HC Deb 07 December 1911 vol 32 cc1667-719

Nothing in this Act shall—

  1. (1) give to the officers and crew of any of His Majesty's ships of war any right or claim in or to any ship or goods taken as prize or the proceeds thereof, it being the intent of this Act that such officers and crews shall continue to take only such interest (if any) in the proceeds of prizes as may be from time to time granted to them by the Crown; or
  2. (2) affect the operation of any existing treaty or convention with any foreign Power; or
  3. (3) take away or abridge the power of the Crown to enter into any treaty or convention with any foreign Power containing any stipulation that may seem meet concerning any matter to which this Act relates; or
  4. (4) take away, abridge, or control, further or otherwise than as expressly provided by this Act, any right, power, or prerogative of His Majesty the King in right of His Crown, or in right of His office of Admiralty, or any right or power of the Admiralty; or
  5. 1668
  6. (5) take away, abridge, or control further or otherwise than as expressly provided by this Act, the jurisdiction or authority of a Prize Court to take cognisance of and judicially proceed upon any capture, seizure, prize, or reprisal of any ship or goods, and to hear and determine the same, and, according to the course of Admiralty and the law of nations, to adjudge and condemn any ship or goods, or any other jurisdiction or authority of or exercisable by a Prize Court.

Amendments made: In Sub-section (1), leave out the word "such" ["such officers and crews shall continue to"].

After the word "crews," insert the words "of His Majesty's ships of war, whether themselves concerned in the capture or not."

Leave out the words "continue to."

After the word "them" ["granted to them, by the Crown"], insert the words "or any of them."—[Dr. Macnamara.]


I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read the third time."


I beg to move, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months."

This is a Bill of the very first importance, not only on account of the provisions of the Bill itself, but also from the fact that on the passing of the Bill depends the confirmation of the Declaration of London. It is also particularly important, because there is a very large body of opinion in the country—the opinion of men thoroughly competent to form an opinion in the matter—that in the framing of this Bill the Foreign Secretary has forgotten to give effect to the instructions which he gave to the delegates, instructions with which every man on this side of the House, at any rate, was absolutely agreed. In the instructions of the Foreign Secretary, in his letter of 1st December, 1908, he said:— The delegates should be direful that if, unhappily, the Empire should be involved in war, it will not suffer if those legitimate rights of a belligerent State, which have been proved in the past to be essential to the successful assertion of the British sea power and to the defence of British independence, are preserved undiminished and placed beyond rightful challenge. As is well known, there is a large number of people, naval men and commercial men, who, after a close study of this Bill, are of opinion that if it becomes law the legitimate rights of Great Britain, which have been proved so essential to the successful maintenance of our sea power, will be very seriously prejudiced and diminished. By this Bill it is proposed to set up for the first time an International Prize Court—a Court, however, the functions of which will not be limited to the administration of existing laws and existing rules of International law, but which will have very considerable legislative power. When we are asked to establish this Court and to endow it with those great powers it is necessary to bear in mind two very important matters. In the first place, there is no more certain method of paralysing the efficiency of a fleet in time of war than by circumscribing its activity by a series of rules and regulations which will limit its effectiveness as against the enemy; and, in the next place, we must bear in mind that the delegates who will constitute this quasi-legislative body will be representatives of nations the interests of every one of which will be opposed in this matter to the interests of Great Britain. Great Britain to-day possesses unchallenged command of the sea. Again I should like to refer to this letter of the Foreign Secretary, where he emphasises the importance of our maintaining unimpaired and unchallenged command of the sea. Dealing with the question of blockade, he said:— These questions are all closely connected, and the satisfactory solution of them is of extreme importance to a, State like Britain whose absolute dependence upon the possession of sea power for security makes it imperative for her to maintain intact the weapon of defence which the possibility of effectually blocading the enemy's coast places in possession of a nation having command of the sea. He emphasises the absolute necessity of Britain for her very existence possessing absolute command of the sea, and yet we are proposing by this Bill to hand over to the delegates of Foreign countries the power to make laws which will trammel our Fleet when endeavouring to maintain that unchallenged command of the sea. So long as we hold command of the sea, it is our interest that that sea power should be made and maintained as effective as possible. It is the interest of every other nation to minimise the effectiveness of that sea power. Every other nation is a possible enemy seeking, either alone or in combination with other nations, to wrest from us that command of the sea. Their interest is, therefore, to reduce the effectiveness of our supreme power at sea, whilst our interest, and not only our interest, but an absolute necessity to us, is to maintain unimpaired the supreme effec- tiveness of our one and only power, namely, the sea-power. Bearing these things in mind, let me ask the House to consider what it is that this Bill proposes to do. In the first place, it proposes to establish this Court, which shall have the power of overruling the decisions of our highest Court of Admiralty, the Privy Council. Not only will they be allowed to overrule that tribunal, but they will also have power—and I place great importance upon this—of making law which shall regulate our Fleet in time of war. It seems an extraordinary thing as a business proposition that we who may at any time find ourselves at war with any one of these Powers, or a combination of them, should entrust to those Powers who are a possible enemy the right of making laws which shall bind our Fleet when the crisis comes and we are engaged in war. Before I proceed to show that by this Bill we are giving this Court legislative powers, I should like, first of all, to call the attention of the House to the constitution of the Court. It is said:— Provided this Court shall be composed of persons who are to be appointed by these various nations, and who must be jurists of known proficiency— whatever that may mean— in questions of International law, and of the highest moral reputation. When you look at the nations you find that you have, first of all, the great European Powers, Japan, and the United States, and then you have also a large number of the small States scattered throughout the world. You have, amongst others, Persia, or whatever part of Persia may hereafter be left by the present Government as an existing nation, which is to appoint one of these gentlemen. This tribunal so appointed will, I submit to the House, inevitably not be a tribunal of independent and impartial judges, but they will be men selected just as the various countries select their judges for their Supreme Prize Courts to-day. Will anybody suggest that the well-known "jurists of known proficiency" selected as the representatives of these various Powers will be in any way different from the well-known jurists of international proficiency who are selected by these various States from time to time to constitute their Supreme Courts in matters relating to prizes? How do they to-day select the gentlemen who are the judges of their Supreme Courts? I am not here speaking of the judges of Courts of first instance, but of the judges of the Supreme Courts, and for this purpose I will not take small nations.

Let me take great European nations. How did Russia in the late war with Japan select her judges and her well-known jurists of tried proficiency who presided in her Supreme Court for prize purposes? We will just refer to what was said on this matter by the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs on the 28th of June. Speaking of the Russian Courts he said this:— The experience of recent wars has impressed upon the British Government the fact that in naval matters International law is in a state of chaos. Then he says that was the state when the war broke out:— The Prize Courts of Russia were conducted not according to the British doctrines, but according to the regulations of the Russian Admiralty. If dissatisfied with the decision, the parties could appeal to the Prize Court in Russia, also administered according to the regulations of the Russian Admiralty. That is their Supreme Court. Is there any reason to believe that the judges who are sent to this International Court will be other than those who at present preside in the Supreme Court, and is it to be believed that they will, if they act in the Supreme Court under the direction of their Admiralty, act otherwise when they come to the International Court? Is it not perfectly manifest that when these judges assemble in the International Court they will act in exactly the same way, not as independent judges simply administering the law, but according to the directions of their respective Governments, and that the directions of their respective Governments, especially where they have to make laws, will be to make the law in such a way as will advantage the smaller maritime, the feeble maritime nations, to the disadvantage of England as the supreme maritime nation? That will be the constitution of this Court.

What the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs said of the Russian Supreme Court is applicable to the judges of the Supreme Court of every other nation, and particularly of the small nations not European nations. And we are therefore under this Bill going to entrust to a body of men composed of representatives of foreign countries, each one of whom will act on the instructions of his Admiralty or his Government, the making of the laws which will regulate the activities of our Fleet in time of action; and the interest of every one of those is adverse to the interest of England in such a time. It seems to me rank folly for England, which depends upon the efficiency and upon the supreme strength of her Fleet for her very existence, to hand over to any body of representatives of any nation in the world a power to make laws which will hamper that Fleet in time of war. I have said more than once that this Court is not only a Court of Law, but is a legislative assembly. I want just to make that good, and to show the House the extraordinary power which by this Bill will be given to that Court which is here constituted, not only to expound the law, not only to administer the law, but wherever they may think the law is deficient to make the law. In the first place, here I must speak for this purpose of the Declaration of London. This House knows that the Declaration of London was accompanied by the report of M. Renault, and we have been told by the Foreign Secretary, and, I think, also by the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs that the report of M. Renault is to be regarded as an authentic authoritative report binding upon the Court. Now this Court will, therefore, have to administer the law as laid down in the Declaration of London as supplemented by M. Renault's report.

For the purpose of making good my point, I want to take one concrete case, which will undoubtedly happen as soon as we are engaged in war, and by means of this case I want to show to the House exactly what would be the functions in determining that case of this International Court. Everybody knows that in a naval war the Navy that possesses an unlimited supply of Welsh steam coal has a greater advantage over one which is wanting in that supply. That was illustrated very plainly in the Russo-Japanese war. For if you read the reports of the Japanese Prize Courts, you will find that there were several instances there where the Japanese seized neutral ships carrying Welsh steam coal, although they were consigned to a neutral port, and that they seized them by the doctrine of continuous voyage, because they said that steam coal was so essential to a Navy that although those vessels were consigned to neutral ports it was perfectly manifest that it was intended to transport them to another port, to Vladivostock, which was the Russian naval base." Therefore the vessels were seized and condemned and the condemnation was supported in two or three cases by the Supreme Court in Japan. I only refer to that for the purpose of showing how essential it is for the Navy at all times to be possessed of an unlimited supply of Welsh steam coal. Bearing that in mind, I want the House to consider this concrete case. Supposing England were at war with a great European nation, take, for instance, just as an illustration, the supposition that we were at war with Germany; suppose in the course of that war a British cruiser was to meet in the English Channel a neutral vessel, say, a Danish vessel, laden with steam coal, bound for one of the Danish islands in close proximity to the naval port of Kiel. Her papers would be made out for a voyage to this island. The officer of the cruiser would board her, would examine her papers, and find that she had a cargo of Welsh steam coal bound for this island. He would know perfectly well that although the papers were made out bound for this island, the coal was bound for Kiel, and I may go further for the purpose of my argument, and even admit that supposing he was to ask the officer in command of this neutral vessel, "where is this coal going to?" the officer might very well say, and if he was a truthful man he would say "it is going to Kiel. I am taking it to this island, and there it will be transhipped into lighters, and taken to Kiel. It is intended for the German navy." Of course, under the existing law the cruiser would seize that vessel.

