HC Deb 07 March 1895 vol 31 cc558-60
SIR R. E. WEBSTER (Isle of Wight)

I beg to ask the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, whether Her Majesty's Government have any recent information as to the present position of the negotiations for the settlement of the claims made by the British sealers in respect of the seizure of their vessels in Behring Sea by the United States Government prior to the Behring Sea Arbitration; whether he is aware that every legal ground upon which such seizures were attempted to be justified were decided adversely to the United States Government, by the Award of the tribunal at Paris; and that since the date of that Award, the only question in difference has been one of the amount of compensation to be paid; whether, in order to avoid further disputes and delay, the Canadian Government, many months ago, agreed to accept from the Government of the United States the sum of 425,000 dollars, in settlement of all claims; whether it has come to the knowledge of Her Majesty's Government, that great and growing dissatisfaction has arisen among Her Majesty's subjects in Canada, by reason of the delay in payment or settlement of their claims; and, whether Her Majesty's Government propose any, and what, steps, to bring the matter to a conclusion, by obtaining payment of the agreed amount, or if necessary by arbitration?


I beg to ask the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, what was the date of the agreement come to between the Government of the United States and the Government of Great Britain, that the United States should pay 425,000 dollars as compensation to sealers, under the Behring Sea Arbitration Award: what conditions were attached to the agreement to enable the Award to be carried out, in the event of any failure to appropriate the necessary moneys during the Session of Congress, which has now come to an end; and, in the event of the United States Government not being in a position to pay the sum for some time to come, whether Her Majesty's Government will take steps to advance the said sum to the sealers, many of whom are in serious want, owing to the long deferred payment of their acknowledged claims for just compensation?


I think the last point should be put to the Colonial Office. As to the questions on the Paper, I have to state that, on February 25th, the United States House of Representatives rejected the proposed appropriation for the payment of a lump sum in settlement of the claims for compensation on account of the seizure of British sealing vessels by United States cruisers prior to the Behring Sea Arbitration. The legal questions submitted to the Tribunal of Arbitration were determined by a ma-majority of the Arbitrators in a sense adverse to the contentions of the United States Government. The Canadian Government in order to avoid delay, and secure a prompt settlement, consented to accept 45,000 dollars in settlement of the claims. No representation has as yet been received from the Government of the Dominion with regard to the present position of the question, but the delay in the payment of the claims, which are consequent upon the Award of the Arbitrators, must necessarily be felt to be a cause of disappointment and loss. Negotiations were originally in progress for the reference to a commission of all claims of British subjects for injuries sustained by them in the Behring Sea, for which compensation was claimed to be due from the United States under the Award of the Tribunal by Arbitration. These negotiations were suspended when the offer of payment by a lump sum was made by the United States Government. On learning that the House of Representatives had rejected the proposal, Her Majesty's Ambassador at Washington was instructed by telegraph to urge strongly the necessity of an immediate settlement, and to inquire whether the United States Secretary of State would at once resume the negotiations for a Convention. Sir J. Pauncefote replied that Mr. Gresham was quite prepared to resume negotiations at once. The Convention, however, when signed, would have to be submitted to the Senate for confirmation by a two-thirds majority, and unless a special Session were called, which appeared unlikely, this could not be done until December next. The Secretary of State (Mr. Gresham) has expressed to Her Majesty's Ambassador his deep regret, and that of the President, at this unexpected position of affairs, and at the impossibility of preventing the unfortunate delay which must now occur in discharging the national obligations of the United States in regard to these claims.