HC Deb 07 April 1909 vol 3 cc1163-234

Motion made, and question proposed, "That the House do now adjourn until Monday, April 19th."—[The Prime Minister.]


I should like to avail myself of this Motion of Adjournment to raise a matter of very grave importance for the security of this country. I refer to the declaration which has recently been signed by our representative and by the plenipotentiaries of the Great Powers at a conference that was sitting in London during the winter months. This signed declaration makes the provision that it should be ratified as soon as possible.


On a point of order, does not the Resolution of which notice has just been given preclude a discussion of this sort?


No. The hon. Member for Norwood handed in the Resolution, of which he gave notice. It came to me in a truncated form. Therefore it sets free the discussion on the Declaration of London. He gave notice that he will raise a discussion on the Declaration of Paris in 1856. Therefore a discussion on the recent Convention I think would be in order, but not one on the former one, of 1856.


Is not the notice an amended notice as compared with the verbal notice which he gave a minute or two ago?


I think we must be guided by the written notice.


I understand—and perhaps the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs will correct me if I am wrong—that the Declaration has already been ratified by certain of the signatory Powers. I also understand that the ratification is at this present moment under the consideration of His Majesty's Government. I understand that this ratification does not require the sanction of Parliament, and it is because we are not likely to have any immediate occasion for discussing the matter that I have taken the present opportunity of raising the question in order that the grave apprehensions which many of us feel may be removed if possible. This International Maritime Conference was the direct outcome of the Conference which sat two years ago at The Hague, and which is familiarly known as the Second Peace Conference, and which expressed the hope that there must be established at some future time an International Court of Appeal to deal with prize cases.

This Court of Appeal would have to deal with cases tried in the municipal prize courts of various nations where the verdict given by those courts was not considered satisfactory by the parties to the action. It was obviously necessary that before such a court of appeal could exercise its judicial functions that there should be some basis of common agreement-some well-defined expression of international law—come to by the Powers in order to have some common ground by which this court should be able to deal with them, because I may point out that, as the matter rests at present, without such a common agreement the various Powers would be faced with the great and profound difficulty of having brought to the Court of Appeal decisions under municipal laws which were regulated by entirely different customs of international law.

The deliberations of the Conference which sat in London came to a conclusion on 26th February last with the Declaration which was unanimously signed by all the representatives of the Powers assembled in London. And this Declaration agrees to certain rules which are to be recognised as the proposed international law;. In this Declaration the signatory Powers, in the most solemn language, undertake to ensure the mutual observance of those rules, and they bind themselves that they will, not denounce the Declaration for a period of twelve years. So that by this Declaration, which has been signed, and which is shortly to be ratified, this nation and the other signatory Powers will be bound for a period of twelve years. The proceedings of this Conference appear to have been conducted with the very greatest harmony. We are told that the proceedings partook of a conversational character.

There is one curious fact about which we should like to have some information, and on which we should be very much obliged to the right hon. Baronet if he could afford us some information. The Government appears to have taken what would seem to most people to be a very unusual course. They borrowed from the French Government the services of a very eminent French jurist, M. Fromageot, to assist our delegates in framing the preliminary proceedings which were presented to the Conference, and we are told in a communication which was made to the French Government by our Ambassador in Paris that— M. Fromageot not only brought to bear on the questions which were discussed with him the acute mind and intimate knowledge of a master of his subject, hut he has by his sympathetic understanding and readiness to enter into the thoughts of his British colleagues, by his patient and never-tiring energy, and by his able draftsmanship facilitated their task to an extent which has won in a high degree their admiration and gratitude. I do not desire to question the services or the ability of M. Fromageot rendered to this country. I have no doubt his great experience as an international jurist was of very great service, but he appears to have occupied a very strange dual posi- tion. Whilst he was acting as the colleague—I use the word in the sense in which the right hon. Baronet uses it—he appears to have been one of the accredited representatives of the French Government. I should be obliged, and the House would be obliged if the right hon. Baronet would tell us why it was considered necessary to call in the services of a French jurist when we have in this country such eminent and well-known international lawyers, whose reputation is known throughout the world, as Professor Holland and Professor Westlake. It seems a very strange thing we should pass by the services of men who have in the past given us advice, and have over and over again expressed the most valuable opinions, and go to France in order to obtain the services of a French jurist. I would ask the right hon. Baronet when he replies to tell us what was the object, what the Government had in mind in passing by, if they did pass by—I do not know that they did—Professor Holland and Professor Westlake. What was their object in going to France to obtain the services from the French Government of a French jurist who actually was acting as one of the accredited representatives of the French Government at this particular Conference?

The proceedings of this Conference resulted in the Declaration to which I have referred, and which has been signed unanimously by the representatives of the Powers, and which has been ratified in the form in which it was printed by certain of the Powers—perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will say by how many Powers—and which at this moment is awaiting ratification by the British Government. It has been observed in the Report of the Drafting Committee that— The work has been one of compromise and mutual concessions. I am very doubtful if a nation which claims to be supreme upon the seas, which claims to be able to exercise its authority upon the trade of the world, whether a nation like that has ever gained anything by making a compromise and by giving concessions. Concessions, in my experience, are invariably made by the strong in favour of the weak. I have never heard of a compromise where the strongest has been able to add to its strength. On the contrary, as far as my experience goes, I think I may say in every case where a compromise has been given the strongest has surrendered something of its strength. I venture to believe that there is no exception made to the general rule in this Declaration which we have printed in this book. Before I deal with what I think we have surrendered I would like to say one or two words about the Declaration. The Declaration is drawn up in very brief and very definite language. I think some critics might say it is too brief and too definite, that it does not fully explain its meaning and that it is liable to be misconstrued.

It deals with matters of the most profound and vital importance to this country. It deals, for instance, with the question of the transfer of shipping to a neutral flag, with the destruction of prizes; it deals with convoy, contraband, and other matters. In the remarks which I shall venture to make, I shall confine my attention to the question of contraband, more especially contraband in connection with food. There are other matters which I understand will be raised by friends of mine in the House, and which are of the most intense and immediate importance. I do not propose to refer to them, as I do not wish to obscure my argument. I do not suppose that there is any factor in the great naval problem which this country always has to face which is so important, and which affords more room for discussion and speculation than that of our food supply in time of war. However great and glorious our victories may be at sea we have always the knowledge with us that it would be impossible for us to push a war to its ultimate and satisfactory conclusion if we had to deal with a starving population at home, if we had to face a second opponent in that stern and merciless enemy called famine. What very little there is which would separate this country in time of war from it. It may be at the commencement of the war we shall have six and a-half weeks supply as a minimum in this country, and seventeen weeks as a maximum of corn, figures which were ascertained by the Food Supply Commission after a very careful and thoughtful investigation. The great question which this country inevitably has to face in time of war is this, what will be the effect of a war upon that eighty per cent. of food which we consume, and which we are bound to import from foreign countries across the seas. Will its constant flow be diverted, will its price be raised. What will be the effect upon our commerce and upon our food by the recognition which has been given by The Hague Conference to privateering.

What protection will the British Navy be able to give to the 40,000 ships that fly the British flag, and which trade over some fifty thousand miles of the maintrade routes of this world. Such as the great route from the Cape to London, along which in time of war, if the Suez Canal is closed, there will be two constant streams of British shipping carrying the rich cargoes to and from the East, and each individual ship, of which it is estimated will only be separated from its leading one by the space of one hour. It is terrible to think of the enormous amount of damage, not actual damage, but the damage that would be imposed by the apprehension and scare of what could be done along that Cape route by the mere presence of one or two commerce destroyers, past which the British ship will pass in the space of every half-hour. The right hon. Baronet has himself expressed great apprehensions on this subject in a letter to our delegates at the Naval Conference, in which he pointed out how under the existing custom of foreign nations they are able to purchase merchant vessels, or take their own merchant vessels and convert them into commerce destroyers at any point of the high seas. What does the right hon. Baronet say. He says:— Enemy vessels under the mercantile flag, but suitable for conversion, would be able as merchantmen to claim and obtain in neutral ports all the hospitality and privileges which would, under the accepted rules of naval warfare, be denied to them if they were warships. Availing herself of these advantages, such a vessel, found in distant waters after the outbreak of hostilities, would be able to pass from one neutral port to another until she reached the particular point in her voyage where she might most conveniently be converted into a commerce destroyer. This is a very grave question, and I only mention it because it is dealt with briefly in this Blue Book on the International Maritime Conference. The right hon. Baronet expressed the hope that possibly by our persuasive powers and concessions we may be able to induce foreign countries to renounce what I believe to be a most profoundly dangerous international custom in regard to this country in time of war. I do not think the danger to this country has been exaggerated by the right hon. Baronet. When you consider how simple a matter it is under the provisions of The Hague Conference itself for merchant ships belonging to our enemy, or purchased by our enemy, to have their holds and bunks filled with coal, and go out to high seas merely flying the pennant of the country to which they belong, having captains on board who are commissioned officers, and armed even with the most antiquated guns capable of throwing a projectile about 200 yards—when you consider what terrible injury such vessels could exercise on our shipping, I venture to say that this is indeed a most important question, and I do most sincerely hope we shall not be persuaded in any way to give countenance to the custom which is now recognised by other countries. I admit that the doctrine of conditional contraband in respect of food has been recognised in the past, in the very recent past, at all events, by this country. I refer to that because I had an answer to a question on the point which I put last week to the Under-Secretary. But the conditions in the past which we have attached to contraband as it applies to food have always been very much narrower ones than what we recognised in this Declaration which our representative has signed.