9.0 P.M.

Suppose, however, after this Bill were passed that the cruiser were to seize that vessel, and the vessel were condemned by our Courts, and the case were taken to the International Court of Appeal. What would be the position of the International Court then? I would like the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs to give attention to that point. Would that seizure be justified? The papers show that the ship is consigned to the Danish island, close to Kiel, and the cargo, conditional contraband, is steam coal, manifestly intended for the German fleet. Would that be justified? The International Court, when this came before them, would, of course, have to turn for an answer to the question to the Declaration of London, and the Danish shipowner would rely on Article 35. Coal is conditional contraband under the Declaration. Conditional contraband is not liable to capture except when found on board a vessel bound for territory belonging to or occupied by the armed forces of the enemy, and when it is not to be discharged in a neutral port. So far we should be all right. Then the Article goes on— 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, unless she is found clearly out of her course and unable to give an adequate reason therefore. So the Court will have to say upon that, the seizure is wrong. She was, according to her papers, consigned to a Danish port. The vessel and the cargo and the ship's papers are conclusive proof both as to the destination of the ship and of the cargo. Then the English advocate would say, "Yes, that is all very well, but M. Renault's report has equal force with Article 35, and M. Renault, in his report, feels the absurdity of such a contention, and so he says:— Search of a vessel may reveal facts which irrefutably prove that her destination, or the place where the goods are to be discharged, is incorrectly entered in the ship's papers. The commander of the cruiser is then free to judge of the circumstances, and capture the vessel or not according to his judgment. So you have the Article saying the ship's papers are to be conclusive proof, and M. Renault saying that something else shall be irrefutable proof to the contrary. By which is the Supreme Court to be bound? I would ask the representative of the Government to give an answer to that question. You have these two documents of equal validity and equal force, one of which says that the ship's papers are to be conclusive proof—we all know what conclusive proof means—and the other, which says that something else is to be irrefutable proof to the contrary. Under these circumstances, it is perfectly manifest that the International Court will have to say, "We cannot decide it under the Declaration of London, because the Declaration of London does not decide one way or another: one part says one thing and another part says the exact contrary." Therefore, they would have to go back to the Convention, and they would turn to Article 7. Let me read to the House how the matter would appear to this International Court under that Convention. Article 7 says:— If a question of law to be decided is covered by a treaty in force between the belligerent captor and a Power which is itself, or the subject or citizen of which is, a party to the proceedings, the Court is governed by the provisions of the said treaty. In the case I have put you may take the Declaration of London and M. Renault's report on the treaty; you have the treaty, but it is inconclusive, because it is contradictory, upon the very point. Then Article 7 proceeds:— In the absence of such provision, the Court shall apply the rules of International law. That is very important, because immediately we have got to apply the rules of International law we have to inquire what is the rule of International law upon this subject. I cannot do better for that purpose than turn to the report of the Secretary of State (Sir Edward Grey). The House will observe that the question here would be whether the doctrine of continuous voyage was to apply or not—whether we were entitled to say, "True, the vessel is consigned to this island in Denmark, but the real destination of the cargo is Kiel." That is the doctrine of continuous voyage. Turning then to the Foreign Secretary's instructions to the delegates, on page 25, he says this:— The principle underlying the doctrine of continuous voyage is not of recent origin, and may be regarded as a recognised part of the law of nations. The doctrine of continuous voyage, ac cording to the Foreign Secretary, is a recognised part of the law of nations, and, in the first place, it is the law which the International Court will have, to apply. But the advocates on the other side would immediately say, that is all very well, but you have got M. Renault's Report to the contrary. The Court, therefore, will have this position, that they could not apply the doctrine of continuous voyage, and the Declaration of London does not tell them what to do. Then what are they to do? They are driven back to the last part of Article 7—— If no generally recognised rule exists, the Court shall give judgment in accordance with the general principles of justice and equity. What does that mean? That is what they are driven to in the case I have put, a vital case for the purposes of the British Navy. This International Court, the members of which, as I have pointed out, are under the instructions of their Government, may have interests hostile to ours. Yet they have to determine the case according to their ideas of the general principles of justice and equity. It is perfectly manifest, where British interests are concerned, that they would say at once that the principles of justice and equity prescribed that the doctrine of continuous voyage should be absolutely abrogated, and that, therefore, this capture was unlawful. It is perfectly manifest that you give them the power to make the law, because the moment they say the principles of justice and equity necessitate that the Court should adjudicate accordingly, it becomes International law from that time forth. That being so, you have the position that this Court, on this most important and vital matter, may make the law which shall regulate our naval operations in future. Just see what that means. It means that we might be at war with a foreign country, and that foreign country may find it essential to have a supply of Welsh steam coal. They are entitled to have the Welsh steam coal taken from Wales to their ports, and we cannot help it. That is the necessary effect of the Bill as it is at present. They will be entitled to ship their coal in a neutral bottom addressed to a neutral State. Our cruisers would know perfectly well that the vessel and cargo was bound to a foreign and hostile naval port, and we could not stop them, because their papers would be held to be conclusive. I do not say that is a most serious element to consider. That shows that in this Bill we are not merely setting up a Court for the purpose of administering recognised rules of law, but we are setting up a Court which shall have the power under such circumstances as those to make the law, and to bind us for all time by the law so made.

Let me take another illustration of the same matter to emphasise the importance of being very very careful before we pass this Bill and endow this International Court with those great powers. Take the case, for instance, again, of war between England and a foreign Power, and let me take Germany as an illustration. We should probably proceed, as we have always in wars before, to blockade all the ports of our enemy. Under the law as it exists at present you have to give notice and declaration of blockade, and you must maintain an effective blockade, but you may capture a blockade runner wherever and whenever you can the moment she has run the blockade until she has arrived at her ultimate port of destination, and you may capture that blockade runner by any man-of-war belonging to England. Let me assume a blockade on a port or some ports in the Baltic Sea. Under the Declaration of London you have to specify beforehand the exact limits of your blockade, and you have to maintain that blockade efficient through those limits, If your blockade becomes inefficient within any area within those limits, the whole blockade is at an end, and you have got to start de novo, with a new declaration and a new notification, and you have to allow any neutral vessels in the port to come out, and to give reasonable time to them to come out before the blockade is again established. Let me consider a concrete case again. We have a squadron blockading a port in the Baltic. Those who have read naval history and the accounts of blockade running will know that blockade runners always operate either in dirty weather or at night. To-day, unlike the past, you cannot have what was known as a close blockade. The range of artillery and ordnance generally prevents that. The blockading squadron must be some distance out, and you have to establish a blockade between points A and B on the coast.

In the night or in the fog a certain vessel tries to break the blockade and get through. Now, under this law, you have to capture those blockade runners by means of one of the blockade squadrons. You may have a fleet outside and they cannot capture the blockade runner. You must detach one or two or three of your squadron to capture it, and if you do not the blockade runner is entitled to escape. If you do you may be said to weaken your blockade, and it may be inefficient at a particular part at a, particular time and the blockade is at an end. What is your position? Take the case of an admiral in command of a blockade squadron. He may have another squadron cruising a1 hundred miles away, and he would be in wireless telegraphic communication with them, but he cannot make use of that, that is useless. The advantages of wireless telegraphy are denied to him; he cannot telegraph to the other squadron: "these vessels have run the blockade, stop them." He may have a squadron coming down to relieve him, but they cannot stop them. Nobody can stop the blockade runner, and he cannot stop the blockade runner unless he detaches one or more of the vessels forming the blockade squadron and send them out, and so weaken the blockade. The position is very much as would be the position in England if we were to pass a law that a burglar escaping from a house could only be captured by the policeman on that beat and no other, and that if he were to run after the burglar, then any number of burglars might come out. It is just as absurd as that.

The point then is, what would be the decision of the International Court under those circumstances? We have the squadron blockading the port, we have the vessel which has penetrated the blockade, we have the cruiser some little distance off, and we telegraph to that cruiser to stop that blockade runner. What do the International Court do when the question arises, was that vessel properly stopped? Under the Declaration they may say one thing or the other, they may say that the cruiser was sufficiently near to form part of the blockading squadron or not, and just as they choose they can make the law, and say that the blockading squadron for this purpose shall be only those vessels which have in the past been part and parcel of the blockading squadron, and do not include any cruisers or other battleships which were standing a little way off to assist the blockading squadron. A far more important question may arise; supposing one or two or three of the blockading squadron were to be dispatched, the Court might then say, and, I venture to say—having regard to the composition of the delegates forming that Court—would say, that the moment we had sent one or two or three vessels from the blockading squadron after the blockade runner, that from that moment the limits of the blockade were reduced because the blockade must, of necessity, be rendered inefficient by the departure of any number of vessels from the squadron. It would depend upon the view they took of what was just and equitable as to what was the result of this action.

"Whatever view they took, and again I wish to emphasise this point, that would be the law for the future. It is no use in saying that that would only mean the law in a particular case, and unless the decisions of this supreme Court are to be regarded as laying down the law for the future, then the Court is worse than useless, because the Court would be able to lay down one principle for one vessel and one nation, and a totally different principle for another vessel and another nation. That is another illustration of the way in which we are entrusting this Court with the power of making law which will regulate the activities of our Fleet at a critical moment. It is also an illustration of the way in which these laws when made will hamper and reduce almost to ineffectiveness great parts of our Fleet in time of war, when we want them to be most efficient. It is manifest that these matters must seriously prejudice the position of Great Britain as the supreme naval Power in time of war. I remember the Under - Secretary for Foreign Affairs saying on the Second Reading that there was nothing in this Bill which prejudiced us in time of war. I have put two cases, both showing most conclusively that we should be most seriously prejudiced. Can hon. Members conceive any greater prejudice to England, who has a monopoly of that most important commodity, Welsh steam coal, than that she should lose that monopoly, and have to allow a foreign nation at war with us to get as much of that coal as she pleased? Is it not a prejudice to our naval effectiveness that the law with regard to blockade is to depend upon and be made by potential enemies of Great Britain?

What, by way of reply, is said as to the advantages which we get in return for the sacrifices we make? I have given only two instances, but I could go through the Declaration of London almost Clause by Clause and show how the spirit running through the whole document is to minimise the effectiveness of our sea power to the lowest possible degree. If the Government can show that, by entrusting this Court with these great powers, we in another direction are getting greater or equal advantages, I quite agree that there may be something to be said in favour of the proposal. But what are the advantages we are said to get? It is said that in time of war we shall be able to get our supply of food without fear of its being stopped. It is said that this International Court may do away with the principle of continuous voyage. If they do, you will be able to get your food in neutral bottoms to France or to any near port. It will come to that port without the possibility of being stopped, and you will be able to get it to England without difficulty. That was an argument used by the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs. But he was answered in another connection by the First Lord of the Admiralty, who went into a long argument to show that in time of war the whole food supply of England must come in British bottoms. The law of absolute contraband has no application to British bottoms at all; it applies only to neutral bottoms.


A great part of my argument was that in time of war, as in time of peace, the bulk of our food supply must come in British bottoms. There is no contradiction between the statement of the First Lord of the Admiralty and what I said.


I never said there was a contradiction; I said that the right hon. Gentleman in one part of his speech referred to this. The First Lord of the Admiralty said:— It is common ground that in time of peace 90 per cent of the foodstuffs which reach this country come in British ships. Only 10 percent is carried in foreign ships, which might be neutrals in time of war if the same proportions were maintained in time of war as in time of peace. Thus in any circumstances the Declaration of London could only affect 10 per cent. of the foodstuffs coming to this country, as the Declaration deals only with the relations between belligerents and neutrals." But in time of war, as a fact, a larger per- centage than 90 per cent would be brought in British ships, and I will explain very briefly why."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 29th June, 1911, col, 577] He then went into a long argument showing why in time of war neutral ships would not bring foodstuffs to England, and he concluded his argument by saying that substantially in time of war all the foodstuffs would come in British bottoms. If that is so, what good is the doctrine of continuous voyage to us? The doctrine has no application to British bottoms; it is only to neutral bottoms; and if none of our foodstuffs will come in neutral bottoms, what good is the doctrine of continuous voyage to us in time of war?


The hon. Member a few minutes ago laid down for himself a very good rule with regard to the Third Reading of a Bill. I must remind him that he is not entitled to discuss details at length.


I apologise. I have endeavoured to show, and I think I have established, that we should be very considerably prejudiced by the powers we are giving to the International Court by this Bill. I was dealing with the reply made to that, namely, that there are compensating advantages, and I was endeavouring to show that there was no substance in that claim. I am sorry to have to detain the House so long, but this is a matter of vital importance. It is not like the Insurance Bill, in regard to which if we make mistakes—and we are told we have made many mistakes in it—we can next year or the year after, when we find out the mistakes, rectify them by legislation in this House. If we make a mistake in passing this Bill to-night, that mistake will not appear and not be known until such a time as we are engaged in a great war. At that time, it may be when our resources are strained to the utmost, and we are struggling for our very existence; when our fate may possibly hang in the balance, it will be too late to rectify any mistake that we may make now. That mistake may and possibly would then just turn the balance against us. If hon. Members would only regard this Bill from a national point of view, and disabuse their minds at any rate to-night of the notion that this is a question of considerations of party or party interests; consider that it is one vital to our very existence, and think only of how fatal a mistake may be, I am certain that hon. Members who may have considered this matter very lightly and as one which may be rectified in the future, will realise that it is a vital matter. Tonight we must decide and decide for the last time, for we may never have an opportunity of rectifying any mistake we may make.


