§ Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment to Question [28th June], "That the Bill be now read a second time:"—
§ Which Amendment was, to leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, in order to add instead thereof the words "in view of the strong expression of independent expert opinion on the part of many important business and commercial bodies and of high naval authorities against the ratification of the Declaration of London, and in view of the fact that the Declaration, if ratified, will be binding on this Country for at least twelve years, thi3 House declines to proceed further with the Naval Prize Bill until the whole question has been submitted to and reported on by a commission of experts to be appointed for that purpose."—[Mr. Butcher.]815
§ Question again proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."—Debate resumed.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL (Sir Rufus Isaacs)
When the House rose on Thursday last I had very nearly finished the observations which I intended to make on the matter now before us, more especially in relation to the food supplies aspect of it, which, of course, is the most important. I want to say something in reference to Article 34, upon which I promised to make some answer to the arguments put forward on the other side of the House. I want particularly to call the attention of the House to the way in which this stands. Under-Article 33 conditional contraband is liable to capture—food is liable to capture, if destined for the use of the armed forces of the enemy, of a Government Department, and so forth, as it appears in the Article. That is the governing Clause in relation to food supply. Article 34 is one which has been a good deal criticised. It only raises the rights of presumptions, presumptions which are abuttable; that is to say it deals with the rules that provide for this: that although food under Article 33 is liable to be captured it is only if it had be shown to be destined for the armed forces of the enemy. It is to prove the case by presumption which is dealt with in Article 34. Article 34 of course, does nothing more than that. It adds further, that you can rebut a presumption, which is not to be taken as conclusive in any way. I know quite well it may be said, "Oh, yes, but what is the value of that—to rebut a presumption if there has been a capture and if there has been a condemnation!" Let me answer that at once. What the Article does is to provide for the rights of neutrals; to provide also for the rights which have to regulate the supply of food into this and other countries. All that happens under these two Articles is that rules are laid down which are to guide those who are carrying food or to guide belligerents so that they may know how the matter stands.
I do not for a moment suggest that it would be impossible that there could be no seizure of food unless it could come exactly within these rules. I am quite sure the Noble Lord opposite would be the first to agree with me on that point. That must depend, whether you have this rule or not, upon the individual view of the commander and upon the instructions that he will have got from his Govern- 816 ment when he sets out. So that you must always leave the matter in this condition: rules are laid down with the right of compensation if any wrong is done, but it rests in the discretion of the commander under the instructions which may be given to him by his Government. He, of course, cannot be fettered in any way. It may very possibly be, notwithstanding this Article, and, indeed, in defiance of it, and of a proper construction put upon it, that a commander may take a somewhat elastic view of the duties imposed upon him. I have read a good many articles containing a good many views upon this subject, and, generally speaking, it has been stated by the Military and Naval authorities who have been writing, that an officer would not be worth his salt if in case of doubt under the circumstances suggested, he did not stretch the point in favour of his own Government. It is not for me to express any view upon that. All I desire to say is that under this Article we are providing that if that happens, there shall still be the right of compensation, so that the international Prize Court, if appealed to from the captor's court, will be able to say that so much must be paid by way of compensation. I entirely agree with the view which has been expressed by the Lord Chancellor as to the construction which is to be placed upon this much discussed word "base." That view I should have thought would be accounted the only sound one. It would be an utterly meaningless or absurd Article if the contention, which a good deal has been said about in this House, should really be held to be right. Obviously it is not for me to argue here at any length as to what construction might be placed upon that word except to point out that, put at its highest against the Government view, it will never amount to anything more than this: that the position as it is at present in regard to other Powers, if you have the Declaration or if you have not the Declaration, would be exactly the same. I am assuming for present circumstances that the strongest view of the position against the Government contention should prevail. If that is the case it is no worse than the present position. You still would have under the present conditions, the exercise of this discretion on the part of the commander to which I have already adverted, and you still would have the seizure of any food which was going to a port which it was thought was destined possibly for the use of the military or naval forces of 817 the enemy. For my part I can only say with reference to this part of the argument "which has been raised against the Declaration that I do not think I could put it any better than in the language which has been used by Lord Lindley, the distinguished judge, who wrote a letter to "The Times," in which he dealt with the Declaration, considered both from the position of this country as a neutral and as a belligerent. He took the view definitely and clearly that it was far better for this country that the Declaration should be ratified. He dealt with the point to which I have just referred, he dealt with the articles on contraband, and this is what he said—I give it to the House simply because I am sure the House will pay considerable attention coming from his lordship:—As belligerents, we shall not be worse off on the whole if the Declaration is ratified, whilst as neutrals we shall be very much better off. To neutral nations the articles relating to contraband goods are a very great gain, and this country when neutral will benefit by them.That statement of Lord Lindley really confirms all the arguments that I have adduced to this House. I want to deal very shortly—because the House has been very patient, and has listened to me at greater length than I intended—with the two remaining points, which I have covered to a great extent by what I have said on the aspect of the food supply. One has regard to the destruction of neutral prizes. I want to call the attention of the House to where these stand under the Article. As I read what has been said by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Edinburgh and St. Andrews Universities there is, I think, very little difference of opinion between us. Article 48 says that the neutral vessel must not be destroyed by the captor, or in other words, when a neutral vessel has been captured, and has been taken into port, there must be adjudication before there can be any condemnation, and quite clearly the captor is not. entitled to sink the vessel under that article.
§ 4.0 P.M.
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
The Noble Lord says he will do it. The Noble Lord reminds me that lawyers and sailors do not agree sometimes. All I say is that I am stating what the law is. Whether the sailor will carry it out or not I cannot say. I am only stating what has been agreed 818 and what will be the basis of any claim in favour of the neutral. As the Noble Lord knows so much better than I do what a, sailor would do I accept his view when he said he would sink it, but he would still be bound to make compensation and that is what we seek to establish, and if we do not provide that compensation will be paid the neutral vessel will be sunk and there will be no compensation. The Noble Lord must agree to that extent we are better under the Declaration. There are exceptions I agree. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bootle (Mr. Bonar Law) when he said there were exceptions, but you must first get a statement of the law to which of course there are always exceptions. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Edinburgh and St. Andrews (Sir R. Finlay) read some passages showing that there must be some cases of exceptional necessity. As the law is based as between belligerent and neutral the belligerent is not entitled to sink the neutral, but nevertheless it might be a highly meritorious act on the part of the officer who is acting in command of a belligerent vessel. It may be that although he does something which with regard to the neutral is quite wrong under the law, nevertheless he may—I think I am using the exact words of Lord Stowell—be doing not only a meritorious act but it may be his duty to do something that may be declared to be hereafter a wrongful act.
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
I think not, What the hon. and learned Gentleman has in his mind is different. I think in one sense it was an enemy's ship, but it was a ship that strayed into the British lines and for this purpose was in exactly the same position as a neutral. I do not want to pause now and to take up time in referring to the authorities. Of course, the hon. and learned Gentleman is well able to appreciate the point himself. But apart from that altogether our rule always is that if we did destroy a neutral vessel and if we did sink her we pay compensation, and we are at this disadvantage, that while we always pay compensation, other countries, sink neutral vessels and do not pay compensation. What we are anxious to do is to say to other countries, "If you do sink a neutral vessel and cannot justify your action under the very stringent rules of these Articles, then an international Prize Court shall have the jurisdiction to order 819 you to pay compensation." And to that extent again, apart from other questions in the balance, we gain this very crucial advantage, that we place ourselves in something like an equal position with other countries and we establish that for the first time, what has been our practice, is to be recognised as the practice by foreign countries, and our shipowners, when acting as neutrals, will be enabled to receive compensation if damaged, instead of being placed in the position which we saw and deplored, but for which we could find no remedy, until this Declaration, such as that which happened in the Russo-Japanese war of 1904. That is the position.
I call attention to Article 51 which makes this claim, that there must be exceptional necessity before a neutral vessel is sunk. I do not think that during the course of this Debate enough importance has been attached to the "necessity." The exception which is provided for in Article 49, and referred to again in Article 51, is that you cannot sink a vessel unless there is exceptional necessity—either danger to the safety of the ship or else there must be presumption that the success of the operations would be very seriously interfered with otherwise. That is the position. I content myself with making these further observations upon it. Hon. Members will find in the Report of our British delegates to the Foreign Secretary that this matter had been discussed, and it must be borne in mind there was a large majority against the view we put forward, and which resulted in this safeguarding of the matter on the lines which has been substantially our practice:—The delegates reported that those representing other Powers which had been most determined to vindicate the right of destroying neutrals declared that the combination of the rules now adopted respecting the destruction and liability of ships practically amounted "in itself to a renunciation of the right in all but a few cases.That I submit to this House is a full vindication of the position taken up by us in regard to these Articles relating to the destruction of neutral vessels. No one has suggested for one moment that it would be an advantage to the neutral to have his vessel sunk. That, of course, would be a travesty of the arguments put forward. What we say is that if a neutral is to have his vessel sunk under the conditions of war it is better for him that there should be an international Prize Court to grant him compensation if his vessel is destroyed.
820 I now propose to deal with the last point upon which I think there has been any argument during the course of this Debate, and that is the conversion of merchantmen into ships of war upon the high seas. The whole point is whether that conversion should take place upon the high seas or in the territorial waters and port of the country in which the vessel is found. We, of course, asserted the right, and always have asserted the right that you may convert merchant vessels into warships provided you do it within territorial waters and in the port. What is pointed to very seriously is that a belligerent might be entitled to convert these merchantmen into ships of war on the high seas without any notification. We have not in the slightest degree given way upon that point. I am very anxious the House should understand that. I believe I am right in saying—of course, I cannot be quite sure—that the Noble Lord (Lord Charles Beresford) attaches the greatest importance to this point, and that this is to him a most important matter. I agree, it is a most important point, but the Noble Lord will forgive me for pointing out to him that this point is not dealt with in the Declaration of London.
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
It is open in this sense, that we have not been able to agree, and it has been left unsettled. I will deal with the question of its being left unopened and what is in the minds of some hon. Members about Article 7. What I am on now is what the Declaration of London does. The Declaration of London does not touch this point in any aspect. We were not able to agree on this point, and therefore there is nothing in the Declaration which deals with it, and the argument put forward by the Noble Lord and those who follow him and espouse his views and come to the same conclusion are based upon this. That the Declaration of London and the Naval Prize Bill, together recognised the right of foreign countries to convert merchantmen into war vessels upon the high seas.
§ Lord C. BERESFORD
I do not think that is quite what happens. We hold this as an important point. There is nothing definite about it, but the question is how are we to meet it?
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
What I intended to say was substantially what the Noble Lord said. What I am anxious to impress 821 upon the Noble Lord and what leads me to claim him as a supporter of the Declaration is that if that is his objection to the Declaration he must brush it aside altogether, because it has nothing whatever to do with the Declaration. We expressly left it out. But the Noble Lord would say you ought somehow or other to have arrived at an agreement and embodied it in the Declaration. I agree it would have been a very desirable thing, but we were unable to arrive at an agreement, and the question the House has to put to itself is this, whether we should have thrown up all the advantages we think we get under these Articles because we could not arrive at a settlement upon this point. I think I am right in interpreting the Noble Lord's views when I say that he would have us say, "Take nothing if you cannot get that." That does not seem, if I may say so, good sense. I hope the Noble Lord will forgive me, and I am quite sure he will understand I do not mean to be offensive. It does not seem to me to be good sense for this reason. If the articles in the Declaration are to the advantage of this country as neutral and to the advantage of other countries as neutral, why should we give up our advantages on these points because we were not able to agree on another point upon which we remain unfettered and upon which we stand exactly as we did before, and upon which we say as we cannot agree upon this matter we will not compromise. The Noble Lord will agree with that view.
If you say we must not compromise, and we take a firm stand upon and will not recognise this conversion of merchant vessels upon the high seas, it is impossible to agree, and therefore we leave this point unregulated. That is how we stand. I do not want for a moment to leave out of consideration the point argued upon this, and I think it is the only point. I am trying to do justice to the arguments of hon. Members upon the other side of the House. I think I am right in saying that the only argument put forward against us on this part—I will not say of the Declaration of London but the Naval Prize Bill—is that it is said in Article 7 of the Convention annexed to the Naval Prize Bill if there is no agreement between foreign countries as to Convention agreement or treaty and no agreed rules of international law then the international Prize Court must decide according to the principles of justice and equity. And the view urged against our view is that the international Prize Court may have a question 822 in years to come to deal with in which a neutral may be a claimant against a foreign belligerent because the foreign belligerent had converted a merchant vessel into a warship and because that warship had sunk or otherwise damaged the property of the neutral; then the neutral comes forward and makes the claim. May I point out that this is the only way, and there is no other way in which this matter can be brought before the international Prize Court. The court cannot regulate the relations between belligerents inter se. It is common ground that the Declaration does not touch the rights of belligerents inter se.
All that can happen is that your neutral may make a claim. Then comes the question which the international Prize Court will have to decide whether—a question which under the circumstances and in view of the fact that we could not agree upon it when this Declaration was being negotiated I do not express any opinion upon—whether they have jurisdiction to decide this question. I will assume that the court has power to decide this question, and that it is called upon to decide it. I do not know upon what grounds it is thought the court is going to decide against us. The court will consist of fifteen eminent jurists. There is no rule of international law which says you can convert merchant ships into warships on the high seas. We say that that would be contrary to the practice of war. That has always been our contention, and we hold to that contention now. Certainly there would be a majority of the views of those at the Conference in favour of that contention, but I do not place any reliance upon that point. Let me assume that the international Prize Court does decide against it. Take the last alternative—how are we any worse off? Assume that the court says that a merchantman was converted into a war vessel, and then sunk a neutral, and that it has not done anything wrong provided that it has complied with the other Articles which deal with the destruction of neutrals. The mere fact of the conversion on the high seas of a merchantman into a warship does not give the right to a neutral to claim compensation if it is sunk. I assume that is decided against us. I ask the House and the Noble Lord to consider whether we are really any worse off. Is it suggested that the result of that determination of a claim for compensation by some neutral against a foreign belligerent is to determine the rights and regulate what is to 823 happen between us as a belligerent and some other belligerent Power?
§ Mr. ATHERLEY-JONES
You exclude diplomatic action by submitting yourself to an international tribunal.
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
If my hon. and learned Friend will forgive me that is not meeting the point I am putting. This is not a question of diplomatic action when at war. What my hon. and learned Friend has said is just the kind of answer which has been given at various meetings. That does not touch the proposition I am dealing with. I am not now dealing with the claim of a neutral against a belligerent. I have passed from that point. This is a far more important aspect of the question. The House will remember that the proposition I am seeking to establish is that we gain as neutral and we do not sacrifice our interests as belligerents under the Declaration of London. I have dealt already with our position as neutrals, and I am now dealing with our position as belligerents. In order to determine that question and sec whether our position is affected, I want the House to consider how we are affected as belligerents at war with some foreign Power if it turns out that that foreign Power is converting merchantmen into warships on the high seas. We still refuse to recognise the right, we still refuse to deal with it as a proper proceeding under the rules of war, and we are quite unaffected by anything that has taken place under the Declaration or under the regulations of the international Prize Court.
I am asserting that in regard to this practice there is no right to do it, and that it is against the rules of war. What course we shall take under those circumstances I cannot say. All I am pointing out to the Noble Lord, who is very interested in this question, is that we keep the position open, and whatever it was before the Declaration it remains after the Declaration whether the Declaration is ratified or not. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO."] I cannot understand how hon. Members can say "No" when it is common ground between us that the rights of belligerents inter se, are quite unaffected. That has been admitted again and again in this House by right hon. Gentlemen opposite on the Front Bench and 824 behind it. It is not contended that the rights of belligerents inter se are affected. The whole point of this argument is as to what the rights of a neutral are as against a belligerent. However much you may affect the right of the neutral you do not affect the rights of belligerents inter se, and that is the point I am concerned with and which I am trying to establish. We have maintained our position in that respect, and we have given away nothing. If that is right in respect to this matter we really have nothing to fear from any criticism that may be directed against us, and all that is necessary is that the House should bear in mind that whatever decision may be come to by the international Prize Court it cannot affect our rights as belligerents.