We had admitted that food could, under Certain circumstances, very narrow circumstances, be considered as contraband of war; we admit now that food can, under wider circumstances, be admitted as contraband of war. Of course, it is evident to everybody that as you widen the conditions under which food can be come contraband of war to this country, where we depend for our very existence upon imported food, very much more harm is done the more and more you create risk to our food supply. On what conditions have we recognised in the past that food is contraband of war? I am not going to refer to the well-known cases where we protested in the face of China, in the face of France, and in the face of Russia on this subject in time of war. But in 1885, I think that was the time when we made the protest against France, Lord Granville wrote a very interesting despatch, in which he defined the conditions under which food was recognised by this country as contraband. He said:— Her Majesty's Government cannot admit that if such provisions were consigned to a port of a belligerent (even though it should be a port of Naval equipment) they could necessarily be regarded as Contraband of war. I think that shows, at all events, that in 1885 the British Government looked upon food as conditionally contraband of war only under the most limited circumstances. It was not contraband of war, not necessarily contraband, because it was consigned to the port of a belligerent, even though it was a port of naval equipment. That was the view of Her Majesty's Government in the year 1895. I could give very many other definitions by eminent jurists of under what conditions food becomes contraband of war. There are the Reports of the Commission on Food Supplies, and there are the reports of Professors Holland and Westlake. Both those reports deal with this question of conditional contraband as relating to food. According to the opinion of those eminent jurists food is only contraband in very much narrower limits than are now admitted in this declaration which has been recently signed. Professor Holland said in his Report:— It is only in extreme cases of food destined to beleaguered fortresses, or direct to places of military or Naval equipment that food can be considered as contraband. Food has got to go to a beleaguered fortress or to a place of actual naval or military equipment before it can be considered contraband. I would like to remind the right hon. Baronet of his own definitions, which in my opinion is probably too narrow, but it is very striking. In a letter which he wrote to Sir Edward Fry on 12th June, 1907, in connection with The Hague Conference, to be found in Blue Book 3,857, Page 17, he defines food as contraband only when it goes to a beleaguered fortress. He urges that a list of what shall not be in any event considered as contraband should be prepared, and it is such a list as we have in this present Declaration. He says:— A list must be prepared and submitted for adoption by the Conference specifying the articles which in no event shall fall within the enumeration of contraband, e.g., mails, food stuffs destined for places other than beleaguered fortresses, raw material, etc. Then he continues:— It. is essential to the interest of Great Britain every effective measure necessary to protect importation of food supplies and raw materials for peaceful industries, should be accompanied by all the sanctions which the law of nations can supply. That is the definition of the right hon. Baronet himself only two years ago, that food becomes contraband of war only if consigned to beleaguered fortresses. I would ask him to compare that definition with the enormously wider definition which is contained in this declaration which we have signed. The question has been raised, and constantly raised, that the food supply of this country is perfectly secure so long as we have supremacy in ships of war. We are told that we are perfectly safe as long as we confirm the two-Power standard, or something less than the two-Power standard, and that as long as we have supremacy in naval ships we shall be masters of the sea, and our shipping and food will be safe. I think, in face of the fact that the enemy merchant ships can be converted into commerce destroyers at any point of the high seas, that this is a very dangerous doctrine for anybody to accept. I would venture, with the permission of the House, to recall the attention of hon. Members to a passage which I came across a short time ago in a commercial paper published in the year 1813. Previous to 1812 we had vanquished all the maritime nations of Europe. In 1812 the United States had on the American stations 16 to 18 effective fighting ships, and we had 85 flying the naval pennant. Now this commercial newspaper, published seven months afterwards, stated this:— The public will learn with sentiments which we shall not presume to anticipate that a third British frigate has struck to an American. This is an occurrence which calls for serious reflection, this and the fact stated in one paper of yesterday, that Lloyds' List contains notice of upwards of 500 British vessels captured in seven months by the Americans—500 merchantmen and three frigates. Anyone who had predicted such a result of an American war this time last year would have been treated as a madman or a traitor. I take this opportunity to warn or to urge those who in the past have relied on our naval supremacy to provide for the safety of our shipping and our food supply, to think very carefully how new alterations in international treaties and new doctrines raised by our enemies are likely to affect the great question of contraband. I think it is a question that will require our most anxious and earnest consideration before we can have those feelings of security in regard to our shipping and our food supply which it is so necessary that we should possess. I now come to the Declaration itself. The points which I had intended to make I must admit have been met very considerably by an answer which the right hon. Baronet gave yesterday to a question that was addressed to him. I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman in connection with that answer whether the fact that when we come to ratify this treaty we propose, in consequence of the somewhat inexplicit terms in which the Declaration is drawn up, we shall make a declaration adding certain words declaring that we interpret words in a certain sense; and in that case I would like to know whether those words would be binding upon the other Powers who have signed the Declaration, and some of whom have already ratified it. If we understand the De- claration in a certain sense, that does not improve the position one bit. We want the other Powers to recognise that certain words are to be interpreted in a certain way. Unless they also recognise the Declaration it does not matter whether we recognise it or not, because in that case we gain nothing. I hope the right hon. Baronet will see that the word "Government" should be added after the word "enemy" in Article 34. I think that will get over the whole difficulty. We should add the word "Government" in the Declaration itself, because, after all, it is the Declaration which the naval officer will be guided by to justify his actions. He will not mind what a special Declaration says, and he will stand or fall on this Declaration. It is absolutely most critical and important to the country that the word "Government" should be put into the body of the Declaration itself. Some hon. Members may not have followed this question very closely, and, therefore, I will venture to deal with the Articles which apply to this question of food as conditional contraband under the Declaration. Article 24 declares all foodstuffs may be treated as contraband of war under the name of conditional contraband. Article 23 declares that:— Conditional contraband is liable to capture if it is shown to be destined for the use of the armed forces or of a Government Department of the enemy State, unless in this latter case the circumstances show that the goods cannot in fact be used for the purposes of the war in progress. Then there is Article 34, and this is the most critical Article in the Declaration. It provides that:— The destination referred to in article 33 is presumed to exist if the goods are consigned to enemy authorities, or to a contractor established in the enemy country, who, as a matter of common knowledge, supplies articles of this kind to the enemy. I would like here to state that the French text translates the word "contractor" as commerçant. If the right hon. Gentleman will refer to the actual discussion he will see that certain words are suggested by our representative as more clearly defining the words "Government contractor." Those words were suggested, but they were not accepted, and the word commerçant was adopted. Literally that word means a person who carries on commerce, and it is equivalent to the word "trader" in this country. The word "enemy" is open to a very different construction to that which was put upon it by the Government, but I am glad it is after the word "enemy" that the Government now propose in their Declaration to declare that the word is to be understood as "enemy Government." Article 34 continues with the following provision:— A similar presumption arises if the goods are consigned to a fortified place belonging to the enemy, or other place serving as a base for the armed forces of the enemy. With regard to the word "base," I should like to have some interpretation as to its meaning from the right hon. Baronet. It is very difficult to imagine that any great port in this country, like Liverpool, Southampton, Hull or Newcastle, in time of war will not be a base of supply for the armed forces. The Territorials of Manchester may draw a certain proportion of their supplies from Liverpool, and Aldershot may draw supplies from Southampton. Therefore, the clear definition of the word "base" is another question which I venture to direct the right hon. Baronet's attention to, and I ask him, when he replies, to tell us exactly and precisely what is the understanding which the British Government places on the word "base" as a base of supply, and whether such great ports as Newcastle, Southampton, Liverpool or Leith will be considered as bases of supply in the case of food supplies coming to them. I would like to know whether those food supplies will be considered contraband of war liable to seizure by the enemy. Article 35 provides:— Conditional contraband is not liable to capture except when found on board a vessel bound for territory belonging to or occupied by the enemy, or for the armed forces of the enemy, and when it is not to be discharged in an intervening neutral port. Article 35 is an important Article, and in drafting it this country has given away one of the most ancient and forcible points of International law which hitherto we have always upheld. We have always held that it is not the port where the cargo is to be discharged that is to be accepted as the destination for the purpose of deciding whether the cargo is contraband, but we have always understood that it is the ultimate destination which decides the point. We have always considered whether the cargo is to go ultimately from that port, even overland, to the armed forces in another country which may be our enemy. Under the old custom of this country we have always looked to the ultimate destination and not to the destination of discharge. I admit there may have been very forcible reasons which persuaded the British Government to give way on this old-established, ancient doctrine, which they have always hitherto regarded as supreme and vital. Although we have given way only as regards contraband we still hold to this doctrine of continuous voyage. Article 37 provides:— A vessel carrying goods liable to capture as absolute or conditional contraband may be captured on the high seas or in the territorial waters of the belligerents throughout the whole of her voyage, even if she is to touch at a port of call before reaching the hostile destination. I will very briefly recapitulate these articles. All the food which comes to this country in time of war is liable to be considered conditional contraband, and it may be seized if it is being sent to our armed forces or to a Government Department. I would like to know whether the word "enemy" means "enemy government," and whether that is binding on other countries? Perhaps the right hon. Baronet will answer that question; and further, it is liable to be captured if destined to a fortified place or a place serving as a base of supply or equipment for our armed forces. The capture can take place anywhere on the high seas, but the food consigned to a neutral port even if destined for the enemy's force, or even if sold to an enemy's contractor, cannot be touched by us. Interpreting these articles in the strict sense in the way they are printed, and in the way they would be interpreted by an enemy of ours who desired to do us the greatest amount of harm, food coming to this country going to a base of supply or going, according to the wording of this declaration, to a merchant who supplies the enemy, is liable to capture, whereas in the case of France or Germany if they happened to be at war with us they can obtain all the food they require, even if consigned to a Government contractor, and even if destined ultimately for the armed forces of the country without any application whatever, and without us being able to lay one finger upon such food provided it is going to Antwerp or Rotterdam instead of Hamburg or Havre. That is a very serious position. Foreign food for our enemies as long as it goes to a neutral port and is sent overland, along the rivers, or canals, can be imported to any extent admittedly for the armed forces of our enemy, and we are not able under this declaration to lay a finger upon it. We have been told by the Government that the word l'ennemi in the French text means either the enemy state or the enemy forces, that it should be read with that meaning, and that in reading that meaning into it we ought to take into consideration the report prepared by the Drafting Committee. We are told that that report is authoritative, that it is a commentary that would be accepted, and that it is intended to be accepted as the final word. But I would like to point out that we are placing ourselves in a very difficult position indeed if we accept this Drafting Committee's report as a binding report, because there are in several instances in the report directly opposite interpretations to the interpretation given in the Declaration itself. There is a letter in "The Times" to-day, over a very eminent signature, in which attention is drawn to only one case in connection with Article 35, which provides that the ship's papers are conclusive proof both as to the voyage on which the vessel is engaged and as to the port of discharge of the goods, unless she is found dearly out of the course indicated by her papers and unable to give adequate reasons to justify that deviation. When you turn to the Drafting Committee's Report it says that this Article is not to be too literally interpreted. The Article says that the ship's papers are conclusive, but the Drafting Committee says that the Article is not to be too literally interpreted, and that the ship's papers are proof only unless facts show that evidence to be false. There are other points of great divergence as to the actual meaning between the Declaration in its naked and bald sense and the interpretation put upon it in the Drafting Committee's Report. That Report cannot be binding; it must be optional, and it is treated as optional by the Drafting Committee itself. The Drafting Committee say, "We shall try by summarising the report already approved by the Conference to give an exact and uncontroversial commentary which may serve—it does not say which shall serve—as a guide to the different authorities who may be called upon to interpret it." A court or tribunal such as the court at The Hague would probably be guided by the Drafting Committee's Report in coming to a judgment, but that is not what we have to deal with. What we have actually to deal with is the commander or captain in charge of a commerce destroyer on the high seas who wishes to justify his action; and the damage done to us will be the damage actually done on the high seas, and not the possible compensation which we may get a year afterwards by the decision of the High Court of Appeal. That is no real compensation for the enormous amount of damage, both moral and material, that will be done to us by the fact that our merchant vessels and food are being cap- tured by commerce destroyers on the high seas. The word "enemy" in this Declaration does not mean the enemy Government, because we have more than once in the text the phrase "le gouvernement ennemi," which is clearly used to express the term "the enemy Government"; and it does not mean the enemy forces, because the armed forces of the enemy is a term constantly used in the Declaration. We find it used in connection with the enemy vessels or the enemy cargo or goods belonging to the owner of the vessel which are to be treated as enemy's goods. I think if the right hon. Baronet will look at his own letter addressed to Lord Desart, our Plenipotentiary, he will find that he uses the word enemy himself strictly in the sense of a private person. He says it refers to an enemy ship which in whole or in part may belong to "an enemy." This is also the definition used in the official Memorandum setting forth the views of the British Government. After all, we have not to deal with the narrow interpretation which the Drafting Committee's Report, or our own Government, or even the declaration of our Government puts upon the word "enemy." We have to deal with this actual Declaration in the form in which it will be in the possession of a naval commander on the high seas. What we have to consider really is the amount of harm which he will be able to do us, and whether he will be able to justify himself by the exact terms of this Declaration.

I have dealt with the question of base, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be good enough to give me some information as to the interpretation of that word. Many of us, and many people in the country, are very much concerned about this Declaration. I have not raised the question in any party spirit. I am sure the right hon. Baronet will give me credit for that. No one is more anxious than he is—and he has expressed his anxiety over and over again in letters to the delegates to this and to The Hague Conference—that the food supplies of this country should be adequately protected, that we should not embarrass our destructive power against the food supplies of other countries, and that we should hold to the established customs which we have always considered as most material and vital to the interests of this country. But we have given way on the question of continuous voyage. I hope the advantages we have gained have been adequate. We have gained certainly one advantage, and that is a list of articles which under no circumstances are to be considered contraband of war. That is a material gain, and our delegates are to be congratulated upon having secured it. But what we want to know is, what the cost in the future of the concessions we have made is going to be to this country, and what is the value of the sacrifices which in order to soothe the susceptibilities of other countries we have made.


After the most able and interesting speech to which we have just listened, I do not desire or intend to do more than make a few observations of a general character upon the way in which this enormously important instrument appeals to me, and the way in which it seems to me it is likely to affect the interests of the countries with which it deals. For my part, I say frankly that I deplore on every ground this Declaration of London and the steps which have been taken to lead up to it. It has always been found in times of great seriousness, and I believe it will be found in regard to this Declaration, that no expressions of friendship—nor any of the amenities by which this Naval Conference has been carried on—can disguise the fact that the interests of this country in regard to maritime rights, whether as a neutral or as a belligerent, are always and inevitably in any given set of circumstances different from and usually opposite to those of all other countries. The principles upon which this Declaration proceeds appear to be two. First of all, it appears to be assumed by the Government that the interests of this country will be best served by an arrangement of a character which will diminish belligerent rights upon the seas and widen and increase the immunities and powers of neutrals. That is the whole position which the Government have taken. They say that the great thing for England—and, of course, they are acting in what they believe to be the interests of the country—is that neutral trade should run free during maritime war as far as possible, and that if any diminution in any right or power is to take place it should be rather in the right of belligerents than in the right of neutrals. That being the first principle, the second principle of the Declaration is that it is in the interests of this country that there should be set up over and above the highest judicial tribunals of the country an entirely new tribunal of an international character. Having given this matter the best consideration I can, I cannot agree with the Government in regard to either of those two principles. We are after all a naval power, and only a naval power. Such strength as we have is upon the sea. In that we are different from every other power in the world, and it appears to me obvious that, whatever may be the case with other countries, to us the first essential is that whatever else may give way it is necessary that our rights as a belligerent on the seas should be kept and preserved. Our rights as a neutral, though no doubt of great importance and value to the country, must be regarded in our circumstances as secondary to our rights as a belligerent. With other countries their power is upon the land. They regard war from a military point of view. Their desire has always been, and is shown in the whole of this Blue Book still to be, to extend the rights of neutrals on the sea aft far as possible, and to diminish as far as they can the rights of belligerents. The effect of this Declaration appears to be further to diminish the belligerent rights of this country—and, I agree, of all other countries—in a maritime war. That appears to me to be a thing which ought not to be done without the soundest reasons and the gravest consideration. It is said that we have a great advantage in the freeing of neutral trade during maritime war. It is pointed out that with our carrying trade we, as a neutral, have a great interest in that. Yes, that I know is absolutely true, but surely it must be obvious that that is an argument which cuts both ways. If it is true, as it is, that the trade of this country on the seas is overwhelmingly enormous, and that, therefore, what we stand to lose is great, is it not obvious on the other hand that the mere size of the trade of this country on the seas makes the power of even a combination of countries to injure that enormous volume very small as compared with the power which we with our great naval force should have to deal with the infinitely smaller and more concentrated trade of a foreign country? Even if it is true that this country is to gain some advantage as a neutral, I say again—to make my point clear—that any advantage this country may gain is not to be weighed in the balance with the disadvantage which may follow the diminution of our powers as a belligerent country. Belligerent rights have been enough cut down. Up to 1856 no foreign Power at war with this country could conduct any oversea trade at all. We claimed the right to take the property of our enemies wherever we found it, and what was the result? The result was that in the most merciful way—in a way that compares favourably indeed with the methods of pressure by force in connection with military operations on shore—and yet, in the most absolutely direct and effective way, we, by the exercise of that right, broke perhaps the greatest Power the world has ever seen. In 1856, as the House is aware, we parted from that, and since then a Power at war with this country is able to carry on her trade. Subject to what conditions? Subject to the conditions that the trade must be in neutral bottoms, that no contraband be carried, and that blockade be not imposed. That is to say, we can allow our enemy to carry on her trade on those conditions, and there is no doubt that the effect of this Convention is further to weaken and further to diminish the strength and value to us of those provisions, to enable the trade of our enemy and the sustenance of our enemy to go on, and to force us more and more to stand without being able to exercise in the way we formerly did the power of this country at sea. We have heard a great deal recently of the insufficiency of the British Navy, and it is proposed that the strength of that force should be increased by a very great and, as I believe, necessary expense. It is quite clear that if this country desires to double or treble the real effectiveness of her fleet at a cost of not a penny, and without adding a keel or a torpedo to the strength of that great force, it can be done by refusing any longer to be bound by arrangements of this character into which we have entered, and by stating that we propose to resume in future, if necessary, the belligerent rights which have been very much given up since 1856, and which I am afraid this Declaration will further reduce. I do not desire, after the careful examination which has been made by my hon. Friend of the provisions of this Declaration and of the Instructions, to go into them in any detail. My only object has been to express the view that it appears to me that it would be in the interest of this country that everything, if necessary, which tends to help or succour or assist the enemies of this country in time of war should be regarded as contraband, or possible contraband, and that we should resume our powers at sea. My hon. Friend below me has submitted an interesting argument which I think had great weight with the House. He objected to the provision which provides that food is made contraband under wider conditions than those hitherto obtaining. I understand my hon. Friend's position, but I cannot acquiesce with and share his fears in that respect. The food supply of this country, as has been explained by my hon. Friend, comes in a stream and volume so enormous that the whole fleets of the whole earth doing their worst, I believe, could hardly seriously affect them.


Hear, hear.


My hon. Friend instanced the Cape to London route, where he said ships would be passing the enemy's destroyers every half hour. What effect one or two or 20 of the enemy's destroyers could have on such commerce as that I cannot understand, and in view of the enormous volume of our food supplies, and the impossibility of the fleets of the world seriously, or for any long time, affecting them, I am not greatly moved by the fears which the hon. Gentleman and others have expressed on this subject. What does trouble me is the difficulty which continual arrangements of this sort may have on our position at sea.

