HC Deb 07 August 1877 vol 236 cc567-85

SIR JOHN HAY rose to call attention to the collision between Her Majesty's ships Shah and Amethyst and the rebel Peruvian iron-clad Huascar. The right hon. and gallant Baronet, who was prevented by the Rules of the House from moving the Resolution of which he had given Notice—namely, That, in the opinion of this House, it is desirable whenever there are a sufficient number of iron-clad ships, to revert to the practice of stationing one of them in the Pacific, said, that he was certain the House would pardon him, even at that late period of the Session, for occupying their attention for a short time by bringing under their notice this very important subject, affecting as it did the reputation of a very distinguished and gallant friend of his who was now in command of our Naval Forces in the Pacific. That gallant officer had recently had some very difficult matters to deal with, and the public mind had been satiated with information in reference to them, some of which, looking at the Papers which had been laid upon the Table that night, was not quite accurate. It appeared to him that the conduct of the gallant officer throughout these matters was marked by great judgment, discretion, and gallantry, and therefore he was glad to have that opportunity of calling attention to the Papers which had been laid upon the Table that night. He believed that when all the circumstances of the case came to be known and examined it would be found that Admiral de Horsey, whose services for many years had proved him to be a gallant and an energetic officer, had acted in this matter without being guilty of the indiscretion with which the public newspapers had charged him. It appeared that in May last Admiral de Horsey was lying off Callao when one of the revolutions frequent among the South American Republics occurred. At the same time the Huascar, one of the most formidable iron-clads of the Peruvian Fleet, was also at anchor there. The captain of the Huascar having gone on shore, his first lieutenant, who was a relative of the leader of the revolution, delivered the vessel over to the latter, and the ship steamed away on some mission connected with the revolution. Thereupon the Peruvian Government proceeded to denounce the act of carrying off the vessel, the acts of which they disowned, and also published a proclamation offering a reward to any person who would restore her to the legitimate authority. In the course of her voyage the Huascar made four separate attacks upon British subjects and property, which were all duly recorded in Admiral de Horsey's despatches, which were contained in the Papers which had been laid upon the Table. She attacked, in the first place, an English ship called the John Elder, which she detained for 65 hours; she boarded another ship called Santa Rosa, demanding despatches from her; from a second English vessel—the Imuncina—she took 69 tons of coal, and stopped an English steamer, the Columbia, taking out of her a Peruvian officer who belonged to the regular Government. Hon. Members would doubtless recollect the excitement that had arisen in this country at the time of the Trent affair, when Messrs. Mason and Slidell were taken from that vessel, and would perceive its bearing upon the present case. In addition to these acts, those in possession of the ship had compelled, at the point of the bayonet, an English engineer who was on board the Huascar to work her engines when she was engaged in conflict with Her Majesty's ships. These flagrant acts fully justified Admiral de Horsey in endeavouring to arrest this pirate — for such she had most undoubtedly proved herself to be by preying upon our vessels. Of course, if the Peruvian Government had not disowned all responsibility for the acts of this vessel it would have been the duty of the English Admiral to call upon that Government to make reparation for the injuries inflicted upon our vessels. He would have been liable to censure if he had not taken the steps he did. Now, Admiral de Horsey, after endeavouring to find the Huascar at the port at which she was said to be, lighted upon her with the Shah and the Amethyst. He stopped the rebel. He endeavoured to persuade the rebel captain to give up his ship, promising him that, as he did not intend to interfere in the quarrel between the two parties in Peru, he would land him and his crew on any neutral territory on which he might desire to be placed. Upon that the Huascar determined to resist, and after several warnings commenced action with the Shah. He (Sir John Hay) honoured the gallantry and bravery of the Huascar in the fight which she made; but that did not at all do away with the justice which Admiral de Horsey sought to carry out by staying the depredations of this vessel upon English commerce. He would