I wish to say a word now with reference to the position taken up by some hon. Members on the other side of the House. We have been told that a majority of the shipowners are against this Declaration. I think after the speech we heard from the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Holt) no one can say that. My hon. and learned Friend referred to Liverpool, but I do not think he has followed the point I have been making. The hon. Member for Hexham called attention to a number of well-known names, the heads of great firms of shipowners in this country, and said they were in favour of this Declaration. The hon. Member for Hexham omitted to mention that he is at the head of one of the largest shipowning firms of the Empire. He is a supporter of this Bill, and ho has given the most valuable help to us in regard to this Declaration. A number of shipowners' associations have passed resolutions against this Declaration, and so have a number of chambers of commerce. I want to know what would have been the effect if every speech made at the meetings of the chambers of commerce and the Shipowners' Association, where these resolutions have been passed, had been prefaced by the two admissions made from the other side of the House—one that the rights of belligerents inter se are unaffected by the Declaration, and the other that on balance we stand to gain as neutrals. I would like to know what the result would have been in that case? It is an easy matter in addressing these shipowners' association and chambers of commerce to arouse their patriotism by telling them the country is in danger, and informing them that if this Declaration is passed away goes their security. It is very easy to get these Resolutions passed if those who pass 825 them do not know of those two very important facts to which I have just called attention. Under those circumstances it is easy to pass resolutions by large majorities. I say that there is a great responsibility upon those who choose to go round and make speeches to Chambers of Commerce and Shipowners' Associations without pointing out those two most salient facts. Speeches have been made all over the country, and I ask under these circumstances have the facts been fairly put from our point of view when you find nothing in those speeches asserting that our rights as belligerents inter se are quite unaffected by this Declaration?
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dover (Mr. Wyndham) said it. I have also pointed out that the hon. and learned Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool (Mr. Leslie Scott) who is himself an international lawyer of experience and reputation said so in the plainest of terms. I am astonished that I should be challenged in regard to this point, because my right hon. Friend the Member for Dover was present when I made this assertion, and he did not for a moment contradict it. My right hon. Friend may take it that if he will refer to his right hon. Friend's speech he will see that he made this admission. The hon. and learned Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool went much further than the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dover, because he stated in the very plainest terms that we gain advantages as neutrals by the Declaration. I do not want to go back to this subject. The point I am making is that it is most regrettable that these resolutions should have been passed without the two important propositions to which I have referred having been brought to the notice of the parties concerned. I see the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dover is now present, and I will repeat what I said. I stated that the right hon. Gentleman, as well as the hon. and learned Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool, admitted that this Declaration did not affect the rights of belligerents inter se.
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
Let me say in conclusion what has happened. In answer to our invitation the Powers responded, came to a Conference, and we arrived at an agreement. We have done what Liver- 826 pool asked us to do in 1904, when the Government headed by the present Leader of the Opposition was in office. We have done what Lord Lansdowne said ought to be done after the Russo-Japanese war. We have defined contraband. We have made an attempt to arrive at a code with regard to it. We have given them the benefit of an agreed code by which they will know what their rights are. According to the views I have seen quoted a number of admirals, asserting that we are sacrificing belligerent rights under this Declaration. The Noble Lord, the Member for Portsmouth I am sure may be taken as the spokesman of those admirals, and nothing can be added by any of them to what has already been said by the Noble Lord opposite. He voices their opinions and to a large extent he leads them; at any rate, I am quite sure he is to the fore. He has told us clearly what are his views. I do not want to go back upon the arguments we have had already, but I am quite certain I am not misrepresenting his views when I say his argument, and the argument of those who follow him, is all in favour of having a stronger Navy, that is, more cruisers in order to protect our food supply in this country.
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
That is the argument, but it does not touch the Declaration. It does not affect the position in the slightest degree. We have got again jurists of great position, and we have had Professor Holland quoted. Of course, I agree he is a jurist of eminence, but as against that we may quote many. I might quote, for example, Mr. Arthur Cohen, a man probably who holds as high a position as any lawyer in this country, whose impartiality and fairness in controversy will be recognised by all, who has given an immense amount of study to this question from the very start, who has not always taken the view we have taken, and who has not always agreed with the propositions we have put forward. He now sums up the pros and cons of the Declaration in favour of ratifying it. You have just in the same way Professor Westlake and Lord Lindley, whose views I have just quoted. I do claim the consideration of all that has been written and said upon the subject is to establish the proposition which I set out to prove in this Debate, and which I claim I have established clearly, and that is that whilst gaining as neutrals we have sacrificed nothing as 827 belligerents. We have maintained the national interests unimpaired, we have secured the great advantage of an international agreement upon which our people can rest their claims in the future whenever considerations arise upon which they have a right to compensation, and in that we have achieved a purpose which ought to make this House satisfied with the Declaration, and make it content to pass this international Prize Court or Naval Prize Bill as it is known. The Bill, in effect, leads us to a further international agreement to the many conventions we have already made. It sacrifices nothing we ought to have upheld, and it in no way impairs our national interests or our national honour.
§ Mr. CAVE
We have listened to a speech of very great interest and of value to both sides in this controversy, because, while those who are in favour of the Declaration have the advantage of the powerful advocacy of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, we also derive this advantage from his speech, that he has stated clearly, and I think accurately, the real points between those who take different sides and has so made it more easy for us to endeavour to reply to the arguments put forward in favour of the Declaration. I am glad of this. The learned Attorney-General has not himself used the argument, I think the illegitimate argument, which was put forward by the right hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. McKinnon Wood), and I think by one other speaker, that, because this is a Declaration of London and because we summoned the delegates of the Powers to discuss this question and to come to a decision upon it, we are therefore under some kind of moral obligation to ratify the Declaration. I protest against that argument being put forward. We especially reserved the right to ratify or not ratify whatever agreement might be come to. We did not appoint, we could not appoint, our delegates, however distinguished, with the idea that their assent was binding on the nation as a whole, and we are perfectly free to ratify or not ratify as upon full consideration our Government may think fit. That is recognised by our delegates themselves, because in their report to the Government they throw the burden upon the Government of deciding the question. They say—it is on page 103 of the Blue Book:—To what extent the rules themselves will safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of Great Britain and 828 how far their claim to general validity and therefore to general respect is made good by their inherent justice, and by their conformity with the true law of nations … are questions which we must leave to the judgment of His Majesty's Government.The Government have left it to some extent to the House, and the House is perfectly free to express an opinion. The right hon. Gentleman said, and said quite accurately, that we are all of us in favour of some international code laying down rules with regard to questions of prizes and the rights of neutrals, and that we are all, or, at any rate, most of us in favour of an international court to interpret that code. Yes, but, of course, with the condition that we get a good code and a good court. I do not mean a code which is all our way, but a code fair to neutrals, and which does not impair any of our rights as belligerents. The question, therefore, is; "Have we got a good code for neutrals, and have we got a code which does not hinder us if and when we come to be belliggerents?" I want to take the question whether this is a good code for neutrals first, because I think it lies at the bottom of the problem. We are, of course, oftener neutrals, happily, than we are belliggerents, and therefore we have a great interest as neutrals. But apart from that the right hon. Gentleman said, and said with some truth I think, that if this is a good code for neutrals we are more likely as belligerents to get the assistance of neutrals in war. I do not think that a conclusive argument, but it is certainly one of some weight. We must therefore make up our minds whether neutrals gain or lose by this Declaration. I say, after having given the matter the best consideration I can, that for neutrals this is not a good code. It puts them in a worse position, a far worse position, than they are in now. In saying that, I quite know I am to some extent differing from what was said by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool (Mr. Leslie Scott), who the other day gave, I think, a somewhat guarded opinion when he said that on the whole neutrals stood to gain by the Declaration. I set off against his statement the other night his letter in one of the papers to-day, in which he shows, I think, as clearly as anybody can show, some of the disadvantages which accrue to neutrals under this Declaration.
§ Mr. CAVE
Yes, I know he repeats the statement, but I think he refutes himself. The question, however, is not what one or 829 the other of us thinks, but what are the arguments put on the one side and on the other. Two advantages are put forward for neutrals under the Declaration. First, it is said you have got a free list; you have got certain things which can never be made contraband. Of course, a written free list has its advantages, but it depends a good deal on whether it contains anything which could or would in case of war become contraband. If there is nothing or little in it which could become contraband, then, although it has some value as a written document, yet it has very little practical value. We are rather too apt, in discussing this question, to assume, because a foreign Power may say a thing is contraband, that therefore it will be contraband. It is not so. A thing cannot be made contraband unless it is declared contraband by the belligerent Power and the claim is accepted by the neutral Power. After all, treating a thing as contraband is taking away property—goods and possibly the ship—of other nations with which you have no quarrel at all, and in order to establish that you must have the assent of that nation to the transaction as a whole. Neutral nations agree to form a kind of ring round the two parties who are at war and not to assist either by sending goods which will help them in their warlike operations. The mere fact that one of the two nations says, "These goods assist my enemy in his operations," does not make those goods contraband. It is always a subject of controversy between neutrals and belligerent nations as to whether the neutrals will accept a declaration of contraband.
Taking this free list and putting aside resin and such small matters, on which we need not waste time, the only thing which in recent times has been attempted to be treated as contraband is cotton, and I think the case of cotton is very instructive. The only ease occurred in the Russo-Japanese war, which is responsible for a great deal of this controversy. In 1904, Russia took a British ship, found on her a very small quantity of raw cotton, thirty-six bales, and condemned that cotton upon the somewhat flimsy pretext that cotton might be converted into guncotton. Of course, we protested at once, with the result that Russia never repeated the act throughout that war. This one seizure of thirty-six bales was the only case of seizure of cotton in that war. Therefore, so far from that being a case against us, I think 830 it is a case for us. It is a case where we would not accept the treatment of cotton as contraband, and where Russia accepted our refusal. With that one exception—which I think is rather for us than against us, and the trifling exceptions I have mentioned, I think there is nothing in this free list which ever has been or could be treated as contraband. It is said that under this Declaration neutrals will always be sure of getting compensation where there is a breach of the law. That is put forward as a strong point. Are they quite sure it is so? I want to make two observations upon the matter. Of course, the rule-relied upon is Article 64, which says:—If the capture of a vesssel or of goods is not upheld by the Prize Court, or if the prize is released without any judgment being given, the parties interested have the right to compensation, unless there were good reasons for capturing the vessels or goods.That does not mean unless it was a legal capture. The Report of the Committees says that it means unless in the opinion of the Prize Court there was some other reason why the vessel or goods should be captured. That is a wide mesh through which any nation might slip from the obligation to pay compensation. Let me add this. It is assumed that where a neutral shipowner claims compensation he will have the right to go to the international Prize Court as a matter of course. Again it is not so, and that flaw is pointed out in the report in the Blue Book. If hon. Members will turn to page 65 they will see these words:—It should be observed that in the text no reference is made to the question whether the national tribunals are competent to adjudicate on a claim for compensation. In cases where proceedings are taken against the property captured, no doubt on this point can be entertained. … If, on the other hand, the action of the belligerent has been confined to the capture, it is the law of the belligerent captor which decides whether there are tribunals competent to entertain a demand: for compensation, and, if so, what are those tribunals. The International Court has not, according to the convention of The Hague, any jurisdiction in such a case.In other words, unless the captor chooses to take proceedings in its own court, the owner of a ship has no remedy at all. The remedy is only by appeal from a decision of the national Prize Court, and if the Government, presumably in fault, does not choose to proceed in its own national Prize Court there is no remedy whatever for the loss caused by capture to the owner of the ship. To tell shipowners that under this Declaration they have a right to compensation in the case of any breach of international law is to tell them what is not the fact, and, unwittingly no doubt, to obtain their assent to the Declaration by an inaccurate statement of 831 its effect. That is the second advantage which is put forward as accruing to neutrals from the Declaration, and, in regard to both advantages, I think I may claim to have shown them to be of a somewhat shadowy nature.
Let me now put forward shortly the disadvantages—the points in which neutrals will be worse off under the Declaration than they are under our present laws. The first point is that under the Declaration conditional contraband will be more exposed to seizure than it is to-day. I do not think that anybody really denies that. The general principle of course is that contraband, in order to be contraband, must be on its way to assist the naval or military operations of the enemy. The question is whether that test cannot be more easily satisfied under the Declaration than it is now. We have the present rule under the hand of the Government itself. It is to be found in the Memorandum in the Blue Book put forward as representing the British view. It is put in this way:—There is a presumption that conditional contraband is on its way to assist in the operations of the enemy only if there is proof that its destination is for the naval or military forces of the enemy or for some place of naval or military equipment in the occupation of the enemy, or if there has been fraudulent concealment or spoliation of papers.Therefore, it must be bound for the enemy's forces or for a place of naval or military equipment in order to be presumed to be destined for the enemy's forces. That is the present rule. The new rule extends that presumption, because it raises the same presumption of contraband in at least four additional events. The first is if the goods are bound not for the forces of the enemy, but for any civil department of the enemy. The second is if they are consigned to a trader who supplies articles of the same kind to the enemy. What great trader has not supplied such articles? The third is if they are consigned to a fortified place. What great port is not fortified in one way or another? The fourth is, if they are consigned to any place serving as a base for the armed forces of the enemy. That question has been fully discussed, and I will only make one observation, arising out of what was said to-day by the right hon. and learned Attorney-General. He said that to construe that expression about the base as including almost any port in the kingdom would be absurd. But one of my hon. Friends, in a letter published in to-day's paper, has shown 832 that that expression has already been so construed, and therefore it does not lie with the right hon. Gentleman to say that the construction is not likely to be adopted. In all these four ways consequently the area of conditional contraband is widened, and the risk of the seizure of conditional contraband is increased. I say that it is a real hardship on neutral owners that the risk of capture should be increased by this Declaration, and my hon. and learned Friend was not wrong when ho said that under this Declaration conditional contraband is placed on almost the same footing as absolute contraband.
I may point out further that under this Declaration the consequences to neutrals of carrying contraband will be very much more serious than they now are, because a ship which carries contraband may be confiscated. I do not think that that has been mentioned before. It is not our rule now. We are against confiscation of a ship merely because she carries contraband. Our rule, which is set out in the Blue Book, is simply that any interest in the ship which belongs to the owner of contraband goods is liable to confiscation, but in the absence of something of that kind or of resistance or fraud a ship is restored to the owners without, however, any compensation being paid for the loss of trade. Thus a ship carrying contraband under our present rules generally remains the property of the owner, and cannot be confiscated, but under the new rules proposed under this Declaration a ship carrying contraband will be liable to confiscation if the contraband, reckoned by value, weight, volume, or freight, forms more than half the cargo of the vessel. It will rarely happen that one of the conditions thus set forth will not be satisfied, and, therefore, a neutral ship carrying contraband will now be commonly liable to confiscation.
But there is much more serious matter than that. For the first time for 200 years we are asked to admit that a ship which the enemy alleges to be subject to condemnation—a neutral ship—may be sunk without trial. I emphasise the words "without trial." She cannot now be condemned without trial, as she must be taken into port and be tried and condemned there. But under this Declaration she may be sunk without trial. Execution may come first and trial afterwards. That is a very serious matter. The learned Attorney-General referred to the case of the "Acteon" as one in point where a neutral ship had been sunk, but I find I 833 was quite right in suggesting that it was an enemy's ship and not a neutral ship. I believe the Foreign Secretary is quite right when he said that for 200 years we have maintained that neutral ships must not be sunk. The hon. Member for the Tyneside Division of Northumberland (Mr. J. M. Robertson) said on Thursday that when our ships were sunk during the Russio-Japanese war we did not protest, and the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Holt) rather taunted us because we did not go to war on that account. Surely the facts are quite plain. We protested, and our protest was successful. Of course, we do not go to war when the party to whom we protest adopts our views. May I remind the House of what happened in that war? The first case was that of the "Knight Commander." It happened in 1904. The "Knight Commander" was a British ship which was carrying railway material. She was taken by a Russian war vessel and was sunk at sea. Lord Lansdowne protested at once very strongly, and my right hon. Friend, the Leader of the present Opposition, made a statement in this House that that was a breach of the law which this nation could not, and would not, submit to. What happened? The Russian Government at once gave us very satisfactory assurances. They must have conveyed their instructions to their commanders because, for nearly a year, for at least eleven months from that date, no other case occurred of any of our ships being sunk by the Russians. On the 27th May in the next year, the fleet of Admiral Rozhdestvensky, the last hope of the Russians, was defeated, and it was only within two days after that, when the Russians were in great distress and their fleet was disorganised that the other instances occurred. On the 5th June, 1905, the British ship "St. Kilda" was sunk by a Russian cruiser, and another ship the "Ikhona"' was also seized by the Russians and sunk. Again Lord Lansdowne made an immediate and very strong protest. What happened? Count Lamsdorff at once told us that the assurances of Russia in the previous year held good, and that the thing which had been done was due to misunderstanding and disorganisation on the part of the Russian admiral and fleet. They paid compensation for the ships and, what is much more important, Russia actually ordered her two 834 cruisers home to Russia, and authorised a British cruiser to carry the message to them. No stronger case can be brought forward of the acceptance by one Power of our rule that no neutral ship must be sunk at sea, and yet, that being the state of things, our rule being accepted, you are now going to agree to the opposite rule and to ratify a Declaration which says that a neutral vessel may be destroyed if to take her into port would endanger the safety of the warship or the success of the operations in which she is engaged, conditions which we know may be very easily fulfilled in almost every case in which our vessels are seized by a foreign country. I know our delegates tried to get a better agreement and tried to have it laid down that the mere fact that the captor, having captured a ship, could not spare a prize crew to take her to port should not be a sufficient ground for sinking. But that was opposed by the other nations, and that shows that the mere fact that the captor cannot spare a prize crew will be treated by them as a sufficient reason for destroying the vessel.