I beg to second the Amendment. After the very long and exhaustive speech of my hon. Friend, I think I can very rapidly sum up in seconding my objection to this measure that we have before us. Of course, the House will understand that the Convention we are asked to support to-night is only one out of fourteen Conventions that were carried out by The Hague Conference in 1907. The activity of this Government has been very great in many ways, but I doubt if the country is sufficiently aware of its great Conventional activity. I am pretty certain if the country was to study in detail and thoroughly these fourteen Hague Conventions there would be a good deal more trouble in store for the Government than perhaps is in store for them now. I am not at all one of those who take the cynical view that some persons take in this matter, that after all it does not very much matter what Convention you have got, what rules of International law, because your sailors can entirely dispense with these matters in time of war. That is a profound mistake, a profound error. Every one must realise that hi the terms of that Convention and of this London Agreement instructions must be given to our naval officers. Those naval officers and the Admiralty will be bound by those conditions in times of war.

The other general objection that I can dismiss in a word is this: that by assenting to this Convention, and thereby incidentally accepting the terms of the Declaration of London, we are largely limiting our right to diplomatic protest in time of war. I may refer to the very strong speech made by the late Leader of the Opposition when, on the Second Reading, he pointed out that this right of protest was not a light matter at all: it was a very great power that we possessed; for no country when at war with another could very lightly disregard the protests of a neutral Power. That power will be largely taken away. I am not sure that the Foreign Office are very sorry about that. There is that case of the "Oldhamia." The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury has referred to it. Wherever we have this question of naval prize brought forward, we have this case of the "Oldhamia," and the £60,000 that it cost the people of Manchester, as if the whole naval world, and naval considerations generally, turned upon the repayment of £60,000. I object to the Court, and I object to the law that it is going to administer. I am not going to go into that, or only incidentally, this evening.

But I should like to deal very shortly with the conditions of the Court itself. If you are to have an International Court of this kind, dealing with matters of such moment, with matters which affect the interests of the nations, and must be keenly scanned when nations are at war, and passions are aroused, you must at least have a Court which commands supreme confidence. What are the conditions that should attach to a Court of this kind? First of all, it ought to be a small Court. Secondly, I think it ought to be composed of the highest and most able international jurists you can procure in the world. Thirdly, it must be, as far as possible, stable and permanent in its composition. The Court that we have got before us now fulfils none of those conditions. I know the Foreign Secretary, in arguing this matter, said, "Oh, yes, but you want an ideal Court, and ideals are not obtained in this world. This is the best Court that, under the circumstances, you can possibly get. If you are against this Court you are against any International Court whatever. You must accept our Court, or you will get nothing." I really cannot accept this set of Foreign Office syllogisms. I think we are entitled to say that perhaps had there been more vigour, more determination, in these negotiations, and not that acceptance which was shown by our representatives—under orders, of course—we might have secured, say, at least, a Court which would fulfil some of these conditions that I have laid down.

First of all, the Court is a very large Court. It consists of fifteen judges. It is far too large to decide on questions of this character. It is based on the representative principle, not on the selective principle. We were told that it was based on the representative principle, not because that was a good principle for the Court, tout because you could not have a Court selected on any other principle. There have been democracies in the world which have chosen their judges by lot. I have not heard that those judges were superior to those selected in the ordinary way. If you are to have representation there should, I should have thought, be some observance of the relative importance and the relative stake those different Powers hold in the shipping world. We find that we who have half the shipping of the world have one judge out of fifteen, although our shipping is in the proportion of one to one. Some of the representation also is of a very extraordinary character. I will not go into it because when I referred to it before I was chastised by the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury for alluding to some of the smaller States in South America. That I pass them by. However, they are pretty well known. I only raise one question incidentally. I want to know why, on the representative principle, Abyssinia is left out. Abyssinia possesses great warriors. It has never been shown to me that Abyssinia does not contain great jurists. If you accept Hayti, why do you omit Liberia? Hayti, I believe, is largely inhabited by natives of Africa. So is Liberia. Why the people who are translated from Africa to Hayti are better able to sit as jurists than the natives of Africa on their own soil I am utterly unable to understand. So much for the representative authority of the Court. Can you secure really jurists of the highest eminence to command confidence if you have fifteen? I believe that is utterly impossible. The case is really worse in this, that, these smaller countries can select jurists not from their own people, but from other nations, so that there will be very great temptation on the part, of the larger nations to suggest who should be the jurist to put into this Court in order that some of the larger Powers may command the more votes. The Court is always fluctuating. The larger Powers, I agree, are represented by eight of the judges; the seven others are constantly changing. There can therefore be no continuity of judgment or policy in the Court, or at least in those members of it who are continually changing. The first nine are to be a quorum. It might happen; it is not impossible or unreasonable at all to suggest it, that on a division of opinion among the great Powers that the casting vote in that Court—they sit in secrecy when they come to their decision, so that it will never be known—that the casting vote in that Court will he given by one of those Powers which did not own a single ship, and had not got a navy at all.

We are asked in a light-handed way to hand over the security of this country in time of war to a Court so curiously composed. I will not say anything again about the colour of the Court because the right hon. Gentleman opposite objects to it. All I say is this, I say nothing about the humbler and darker races. I accept them as my brothers, but I do not want to put them in the position of my judges. The Foreign Secretary says it will be an enormous advantage to us as neutrals in time of war—and that is what he lays stress upon—that we, as neutrals, shall have the right of appeal to the International Court, and the Foreign Office will not be put to the trouble of making protests if some of our vessels are seized in time of war. I agree that a great deal of trouble will be saved to the Foreign Office in time of war, but as regards our Courts they have always been far more favourable in their decisions than the Courts of the other great maritime nations, and our Courts have had enormous influence upon the decisions of other Courts. But when you get to the Declaration of London you will find that in many ways the rule as to the destruction of vessels and so on is far harder upon neutrals and the rights of neutrals than our Courts have been, and you have set the diminution of the rights of neutrals against the advantage which we should get because our ships will have the right of appeal to the International Court.

I need not go into the fact that we will have in our Courts to enforce the decisions of this Court, even though they are administering a law opposed to the municipal law of this country, and even if they are opposed to the ideas of justice and equity which prevail in this country. It is one of the most astounding things about a bargain of this kind that you may have gone into it and made many sacrifices without getting compensating advantages, and anyone who reads the rules will see that we have again and again compromised to meet other Powers. I do not see that other Powers have compromised to meet us. Here is a bargain in which we have gone a great way to meet other Powers, but the most important point in regard to the conversion of merchant vessels into armed vessels on the high seas is not touched at all. The very reason this Court was set up was because it was contended it was useful to have a definite law for the Court to administer. That was the reason why the Conference was summoned to London, but now we find there is a great area entirely untouched by the Declaration of London left "to the justice and equity" of foreign countries. Is there anybody who looks at the way in which international treaties have been observed in the last twenty-five years in Europe who would have a high opinion of the justice and equity with which these treaties were observed and carried out? Of course the judges are people from the several countries, and are influenced by the ideas of justice and equity which prevail at the time in their own country. So much for the Court.

I shall sum up what I have to say as to the law that is to be administered by saying that it sharpens my dislike to the Court set up. I believe under the law so administered we shall, as a great belligerent Power, be weakened. Extra burdens must be thrown upon our Navy relatively to the navies of other Powers, and our Navy must be weakened thereby. I am confident that our difficulties in time of war in getting foodstuffs and the necessaries of life to this country will be largely enhanced chiefly because of the vagueness in which some of the terms of the treaty are drawn, and because they are drawn on a basis that makes it impossible to conceive any port in this country from which foodstuffs might not be excluded by the captain of any cruiser who could give good and justifiable reasons that he was acting within the four corners of the Declaration of London. A danger of this kind is too tremendous to be faced lightly. In time of war, if the balance was going against, us, that balance might be tilted up under the Declaration of London to the destruction and even annihilation of our national life. We are told it would have a bad effect upon the prestige of this country if we rejected the Convention to which our representatives at the Foreign Office and otherwise have agreed before it came to us. That is a most astounding doctrine. You would suppose really that the Foreign Secretary was a member of the Holy Alliance and was sitting at the Conference at Verona in order to sign away in three or four sentences the liberties of the people.

Everybody understands what Parliaments are, and it is absurd to say that the foreign Powers do not know that these Conferences are to be ratified by the Parliaments of the different countries, and that the Parliaments of the different countries will have a great deal to say to this Convention; they know that the making of treaties at these Conferences above their heads has no advantage. Therefore you cannot say our prestige will suffer. We must assume that in the Chancelleries of Europe there is knowledge of these things, and of what the rights of Parliament are. I do not think we ought to be asked to consider in this way the prestige of the country, and if we are to strike a balance between prestige and safety I would rather have safety; and if we are to strike a balance between safety and the prestige of the Government or the Foreign Office, again I say I would rather have safety. In this matter we must put aside national prejudice and party prejudice, and in my opinion, if we throw over this Convention we will have struck the best blow we have struck for many years for the safety of this country.


I rise to support the Amendment moved by my hon. Friend. Being party to the establishment of the International Prize Court, and instructing our Courts to enforce the decrees of the International Prize Court, we acknowledge that we recognise the law of nations, and than we are willing to be bound by decrees accordingly. Unfortunately, by Article 7 of the First Schedule, we find that the International Prize Court is only to be governed by the rules or laws of nations when they are generally accepted. There are several rules that are not generally accepted by other countries as they are understood by us. Take, for instance, the question of the base of supply. Foodstuff is not in our acceptance of national law to be considered as contraband unless sent to a foreign hostile Government, or to a Government contractor, or to a port which is fortified, or the base for armed forces. The Foreign Secretary has stated that Liverpool, Glasgow, or Bristol would not be considered such ports, but that is not the way it is understood abroad. The French authorities consider a base any port in which an expedition got out from and to which an expedition would resort in case of need. The German authorities state that the whole area of the country is now a base on account of the railroads; therefore there is no agreement as to what a base is. Some people say that that is a matter of small importance, and that only a small part of our food will come in neutral vessels. The neutral vessel is bound to risk capture by the enemy, and what can a neutral Power do? Nothing except pursue the matter in the Admiralty Court, and then go to the International Prize Court and the neutral Power may there receive the full value. If an agreement is made one of the rules of Inter- national law as to what a base of supply is then the neutral Power could do as America did in the case of a violation of International law—that is, interdict all intercourse with England and France. France had then to rescind her decrees. Great Britain did not do so, and that led to the war of 1811. Neutrals in olden days were weak, but to-day we shall have strong neutrals, who will be able to enforce the rights of neutrals in future wars. I trust this Bill will not become law until it is generally recognised what is a base of supply by the countries which are signatories to the Convention.