not go into the details of the action. He would only say he regretted extremely that, contrary to the custom which had prevailed 10 years before, we had not at the moment an iron-clad on the Station to perform the duty which it had previously performed, because it must be in the recollection of many Members of the House that in 1866 there was in Chili a large Spanish iron-clad which threatened to bombard the town of Val- paraiso. An effectual remonstrance could not be made, and a vast amount of property was destroyed in Valparaiso; and from 1866 until last year, he thought, it had been deemed advisable to have an iron-clad on that Station to protect the British flag and British commerce from the constant revolutions and dangers which occurred. The best proof of the advantage of having an iron-clad there until 1876 was that the small iron-clads of these various Republics never dared to offer any resistance to any command any English Admiral pleased to make. Of course, European occurrences might have occasioned the removal of our iron-clad from this Station; he was not mentioning this as a matter of blame, but merely pointing out how inconvenient it was that a ship of 6,000 tons should not have been able at once to arrest this disturbing ship of 2,000 tons, similarly mounted with guns. He had private communications on this subject which he would not further allude to except to say that he had from Admiral de Horsey himself the fact that, fortunately, the fuse with which the Huascar was fired was damp. If it had not been so, no doubt Her Majesty's ship Shah would have been very severely handled. He felt quite certain his hon. Friend the Secretary to the Admiralty would be able to give the House distinct information as to the opinion of the Law Officers of Her Majesty's Government as to the justice and the international legality of the acts of the gallant Admiral, and would be able to assure the House that he still continued to be the trusted representative of the British flag in those seas, and that all the stories which had been spread about by public papers to his disadvantage were entirely inaccurate and untrue.


said, he was very glad that his right hon. and gallant Friend had introduced the subject of the encounter between the Shah and the Huascar to the notice of Parliament. He did not propose to follow his right hon. and gallant Friend, because he had sufficiently vindicated the conduct of Admiral de Horsey. But he ventured to trespass upon the attention of the House because he thought the incidents of the encounter between the Shah and her antagonist afforded an illustration of the truth of the views which he had endeavoured on more than one occasion to present to the House. It had been acknowledged, he believed, by all competent authorities that the Shah was not an equal match for the rebel Peruvian iron-clad. At the same time, it was to be borne in mind that the English ship was a more costly vessel than the Peruvian. He believed that she cost at least £300,000 before she was finally equipped for sea. And not only was she more costly, but she was manned by a far more numerous complement, her crew consisting of about 600 men, all told. A vessel such as the Shah seemed to him quite unnecessarily large for destroying an enemy's commerce; and, at the same time, being unarmoured and very weakly armed, she was inevitably a weak antagonist for a man-of-war. It was an unsatisfactory application of the public money to expend so large a sum on a vessel of inferior fighting qualities, and of such exaggerated strength, for the suppression of piracy or the destruction of defenceless merchantmen. It was an error in policy to employ a ship of the Shah type as the flagship on the Pacific Station. The power of the Shah consisted mainly in her numerous crew. But desertions were always numerous on that Station. It would, therefore, have been more judicious to rely on superiority in materiél, in armour plates, and guns, rather than on a superiority in personnel in those distant waters to which the Shah had been despatched. The reports which had reached us showed that, as compared with the Huascar, the Shah was necessarily inferior in facility for the use of that formidable weapon, the ram. The reason of that inferiority was sufficiently obvious when they knew that the Shah was 300 feet in length, whereas the length of her antagonist did not exceed 200 feet. The reports also showed that the Shah was placed in a position of great difficulty on account of her draught of water, which was 27 feet, while that of the Huascar was only 14 feet. The great difficulty of penetrating armour with the light guns with which the Shah was furnished went to show that the views so often expressed by the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. E. J. Reed) were just and