The First Lord of the Admiralty gave an excuse for the rule by saying that she was the enemy's ship already, and why should the enemy not destroy her own ship? But she is not the enemy's ship. It is true that under this Declaration that you have made her liable to condemnation by the enemy, but she has never been condemned, and it is wrong to say that the enemy is only destroying their own vessel. May I say before I pass from that that I have not mentioned two other vessels the "Hipsang" and the "Oldhamia," because I do not think that they come within the rule stated. The sinking of the "Hipsang" was, in my view, a mere act of piracy on the part of Russia. The Russian vessel fired at the "Hipsang'' at sea when people were on board her and killed some of the people and afterwards sunk the ship. There was no more justification for that proceeding than there was for the sinking of the trawler in the North Sea. In the case of the "Oldhamia" it was not a case of the destruction of a prize, but of a wreck, and these are not really cases in which the rule applies. I want to refer to the quotation made by the learned Attorney-General to-day, which is put forward as some sort of consolation to us who have raised this question in this House. It was 835 taken from the report of the delegates on page 98 of the Blue Book. They say:—The delegates representing those powers which have been most determined in vindicating the right to destroy neutral prizes declared that the combination of the rules now adopted respecting destruction and liability of the ship practically amounted in itself to a renunciation of the right in all but a few cases.Of course they did. They wanted our delegates to accept these rules, and they told our delegates that in. substance they had got all they wanted. But they were delegates who were vindicating the right to destroy ships, but not those who took the other point of view and objected to their destruction.
There is one other point to which I want to draw attention, and to which attention has not been drawn in this House, but I look upon it as a somewhat serious matter. Under Article 47 it is proposed that:—Any individual embodied in the armed forces of the enemy who is found on board a neutral merchant vessel may be made a prisoner of war, even though there be no ground for the capture of the vessel.Just let the House consider what that means. It means that if one of our British liners had on board officers or soldiers of either of the belligerent forces, not necessarily going to the war, but simply passengers on board that vessel, a foreign cruiser might stop her and search her and make these men prisoners of war. I have read the memorandum, and I know, of course, that it is agreed in that memorandum, although not in the Declaration, that the mere fact that these men are liable to serve or have been summoned to serve in the foreign belligerent force, shall not be deemed to make them embodied in the force within the meaning of this article. That leaves open a great many cases, including the cases of the fugitive, the refugee, the soldier or officer going home on leave, or anyone who is going as an emissary in a perfectly peaceful matter. In all these cases under this Declaration if it stands the enemy's ship would be entitled to take these men and make them prisoners of war on their own cruiser. That is new to us, and I think it is a very serious thing for this country to accept. The Foreign Secretary said in his letter to the chambers of commerce that it was a new rule. There is no question, of course, about that, but he defended it on the ground that the alternative might be worse and that under the existing rules large passenger steamers flying a neutral flag might be taken into a Prize Court and there detained possibly 836 for a long period merely because a few individuals forming part of their passengers, quite unsuspected by the owner or the captain of the vessel, might be members of the forces of the enemy. In other words, he said the alternative is capture of the vessel and the taking of her to a Prize Court because certain soldiers, unknown to the captain or owner, were on board. That, however, is an entire mistake. There is no right on the part of a belligerent cruiser to capture a vessel or to take her to port merely because she has on board certain members of the armed forces of the enemy whom the authorities of the ship do not know to be part of those armed forces. The British Government put forward a statement of our rules on this point and you will find them in this Blue Book on page 9. Our rule which is stated is this:—A vessel knowingly carrying persons in the naval or military service of the belligerent is liable to capture and condemnation, but this penalty would not necessarily be enforced where such persons were merely travelling in the ordinary way as private passengers at their own expense.In other words, under our present rules you may not take men off a neutral ship unless the owner of the ship knows that they are soldiers in the enemy's force. And even then you may not always take them off, because they may be merely private passengers travelling at their own expense. But under this new rule officers and men travelling home on leave as passengers are liable to be taken off. To be quite fair to the members of the Conference themselves they did not put forward the excuse which the Foreign Secretary gives. They gave quite a different reason which I should like to read to the House. You will find it in the Report on page 55. The reason they give is this:—Individuals embodied in the armed military or naval forces of a belligerent may be on board a neutral merchant vessel when she is searched. IF the vessel is. subject to condemnation, the cruiser will capture Ireland take her to one of her own ports with the persons on board. Clearly the soldiers or sailors of the enemy State will not be set free, but will be treated an prisoners of war. Perhaps the case will not be one for the capture of the ship—for instance, because the master was unaware of the status of an individual who had come on board as an ordinary passenger. Must the soldier or soldiers on board the vessel be set free? That does not appear admissible. The belligerent cruiser cannot be compelled to set free active enemies who are physically in her power, and are more dangerous than this or that contraband article.I call that a monstrous doctrine. It means this, that because a cruiser has stopped a liner at sea, ordered a search and found on board active 837 enemies she is entitled to hold what she has got and take these men prisoners. That doctrine would cover the case of the "Trent." It is about fifty years since one of our ships, the "Trent," was stopped by one of the warships belonging to the Northern States of America and she took off two emissaries of the Federal States. We not only protested but we were on the point of going to war with North America for that act, and if she had not given in at once there must have been trouble between this country and the Northern States. Yet you are proposing a Declaration, or at all events approving of that memorandum which I have just read which would authorise that very thing to be done. It is true that in that case the men were not soldiers but civilians, but surely the same rule which applies to civilians ought to be applied to soldiers who are not proceeding to the war, and I think it is unworthy of our position that we should agree to allow a foreign cruiser to take men in that position off our neutral ships. I should like to have heard what Lord Palmerston, who was concerned in the case of the "Trent," would have said to these two Articles in the Declaration.
I say it is a bad code for neutrals. It is a worse code for us as belligerents. I think that almost follows from the first proposition. If you adopt the Attorney-General's argument that by making the rules easier for neutrals you make it more likely that they will come to the aid of a belligerent, it will follow that if you make things more difficult for the neutrals it is less likely that they will come to our assistance in time of war. That point has been so much dealt with that although it is most important I do not want to argue it at length, but I do want to deal with two arguments of the First Lord of the Admiralty, whom I am sorry is not here. The right hon. Gentleman says that only one-tenth of our food comes in neutral bottoms in time of peace, and there will be less in time of war. The figure of one-tenth has not been accepted, but I will assume for the moment that it is the true one, but why is it said that there will be less in time of war? That statement is supported by one naval authority, but is rejected by others, and I can only deal with the argument which the First Lord put forward in favour of this proposition. What he said was that he could prove that we should have less neutral ships bringing food in time of war. 838 He said that there is in the world only a certain amount of shipping, not more than enough for the trade of the world; that when we are at war our ships will not be able to carry the neutral trade because they will be liable to siezure; that neutral ships can take that traffic without risk, and therefore cheaper; that therefore neutral ships will engage in that trade, and therefore will not be able to bring goods to our shores. Let me use the argument, and see whether if applied in another way it will not lead to exactly the opposite conclusion. In time of war British ships bringing food to this country will be in great peril. They will be liable to capture at any moment by the enemy's cruisers. On the other hand, if food is only conditional contraband, under the present rule neutral ships can bring food to some ports in this country without great risk and without liability to capture. Therefore the neutral ships will do all the trade to this country. One argument is just as good as the other. They are the same premises applied to a different state of facts. But the real fact is this: The ship will go where the profit is to be made, and if it be true, as it is true, that carrying grain to this country in time of our need will be a profitable trade, neutral ships will engage in it, and we shall have, I believe, not fewer but more of such ships bringing the food that we want. That is the real test of it.
The other argument of the First Lord is this: He said, "What if neutral ships are liable to be sunk by the enemy when we are at war? That is a matter for the neutral ships to consider. Does it affect us as belligerents?" I could hardly believe my cars when I heard that argument. If a neutral ship bringing food is sunk the news gets abroad at once, and how many more such cargoes will start for this country? The moment we make it easier to sink food ships coining here, that moment we limit, perhaps stop, the carriage of food. There is only one other argument put forward on this point. The right hon. Gentleman, like others when they are cornered, says, after all we must depend on our Navy, and if our Navy is defeated why need we discuss the question of the carriage of food. Surely history shows that a nation may have for the moment lost command of the sea and yet not be a beaten nation. It may happen, of course, that we shall not have command of the sea always and everywhere, but yet we may still be able to carry on the con- 839 test, and in that case, unless we get these neutral ships bringing our food supply, there is great danger of famine or panic.
As to the Prize Court, I agree entirely with the right hon. Gentleman (Sir Robert Finlay). A court of fifteen is an unwieldy court, and a court in which the representative of Great Britain has only an equal voice with the representative in one year of Venezuela or Hayti, and in the second year of Mexico or Cuba, and in the third year of Uruguay or Costa Rica, is not a satisfactory court. I think no one has expressed himself satisfied with the court, and I think among the suggestions which were made at The Hague Conference were suggestions which would be far more readily accepted than this court could be. No one expects that this country will at once reject or repudiate the Declaration of London or the Hague Prize Convention. What I ask is that you shall not ratify either of these instruments until the Declaration of London and its possible effects have been further considered and, if need be, amended by a supplemental convention. There is a precedent strictly in point. The Hague Convention itself, though it was signed in 1907, has not yet been ratified. It has remained for four years unratified, and during that interval it has been amended by a supplemental convention. Why cannot you consider whether you will not meet many of the points which have arisen by a declaration amending the Declaration of London? See what you might do. You must have some further instrument in order to do what is admitted to be necessary to define the meaning of Article 34. You must have a further instrument to bring into the Declaration some of the terms of the Memorandum. I hope you will not bring them all in, because that would create terrible confusion. You must therefore have an amending convention, or something of the same kind, and you might well take the same opportunity for dealing with matters which admittedly you tried to get into the Declaration but which are not there, such matters, for instance, as the coasting trade or the test of nationality, matters which are still open, and without which you cannot have the complete code which is required in order to guide the Prize Court. You might improve the court, and you might, I think, in the same connection consider whether, after all, there is not something in the 840 objections which we have raised. You may not be right. It is just conceivable that we may be right on some points and you may be wrong. I earnestly hope, whatever the decision of the House may be to-night, that some further time will be taken and some further consideration given before you take the step, which, I believe to be in practice irrevocable, of ratifying this Declaration. A little delay cannot do harm to this country. It can hurt no one. But if you persist in ratifying this Declaration as it stands you may, and I believe you will, have gravely imperilled the future welfare and safely of this country.
I am sorry to have to ask the House to listen to me immediately after a most able speech on the same side of the question as that which I desire to present. The House will understand that my motive for intruding on them at the present moment is that I may be able to give the right hon. Gentleman (Sir Edward Grey) ample time at a convenient hour to deal with a question which is undoubtedly complex, and whose complexity will be proved, if by nothing else, by the great length and the very large number of speeches which have been so far addressed to the House on both sides. I cannot hope to compress where others have failed, but I trust I shall be able to bring my remarks to a close at a time which will give every chance to the right hon. Gentleman to deal with the questions which have been raised in Debate, the importance of which may prove to transcend that even of the great questions which are now sundering men's minds and causing disquiet in many circles in the country, and if the House rashly to-day gives a vote against further consideration, for that is what it comes to, either they or their descendants may really find themselves face to face with a situation which, from a National and Imperial point of view, will be a more dangerous day's work than any other single day's work which this House has in the immediate past, or is likely in the immediate future, to be concerned with. I do not propose to weigh authorities upon this much controverted issue. I do not propose to quote great jurists, or to deal with what has been said, or what might have been said, by naval experts. Indeed, I think the excursion of the First Lord of the Admiralty into this particular province of the controversy has been singularly unfortunate. He made an attack upon admirals who have served their country, and who 841 were no longer on the active list, which I think would have come ill from any Member of this House on whatever side he sat or whatever opinions he held. But when the First Lord of the Admiralty sets to work to belittle the opinion of the only eminent members of the naval profession who are able to speak, the only members who are unmuzzled, I think the right hon. Gentleman forgot in the heat of controversy not only what ordinary propriety requires from Members of the House, but what is profoundly incumbent upon him as a man who in this House is, or ought to be, the chief guardian of the reputation of the Navy.
I do not think myself much is gained in this House by merely quoting authorities. I think we have to argue it out for ourselves, to satisfy ourselves after listening to the arguments on both sides, and to come to a conclusion in which authority, be it that of naval experts or of the great chambers of commerce, the representatives of the shipowners or of the other great authorities which have pronounced in the main almost unanimously against this Declaration, is for a moment set aside, and we should set ourselves to work to weigh with all the impartiality we can the great issues which are before us. My hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Cave) treated this matter in a spirit which I desire to emulate. He showed extreme moderation in form as he always does, and as he always does, too, showed great cogency in argument. He put points before us with a lucidity which left nothing to be desired, and there was one point at all events which he raised which to me was a new one, and on which I trust the right hon. Gentleman will give us a specific answer when he rises to reply. We have got, I take it, to look at this matter from three points of view. We have to look at it from the point of view of the neutral as such, whether we be the neutral or others be the neutrals, we have to look at it from the point of view of belligerents and from the point of view of war when we are one of the belligerents, and last but not least, we have to look at it from the point of view of the great interests of international law, the comity of nations, the methods of warfare and the general bringing together of civilised communities. The first two of these three points, namely, the interests of the neutral and the interests of the belligerent cannot in the main be separated. I listened with surprise to more than one Minister, and more than one Member, making statements to 842 the effect that we on this side of the House, inasmuch as we concentrate our attention in the main on the effect which this Declaration will have on our interests as belligerents, practically admit, or are prepared to admit, that from the point of view of neutrals the Declaration is satisfactory. That is not our view in the least. We consider that in the main our interests as neutrals and as belligerents are closely and inseparably intertwined. You cannot separate them, and most of the arguments or at all events, a large number of the arguments which have been used showed that this Declaration is inimical to us as belligerents, while at the same time it is also inimical to neutrals when we are belligerents. There are one or two points on which the questions may be separated, and on which we may consider the case of the neutral apart from the case of our being at war, and apart from our interest in neutrals in such circumstances as carriers of food stuffs and raw materials and other goods.
What are these separable cases? The first I will mention is that, as a matter of fact, I am afraid this court which is to be provided, not indeed by the Declaration, but by an instrument for the purpose is not a court which will really give a remedy to an outraged neutral. In the first place it will be enormously expansive; in the second place it will come, it may be, after a long series of trials, in the courts of the belligerent nation, and it is only after the matter has been tried in perhaps three courts—I think Russia had three courts, she certainly had two courts—that it would come before the Court of Appeal in the last instance, and the court in the last instance cannot deal with the costs of the lower courts. It can do nothing to remedy the wrong a neutral has been subjected to by having his goods improperly captured, and having been put to great expense in the Court of Appeal it can do nothing to recoup him for the fact that he has lost the use of his vessel during what was probably the most profitable time for operations. He will be deprived of that, and will get no compensation for it, and if that be admitted, as my hon. and learned Friend has pointed out for the first time, not only his condemned cargo is to be lost, but the ship itself is to be taken away without compensation to the neutral. I do not think that is a very satisfactory course or a very complete remedy by which neutrals may find that the consequences of capture will be 843 removed. It is no such thing, and I think the hon. Member for Hexham Division (Mr. Holt), who is a great Liverpool shipowner, seemed to think that diplomatic measures can do nothing and that a Court of Appeal can do anything. I think he is mistaken as to what diplomatic action has done and can do, and how little this Court of Appeal is likely to be able to do.
