HC Deb 19 March 1900 vol 80 cc1174-6

I beg to ask the First Lord of the Admiralty whether the "Herzog," which was detained on the high seas by Her Majesty's Ship "Thetis," on suspicion of carrying contraband of war, and was brought into Durban on 6th January, 1900, then came under the authority of the Prize Court; whether Her Majesty's Government telegraphed on 7th January to Sir F. Lascelles at Berlin that the Prize Court would adjudicate on the "Herzog"; whether the Prize Court exercised its authority by ordering the release of the Portuguese Governor of Zambesi and of eight Portuguese officers found on board the "Herzog"; whether the Commander-in-Chief, Cape of Good Hope Station, reported to the Admiralty on 6th January that the Senior Naval Officer at Durban had telegraphed that the "Herzog" had on board large quantities of provisions consigned to enemy's agents, which there was reasonable ground for suspecting were intended for the enemy; why did the Admiralty, on 7th January, 1900, telegraph to Rear Admiral Harris a peremptory order to direct the immediate release of the "Herzog," and thus prevent inquiry into and adjudication upon the character and destination of the cargo; on what ground did the Admiralty thus direct the "Herzog" to be taken from out of the authority of the Prize Court, and thus render impossible any complete examination of the cargo and the papers that might have been ordered by that court, and any adjudication upon the whole case by the court; and does the Admiralty assume to exercise such authority over Prize Courts in general as is involved in the removal from their authority of vessels lawfully and properly detained and brought in for adjudication by such courts; and, if not, to what extent does the Admiralty claim a right of interference with such courts.


My right hon. friend has asked me to reply to this for him. The group of questions put by the hon. Member are for the most part based on a very natural misconception of the facts of the case. He is justified in assuming from the published correspondence that the "Herzog" had been placed in the Prize Court. This was implied by the telegram of 6th January from the senior naval officer at Durban, and appears to have been accepted generally at the time; as a matter of fact it transpired subsequently that the "Herzog" had never been handed over to the Prize Court, and therefore the senior naval officer was clearly under a misapprehension at the date of his telegram. There is thus no question of the Admiralty assuming to exercise authority over Prize Courts. The answer to question four is in the affirmative. With reference to question five, in consequence of the German mail steamer "Bundesrath" being at the time in arrest under a similar suspicion, the Commander-in-Chief was directed on the 1st January not to arrest the "Herzog" nor any other German mail steamer until it become obvious that the "Bundesrath" was carrying contraband. Before the instructions could reach the cruisers off Delagoa Bay, the "Herzog" had been seized and taken to Durban as reported in Commander-in-Chiefs telegram of 6th January. On receipt of this telegram on the following day, January 7th, Sunday, the Commander-in-Chief was directed to order the immediate release of the "Herzog." This was simply a confirmation of the general order given on the 1st January, and was rendered the more necessary because nothing contraband up to that time had been found on board the "Bundesrath." I may add that the senior naval officer's telegram of the 6th January, which laid stress upon probable hostile destination of cargo, had not then been received.


Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that no search whatever had been made of the cargo?


I believe that it is the case that only a very cursory search was made, but the Admiralty had an undertaking given in Berlin that the vessel was not carrying any contraband, and that one of the company's ships, which on the outbreak of war had on board what might be considered contraband of war, had discharged at Port Said.


Is it not the fact that three days after release had been ordered by the Admiralty—


Order, order The hon. Member is now going too far. He is carrying on a debate. The question has been answered.


But, Sir, I received an answer to the second paragraph, which is misleading.


Order, order!

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