of war or ships that might be used for warlike purposes, we showed a disposition to avoid the dangers and difficulties which arose in the case of the Alabama. It had been said that we might find ourselves involved in greater complications than ever, because of the difficulty of preventing the export of munitions of war. But was it not possible, either by means of a conference with foreign States, or by the framing of our own Act of Parliament, to provide that the Government should not be bound to watch every gunsmith's shop, or to be held responsible for every exportation? Would it not be sufficient to provide that information should be given to the Government by the Consuls or representatives of foreign States; and could we not impose certain restrictions without impeding trade? But whatever might be the decision of Parliament on this point, he was anxious that the law should be made so clear that manufacturers should be able to follow their business without being liable to imputations of unpatriotic or immoral conduct, and without being obliged to terminate contracts with foreign countries suddenly on the outbreak of war. He trusted the day was not far distant when this country, in conjunction with foreign nations would, in the interests of hu- manity and in the fulfilment of their duty towards each other, remodel and improve the law on this subject in the direction indicated by the hon. Member for York.


observed, that the wisdom of the action taken last year by himself and other hon. Members with the view of reducing the stringency of the Foreign Enlistment Bill had been shown by what had occurred in connection with a company which had a contract with France for the manufacture and supply of telegraph cables. Under a novel provision of that Act, the steamer International, belonging to that company, had been arrested; and although the Court of Admiralty had decided in favour of the innocency of the transaction of the company, its interests had been much injured by the detention of the vessel and legal costs incurred. There was much force in what had been said as to the difficulties of defining what was contraband of war. Arms and munitions formed only a small part of the supplies necessary to carry on war. The Prussians had received in their ports immense supplies of coal and woollen goods from Yorkshire for belligerent purposes, and within the last few months the trade between the manufacturing districts of this country and the near ports of Germany never had been so active. He had heard, with much pleasure, the authoritative statement of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Richmond (Sir Roundell Palmer), for he was of opinion that it would be extremely dangerous to increase the stringency of our municipal law, which was more secure than that of any other of the Great Powers. He was therefore unable to support the Motion of the hon. Member for York.


, in reply, said he thought it was evident from the remarks of the hon. and learned Gentlemen the Members for Taunton (Mr. James) and for Richmond (Sir Roundell Palmer) that the law was in a very unsatisfactory condition. The hon. and learned Member for Richmond suggested that contracts for the supply of munitions of war should not be recoverable in an English Court of Justice; but with all deference to so high an authority, he believed such an arrangement would, cause still further complications. The hon. and learned Member for Taunton boldly suggested the idea of free trade in engines of destruction. That was a tangible proposition. His own objection applied to interference with one branch of trade when another was protected. He was unable to understand why the interests of the shipping trade were to be ignored while those of manufactures were carefully considered. The hon. and learned Gentleman had given excellent reasons for the repeal of the whole of our legislation on this subject. The Attorney General had attributed to him the advocacy of a retail trade in arms on the ground that it was impossible to wholly prevent exportation. But his argument was that whatever law was passed would be infringed to some extent, although he was of opinion that such legislation as he suggested would be evaded to no greater extent than other ordinary enactments. He did not propose to introduce stringent provisions into the Foreign Enlistment Act, but merely to carry out the intention expressed by the Foreign Secretary when he stated that the Government were willing to consider this question in conjunction with foreign Powers. He had not sought to prejudge the result of such negotiations. He would not trouble the House to go to a Division; but he must say that he had received no answer to the question he had raised. In his opinion, no arguments had been adduced on behalf of the Government to show why his Motion should not be adopted.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.