This brings me to a question raised by my hon. and learned Friend. He asked whether there was any security in the Declaration of London that the case of a neutral ever would come before this court of appeal. That is to say, this court of appeal only takes account of cases already dealt with in the courts of the belligerent. If a case is not brought before the court of a belligerent, how does it come before the court of appeal? That is the question which was put by my hon. and learned Friend, and I do not think there is an answer forthcoming. If there is I hope the right hon. Gentleman opposite will give it. Take the case of a neutral ship which has been sunk under the provisions of the Declaration. The ship is sunk; it is never condemned, it is never brought before the Prize Court of a belligerent; it never comes up at all. Well, then, by what machinery is the international tribunal to be seized with the case on appeal when there has been no trial in the first instance? How can you appeal against a case which has never been heard? There may be a legal point in this which I myself am incompetent to deal with, but, as my learned Friend put the question a few moments ago, I think I have made it clear, at all events, that an answer should be given to a question which goes to the very root of such utility as this international tribunal may have.
There is one point of view, and it is almost the only one, from which this international court and the whole machinery provided by the Declaration is going to be an enormous convenience to a neutral—not to neutral traders, and not, I think, to neutral subjects, but to neutral Governments. There is no doubt that the Foreign Office and the Chancellories of the various neutral Powers will be enormously relieved if they can throw upon this international tribunal all the responsibilities which under the existing state of things rest upon them to see to the best of their ability that justice is done to their subjects and to other neutrals. I have personally gone through some of these very unpleasant 844 experiences, and I quite sympathise with the enthusiasm of those members of the Foreign Office who think that, whatever else this convention may be, at all events it will relieve future Prime Ministers and Cabinets, as I know to my cost, of some of the most difficult, perplexing, and disagreeable subjects with which a Government can have to deal. Whether that relief of the responsibility of a Government is good for the country, whether freedom from the agitation of shipowners, whether the absence of anxious Debates in this House, and whether relief from prolonged Cabinet discussions, and, worst of all, from the painful diplomatic correspondence which such subjects give rise to, are not paid for at far too great a price by all that is given up by this Declaration are points on which there may be differences of opinion, but all parties are agreed that this Declaration, from the point of view of the Foreign Office, is an unmixed blessing. These are the main points which touch the neutral question as distinct from the neutral and belligerent question—that is, from the double set of inseparable issues which are raised by the consideration of how this instrument is going to affect us as belligerents, and neutrals trading with us when we are belligerents. These are points which cannot be kept apart, for I think you cannot deal with the one without dealing with the other. I agree with what has been said, in one form or another, in most of the speeches on this question, namely, that that which is best for us as a belligerent is also best for neutrals when we are at war.
If that be for the moment admitted let me put on one side the argument which has been a good deal used by hon. Gentlemen opposite, but which I venture to think on reflection they will regard as irrelevant. They say, "You who oppose the Declaration argue that the safety of neutrals trading with our country is of enormous value, because they carry raw materials and food supplies." But after all, how much food supply do they carry? And then we have the controversy as to the figures—whether it is 10 per cent. or 30 per cent., or, as I think some figures show, something between 30 per cent. and 40 per cent. I do not think that really this point is one we need discuss. Of course, if you have an omnipotent fleet, if no hostile cruiser can come along your trade routes, if every ship, carry what she may, is safe from hostile attacks, because you shall dominate the ocean, because no enemy's ship can safely appear, I quite 845 agree that neither this Declaration nor any Declaration is likely to injure us as belligerents, and we may go to sleep comfortably in the conviction that, however severe may be the diplomatic defeat which the negotiators have suffered in London, the nation, will not suffer materially, because the Navy will have so overpowering a mastery of the trade routes. I do not attach any value to that argument, and I think hon. Gentlemen will agree with me that if the argument be true all the fine things that have been said about raw materials and the employment of the population may go by the board. I think it was the Undersecretary for Foreign Affairs who made an eloquent and interesting oration in which he explained to us that the toiling artisan of this country was going to reap immense benefits by the fact that a certain number of articles which have never been practically treated as absolute contraband, or even as conditional contraband, were put on the free list, and that the Government of the day had saved us from the fate she otherwise foresaw, namely, that in the future and for the first time some nation would effectively interfere with the importation of cotton, wool, and other raw materials. I shall have something to say about that list directly, but all I now mention it for is for the purpose of showing that we may, in dealing with the effect on neutrals, dismiss it, because hon. Gentlemen are obliged to admit, or, at all events, to claim that a great advantage is given by making these articles in neutral bottoms immune from capture.
If that argument has any value at all it shows that the effect on this island is of real importance in time of war. Of course, I do not deny that if our Navy is so weak that our own ships carrying our own foodstuffs could be captured or sunk the effect would be disastrous in the highest degree. But all that is necessary for my argument is to say that the evil consequences would be greatly aggravated if, in addition to your own ships carrying foodstuffs, you were also subject to the loss of neutral ships carrying foodstuffs. That is all the argument amounts to on either side. I really cannot understand how the negotiators of the Treaty of London can have ever admitted into international law so grossly unfair a discrimination as the Declaration of London makes between foodstuffs going to an island like ours and foodstuffs going to a Continental country. For it is not as if it was an admitted fact that the doctrine of continuous voyage was 846 an obsolete doctrine, or that you need not consider the transhipment of goods through a neutral port. On the contrary, continuous voyage is maintained for absolute contraband. The importance of the doctrine is kept in view by the Declaration. If it is kept in view of the Declaration for absolute contraband, why is it not kept in view when dealing with conditional contraband? Why is it that every avenue of food supply to a Continental country is safeguarded and made as easy and as cheap and as safe in time of war as it is now, and that we and we alone, or other island Powers, are put in a position in which not only our security is compromised but in which we are in terms put in a lower and less favourable position than is given to all Continental nations?
It is really vain to contend, as is contended in answer to that argument, either that you have no power to use this doctrine of continuous voyage in the food supplies, of Continental nations, which is one argument, or that the definition which turns food supply into contraband is so clear, so narrow, so rigid, that we in these islands may feel quite happy, and that unless the food is actually coming in to support British soldiers, to victual a British arsenal or fortress, or to make life possible in some port of equipment, the food of the people will not be touched at all. Neither of those arguments will hold water for a moment. Take first the argument about imported food supplies to a Continental country. There are great Continental countries which habitually import such corn as they require through neutral ports. They cannot be touched under this Declaration. You may say that, after all, they import a small fraction of their supplies, and that that fraction will be very well supplied from friendly neighbours on the Continent, and that the matter is of legal but not of practical importance. The whole trend of modern industry is to make the Western European nations more and more manufacturing countries, and therefore to make those zones in which the population is increasing more and more dependent upon overseas supplies. It is perfectly true that corn can come in, whatever you do, through these ports to Continental nations. Will any human being deny that to give them absolute security under this treaty, to make it impossible for them to have any moments of anxiety, to make it unnecessary to raise either the insurance or the freights of the neutral bottoms carrying 847 these supplies, is to give them an advantage absolutely and formally denied to us by the same instrument?
Let me turn now to the second portion of the argument—that which deals with our food supply as distinguished from the food supply of those Continental nations which more and more may be requiring to bring corn from overseas to feed their growing manufacturing population. Let us concentrate our attention for a moment on this island. I am surprised that any man studying this question impartially can doubt that an enormous change for the worse is made in the law of nations by substituting formally in this document a view of what turns corn contraband of war for the definition which has hitherto guided British Prize Courts. The old practice and the old theory were that it was only when corn was actually being obviously imported for the use of soldiers or ports of equipment or the use of fortresses that then, and then only, you had any right to treat it as contraband. Even then, under the old British practice, it was not treated as contraband as you are going to treat it under the Declaration of London. The importer had to be paid and the ship was not confiscated or sunk. Now you confiscate the ship and its cargo, and you pay no compensation to anybody, or you sink the ship and you pay no compensation to anybody. It is ludicrous to say that that will not seriously check the importation of food into this country in neutral bottoms. I do not think that on reflection anybody will say that. What they do say is that it can be done now, that all the evils that can be done under the Declaration can be done now if some foreign nation chooses to adopt a course of declaring food contraband. That is really what I regard as the central problem of the whole controversy. May I bring in with this increased hindrance, caused by the Declaration, to the importation of food in neutral bottoms, by declaring it contraband, the other great difficulty which this Declaration does not meet but aggravates, the difficulty due to merchant ships being allowed to commission at sea. I do think that the arguments used by the Government on this question are singularly inconclusive. They amount to this, that the Power has been claimed and has been exercised and therefore we cannot stop it. Some of them say that it would be difficult for the belligerents to exercise it.
848 I think the First Lord of the Admiralty in a rather bellicose vein said we should know how to deal with these ships commissioned in the ocean when we come across them. He did not tell us how he was going to deal with them. I am extremely anxious to know. Is it that they are to be regarded by the Government as privateering or as piracy? Are they going to treat, in other words, these ships when, they meet them, with a harsher measure than they mete out to the properly equipped cruiser belonging to the hostile belligerents? If they are going to treat them in the same way there is no penalty at all. If you meet an enemy's cruiser, if you are strong enough you take it, whether it is a converted merchantman, converted in mid-ocean, or whether it is one of the most orthodox of commissioned cruisers. I should like to ask the Government, who must have considered this point, whether they, having vehemently protested against this practice, propose to back their protest by meting out an altogether different measure to the illegally converted merchantman than they do to the merchantman legally converted or to the orthodox cruiser? What, in other words, did the First Lord of the Admiralty mean by saying he would know how to deal with them? There is another point I would like to ask him. I think it was he who talked about putting pressure upon neutrals which gave hospitality to these vessels. In other words his idea wa3 that if one of these so-called merchantmen came out of their course and with no cargo to a neutral port, it would be the duty of the authorities in those neutral ports to say: "This is a very suspicious circumstance. Why are you on this course? Why have you left your natural course? Why have you not got a cargo? We suspect you have got a gun in the hold of your ship, and that you carry a commission in your pocket, and we must detain you until we find out really what you are."
Is that a possible procedure? By what right are you going to exercise this pressure on a neutral?" They will tell you: "This is a matter which is not indeed contained in the Declaration of London, but it is a matter which can be dealt with under a tribunal set up at the same time as the Declaration of London. Perhaps the Secretary of State will answer this question. I have assumed, and I think rightly, that this court would take cognisance of a plea made by a neutral, if a ship was taken by one of these merchantmen commissioned illegally as we think, 849 in mid ocean. But is that certain? I think it was the Attorney-General who gave a long series of hypotheses of what might happen of which that was only one. He did not say what would happen. I confess my own view is that you could not resist the right of a neutral to go to the international tribunal and to say: "Our ship has been taken by a ship professing to be a cruiser which has no title to be a cruiser, because it is not commissioned in a port of the Power which owns it." I do not believe that the international tribunal could refuse jurisdiction on the point. If it gave jurisdiction on the point, and if it gave it against us, where would you be, and where would be all the First Lord of the Admiralty's bluff about meeting these things with different treatment? But what becomes of his statement that you could go to neutrals and say to them: "You have no right to harbour such and such a ship which calls herself a merchantman. She has not brought a cargo, she is out of her natural commercial course?"
The neutral will at once say that the international tribunal has decided that every belligerent has a right at any time to turn its merchant ship into a man-of-war on the high seas. This ship, therefore, until it has been commissioned, is a ship you cannot interfere with. We agree with you that it is one to be commissioned, but it is not yet commissioned. Until it is commissioned, it is clearly not a ship of war; it can do nothing, and until it is a ship of war you cannot detain it. The country to which the ship belongs has apparently an absolute right, under the international tribunal, to convert it into a ship of war upon the high seas. After that has happened, we shall refuse it hospitality except under conditions given to belligerent ships, but before that, whatever our views and suspicions may be, we are clearly precluded from treating as a man-of-war that which by international law is not yet a man-of-war, because it is not commissioned. I do not know what reply the First Lord of the Admiralty is going to give in that case. I do not believe there is a satisfactory reply. In order that we may judge of this, I hope the Secretary of State will tell us quite clearly whether he thinks this court will have any jurisdiction on a matter which has been left open. I do not believe that the Government have said a single word elucidating that all-important point. My own impression is that they will be obliged to allow the 850 court to deal with it. They will have given the court no rules, as the court will be left to deal at large with the matter, which may be of importance to us according to those abstract principles of equity and justice, which, admirable in themselves, are but a very poor guidance to the court, unless it has some specific embodiment of equity and justice in the rules it has to administer and interpret.
If you really want to understand what is going to be the effect of the new rules about conditional contraband of war, combined with a total absence of rules about commissioning ships at sea, you must regard them as two provisions—if I may use so positive a word about that which refers in half its connotation to that which is negative—taken together, and see how enormously they imperil your food supply. By stretching the whole meaning of the expression "conditional contraband," by making it impossible to assert with any confidence that any cargo whatever before coming to this country is non conditional contraband, by at the same time giving this enormous extension to the possibility of creating predatory cruisers, predatory privateers, you make it profitable, from a naval point of view, to create those cruisers, and you give them an enormous field to prey upon. The Attorney-General was perfectly right when he said that, after all, lawyers could not restrain captains of cruisers from doing what they thought good for their country. I do not know how far the zeal of captains of cruisers would carry them, but lawyers might tell them, at all events, to diminish any indiscreet zeal on their part. They have really not done that. I cannot imagine anybody being embarrassed, not merely for a colourable, but a legitimate reason, about destroying a ship and its cargo if he thought fit. The definition is so ample and so wide that the nation which thought it profitable to turn merchantmen into predatory cruisers certainly would give its directions to its captains not to use undue exertions to make it convenient to bring the vessel into port. It never would become convenient to bring it into port. It would always interfere with the operation of war. I ask any Gentleman opposite whether he does not agree with me in this: If he were a captain of one of those converted merchantmen, with a crew no bigger than is required to navigate his ship, would he ever find it convenient either to provide crews to take it into port or to tow it into port, or to get into 851 port in any way possible? It would always interfere with military or naval operations.
Will the ingenuity of man suggest a contingency in which it would not be inconvenient and not interfere with the success of military operations? Of course all these ships would be sunk. Whether or not, when they were sunk, there would be a remedy before the international tribunal, is to me a matter of the greatest doubt, and let me add, in some sense, not the most important consideration here. I should like the owners to get all the compensation they deserve; but they might be paid double for all they lost and yet we might be no better off than if compensation was wholly denied us. That brings me to the point I touched upon a little earlier in my speech. I think the central issue of the whole Debate. The only argument that has been raised, and I think can be raised in mitigation of the evils of the Declaration of London, the only thing that has been urged, is that, bad as it may be, far as it may depart from the ideal of Naval law, we have ourselves done so much to establish, it is at all events the best we can get, and we may as well submit. If we aim at a higher ideal than that embodied in the Declaration, the only result will be that the nation with which we are at war will ignore our maritime prize Jaw, and will say its own cruisers are to be regulated solely by its maritime law, which may justify all the iniquities which the Declaration of London either sanctions or does not forbid. I profoundly dissent from that view. One of my complaints against the Government in all this matter is that they seem to suppose that the ultimate remedy given by an international Court, possibly many years after the outrage has been committed, is going to do something at the time the outrage is committed to check its repetition. What you want, and the only thing of the least use, is that when a belligerent stretches its rights against neutrals there should be some immediate engine which can be put into operation to check the continuation of that policy. That, someday or other, the particular individuals injured may be partially recouped for a small fraction of their losses does not touch the issue, does not stop the repetition of the outrage, does hot prevent it even from being carried out continuously.
Half-a-dozen ships are sunk. Certainly the owners may ultimately get compensation, but, in the meantime, that will not 852 prevent another half-dozen, and a third half-dozen, from being sunk, and so forth, until the whole neutral commerce will be driven out of the trade. The only answer made to that is that there is no instrument now in existence which can produce an immediate effect in stopping these outrages, which, as I have pointed out, is the only thing you want. If you cannot get immediate action, no action is any good for the nation, and not much good for the individual sufferer. The most imperfect instrument which is immediate is far better than the most perfect instrument—and this is far from being perfect—which is only going to do some kind of justice years hence. There is at this moment an instrument which can be set to work at once to prevent the continuation of these ill-doings. I grant it is an imperfect instrument, but no human being can say it is a wholly ineffective instrument. Experience shows conclusively that it is an instrument of great efficiency. It consists of diplomatic pressure, and all that diplomatic pressure carries with it. Several gentlemen, I think, notably the Member for the Tyneside Division (Mr. J. M. Robertson), take the view that the argument I have just used means saying that war declared by neutrals is the only remedy we suggest for stopping this kind of evil practice. That is not so. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Tyneside, who knows history well, must be perfectly aware that when two nations are at war they have a very strong interest in not giving just offence to weaker nations, which may in many ways, short of war, throw their weight into the scale of one or the other. The Declaration of such procedure would be regarded as an unfriendly act, the statement that all ports belonging to the neutral would be close to the belligerents, the vast gradation of diplomatic methods, the instruments which lie between doing nothing and going to war, all these are ignored by the hon. Gentlemen. It is these intermediate methods of remonstrance and pressure which, short of war, carry on the great work of international diplomacy.