Finally, as to the setting up of international prize courts, let me ask what is the object of an international prize court? The Secretary of State knows, and everybody who has inquired into the matter knows, very well that, strictly speaking, every prize court, certainly everyone in England, in the true respect, is an international court. I have dicta here to show how a prize court has always been regarded by its own judges. In "The Recovery" case in 1807, Sir W. Scott (afterwards Lord Stowell) said:— In the first place it is to be recollected that this is a court of the law of nations though sitting here under the authority of the King of Great Britain. It belongs to other nations as well as to our own; and what foreigners have a right to demand from it is the administration of the law of nations, simply and exclusively of the introduction of principles borrowed from our own municipal jurisprudence, to which, it is well known, they have at all times expressed no inconsiderable repugnance. If the House will allow me, I should like to read an interesting extract of the same character. This is a pasage from one who ought not to be forgotten when overriding prize courts in this country. Sir W. Scott said:— I trust it has not escaped my anxious recollection for one moment what it is that the duty of my station calls for from me, namely, to consider myself as stationed here not to deliver occasional and shifting opinions to serve present purposes of particular national interests, but to administer with indifference that justice which the law of nations holds out without distinction to independent states, some happening to be neutral, and some to be belligerent. The seat of judicial authority is indeed located here in the belligerent, country according to the known law and practice of nations, but the law itself has no locality. It is the duty of the person who sits here to determine a question exactly as he would determine the same question if sitting in Stockholm—to assert no pretentions on the part of Great Britain which he would not allow to Sweden under the same circumstances, and to impose no duties on Sweden as a neutral country which he would not admit to belong to Great Britain in the same character. It is so long since prize courts were set up in this country that I think many people have forgotten their character. Every prize court is in its nature international, and generally the prize courts of this country have been impartial. That they have been impartial in an astonishing degree will be shown by looking at the records of these courts. I am glad to see the Attorney-General in his place. He will know that the law of nations is part of the common law of this country, and that being so I should like to ask the Secretary of State and the Government what the real effect of this Declaration as proposed by them will be? Does it bind the Government of this country? And, if so, to what extent? I doubt whether it would bind the courts of this country, whether it would bind a prize court, and whether any real effective action could be taken in respect of this Declaration otherwise than by legislation through both Houses of Parliament. I am glad I have had an opportunity of saying that this Declaration appears to be a further and mischievous diminution of the rights of belligerents which to us are vital, though to other countries they are not of so great importance. It appears to me that we have given up much of that maritime power which we have possessed since the Treaty of 1856. My consolation is that, if this matter is left as it stands, I doubt whether it would bind the courts of this country. The Government would have to come to the House—indeed, they have told us that they mean to come to the House—for powers to make this matter effective. I do hope that on the occasion when the Government come before us with definite proposals to carry out the provisions in the Declaration, the House will stand firm and know exactly what it is that is being done on their behalf when limiting the powers of this country to take on the high seas an enemy where and when we find him, and I believe that when the House understands what is being done by the Declaration they will have great doubts whether it ought to be carried out by legislation.


The argument with which the hon. Member for Norwood concluded his speech really is an argument in favour of the establishment of an international prize court, because he argued that the law which prize courts administer is international law. I do not know whether the hon. Member contends that the decisions of prize courts all over the world have given satisfaction to British shipping.


No; that is not my contention.


In that case it is surely desirable that we should have a common rule binding on all prize courts, and that we should have an opportunity in case the decisions of any foreign prize court are unsatisfactory to us of appealing to an impartial tribunal. It must be remembered that a prize court in each country is a national court. It is a tribunal belonging to the country in which it is held, and is sometimes guided by rules laid down by the Government of the particular country, with which we entirely disagree, but to which in practice we have had to submit to our serious loss. The whole position of the hon. Member for Norwood is not only an objection to this Declaration, but an objection to the Declaration of Paris. He takes up a position in favour of international anarchy. I think that both hon. Members who have spoken on this matter look at it from one point of view. They take into account only our interests as belligerents. They ignore our important interests as neutrals. It is a matter of the most grave importance to our shipowners and merchants to have certainty in regard to the rules that would be applied to them in case they should come before foreign prize courts.

The second Peace Conference held at The Hague in 1907 established an International Prize Court, but it was a court without any generally accepted code of laws. The laws of different countries vary. Hon. Members must remember that in case of this country being neutral our ships would be subject to the decisions of foreign prize courts under circumstances sometimes unknown to the owners of the ships and according to rules very often different from our own. This is the first attempt to lay down international rules. Everything is not settled, but a very important body of rules has been agreed upon by the principal maritime nations.

Take a case of great importance to us when belligerents—the case of blockade. That is a question which will appeal to both the hon. Members. One of the most satisfactory features of the Declaration is with regard to blockade. Our views, practically speaking, prevail. As we are a country which above all is interested in maintaining rules of effective blockade, that is a matter of supreme importance to us.

We also obtain other advantages of enormous value to us, both as neutrals and belligerents. Take the case of the free list—articles which cannot be declared contraband. In the Russo-Japanese war the Russians treated raw cotton as contraband. The free list includes a large number of materials used in the textile industries, such as raw cotton, wool, silk, while hemp, raw hides, metallic ores, and many other things are included in the list. Surely that is a very considerable gain.

The question of conditional contraband has been treated by the hon. Member as one settled by Article 34, but I do not think that he has appreciated Article 33. The words in the commentary in Article 34 are:— It may be an enemy authority or a trader ('fournisseur') established in an enemy country, who as a matter of common knowledge supplies the enemy Government with articles of the kind in question. On this point my answer, therefore, is first that the meaning of the word l'ennemi is made clear by the authoritative commentary; and, secondly, that it is made equally clear if Articles 33 and 34 are read together, as they must be. The mere translation of the word commerçant is really of little importance—whether the whole phrase is:— Contractor or trader or 'commerçant' established in the enemy country, who as a matter of common knowledge supplies articles of this kind to the enemy makes no difference to the sense. The general Report prepared by the Drafting Committee and passed and amended by the whole Conference and signed by the Plenipotentiaries is an authoritative report. We are accustomed to the practice in English courts of interpreting the words of a statute strictly by themselves; but in the practice of Continental courts the Report would be taken as an authoritative commentary on the articles. The important thing for us is what will happen when our ships are taken before foreign prize courts. Then the commentary will be taken as authoritative. The hon. Member for Stepney argued that a foreign captain or commander would read Article 34 without the commentary and act upon it, but why should he assume that he will not also read Article 33? Article 33 defines "conditional contraband," and defines it clearly, nor did I understand the hon. Member to cavil at that definition. The words of Article 33 are:— Conditional contraband is liable to capture if it is shown to be destined for the use of the armed forces or of a Government department of the enemy State unless in this latter case the circumstances show that the goods cannot in fact be used for the purposes of the war in progress. Why should the hon. Member ignore Article 33? Article 34 depends upon this definition. Its object is different. It states what is to be a presumption that a particular article is "conditional contraband." It alters the onus of proof. In the Russo-Japanese war the captains of warships threw the onus of proof upon the owner to show that the destination was innocent. This article places the onus of proof upon the captain, except in specified cases. The practice of foreign countries is narrowed, not enlarged. Although we do not see that there is any ambiguity as to the meaning of Articles 33 and 34, hon. Members will have noticed that in reply to a question my right hon. Friend has promised to make a declaration which will be brought to the notice of all the other Powers. Under these circumstances it was hardly worth while to discuss this matter over again. We are doing our best to dispel the slightest shadow of ambiguity.

There is one other important point to which I wish to refer, and that is the destruction of neutral prizes. During the Russo-Japanese war ships were destroyed at the will of commanders. The Russians destroyed the "Knight Commander" and three other British ships, one Danish, and two German vessels. The Russian naval instructions, which were upheld by their Prize Courts, permitted this. So did the Japanese rules. At The Hague we argued against the destruction of neutral vessels. We failed completely, the majority of the great maritime Powers were against us. Two of the great Powers supported us—the United States and Japan—but at the Naval Conference we did not have the support of these Powers. On this point, therefore, we failed. But the Declaration provides important safeguards. You can only destroy a neutral ship if she is carrying a cargo half of which is contraband, which would render the ship liable to confiscation. You have to show reason why you could not take her into port. There are, besides, heavy pecuniary penalties which may be involved in destroying a neutral vessel. The Power destroying her will have to pay for innocent cargo, and if the captain proves to be mistaken, the whole cargo will have to be paid for and the ship herself. So there are new safeguards against the destruction of ships. The war vessel destroying a. neutral ship will have to run very serious risks.

The hon. Member for Stepney made a great point of the danger to our food supply, but there is no more danger to the food supply now than before? On the contrary, I think the danger is lessened and not increased. He drew a very lurid picture of the risk which British ships passing over the sea would have to run—the imminent probable risk every half-hour which they would have to encounter from ships which he called "privateers," by which he meant merchant vessels converted into armed commerce destroyers. I think that was an overdrawn picture.

Mr. LEVERTON HARRIS rose and made some observations which were entirely inaudible in the Press gallery.


Then I misunderstood the hon. Member. What I want to point out is, we are no worse off now as to that danger than before. So really there was not much point in that argument.

Now I come to Article 35 and the doctrine of "continuous voyage." As to "absolute contraband" our view has prevailed, the doctrine is made applicable. It has been given up as to "conditional contraband," except where the country has no seaboard. It is alleged that this is an advantage to Continental Powers, which can obtain goods by land from neutral ports. Yes, but is that a substantial matter in practice? Is it worth much in practice to retain the doctrine? It is the easiest thing in the world to consign goods to a neutral port and then by a second transaction to purchase them for, and import them into, the enemy country. But it is said we are in a worse position, being an island. But, again, does this amount to much in practice? If we were at war it is to be hoped that either France or Holland or Belgium would be neutral, and so long as we retain command of the home seas we can import from these countries. If we lose command of these seas for any length of time I fear we shall be already defeated.

I am very sorry that my hon. Friend raised any question as to the position of M. Fromageot. He made some inquiry as to why that very eminent jurist was employed. He was not engaged to decide upon the British claims. He was engaged to assist our representatives in dealing with the reports sent in to the Conference. All the countries which were parties to this Conference sent in reports. Those had all to be dealt with, so as to serve as a basis of discussion. This was the work M. Fromageot was employed to do, and he did it with great skill. It was necessary for a French jurist to do this work. The most eminent English jurist would hardly be fitted to do it, because it was necessary to have an exact and complete knowledge of French legal phraseology. We owe much to M. Fromageot, and we must express our appreciation of the value of his work.

You cannot deal with this Declaration by merely singling out questions of detail. You must take it as a whole and ask have we gained or lost as belligerents or neutrals. Does this Declaration not promise a great advance in the direction we desire in the practice of foreign prize courts? As a matter of fact, as we happily spend most of our time in the position of neutrals, I cannot fall in with the view of the hon. Member for Norwood when he confines himself entirely to its effects from the point of view of belligerents. But I cannot see that it has weakened our power at all as belligerents. The hon. Members who have spoken have not shown that it has done so in the slightest degree. I cannot help thinking it is a very great advantage to build up an international law as to prizes. It is an enormous benefit to us—whether as belligerents or neutrals—to have certainty. Our shipowners and merchants will know the rules observed by the great maritime Powers, can choose the path of safety and judge of the risks they may run. We have gained a great deal in regard to the questions of blockade, the free list, and many other matters. As a matter of international law and as a development of the work of the Peace Conferences this agreement amongst great maritime nations is a great advance, and I think it will be recognised that the introduction of certainty and uniformity in place of uncertainty and variety of practice is a very solid benefit to our vast commercial and shipping interests.


I should like to preface the few observations that I want to make to the House by entering a caveat as to the form of the Motion for the adjournment on the paper to-day. The proposal of the Prime Minister is different from that previously announced, which always had the effect of safeguarding the time of private Members when they had a Motion down. I have no doubt that the change in the form of the Motion as it appears on the Paper was made by agreement with those who had the Motion for this evening, because if it was not there would be a grave violation of the rules forced upon the Government by the House on previous occasions in connection with the Motion for adjournment over Easter or Whitsuntide. I notice that the Private Members' Motion has been taken off the paper. That of course eases the situation, and I will not dwell upon the matter further now. With regard to the questions raised by hon. Members opposite, I think it is rather late in the day to raise objections such as those put forward by both the hon. Members who have addressed the House this afternoon. The objection which has been taken is really one to the creation of an International Prize Court. That was not accepted by this country: it was the proposal of this country in connection with the late Conference. It is our proposal, and it emanated entirely from this country, and I submit that, although at the last moment Germany came in and made a similar proposal herself, and moved it, and we seconded it, still the adoption of the Prize Court, unanimously agreed to, was really a British proposal put forward on the ground of British interest; and no objection was taken to that proceeding. It is very late now to make an attack—for it is really an attack—upon the whole principle of the creation of an International Prize Court. The next thing I should like to say, and it has clearly come out in the course of this debate—we all know the difficulty of people who have to choose which horse they will ride—is this. In the speech of the Member who first brought this matter before the House he adduced many points which he thought would be against us when we were neutrals, and others against us when we were belligerents as he thought, but they were mutually destructive; you cannot have it both ways. That goes even further than was pointed out by the Under-Secretary, because our interests are mainly neutral. They are predominant in peace, and they are very likely to be in war, especially if we maintain our naval predominance.

You cannot assert certain belligerent views—as the hon. Member for Norwood has asserted with certain hereditary tendency, because these views were asserted here for many years by his father—without examining to what belligerency they apply. To my mind I have always thought this principle operated quite differently in the hypothesis of one war and another. It depends very largely on the question of who is neutral in the war in which we are belligerents, and who is helping. I think my hon. Friend admits that, and what I should be prepared to contend is that as a general doctrine neutral interests will predominate. We are likely to be more neutral than belligerent, and if we were belligerents the neutral interest still predominates for us, because the war in which we should be belligerents would be a war in which we desire to induce as many people as possible to send us food and goods. Starting from that point of view I confess I feel a little impatient as to the arguments against particular points of the Declaration which do not distinguish between the probable appearance of this principle in different classes of war. Now in regard to the whole question of supply of food and raw material in time of war, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Worcester, whom I see opposite, is likely to take part in this debate, and should be an authority. I do not know how far he concurs in the terms of this Declaration—he must have weighed that Report, tending as I think it does in the direction I venture to put forward here, and not in the direction of the high old-fashioned belligerent views represented by the hon. Member for Norwood. His, I think, is rather an old-fashioned view. The Report of the Food Supplies Commission, upon I which I fancy the right hon. Gentleman will speak, was against, I think, this old-fashioned view, and the changes which have taken place since that Report was issued are all in the same direction. There are less and less fears by general consent as to the prospect of commercial destruction being carried on to any great extent. Sir Cyprian Bridge laid it down that in time of war the corsairs, as the French call such ships as those which would act as commerce destroyers, will be hunted and not hunting. That is the doctrine of Sir Cyprian Bridge, and it was well illustrated during the Russo-Japanese War.