The question of a base of supply is the most serious that can present itself in connection with the matter now under consideration. It was stated during the early stage of the Debate that this question had come before the Colonial Conference, and that the Dominions overseas had no complaint whatever that they were not represented upon this Court. It was said they had gone very thoroughly into the matter in connection with the Declaration of London and the Prize Convention, and were perfectly satisfied with it. I think there is a good deal of misapprehension in regard to that matter. I notice in the report of the proceedings of the Conference that Sir Wilfrid Laurier asked: "Is there any definition of what is a base, or is it left to general interpretation?" and Sir Edward Grey replied: "There is no definition; the word base is the only definition." I am quite satisfied that that statement was not intentionally misleading, and that the right hon. Baronet never meant to keep out of view the fact that M. Renault submitted his views to the committee that drew up the articles, and that they were endorsed by that committee. I am quite sure that the right hon. Gentleman has left out of consideration the fact that the word "base" was interpreted by the committee and by M. Renault as "a place used as a base of operations or supply." That was the interpretation put upon it by the members of the Conference and by the reporter, M. Renault. It was therefore a serious omission to have failed to call the attention of the members of the Conference to this definition. The statement has been made in this House that in order to understand the Declaration of London we must take into account both the actual Convention and this report made by the committee. The attention of the Conference was not called to that. Taking them, both together, we find that the word "base" means "a base of operations or of supply." That is an enlargement of the original definition of what a base was understood to mean. At the same sitting the Prime Minister said:— With reference to something Sir Edward Grey said I do not think it has been sufficiently noted that Article 34 is merely commentary upon and interpretative of Article 33. Article 33 is the governing article, and nothing is liable to capture as conditional contraband unless it is shown to be destined for the use of the armed forces or of a Government Department of the enemy. That is too restricted an interpretation of Articles 33 and 34 of the Convention. There is no doubt that the general terms of Article 33 express what the meaning is and it refers to contraband. When we come to Article 34, which is explanatory of Article 33, we find an enlargement of 33, and that enlargement is of the most serious character. Article 34 says:— The destination referred to in Article 33 is presumed to exist if the goods are consigned to the enemy's authorities, or to a contractor established in the enemy's country, who as a matter of common knowledge supplies articles to this kind of enemy. 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. The words quoted, "or other place serving as a base," are additions to the old interpretation of a base of operations. What do these words mean? The words are open for the construction that it refers to some port supplying things not merely required for actual warfare, but for the revictualling of the garrison, and therefore cargoes directed to another place serving the purpose of supplying the garrison. This is an enlargement of our responsibility, and one which this country should not willingly submit to. Why was an enlargement of the old understanding of what constituted a base of operations or a "fortified" place permitted by the introduction of such ominous and far-reaching alternative words as "other place serving as a base for the armed forces of the enemy"? That might mean London, or Bristol or Liverpool.

So much for the word "base." Suppose a conflict arises between this country and some other country, or between some individual in this country and some other litigant, either personal or national, and these words came up for construction in the International Prize Court; what will be the interpretation put upon them? I have great respect for the opinion of the Lord Chancellor, but it would not be the interpretation of the Lord Chancellor or of any English judge; it would be the interpretation of the International Court as a whole, and that Court would not be guided by our decisions. They might find these words broad enough to include a commercial port as a "base of supplies," and possibly every commercial port in this country might be open to come within that interpretation.

10.0 P.M.

Probably, although hon. Members in this House are supposed to have very wide knowledge, they are not all aware of the difference that prevails in the construction of contracts and the rules of evidence in foreign Courts as compared with our own Courts, and it is most important that matters to be determined by the International Prize Court should be on the lines and rules which prevail in this country. Different rules prevail abroad, and we must expect the members of the International Prize Court will naturally be affected with the ideas prevailing in their own Courts. I find in Article 42 of this Convention the following:— The Court takes into consideration in arriving at its decision all the facts, evidence, and verbal statements. No one in this country ever asks to have verbal statements included, but in foreign countries they are included. Not many years ago a celebrated trial took place in France, where an officer (Dreyfus) was tried for treason. At the trial of that case man after man went into the box and gave verbal statements, of course on oath, practicaly in the form of speeches. That sort of evidence was received, and the case was adjudged on it. There is no doubt that in foreign countries that method prevails, and it would be extremely dangerous for us to trust to decisions which might be obtained under such circumstances. There is another point to which I wish to draw the attention of the House. How can you expect any uniformity of idea in a judicial body in which the judges are drawn from so many sources and brought up under so many different systems?

An hon. Gentleman said to-day that they were, for instance, quite familiar in Canada and in the Colonies with decisions of that kind, that they had become accustomed to them through their appeals to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. He failed to remember that in the first place the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council is a British Court that administers justice in accordance with judicial decisions in this country. He also omitted to take into consideration the fact that the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, in deciding the cases that come before them, decides them according to the law of the country from which the appeal comes. They hear counsel from that country explaining what the law is in that country, and they give their decisions under circumstances which are perfectly natural, and which are entirely different from those under which such a decision as we might expect to receive would be given in what would practically be a foreign Court, because, with one representative in a Court of nine or fifteen, what would be the influence of this country as against so many trained in Continental ideas? I do not say they would not wish to do us justice. I do not think that for a moment, but in undertaking to submit disputes in which this country, or the individuals of this country, are interested to a tribunal of that character, we are in a far more unsafe condition than by trusting to negotiations with foreign countries and the power of our own great Navy. It is not the care of this great nation to obtain decisions on other than absolutely just grounds, but notwithstanding that it is a great advantage to the country to feel there is a power behind us by which we can enforce justice if it cannot otherwise be obtained. It will be in the recollection of the House that one of the precepts of Nelson was that— A powerful Fleet was the most efficient negotiator in Europe. It has been so in the past, and I have no doubt it will be so in the future. I do not wish to detain the House any longer. I thank it for its patient hearing. If we are to obtain this Bill on the terms set forth in this Convention, I fear we are paying too high a price.


Under this Bill the maritime rights of Great Britain will be greatly forfeited, and their maritime powers will also, to a great extent, be destroyed. It will also, and perhaps this is the most serious thing of all, expose our population to a very great risk of starvation in time of war. So far as any ordinary person can judge, all foodstuffs, except nuts, coming to this country will be liable to be captured or sunk. The only safeguard, according to the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, is the opinion of somebody. He did not say of whom. I conclude it will be the opinion of the captain of the enemy's man-of-war. The right hon. Gentleman, in answer to a question by the hon. Member for Blackpool (Mr. Ashley), in relation to three ports named, Bristol, Liverpool, and Hartlepool, said that whether foodstuffs coming there would be liable to capture or to be sunk was a matter of opinion. It was one which would be decided when the time came, and they could not be expected to answer the question now. I submit you could not have anything more unsatisfactory than that according to the statement of the Government themselves. You have no safety whatever under this Bill. The Naval Prize Bill will also authorise the creation of an International Prize Court, which Court will make and administer a new law of nations that will certainly militate against the United Kingdom as a great naval power and in favour of the great military powers of the Continent. Although the United Kingdom owns about one-half of the merchant shipping of the world, we are only to have one judge out of fifteen in this International Court. I want hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House to consider the composition of this Court. There are forty-six States which will name judges and deputy-judges. Look at the States! Even the advocates of this Bill must see the absolute absurdity of the proposal. There are some like Switzerland and Luxembourg which have no sea frontier and no navy, and know nothing whatever about naval law. Then there is Salvador and Siam. These are countries very unlikely to have any jurists who know anything about naval law. I do not see how they can know anything about maritime law. There are, too, places like Costa Rica, Honduras, Nicaragua and San Domingo. These are States which have failed to meet their obligations to their creditors, yet each of them is going to have an equal vote of one judge to one judge representing the British Empire.

Look at San Domingo. It consists of 18,000 square miles with a population of under 600,000—less than that of the city of Glasgow. That one little part of an island is going to have the same voting power as the British Empire. This Republic of San Domingo has its customs, temporarily at all events, administered by officials of the United States. The United States helps it to keep the peace and of course it is entirely under its influence. Then there is the Black Republic of Hayti, with a very small population, usually in a state of revolution, and that is the sort of State that this Government is going to give an equal vote to that granted to the British Empire, while our great Dominions of Canada, Australia, South Africa, and India are to have no vote at all. The Court is to sit in private; its proceedings are to remain for ever secret. I really think it is a most extraordinary thing that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Foreign Affairs should have tried to pass a Bill of this sort. If he or anybody else had proposed such a Bill 100 years ago he would either have been impeached for treason or sent to an asylum for criminal lunatics. This Bill will compel the submission to the International Prize Court of the decisions of British Prize Courts and of Sis Majesty the King in Council, although those decisions in the past have always been final and conclusive. That is surely an enormous change. We are really putting ourselves under the power of an alien Court in a foreign country.

There is another point to be remembered. The effect of this Bill will be to subordinate every act of every British officer to the judgment of this alien Court. If this Bill is passed it will for the first time bind Great Britain to submit and enforce throughout the British Dominions every order and every decree of this International alien Court. The opinions of the leading chambers of commerce and of the shipping companies are almost all dead against this Bill. So, too, are the leading naval and military opinions. An enemy with a good chance of starving us into surrender would naturally not hesitate for a moment to take the risk of whatever decision the International Court might make after the war was over, and after they had won by starving us into surrender. Remember this, no neutral Power would be able to remonstrate when its ships bringing food to our people were either sunk or captured, because they would have signed and ratified this Declaration of London, and, necessarily, they would have to wait for the decision of this International Prize Court. The effect of the Declaration would be to prevent great nations like America from protesting when their ships which carried our foodstuffs were sunk or captured. There is not the least doubt that an enemy would take very good care to demand a sufficiently high indemnity so as to make quite sure that it would cover any sum the International Prize Court might award against her. I do not quite see what use the decision of that Court would be to us after we had been starved into surrender. After all that would have brought about the end of the British Empire and if we got any money afterwards it would do us no real good. This Bill has never been submitted to the British and Irish peoples, and I therefore think it ought to be opposed to the very utmost, because it increases the danger of starvation. It increases it enormously in time of war, and it is most distinctly adverse to the great interests of our people and of our country as the greatest naval Power. I hope if there are any hon. Gentlemen left on the other side of the House who put their country and their Empire before their party they will go into the Lobby with the Opposition for the preservation of the British people and of the British flag.


I have not endeavoured to catch your eye sooner, Sir, because I have been waiting to hear what the hon. Members opposite thought about this Bill. It is quite clear that we are met in a conspiracy of silence, and that the hon. Gentlemen are not here to express their views or the views of their constituents in this matter, but to vote. In these circumstances I desire, very briefly, to state the reasons why I hope that this Bill will be rejected by the House. My reasons are three. In the first place, I think the Court which this Bill proposes to establish is a thoroughly bad Court. In the second place, I think that on one matter of vital importance to this country, the conversion of merchantmen on the high seas into armed cruisers, this Court, such as it is, has no guidance whatever from any code of International law. In the third place, I think that the code, where it exists in the Declaration of London, which is also a matter of enormous importance to Great Britain, is of the most objectionable character. I desire to say a few words in regard to each of these three objections, which I feel very strongly. In the first place, is this a satisfactory Court? Is there any hon. Member, I care not in what part of the House he sits, who can get up and tell us that he believes that it is a well-constituted Court? I do not believe that any hon. Gentleman would make that statement. I believe there is but one feeling about it in the country; I believe we should find, if it were possible to ascertain it, that there is but one feeling about it in the recesses of the minds of hon. Members in this House. This is a Court of fifteen. One of the fifteen, seven are to be nominated by a number of smaller States. I am not going through their names again; they have been mentioned several times to the House, and the mere recital of their names is enough to show that the balance will rest in this so-called Court with the nominees of a number of States who certainly will not command the confidence of the world. The most critical questions will come before this Court, questions on which our national prosperity, our national existence, depends. Does anyone suppose, with a Court of fifteen, eight being members representing the great Powers and seven representing the miscellaneous Slates that have been so often referred to, that the real business of deciding and settling what votes shall be given will be done in Court as the result of a serious consideration of the arguments? How much lobbying will there be? How much will be settled in conference, and even if all the representatives of all the Powers were all of the highest integrity, is it not certain that there will be a great atmosphere of suspicion as to what means may have been used to settle their wavering opinion as to the vote they shall give. And that is the Court to which you propose to confide the destinies of this country. In this Court of fifteen Great Britain is to have one representative. One in fifteen. Was there ever a more outrageous proposal? Great Britain with maritime interests equal to those of all the rest of the world combined is to have one vote in fifteen. It is not a Court. It is a contrivance for voting Great Britain down. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. McKinnon Wood) stated on a previous occasion that the desire of the Government was to get an assembly which would represent all the nations of the world. That was a very erroneous principle. If you want to have decisions with any authority which will command any respect you do not want to have a sort of Parliament representing all the world. You want to have a small assembly in which you are to have jurists of repute whose opinion will command respect. This unhappy assembly, which is nicknamed a Court, will not command respect. Its decisions will be regarded as of infinitely less authority than the decisions of our own Privy Council which it is empowered to reverse.