I am rather surprised at the question of the hon. Gentleman. I thought if anything was notorious it was notorious that these methods were resorted to, and that they were successful. Successful in what? They were successful 853 in preventing the recurrence of actions which we are strongly of opinion are contrary to the law of nations, and, in fact, they did not recur on any scale. I think the hon. Gentleman was not in the House when my learned Friend (Mr. Cave) gave a very succinct and clear account of what happened in the Russo-Japanese war, and he really did show, what I thought was common knowledge, that the remonstrances addressed by this Government to the Government of Russia did not fall on deaf or unheeding ears, and that in practice there was either a total cessation or an enormous diminution of any practice of which we have any ground to complain.
§ Mr. J. M. ROBERTSON
The right hon. Gentleman did say that in that case the Government had not thought it worth while to make the effective protest which apparently they might have made. It was on that statement that I proceeded.
I think the hon. Gentle man must be speaking under some misunderstanding. I well remember the dramatic transactions which occurred then. I do not know that much is gained by raking them up now, but I can assure him we felt very strongly as to certain views of our maritime law which the Russian Government declared not to be in accordance with their view. We did press very strongly, and I am most happy to say there was a most practical modus vivendi between this country and Russia. The whole of history shows it. The idea that great neutrals are going to allow their ships to be sunk because of the principles embodied in the Declaration of London that they may be declared to be carrying contraband of war, that is not the case at present. It will be the case, and they will have to tolerate that if you pass the Declaration of London. My complaint against the Declaration of London is not that the Prize Court is a very inefficient method of compensating the private individual. My complaint against it is that it destroys the existing remedy which, with all its imperfections, is immediate and powerful, and, historically speaking, has so often proved effective. That is the greatest complaint of many which I have against the Declaration of London. I should like the Secretary of State, when he comes to reply, to state whether it is not the fact that if he were approached, as we were in the time of the Russo-Japanese war, by a deputation 854 of Liverpool shipowners, and if they came to him as they came to us, whether he would not say, "this is a case which will be pronounced on by the international tribunal and to which you can appeal after your claim has been adjudicated on in the court of the belligerents." The Liverpool shipowners could take whatever comfort they could from that answer, and the right hon. Gentleman would say to them, "so far as I am concerned, I, who have been one of the signatories of this country to the Declaration, that is my reply, and we cannot in common decency make any remonstrance. The whole power is taken out of our hands. We must submit, and politely, until we hear in the first place what the belligerent courts are going to do and then what the Court of Appeal is going to do."
And then the right hon. Gentleman would go on to say that he is quite sure all those courts intend to do justice, and that he trusts his friends from Liverpool would be satisfied with the compensation which two or three years hence they will obtain or may obtain. There, do let the House understand, is the real danger of this matter. You have absolutely precluded your Foreign Office in future from making any remonstrance whatever with regard to things as you did before the Declaration of London. It is the fashion now to say that such remonstrances are useless, and that no neutral Power will go to war to protect the rights of its subjects. All those arguments ignore the way into which international negotiations are carried on. All those arguments ignore the teaching of history, and I believe among the many evils which this Convention is doing us the greatest of them all is that it prevents for ever the Government of this country raising its voice on its own behalf or on behalf of other neutrals when what we conceive to be the proper and legitimate laws of maritime warfare are outraged by some belligerent. Is it not clear that all the changes we have submitted to are changes in favour of the great military Powers and against maritime Powers'? I do not think anybody can deny it.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Sir Edward Grey) indicated dissent.
The right hon. Gentleman will no doubt explain why, but it seems to me, I will not say in absolutely everything, but I do say that on the balance the whole trend of this arrange- 855 ment is to give the military Powers what they want for the purposes of war and to deprive us of what we want for the purposes of war. I would then ask a second question. Does the right hon. Gentleman really think that what most untruly the Declaration states that it embodies the accepted law, does he really think that they are doing a service to mankind by making obligatory on practically all nations a law so far inferior as that to that for which we have always contended before? It is a paradox yet true that we, who in time past fought great maritime wars, who have been the paramount maritime Power, that we, whose Prize Courts and whose jurists have in so large a measure settled what the maritime law should be, and we settled it, so far as we are concerned, on a basis incomparably fairer than which the Government now intend to embody on the bidding of these Continental nations in future international law. Do you not suppose when other nations came to consider the sort of Prize Law we had established in our courts they would say: "England has been the Power of the sea for all these generations and the law which England has established will be tyrannical law, and let us mitigate it in favour of the neutral?" Has that been done? They have done just the reverse. They found our law, established by a Nation having overwhelming maritime supremacy, interpreted by its lawyers, so fair and so favourable to neutrals that they have sought to modify it in the direction of making it more harsh to neutral Powers, and, unfortunately, they have found an ally in His Majesty's Government.
The method under which they have approached this great task of framing an international and accepted body of maritime laws is to say that every claim which has been sporadically made by this or that Power in time of stress must be regarded as representing what that Power would do effectively if war broke out. We have laid down laws as to the circumstances under which food becomes contraband. Those are to be stretched, and why? Because one or two nations announce, though they have never practically enforced, the doctrine that food might be made absolute contraband. They pride themselves on having prevented cotton and wool and other things from being made contraband of war, and so far as I can make out only 856 because one nation, again ineffectively and for a very brief time, said that cotton might be regarded as conditional contraband. So we have it whenever a Nation made a claim at any time, and not because of what we thought legitimate, the Government say: "Oh, that is one of the dangers we run, we must give up something in order to mitigate this danger or we must, with a wry face, accept the inevitable." That is not the way the great growth of international law should be assisted. You must take not merely the claim occasionally made by this or that Power, you must look at the actual history of maritime law, you must take that as the basis of future practice of mankind, you must take what mankind has done and not take what mankind has claimed and not done, and say that that is to be taken as the basis of all future negotiations. That is not the way under which we have proved ourselves, very often under great temptations, as not unworthy guardians of the rights of neutrals, even in times of stress and difficulty. That is not the way we should contribute to the future development of international law.
In this case we have been the victims, we have fallen the prey, of the negotiating skill of those great Continental Powers. One great Continental Power makes this great claim A, another claims B, and a third claims C, and on each claim we make concessions. Always we give up the better law and accept the worse law in order to go to something we regard as important. Arrangements so arrived at are, I believe, no solid foundation on which to build future international laws. I, therefore, would venture respectfully to ask the Government if it be true that neutrals gain but little by the establishment of this court, if it be true that they lose enormously by the extension of the definitions beyond what we have ever accepted of what constitutes contraband; whether they lose enormously by the fact that we leave open to be decided, mark you, by this tribunal, as to whether merchant ships are to be commissioned on the high sea, and whether they lose enormously by that, and whether, without going over the whole-indictment, this instrument is not so contrived that our position as an island is for belligerent purposes made weaker and the Continental position is for belligerent purposes made stronger. And whether, finally, these whole provisions of these laws are not a retrogade step, a step back in civilisation and the giving up of our better law and acceptance of worse law, instead 857 of waiting until the matter could crystallise into some better form. I would ask the Government whether, in face of all those considerations, they think the claim we respectfully put forward is an excessive or unfounded one. All we ask for is for further consideration. We do not ask that the Government should undo their handiwork. We do not ask that they should either insult the Powers with whom they have been in conference or admit themselves that they have been guilty of a gross error of judgment. All we ask is that that judgment should be suspended, and that they should refuse ratification until the Instrument is subjected to total examination, and on which may, and indeed must, depend the future fighting forces of this country, and which at some critical moment of our history may turn the tide against us. This I do beg the right hon. Gentleman, not to finally and wholly close the door on the inquiry we ask for, and to suspend in this case, as Governments have rightly suspended in many cases, the final act of ratification, which I do not believe can ever be reversed once it is undertaken, and which will permanently and for all time substitute an additional international law, which is worse for us as belligerents, worse for us as neutrals, and last and not least, is certainly worse than the law which we have for so many years considered to administer in our Prize Courts.
§ Sir EDWARD GREY
I am sure hon. Members opposite will admit that whatever grievances they may have against the Declaration of London and the international Prize Court, that neither of these instruments were conceived or advocated by us, or had their origin, as far as we are concerned, in any party feeling. I have no reason to complain of the line and tone taken by the official Leaders of the Opposition, but I do endorse most entirely what my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs (Mr. McKinnon Wood) said in his speech, to which the right hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh University (Sir Robert Finlay) referred, not understanding exactly what he meant, that there has been not from hon. Gentlemen opposite, but in the general opposition to the Declaration, a gross amount of misstatement and misrepresentation. Now the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken, and I think many people on the Opposition side, have come rather late into the consideration of this question, and the result is, as to me it appeared, espe- 858 cially in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, that coming upon all the criticism that has been devoted to these things, which from some quarters has been marked by great misrepresentation and misstatement, their attention has become focussed and concentrated on what are not really the most important points, and the result of that, in a great instrument of this kind, which is full of points, many of them of a complicated nature, must be, if your perspective is wrong, and if you are attaching entirely false values to the different points of it in your speeches, you give an entirely false view of the real merits of the case. I bring no accusation against the intention of the right hon. Gentleman, but that as a matter of fact, I believe unwittingly, is what he has done in his speech. I will give an instance of that and make my point good presently.
The right hon. Gentleman dealt with a great number of points which I do not think were points of very great importance, and then he came to one which he said was the central point. That, I admit, is an interesting point. He remembers the one he called the central point; it was the point whether this Declaration made it more or less likely in the case of war that neutrals would be able to restrict the action of the belligerents by diplomatic action. That he put as the central point. It is an interesting point, and I will deal with it later on, not only in the abstract, but as to how we practically should be likely to be affected by it as neutrals in the event of war between other Powers. The most important point, which was the deciding point, I think, as regards naval opinion in favour of this Declaration—because there were two naval delegates who signed the Declaration—the right hon. Gentleman never mentioned at all. That the most important point of all is the effect the Declaration is likely to have on our rights of blockade when we are belligerents. It is, from the naval point of view, the most important central point of the whole matter. That was never mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Sir EDWARD GREY
It had been gone over by my right hon. Friend the Undersecretary just before that. Now another thing which introduces confusion in the matter is to do as the right hon. Gentleman has been doing, and to try to dovetail 859 into each other the effect upon neutrals and the effect upon belligerents. Take the broad point. What is the desire of the neutrals? It is that the action of the belligerents should be restricted as much as possible. What is the desire of the belligerent? That his action should be restricted as little as possible. How can anyone argue that our interests when we are neutrals and our interests when we are belligerents are necessarily, or even mainly, on all-fours, with each other? The right hon. Gentleman dovetailed these two thing together, and it had that effect; but in order to deal with it clearly I must separate these two points, because I want to get the true perspective.
I would ask anyone who has listened to this Debate, and who has gathered from the speeches of hon. Members opposite a sense of the value which they attach in their own minds to the points which they make, to note that they make ten or a dozen points, but we may judge that the point of greatest importance is that which occurs in their speeches most constantly, and from that standard the point of greatest importance in their minds is what is the effect of the Declaration of London likely to be on our food supply when we are belligerents, not as neutrals, but as belligerents? I believe if they could be convinced, or if they had been convinced, that that point was safeguarded they would not have asked for a three days' debate. Does not that show that we have carefully to keep separate the question of neutrals and the question of belligerents. I am going to deal with the question of neutrals shortly, because I am convinced that so far as they are concerned, and so far as many people are concerned, if we could prove that should we be at war, we are not going to be exposed to new dangers from the Declaration of London, and that we gain certain advantages as belligerents, the case of the opposition against the Declaration must drop. As neutrals, I am convinced we gain. Take this question of the sinking of vessels which has been gone into to-night. What was our position when we came into office? The late Government had protested against the first sinking of the vessel. The hon. and learned Member (Mr. Cave) says no more were sunk for some time, but there were I think about four sunk later in the year in spite of the protests by the late Government. What was the position in which we were left? I do not say they were wrong, I do 860 not say they ought to have gone to war, I think they were right not to go to war. We were left with a claim for compensation for these sinkings which had occurred—one early in the war—and there was no remedy whatever except in the Russian Prize Courts. The feeling in my mind was such—my first impression was that if we meant to protest effectively against the sinking of vessels we must be prepared in future to go to war to stop such sinking rather than be left in this position of appealing to the Prize Court. On consideration, I reflected, they had not gone to war when they were in office. I think they had good reason; this country has always been reluctant to go to war, and the fact that particular merchant vessels were being interfered with, and their indignation at that being so, were really in their minds outweighed by the advantage of remaining at peace and doing a great trade.
Does the right hon. Gentleman really deny that the remonstrances which were directed to the Russian Government by us had an enormous effect?
§ Sir EDWARD GREY
They did not stop the sinking; they protested against the first case, and I think there were four others afterwards. Take what has happened since, we have not got any compensation in these cases for the sinking.
§ Sir EDWARD GREY
Not for the sinking, but because there had not been a sufficient case against contraband.
§ Sir EDWARD GREY
I think it was on the ground that the ship had not sufficient contraband on board to be condemned. That is a small point.
As this does affect what the late Government did when in office, may I just read an account of what Count Lamsdorf said in 1905—this was after the second sinking of ships—Last year's assurances to the British Government still hold good. These assurances have been observed for nearly a year. The present case of the sinking of a ship was an isolated one, probably due to misunderstanding and the disorganisation of Russian naval forces in the Far East.
§ Sir EDWARD GREY
They paid no compensation for the sinking, and the Prize Court have not laid it down that they were wrong to sink them. If so, we 861 should have got compensation in every case; it is precisely because they have upheld the principle of sinking that we have not got compensation. What has happened since? The Hague Conference took place. We found there that a majority, I think, of the great Powers were against a rule prohibiting sinking. What was the effect of a matter like that being discussed at The Hague Conference, and your having found the great Powers were at any rate, very strongly divided on the question. What was the effect of that likely to be in the future on belligerents? Of course, it was that the belligerent who found it to his own advantage, would say, "This is a question on which there is no international law, and we are entitled to it." When we came to the Declaration of London, the United States, which had supported us at The Hague Conference, itself put in as its own views that under restricted conditions sinking should be allowed. What was the use of trying to proceed further after that in securing an international law, or to try to get it accepted as a law that in no circumstances should sinking be allowed.
As neutrals we gain under the free list, the question of how much, you may argue from looking at the list, but when the late Government were in office, they were bombarded to give, at any rate, some free list by chambers of commerce, and they would be able now if they were in office and in the same situation, to give a much more satisfactory answer under the Declaration of London. Find fault as you like with the composition of the international Prize Court, the tendency of this country and nations generally will be more and more in these cases to let the case go at the moment and trust to redress at the Prize Courts. Surely we have much more chance before an international Prize Court, with the majority neutral, than we can have in the Prize Court of a belligerent who is the judge in his own court. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Edinburgh University said that on this international Prize Court we have only one judge in fifteen. No other Power has more than one in fifteen. How many have we in the Prize Court of a belligerent? I do think it is a mistake to decry this tribunal, and especially what was said about the minor Powers. The right hon. and learned Gentleman (Sir Robert Finlay) quoted the names of some of the minor Powers, some of whom have no right to be represented at the Prize Court at all. With regard to these minor Powers, 862 in general, I think it ought to be borne in mind that in these Prize Courts the great Powers have a majority over all the minor Powers put together, and that in our arbitrations, I was going to say all, but I will not do so without looking through the list, in the Atlantic Fisheries question, and the Savarkar case the other day, we have constantly desired to have recourse willingly to some representative or representatives of the minor Powers on the Board.
