§ Mr. BUTCHER
asked the Prime Minister, whether his attention had been called to a statement in a letter dated the 4th November, 1910, from the Foreign Office to the Leith Shipowners Society (No. 6 in Cd. 5,418), stating that a number of Naval Powers had up till now claimed the right, under certain circumstances, to declare food-stuffs to be absolute contraband; whether he would state what Naval Powers had within the last twenty-five years claimed such right, and under what circumstances; whether protests were made in each such case by this Country and other countries against the exercise of any such alleged right; and what in each case was the result of such protest?
Mr. McKINNON WOOD
I would point out that the statement in question is not confined to the last twenty-five years, during which naval wars have happily been of rare occurrence. Twenty-six years ago, namely, in 1885, France announced her intention of treating rice as contraband of war, as far as concerned Chinese ports north of Canton; Germany then acquiesced in the French view. Russia declined to do so in principle, and Great Britain protested unsuccessfully. At the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese war, Russia, making no distinction between absolute and conditional contraband, included as contraband various kinds of foodstuffs; but on the protests of Great Britain and the United States of America, this decision was modified, and the foodstuffs in question were declared to be conditional contraband only. I would draw the attention of the hon. Member to paragraph 3 on page 29 of Blue Book Cd. 4,555, which is an official statement of the view of the French Government upon this point, prepared for the Naval Conference as recently as August, 1908. The following is a translation of the paragraph:— 1542Foodstuffs and raw materials intended for non-combatants are not in principle considered as contraband of war, but may be declared such according to circumstances of which the Government is the judge, and by virtue of an order issued by it.The plain fact is that there has hitherto been no general agreement to prevent any Power from declaring all food contraband of war when it suited its interest to do so; and until the Declaration of London is ratified we must be prepared, either as neutrals or belligerents, to see food so treated. After the Declaration of London is ratified, this will be impossible without a breach of the Declaration.
§ Mr. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
Would the hon. Gentleman be willing to lay on the Table of the House any correspondence which passed between our Government and the French Government in 1885, to show on what grounds the French Government justified their special action with regard to rice at that time, and the limitation which they themselves then put upon the provision?
§ Mr. BUTCHER
Was there any instance in 1885 when France established her right to treat food as absolute contraband?
Mr. McKINNON WOOD
I do not quite appreciate the meaning of the question, perhaps the hon. Gentleman will put it on the Paper.