In the second place, this Court is to be at liberty to decide, according to its own pleasure, according to its view of the general principles of justice and equity, without any guidance from any code of law agreed upon between the nations affected, on one matter which is vital to this country. Can there be imagined any point in which we are more interested than the question of the conversion of merchantmen on the high seas into armed cruisers of a hostile Power? The most elementary principles of International law require that such conversion shall take place only within the territorial waters of the Power which the vessel will represent on the high seas. We endeavoured to arrive at an agreement on this point. We found that our views were hopelessly divergent, and no agreement whatever as to the conditions under which conversion might take place was arrived at, and yet we rush into this Convention leaving it to this Court, composed without any guidance upon the point, to decide at its pleasure as to whether such conversion is lawful or not. That is an act of madness. Just consider what the effect upon our commerce would be in time of war. Vessels go out as merchantmen from different ports, and when they are on the high seas the captain produces a commission and reads it to the crew, guns are brought up from the hold and mounted, and then you have a cruiser standing in mid-ocean to prey upon our commerce; and that is what you propose to permit by the establishment of this International High Court. The motto of the Government has been, "We must have a Convention at any cost. Better a bad and ruinous Convention than no Convention at all." I say better ten thousand times that we had broken off these negotiations as soon as we found the right to convert on the high seas was insisted upon by some European Powers. The Foreign Secretary, I know, says that we have always reserved the right not to be bound as belligerents by any decision which the International High Court might arrive at on this point of conversion. The Foreign Secretary is deluding himself. Questions may come before the International High Court time after time on appeals brought by neutrals. We have undertaken by the Article which we passed when on the Report stage to enforce decisions given by the High Court in this country on that point. You have a long series of decisions of that kind to which, it may be, we are not parties in any way. In many cases British subjects may be parties, and decisions may have been given on appeals brought by British subjects, and yet the Foreign Secretary says we shall be in no way affected by principles of law laid down in these decisions. I venture to say that the Foreign Secretary is completely mistaken on that point.

I certainly understood from the manner in which the Foreign Secretary expresed himself when this Bill was under Debate on the 3rd November, that he had had communications with foreign Powers, and had intimated to them the position which His Majesty's Government took up on this point. But about a week afterwards—I thing it was on the 9th November—a question was put by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for York (Mr. Butcher) as to what communications had passed with foreign Powers on this subject, and the answer was that no communications on the point had passed, and what the Foreign Secretary was relying upon was the terms of the Convention itself, and the absence of any declaration that we shall be bound on the question of conversion. The special Convention with regard to the conversion of cruisers consists of a series of the most absolute trivialities and of the statement that on the one vital point no agreement had been arrived at. What is the use of supposing and endeavouring to make the country believe—what is the use of persuading oneself that we shall not be affected as belligerents? Of course we shall be affected as belligerents. We have established an International Prize Court to settle International law, and it is idle to say that if the decisions given by that Court legalise the conversion of merchantmen into cruisers on the high seas we shall have our hands free to say that that is an illegal proceeding. In the third place, I say that where we have a Code it is of the most unsatisfactory character to be administered by such a tribunal as that.

I shall only touch upon three points, each of them of capital importance. The first is our food supply in time of war, the second is the sinking of neutral prizes, and the third is the provisions as to blockade. With regard to our food supply in time of war that, of course, is dealt with under the head of "Conditional Contraband," and Article 34, which deals with this subject, is one of the most unsatisfactory Articles from the point of view of the interests of this country that could possibly be drawn up. It was dictated textually by Germany, and accepted with hardly any discussion except upon one minor point of drafting at the conference. That Article is said to be of little consequence, because we are assured by the Foreign Secretary that the bulk of our food supply in time of war would be brought in British vessels, just as it is in time of peace. The figure given was 90 per cent. in British vessels in time of peace and 10 per cent. in foreign vessels. I think that there is some exaggeration in the figures; but really I am not concerned to dispute about the precise percentage. We are asked to believe that in time of war that percentage would still hold; that the proportion between British vessels and foreign vessels bringing corn to this country would be the same. I think that everyone knows that the immediate effect of war would be a great increase in the proportion of neutral bottoms bringing food supplies to this country. It really hardly requires argument. It is elementary. The very first principles of business would lead to our vessels being supplanted to a great extent by neutral bottoms bringing corn to this country in time of war. Of what use is it for the Foreign Secretary to tell us that, after all, we need not trouble about the vague defective drafting of Article 34 because it would affect only a small percentage of neutral vessels. I say that the percentage will not be small, and that it is of vital importance to this country to give every encouragement to a large increase of supplies of corn in time of war by neutral bottoms.

The second point under this head is with reference to the provisions for the sinking of neutral prizes. That depends on an Article which was proposed by Russia and was adopted textually by our Government. That Article denotes a relapse into what may fairly be called the methods of barbarism. It is a monstrous thing that a cruiser should, under such conditions as are defined in the Declaration of London, have the right to sink neutral prizes, on the plea, forsooth, that not to sink them would interfere with the success of her operations. Her operations are to destroy our commerce, and no doubt they would be hampered if she were under the necessity of doing what she is bound to do, bringing them into Court. In the third place, I say that this Court will have to construe provisions of a very vague nature, which tend to hamper the operations of our Navy in time of war. The most valuable weapon we have had has been the weapon of blockade. The right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary told us in the last Debate that the naval experts of the Government approved of this provision with reference to the efficiency of the Navy. I would like further information on that point. I should very much like to know the grounds on which the Government were so advised. Why, this Declaration, which this Court will have to construe, provides that the operations of the blockading squadron by way of capture are only to be within what is called the area of operations. Was there ever a vaguer phrase used in any instrument? How narrow it is you will see when the question comes before an International High Court, when it is of vital importance to our enemies to have a decision adverse to the interests of this country as a great naval Power.

Our doctrine as to the law of blockade has been simple and sensible, that if an effective blockade was established any vessel trying to break that blockade might be captured, wherever she was. Now, the capture is not to be good unless it is "within the area of operations." What is the area of operations? How narrowly will that be circumscribed by our floating balance of seven representatives of minor countries. I believe this Convention is disastrous to us as a neutral Power, and quite as disastrous to us as a belligerent. And there is one last observation I should desire to make: This Bill provides that there shall be an appeal from our own Supreme Prize Court to the International Prize Court, which this Bill proposes to establish. Our Supreme Court has hitherto been the King in Council. It was felt, I suppose, that it would be indecent to give an appeal from the King in Council to the fifteen gentlemen who are to form this International Prize Court, and so our Government by this Convention, and by this Bill to carry out the Convention, are to convert the King in Council into a Supreme Prize Court, consisting, if you please, of the very members of the Privy Council—of the Judicial Committee—who would advise the King in Council, when constituted a Supreme Court, of Appeal in matters of prize. And that is done merely to give an appeal from our own Supreme Prize Court to the International Prize Court. What is the case with the United States of America? It was pointed out, when this Convention had been proceeded with a long way, when, I think, it was drawn up—though I am glad to say not ratified, and I hope it never will be ratified—it was pointed out by the United States that they did not allow any appeal from an order of their Supreme Court to any other Court whatever. Accordingly, this difficulty, which at first seemed very formidable, was dealt with in the form of a protocol, so that they got round it, not by allowing an appeal—an appeal is to be allowed in Great Britain but not in the United States—but by allowing that the United States might bring a fresh action in the International Prize Court, so that the Supreme Court of the United States will be at liberty to go its own way. On the decision of the International Prize Court in the independent action it is proposed that the United States, if the case arises, should be liable to pay compensation. I say with great respect to His Majesty's Government that that is a position in which we, as a Supreme Court, ought not to have been put. A question was put to the Financial Secretary to the Treasury on this point, and I refreshed my memory as to his answer. His answer was that it was much more advantageous to have an appeal from the Supreme Prize Court than to have the machinery of independent action before the International Prize Court. I think, after all, that something was due to the dignity of our Court, the King in Council, and to the unrivalled reputation which our Court has established in matters of prize. And, forsooth, we have undertaken, if this Bill ever becomes law, to meekly enforce on British subjects within our dominions the decisions of that International High Court. I regard both these Conventions, and the Bill intended to carry them out in order to establish a High Court, as a sacrifice of the interests of this country as the great naval Power of the world to the interests of the great military Powers of the Continent. I think it is a most calamitous step the Government have taken, and I hope they will have the courage even yet to draw back.






I appeal to hon. Members opposite for a little courtesy. My right hon. Friend throughout has given special attention to this question, and I am quite——


You are responsible. [HON. MEMBERS: "Order."]


My right hon. Friend has, I am sure, shown no lack of ability or knowledge on this subject.


You are responsible.


My responsibility, of course, I admit, but I think it would be for the advantage of the House and the Debate. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO, no."] If it is desired after my right hon. Friend speaks that I should make clear my own responsibility or supplement what I have said, I am perfectly willing.


As the first speaker on this side of the House, I think I might at least have been allowed the courtesy of a hearing. It is only two minutes ago since the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for St. Andrews University was complaining that no one had spoken from this side of the House. I do not see how that complaint and the action of the Gentlemen behind him can square with one another. I do not think the Opposition can complain that we have not given them their full share of the time this evening. They have got the whole of the time on Third Reading up to this very moment. There is one reason why it is necessary I should speak, and that reason was the remark of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Gloucester (Mr. H. Terrell). He quoted me as having uttered words of disrespect with regard to foreign judges, which, when I was Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs, it would have been exceedingly improper for me to say, and which, as a Member of this Huose even in an unofficial position, I should be the last to dream of using. I must express my regret that he should have absolutely misrepresented me and then should have made use of such an argument about foreign judges. He made me say something about Russian judges, the correction of which he himself supplied when he read the words I used, which were no reflection upon Russian judges.


The only reflection I made as to his reflection on Russian judges was a quotation from the OFFICIAL REPORT of his own speech.


Exactly. How fairly the hon. and learned Gentleman interpreted it!


I did not interpret it at all.


The hon. and learned Gentleman seems to forget that the OFFICIAL REPORT will correct that statement to-morrow morning. He said that I had said the Russian judges would not carry on the work properly. I do not remember his exact phrase, but that was the effect of it. Then he quoted a phrase of mine in which I said that the Russian Prize Court administers the regulations of the Russian Admiralty—which is a very different statement, and no reflection at all on the Russian judges. All through this Debate, even in a mouth where one would not have expected it—that of the right hon. and learned Member for St. Andrew's University (Sir R. Finlay)—we have had the same scoffing reflection upon foreign judges. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has rebuked me for saying on a previous occasion that behind this opposition there was opposition to an International Prize Court. It has been proved again to-day. The hon. and learned Member for Gloucester introduced a little variety into the Debate. At least his arguments were entirely different from those upon which Members on his own side have hitherto relied. His argument was that we were handing over to the delegates of foreign countries power to make laws interfering with our command of the sea. His argument was that this Court would interfere with the powers of belligerents; that the whole tendency of the Declaration of London was to limit belligerent Powers. That is not the argument we have listened to before. It is not the argument of the right hon. and learned Member for St. Andrew's University. What are the points of which he complains? His two points are the conversion of merchantmen and the sinking of neutrals.


And blockade.