The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Balfour) specially asked me to deal with the point made by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the Kingston Division (Mr. Cave) that under the international Prize Court Convention and the Declaration of London a neutral might not be able to secure a right of appeal to the international Prize Court. That was, I believe, the point. Even if it were true that a belligerent could prevent an appeal to the international Prize Court we should not be worse off than if no international Prize Court existed. But, as a matter of fact, the cases in which the belligerent might prevent an appeal to the international Prize Court by refusing to allow the matter to go before his own Prize Court, are limited to the particular class of case in which a neutral vessel has been captured, taken into port, and released by the action of the executive without the intervention of the Prize Court. The whole paragraph from which the hon. and learned Gentleman quoted is limited to that particular case. If we have failed to secure a complete remedy for the case in which a vessel when captured is released with her cargo, and in which the action of the belligerent is confined to that particular case, it may be an imperfection, but it is very little to set against the fact that we have secured again, that where the cargo is condemned there shall be an appeal to a court which is not that of the belligerent. The right hon. Gentleman opposite treated that point as if it applied to the whole question of appeal;. it applies only to that very limited case in which in the nature of things the neutral has been comparatively favourably treated by the belligerents.
§ Sir E. GREY
Clearly, if the neutral vessel has been sunk it is not one that has been captured, taken into port, and released.
§ Sir E. GREY
I think the hon. and learned Member will see if he will look again at the paragraph, "if on the other hand the action of the belligerent has been confined to the capture"—if he had sun!: it, if he had condemned it, and if he had seized the cargo then his action would not have been confined to capture. That applies to a very limited number of cases indeed. Then you may urge this further point. "Yes, but may there not be indefinite delay?" I take this from the. Prize Court Convention, Article 6:—"If the National Court"—that is to say the court of the belligerent—"fails to give final judgment within two years from the date of capture the case may be carried direct to the international court." That is my answer on that point.
Now I come to the question as to how it will affect us as belligerents. Does it really increase the risk of interference with our food supplies when we are at war? It does not affect us as regards British vessels, because it does not touch the question of belligerents inter se. The enemy remains as free to deal with British ships as we are free to protect them. The Treaty of Paris—and that is the treaty of sixty years ago, to which naval opinion really objects—did affect the rights of belligerents inter se. It did prevent them taking enemies' goods when found in neutral vessels. That has always been objected to by naval opinion. Mr. Gibson Bowles, who is a protagonist against us, has always opposed the Treaty of Paris; but it was signed sixty years ago, and why? I believe what caused the Government of the day to sign it, though obviously it restricted our actions as belligerents, was that they felt they could not set themselves against the opinion of the civilised world, and it was futile for them to claim rights as belligerents which would bring upon them the interference of neutrals when we were at war. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I understand the meaning of that cheer, but I can only deal with one point at the time. The point I am making in regard to that is that if that consideration had to be taken into account sixty years ago, when you might have had to make concessions in order to avoid the risk of being interfered with or your action restricted, it is an argument which has not lost all force now.
864 As a matter of fact, my great point in favour of the Declaration of London, from the naval point of view, is that in regard to blockade—which is what we must care about—we have by the Declaration of London got an agreement which on that point diminishes the risk of interference of our action when we are belligerents, the prospect of which has become a very serious question unless an agreement had been come to pretty soon. If on some other point we have made concessions which might be inconvenient for us in time of war, they are far outweighed by the agreement we have secured with regard to blockade. The point was this: does the Declaration of London increase the risk of interference with our food supply in time of war? I am not going for a moment to haggle about the percentage of food brought by neutral vessels now, or likely to be brought in time of war. I lay down the broad proposition that if we can keep the sea free for the British flag in time of war, we can keep it free for neutrals in time of war. If the British flag is driven from the sea we cannot save ourselves from starvation by dependence upon neutrals. Even if the bulk of the food required could be brought under neutral flags, the rise in prices of freights would be prohibitive. Therefore, the question of starvation in time of war does not depend primarily on the neutral flag, and it would be most dangerous to suppose that we could depend upon the neutral flag. The efforts of the enemy will be devoted in the first place, not to attacking neutral vessels, but British vessels. If we have got command of the sea to that extent that we can deal with British vessels coming to this country, the question of neutrals is comparatively unimportant.
What will be the case without the Declaration of London, supposing it is not ratified? How shall we stand in regard to the prospects of interference with our food supplies? For a day and a-half hon. Members opposite laboured to prove that there was no risk of food being declared absolute contraband by our enemies if we were at war; that there was no risk of the food of our population, as distinct from the food of our armed forces, being interfered with so long as the Declaration of London was unratified. They quoted Professor Holland and Mr. Bryce. Supposing this Debate had not been about the Declaration of London or the Prize Court Convention at all? Supposing it had been a Debate on the question as to whether or 865 not we had sufficient cruisers to protect our food supply in time of war, and supposing the Opposition were taking the line that we ought to have more cruisers, and we on the Government side had been arguing that we need not have more cruisers to protect our food supply in time of war, and we had quoted Mr. Bryce and others to show that there was under international law the right to interfere with the food supply of the population in time of war? Is it not certain that hon. Gentlemen opposite would have quoted the action of France in 1885? They would have quoted Prince Bismarck's dictum, and they would, one and all, have said, as the Member for Portsmouth said the other day, that both himself and his brother officers, if they saw twenty ships which had the enemy's food supply on board, and if they were to hang for it, they would put them down all the same. The Noble Lord opposite with that engaging frankness which reconciles us to listening to him, even when he most differs from us, and makes us doubly grateful to him when we agree with him, in that one sentence: "Blew out of the water"—I think that is the proper expression—the whole structure which his party for a day and a-half has been endeavouring to build.
My contention is this: that without the Declaration of London you revert to the risk, if at war, of food being absolute contraband, and you run a certain danger that your enemies will say food is contraband of war when destined for your armed forces, and we leave it to his naval captains to interpret when they think it is destined for armed forces. Under that they will do as the Noble Lord himself would do in their place, make out a case on every point that as that food was destined even to an ordinary port of this country they were not sure that it will not roach the enemy, and they must interfere with it. That is what would happen without the Declaration of London at the present time. If that is admitted by the other side I am content. If they do not admit it, I would ask them if we were to come forward with a proposal to reduce the number of cruisers to protect our food supplies, will they accept their own contention as a sufficient answer? The argument of the Noble Lord was—I could not see that he was attacking the Declaration of London at all—that he wanted more cruisers. If I had been setting up the Declaration against his demand as something so solid that it would take 866 the place of cruisers, then I could have understood his animosity against it. But really the Declaration of London is not relevant to his argument at all, because we have never put it forward as something which we would rely upon, nor would I put forward any paper instrument as something upon which we would rely to preserve us from pressure being brought upon our food supplies in time of war; that is, rely upon it to such an extent as to enable us to dispense with the power of protecting that food supply ourselves.
Hon. Members opposite contend that under Article 34 of the Declaration of London the naval captains of belligerents will be able to do, and will do, exactly what I have been saying they would do without the Declaration of London. Even if that is true we are not worse off than before, and it will make it more and more difficult for them to put that wide interpretation upon food as contraband. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Edinburgh and St. Andrews Universities has told us that we ought to do that which he did not do himself. I do not mean he did not intend to do it; that you must take this Declaration of London as a whole, and consider it as a whole. Hon. Members who have spoken, and he himself, speaking about Article 34, have done anything but consider it as a whole. They have taken Article 34 isolated from its context. I need not read it to the House again, but it gives discretion as to interference with food supplies and the presumption when they may be contraband of war and when not. You must read how that discretion is to be interpreted; you must read that as part of the Declaration of London as a whole, and the Declaration of London as a whole says that food is never to be treated as all contraband. If the captain of a belligerent vessel is going to treat food going into a port such as Glasgow and Bristol as possibly destined for the armed forces in this country he is treating all food as contraband, and there is no port safe.
My point is he would certainly do it without the Declaration, but does the Declaration of London make it easier for him? You cannot say that a Declaration which lays it down that food is never to be treated as contraband makes it easier. A naval captain may drive a coach-and-four under stress of war through some provision and violate its clear intention. I do not put this forward in place of cruisers, but it is pressing argument unreasonably 867 to say that if they violated the clear intention of the Declaration of London that you would be making it easier for them to do so when they certainly would have done it before if there was no Declaration. In the list of what may be absolute contraband food is not included. It is treating food as contraband to stop all food.
§ Sir ROBERT FINLAY
Article 24 says the presumption arises in certain cases. What is there to qualify that?
§ Sir EDWARD GREY
The presumption applies to the base of operations; if every port is to be treated as a base of operation. Every Government knows perfectly well that the intention of the Declaration of London was to prevent all food being treated as contraband of war. Anybody who treats it as if it were all contraband of war would violate what all those who signed the Declaration held to be the clear intention of it; and although I am perfectly willing to make hon. Gentlemen opposite a present of the point, if they like, that the Declaration fails to give a certainty of safeguard, and may not take the place of cruisers, my point is that to say it creates a danger which it may fail to prevent is an entire travesty of the whole thing. If you say it may fail to prevent and to actually safeguard, I may admit you a point, but to say it creates a danger because it does not remove it is saying something which is the reverse of the fact.
Take the case of freights in time of war; that is very important. How are freights likely to be affected by the Declaration of London? One element is the cost of insurance against capture, and it is a very important one. If the Declaration of London is ratified there will be three points in favour of the insurer that do not now exist. The underwriter will know that food cannot be legally treated as absolute contraband. He will know that the doctrine of continuous voyage cannot be lawfully applied, and he will know that if cargo is illegally seized he can take compensation from the captors in the international Prize Court. All these cases are to the good, but you say he will not get his compensation from the international Prize Court for perhaps two years, and then the war may be over. How can that be any help while the war is going on? It will help his prospects of getting compensation, and it will affect the freight at the moment favourably, and must have a 868 favourable and not unfavourable effect upon the conveyance of food to us in time of war.
I turn now for one moment to the question of the sinking of neutral vessels when we are belligerents. I take into account the question how impossible it was to get any agreement, and how the United States themselves put in an opinion that under proper conditions neutral prizes might be sunk. We might have maintained our opinion, but other people would have maintained theirs, and keeping it out of the Convention altogether would have no affect whatever upon the probable course of events as far as other countries are concerned. The real difference has been if you look at it, and take Lord Stowell's judgment, you will find that Lord Stowell was dealing with "Acteon" as a neutral vessel. The real question will be not whether there is a right when you come to look into the past history, but whether there ought to be in all circumstances the right of compensation. It is a small matter while we are belligerents; as neutrals it is very important. What change does the Declaration of London make with regard to the right and intention of other people to sink neutral vessels when at war with us? Dealing with us as belligerents, the only change made is this: That our enemy, whoever it may be—one of those great Powers—who contended and upheld at The Hague Conference and the Conference in London that there ought to be a right to sink, will hold to that right still, and if it sinks neutrals coming to our shores, he will have subsequently to prove the emergency before a court, in which he has only one representative instead of a court composed entirely of his own people. You cannot say that that makes things easier for him. He may, and probably will, take the risk of having to pay compensation when the case comes before the international court, but you have no reason to say it makes it easier for him.
I come now to what the right hon. Gentleman asks me to deal with as the central point. The central point as I understand from him is this—I am applying it now to our case as belligerents. At present he says: "If we are belligerents and our enemy interferes with neutral vessels bringing food supplies to us, probably he would bring down the interference of the neutral upon him, and that will give us the advantage, but that if the Declaration and Prize Court Convention are ratified, the neutral instead of interfering will 869 remain passive and wait for the decision of the international Prize Court." That is a very interesting point, but the right hon. Gentleman dealt with it in the abstract. I want to deal with the practical aspect. If we are at war with a great Continental Power under what circumstances is the interference of a neutral maritime Power likely to be of use to us? In one case only. There is only one great neutral Power interested in the supply of food to this country with a fleet sufficient to interfere effectively if we were at war with a great Continental Power, and that is the United States. So you may put this point in the concrete instead of in the abstract, and say: "Does it or does it not diminish the probability that the United States, if Great Britain was at war with a Continental Power, would resort to forceable action to insist that American supply of food coming to this country should not be interfered with." That is the real point. It is a very interesting point, and we have no right to speculate upon what the action of the United States would be. It is for them to take their own view of the Declaration of London in this matter. What their view or policy may be it is for them to say. They did put in at the Declaration their opinion about sinking, and it did not differ from the agreement arrived at.
You have therefore no right to expect that they would, without the Declaration of London, have taken a more extreme line against sinking than if the Declaration of London passed. To say the effect of the international Prize Court, even if the continental Powers interfered with our food supplies, and treated food supplies coming to mercantile ports as coming to a base of operation to the enemy so as to cut off in practice the entire commerce in food with the United States, to say that the United States will have no power to interfere and must remain passive, is to found your argument upon the assumption that the United States in time of war would be so anxious to present its trade in food with this country from being interfered with, that without this Declaration of London it would take action. Does anybody believe that that is really the case? I believe it to be the case that the United States will claim their commerce should not be unduly delayed. Does anybody believe if that is the case they would sign this Declaration if they thought that undue delay and interference was likely to be the probable effect of it? Of course, as a matter of 870 fact, anybody who reads the article in regard to convoy, will see perfectly well that if the United States choose to send food supplies to this country under convoy it becomes the right of the captain not of a belligerent vessel, but the captain of the convoy to interpret Article 34 of the Declaration of London, and if it is a question of our food supplies, if the United States did desire to preserve its commerce without interference, it has only to make use of the article under convoy in this Declaration to transfer entirely to itself and its own captain to determine how the Declaration should be interpreted. Articles 61 and 62 have been entirely overlooked. It is a most important point. I want to carry this a little further. Suppose the Declaration of London is not ratified and that the Prize Court convention is not ratified owing to our having refused to ratify them ourselves. Then you must bear this in mind. The United States has not been a reluctant party to signing the Declaration of London or the Prize Court convention; Had they been a reluctant party anxious to be free from it, the point I am going to make would not have the same force as I believe it has. They were not a reluctant party. They were an actively consenting party. They have taken considerable trouble to get a protocol and to ask other Powers to agree to a protocol which would remove any technical objection to their being parties to the Prize Court Convention. They have throughout taken a deep interest in the prompt establishment of an international Prize Court, which they always regarded as a much-needed institution, and their view with regard to it is that the acceptance of the Declaration of London is essential to the establishment and successful working of an international Prize Court. I should like to remove from the minds of hon. Gentlemen opposite the very dangerous apprehension that the United States would regard the failure of the Prize Court Convention and the Declaration of London with satisfaction or indifference, and if they entertain any such opinion or argument they are under a delusion. The right hon. Gentleman opposite said we signed this Declaration of London and Prize Court Convention at the bidding of the Continental Powers. Supposing the Declaration of London and the international Prize Court Convention had failed, that it had never come into existence, that it would never be ratified because at the last moment we refuse to ratify it. What is the probable course of 871 events? We are at war with a Continental Power. That Continental Power will know perfectly well that the United States and itself were agreed, under the Declaration of London, as to what the rules of maritime law would be. The probable consequence I can foresee is that in case of war between a great Continental Power and ourselves that Continental Power, knowing perfectly well the risk, and desiring to avoid the danger of any friction with the United States, the great maritime neutral interested in our food supply, would propose to the United States Government that they each of them, knowing what their views about international law should be, should agree at the outset of the war that they would accept the rules of the Declaration of London as those which should regulate the relations between, and they would be prepared to refer to arbitration any question which arose between them with regard to it. You would be no better off in a case of that kind than if you had ratified the Declaration of London, and if it was owing to us that the Declaration had failed to be-ratified we should be worse off because we should not be entitled to appeal to any of these articles in our favour. We must have all these articles which are objected to, agreed to between the Continental belligerent and the United States, but it would not follow that the United States would concede to us or any neutral what we gain under the Declaration of London.
With regard to the right of blockade, I will deal with that most important point. Are we crippled in our action against a belligerent in time of war, or are we likely to be crippled? The ideal condition used to be that we should have no rules restricting our action in time of war, and for this reason. In the old days our naval power was good against the world. If we had a two-Power standard then it was a world-Power standard, and all that neutrals might do when we were at war was a matter of indifference to us. Then we could value the position that we should be bound by no rules but make all rules, and that was a very favourable position from a naval point of view. But the conditions have changed, and are changing. I put this point. Your two-Power standard, your three-Power standard, if you have it, is no longer going to be a world-Power standard, and it is not going to be possible for any Power to have a world-Power standard. That has been the increasing tendency of the growth of fleets generally, and that has increased the risk that in time of war 872 neutrals might interfere with our belligerent action. You do your best to destroy them. With what belligerent action? If they interfere with our action regarding contraband that is a comparatively small point, because we shall never bring a Continental enemy to his knees by dealing with contraband alone. There is the question of where he gets his supplies. He makes his own munitions of war. He can get them overland, and always has been able to get his supplies overland. It we were to declare food absolute contraband we should not bring him to his knees. The effect of interfering with our action in respect of contraband in time of war is slight.
