HC Deb 12 March 1896 vol 38 cc780-2

I beg to ask the ask the First Lord of the Treasury whether his attention has been called to the statements in the Spanish press that, in the event of a war with the United States, resulting from a recognition by the latter Power of the Cuban insurgents as belligerents, Spain will fit out privateers to prey on the United States commerce; and has the Government taken into their consideration the fact that Spain, not being a party to the Declaration of Paris of 1856, which assumes to declare that privateering is abolished, would be within her rights in thus acting; and that Spain would be within her rights in capturing, whether by privateers or by men-of-war, all United States property found on the high seas under a neutral flag; whether Her Majesty's Government have considered the situation which would thus be created for Great Britain, which, by adhering to the Declaration of Paris, has waived her right to capture enemy's goods under the neutral flag when herself at war, while, when herself at peace, her own carrying trade would be so seriously interfered with in the case contemplated; and, whether, in view of the complications and injuries which would arise, either during a war between Spain and the United States, or between Great Britain and any other Power which has not acceded to the Declaration of Paris, Her Majesty's Government will submit to the consideration of the Naval Lords of the Admiralty, and will itself consider, the whole effects of the Declaration of Paris, and the advisability of exercising the right of Great Britain to withdraw from it by another Declaration.


I have no reason to question the view of international law expressed in the first paragraph by my hon. Friend, who has made a special study of this subject. In view, however, of the fact that no privateers have been used in any war since 1856, even by those Powers who did not accede to the Declaration of Paris, and in view of the fact that the doctrine that the neutral flag covers enemies' goods, except contraband of war, has received general acceptance of recent years, it may, perhaps, be doubted whether the Spanish Government would actually resort to such measures as are suggested. As to the last two paragraphs, while fully admitting that the eventuality mentioned by my hon. Friend may have an important bearing on the interests of neutrals, I do not think anything can be gained by an expression of opinion on the part of the Government regarding what is after all only a hypothetical case. ["Hear, hear!"]


asked the right hon. Gentleman if he was aware of any more general acceptance of the principle than was involved in the Declaration of Paris itself, and, also, if he would reply to the suggestion contained in the last paragraph of the question.


I have given no further expression of opinion on the part of the Government except that this is a hypothetical case, on which a declaration of opinion at the present time would, perhaps, not be expedient. I have not failed to consult the authorities to which my hon. Friend refers, and I believe I am correct in saying there has been a general acceptance by all the Powers—though not embodied in a formal treaty—of the view that the neutral flag does cover enemies' goods, except contraband of war. ["Hear, hear!"]