They did nothing-virtually they did nothing. They were unable to injure the trade against which operations were directed, and as long as we maintain our naval predominance—not necessarily the number of cruisers, but any real maritime predominance sufficient to destroy the enemies' main fleets—I am convinced, in a decreasing degree from year to year, we ought to apprehend serious commerce disturbance, and in any case our interest is mainly to insist on freedom of trade, in order to insure to this country supplies of food and of raw material. The hon. Member is a little hampered to-day by his own Motion. He really wanted to debate the Declaration of Paris, and he had put down a blocking Motion which prevented him from discussing it on this occasion. No doubt we shall have another occasion and many also on the Bill which will have to be presented to this House. What the nature of that Bill will be is altogether doubtful. There, I think, the hon. Members who have brought this matter forward have some grievance, because it is very difficult to say how far that Bill will be wide enough to get any discussion of the matters which they wish to discuss. We know nothing of its form. With regard to the particular points of the measure raised by the hon. Member opposite I do not think we need waste much time upon them, as they are rather like the theological discussions of the early centuries. Substantially there is no difference of opinion, and I venture to join the Under-Secretary in regard to the various forms of words which have been used. The interruption which I ventured to offer to the hon. Member who introduced the subject upon the word commerçant is that it is accompanied by the word fournir, and fournisseur is a French word for army contractor, and consequently these expressions mean the same thing. There are three different translations given in English, and the English is no authority whatever, and the translations are only put in the papers for the House of Commons, and have no authority at all. There are three different phrases, but I submit they mean the same thing. Then as to the word l'ennemi, which was greatly dwelt upon by the hon. Member—these words, curiously enough, were declared not clear by two of the Powers. As against the suspicion which is in the minds of some hon. Members, Germany preferred the word belligerent, which would be less open to vagueness than a word indicating a person who was a citizen in a belligerent country, who would hardly call himself a belligerent in his country. I confess I do not attach particular importance to these words, because it is not a declaration of a new principle, but the assertion of what is the universally recognised view, and always has been. The widening that the hon. Member saw in it I do not find there; it is a doctrine which has been generally received, and is to be found in all the old text books, but I suggest that we must elect and choose our most probable necessities. We cannot have an international law which will suit us in every event, as was claimed in the words at the conclusion of the hon. Member's speech. He asked that we should keep our power of destruction of prize in belligerency and at the same time that we should do everything to preserve the freedom of our trade in food and raw material, both when neutral and also in time of war. They are two contradictory principles, one of which suits us in certain wars, and the other in certain other wars, but you cannot put both those views forward with any chance that the Powers generally would accept them, and as we were the authors of the proposal for an International Prize Court, and it was put forward by us in the interests of the trade of our country, never contested and now happily agreed to, it is a little late to come here without deciding which is the weak point and what is the particular class of circumstances which the House wishes to safeguard. The. Italian view is one which may be commended in this House, because the Italians said it did not matter in this particular case, although the words were far from clear, because they said for the first time we should have a court in which neutrals would be in a majority, and which would interpret this, of course, in the usual way in which neutrals have interpreted these words in the past. This is one danger to which hon. Members on the opposite side may have some right to point. Of course, when we suggested an International Prize Court we did it with our eyes open and we knew that nine times out of ten there would be a neutral majority and that that neutral majority would be inclined to clip the wings of the great belligerent. Given that principle, which on the whole we have asserted as our principle—as the principle most favourable to this nation in the overwhelming majority of circumstances, then we have not made more than a reasonable concession to the one view, which is infinitely more than balanced by concessions in the other direction.


I hope the right hon. Gentleman opposite will not suppose, if criticism is confined to this side of the House, that it is offered in any party spirit or without full recognition of the valuable labours which the British delegates did under his direction. It is offered with a desire to guide our policy rightly and to point out certain dangers, which appear to some of us involved in the Powers which we are discussing. I quite agree with my right hon. Friend who has just spoken that there is a danger—a great temptation—in this question for people who are discussing it, to ask that we should have the best of it both ways, and that the rules should be such that when we are belligerents we should be able to treat neutrals as we used to in the great wars, and, on the other hand, to complain when we are neutrals that we are subject to disadvantages in that capacity, but everybody has got to make up their mind—the Government first of all—whether, on the whole, before they go into these negotiations with regard to international law and naval warfare—to make up their minds whether, upon the whole, the interests of this country are in securing and preserving as large an immunity as possible for neutrals or in asserting as high powers as possible for belligerents. The right hon. Baronet takes the first view, and is in favour of securing as much immunity for neutrals as possible.


Given maritime supremacy.


We always assume that. I think the Under-Secretary took the same view and for the same reason. They seemed to think that the question was settled by a simple sum in proportion. As the number of years we are at peace whilst other nations are at war is to the number of years when we are at war and other nations are at peace, so is our interest in preserving the rights of neutrals. You cannot settle the question in that way. With a high appreciation of the rights of belligerents, what we suffer under as neutrals may be very inconvenient, and may cause us individual damage and uncertainty, and even therefore necessarily some national loss, but that is as nothing compared to what we may suffer from inability to use rights which are necessary, if they are necessary in time of war. In time of war the existence of the nation is at stake. In time of war neutrality when other countries are at war, at the most it is the existence of the individual trader, and after all his case could be met if it were necessary, and he would be saved from ruin if the Government of the day thought it right to do so. But in time of war our whole existence is at stake, and our position differs from that of every other nation alike, because we are an island Power, and because we are the greatest naval power, and for yet another reason, because we are not a military power. We have military forces, but they are not available for those great and crushing operations by which Continental Powers can settle the fate of nations. Suppose we were engaged with a great Continental Power in war, how are we going to bring that war to a conclusion? How are we going to bring sufficient pressure to bear upon our enemies to make this state of war intolerable to them unless we maintain belligerent rights at sea at a high rate? That is the danger which my hon. Friend has put to the House today, and which is at the root of the opposition which there is amongst great numbers of people, not only to the policy which we are discussing to-day, but to the Declaration of Paris. As between those two points of view, and regarding the question for a moment and treating it as an abstract question on which either course was fully open, I range myself with the hon. Member behind me, and I agree with him that it is of more importance to us to secure the fullest possible exercise of belligerent rights to ourselves when we are at war than to secure our traders against the exercise of similar rights by other belligerents when we are neutrals.

But having said that, I admit that the question is not a purely national one. The right hon. Baronet asked us to examine it in the light of possible or particular wars. If he means that we are to have that in our minds, as I think he did, that is the attitude in which I have tried to consider and discuss the question, but I do not want to be called upon to discuss individual cases, which is unnecessary, I think, for the purpose, and is always a little invidious. It is no good to assert belligerent rights of a higher kind than you can enforce. All you do by that is to stop yourself from claiming relief against such high-handed belligerent action by anybody else, and you do not get recognition of your claims by other neutrals. That brings me to what I think is the great merit of this document, that it does tend, up to a certain point, to produce certainty where there was formerly uncertainty, and to produce common agreement where there was hitherto the most divergent in- terpretation of international law, and for my part in these matters, though I desire to put belligerent rights as high as possible, I think it perhaps of even more importance as a general rule that those belligerent rights which we submit to in peace should be the ones which we by common consent ourselves exercise in war, and that is, of course, the result so far as it goes, of an agreement of this kind. If I rightly understood the Under-Secretary I should be moved by a rather different spirit from him. I should have had a different object in going into the Conference. Instead of trying to secure as great an immunity for neutrals as others would agree to, I should have tried to secure as high rights for belligerents as other Powers would agree to. But, as I say, I recognise the great advantage which it is to everyone, if we are not called upon to make too great sacrifices for the purpose, to have a measure of certainty as to what will happen in any given war, and to know that we shall be allowed to treat others, and shall be upheld in treating others as they have been permitted to treat us.

I quite agree with the hon. Member for Stepney that really the first point to which he called attention dealing with the use of the word "contraband" in Article 34 in the English version, and the use of the word "enemy" has been met by the statement of the Foreign Secretary yesterday that the Government would deal with that by a separate Declaration. It is obvious—it was certainly always the intention of the parties to the Declaration. But there was another point with which the Under-Secretary did not deal at all, and which my hon. Friend raised upon the same clause, and that is as to what is a base of supply. Article 34 sets up a presumption, and the Under-Secretary seemed to think it was a presumption in favour of neutrals, but it is quite the contrary. A similar presumption arises if the goods themselves (the articles of additional contraband) are consigned to fortified places belonging to the enemy or other places serving as a base for an armed force. That in the commentary is defined as "serving as a base whether for operations or supply." There can be no doubt, I imagine, that food, for instance, ought to be contraband, liable to seizure if it is consigned to a place where the armed forces of an enemy are operating. What is the bearing on our position, situated as we are, by this very wide extension? It refers not only to the base of operations, but the base of supplies.

What port is there in the United Kingdom through which our grain trade passes, or any portion of it, which would not be a base of supply for an armed force in this country if we were at war with a first-clas3 Power, or combination of Powers? Our territorial armies would be mobilised, would be encamped, and move about to different places by train. How would they be supplied except through these ordinary commercial ports where the imported grain is habitually dealt with? There are no other places which are supplied with appliances for handling the grain, whether at Liverpool, Southampton, or other ports. Suppose you had troops in training at Lancaster. Is Liverpool the base of supply for these troops? Could you stop all corn entering Liverpool on the ground that Liverpool was the base of supply for the Territorial Army? The importance of being able to exercise the fullest rights altogether overshadows the inconvenience of submitting to the disadvantages when we are neutral. Then as to the question which affects the interpretation, and which affects our position when we are at war. What I want to know is: What is the interpretation given by the Government to this phrase "base of supply," and whether that interpretation was discussed and agreed to by the Conference at large? There is nothing to throw light upon that in the official Report and Commentary. It is scarcely necessary to emphasise the fact that as the matter stands now there is no port in this country which would not be liable to be treated, probably would be treated, as a base of supply in the case of war.

Those were really all the points that strictly arise out of the document which we have before us. But I want to ask the Foreign Secretary if he would be good enough to inform us whether in connection with these discussions and conferences which have been pursued any attempt has been made to deal with another side of the field of questions opened up by warlike operations. As the right hon. Gentleman will be well aware, recent warfare has shown that a whole new series of problems are arising as to what are the duties of neutrals in their own ports—for instance, to those belligerents who may come. There are certain recognised rules of international law, but those rules became the common law of Europe—if I may use the phrase—at a time when ships were moved by sail power, and before a code had become an object of any importance. A most difficult series of questions arise owing to the importance which coal has taken at the present time. The right hon. Gentleman will know that during the Russo-Japanese war very varied interpretations were put by different Powers upon their rights or duties as neutrals in regard to supplies to foreign ships visiting their port, particularly as regards coal. Has any attempt been made, or will any attempt be made, to find some common agreement in these circumstances, which in the event of war will be of great importance, might indeed have enormous importance in some war in which we might happen to be engaged? It is very obvious that the power of the Navy depends upon coaling stations of its own (assuming that we have them), and only justifies it going from home; other bases of operation elsewhere are very largely dependent upon the coal supplies, and these themselves are dependent upon the interpretation which neutral nations may put upon their right or duty to supply coal to ships under these circumstances. We ourselves took a very strict view of the limitations of what we ought to do under these circumstances during the Russo-Japanese war. There was one unfortunate case where a Russian officer obtained coal on the ground that he wished to proceed on his homeward voyage back to the mother country. He used the coal so obtained in order to go cruising about after neutral commerce in the neighbourhood of the place where he obtained the coal.

That incident reminds me of another aspect which I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman upon as to whether it has been under the consideration of His Majesty's Government at all—it is germane to this discussion, though it perhaps did not arise out of these proceedings—as to whether the attention of the Government has been called to the state of things which arose in the immediate vicinity of the Suez Canal during the Russo-Japanese War? The Suez Canal is neutral, rightly or wrongly. I do not discuss that. That being so, it ought to be effectively neutral and not merely neutralised in theory. But during one stage of the Russo-Japanese War, Russian vessels—under one of their Admirals—cruised in the Gulf of Suez just about the canal, outside the limits which were neutral, but where the waters are still so narrow that, practically, it is impossible for any ship to pass through unperceived. I am not suggest- ing that there was any kind of breach of international law in the action of the Russian fleet. They were within their rights, or any other belligerent, so long as the agreement remains as it is But if the effective neutrality of the Suez Canal is to be secured, and the canal really kept open for use at a time of war, when there is a powerful Navy of one of the belligerents about, it will, I think, be necessary to consider whether the approaches to the canal do not require further protection by international agreement than they have hitherto received. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will accept my observations in the spirit in which they are made, and give us as much information as he can.


I only rise really to answer the right hon. Gentleman's questions and to supplement what he has said on one or two other points. It is hardly necessary for me to travel all over the ground which has been so ably dealt with by the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs. With regard to the first question of the right hon. Gentleman about the Suez Canal, the facts which he relates are new to me. At the time they took place, I was more happily situated than he was, because I was not then obliged to pay attention to matters which formed part of the right hon. Gentleman's duty, and came under his observation. I quite agree that the neutralisation of the Suez Canal is a matter that ought to be observed, not only in the letter but in the spirit. If any operations in the vicinity were likely to impair the neutralisation of the canal itself, if there was a real danger of that, that no doubt would be a reason for international discussion and agreement. With regard to the obligations of neutrals, I refer the hon. Gentleman to the point made by the hon. Member for Stepney that the Power which is strongest on the seas has not much to gain. But we are in a favourable situation. We, therefore, take a very strict view as to the limitations we ought to observe. Though I admit the matter is one of great importance, I think it is one we should reserve for a future conference: and before we bring it up ourselves at a future conference we ought to have some idea that the discussion is likely to result favourably to our views.

With regard to the principle by which we should be guided in a conference of this kind I accept the test of the right hon.

Gentleman opposite that, however much we might gain as neutrals, we might purchase that gain too dearly if we purchased it at the sacrifice of belligerent rights. I accept that as an abstract test. Whether the light hon. Gentleman applies that test to this particular Declaration I do not understand him to draw an unfavourable conclusion as to the Declaration as a whole, and I think he did admit that, provided we did not sacrifice belligerent rights which were important, everything we gained by a conference of this kind, which could be gained by neutrals, was so much to the good, and that he accepted this test as that by which the whole of this Declaration should be judged. The hon. Member for Stepney drew an unfavourable inference from the fact that a distinguished French jurist had been consulted. When we were drafting what was to be put before the Powers it had to be drafted in French, and the advice of the French jurist was of very great assistance in placing before the Powers what was intended not to be a base of British views, but a base of an international agreement. The object of this conference was not to bring other Powers here and impose our views and our will on them, but to ask them to come here in order that we might, as far as possible, get an agreement on certain points which hitherto had been the subject of considerable international difference. We tried to get a representative of the French Government. He was consulted with our representative, and if the fact that an accredited representatives to be consulted in drawing up a base for agreement between the Powers is to be a ground of objection, other Powers might as well have objected to our British representative being consulted in drawing up the base, just as the hon. Member opposite objected to the French representative being consulted. With regard to the actual merits of the case, I need hardly deal with the points raised by the hon. Member for Norwood, as they have been answered by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary.

With regard to the advantage of an appeal court in reference to prize court decisions, the decisions of foreign prize courts are never satisfactory to us. They do not always profess to administer international law. For instance, the Russian courts profess to administer Russian regulations. Even if they profess to administer international law they are always the court of a nation which are parties to the suit, and that never gives satisfaction. We have hitherto had no remedy but diplomatic argument, which is of very little use after the matter is threshed out in foreign prize courts, or else we have had the remedy, which we never apply, of making it a casus belli. We never make it a casus belli. That is an unsatisfactory position for us, so that practically it is a great advantage to us to have an international court of appeal which will be composed of neutrals, and will therefore be in a much more impartial position than a foreign prize court, and we shall have the chance of getting much more satisfaction than we have hitherto got in foreign prize courts. That is a great gain to us as neutrals. We also get a clear definition of what is contraband and what are likely to be respected when there is a war between two other Powers. We have in this Declaration drawn up—what was never settled before, but depended simply on the caprice of foreign Powers—a clear statement deciding what is contraband and what is not. The fact that we have a satisfactory free list and have got the conditions settled with regard to articles which may be contraband ought to be of enormous advantage to British shippers as neutrals in time of war.