What is the particular weapon which we wish to retain unimpaired, and with which We wish neutrals not to interfere in time of war? It is blockade. I suppose our first object in maritime war is to sink the enemy's fleet. I put that beyond anything else. Supposing the enemy's fleet is in port and we cannot get at it. Next in importance comes the pressure upon the enemy by the right of blockade. As the world's fleets have been growing it has become more and more important to us, if we do not wish to be crippled when we are a belligerent, to be sure neutrals will not interfere with what we may regard as the essential and effective right of blockade. Now perhaps hon. Members will begin to realise why our two naval delegates at the. Conference of London signed the report. It is quite a mistake to suppose that the delegates who signed this report worn reluctant parties to it. They recommended it for the approval of the Government, leaving to us the responsibility of finally deciding whether it should be adopted or not. They recommended the first paragraph for our approval. It was signed by Lord Desart. The first delegate only signed it, but it was signed with the unanimous consent and approval of all his colleagues.
Hitherto there has been divergent views as to blockade. The Continental view would be that a definite line should be drawn and ships should only be stopped when crossing that line; and that a ship cannot be interfered with unless she has previousy been notified of the blockade. The Continental theory of blockade requires that a vessel should have notification of the existence of a blockade endorsed upon her papers, and that the capture must only take place if the vessel crosses the imaginary line. The British system requires that a vessel should have knowledge of the blockade, either actual 873 or presumed knowledge, if the vessel left a port at which the blockade had been notified. If we are not allowed to interfere with a vessel coming into the blockade or attempting to break blockade unless we had previously notified her, if we are to have an imaginary line, in these days it would be impossible under modern naval conditions to maintain your ships stationary on an imaginary line and not be allowed to interfere with vessels unless they venture to cross that particular line. Our view always has been that a blockade to be effective need not have an imaginary line, but that the vessel arrested for trying to break the blockade must come within the area of the operation of the ships. What we have got under the Declaration is an agreement that the right of blockade shall be an elastic and not a fixed right. We have got the condition which would have justified the case of every ship which has been brought before a British Prize Court for attempted breach of blockade, and we have got the conditions which in the opinion of the Admiralty were essential, which were agreed to by the other Powers, and which were esential for the effective use of blockade. We have the two admiral delegates signing this!—It is a matter for congratulation that in respect to the important subject of blockade we have been able to secure the recognition of the principles on which you directed us to lay stress.That is most important. What we have done under this Declaration is to avoid the risk when we are belligerents of having set up against us by one or more neutrals the hitherto maintained doctrine in case of blockade, which would make blockade under modern conditions useless for our purpose. That is the risk which as been steadily increasing with the growth of navies, and which will increase more and more in the future. The general growth of naval building makes that certain. It has become so more and more, and it will be more so in the future. Does not that show how important it is that upon a question such as blockade, the second most important thing if we are at war next to the actual sinking or destruction of the enemy's warships, we should have something like international agreement. Without international agreement you will have the risk of having a most inconvenient doctrine set up against you. It was an increasing risk and it will increase more and more year by year.
I have heard naval opinion quoted against it. I have never seen any evidence 874 of any of these admirals that has considered this increasing tendency—the increasing dependence of every belligerent in future upon the consent of neutrals, the certainty that as the fleets of the world grow and become more closely connected there will be a tendency to put more restriction upon belligerent action. I do not see any sign that any of these admirals are alive to that process which is going on or that they realise as the process goes on some international agreement is essential. Naval opinion has not dealt with that point, has not gone into the real question of the merits of what we shall gain, and when we are asked to appoint a commission of experts I say we have dealt with this question of blockade from the point of view of high policy. We could appoint a commission of experts who would report in forty-eight hours in favour of the Declaration and we could appoint a commission of experts who would report in forty-eight hours against it. We are not going to devolve our responsibilities upon a commission of that sort. I have been dealing with this question from the point of view of belligerents and from that point of view alone we would not devolve our responsibilities in regard to the Declaration upon any commission.
I would deal with one point upon which the right hon. Gentleman opposite especially asked me to deal—the conversion of merchantmen on the high seas. I would have passed over that had it not been that he specially asked me to deal with it. As belligerents we are not affected. We do our best to destroy them now, we should do our best to destroy them then. Other nations claim a right and say that they intend to convert on the high seas. That is why there is not agreement. They stick to their opinion. We shall stick to ours. The right hon. Gentleman asks whether we should treat converted vessels as privateers when we are at war. I do not know how far you facilitate your power by treating them as privateers, but whether you treat them as warships or privateers you do your best to destroy them. I do not quite appreciate the importance of the point.
§ Sir E. GREY
The right hon. Gentleman opposite asked me what we should do. I hope while we are in office we shall not be engaged in war; I hope when we are succeeded in office our successors will not be engaged in war; but I am not going to say 875 anything, should that unfortunate contingency happen, which will bind the hands of the Admiralty either under this Government or under our successors, as to how they shall deal with merchant vessels converted into war vessels on the high seas, which we have always contended should not be done. The right hon. Gentleman asked me a still further point. He said, "But the international Prize Court may give a decision legalising this, and it is when you are a belligerent that you will be affected by the decision of the international Prize Court that it is legal to convert on the high seas, because you will not, when a belligerent, be able to appeal to any neutral to stop these vessels in their ports. That was the particular question he put. I took down his words. He said: "You ask the neutral to stop one of these vessels in their ports." These vessels, by the way, are all known. They are a very limited number. They are fast merchant vessels prepared so that they can be converted readily. It is because they are all known it is not so important to belligerents as one might suppose. We shall always know what they are, and where they are. "But," the right hon. Gentleman said, "We should not be able to appeal to the neutral. They would say 'it is not commissioned yet. Here it is. We know this is one of the vessels that can be converted. It is all ready. It has got guns, not mounted, but in the holds. There it is, prepared to be converted directly it is outside our territorial waters, but we cannot stop it, because it is not commissioned yet.'" That was the statement of the right hon. Gentleman. There was a Convention at The Hague, which, I think, though I am not sure, has been ratified, respecting the rights and duties of neutral Powers in maritime war, and Article A of that Convention said this:—A neutral Government is bound to employ the means at its disposal to prevent the fitting out or arming of any vessel within its jurisdiction which it has reason to believe is intended to cruise or engage in hostile operations against a Power with which that Government is at peace. It is also bound to display the same vigilance to prevent the departure from its jurisdiction of any vessel intended to cruise or engage in hostile operations which has been adapted entirely or partly within the said jurisdiction.If you take that Convention, and, considering all these vessels which can be converted and used on the high seas are known—it is known how they are being constructed and it is known why it is they are liable to be converted—surely your right to appeal to a neutral Power and the power of that neutral to interfere with 876 that vessel which it is known is intended, and which is partly prepared, as they all are, to be converted directly it leaves its port, is not only observed, but the obligation on the neutral is positively enjoined by this Convention to do what is right and prevent the vessel leaving its port. That is the answer on that particular point. I see two intelligent grounds of opposition to the Declaration of London which I must discuss. One is, as Mr. Gibson Bowles has said, "We have no rules, we impose them, we make our own rules." The time is gone for that. If you press that, you are doing something which you will not be able to carry out. You will be increasing the risk, by failing to get an international agreement, of interference with belligerents, and, if you adopt that line—if, even now by declining to ratify the Declaration of London and the international Prize Court Convention, you obstruct what is the real genuine desire, as we who have negotiated the matter know, of the other great Powers to come to some agreement—you are going a step in the direction of making the world against you. I have never contended, and I have carefully abstained from contending, that the Declaration of London or the international Prize Court Convention would enable us to reduce naval expenditure, but I do say if you defeat an international agreement of this kind which other nations are anxious to have because you wish to keep your hands free and impose your own rules on the world—if you will have no agreement with them unless you get your own way in everything, because you will make no concession—you will be increasing the tendency, not of one or two Powers, but of several Powers to enlarge their naval expenditure, and you will be adding to the risk that you will be interfered with in time of war by neutral Powers.
Of course, we have not got every point we wanted, but we have got very important points, and on the large general question we have gone some way towards avoiding the risk of friction between neutrals and belligerents in time of war. Even with regard to the doctrine of continuous voyage—a power which was of very little use to us in practice whatever it was in theory, because you cannot prove the destination of goods—we have avoided certain friction. When the right hon. Gentleman was in office his Government stopped one German vessel, the "Bundersrath," and one of the points raised was precisely about this doctrine of 877 continuous voyage. The dislike to interference with a neutral in that case was such that not only was the vessel let go, but very heavy compensation was paid. I do not say that is the only element in that case, but at any rate it was one of the elements. In future, either we shall not interfere with a vessel when it has conditional contraband on board, on the doctrine of continuous voyage, or, if we interfere, the neutral Power will not protest. That is something gained. Nobody could have been at The Hague Conference or could be cognisant of what went on at the Conference in London which followed it without realising how keen the other Powers were to have some international agreement on these points, not the Continental Powers merely, because the United States were as desirous as they were. We shall be taking a great responsibility, we shall be putting the hands of the clock back if we defeat that desire for an agreement. I will say this: If there is anything in it which vitally endangers us, then even at the eleventh hour I am perfectly prepared to say that we ought to draw back. I hope I have proved to the satisfaction of this side of the House that under this where we do not gain we are not making things worse than before, where we have not secured everything we have, at any rate, made some undesirable practices more difficult, and where we most wished to be assured we as belligerents have got an assurance we had not before.
I contend that, on the whole, looking at it from that point of view, we gain and do not lose under the Declaration of London and the international Prize Court. There is another point: that of being parties to an international agreement which other parties wish to have, and that serious responsibility which you will take if by individual action you defeat that agreement and destroy the prospect of arriving at it. Under nothing but the most imperious essential national danger involved in the Declaration of London ought we to take upon ourselves such a responsibility. If we refused to ratify, our decision will be received with great disappointment. The Declaration of London will still remain, as regards other Powers, in the knowledge of all as a sort of rule of international law they wish to have and desire among themselves, and I have little doubt if the emergency arises they will use that knowledge to set up between themselves an agreement for arbitration. We do not wish to be left outside this international agree- 878 ment. I believe it is perfectly safe for us to come into it now. I admit if we were convinced our national danger was involved in it we would withdraw even now. Being convinced that no national danger is involved in it and that if national interests have to be taken into consideration, we gain rather than lose, we are not prepared to devolve upon any commission of experts the responsibility of saying whether we should adhere to it or not.
§ Mr. JAMES MASON
The right hon. Gentleman made a statement which I must say seems to me to be a particularly interesting one. He said that under modern conditions no belligerent could neglect to carry neutrals with him. If one point more than another has been urged during the whole of these Debates on that side of the House, it is that diplomatic pressure when we are a neutral is absolutely thrown on one side. Why other neutrals are able to make use of weapons which, when we are neutrals, we are unable to use against other belligerents I am wholly at a loss to understand. The right hon. Gentleman made some remark about the position of the United States to which I should like in a moment to refer. Before doing so, I desire to point out that personally I am not at all averse to making a treaty because I have to give something away. My experience in the ordinary business of life has taught me not only that you cannot make bargains without giving something up, but that very often it is an advantage to make a bargain even though you give up more than you apparently receive. Therefore, I approach this question with no prejudice on the ground that we are asked to give something up, but the giving up is dependent upon two conditions. The first is, that after you have made the bargain you are on the whole better off than you were before, and the second is that you give up nothing which is absolutely vital to you. I admit there are certainly gains aimed at, and I think in some cases obtained, by this proposed treaty. The international Prize Court in the abstract would be a distinct gain. The one which is there proposed is open to the objections which have been fully dealt with, and I do not propose going into them. Secondly, I admit anything in the shape of certainty is a gain providing you get certainty, and I very much doubt if you get certainty in this document; but it is very important you should not have the certainty of evil. To 879 a man who is condemned to death the possibility of being reprieved is better than a certainty of being hanged.
I admit unreservedly that so far as it goes the free list is a distinct gain. I admit that is a gain and for what it is worth the list of absolute contraband is a gain, although it is obvious the articles included in that list are such as would always be included in absolute contraband and are, therefore, articles about which there would be very little done. I have been very much inclined to agree with what the right hon. Gentleman said that on the whole the changes proposed as regards blockade are a gain to our country. I have been a little bit affected by the jubilation which has apparently overcome the German Press regarding the apparent advantages which they and other Continental Powers will gain by the changes in blockade. They say it is a matter of great importance to them that we should no longer, under these rules, retain the power of sealing up the North Sea. There is something to be gained by this Declaration; certain things are an advantage. But when we come to the sacrifices we are asked to make, what do we find? We find that sacrifices consist of arrangements which differentiate in incidence as between island and Continental States, and, furthermore, are an advantage to military States having land frontiers. Thirdly, they are in favour of countries which produce a considerable amount of food supply. These are broad factors which embody the sacrifices we are asked to make; it is this differentiation when seems to be so little acknowledged by right hon. Gentlemen opposite.
It has been urged by the right hon. Gentleman who last spoke, and it was urged last week by the First Lord of the Admiralty as a reason why we should ratify the Declaration that the United States approved of it. We have been told that the United States accept the Declaration and believe its provisions are right. We have been repeatedly told that it has the approval of the United States, but we are not told whether that approval was that of the United States Foreign Office or of the United States people which, as in this country, may be a very different thing. But let us for a moment admit that the United States approves of it; are not the conditions of the United States very different from those that obtain here? They are not an island Power, they are a Continental 880 Power. Furthermore, this Declaration, important as it may possibly be to them under present conditions, is not vital to them at all as it is to us. It is a vital question to us, but it is by no means vital to the United States. We were told the other night by the First Lord of the Admiralty that the United States were pressing us to ratify the Declaration. Why have not the United States ratified it during the last two years? The treaty has been open to ratification for an even longer period than that; I do not know whether I am justified in assuming that they are waiting to see if we are willing to ratify it. If that is the case, then their ratification depends entirely on ours. I maintain that whatever the reason may be, we have no right whatever to be influenced in the decision of an important matter like this—a matter which is of vast importance to the future of our history—we have no right whatever to be influenced by the opinion or pressure of any other nation in the world, and the more so when you have, even coming from the United States, the opinion of that great seaman (Admiral Mahan), that it would draw the teeth of the British "Dreadnoughts."
We will now come to other objections to the Declaration. There is a difference of opinion between Members of the Government. I understand the argument of the First Lord of the Admiralty to be that the Declaration, as regards the import of food to this country in neutral vessels, is of comparatively small importance, because only one-tenth of our supply is, in time of peace, brought to this country in neutral ships. The Attorney-General did not appear to share the view that one-tenth was the maximum. According to him our policy is the attraction of food in neutral vessels, therefore I am inclined to think that 10 per cent. cannot be taken to be the limit of what may in time of war be attracted to this country in neutral ships. To my mind the idea that the neutral imports will be limited to 10 per cent. in time of war will not hold water. It is admitted that belligerent ships will always be in greater danger than neutral ships, and, that being so, there will be a tendency to lay up a considerable number of belligerent ships to keep them out of danger, while at the same time the high freights offered by the belligerent, coupled with the fact that the insurance on neutral ships will be less than that on our own ships, will tempt neutrals to bring food to this country, and that temptation will be increased as prices rise. Neutrals 881 would be tempted to do this for the money they would make. History has shown that very large sums of money have been made by neutrals in carrying food to belligerent nations, and I have no doubt that the effect of this tendency would be that the 10 per cent. now carried in neutral bottoms would increase enormously in time of war. If it is the fact that Clauses 34 and 49 would endanger the position of the neutrals and increase the risks they have to run, that to a certain extent would act as a check.
The question of the interpretation of Clause 34 is, of course, a very vital one for this House. The Attorney-General told us the other night that the great object we must have in view was to secure ourselves against the declaration of food as absolute contraband. Is it not more important than the securing of ourselves against the declaration of food as absolute contraband that we should secure ourselves against the treatment of food, though called conditional contraband, as if it were absolute contraband? The whole burden of our argument is, in fact, that the conditions imposed under Clause 34 are such that food coming to us under those conditions will actually become equivalent to absolute contraband, although it is not called so. The Government absolutely deny that statement; I admit we may be wrong, but at the same time the Government may be in the wrong. Will any hon. Gentleman in this House or outside say that the interpretation of Clause 34 is so clear that there is absolutely no doubt about the matter at all? No one will do that, no one will deny, after hearing the arguments put forward by the Government and those advanced on this side of the House, that there is a very considerable amount of doubt as to what would be the actual effect in practice of Clause 34. That is the whole case for our Amendment. If there is any doubt whatever on a matter so absolutely vital to the existence of this island and to its welfare I say that is a good case for our Amendment, and until the interpretation of Clauses 34 and 49 has been thoroughly cleared up, we have no right to sign any document which will bind us in the way that this Declaration will do.
