HC Deb 31 July 1900 vol 87 cc227-33


Order for Second Reading road.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."


suggested that some member of the Government should explain the object of the Bill.


It may be convenient that I should first give my views in regard to the Bill. My belief is that this Bill is not necessary. I believe that the prerogative of the Queen already covers the prohibition of "the exportation of arms, ammunition, and military and naval stores," and so forth, when she has reason to believe that they will be used against her, without any Act of Parliament at all. If that be so it is somewhat belittling the prerogative to introduce a Bill in order to give the Sovereign power she possesses already. I understand, however, that that belief is not shared by Her Majesty's law advisers. I therefore do not insist upon it. The first thing I remark regarding the Bill is that while it extends power to the Sovereign to prohibit by proclamation the exportation of arms, not generally, but to certain specified places, it also very materially diminishes the category of prohibition, if I may use the term. Here I may say that this is a Bill which really is drafted in the most obnoxious way. It refers to a previous Act. Clause 2 says— This Act shall be read as one with the Customs and Inland Revenue Act, 1879, and all the provisions of that Act, so far as they are applicable to the exportation of prohibited goods, shall apply as if they were embodied in this Act, and as if Section 1 of this Act were part of Section 8 of that Act. I turned to the Act of 1879 in the Revised Statutes, and there is not a word in it about exportation of arms, but there you are referred to the schedule of a previous Act. When I got to that other Act I found it was really the Customs Laws Consolidation Act of 1876, the material section of that measure being No. 138, and here the House will see how very much larger the power of prohibition given by that section is as compared with what is proposed to be given by this Bill. The section reads as follows— The following goods may, by proclamation or Order in Council, be prohibited either in, to be exported, or carried coast-wise: arms, ammunition, and gunpowder, military and naval stores, and any articles which Her Majesty shall judge capable of being converted into or made useful in increasing the quantity of military or naval stores, provisions or any sort of victual which may be used as food for man, and if any goods so prohibited shall be exported or brought to any quay or other place to be shipped for exportation from the United Kingdom or carried coast-wise, or be water-borne to be so exported or carried, they shall be forfeited. Why is it proposed by this Bill that Her Majesty should only be able to do by proclamation that which can be done under the Customs Consolidation Act of 1876 either by Order in Council or by proclamation? Is it to be said that this section is embodied as a part of this Bill? I do not think that can really be said, because the House will see that there are considerable differences. In the section that I have just read it will be observed that there are two categories, "arms and ammunition" and "military and naval stores," and in addition to that there are any other articles which are capable of being converted into the munitions of war. I think that is very important indeed, because there are things that are not in themselves military or naval stores. For instance, there is the whole category of chemicals. They are not embodied in this Bill. It is right, no doubt, that Her Majesty should have the right to prohibit the exportation of arms, ammunition, and military and naval stores when she has reason to believe that they would be used against her, but it is no less important that she should also have the power to prohibit the exportation of the other articles enumerated in the Customs Consolidation Act of 1876—namely, articles which may be judged capable of being converted into, or made useful as, military and naval stores. High explosives are made out of chemicals which are largely made in this country. The Government have already found it necessary to prohibit the export of certain chemicals. If it has been necessary to do that in a general manner, surely it is necessary to put power to do that in this Bill. The second clause of the Bill is an instance of allusive or referential drafting of the most malignant character. I would suggest for the consideration of Her Majesty's Government whether it would not be proper to introduce in the first clause of this Bill the 138th Section of the Customs Consolidation Act of 1876. I also wish to ask a question upon a point of international law. Do naval and military stores include coal? I believe they do. I have very little doubt about it. I have seen correspondence in connection with the war with Russia in 1854, whereby Sir Charles Napier was ordered to capture coal destined for Russian ports as contraband. In 1870–71, Her Majesty's Government prohibited the exportation of English coal to French fleets. I have made these remarks I need hardly say in no hostile spirit to the Bill or to the Government, but out of anxiety that what we do we should do thoroughly, and that there should be no loophole left.