I come now to the point: What have we lost as neutrals? Absolutely the only one thing brought forward in this debate that we have given up is that we have given up the doctrine of continuous voyage with regard to conditional contraband. That is the only thing we have lost. As belligerents we gain everything. When this Conference was first started I was most anxious—though I do not profess to be an expert on these matters—that no Resolution should be come to which would hamper, what is perhaps our most formidable weapon against enemies in time of war, and that is the right of blockade. We have had our own views about the power of blockade. There has always been this risk. If we were at war with another country we should establish our blockade and declare our rules according to our own practice. Those rules might be disputed by one or more great neutral Powers, and we might find ourselves in this position, that in making use of our most formidable weapon, the right of blockade according to our own practice and views on that subject, we might be confronted at once by protests from three or four important neutrals as to ships stopped which might introduce most undesirable complications into our own operations. If there had been I anything in this Conference which would hamper our part of the blockade, then I think the House would be right to take up that point very seriously. But, on the contrary, the resolutions to which the Conference came were in accordance with the proposals of the British delegates.

Those proposals of the British delegates I dare say were not in accordance with the most extreme views put forward at the time, but they did represent what British shippers thought and what we thought ourselves we were likely to be able to enforce or to attempt to enforce in time of war. That is a great gain which has come out of this Conference, an agreement on the subject of blockade signed by the Naval Powers of the world which is in accordance with the proposals of our own delegates. Our rights are not only safeguarded, but it is a real gain that we should have an agreement as to what the use of blockade should be in time of war, which we can ourselves claim and bring forward against every Power which has signed this Declaration. If it had been a question of giving up the continuous voyage in regard to conditional contraband and gaining the right of blockade, I should have said that undoubtedly it was worth while on that head alone to give up the former for the latter, because the blockade is infinitely more valuable in time of war than the doctrine of continuous voyage in regard to conditional contraband. We have given up this doctrine. The hon. Member opposite says that we must have a forcible reason for doing so. I think the hon. Member himself, in a Resolution moved a considerable time ago, admitted that it is exceedingly difficult in time of war to prove with regard to anything like conditional contraband that it was really a deterrent for an enemy.

Take the case of food supply going to a neutral port, and which goes into the common stock of the country. During the South African War two German steamers were stopped on the ground that they had food supplies destined for the Transvaal. Very likely they were, but they were going to an entirely neutral port. The Government of the day released the German vessels, and paid compensation. That is what we have given up. We have really gained more about blockading than we have lost by anything we sacrifice. Everything we have gained with regard to neutrals is so much more to the good. Take the case of food supply in time of war. First of all let me observe that as far as this conference is concerned, as to neutrals it does not deal with anything carried under our own flag, so that it only affects our position as far as our food supply is carried under a neutral flag.

We have lost absolutely nothing by the Declaration on this subject. It is not our own views on the subject that are going to decide our food supplies in time of war, it is the views of foreign countries. We have given up absolutely nothing; we have not given up a single provision. The hon. Member for Stepney seemed to me to be perhaps quite unintentionally misleading, because he was giving the impression that somehow or another foreign warships belonging to a Power with whom we were at war would be able to do something with regard to food supplies coming to this country, which they would not be entitled to do before. That is not so. If any foreign warship was interfering with food supplies coming to this country that remains just as it was before. The point the hon. Member for Stepney ought to have put is, is it more or less likely that a foreign warship in time of war would attempt to interfere with food supplies under a neutral flag that was the case before? It is very much less likely, because before the doctrines of foreign powers with regard to interfering with food supplies in time of war have been of the most extreme character. France in 1883 declared rice contraband of war, and Japan in one of the cases of the last war decided that food going into Manchuria was contraband of war because it was food for Europeans, and therefore that it must be destined for European Powers.

Has it made the views of foreign Powers wider or narrower than before as to the right of interfering. Of course, it has made them much narrower than the instances I have quoted. It is quite true there are some cases under it about which you cannot be sure until a decision is given by an authoritative court. For instance, there is the question of the base of supplies, which is exceedingly difficult. Discussions did take place at The Hague or this Conference as to what was meant. It is exceedingly difficult to give a definition. It is understood it means a place where ships of war habitually resort for supplies, and that is directly on the line of communications. It is exceedingly difficult to define that, and one must only rely upon a reasonable interpretation being given to the cases that come forward. Before this a foreign country did interpret that exactly as it pleased, and now a foreign country at war will have to submit that interpretation to a prize court which is not a prize court of its own nationality, but neutral. With regard to the doctrines of foreign nations, the principle which they signed in this Declaration makes them less wide than before, and therefore if they instruct their commanders in accordance with the regulations the probability of the commander of a warship acting as arbitrary as in the past is very much diminished.

The hon. Member for Stepney said he would go with this Declaration in his hand. Of course he would go with the Instructions of the Government as to what the Declaration means. I do not think there is the least doubt of what this part means, but I think had the point been raised it would have been clearly stated. We shall call the attention of the various nations to the fact that we mean to do that, and I have not the least doubt that any of them will raise any objection, and that it will be put on record as part of the Declaration itself that when Instructions are drawn up in time of war it is quite obvious that unless a foreign Government intends to give Instructions to its commanders which are not in accordance with this Declaration, they must be in accord with the text. I will only say, in conclusion, I cannot say what scope of legislation will be necessary. Of course, the House will have ample notice. Nor can I really say how wide an opportunity of discussion there will be. I should prefer legislation when it is introduced would be so regulated, or the proceedings of the House so regulated that there would be a general discussion by which the House could really decide, and that the House maintain its right to deal with the principle. But you must take these things as a whole. If the House of Commons selects one point or another and says we do not like it, it would be impossible to attain to any international arrangement. I would recommend the Declaration to the House in the hope that it may pass the legislation necessary to give effect to it as a great step forward in the direction of arbitration. We have had plenty of arbitration treaties before, but this is the first time that an agreement sets up a regular court to which the nations will be bound to refer certain cases. It is not set up by this Declaration, but the object of the Declaration is to enable us to use that court to which the nations would be bound to refer cases that hitherto, in the prize courts, have been a fruitful source of difficulty between nations, and from the decisions of which we have suffered more than any three or four other Powers.


I desire to call attention to another subject, namely, that of maritime defence in the time of war. I do not intend to re-open the question of the Government policy which has been laid down this year for naval construction. I think that question has been fully discussed in several debates, and it has been decided upon by the House by an overwhelming majority. I am quite content to leave that policy where it is for this year, namely, that the Government will construct four "Dreadnoughts" in the course of the year, and that it should be left to their discretion whether and when an additional four "Dreadnoughts" should be laid down in the course of next year. I feel confident that the moment the necessity arises the Government will undertake the work without hesitation. I have not very many doubts myself that in the course of the year these four additional "Dreadnoughts" will be laid down, or, at any rate, preparations made for them. It is not with regard to the present programme, therefore, that I desire to speak to-day, nor to the immediate future. I desire to raise the subject more with regard to the distant future. I wish to urge upon the Government the supreme importance of considering in the course of this Session, and definitely formulating at the earliest possible date, a policy to meet the situation which now confronts us. What is the situation which now confronts us? It has been explicitly stated by three of the most responsible Ministers in the Government—the Prime Minister, the Secretary for Foreign Affairs and the First Lord of the Admiralty. Three facts of cardinal importance stand out in those speeches. The first of these facts is that "Dreadnoughts," or whatever ships there may be in the future as an improvement on the "Dreadnoughts" in a very few years time, will, and must be, looked upon as the most important ships of modern warfare, to the practical exclusion of many other ships that at present could not be put in the category of obsolete to-day. Secondly, that Germany can now build and prepare those ships as quickly as we can. Thirdly, that when the German programme is completed in years to come they will have a no less number than 33 "Dreadnoughts" in commission in their fleet. Now, these three facts together constitute a new situation in our naval organisation. They must, in my judgment, necessitate new considerations in our future naval policy. We were told by the Secretary for Foreign Affairs last week, in his remarkable speech, that this programme of Germany, these new developments of naval construction in Germany, will impose on us the necessity of practically rebuilding the whole of our fleet. Therefore, the issue appears quite definite. The only element of doubt or uncertainty that remains is as to the duration of time that may elapse before the scheme is carried out. If that be the case, this question can no longer be in dispute. It seems, therefore, quite clear that we should, at the earliest possible date, establish a policy—I use the word policy as against the word programme—of naval construction on some definite basis running over a period of years which shall settle that at all times we shall be in advance to an adequate degree of the German naval establishment in this particular type of ship.

My object in rising this afternoon is to urge on the Government that they should lose no time in giving this question their earliest and most earnest consideration. I regret that the First Lord of the Admiralty is not present here this afternoon, and I also regret that other responsible Ministers—the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, who has gone, should not be present also, because I think the House must realise that this subject is one of the utmost importance. I think the House will agree that there is no question at the present moment of greater national importance than this one. I am sorry to feel that this question of our naval policy has for the moment degenerated into the category of a controversial party subject. It is much to be deplored, and it is due to no fault, in my judgment, of His Majesty's Government. It is not for me this afternoon to enter into any recrimination as to the position which hon. Gentlemen and right hon. Gentlemen opposite have seen fit to take in regard to naval policy. I am not here to do that. What I desire in raising this question—and it is my main object—is to suggest to the Government that no stone should be left unturned, and that everything should be done that possibly can be done to remove this most vital and national question from the category of party politics. This cannot be done, of course, unless you have the full co-operation of the Opposition; it cannot be done unless the Opposition are pre- pared to forego certain courses of action which they have seen fit to take during the past few weeks, but I feel sure that if you appeal to the Opposition they would deem it advisable in the national interests to forego any course that they now think fit to take if the Government could tell the House and the country that they will take into their consideration at an early Cabinet meeting a policy which might be matured and unfolded to the country early next year, and that will put upon a permanent basis a scheme of naval construction which will always leave this country substantially in advance of any other country that is entering upon a large scheme of naval construction. May I make one more suggestion? If it is to be systematical and economical I suggest that the whole cost of annual naval maintenance expense should be definitely separated from the expense of naval construction. Maintenance in time of peace, by which I mean equipment, personnel, matériel, and repairs, should of course go to current account, and be paid for out of revenue. The building of ships under the policy which must be carried out in the next few years must be put upon a different footing. We may suddenly have to incur a large expenditure at the shortest possible notice. We cannot tell when that may have to take place, and in view of the large expenditure we must incur during the next 10 years I feel that so large a sum will not be found exclusively out of revenue, and it will have to be met out of a loan, which should be especially earmarked for the purpose, with a distinct sinking fund for the repayment of that loan. Money will then be always available. It need not always be used, and it will only have to be used when it is required. No Government can foresee when the circumstances may arise.

We have heard it from Members of the Government that the difficulty is actually increasing of finding out precisely when I foreign nations are accelerating their naval construction. We must have a building I policy extending throughout all these I future years which depends upon the increased construction of any other foreign country which is going in for a large Navy. I know that naval and military loans have fallen into considerable discredit owing to the fact that, in many cases, they have been spent inappropriately and unsuitably, and in some instances the money has not been altogether applied to the purpose for which it was originally intended. I believe a loan on the lines which I have outlined, far from being a source of extravagance, would, if it is to be confined, as it should be, strictly to the maintenance of a settled standard laid down, would rather effect economy, and certainly at the same time would ensure national safety. It would have this most important advantage, which was pointed out by the Foreign Secretary the other day, that it would ensure facilities for construction always being ready in the country. That in the days to come will probably be found to be as necessary as having ships afloat and in commission. Have your fall facilities in the naval factories always ready, as they are always in a state of readiness in Germany.

In my judgment the altered situation which has been presented to us in the last fortnight quite justifies a modification of policy which I am sure it will be found necessary to carry out. It is certainly a subject which should properly form the basis for earnest consideration by His Majesty's Government as to where the money is to be raised. Whether it is to be raised by revenue or by loan is not so much the point I desire to urge as that in all future management of the Navy annual maintenance should be kept separate and distinct in its own Department from naval construction. I think the time has come in view of the knowledge we now have when some definite scheme of policy should be formulated, and it should be a policy which can be carried out throughout the years that the present Government remain in office, and which can be carried out undisturbed and untouched by whoever may be their successors. I believe that by this means you will gain, in the first place, a great advantage, and we shall be able to restore the Navy to a position it has always held of being a national necessity, and not the party asset to which it has for the moment degenerated.

The Navy must always be the first line of defence upon which depends our security and safety, and it should always be far removed from controversy by either party. A definite policy should be laid down over a long period of years, so that when one party leaves and the next party takes office there can be no question as to the disturbance of that policy. It will be by that means that we shall guarantee in its truest sense peace in Europe, and it will, I believe, not only give full satisfaction to the people of this country, but it will ensure peace in the most substantial manner by showing to all foreign countries that we intend, no matter what the sacri- fice, to maintain our naval supremacy, no matter what any other country does in regard to naval construction. I ask the Government to take this question into their earnest consideration this Session, so that they may as a result of well thought deliberation be able to unfold to the House and the country at the earliest possible date next year a concerted scheme of naval policy.


I rise merely for a very few moments to state in answer to my hon. Friend the principle on which the Government is proceeding and the broad foundation of policy which was so explicitly set out in the speech delivered by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. My hon. Friend who has just sat down has truly said that in order to give effect to the broad considerations of policy something more is necessary, and you require that that policy should be something more than the mere making of programmes. Programmes are, of course, essential, and you must build ships in this crisis, but something more is necessary. It has been thought in this country that we have not looked ahead, but that is not true about naval and military matters. It is thought that we have been lacking in that steady settled work of looking a long way ahead which has been characteristic of other nations who have given more care to this matter than we have done. The Government is fully aware of the necessity of the policy of the programme it has adopted, and this question is engaging not only the attention of the Prime Minister but of the Government as a whole, not merely of one branch of the Government but of all branches.

I quite agree with my hon. Friend that there is nothing more essential than that we should take in future a larger and wider view than we have been apt to do in the past. Naval supremacy is the basis not only of our naval power, but of our military position, and it is upon that that we must concentrate first. Our fleet must be brought up to that commanding strength, the necessity of which the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs demonstrated the other day. But in doing that you must absolutely base yourselves as regards type of ships, strategical considerations, and disposition of the fleet, on very wide views, and those are views which have been thought out with naval and military considerations being taken together, and above all, what I think we have to aim at is, as my hon. Friend suggested, the establishment of principles which may be the foundation of continuity in naval as well as military policy. The other day there was a notable declaration from the Leader of the Opposition upon the broad foundations of army policy. We were at one upon the broad principles enunciated by him—principles which we completely accept, and which I believe will form the foundation for many a long day to come of all our efforts. We want the same clear ideas running through the whole of our policy as regards defence. There ought to be no doubt about the object for which naval and military preparations exist, or of the principles which we desire to attain. All our shipbuilding, all our dispositions of the fleet, and all our military arrangements ought to be subordinated to the fulfilment of that purpose, and that requires, I think, more sustained and continued consideration by Administration after Administration than it has been consonant with the spirit of this country to give to it in the past. We are living in a time when science in matters of defence and so forth is entering upon a much higher level than has been the case in the past. Science is more and more giving reality to mere brute force. Brute force requires to be directed by science in order to be effective. That is as true of military matters as of naval matters, and it means that the whole of our policy must be taken together. I can assure my hon. Friend that all these considerations are engaging the attention of the Government very much at this moment, and I have a hope that that consideration will bear fruit in the near future.