sound. His hon. Friend had always contended that it was unnecessary to deprive those large and costly vessels of the offensive power they might otherwise possess by arming them with guns of such very light calibre as those supplied to the Shah. As for the Amethyst, he believed that vessel did not possess one single armour-piercing gun. He ventured to hope that in the future armament of all vessels, designed to engage an enemy in battle one, or more armour-piercing guns would be included. Considering the impossibility, in the present state of naval warfare, of an unarmoured vessel engaging an armed vessel with success, and the limited scope for the enployment of unarmoured vessels, we should, he thought, in no case exceed the dimensions of the Iris and Mercury class, of which such high expectations were entertained in regard to speed. The type known in the Navy as the Gem class was most useful. Several vessels of that class had not been satisfactory on account of the breaking down of their machinery; but he believed the failures were caused by our accepting tenders at the lowest price. The employment of competent contractors would remove the objections hitherto taken to vessels of the Gem class. On a recent occasion he had an opportunity of seeing a very successful vessel of the French Navy. It had always been stated that the extreme dimensions and cost of vessels of the Shah type were necessary in order to obtain adequate speed and ample coaling capacity. But the French had succeeded in obtaining these results with dimensions very much more limited than those of the Shah. The vessel to which he alluded was the La Clocheterie, of 2,000 tons displacement, and 450 horse-power. That vessel was said to have gone over 14½ knots. The draft of water was 18 feet. She carried 206 men, sailed well, having performed 10½ knots under sail, and carried 300 tons of coal, which was a sufficient supply for steaming two months at five knots, and 30 days at eight knots. She carried ten 14-centimetre breechloading rifled guns, two en barbette forward and aft, and eight on the broadside, while little inferior, as a fighting vessel, to the Shah; in coaling capacity — which was a most important consideration—the La Clocheterie showed a very marked superiority over the vessel now employed for our flagship. We wanted for our Pacific Station a sufficient number of vessels of an improved Alabama type, to be employed on the duties usually described as the police of the seas. For fighting purposes we required effective second-class iron-clads, not ships like the Inflexible, which would find no worthy antagonist in those distant seas. It was enough that our squadrons should be able to contend with those of the foreign nations in whose waters they might be stationed. The Chilians possessed two efficient iron-clads designed by the hon. Member for Pembroke, protected by 9-inch armour, and powerfully armed. Their dimensions did not exceed 2,000 tons. The Portuguese had one vessel, the Vasco di Gama, of not more than 1,500 tons, armed with 18-ton guns, and protected in vital places with 10-inch armour. These were illustrations of what could be done to produce great powers of fighting in vessels of limited dimensions. The Chilian iron-clads were capable of cruising on the coasts of America, though their coal-carrying capacity was not sufficient to enable them to undertake extensive ocean voyages. In conclusion, he desired to express his high sense of the courage displayed by the British Admiral in the recent encounter. The Papers were not sufficiently complete for the discussion of those points of International Law which were involved in the case; but we were sufficiently informed of the details of the encounter to be assured that our officers and men had bravely imperilled their lives in the discharge of what they believed to be their duty to their country.


protested against its being imagined that the discussion in which they were then engaged disposed of the whole question of the encounter between the Shah and the Huascar. The naval aspect of that event was important; but its international aspect was more so. A collection of Papers had been published, and copies of them had been put into the hands of hon. Members; but it was impossible to discuss the matter on the basis laid down in them, and they contained a very one-sided statement of the case. The Peruvian statement had not yet been made; and though he could not question the gallantry of the action, its international morality was still uncertain, and the merits of the question were by no means exhausted. He thought it important that he should call attention to the telegram of the Admiral, in which he threatened that if British interests were interfered with, he would take possession of the Huascar and deliver her over to lawful authority.


