HC Deb 02 January 1894 vol 20 cc655-6

I beg to ask the First Lord of the Treasury if numerous complaints have been received from British shipowners and merchants as to the serious delay that has occurred in discharging the many vessels now lying in Rio de Janeiro, and the danger to which the crews are exposed from the warlike operations now in progress at that place; whether the number of British war vessels now in Rio de Janeiro is less in some cases than that of other nations, although their commercial and shipping interests are nominal as compared with those of the British mercantile community; and if he will take steps to at once have the number increased; if, without an effective or acknowledged blockade of the port of Rio de Janeiro, belligerents can interfere with the ordinary course of trade and commerce, such as for upwards of four months has prevailed at Rio de Janeiro; and if he will adopt measures to terminate the present state of uncertainty shipowners trading with that port are necessarily under as regards their obligations and duties, in the absence of any official interdict or blockade of the port?


I cannot say I am surprised that a question of this kind should be put, and I will give the best answer I can with regard to matters of fact. The answer to the first paragraph is plain. It is in the affirmative. The Secretary of State has been in constant communication with Her Majesty's Minister and the senior naval officer at Rio with regard to the state of affairs at that place, and he is assured that British shipping at Rio receives at any rate the same protection as is given to that of the United States and other countries. With regard to the second question, the hon. Member has not been correctly informed. The number of British ships of war at Rio is greater than that of any other country at this moment. Her Majesty's ships there are four in number. The United States have three, and another is on its way; Germany and Portugal are represented by two ships each, and Italy, Austria, and Franco have one each. The insurgents have not been recognised as belligerents, and the British and the foreign naval forces give the best protection in their power against any attempt of either party to interfere with legitimate commerce, and they have informed the insurgent commanders that such attempts will not be tolerated. But they cannot protect British shipping from the risk which must attend the landing of cargo in harbour where the two contending parties are firing at each other. That is a lamentable state of affairs, but we have no intention, and are advised that we have no right, to interfere in the quarrel. The British naval force continues under circumstances of much difficulty to do its utmost to protect British lives and property; but the duration of the present state of uncertainty, which is causing so much suffering and loss, must depend upon the progress of the civil conflict, which it would not be proper for Her Majesty's Government to attempt to influence or decide.