I am sure the House will agree in the main with the general principles which have been so admirably laid down by the right hon. Gentleman, but I am afraid that the moment for discussing general principles is past in regard to the position in which we now find ourselves. I do not say it is past generally, but in regard to the present situation. What we want now is to deal with the present situation, which is a concrete situation—that is what the country is anxious about—and not to discuss general principles. But in regard to general principles I do not find myself quite in agreement with the right hon. Gentleman. I should say that in Naval policy what we require is not so much continuity of policy in the sense in which the right hon. Gentleman used the term, as continuity of effort. I remember hear ing this matter debated in the last Parliament. We must all agree that continuity of policy in this country really means continuity of effort, because our naval policy is a defensive policy. In fact, continuity of policy is established. It is to maintain a two-power standard whatever other countries may do. What has been lacking is not continuity of policy, but continuity of effort. I think it hardly lies in the mouth of the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues to complain that there has not been sufficient looking ahead. The late Board of Admiralty, of which I had the honour to be a member, looked ahead, and, what is more, they placed upon record the result of their looking ahead. The right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues succeeded to what is known as the Cawdor Memorandum, which was the result of that looking ahead, but what the Government have done is that, the old pilot having looked ahead and warned them what were the dangers in front, and advised the measures which should be taken to meet them, the Government have not thought it necessary to carry their proposals out. That is where we are at fault. The two power standard is our continuity of policy. That has been laid down as a continuous policy by both sides during many Parliaments. What has been lacking is continuity of effort, and in the last three years I think there has been a lack of foresight also. The hon. Baronet, the member for the Chippenham Division, found fault with the policy adopted by the Opposition and the manner in which we have found it necessary to urge upon the Government the necessities of the case. So far I have not heard that any member of the Opposition, however alarmist he may appear in the eyes of the hon. Baronet, has suggested that it was necessary to borrow money to build battleships. I consider that to be as alarmist a suggestion as has yet been made. I admit that no subject requires more careful attention than the arrangement whereby our rivals lay down a financial programme so that their Admiralties can use money from day to day as they require it; they do certainly in that manner obtain a very great advantage in the matter of secrecy, and also in the matter of getting over such Parliamentary difficulties as we meet with through each annual estimate standing absolutely by itself and being financially severed entirely from the estimate of the year to Follow. I think there is something to be said for a very careful consideration of that side of the question. But, for myself, I sincerely hope it will be a long time before this country has to borrow money to build battleships, the life of which probably is less than 20 years. I do not think it is very likely that such a policy will be adopted, considering the criticisms we have had from hon. Gentlemen opposite of Naval Loans Acts, under which money has been borrowed for permanent works, and when we have had the statement circulated very widely through the country that the policy of the Government is "pay as you go." Borrowing money to build battleships would hardly be carrying out that maxim. I do not think it is too late now for the right hon. Gentleman to tell us that the Government will do what the necessities of the case require, and not really that they "may" do it—which is all they have told us so far—if the necessity arises. The difference between us is that we say the necessity has arisen. That is the whole difference.

Hon. gentlemen opposite say that if the necessity does arise they will deal with it, and we say that it has arisen. If that fact can be recognised, and if we can be assured by the right hon. Gentlemen across the floor of the House, that the necessities of the case as they have been laid before the country, and as they exist to-day, will be met by the immediate laying-down of these eight ships—that is to say, the laying-down of them as rapidly as can be done—and that they shall be completed at the earliest possible moment, I am certain that on this question which has been made unfortunately a party issue through no fault of ours, we may go to the country as a united Parliament determined to maintain our naval supremacy, which is a national and not a party interest.


I rise to call attention to two domestic matters which I venture to say are not less important than the matters of Imperial policy which we have been discussing. I wish to say a few words with regard to the Old Age Pensions Act and the limitations which it imposes. I wish to speak more particularly with regard to the administration of the Act. First of all, let me say that I approach this matter in no carping spirit of criticism. On the contrary, my uppermost thought is one of thankfulness that the Old Age Pensions Act has been passed. I go about the country a great deal and come in contact with many of the old souls whose lives have been brightened as the result of that Act having been passed. But there are certain anomalies and cruelties that have been revealed in the administration of the Act. They were not altogether unforeseen, because some of us did foresee them, but I venture to say that they have been made a little more harsh than they might have been, because of the uncertainty in regard to them and because of some decisions which have been given. Of course, the chief of these is the poor law disqualification. I think I shall have the whole House with me when I say that it is altogether wrong to punish the poor for being poor. It seems to me that that is just what has been done by this Act of Parliament, and its administration during the last three months. As bearing on that, let me read a sentence from a document issued by the Corporation of the City of Sheffield. There is no date upon it, but it is a recent document, for it refers to the Old Age Pensions Act having been in operation for three months. It was placed in my hands yesterday by the Secretary of the National Committee on Old Age Pensions. It says:— The undermentioned cases are examples of a few of many cases of hardship and difficulty the sub-committees have had to determine, and in our opinion would justify an alteration in the law relating to old age pensions. A claimant's claim had to be disallowed for the reason that she had received poor law relief on account of being in the union workhouse for two days. A claimant's claim had to be disallowed for the reason that claimant had received 1s 6d per week poor law relief for two weeks only. Another claim had to be disallowed for the reason that the claimant, a woman, had received poor law relief in the form of two loaves of bread. Several claims had to be disallowed on account of the claimants having received poor law relief, despite the fact that the value of the relief so given had been repaid by relatives to the guardians of the poor. I venture to say that the Act, bad as it is, might at all events be interpreted plainly. Now that it has been in operation since the beginning of the year instructions might have been given to the local authorities as to its proper interpretation and in order to move any doubts which really existed. I submit that in consequence of the present indefiniteness a great deal of unnecessary cruelty is given. For instance, it was only last week a pathetic case was recorded in the "Daily News" of an old couple, one of whom had died. An inquiry into the death took place before the coroner's court, and it "came out in evidence that these old folks, 69 years of age, had struggled on without taking poor law relief, not knowing how the acceptance of that relief would have affected their claim for old age pensions. In his evidence the husband of the woman who had died, probably as the result of having insufficient food, admitted that they had had hard times. He said: "I could not get enough for her sometimes, poor old soul." That is one of many cases which are constantly taking place in the case of people who are just bordering on 70 years of age and struggling not to accept poor law relief lest it might do them out of a pension. In the case of those over 70 years of age there are probably many thousands who have already been refused pensions because of this poor law relief disqualification. I would urge the right hon. Gentleman to make a declaration to-day on the subject. We have been told that it is the intention of the Government to abolish this disqualification. If the right hon. Gentleman would make a declaration many would have their minds eased, not only among the poor but among all classes of society, who feel keenly that this is one of the main blots on an Act of Parliament which on the whole has been of much benefit to the people of the country. I was one of a deputation who waited on the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the President of the Board of Trade some time ago when the expense of what I propose was pleaded. It was said that it would cost an additional four millions. On that occasion the President of the Local Government Board even said that it would cost more. That being so, it follows that there are nearly 300.000 persons who are disqualified by this wretched poor law declaration, and I ask the right hon. Gentleman to make a declaration which shall carry some hope to these poor people. The period during which the old age pensions were granted was one of the worst in my memory, and probably in the memory of the right hon. Gentleman. It threw many of these old people out of work, with the result that many had to accept poor law relief who had not thought of doing so before. Many of the authorities who administer this Act are beginning to pass resolutions against this poor law restriction. I have here one from the Liverpool Corporation, one from Halifax, one from the Corporation of Glasgow, while there is a resolution down to-day to be discussed by the Manchester Corporation impressing on the President of the Local Government Board the desirability of removing the poor law disqualification. I hope that when these Motions reach the right hon. Gentleman they will find him in a good temper.

Another matter is the residential disqualification. I think this particular disqualification has been interpreted in an unnecessarily hard way. The Act refers to 20 years as a residence in the United Kingdom. Let me venture to remind the House that there is nothing in the Act which stipulates that the 20 years should be 20 years' residence in the United Kingdom immediately prior to the application for a pension. That may have been the intention of Parliament, but the Act does not say so, and the Act allows a more generous interpretation than that which has been given to it. We have heard of cases where old people have gone from the United Kingdom and have been refused a pension on their return in consequence. I know of a case of an old married man who tells me that in response to a letter from some of his friends in America he went there. They guaranteed that he should not be chargeable to the nation. He is over 85 years of age. He was not to work. He was in America 1 year and 11 months, but because he was away in America 1 year and 11 months he was actually refused his pension, although he had actually worked in this country 61 years, and worked in one place for no less than 50 years. That is a very hard case, and I think it is a case not justified by the letter of the Act. There have been many other cases of a similar character. I know of the case of a woman who after spending 68 years and 7 months in Glasgow went to America and lived with her son. The son died. She returned, and at 72 years of age, the old woman was actually refused a pension because she had gone to America. I have heard of a case of a man who has been refused a pension because of his earnings. The Act says that a man's income shall be considered as the income which he received the year before, and that in the absence of proof to the contrary the income for the coming year may be said to be the income of the previous year. Many cases of hardship have arisen from that. The particular case to which I refer is that of a man who was at work last year off and on. He made an appeal on the 27th February this year, and he had a letter dated 3rd March from the Local Government Board which I think reveals a scandalous state of affairs on the part of the officials of the right hon. Gentleman. In that letter the man is asked to state if he had done any work. The reply was that he was trying for work, and then came the question where he was trying to work. He was an old man over 70 years of age. Apparently he was bound to produce proof that he was seeking for work, and in the absence of that proof he was to be disqualified from receiving the pension. That is a hard case, but it is a case not justified by the strict letter of the Act. There are many other points that might be mentioned, but I refrain, and I wish to conclude by saying that those hon. Members who sit on these benches are in favour of wiping out these miserable restrictions. I know that there must be some residential qualification and other conditions, but at the same time I think that a person who has lived in this country to 70 years of age ought to be entitled to a pension. Before I conclude I want to mention another matter. I refer to the unemployed question. I should like to say that we on these benches are quite sensible of the good work that has flown from the Unemployed Act. The late Government are entitled to some credit for having been undeterred by talk of economic law, and for having set up machinery by which so-called law may be tempered with common-sense and human feeling.

Of course, I know there is not much profit in relief works, farm colonies, or anything of that sort. Neither is there in building "Dreadnoughts." "Dreadnoughts" are built, and there are those in this House who want more as a matter of national insurance, but I always notice that when we on these benches or in other parts of the House want money spent in the way of solving the unemployment problem or getting some comfort put into the lives of the workers as an insurance against physical decay or as against national decay, then those applying for "Dreadnoughts" are those who give us very little support. And further, although the facilitation of public works that would otherwise be carried on three or four years hence is described as staving off the evil day, yet in cases like the present the evil day of the future might be left to look after itself. On that point I want to make another remark in regard to the administration of the Unemployed Act. There are some works that might be done now, but would not be done at all three or four years hence except there was pressure now. Let me take one. I refer to the Hackney Marshes, with which the right hon. Gentleman has had a great deal to do. That is work of great utility and has resulted in the converting of a breeding ground of serious disease into a virtual health centre. I venture to say what has been done in regard to this particular matter has been done in the best interests of the community and of the working people generally. But now I find that practically the whole of the men are being disbanded in that particular place. There are a few left—not a great many. I venture to remind the right hon. Gentleman that there is no need to disband all those men who have been employed in the Hackney Marshes during the last 12 months. There have been 1,000 or 1,100 employed there during the winter time. Two-thirds have gone, so far as my information enables me to say, and I believe that the remaining one-third are in the course of the week to go also. I venture to say there is no need to have these two-thirds of the men dismissed, and they might be very profitably employed during the coming summer. May I go further, and say the summer is a far better time for these men to work at their particular class of work than the winter, because the work is to raise these marshes and make a proper bed for the River Lee. The river is flooded in winter and it is dry in summer, and it seems to me that when it is dry is the proper time to make this improvement and that the men could be a good deal better employed there in the summer than in the winter. Let me remind the right hon. Gentleman that, although trade is now a good deal better than it was, and although the weather is better, yet the applications to the register during the last month exceeded by 500 or 600 those of the month before, and, therefore, that indicates that there are still a very large number of men who want work and who will be the better for work, and, I venture to say, who might be profitably employed in this particular kind of work. Now I get away from the administration of the Act. because I am sick of all these doles and the squabbles for them, and I am afraid it is not the most scrupulous who get the biggest share of the doles always. I have not mentioned these scrambles in latter days, but I mention London now not because I charge the right hon. Gentleman with not giving London what she has applied for, because I do not know what she has applied for, but because London is an Imperial city, and the work should be of a character not only to benefit London but the country at large. I want to know, and I should like to elicit some in- formation from the right hon. Gentleman, what is the intention of the Government to-day in regard to the permanent and root remedies for unemployment. It is now three years and three months since this Government came into office. One of the first things on coming into office that the Government did was a promise made in the King's Speech that something would be done of that character. We have had many promises since. We had the promise of last October on the part of the Prime Minister, when he said that something would be done, and we want really to know when will these promises be translated into performances. But we need not go back to last year. Let me read what was said last month by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He said It was almost poltroonery on the part of a great country like this when yon get permanent conditions that cause a great deal of trouble and misery and pain and anxiety to people who don't deserve it, that you didn't face them. I want to know really when the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues are going to face them. We have got through two months of the present Session, and we are now going to adjourn for a fortnight. It will not be long before we are in the winter, and the demand will be again upon us for work, and we should like to know that something is going to be done to prepare for the next winter, something of a more far-reaching character than was done last winter. Of course, the excuse was made frequently that the Poor Law Commission was sitting, and that then it would have been inopportune to say anything until that Commission had reported. We had now the Poor Law Commission Report. Then something was said about the Afforestation Commission, and it was said something would be done when it reported, and that it would open up a great many agencies by which people would be employed. Here again we have the Afforestation Report, and here we are rushing through the Session with very little or nothing to distinguish this Session from previous Sessions. All we want to get is that some definite assurance will be given that something will be done by which men seeking work may be able to get it. We have been told about the Labour Exchanges. I really think that is mocking the poor in their poverty. The trades unions have labour exchange machinery, and far better labour exchanges than the Government can set up in a dozen years. Every trade union has its labour exchange, manned by officers eager and anxious to get men off their books and to get them into work. Yet these trades unions are practically useless in getting men work. It is not mere fluidity of labour we want or the means of shifting men from one centre to another. So far as we can see there is no demand for labour, and we say it devolves on the Government to set up some agency by which this demand can be supplied. Therefore I hope something will be said by the right hon. Gentleman to-day to show that something will he done to ease this very difficult and delicate situation.


I wish to emphasise what has been said with regard to the disqualifications for old age pensions. This question affects every part of the country, and those of us who have experience in local administration know how very hardly it presses in some cases. I think the disqualification for poor law relief should be done away with altogether. I do not know whether there are many people affected by it, but there are in most districts some hard cases where old people are debarred from a pension on this ground. I think the class which are debarred under this regulation are the very class who are really more deserving of the old age pensions than some of the other poor people. I also think that the disqualification which attaches to convictions for petty offences ought to be removed. I know cases where people are debarred from receiving old age pensions because they have been convicted at petty sessions of begging. After all, begging is not a crime, and why people should be debarred from a pension for a trivial reason of that sort I do not understand. I hope when this question is gone into again this matter will receive attention, and these regulations will be relaxed to some extent. I do not say that everybody who goes to prison should receive a pension, but some of these cases should be considered, and I hope the President of the Local Government Board will give us some assurance that when the time comes these points will be dealt with.