said, that he also deprecated any general discussion on an international question of such great importance, as Papers connected with it had only been in the hands of hon. Members within a few minutes. It was impossible, therefore, to express any opinion upon the matter. It would, no doubt, be interesting to the House and the country if the Government were to express any general decision they had come to on the subject. It was satisfactory to know that Admiral de Horsey did not succeed in blowing up the Huascar by the use of torpedoes, in which case greater complications might have arisen. Many naval questions arose out of the action, and the House might now consider what kind of squadron was necessary for the Pacific Station. In the year 1876 both the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty in the late Ministry (Mr. Goschen) and himself had questioned the expediency of sending the Shah to the Pacific; and the right hon. Gentleman had asked, prophetically as it turned out, whether the vessel was intended to fight the Chilian iron-clads, and had remarked that she was sure to lose a large proportion of her men by desertion, as all vessels did on that Station. Probably it would be better to keep the vessel in reserve till she should be wanted in time of war. The vessels to be sent to these distant Stations should be of the Alabama class, or second-class iron-clads.


said, that he would have preferred to lay on the Table, not fragmentary, but complete Papers on the subject, because no one was properly acquainted with the whole story of the action between the two vessels; but, as that had not been in his power, he had judged it right, at all events, to put the House in possession of a few of the facts of the case. The main part of the Papers before the House consisted of Admiral de Horsey's statement of facts, and it would be obvious that the Admiralty was not the only Department concerned in the matter. The Foreign Office had a great deal to say about it, and it would have been very unfair if the Admiralty, who had to decide on the discretion of Admiral de Horsey, had stated their decision before the legality of the case had been submitted to the Peruvian authorities and to the Law Officers of Her Majesty's Government. When their answer would be received he could not say; but as soon as they received a communication from the Peruvian Government he should be prepared to say what the Admiralty thought of Admiral de Horsey's conduct. His right hon. and gallant Friend had stated that the John Elder had been detained for 65 hours. The fact of it was, however, that she had only been detained 65 minutes. No doubt his right hon. Friend the late Mr. "Ward Hunt would have been only too glad to send an iron-clad to the Pacific, but we had not one to spare. If anyone was to blame for it, it was the late and not the present Board of Admiralty. The demand on our Fleet during the last few years was abnormal, and they had been obliged to keep our powerful naval force near this country; and it was thought, in 1876, that a ship of considerable power should not be sent away to a distant part of the world. Still, he quite agreed that, considering the iron-clads which Chili and Peru possessed, we ought to have an iron-clad on the Pacific Station. The Shah was a very large frigate. She had 64-pounders, and two 12-ton guns, and therefore he could not concur in the statement of his hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Brassey) that she was lightly armed. Nevertheless, he quite agreed that it was not desirable, if it could be avoided, to send a ship of that class, with so many men, as a flagship on the Pacific Station. He hoped it would soon be possible to relieve her with some more suitable class of ship. The hon. Gentleman had given the House some interesting information respecting a French ship. That information, he hoped, was already in the hands of the constructive branch of the Admiralty. If we could build vessels of that size and that speed, it would be most desirable to do so; and he trusted that the remarks of the hon. Gentleman would be laid to heart by the Admiralty and the Constructive Department. In discussing these fragmentary Papers he felt he should be needlessly occupying the time of the House if he made any further remarks; but he might state, in conclusion, that the Admiralty had at present no intention whatever of recalling Admiral de Horsey.


could not help thinking that good service had been done by the introduction of the Motion. While he did not blame the Admiralty for declining to give an express opinion on these incomplete Papers, he thought it was clearly demonstrated by the Papers already in the possession of the House that Admiral de Horsey had to deal with a piratical vessel, and that he exhibited the highest possible amount of gallantry and seamanship. The real question for consideration was whether we at present had a sufficient number of iron-clads for the service of the country; and, if not, who was responsible for the deficiency? His hon. Friend the Secretary to the Admiralty had let the cat out of the bag when he admitted that we had not an iron-clad to send to the Pacific. This fact proved that our Navy was in a most insufficient condition. It was owing to the previous Government having neglected their duty with regard to the Navy, and quite as much blame attached to the late as to the present Administration for having allowed the Navy to be reduced to so low a condition that when, as everybody admitted, an iron-clad ought to be sent to the Pacific, we had not one to send. It was not an agreeable state of things that when we might be on the eve of a great European war we had not a single spare iron-clad to send to the Pacific, having been compelled to send every available ship to make up our Mediterranean Fleet. Let him remind the House that they could tell no tales out of school, that every foreign Government knew the exact strength of our Navy to a man, a ton, and a gun, and that the only people who were in the dark on the subject were the British House of Commons and the British nation. But he asked, if we had no spare ironclads to send to the Pacific, where was our reserve of ships? Iron-clads were apparently of the most fragile character and seemed to go down almost of themselves, and we should be in a very critical position if, after a naval engagement, with its inevitable casualties, we had no reserves of ships to make good our losses. At the moment when Parliament was about to be prorogued, and when we might be at war in a few days, we should have some further information from Her Majesty's Government as to the strength of our naval resources. He had no hesitation in saying that the present Government had not been equal to their duty in maintaining the strength of the British Navy, and that the British Navy as it now existed was not equal to maintain the honour and defend the interests of the country.