And blockade. Very well. He said that it was the interest of other nations to minimise naval power. That was the argument of the hon. and learned Member for Gloucester. How did he support that? By two points. By a statement about blockade, and by a statement about Welsh coal. I do not propose to follow the hon. and learned Gentleman in the particular illustrations which he used, but I would point out that he was not justified in saying that Great Britain would lose her monopoly of the supply of Welsh coal, and that that coal would be exported in time of war to belligerent foreign nations without let or hindrance. That this instrument somehow takes away from Great Britain her command of Welsh coal—I am at a loss to understand what the hon. and learned Member could have meant by that. Any power we have to regulate the export of Welsh coal is not interfered with by the Declaration of London. The argument seems to me to fall to the ground. I do not think I need attach much importance to that. Both the hon. and learned Member for Gloucester and the right hon. and learned Member for St. Andrew's University attached great importance to the question of blockade. I will quote in evidence against them the hon. Member for Evesham (Mr. Eyres-Monsell), who, I believe, has had naval experience. He wrote a pamphlet in which he denounced the Declaration of London, but in which he admitted with the greatest frankness that Great Britain had her own way about blockade.




I will take it at "mainly." How is that consistent with the argument of the hon. and learned Member for Gloucester? The Admiralty think they have their own way about blockade. They have widened the power of blockade. The narrowing Continental notions have been given up. The doctrine that you had to give a ship individual notice—the French doctrine—has been given up. The area of operations under modern conditions, with modern ironclads, is a very wide area of operations. I cannot at all agree with the hon. and learned Member for St. Andrew's University upon that point, and the Admiralty do not agree with him. In regard to blockade, we have substantially got our own view established against the Continental view. I say again, as I said on the Second Reading, no one has given a reasonable proof or a sound argument to show that in any respect the belligerent powers of this country are in the least degree weakened by these agreements. Then you have the question of foodstuffs. Here again the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Gloucester, who moved the rejection of the Bill, threw away the arguments of the Imperial Maritime League. He agreed with arguments which he attributed to the First Lord of the Admiralty, but which I took the liberty of putting forward on the Second Reading, that to talk about starvation in time, of war as the hon. Gentleman the Member for Shropshire did, as being dependent upon these agreements, is a perfect absurdity. Admiral Sir Cyperias Bridge, in a very able paper, has pointed out that in time of war it will be impracticable for us to bring as much of our food in neutral vessels as we do in time of peace. If that is the case, that we can only bring some 90 per cent. in time of peace, surely the question of our adequate supply of food in time of war will not depend upon paper agreements. It will depend, as we say it must depend, upon a strong British Navy. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Taunton thought that this Declaration was far harder on neutrals than the present practice. It is attacked from inconsistent points of views. One moment we are told that it gives up belligerent rights; another that it is hard upon neutrals.

The hon. Gentleman the Member for Plymouth had a very ingenious argument. He said that this question of "base of supply" was a very vital question. I should agree, if I could at all believe that the interpretation given to it by the opponents of the Declaration had any foundation in fact, that it would be a very serious objection. I think hon. Members might give even this Government credit for believing that if they thought that foreign nations interpreted it in the fantastic way in which it is interpreted by the Imperial Maritime League, they would have nothing to do with ratifying a Declaration that involved so serious a limitation of our right to import foodstuffs and other articles of conditional contraband. We do not for a moment believe that other nations take that fantastic view.


Have you any assurances to that effect?


Yes; we know that that view has been accepted by some of the great Powers. [HON. MEMBERS: "Some?" and "Name!"] What does this interpretation mean? It means that the whole of the Clauses in Declaration of London dealing with conditional contraband are a farce and a fraud—nothing less. If every port is a base of supply then all these conditions are ridiculous. What was the authority on which my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth supported his contention1? It was on the authority of a French jurist named General Jomini. When did that gentleman flourish? One hundred years ago! He was a distinguished French military authority, but what he knew of naval law I do not know. He was a general under Napoleon the Great. But what reason is there to suppose that because that Gentleman held a certain view about the military interpretation of a "base of supply," that an Article that deals with that question in the twentieth century indicates the same interpretation? That is the most extraordinary argument I ever heard. I do not think that general can be regarded as a great authority on modern naval and national affairs. The hon. Member (Mr. Hunt) in the course of his speech, chiefly selected from leaflets issued by the Maritime League—I detected their flavour—told us San Domingo was to have equal representation with Great Britain.


It sends one of the chosen judges.


That explanation would have somewhat mitigated the blunders of his arguments if he had given it at the time. San Domingo never has a judge. San Domingo, once in six years, has a deputy-judge, who only acts if the other judge is absent. I do not know what proportion that makes, but it does not mean equality. [HON. MEMBERS: "What other judge?"] The most serious and weighty argument advanced was that of the right hon. Gentleman (Sir R. Finlay). He complained there had been a conspiracy of silence, which, by the way, his hon. Friends a while ago seemed reluctant to allow to be broken. Why should we not be silent for the most part? We had a two days' discussion on the Second Reading, and we discussed exactly the same points then as we are discussing to-night. We had Committee stage which lasted some two or three days, and we had a day and a-half's discussion on Report. One of the chief arguments of the right hon. and learned Member is that it is a bad Court, His idea of a Court would be one consisting of four or five distinguished jurists. How are you to get such a Court selected? Which of the great countries is going to pass the self-denying ordinance of saying, "We will not select a judge"? Would any two countries agree to do that? You cannot deal with this matter as if it had not been discussed carefully by Conferences made up of the Great Powers. These Conferences of the Great Powers felt that they must give representation to the smaller Powers, and I pointed out before that some of the smaller Powers have produced most admirable jurists of great and world-wide reputation. What were the right hon. and learned Gentleman's complaints? They were three. The first was as to blockade. We have got rid of the restricted idea of blockade, and we have got the wider British idea. His two next points were the sinking of neutral prizes and the conversion of merchantmen on the high seas. What is the object of restricting the sinking of neutral prizes? It is to safeguard the rights of neutrals to prevent the sinking of neutral prizes. What is the charge of the right hon. Gentleman? It is that we are committing the destinies of this country to a Court. We are not giving up a single belligerent right. If prizes are to be sunk it is a bad thing for the neutral that is sunk, but it does not diminish the belligerent rights of anybody, but rather tends to increase them. As to the conversion of merchantmen, I have heard more about this than any other subject. Upon this I will say two things. First of all, why does the right hon. Gentleman forget that that is a thing that may happen now without the Declaration of London, and without any Prize Court Convention? Why does he pass over as being of no importance the fact that these great Powers have declared that they maintain that right, and if a war broke out tomorrow those Powers would exercise that right? How is that any charge against this agreement? If it is a case of converting merchantmen on the high seas or anywhere else, that is no limitation of our belligerent rights, and we can do it and do it as quickly as all the rest of the world put together. Two things may happen. My right hon. Friend has said that as a belligerent we are not bound on a question upon which there has been no agreement. The worst that can happen might be that a neutral might be sunk by a foreign converted merchantman, and the Court might decide that she had been Improperly sunk. That does not affect our belligerent rights. Supposing the Court decides that merchantmen ought not to be converted on the high seas, what follows? Our view has prevailed, and we have got our own way. Supposing the Court decides the other way? Nothing can diminish our belligerent rights. If that is International law we can do it as well as other people, and not an argument has been brought forward to show that we have lost one jot or tittle of our rights as a great naval Power.


The right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has made a debating reply to the various points put by my hon. Friends. That is the usual practice in this House, and the usual treatment meted out from the Government Bench. But the question which we have to decide to-night is one which cannot very conveniently or easily be handled in accordance with the ordinary practice of this House. On the one hand we have to-night, as the Commons of England, to give the sanction of our Parliament to a great international agreement affecting the practice in times of war overseas. That is a huge moral responsibility which rests upon us. Upon the other hand, the question which we have to decide bristles with technicalities with which this House as a whole is totally incompetent to deal, and which I as an individual am not competent to deal with. What are we to do? I think we ought to try—above all if the Foreign Secretary will give us his guidance before we come to a vote—to see if there are not certain broad considerations underlying these technicalities which we can all appreciate, and which can be stated in terms to which, I think, no one will take exception, although they may arrive at opposite conclusions from the same premises. The first consideration is that we have been for a hundred years the greatest maritime Power in the world. That is not disputed. The second is that the present Prime Minister claims we are still to occupy that position. He has said our naval supremacy is unchallenged, and must never be challenged—so the moral obligation rests upon us now. The third consideration which I think we ought to take into account is that during the whole of the hundred years during which we have beyond contest been the chief naval Power we have held certain views. We have held, during all that time, when we were in a better position, and therefore in a more responsible position, than any other Power, that food should not be contraband of war. We have held during that time that neutrals ought not to be sunk. We have maintained during all that time that privateering in any shape or form, open or covert, ought not to be allowed. That has been a view held by this country for a hundred years, dictated over a hundred years with a great measure of success, and we have been in a position to exercise a great moral influence over all other nations because that was our view and because we were the greatest maritime Power.

We go into conference with other Powers to urge again those three views. Those who represent us are told to urge that food shall not be contraband. They are told to urge that neutrals shall not be sunk. They are told, if they can, to get a decision that private vessels shall not be turned into ships of war during the process of the campaign. On the first two points we meet with no success, and the third point is not taken into consideration. Those are general considerations which underlie all the technicalities. They cannot be disputed. Therefore, what we have to decide is whether, as we still intend both parties being agreed to keep the supremacy of the sea, we can best enforce those views in the future by sticking to the standard we have held up, or by lowering that standard in order to get a wider world-sanction for a lower standard. That is the question before the house. I agree it is a question upon which any two men may hold opposite views, but with the experiences of the past, and with the hope of the future, I trust this House will not take upon itself the grave moral responsibility, whilst it still represents the greatest sea Power in the world, of lowering the standard we have held up for 100 years on those three points. That food should not be contraband of war, that neutrals should not be sunk, and that private ships should not be turned into ships of war. I have put as simply as I can the question as it appears to me. I own that two courses may be taken, but I do feel this—that, if we are belligerents, the course, we on this side advocate will be to our advantage and also to the advantage of all the neutrals in the world.

The case we have to consider principally is the case in which we are belligerents; not because we are actuated by any selfish motive, but because it so happens that when we are belligerents our interests coincide with those of all the neutrals of the world. Therefore, both in self-defence and because we can hold up the standard of humanity in war, it seems to me this House will be guilty of levity if it rushes in first to sanction an International agreement which no other Power is at present prepared to sign.


I willingly respond to the appeal of the right hon. Gentleman and to the desire which I understand has been expressed by other hon. Members behind him, that I should say something at the close of this Debate. But I have very little new to say. The hon. Member for Glasgow University did me, I think, an injustice by giving the impression that by not speaking I was in some way disclaiming responsibility. I have nothing new to say. I have already accepted the responsibility. I have been over the whole ground covered in previous Debates in this House. But I think perhaps it is desirable I should go as shortly as I can over one or two of the general principles which underlie this question. I will begin by saying that I think hon. Members on the other side of the House have vastly exaggerated the importance of the issues at stake. They must surely all feel that we on this side of the House did not take this up as a party question; it was not to make party capital that we went into the Hague Conference. Had we felt as they do about the issues involved we should not have entered into this Conference at all. It is overstating the case enormously to say, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for St. Andrews (Sir R. Finlay) has said, that we are putting the destinies of this country by this Convention into the hands of an International Court. What is being put into the hands of the International Court is the decision on cases which arise between belligerents and neutrals. Does anybody believe that our destinies depend on such a decision? I would not for one moment submit to an International Court any question of our rights in dealing with belligerents, but when it comes to a question between belligerents and neutrals it is a very different matter.