I wish to ask the Secretary of the Admiralty a question of which I have given him notice. I wish to call his attention to the speech of Admiral Smith-Dorrien at a club dinner at Berkhamstead on 31st March, and reported in the "West Herts Observer."


Is this gentleman a private individual or is he under the Admiralty?


He is under the Admiralty.


What authority has the hon. Member for saying that?


The Admiralty List.


The Admiralty List I have consulted shows that he is retired. If he is retired, he is no longer under the discipline or authority of the Admiralty. If the hon. Member will consult the Admiralty List he will find that he is a retired Rear-Admiral, and, if so, he is in the same position as any other private individual.


I apologise if that is the case. May I take another point?


Is it not within the competence of the House to discuss on this Motion for adjournment any public speech made by any member of the public which appears in the public Press?


Certainly not. What Minister would be responsible for it? There is no one here to answer for the man himself, and he does not come under any Government Department.


But if in the view of Members of this House of Commons a speech reported in the public Press is contrary to public decency have the Members of the House of Commons not the right to bring it up here upon the Motion for the adjournment?


Certainly not. The Courts are open. If any one has been guilty of any indecent or improper expressions such as come within the scope of the Courts a criminal action can be taken against the individual who has been guilty of them.


But the Law Officers are Members of this House, and it is a matter which might come within their cognisance.


All the more reason for not discussing it.


If they have not taken action it might be the duty of Members of the House to point out why they should take action.


The first course is for any person who is aggrieved to take action in the Courts. The Courts are always open.


Might I point out that Parliament, I understand, votes a pension to the gentleman referred to. Would not that be within the cognisance of this House?


The proper time to raise it is when the Vote for the Pension comes on.


Cannot it be raised now?


No. I believe in this particular instance the pension has already been voted.


May I add a few words with reference to the grievance of old age pensioners being disqualified through poor law relief? The success of this most admirable measure, probably one of the greatest measures this House has ever passed, should not be marred by a technicality and a difficulty which could be so easily removed, and I trust will be removed at an early date. In many cases it was not anticipated that question of poor law relief would necessitate so many deserving poor being unable to get their pensions. It is at the present moment an established fact that a number of people have had to take poor law relief owing to circumstances over which they had no control, and that relief should not, and does not, I am sure, in the mind of any hon. or right hon. Gentleman really technically or morally disqualify them from the advantages of this Act. I hope we shall get a definite assurance to-day to the effect that this disqualification will be removed at as early a date as possible. I congratulate the Admiralty on the fact that the Gentleman to whom I intended to refer is no longer a servant of theirs.


The hon. Member for Chippenham considers that the Navy is the most important item in the strength of the nation, but whilst the sword of an enemy may kill its thousands, the lancet of the surgeons of this country kills its hundreds of thousands. The President of the Local Government Board professes to be the source of health for the country. He has two Departments under his care. One undoubtedly tries to promote the health of the country in the matter of drainage and water supply and all sorts of things, and the efficient and clever gentleman who represents that side of the Department does a. great deal towards promoting the health of the country. But he has unfortunately another Department which is busy trying to spread disease and death throughout the land. I have not the slightest doubt that tens of thousands of people are killed '. every year by means of the stuff which he provides and causes his myrmidons to distribute and sell. He has an institution a few miles from here where animals are tortured, poor things, every year—most horrible, brutal, barbarous. The pus is distributed by his agents in different parts of the country. There was an outbreak a few weeks ago near Bristol, some of the inspectors of the Local Government Board went down, and seized the opportunity of getting the people to agree to certain arrangements for blood poisoning the people, under the name called vaccination. Amongst them there were some who knew something about the question, and knew, in fact, more about it than the inspector of the Local Government Board, and who were not interested in the sale of this disgusting material, and they raised a protest notwithstanding the threats brought against them.

I should like to know where the right hon. Gentleman finds his consent for sending his agents about to advocate this system of blood poisoning? I am aware he has to administer the Act, but I do not think that the Act makes it compulsory that agents and inspectors of Local Government Board should go about urging the people to adopt a precaution which experience has proved to be utterly useless. The right hon. Gentleman admits himself that in the epidemic of the 11 persons who were attacked with the disease all were vaccinated, and of these 11 two had recently been revaccinated. On the top of that information the inspector goes down and urges the people of Bristol to be revaccinated, thereby spreading disease wholesale. Everybody knows that disease spreads by revaccination, spreads ten times worse than small-pox. Small-pox itself is a trifling disease compared with cancer. Cancer has been proved by experts of the highest kind to have a relationship with the disease induced by vaccination. Vaccination in certain cases has been known to cause cancer, and to develop in the most alarming way. Sixty people die of cancer to one who dies of small-pox. That is in a bad small-pox year. In other years 120 persons die of cancer to one of small-pox. Since the President of the Local Government Board began the use of this calf lymph, as they call it—calf pus it should be—the disease of cancer has proceeded to grow by leaps and bounds. When you consider that in this country one person in 20 dies of cancer, and less than one person in 1,000, recently only one in 10,000 of small-pox, the significance of these figures cannot be exaggerated. It is spreading a horrible disease for which there is no cure. Once you get the disease into the blood it cannot be cured. And this in endeavouring to mitigate some trifling ailment, which is comparatively harmless; for under any proper treatment small-pox is not a dangerous disease. Why he considers it essential to order his inspectors to go down to these places and advocate it, and why he cannot leave it to the people themselves to adopt this process just as much or as little as they like, I cannot say.

But I wish to take this opportunity of calling attention to another matter—and I might apologise to the President of the Board of Education for not having given him more notice of a particular matter to which I desire to call attention. The Education Act is intended for the education of the children of the nation. Whether it does good or harm depends to a great extent on the manner in which it is carried out. I would suggest to the President of the Board of Education that he should influence the action of those carrying out the Act in a way that would be advantageous to the community. A recent case in point is that of a schoolmaster who has got children whom he educates at home. Nobody denies his capacity. He has been a schoolmaster for 20 years, and is now engaged in educating the children of another gentleman. His education of those other children is considered quite sufficient, and nobody suggests that this other gentleman's children should go to school. But the schoolmaster's children educated by him are not considered as being sufficiently educated, and he is being prosecuted because he does not send them to school. He has sent them to school, and they have had to be carried out because they were unfit for the strain, and he has produced medical certificates to show that they are so unfit. Nobody has examined those children and found that they are not educated. The main thing alleged against him is that the children have been seen by the school inspector playing in the roads. The man has not got large grounds for them to play in. He gives the children three hours' instruction in what is called education—reading, writing and arithmetic—every day, and he considers that at their tender age the more fresh air they get the better for them, and then he is brought up before the local magistrates by the local authorities and prosecuted. I would ask the President of the Board of Education not to allow local authorities to employ expensive solicitors to prosecute defendants in these cases. This man presented to the magistrates the copy-book work of his children to show that they can do copybook work, but the magistrates declined to look at it, and asked him to send his children to be tested by the inspectors of the prosecuting authority—which is most unjust. I would ask the President of the Local Government Board not to allow these prosecutions.


I would remind the hon. Gentleman that the President of the Local Government Board is not responsible for these prosecutions.


I understand the President of the Local Government has great powers, and that he could write to the local education authority and say to them they are straining the Act, and that he cannot sanction the employment of solicitors and will not sanction expenses to prosecute people because in his judgment they are straining the Act.


The right hon. Gentleman would have to violate the Act of Parliament. The Act of Parliament says if the man does not educate his children properly he is to be prosecuted. What the hon. Gentleman really wants is an Amendment of the law.


But there should be some evidence that the children are not properly educated. There has been no such evidence given. The inspector said he did not examine the children, and the clerk to the education authority says he did not do so. They all admit that the father is a careful father, a good father, and a competent teacher. They do not contradict him when he says he does teach the children. It is a very strong case.


What the hon. Member really does is to find fault with the magistrates. That is the gravamen of the hon. Member's charge.


Owing to the action of a gentleman from London something was not done which they proposed to do. They proposed to send the children compulsorily to an industrial school, but owing to the action of the gentleman from London they did not take that course, so now probably nothing further will be done against this man if only the President of the Board of Education will write a letter to say he thinks it is not a case in his judgment that should proceed further. There are other similar cases which I am personally acquainted with, where well educated children of well educated ladies and gentlemen, simply because they happen to live in small houses, are persecuted by the education authorities. That is within the purview, I submit, of the President of the Local Government Board. Although I do not profess to give expert legal opinion, I believe he has great powers, and also I believe that the education authorities would to some extent defer to his opinion, and if he said, This is a case where you should not bother the people. I believe they would not do so. The local authority has the Act of Parliament, but it does not go far enough, and under some bye-law they can compel a father to go on sending his child to school up to the age of 14.


The hon. Member has failed to establish any connection between his questions and the Local Government Board.


The hon. Member who has just resumed his seat dealt with two questions. If the local education authority has not done the legal or proper thing in the matter to which he has referred, then it can be brought before the auditor in the ordinary way when the accounts are audited. The second point to which the hon. Member referred was as to the action of the Local Government Board in sending an inspector to Bristol in connection with the outbreak of small-pox, which promised to be a much more serious epidemic than fortunately it turned out to be. The hon. Member asks what sanction is there for the action of the President of the Local Government Board in sending an inspector. The only sanction that I had for sending our inspector is to be found in the necessity which is imposed upon us to do our best in the broad matter of the public health. When an epidemic reveals itself it is our business not to wait until it has developed, but at the very earliest stages to send down an inspector to co-operate with the local authority to do their very best, by continued action, to prevent the outbreak from developing, as it was believed then to be probable that this one would develop. What the Local Government Board inspector did is what would be done in the ordinary way in similar circumstances, and, if he had not done it, he would have been guilty of a breach of duty. I am glad to say that both the local authority and the Local Government Board by their general activity have reduced the epidemic to very, very small proportions, and I am delighted to state that the health of Bristol is rapidly on the right road to resume its normal condition. The other questions raised have reference to pensions and unemployment. The hon. Member for Blackfriars, whose speech I particularly noted, at the outset of his remarks said what I think is generally endorsed, that there is nothing but thankfulness and gratitude throughout the country for the great boon which the Old Age Pensions Act has conferred upon the aged poor. We are grateful to receive that assurance, particularly having regard to the source from which it emanated. The hon. Gentleman went on to say that the administration of the Old Age Pension Act had revealed anomalies and grievances that in some respects bordered on the verge of cruelty. On the merits of some of the cases that is probably true. But I can assure the House that everything that the Department and the pension officers and inspectors can do to mitigate these anomalies, to reduce their number, and to diminish the grievances will be done. We will do everything that can reasonably be done within the four corners of the legal obligations under which we work the Act. Several of the grievances, and, indeed, many of them, which have been revealed to the House, gave quite as much pain to me and to the officers as they have given to the hon. Members who disclosed them, both in the Press and in this assembly. On the merits, however, it is not for me to decide. I have to be the arbiter in the administration of this Act within the four corners of its legal provisions, and I can assure hon. Members that we have done our best to give a liberal and generous interpretation of the Act. What surprises me is not the number of grievances, but that, in comparison with the enormous number of cases, I wonder really that the number of grievances have been so small. The hon. Member opposite proceeded from anomalies and grievances to the question of the poor law disqualification for pensions. On that the hon. Member, if he will read the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer (who is primarily concerned in this matter), which he made in reply to a deputation of which the hon. Member opposite was one of the spokesmen, will find that the Government are pledged to deal with this question of poor law disqualification as soon as possible and as soon as money and circumstances will permit. The Chancellor of the Exchequer does not intend to depart from that pledge.

Perhaps it is well that the House should have the exact figures. It is anticipated that if the poor law disqualification only was removed it would bring under the Pensions Act 217,000 more pensioners than the 600,000 who are now on the pension list. It is estimated that there would be only 7,000 out of the 77,000 indoor paupers who would claim a 5s. pension, but nearly all the 20,000 outdoor pensioners it is believed would claim the 5s., so that the net pensionable number out of the 287,000 would be 217,000, at a cost of anything between £2,850,000 or £3,000,000 in round figures. The Government are pledged to deal with the pauper disqualification in the terms expressed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I may add that if several other points are dealt with which pauper disqualification would not touch the net addition to the present £8,000,000 which will be paid to the 600,000 pensioners during the next financial year for the removal of some of these grievances may range from £3,500,000 to £4,000,000 additional.

It is perhaps as well that the House should know the figures, because a great deal of light is thrown by them upon the extent to which grievances prevail. I will give the figures with regard to the appeals we have had up to date. The Local Government Board has had to deal with 9,000 appeals from claimants for pensions. Of that 9,000, 8,000 have been disposed of, and there are 1,000 still in hand, many of them current claims. Perhaps the House would like to know on what subject these appeals were raised. No less than 45 per cent. of the total were raised on the question of means, 40 per cent. on poor law relief, 5 per cent. only on age, 5 per cent. on residence, 3 per cent. on nationality, 1 per cent. on idleness, . 3 per cent. on imprisonment, and miscellaneous about one. These figures in their descending scale of percentages reveal that, so far as it has been possible, the Local Government Board have given a generous interpretation to the administration of this Act, and have spread their net as reasonably wide to gather in the decent and deserving as is consistent with their legal duty.

The last question raised by the hon. Member was that of unemployment. I noted with pleasure that there was no criticism of the administration, and that many points that one, might have expected were not raised. With regard to the particular piece of relief work to which the hon. Member referred, namely, that of Hackney Marshes, with which he identified my name, describing it as one of the pet projects I have had in mind for the last two or three years, I can assure him, having given close personal attention to it, that if he knew the practical side and the physical difficulties and conditions of that particular piece of relief work, which employed over 1,200 men during the past winter, he would come to the conclusion that the Central (Unemployed) Body, acting in communication with myself and my officers, have done the work exceedingly well, that we were wise in undertaking it between the months of October and April, and that it was well that it should be carried out at that portion of the year when the men most likely to apply to the distress committees could, all things considered, be better employed than between April and September. If the hon. Member will come with me during the forthcoming holidays, I should be only too pleased to show him that we are right and he is wrong, and, having agreed upon that, that we were engineers who were not hoist with their own petard. The hon. Member went from Hackney Marshes to the general question of unemployment. I was pleased to hear him say with pleasant emphasis that he was sick of doles and grants to distress committees for unemployed men, and he frankly admitted that those doles and grants, which I have always regarded as pernicious in their influence and results, were not always made with the most scrupulous care, and, I may add, not always to the best of men. It is something for a man in my position—sometimes a bold man struggling with adversity—to get this corroborative economic and industrial support from the hon. Member. I was sorry to hear him say that labour exchanges as a remedy or palliative of unemployment were, to quote his words, "mocking the poor in their poverty." That is a serious statement, and one not universally endorsed by trade unionists and labour leaders. That is proved by this fact. If labour exchanges, labour bureaux, and employment registers are good for the trade unionist, as the hon. Member frankly admitted they were.


No; on the contrary, I said that they may have been good at one time, but they are not now.