regarded the question before the House as being of a most serious character and as one which called for further explanation on the part of Her Majesty's Government. It was very unfortunate that the most important of all the Papers on this subject which had been laid upon the Table—that of the statement of the Government of Peru—should be printed in the Spanish language without any translation being attached to it. The course pursued by Admiral de Horsey involved acts of most extraordinary force and violence, and Her Majesty's Government ought to have declared whether they adopted and justified them. It appeared from the Papers that a vessel of war belonging to the Peruvian Government was taken possession of by certain rebels, and it was alleged that she committed acts of outrage against British vessels, whereupon the British Admiral on the Station proceeded to attack her. Now, it did not appear that the acts attributed to the Huascar were acts of extreme violence. The earlier cases which were alleged had broken down. It appeared that some men from the Huascar had gone on board British ships and demanded to see certain mails; but when these were refused they went away without using violence. They also asked for coals on another occasion, but without using threats, and they obtained them. It was stated that a British subject was forcibly detained on board the ship; but the strange fact appeared that this man was allowed to go before the British Consul and make a statement on the subject. The question then was, what was there in this transaction to justify the extreme violence which had been pursued by the British Admiral? Upon the face of these Papers it seemed to him that they were entitled to ask the Government for much more information than they had before them. They had the despatch from the Admiral, which contained some general propositions of law, and of a nautical kind; and he gave a description of the acts of the Huascar, and said they ought not to be tolerated; but he (Sir William Harcourt) would ask whether those acts justified putting a torpedo under the vessel and destroying her and all on board? If this was the case of the Peruvian Government disclaiming all responsibility for the acts of the vessel, what question was there between Her Majesty's Government and the Peruvian Government upon the matter. If that Government had disclaimed responsibility there could be no question. If there was a question it must be because the Peruvian Government had some relations with the vessel. The Admiral, in his despatches, had said that if the Huascar was not a pirate, she was at least a rebel ship that had committed piratical acts. The fact that she was a rebel ship most certainly would not have justified the Admiral in trying to sink her; and he much doubted whether the acts she had been guilty of could be correctly described as piratical. However, the Admiral said he hoped that after what had occurred British interests would be protected for many years to come, and in his despatch dated the 3rd of June he said he trusted that his proceedings would receive their Lordships' approval. The document which it was important for the House to have was the reply of the Admiralty to that despatch.


repeated that no decision had been come to, the question being one for the Foreign Office as well as for the Admiralty, and it being necessary to consider both the legality and the expediency of the proceedings.


said, there appeared to be a question between the Foreign Office and the Peruvian Government; but if the latter Government had nothing to do with the vessel, he could not understand what question was open. He hoped that an early opportunity would be given for a full discussion of the matter. He did not think this extraordinary exercise of strength— to use no other word—could be allowed to rest on the explanations which had as yet been given to the House.