I will explain to the House exactly what I think we stand to lose, and what we stand to gain. In my opinion we stand to gain infinitely more than we can possibly lose. That point I will endeavour to make good. First let me say a word about the composition of the Court. Of course, you will never in such a matter as this get anything but a compromise. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of five as being a suitable number. You will never get the world at large to agree to so small a number as that. When the right hon. Gentleman was arguing for five he even criticised the sort of jurists that might be appointed by some of the great Powers. I have no doubt the most perfect Court would be one not of five but of three to be appointed entirely by this country. I have only to state that for everybody to see that it is out of the question; so in a lesser degree a Court of five, to be drawn from five great Powers and possibly from fewer, would also be out of the question for international agreement.


Could not several Powers agree to one jurist?


Their share in appointing I would be so infinitesimally small that they would consider that they were not represented. Reference has been made to some of the countries. What have they got? Not a judge, not a share of a judge, but one-sixth of a deputy-judge! To fine the Court down to the small number of five would not give every Power a representative, but every great Power accepted the proposal that they should have only one representative on this Court. The United States willingly accepted only one representative on the Court. What they did stand out for was that the great Powers should have a majority, and the great Powers have got a majority upon the Court. It may seem strange to the House that we have only one representative, but what sort of case is going to come before this Court? The cases which now come before the Prize Court of a belligerent We stand a better chance of justice before this Court on which neutrals must have an enormous majority—there can only be two or three belligerents at most, and some fifteen countries are represented on the Court—we stand an infinitely better chance of getting redress for our neutral merchant vessels which we may consider to have been unfairly treated by a belligerent than we have now in a Court of a belligerent, in which not only we have no representatives, but no neutral power has a representative, and in which the composition of the Court consists entirely of the subjects of the belligerents who are trying the case. In that case there must be an enormous gain when we are neutrals. But the right hon and learned Gentleman opposite (Sir R. Finlay) may say on this point, and quite fairly, "Yes, but we are not bound by the decision of a belligerent enemy's Court, and we should be bound to enforce the decision of the International Prize Court." On that let me ob serve that theoretically we are not bound by the decision of the enemy belligerent's Court in dealing with our neutral vessels. Theoretically, he will not admit an appeal from his decision.

Theoretically, we are, of course, entitled to go to war whenever we like over the decision of the belligerent Court. As a matter of fact in practice we do not. What happened in the case of the Russo-Japanese war? The Russian Government sank one or two British vessels. Let me say that a large number of the cases have come before the Russian belligerent Court since. In some cases they were awarded compensation and we heard no more about them. In other cases they were not, and the decisions are not satisfactory. But what redress have we? Take the case of the ships that were sunk. It was when the right hon. Gentlemen opposite were in office. The Russian Government sank one or two British merchant ships. If you were going to act you must have acted then. You must have said you were not going to stand this. You knew that your chance of redress in the belligerent's Prize Court was small, and you must have intervened by force at the time. They did not intervene by force, and I think that they were quite right not to intervene by force. The temptation or the desire not to go to war will always in these cases overmaster what seems a comparatively small cause that is in dispute between you and another power. But if you do not go to war when blood is hot and the moment the thing is done, you may be quite sure you are not going to war months or years afterwards in cold blood, and after the decision of the Prize Court of the enemy is known. As a matter of fact you do accept those decisions in practice, and if you have an International Prize Court, in that way, and in that way only, will you in practice get redress. It is said we shall be bound by the decisions of the International Prize Court and that they may be unsatisfactory.

Here I will point out what I think we stand to lose and what I think we stand to gain. What we stand to lose is not something that will affect the destinies of this country materially. If we are a belligerent how are we going to be concerned in the International Prize Court? We capture, we will say, a neutral vessel, because if we capture a belligerent vessel it will not come before the Prize Court at all. There is no appeal to it from what we may do with regard to an enemy. If we capture a neutral vessel trying to break the blockade or carrying contraband, that case must go before our own Prize Court in the first instance. That takes some time. The neutral may, if the decision of our own Prize Court is unsatisfactory, appeal to the International Prize Court. That further will take some time. Long before it gets to the International Prize Court the war will be over. It is possible that if we are engaged in a great war, and we take action against neutral commerce, we may, some time after the war is over, have to pay rather more in compensation to neutrals than would have been awarded by our own Prize Court. That risk, I admit, we run, but the amount of difference in what we may have to pay in compensation to neutral ships, between what the International Prize Court award and what our own Prize Court award, must be an infinitesimal drop in the millions which the war would have cost, and it cannot affect the destinies of the country or the conduct of the war.

Some hon. Member opposite said what would the decision of the International Prize Court be two or three years hence. What restraining effect would it have on the operations of a belligerent? I admit exceedingly little. To belligerents engaged in spending half a million a day or more on the war the question of a few thousands more or less to pay in compensation to neutrals a year hence would be very little. Certainly it would not affect the destinies of this country. That actually is the risk we run in agreeing to this Court of Arbitration. What do we stand to gain? We stand to gain, and we, being the greatest owners of neutral merchant shipping in the world, stand to gain more than any other Power. We stand to lose less, because, our share of the neutral shipping being so great and the share of the other Powers so small, the amount of interference we shall have to exercise with neutral shipping when we are at war is less than that which any other Power is likely to exercise.

When we are not at war our interests in the fair treatment of neutral shipping is greater than that of any other Power—as great as that, I should think, as the whole of the rest of the world put together. We stand to gain by the considerable difference that there may be between the decision of the Prize Courts of a belligerent and the decision of the International Prize Court. I admit the International Prize Court might award more in the case of neutrals than a British Prize Court, but I think it was stated just now that our Prize Courts are more liberal in their awards with regard to neutrals than are the Prize Courts of Continental countries. If that be so, the difference between what we should get from the Prize Court of a Continental belligerent and that which we might obtain from the International Prize Court, is presumably greater than anything that we should stand to lose in our own Courts. That really, I believe, is a fair statement of the balance of loss and gain that there may be as regards the International Prize Court. I now come to the point whether the safety of this country is likely to be endangered when we are at war. The hon. Member (Mr. Hunt) really drives one to despair on this question. He argued the point again to-night. He puts it to me in questions about once a week all founded on the assumption that there exists to-day some guarantees for the freedom of food supplies coming into this country if we are at war which are going to be destroyed by the Declaration of London. There are no guarantees whatever to-day. The whole thing is chaos.


I did not put it on that assumption at all. I put it to him over and over again whether there was a single port in this country which he could guarantee neutral vessels could come to carrying food supplies without the danger of being captured or sunk. I have got no answer.


The hon. Member, I see now is not conscious of his own assumption on which he is proceeding. He asks whether there is any port which we can say is at present guaranteed for the free entry of corn and would be a base of supply. [An HON. MEMBER: "With the Declaration of London."] No, now when there is no Declaration of London. It is not ratified now. [An HON. MEMBER: "And never will be."]


There is no misunderstanding. The question is whether there will be a single port which will be safe in time of war.


Yes, Sir, but if the hon. Member will allow me to develop his argument as well as my own, he will see that I do not do him any injustice. I told him the other day, in reply to a question, that there would be more guarantees under the Declaration of London than at the present time, because there are none now. If there were guarantees and safeguards now keeping our ports open, by all means compare the guarantees you will get under the Declaration of London with those you have to-day, and see which are the greater. At the present moment there are no guarantees whatever, and even if there are none under the Declaration of London you are no worse off than you are to-day. Somebody on the other side asked, How shall we know what the law will be under the Prize Court Convention? How do you know what the law is now? It is scattered about among the decisions of Prize Courts in countries all over the world. It is chaos at the present time. There will be some order, some definition, some more accurate knowledge of what the law is to be after this Convention. I have heard it argued that the thing would be vague under the Declaration of London or the Convention. It is worse than vague now. You know definitely that other countries have claimed the right to declare all food contraband, and have done so in past years. They may do it again.

The other day apprehension was expressed as regards the interference that Turkey might exercise with regard to grain. She might declare it contraband of war under the consideration that she had not ratified the Declaration of London. There came some statement or some understanding that, although the Declaration of London was not ratified, it would be regarded as a standard to be applied, and that, therefore, grain would not be treated as contraband, and would only be liable to seizure if it came by certain routes. I have never contended that we should rely upon that as a guarantee for keeping our ports open. What I have urged, and on that I defend my action in regard to the International Prize Court Convention, is that you have no guarantee at the present time, and that under the Declaration of London there are certain definitions. If food is to be declared absolute contraband, so that all food coming to any commercial port is to be stopped by a belligerent, the belligerent can only do that by driving a coach and four through what is the plain meaning of the Declaration of London. I admit he may do it, but do not say that, having put the Declaration of London there, having given these definitions, and having put him in a position that he has to drive a coach and four through it, it is easier for him than at the present time. If we had been putting forward the Declaration of London as a reason for dispensing with cruisers for protecting our own food supplies, as a reason why we should diminish expenditure, on the Navy, which may be required to protect corn coming to this country, as a means for reducing the Navy Estimates, there would be force in the argument of hon. Members opposite. They might then use the argument that a coach and four had been driven through the Declaration, and that it was only a paper safeguard at the best, but we have stated throughout that we do not put it forward as a satisfactory substitute on so grave a subject as our own right to protect food coming to this country.

It is quite obvious to anybody who has studied the figures that we cannot be supplied in this country in time of war by neutral ships. We must be able to keep the sea free for British ships in time of war, and if we can keep it free for one flag we can keep it free for all. I come to one other point—whether our rights as belligerents are restricted. I take the case of blockade. That really is the important question, and the important gain which we have made as belligerents under the agreement. The Continental doctrine held by many or most Continental countries was that the right of blockade was a very narrow and restricted right. You were to make your line in front of a port, and unless a vessel tried to break through that line, a neutral vessel, you were not entitled to interfere with that vessel. Our doctrine was different. It was that we ought not to be, and will not be, bound by a mere line drawn just outside a port. What we claim is the right not merely to a line, but to interfere with any vessel which comes within the area of operations. We wanted the vague, indefinite term. We want to be able, especially in these days when vessels are so swift, in these days of steam, to have it the area of operations, and not a line. We should have gone on to claim that whether there had been a Convention or not, but we got the British view accepted. We got area of operations instead of definite line. We should have acted on it whether we got this view accepted or not, but having got it accepted it is a great gain.

Some hon. Member just now said, "Depend upon it in modern wars that protests of neutrals are becoming more and more formidable." I think that there is considerable truth in that. I think that it is increasingly desirable, if we are to exercise our right of blockade according to our own ideas, that we should not be confronted by the protest of a number of combined neutrals. As long as you had no agreement, and as long as other Powers held to this doctrine of the narrow line, we ran the risk that if we, in time of war, to bring our enemy down, acted upon the extended idea of an area of operations, we might have had first one neutral and then another entering his protest, and might have got a formidable combination of neutrals against us. We have got them to accept the British doctrine, and by doing that we have diminished, if we are again at war, and very materially sensibly diminished, the chance of neutrals attempting to interfere with the British view and British practice with regard to the right of blockade. This is a most valuable gain.

One more point as to the conversion of merchantmen on the high seas. Why was there no agreement? Because to-day, Convention or no Convention, there are nations who claim, and state that they will do it, and claim the right to do it in time of war. That you are confronted with to-day. We have always said that we shall under those circumstances deal with those vessels converted on the high seas as we think fit. Even so, now, by Convention, they are not allowed to act as privateers. If they are converted on the high seas they must come under the same rules, and both commander and officers must be from the navy of the other country. They are not privateers in the old sense. But we say they have no right to be converted on the high seas to-day. We retain our rights to deal with them as we think fit, if we are at war. If we are at war no case will come before the International Prize Court. It is true if we are neutrals and a merchantman converted on the high seas seizes one of our vessels which is a neutral that neutral vessel may bring the case before the International Prize Court and may fail to get redress and may have to pay costs. But after all, all that the International Prize Court can possibly have decided upon will have been that it is not positively immoral in their opinion for a merchantman converted on the high seas to interfere with a neutral. I state again we shall not recognise the decision of the International Prize Court as to what may be done with regard to neutrals as restricting us in our right of doing what we think proper or with dealing not with neutrals but with belligerents.