May I put it another way, as I wish to carry the hon. Member with me? If the registration of unemployed workmen who are members of trade unions, through any form of registration, is good, it follows that if workmen are unorganised, the registration of their distress and the tabulation of their unemployment, if it could be brought about—I would prefer to see it done through trade unions—would be equally good for them. We cannot get all the men to join the trade unions. If we could the establishment of distress committees, labour exchanges, and employment registers would be unnecessary. I must point out to my hon. Friend that there are not 5 per cent. of the total number of men who register themselves at the offices of distress committees for relief work provided out of grants made to local authorities who are members of trade unions or friendly societies. It is obvious that if you are to relieve distress, you must not wait until these men join trade unions. If you did so, a good many of them would perish in the meantime, and it is a matter for us to note that the hon. Member deprecates the institution of labour exchanges. He says that he does not believe that much is to come of them.


The right hon. Gentleman is under a misapprehension. What I say is that I do not admit that labour exchanges are of any use in finding work, but that labour exchanges may later on form some part of a great scheme of employment such as is recommended by the Poor Law Commission. If labour exchanges are accompanied by and worked concurrently with some agency by which the hours of labour may be regulated they may be of use.


I am a member of the hon. Member's own trade union, and I know what signing the donation book was when I was out of work. If it is right and proper that an engineer who is out of work should visit his branch every morning and register his name for employment, it is equally good that the casual and general labourer should have an opportunity of doing the same thing in connection with a labour exchange or other organisation. The other point raised by the hon. Member was that he wanted to know what the Government was going to do with regard to legislation for unemployment. I have nothing to add to what the Prime Minister said in October last and again this year. The questions of labour exchanges, afforestation, possibly insurance for unemployment, and probably some aspect of the question of invalidity, are all within the purview of the Government, and in so far as the Prime Minister's statement of October last covers each of the four aspects of unemployment I have mentioned, the hon. Member must draw his own inference from my right hon. Friend's pledge as to what the Government intend to do. I can only say that among the things which the Government have already done are the provisions made regarding small holdings, housing, and the reorganisation both of Government and municipal work. These organic changes have been proceeding apace. It would, perhaps, be of interest to know that during the time the Poor Law Commission has been sitting the Government have, both by legislation and administration, done its best to deal with this problem without fuss or panic. There has been no obtrusiveness on the part of the Local Government Board, but for the last three years we have worked with considerable effect. We have done our best during the last two or three years to impress upon the 25,000 local authorities in England and Wales who have the expenditure, directly and indirectly, of something like £150,000,000 per annum, the necessity of preventing unemployment by adapting their expenditure of all this money to the carrying out of useful work and the giving of seasonal employment. We have asked them to do that with the view of averting those great periods of depression which we get in the winter time, and particularly in the building trades, which are always the most affected, although they are not subject to foreign competition. It could be made, in my judgment, more regular and steady than either the shipbuilding or the engineering trade, which depends upon foreign markets, and more dependent on fluctuations than the building trade ought to be. My last point is that by legislation, persuasion, and the education of local authorities we shall be able to mitigate in the years that are to come the horrors of depression, the severities of unemployment, which are due not to there being insufficient work, but are due to the fact that the total amount of work is badly organised, that it is without prevision and foresight, while the employment of casual labour has been a disgrace to all concerned. In so far as our Department will be able to influence local authorities everything shall be done.


I will not detain the House more than a very few minutes, and I wish to point out that there has been a circular issued recently by the Board of Education, which in my opinion and in the opinion of every local authority, is likely to cast considerable extra cost on the rates. Several hon. Members have asked the Government questions on this particular subject. It is very difficult for private Members to put their views before the House on this question, and I take the opportunity of this Motion to call attention to the matter. I have asked one or two questions on this subject, and I must confess, in my opinion, the answers have been unsatisfactory. The result of the answers seems to be that the Board of Education have been acting entirely on their own initiative. We have at the present moment a very large and increasing burden on the rates, especially in regard to education. It does seem wrong for the Board of Education, under these circumstances, to issue a circular which is bound to increase the rates without first finding out what this burden is going to be. I cannot help thinking that there must be many cases of slight misunderstanding in the matter. In Norfolk there will be an additional expenditure of several thousand pounds, in Suffolk the additional expenditure will be £8,000, and in Dorsetshire the additional expenditure will be £6,000, and all this expenditure creates a new burden on the rates. No doubt about it, the burden upon the rates is excessive at the present moment. I am very anxious that there should be no increased burden upon those rates until we get the assurance of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that there shall be a redistribution of the burden. The question has been raised already in this House during the present Session, and it does seem to me quite ridiculous to ask the ratepayers to still carry a heavier burden when there has been no statement from any Member of the Front Bench that there will be a redistribution of the burden of the rates as regards national expenditure. This is getting to be a very serious question indeed, and at the time that we brought forward the motion on local expenditure the Chancellor of the Exchequer made a very sympathetic speech, and rather led us to believe that he would compass our object if he possibly could. But on this question of education I cannot help thinking there is something behind the scenes. I am only too pleased to see increased efficiency, but I want to see justice to the ratepayers at the same time. Has this increased burden, I wonder, anything to do with this great education question, because in that Circular 709 there is a distinct understanding that this rate is to be further increased. The whole burden of the circular is that the alterations at the present moment are only momentary, and that there will be further alterations with a still further burden upon the rates. Therefore, we on this side of the House, who are fighting for equal treatment on religious education of the children, cannot help wondering whether there is something in the idea of making us strike a bargain by making the burden so heavy that those who have to bear it may be tempted to cry out for some sort of bargain to be struck. I am rather confirmed in that opinion when I read the remarks made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the debate on local taxation raised on the Address. He said:— I really do not think it would be possible to deal effectively and satisfactorily with the education problem until you settle the controversy in regard to it. Then, I think, the question of finance very properly will come in. Whichever Government will have the settlement of the education problem cannot do it without some sort of financial inducement to the local authorities to settle the problem. I do not know whether there is on the part of the Government any idea of forcing those who have to carry the burden to some sort of compromise. I hope that is not the case, because I should resist it as far as it was possible to do so. I hope that before any new burden is placed upon the rates we shall know exactly what that burden is going to be, and have an opportunity of discussing the question thoroughly. I earnestly hope the Government will consider this question that there shall be some future opportunity of discussion and an exact statement as to what the increased burden will be, and whether there will be any hope of those who are responsible for the finances being able to shift that burden, which has become intolerable, on to national rather than local shoulders. I hope we shall have no more burdens thrust upon us by administrative Acts, but that if the burdens are thrust upon us we shall be able to discuss them.


I would urge upon the Government at the present juncture, not only for the safety of the country but for the safety at the polls of the party from an electoral point of view, that a spirited naval policy is necessary, and I cannot regard the so-called increase of ships this year as any increase whatever. It is one ship short of what is due under the four battleships a year programme which was laid down without any regard to party or political purposes, and should be maintained. Then I wish to impress upon the Secretary for War the question of a cavalry depot in Wales. There are six new cavalry depots now to be created, and one should be attached to the Western command. I wish to make that cavalry depot at Welshpool. It should be in the centre of Wales, which is in the centre of Montgomery—a pure accident which I cannot help. We now have an excellent Welsh General, and we have 800 recruits out of 850 in Montgomeryshire, and all we want now is a Welsh depot, and we shall be thoroughly satisfied. I have lived myself in Wales and (in India, and I do not know which of the two peoples are fuller of racial and caste feeling, and for that reason I urge that sentiment is a serious consideration in dealing with Welsh matters. I wish particularly to thank the Army authorities for their wisdom in appointing the Welsh General they have, and I hope they will continue the same wise conduct of affairs in acceding to my present request. But I do not base this request upon sentiment, though it is all important, but on the merits of Welsh pool. They have every advantage for military manoeuvres and healthy recreation for the troops. It is a most accessible place. The two greatest railways in the country, the London and Northwestern and the Great Western, both go there, and in addition it has the Cambrian system. It is the most central and the most accessible place, and has the best communications, and it is a famous horse-breeding district, and is well suited for a depot. It has a rifle range within three miles, and it is the most spacious place in England and Wales. It is, with one exception, the largest borough, in England. The area of the borough is actually the largest in England, with the sole exception of Much Wenlock. It is only owing to the fact that the modesty of the Montgomeryshire man is as conspicuous, though not as proverbial, as the pride of the Salopian that it has not a similar epithet attached to its name, and is not known as Much Welshpool. We have at Welshpool a great landlord, Lord Powis, who is willing to give all the land which is required on the most favourable terms, and we have a mayor and town council who are ready to assist in every possible manner, and we have already some buildings there belonging to the abolished militia battalion.

These legitimate expectations seem to he in some danger of being disappointed by the selection of the Royal Artillery barracks at Seaforth for the Welsh cavalry depot. At present Lancashire folk are always hastening to leave Lancashire as soon as they can get away and to go to Wales, and if we are going to send Welsh recruits to a suburb of Liverpool it will be regarded as something approaching an outrage, and it cannot possibly be contended that the suburbs of Liverpool are so suitable for a cavalry depot as the spacious surroundings and the country life of Welshpool. I cannot believe myself that the military authorities will report in favour of any place as being preferable to Welshpool, but I have thought it necessary, after communication with the Secretary of State, to bring the matter up, that he may learn what a terrible disappointment it will be if they happen to do so. We in this county raise 800 men out of 850, and are unaffected by the anti-military spirit or any of that sinister internationalism which threatens neighbouring counties, and which, I am sorry sometimes to hear from one or two hon. Gentlemen on the Labour benches. We have deserved well of the State in our county, and I hope the State will not forget it, and will give us this depot.

I must refer, for I resent it myself, to the fact that the hon. Member for Monmouthshire, who is, I believe, the only professional soldier amongst us Welsh Members, represents Wales as crying out with a greater and more insistent cry for the reduction of expenditure on armaments. He did not qualify that by saying, "subject to the proper requirements of the defence of the country." I think it necessary, on behalf of a county which has shown a good spirit and will continue to show a good spirit, and which has produced a good regiment, which has fought Continually for the country, to point out that in 1886 a regiment was raised in six weeks in Anglesey, and that in the war in 1899 the Prince of Wales' Light Horse was raised a thousand strong, almost all Welsh and mostly Nonconformists—men belonging to the families of leading Nonconformist deacons, preachers, and ministers. I also wish to quote from the Rev. R. E. Morris, a Calvinistic Methodist minister, who has been appointed chaplain of the Denbighshire battalion of the Territorial Regiment. He wrote to the colonel and said:— I am glad to be able to tell my friends that thousands of young men can be got together in excellent order and very effectively trained as soldiers, and that the country owes a debt of gratitude to the gentlemen who are so patriotically undertaking the arduous duty of training them. A great deal of a very different tenor has been put forward as representing, as it were, the general feeling of Wales, and particularly by the hon. and gallant Baronet the Member for South Monmouthshire. Nor will I lose an opportunity to say that after acknowledging the high spirit which is shown by the people in Montgomeryshire, the House may not be unwilling to hear of the good work of Colonel Sandbach, Major Mytton, and the excellent county association. But even such good patriots as they are must think of local affairs to some extent. They have suffered very severely by the abolition of the Militia battalion which was previously stationed at Welshpool. I am not going to upbraid the Secretary of State for War, who has done such good work in face of a lot of difficulty and unjust criticism. I believe, perhaps, it could not be helped, the abolition of this battalion, but it is a serious matter in Wales. It hit the Welshman in two tender places—pocket and sentiment. I do not claim this depot at Welshpool as compensation, but I put it to the Minister for War that if by any accident—I do not believe it will ever happen—this Government were to leave office after their time it would be asked: "What did they do in their day and generation?" It would be answered, "They abolished our regiment at Welshpool." Now there is an opportunity for a glorious repentance. They might make a cavalry depot, and so get back out of the cavalry what they lost on the infantry. I strongly urge this step for reasons of convenience, health, sentiment and justice, compensation, and, before all, for the benefit of the troops.

Take, then, the question of horse-breeding in Wales. The Secretary for War had occasion—I am sure ho was ashamed of it—to tell me that only one horse had been bought for the Army in Wales last year. I almost feel, Sir, that the Army that only purchased one horse in Wales must be a one-horse Army. But I think it exceedingly unlikely that only one horse was purchased, because there are various special Army dealers, and no doubt many of the dealers in England sold Welsh horses to the Army. Montgomeryshire is famous for its horse breeding. I am not disparaging Irish horses. I am merely claiming that Welsh horses are good. I suggest that the Secretary of State for War should open up negotiations directly with the Welsh dealers for the supply of Welsh horses. I think he will find, among other things, that Welshmen know how to do a deal; but I am certain of this, that in that deal, while Welshmen will profit, the Army will profit by getting a good strain of horse, without which no cavalry in the world is worth anything. I hope these remarks will not be taken as any attack upon the Secretary for War. That is far from me. My feeling is one of gratitude for what he has done. I long for the day when his work will receive more appreciation, and less depreciation, throughout the country.


For a considerable time this afternoon the House has been discussing the question of pensions. I am very glad that it has been possible for the House to draw attention to several important aspects affecting pensions. My hon. friend the Member for one of the divisions of Wexford drew attention to certain cases of hardship which, I think, he contended had very substantial grounds. It is not that particular aspect of old age pensions that I desire to trouble the House with any observations upon now; but with regard to one special aspect of the question—that of naval pensions. I think it will be found, if we turn to the King's regulations affecting naval pensions, that they are only held during good behaviour. Naval pensions at present amount to a very considerable sum of money, and I think that before voting that money the House should be most careful to see that the money is deserved, and that if any particular cases arise in which it can be shown that the pensions are not deserved they should be forfeited. The particular application of my remarks on this question deals with a report published in the newspapers to which I wish to draw the attention of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty. I wish to refer to the very amazing speech alleged to have been delivered on March i 31st. at a Conservative—


The hon. Member is raising a question which about an hour ago I ruled could not be raised in this debate.


May I submit to you the paragraph in the King's Regulations, which lays down that the retired pay and pension should be held only during good behaviour, and that the Admiralty may at their discretion direct that it shall be forfeited or suspended for such time as the Admiralty may think fit for misconduct or for any act rendering the holder unworthy to receive it. That is, the Admiralty may withhold the whole or any part. I submit that in the particular case under review, Admiral Smith-Dorrien has been guilty of bad conduct, and that it is within the discretion of the Admiralty to withhold the pension or suspend it.


The hon. Member is wrong. The Admiralty could not—even assuming that the report of that speech was correct—put an end to his pension, on the ground that he had not been of good behaviour. The pension is not held during pleasure. If it were held during pleasure it would be within the power of the Admiralty to deal with it, but it is legal pay, as is well known.


"During good behaviour" is the phase used in the King's Regulations. I wish to know whether it is not competent for a Member of the House to point out that the Admiral who has made such a speech as is attributed to Admiral Smith-Dorrien has shown himself guilty of something very different from good behaviour, and that action should be taken by the Department through which his pension is paid.


Every hon. Member is entitled to his opinion as to what he thinks about the speech, but whether it is within the option of the Admiralty to take any legal action or not is another matter.

Question put and agreed to.

The House adjourned at Ten minutes to Six of the clock until Monday. 19th April.