said, when the right hon. and gallant Member for Stamford (Sir John Hay) brought up the question he confined his observations as to whether they ought to have an iron-clad in the Pacific; but the hon. and learned Member for Oxford (Sir William Harcourt) had introduced the legal element, which he thought was unfortunate, because everyone confessed that the legal point was not ripe for discussion. He was not there to give an opinion upon the subject whether what had been done was legal or not, because they could not decide anything upon the mere statement of Admiral de Horsey. It was necessary to wait for all the statements and evidence which could be given on the other side. Primâ facie, however, and judging from the materials before the House, he maintained that they were certainly not in a position to condemn the action of Admiral de Horsey, and he did not think the House would think it fair and right to condemn in the slightest degree the action of the Admiral. What were the facts of the case as far as they had come to our knowledge? A powerful armour-clad vessel belonging to the Peruvian Government was seized by a mutinous crew, and having gone out to sea began immediately to take action against British vessels. The hon. and learned Member for Oxford sneered at the idea of protecting British interests; but was it not the first and foremost duty of a British Admiral in the Pacific or in any part of the world to regard British interests? Well, the Huascar—a vessel of no nationality, for whether the Peruvian Government intended to make any claim against the British Government or not, it was beyond all doubt that they had clearly and distinctly disclaimed at the time any responsibility for the acts of the vessel—the Huascar fired a shot across the bows of a British vessel, and having stopped her asserted a right to search for despatches. She detained another British vessel, asserting the same right. Out of a third British vessel she took a passenger, and from a fourth she took by force 69 tons of coal. The hon. and learned Member shook his head; but when the most powerful vessel in the Pacific, armed to the teeth, demanded coal from a small collier and obtained a supply, what did it amount to? The hon. and learned Member had a curious idea of force; perhaps he thought it would have been better to blow up the collier and pick up the coals as they fell. But, in fact, to call it anything else but force was idle declamation. It was true that the captain gave a receipt for the coal. Having taken the coal he sailed away. In addition to all this a British subject —an engineer—was detained on board the Husacar. He tried to get away, and asked that he might be allowed to communicate with a Consul of his nation. He was not permitted, and when he threw a note into a boat where there were some British seamen, an officer of the Huascar got into the boat and tore up the letter. This British subject became, therefore, a prisoner on board the Huascar, and he had to do the bidding of the captain. Now, were they to tolerate these things? Was a British subject to be kept a prisoner? Were British vessels to be searched and robbed of coal? Whether the Admiral was strictly right or not he was not prepared to discuss. They were now dealing with the matter upon an ex parte statement; but, looking at that, there was reason for the Admiral acting as he had done, and if he had acted in any other way, he would have done so regardless of British interests. It had been alleged, however, by some hon. Gentlemen that Admiral de Horsey had been acting in some way in favour of the Peruvian Government. It was not to be expected that Admiral de Horsey, brave and gallant seaman though he was, would exhibit in his despatches and communications that strict legal accuracy which he would no doubt display if he acted under the advice of the hon. and learned Member for Oxford. He took a correct view, but a sailor's view. In the note or memorandum which he gave to the officer whom he sent on board the Huascar he said— Acquaint the commander of the Huascar that I have come to take possession of that ship in the name of Her Majesty the Queen of Great Britain. That I am adopting this course in consequence of the Huascar having committed certain illegal acts against British subjects, ships, and property. That I am not acting on behalf of the Peruvian Government. That if the Huascar's colours are at once hauled down, and the ship peaceably delivered up, the lives, liberties, and personal property of all on board will be respected. That in such case I shall not deliver them up to their Government, hut will land them at such neutral place (within a reasonable distance) as the commander may desire."—[Part. P. 369.] What, then, was the question before them? The Huascar had been taken possession of by a mutinous crew. She was not a belligerent vessel. She was not a vessel for which any nation was responsible, as the Peruvians had dis- claimed all responsibility. The captain demanded the British mails, and robbed British ships, and imprisoned British subjects. Was the Admiral to levy war upon the vessel or not?—and if he was, was it to be in the ordinary way or not? He (the Attorney General) quite as much disliked to resort to torpedoes as the hon. and learned Member; but those who levied war took a different view, and the Admiral, not being able to reduce the Huascar by the fire of his guns, was just as much entitled to resort to torpedoes as the Russians were. But he did not, on the part of the Government, in the least pronounce any opinion upon the matter; but he had as much right as the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite to give his view upon the ex parte statements. The information which they had before them was as yet only fragmentary, and might be materially modified by the statements of the Peruvian Government or of those interested in the Huascar. The House, therefore, ought to suspend its judgment for the present, and he, for one, would not have risen to say a word had not the hon. and learned Member, after confessing that the subject was not ripe for discussion, proceeded to discuss it.