I do not know that the Bill requires very much explanation. Its origin, at all events, is, I think, present to the mind of every one. Our national conscience has been stirred by the reflection that we were actually exporting to China war like stores, guns, and ammunition which were intended to be used, and probably would be used, in destroying the lives of our fellow-countrymen or in injuring our allies. I do not think that is a tolerable condition of things, and it is to remedy that that we introduce the present Bill. I am sure neither the right hon. Gentleman opposite nor my hon. friend objects to the general policy which the Bill is intended to carry out. All that my hon. friend wants is to be satisfied as to certain detailed points which he has raised. The first of those points relates to the old discussion, so often renewed in this House, as to legislation by reference. The inconveniences of the system, of course, are obvious, and cannot be denied—it is a balance between difficulties. I feel quite sure that if my hon. friend were responsible for the Bill and its conduct through the House, he would hesitate to cumber and overload the Bill with the very large number of provisions which are dealt with summarily by reference in the second clause of the Bill. Such a procedure would lead to very unnecessary discussion. I do not think the particular reference in question is obscure: it is of an extremely simple, straightforward, and plain-sailing character. I do not think that any particular complaint need be raised by my hon. friend on that score. My hon. friend also asked whether the Crown already had not by prerogative all the powers which this Bill will confer. My hon. and learned friend the Attorney General is more capable of giving an authoritative answer to that question than I am, but I am informed that this Bill is in fact really necessary if we are to prohibit these stores going to the country where fighting is going on against our countrymen, but with which, nevertheless, we are not technically at war, although we are perhaps really at war. The next question of my hon. friend was as to the extension of the Bill to coal, and whether it ought not to be so drawn as to include what are not actually warlike stores but the raw material out of which warlike stores may be made. As regards coal, I believe if the coal is to be used for warlike purposes it would come under the provisions of this Bill; it would count as a warlike store, and it would be possible for the Crown to prohibit its export. Raw materials for warlike stores are not, I think, included in the Bill, but that is a matter upon which the Attorney General will speak with more certainty. I confess I think my hon. friend in calling attention to this point has made out a good case for their inclusion, and there will be no difficulty in introducing words making the Bill more complete in this respect, and this, under certain circumstances, may be of great importance. I do not know whether the Chinese are provided with factories where raw material can rapidly and effectually be converted into warlike munitions, but if they have such the object of the Bill would not be accomplished if the component parts of warlike supplies were permitted to be exported to China from this country. As no question of policy arises, I hope the House will consent to pass the Second Reading of the Bill without unnecessary delay.

*COLONEL BLUNDELL (Lancashire, Ince)

said the mining interests were to a certain extent alarmed at the Bill, though he thought they entertained an exaggerated opinion of its effects. He desired to know whether it would be possible to specify a particular kind of coal without stopping the supply of all the rest. For instance, smokeless coal might be very useful for warlike purposes, and it might be possible to stop the exportation of that without interfering with other supplies.


My hon. friend who spoke first raised the question whether all that is done by the Bill may not be done by the prerogative of the Crown without legislation. I certainly do not desire to abandon any prerogative of the Crown, but I think my hon. friend will see that we might have some interesting State trials through not having recourse to legislation, and under the circumstances, it has been thought better to proceed in the regular way by bringing this Bill before Parliament. Although in the Customs Laws Consolidation Act there is power to prohibit exportation of arms, munitions of war, and so forth, there is no power of discriminating between countries. If exercised at all the power must be exercised to prohibit exportation to all parts of the world, and what is now wanted is power to prohibit exportation to certain countries, if that should be really necessary. The hon. Member for the Ince Division asked a question as to coal, and that point was also touched upon by the hon. Member for King's Lynn. I have no hesitation in saying that steam coal, or coal suitable for use in vessels of war, would fall under the category of naval stores. The propriety of extending the Bill has been suggested. While the words which are in the Bill are considered adequate, I do not apprehend that there could be any objection to the widening of the terms so as to include all materials capable of being converted into naval or military stores. Probably discrimination such as was suggested in relation to coal might be secured by the use of the words "all or any of the articles enumerated in the Bill." If the hon. Member for King's Lynn will look at the 14th Section of the Act of 1879 he will see that there is reference to the schedule of the earlier Act. I think my hon. friend will feel on reflection that it was not desirable to give in extenso all the articles already specified in the previous Acts to which reference has been made.