We have been anxious in this Convention to take one step forward in arbitration, and we have selected, or, rather we selected with other Powers of course, a certain class of cases which may arise

between a belligerent and a neutral, but which cannot really affect the destiny of any country. It must be a matter of comparatively small importance, compared with national destiny. We have signed that Convention; other Powers were not dragged into it reluctantly by us; they were anxious to sign and ratify the Convention. All we ask for is not that we shall be compelled to act upon it if we find the conditions unsatisfactory, but that Parliament should pass legislation which would enable us to ratify if we think fit. Of course, without that legislation we cannot ratify, and the thing could not be enforced. All we ask for is enabling legislation to enable us to put this in force.

We have preserved a considerable latitude of power under the Orders in Council if other nations who signed the Convention decline to ratify it. If they do not pass the legislation necessary to enable them to put it in force as we do, even then, though the Bill may have become law, our hands will be free, with regard to Orders in Council, to deal with cases of that kind. The Act does not come into operation until the Orders are made, and if we find that the other Powers are not going to put themselves in a position to ratify the Convention, that they are not going to put themselves in a position to comply with its terms and its conditions, the mere fact that Parliament has passed this Bill still leaves us perfectly free to deal as we like with Orders in Council. If other Powers hang back, and if they show any disposition not to pass legislation themselves or not to ratify the Convention, the House may trust that His Majesty's Government will under those circumstances not take any step to ratify the Convention or issue Orders in Council that would place us at a disadvantage with other Powers.

Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the question."

The House divided: Ayes, 172; Noes, 125.

Division No. 434.] AYES. [11.40 p.m.
Abraham, William (Dublin Harbour) Beck, Arthur Cecil Burns, Rt. Hon. John
Acland, Francis Dyke Benn, W. W. (T. H'mts., St. George) Burt, Rt. Hon. Thomas
Adamson, William Bentham, G. J. Cawley, Sir Frederick (Prestwich)
Addison, Dr. C. Birrell, Rt. Hon. Augustine Cawley, H. T. (Lancs., Heywood)
Agnew, Sir George William Boland, John Pius Chancellor, Henry George
Alien, Arthur A. (Dumbarton) Booth, Frederick Handel Chapple, Dr. William Allen
Allen, Charles Peter (Stroud) Bowerman, C. W. Churchill, Rt. Hon. Winston S.
Baker, Joseph Allen (Finsbury, E.) Brocklehurst, William B. Clancy, John Joseph
Baring, Sir Godfrey (Barnstaple) Brunner, John F. L. Clough, William
Barlow, Sir John Emmott (Somerset) Bryce, J. Annan Clynes, John R.
Barton, William Burke, E. Haviland- Condon, Thomas Joseph
Cowan, W. H. Holt, Richard Durning Price, C. E. (Edinburgh, Central)
Craig, Herbert J. (Tynemouth) Howard, Hon. Geoffrey Price, Sir Robert J. (Norfolk, E.)
Crawshay-Williams, Eliot Hudson, Walter Radford, George Heynes
Crumley, Patrick Hughes, Spencer Leigh Raffan, Peter Wilson
Dalziel, Sir James H. (Kirkcaldy) Isaacs, Rt. Hon. Sir Rufus Rea, Walter Russell (Scarborough)
Davies, Timothy (Lincs. Louth) John, Edward Thomas Reddy, Michael
Dawes, James Arthur Johnson, W. Redmond, John E. (Waterford)
Denman, Hon. R. D. Jones, Edgar (Merthyr Tydvil) Rendall, Athelstan
Devlin, Joseph Jones, William (Carnarvonshire) Richardson, Albion (Peckham)
Dillon, John Jones, W. S. Glyn- (T. H'mts, Stepney) Roberts, Charles H. (Lincoln)
Doris, William Jowett, Frederick William Robertson, Sir G. Scott (Bradford)
Duncan, C. (Barrow-in-Furness) Keating, Matthew Robertson, John M. (Tyneside)
Duncan, J. Hastings (York, Otley) Kelly, Edward Robinson, Sidney
Edwards, Enoch (Hanley) King, Joseph Roe, Sir Thomas
Edwards, John Hugh (Glamorgan, Mid) Lambert, George (Devon, S. Molton) Rose, Sir Charles Day
Elibank, Rt. Hon. Master of Lardner, James Carrige Rushe Rowlands, James
Elverston, Sir Harold Levy, Sir Maurice Rowntree, Arnold
Esslemont, George Birnie Lewis, John Herbert Samuel, Rt. Hon. H. L. (Cleveland)
Ffrench, Peter Lundon, Thomas Samuel, S. M. (Whitechapel)
Furness, Stephen Lynch, Arthur Alfred Scanlan, Thomas
George, Rt. Hon. David Lloyd Macdonald, J. R. (Leicester) Scott, A. MacCallum (Glas., Bridgeton)
Gibson, Sir James Puckering Macdonald, J. M. (Falkirk Burghs) Seely, Col. Rt. Hon. J. E. B.
Gill, Alfred Henry Maclean, Donald Simon, Sir John Allsebrook
Gladstone, W. G. C. Macnamara, Rt. Hon. Dr. T. J. Smith, Albert (Lancs., Clitheroe)
Glanville, Harold James McKenna, Rt. Hon. Reginald Stanley, Albert (Staffs, N.W.)
Goddard, Sir Daniel Ford Marshall, Arthur Harold Sutton, John E.
Goldstone, Frank Mason, David M. (Coventry) Tennant, Harold John
Greenwood, Granville G. (Peterborough) Meehan, Patrick A. (Queens Co.) Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton)
Grey, Rt. Hon. Sir Edward Montagu, Hon. E. S. Toulmin, Sir George
Guest, Hon. Frederick E. (Dorset, E.) Mooney, John J. Ure, Rt. Hon. Alexander
Gwynn, Stephen Lucius (Galway) Munro, Robert Wadsworth, J.
Hackett, John Murray, Captain Hon. Arthur C. Walsh, Stephen (Lancs., Ince)
Hancock, J. G. Nannetti, Joseph P. Ward, John (Stoke-upon-Trent)
Harcourt, Robert V. (Montrose) Neilson, Francis Ward, W. Dudley (Southampton)
Harmsworth, Cecil (Luton, Beds.) Nolan Joseph Wason, Rt. Hon. E. (Clackmannan)
Harvey, T. E. (Leeds, W.) Nugent, Sir Walter Richard Webb, H.
Harvey, W. E. (Derbyshire, N. E.) O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny) White, J. Dundas (Glasgow, Tradeston)
Haslam, James (Derbyshire) O'Connor, John (Kildare, N.) Whitehouse, John Howard
Havelock-Allan, Sir Henry O'Doherty, Philip Wiles, Thomas
Hayden, John Patrick O'Dowd, John Wilson, W. T. (Westhoughton)
Hayward, Evan O'Kelly, Edward P. (Wicklow, W.) Wood, Rt. Hon. T. McKinnon (Glas.)
Helme, Norval Watson O'Shee, James John Young, William (Perthshire, E.)
Henderson, Arthur (Durham) O'Sullivan, Timothy Yoxall, Sir James Henry
Henry, Sir Charles Parker, James (Halifax)
Higham, John Sharp Pearce, Robert (Staffs, Leek)
Hinds, John Pointer, Joseph TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Mr. Illingworth and Mr. Gulland.
Hobhouse, Rt. Hon. Charles E. H. Pollard, Sir George H.
Hodge, John Power, Patrick Joseph
Aitken, Sir William Max Clive, Captain Percy Archer Horne, William E. (Surrey, Guildford)
Anstruther-Gray, Major William Coates, Major Sir Edward Feetham Horner, Andrew Long
Archer-Shee, Major M. Cooper, Richard Ashmole Houston, Robert Paterson
Arkwright, John Stanhope Courthope, George Loyd Hunt, Rowland
Ashley, Wilfrid W. Craig, Captain James (Down, E.) Ingleby, Holcombe
Astor, Waldorf Craig, Norman (Kent, Thanet) Jackson, Sir John
Baird, J. L. Craik, Sir Henry Jessel, Captain Herbert M.
Balcarres,. Lord Croft, Henry Page Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement
Banbury, Sir Frederick George Dalziel, Davison (Brixton) Kirkwood, John H. M.
Banner, John S. Harmood Denniss, E. R. B. Kyffin-Taylor, G.
Barlow, Montague (Salford, South) Dixon, Charles Harvey Larmor, Sir J.
Bathurst, Charles (Wilts, Wilton) Doughty, Sir George Lowe, Sir F. W. (Birm., Edgbaston)
Beach, Hon. Michael Hugh Hicks Du Cros, Arthur Philip Macmaster, Donald
Beckett, Hon. Gervase Duke, Henry Edward M'Neill, Ronald (Kent, St. Augustine)
Benn, Arthur Shirley (Plymouth) Faber, Captain W. V. (Hants, W.) Magnus, Sir Philip
Benn, Ion Hamilton (Greenwich) Fell, Arthur Mason, James F. (Windsor)
Bennett-Goldney, Francis Finlay, Rt. Hon. Sir Robert Morrison-Bell, Major A. C. (Honiton)
Bentinck, Lord Henry Cavendish- Flannery, Sir J. Fortescue Newdegate, F. A.
Bigland, Alfred Gibbs, George Abraham Newman, John R. P.
Boyle, W. Lewis (Norfolk, Mid) Gilmour, Captain J. O'Neill, Hon. A. E. B. (Antrim, Mid)
Bridgeman, William Clive Gordon, John (Londonderry, South) Orde-Powlett, Hon. W. G. A.
Bull, Sir William James Grant, J. A. Paget, Almeric Hugh
Burn, Colonel C. R. Greene, Walter Raymond Peel, Captain R. F. (Woodbridge)
Butcher, John George Gretton, John Peel, Hon. W. R. W. (Taunton)
Carlile, Sir Edward Hildred Guinness, Hon. Walter Edward Peto, Basil Edward
Cassel, Felix Hall, D. B. (Isle of Wight) Pole-Carew, Sir R.
Castlereagh, Viscount Hall, Fred (Dulwich) Pollock, Ernest Murray
Cave, George Hambro, Angus Valdemar Pryce-Jones, Col. E.
Cecil, Evelyn (Aston Manor) Hamilton, Lord C. J. (Kensington) Ratcliff, R. F.
Cecil, Lord Hugh (Oxford University) Helmsley, Viscount Roberts, S. (Sheffield, Ecclesall)
Cecil, Lord R. (Herts, Hitchin) Hill, Sir Clement L. Rothschild, Lionel D.
Chaloner, Col. R. G. W. Hoare, Samuel John Gurney Rutherford, Watson (L'pool, W. Derby)
Chaplin, Rt. Hon. Henry Hope, James Fitzalan (Sheffield) Salter, Arthur Clavell
Samuel, Sir Harry (Norwood) Terrell, Henry (Gloucester) Willoughby, Major Hon. Claud
Sanders, Robert Arthur Thompson, Robert (Belfast, North) Wolmer, Viscount
Sanderson, Lancelot Touche, George Alexander Wood, John (stalybridge)
Scott, Sir S. (Marylebone, W.) Tryon, Captain George Clement Worthington-Evans, L.
Spear, Sir John Ward Valentia, Viscount Wyndham, Rt. Hon. George
Staveley-Hill, Henry Walker, Col. William Hall Yate, Col. C. E.
Steel-Maitland, A. D. Ward, A. S. (Herts, Watford)
Stewart, Gershom Warde, Col. C. E. (Kent, Mid) TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Mr. Pike Pease and Mr. Eyres-Monsell.
Sykes, Mark (Hull, Central) Wheler, Granville C. H.
Talbot, Lord Edmund White, Major G. D. (Lancs., Southport)

Bill read the third time, and passed.