said, he did not know the distinction which the hon. and learned Attorney General drew between expressing his opinion and expressing his view. He stated that he could not express his opinion, but that he had as great a right as his hon. and learned Friend (Sir William Harcourt) to express his view. He had done so with considerable force and warmth, and, whether his views were right or wrong, they would go forth to the world, and every British officer would know in similar cases, if they should unfortunately occur, what was the opinion of the English Attorney General upon the course taken by Admiral de Horsey on this occasion. The hon. and learned Gentleman had stated, clearly and boldly, that no British Admiral would have acted otherwise than Admiral de Horsey had done; and, no matter what the technical opinion given by the Law Officers of the Crown might ultimately be, Admiral de Horsey would be thoroughly satisfied with the view expressed by the Attorney General. The House would have been glad to have learned from the hon. and learned Gentleman whether, in his opinion, the Huascar was a pirate and had committed piratical acts or not, but upon that point he had not said a word. He merely stated not that what the Admiral did was right and legal, but that the circumstances would justify a British Admiral, in defence of British interests, in proceeding to act as Admiral de Horsey did in this case. The hon. and learned Gentleman tried to sneer—not very successfully—at his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Oxford (Sir William Harcourt) for what he said about British interests, and many hon. Gentlemen cheered the Attorney General when he spoke of the alleged contempt for British interests which had been shown by his hon. and learned Friend. He (Mr. Goschen) would venture to say that British interests would most seriously suffer if the Admiral had committed an act which the Government would ultimately be obliged to disavow, and that was the point put before the House. Both sides of the House were equally anxious that the action of the British Admiral should prove to have been legally right; but if he had made a mistake and resorted to a course not justified by International Law, no greater blow could have been struck at British interests. It was not prudent or cautious on the part of the Attorney General, whilst admitting that the House had not the facts fully before it, to attack the hon. and learned Member for Oxford for criticising the action of the Admiral, and to use language which practically did prejudge the case and would be accepted by all who read it as justifying, from the point of view of British interests, what the Admiral had done. Supposing the technical opinion of the Law Officers of the Crown should ultimately be that Admiral de Horsey had done wrong according to International Law, what would be the effect of the Attorney General's speech? Why, that every Admiral who had to act upon a similar occasion would say—"Never mind the technical opinion of the Attorney General; the general effect of his first speech, which was cheered by hon. Members of the House of Commons, and by the Government themselves, was to justify that plucky action on the part of the British Admiral, whether it is legal or not to proceed against a hostile ship." He (Mr. Goschen) would ask the House to dismiss from its mind entirely the ques- tion of the relative forces which were engaged, or that of the Power of Peru, for International Law was the same in regard to small Powers as to great ones. He regretted that the Attorney General had been led by a natural disposition— in which, indeed, all hon. Members were inclined to share—to vindicate the action of Admiral de Horsey. He thought the hon. and learned Gentleman had gone further than he ought to have gone upon this occasion. They would all be agreed in the hope that Admiral de Horsey had proceeded according to International Law; but their admiration for the pluck with which this action had been conducted must not lead them to lay down rules which would not be sound in International Law. He (Mr. Goschen) believed that the hon. and learned Gentleman would not have made the speech which he did to-night, unless he was going to decide in favour of Admiral de Horsey. It was true that he said he had only got an ex-parte statement; but he would not have committed the imprudence of saying what he did unless he felt that he was able to vindicate the action of the Admiral. Nothing could be more deplorable than that the House, without the whole of the Papers before it, should give a kind of moral approval to what Admiral de Horsey had done, and afterwards be unable on international grounds to justify it.


felt that this conversation was not of a very convenient character, but wished the House to take note that the origination of it did not lie with the Government, but with the hon. and learned Member for Oxford (Sir William Harcourt), whose conduct was certainly surprising, considering his experience and character. What was the state of things which the House had to consider? There had been a conflict in some distant seas, and there were circumstances in connection with it which were, no doubt, very interesting, both from a naval and legal point of view. It was obviously impossible that the legal part of the question could be fairly decided upon without considerable time being spent and without inquiries being made for which time was required; but there was an express desire that the facts of the case should be laid before the House, that those who took an interest in the question from a purely naval point of view should have the opportunity of asking questions or discussing the subject; and the Secretary to the Admiralty explained that he had laid the facts on the Table without expressing any opinion to enable those who took an interest in the matter from a naval point of view to make what comments seemed desirable. That was done on the question put by his right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Stamford (Sir John Hay). But what happened? The hon. and learned Member for Oxford got up and said that was all very interesting, but there was another question of the highest importance—a question of International Law, which must be considered, and he claimed for the House of Commons that they should be in a position to discuss it. The Secretary to the Admiralty interrupted him and explained that they had not been able to come to a decision, and that it was necessary to make further inquiries. Was the hon. and learned Member for Oxford content with that? No, he said he had nothing to do with that, but he would give his view upon the facts as they stood on the Papers. He said that the Admiral had taken a line which was very questionable indeed, and that it was very doubtful whether he had any right to express the opinion he did in applying the term "piratical" to the Huascar and in talking of the forcible seizure of coal. It being admitted that the Government had not got the facts sufficiently before them to form an opinion, the hon. and learned Member for Oxford must express an opinion with all that power and dignity which belonged to him. He expected that they were to sit still and let his opinion, expressed ex catkedrâ, go forth unanswered till next Session, perhaps as a condemnation of the conduct of Admiral de Horsey. The right hon. Member for the City of London (Mr. Goschen) said the Attorney General was to blame for starting the question; but the right hon. Gentleman was not in the House when the hon. and learned Member for Oxford started it. His hon. and learned Friend would never have thought of getting up or saying a word about the matter but for the dicta laid down by the hon. and learned Member for Oxford. He (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) did feel that this conversation was inconvenient. They had not got the facts, which must be carefully considered be- fore an opinion was expressed, and he hoped they were not going to be led into a discussion; but he repeated, in all that had been said by his hon. and learned Friend, he had been guided by a desire to set right the position which had been taken up by the hon. and learned Member for Oxford. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Goschen) had reiterated the complaint as to the words which his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General had used as to British interests; but his hon. and learned Friend was not the originator of the phrase or of this discussion. They were originated by the hon. and learned Member for Oxford, for no earthly reason that he could conceive except to deal a blow with one side of his hand at Admiral de Horsey and another, with the back of his hand, at Her Majesty's Government. He had said—"I observe that Admiral de Horsey has taken up a phrase greatly in use in this country, but which has now gone over to the other side of the Pacific, and he has talked about 'British interests.'" He seemed to think it was almost intolerable on the part of Admiral de Horsey to use that phrase. After all, what was the particular sin in a British Admiral who was in command of a distant Station having some regard for British interests? His hon. and learned Friend made use of what he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) thought a natural observation, and that was that British interests were rather an object for the Admiral to look to, and then up jumped the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Goschen) and said they must remember that when they were talking about British interests they were giving a name to a transaction which might not be supported by law, and which they might afterwards have to disavow. He agreed with the right hon. Gentleman. It was inconvenient for them to talk about these matters, but it was not the Government who originated it. It would have been absolutely unjust to the character of a gallant officer to have left the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Oxford without a reply.

Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.