I come next to the question of the treatment of food as conditional contraband; it is urged from the other side that food under existing conditions may be made absolute contraband. Let me, for the sake of argument, assume that it is so. If food were made absolute contraband by our enemies, and that is a possibility, we are 882 told, that the conditions would equally apply to both parties, and that what our enemy did we should do. But if you once abandon the doctrine of continuous voyage that will no longer remain. I admit the argument put forward by the Foreign Secretary that the application of the doctrine of continuous voyage would seriously hurt our enemy, by the seizure of conditional contraband coming into neutral ports, but that is a condition that we may overcome; we may interfere in that trade and it would tend to deter neutrals engaging in the trade and continuing on the same terms. If you pass the Declaration of London, then I maintain a very different basis will apply. According to my reading of the Clause, there is a very considerable chance of a foreign commander who meets a neutral vessel bringing food to this country, even if he runs the risk of compensation in the future, he will think he will be doing his country proper service in destroying the ship. If that is done on a large scale it is obvious that it may, under these conditions, become in practice equal to absolute contraband. But you are going to remove any possibility of our enemy being treated in the same way.
What is the position of a country like Germany? The natural ports of South Germany are always neutral ports, Antwerp and Rotterdam are two ports through which a vast amount of the imports of Germany go in time of peace. I am informed that out of a total import of 19,000,000 tons, into Holland, 17,000,000 go into Germany, and clearly a very large proportion of the imports of Holland are actually passed on to Germany in normal times. Let it be noted that the greater part of the imports of German food are in South Germany: there are times in the year when North Germany is an exporter, but South Germany is most dependent on the importation of foreign food, and the communications north and south in that country are such that the balance could not easily be made in the country itself, so that it is cheaper to import into the south and to export from the north. That being so, the ordinary trade of Germany and the ordinary food supply of Germany coming in through neutral ports in time of peace would in no way be disturbed in time of war, if you have this Declaration ratified, whereas if it is not ratified at any rate there is always the possibility of our being able in such a war somewhat to interfere with that trade. Therefore I think I am justified in 883 maintaining that whilst the effect of Clause 34 would be equivalent to making food absolute contraband to us it would at the same time leave the food of Continental Powers as safe in war as in peace. I had an interview with a gentleman of very considerable experience in the corn trade (Mr. Paterson) was was at one time President of the London Corn Trade Association, and I am informed by him that the conditions laid down in Clauses 34 and 35 are such that they would institute a complete change in the methods of the Corn Trade as it is now carried on. I understand that the ordinary corn trade is done in this way: Ships are sent across the Atlantic with corn not consigned to any particular person or to any particular port, but they are consigned to what is called a port of call, such as Las Palmas and Gibraltar, and there the captain has orders telegraphed to him as to where he is to come and where he is to deliver his cargo. Very often that cargo has been sold while it has been on the sea, and it has perhaps changed hands more than once. But Clauses 34 and 35 provide that the ship could carry papers assigning the name of the consignee and the port to which the vessel is going, and it is laid down that the ships papers shall be proof of that.
It is obvious that in the case of ordinary trade as it is now carried on the ship cannot carry papers which would satisfy the-requirements of those two Clauses. The Foreign Office, in reply to that point, said that the Trade must change its methods, but it is not so easy to do so. That does not rest with the people in this country at all but upon the exporters in the other country, and it is hardly likely that they will change their whole methods to meet the requirements of this Declaration unless they get something very considerable by doing it. Is it not more likely that rather than do that that they will systematically exclude our ports from their arrangements, and will tend more and more to send their ships to those countries which, under this very Declaration, can import safely from a neutral port. It will tend to make food dearer in this country and cheaper in those Continental nations. There has been an argument put forward very frequently all through this discussion that the abandonment of the principle of continuous voyage is going to be in our favour; but I notice that we have not heard very much about it in the last few days. It has, however, been very much urged upon the 884 people of this country that the change in the law is going to be to our advantage, because food can be sent across the Atlantic safely to neutral ports and then reshipped safely to this country. There never was a greater delusion than that. What ports are concerned? What ports are meant? It is obvious that it can only be the ports of Holland, Belgium and France. I do not know whether anyone who has followed what has recently taken place about the proposed fortifications in Holland would take that view. I do not know whether they would or not. But no one can suppose for a moment that in case of war between Germany and this country that ports of Antwerp or Rotterdam could be used for the reshipment of food to this country.
We are reduced to France and Belgium, but is it likely in a European war—in such a war as we contemplate France would be a neutral at all, and if she were a neutral how many harbours are there in France which could deal with our ships that carry grain across the Atlantic? Very few of them can take these ships in at all or have the appliances to handle them when they have taken them in, but even if they had the cost of transhipment would be very heavy and would increase the price of food, because it has to be borne in mind that diverting without discharge from a neutral port to this country would be a breach of the Declaration. But there is another more important point. These French harbours are already overworked. I am informed that quite recently ships have been lying outside Havre and Dunkirk for more than a month and have had to leave because they could not get discharged there. The fact is that these harbours are receiving so many ships and the facilities they have are so limited that the difficulties of their ordinary business are very great and another thirty or forty ships a week would make it impossible that they could deal with the pressure at all. I only wish to say a few words about the sinking of neutral ships. It is put forward that the Declaration would not make very much difference because this right is claimed by many States. There is all the difference between a right being claimed by others and being admitted by us.
We all know that the Foreign Office in 1907 held very strong views that neutral ships if they could not be taken into port should be released, and I am rather surprised to find that the Foreign Office seems to have hardened and changed in 885 regard to this opinion. On the 13th October the opinion of the Foreign Office was that the right to sink neutral ships had been claimed by several great Powers, but three weeks later, on 4th November, I find that the sinking of neutral vessels having contraband on board has been asserted by most of the great Powers. I wonder what would happen during three weeks to induce the Foreign Office to change their opinion that what had been in the beginning of that period claimed by several Powers had at the end of it been asserted by most. The particular point I want to make clear is to raise again the question of why we are to assume that when we are neutral we are never to protest, no matter what damage is to be done, and when we are belligerents we are to be terrified at the protests which are going to be raised by other nations. We had a speech by the Lord Chancellor on the 9th March, 1910, in which he says:—Supposing we reject this Declaration our enemy would destroy neutral prizes at discretion without any limitation at all acting upon their own laws. But suppose that we are neutral and our merchant ships are destroyed. This actually happened as we know in the Russo-Japanese war. We were then put to the choice I have referred to either of allowing the incident to pass uncompensated or to have recourse to war with Russia. Of course the late Government like sensible men never thought of making that a subject of a declaration of war. … When we are at war we shall then he a nation interfering with neutrals and liable to have pressure in the midst of our own great difficulties. What should we do? We should do what we did in the case of the 'Bundersrath' during the South African war. We should give way even though the seizure were justified, in our opinion, by law, and would be justified under the Declaration which is now complained of. We should give way in order to avoid complication and difficulty even if we were right.It is granted, of course, that this country would not think of going to war because one, two, three, four, or five ships were sunk, but I maintain that if it was made a regular practice of by one of the belligerents to sink our ships or sink them on a considerable scale—I maintain that we, being a great country, even under a Radical Government—should, if need be, carry our protest a very great way. It cannot be said that under no circumstances whatever the greatest sea Power in the world would fear to protest, while the minor Powers would be always ready to do so. I cannot, therefore, see on what ground it is assumed that we are to be so terrorised by threats that we ourselves do not make and that we are never to use them ourselves. If that were so it is quite obvious that we are not going any longer to attempt to maintain the position of the greatest sea Power in the world which we now hold. Two things only 886 concern me. If the Declaration of London is ratified and holds good for twelve years, and they may be twelve fateful years for this country, no one feels absolutely certain of what will be the effect of these Clauses upon our position. This uncertainty surely justifies the Amendment which is now before the House. It has been the proud boast of this country for many years that foreign policy has been kept outside the arena of party politics. This is a question not only of foreign policy but of national defence, and I most seriously regret that the Government have seen fit to treat this as a matter of party policy and to insist upon making this a party question. It is no consolation to know that posterity will denounce what we are doing to-day. I would rather see the blunder prevented than the crime punished. This is not only a question of our food costing us more, it is not only a question of our Navy costing us more to counterbalance the effects of this Declaration, but I believe that if ever we were engaged in a war in which the result is hanging in the balance this vicious instrument which we are now asked to ratify may be enough to turn the balance as between defeat and victory.
§ Mr. FRANCE
I would not have intervened in the Debate had I not been connected for some years with one or two firms engaged principally in the importation and distribution of foodstuffs in this country. I feel, therefore, although the surroundings may not be inspiring, that it is almost a duty that I should say something from that point of view. May I, in the first place, entirely confirm what was said by the Attorney-General in regard to the way in which this matter has been put before the chambers of commerce in this country. I am speaking from personal experience on that point. If speeches such as that to which we have just listened, which I recognise as being one of great fairness and frankness, had been delivered to the chambers of commerce throughout the country instead of speeches which eliminated altogether the points in favour of the Declaration, and which were made principally by one late Member of the House, who openly avowed that he does not believe in any sort of agreement with foreign Powers in these matters, I am sure the Opposition would not have been able to say that the business community of this country was against the Declaration of London. There appear to me to be two characteristics about the Debate to which we have just listened and the general 887 campaign against the Declaration. In the first place, it began with great virulence. One remarkable feature of it was that the first rule of the speakers was to assume that the whole Declaration was bad and to attack it violently. In fact, the language used seemed to argue the belief that those engaged on behalf of this country in the discussions at the Conference were either traitors or lunatics. I am glad to recognise that that language has diminished in force in this House, as it generally does, and we have had speeches which have recognised good points in favour of the Declaration. May I comment upon one remark made by the last speaker, which astonished me. He used the argument, with regard to the doctrine of continuous voyage, that the neutral ports of Holland, Belgium and France would be of no use to this country for transhipment. I venture to doubt that assertion to begin with. But the reason he gave was apparently that they would be no longer neutral, that Germany would interfere in some way in regard to the Dutch ports, and that the French ports would not be neutral, because France would be engaged in the war, and he proceeded to assume that all those ports would still be available for the Continental nations. Consequently there was no force whatever in his argument on that point.
In the first place, those who opposed the Declaration began by saying it was all bad. Now they begin to admit certain things in its favour, but as soon as they admit them they begin to discount them and say that although there are certain things in its favour as a matter of fact they are not of very much good. The second rule of speakers, which should be embodied in one of those beautiful speakers' handbooks of which we have heard something lately, is to represent one or two points which Great Britain tried to obtain, but could hardly be expected to obtain, as being above everything essential to the continuance of the Empire. May I analyse the opposition in that light? First of all in regard to the position of neutrals. I thought until the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Cave) that it had been admitted that as neutrals we gained under the Declaration of London. I believe the last speaker to a great extent conceded that position. The hon. and learned Gentleman controverted that on two grounds. One was dealt with very effectively by the Foreign Secretary. The other point which he did 888 not touch upon was this. The hon. and learned Gentleman said that the free list was not of very much value to this country because it contained articles which would probably be on the free list in any case and which could not be turned into contraband except with the assent of the neutral Power. A more extraordinary doctrine than that to come from the same bench upon which sits the noble and gallant Lord (Lord Charles Beresford), who has himself declared that in time of war he and his gallant and faithful colleagues would be rather like roaring lions going about seeking who they might devour, could not have been made. Surely it is not possible to obtain a neutral's assent at the time to the conversion of any article into contraband. The whole matter would come up for decision afterwards—the very point which is urged against the Declaration itself.
Then there is the question of blockade. It has been said, and I think now conclusively proved, and admitted by the last speaker, that under the Declaration we gain with regard to blockade. The Leader of the Opposition made a speech in the City in which he controverted this but gave no argument to support his theory. The hon. Member (Mr. Eyres-Monsell) has written a pamphlet in which he admits, as many speakers have done, that the rules of blockade have been made more definite, and that from the point of view of the Admiralty we have gained considerably. But if anything was wanted to enforce that view may I quote the words of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Walton, speaking in this House in 1908 on the subject of immunity of private: property at sea:—What is commercial blockade? It is comparatively a new doctrine of very doubtful legality and one in regard to which I venture to say, as far as this country is concerned, there is the gravest doubt whether, if we were engaged to-morrow in a large war the great countries of the world would recognise it.That uncertainty has disappeared under the Declaration of London. The great countries of the world have recognised the position as laid down, which is admitted by many to be of great advantage to this country. Then, with regard to the international Prize Court, it is said to be very good in theory, very good in its way, but it is not formed exactly on British lines. The question I should like to ask hon. Members opposite is, do they wish not only to refuse to ratify the Declaration of London but also to refuse to ratify the Convention of The Hague, which set up and constituted that Prize Court. If they begin at 889 this stage, four years after The Hague Conference, to pull to pieces and to criticise the decision of that Peace Conference, they are on rather difficult and delicate ground. The Peace Conference set up and constituted the Prize Court, and left matters in a particularly unsatisfactory state, in the state that where there was no rule, no treaty, and no international law, decisions were to be arrived at, I think the words are "on principles of equity and justice." I ask hon. Members if business men and the business community could be as satisfied with anything as vague as that as with a document which, though not perfect, at any rate contains a great deal that is definite and a great deal that is in advance of the existing position. There is also the question of the free list. Raw material of great importance does come in under that free list. The proportion of neutral vessels may be small. I notice it is always very small when the free list is spoken of, and has a tendency to increase in size when food is spoken of. But there is no doubt whatever that, although there may be differences of opinion as to what should be on the free list and what might be declared to be contraband in time of war, there are always great risks to industry as affecting neutrals, and the decision that this list cannot without a serious breach of international law be touched is of itself a great step in advance.
I should like to refer to the attitude of the Opposition in regard to the Colonies, not the Opposition in this House, though it is a remarkable fact that the Opposition which twits this side of the House with acting under party pressure acts with a unanimity such as we are quite accustomed to in this House. There appear to be no free lances on the other side or any who have oven opinions of their own against that declared by the Leader of the Opposition. When it was thought that the Colonies might object to the Declaration of London their view was one of inestimable value. We must not proceed without having heard their version. Now they have approved and we were told in the House the other night by the right hon. Gentleman (Sir R. Finlay) that it would be monstrous if we should be influenced by the decision of the Dominions across the sea with regard to this question of the Declaration of London. I have given a list of points all in favour of the Declaration of London. They are admitted by many, even of those who oppose it, as being in its favour.
§ Mr. FRANCE
I beg the hon. Gentleman's pardon. I read carefully through the whole of the Précis of the Imperial Conference on this point only this morning, and although one representative at the Conference took that view, at least two spoke emphatically on behalf of their Governments in support of the Declaration of London. I am only urging that at one time what they thought was regarded as a matter of the greatest importance, and that now those who used that argument regard what they think as a matter of insignificance which can no longer be used in discussing the Declaration. Then the Government has been taxed with not having secured certain advantages. There is the point with reference to the conversion of merchantmen at sea. The Leader of the Opposition, who spoke in the City a few days ago in stronger terms than he used to-day, drew a lurid picture of a merchantman suddenly appearing from nowhere, sinking neutrals right and left, and continuing to do so throughout the course of the war. As was pointed out by the hon. Member for the Hexham Division (Mr. Holt), such a state of things is ludicrous in the extreme. It has been pointed out over and over again that the rules for converting merchantmen are laid down not only in the Convention read to the House, but in another Convention. The rules laid down are so strict that it is idle for the right hon. Gentleman to draw such a picture to alarm those who have not studied these matters quite so closely as others have done.
As to the question of food supply—it is alleged that under the Declaration some new inducement is held out to foreign shippers to send goods to our enemy rather than to ourselves, and at the same time that a new inducement is held out to belligerent commanders to destroy our food supply. I think both these suggestions are rather wide of the mark. It seems to me that the considerations which govern food supplies are two. In the first place, the shipper of food is likely to send it to the country that wants it most, that will pay well for it, and will make arrangements so far as possible in time of war for its safe arrival. Secondly, he would choose to send food to the 891 country with the strongest Navy, because in the matter of supplying food in neutral bottoms the neutral shipper must consider whether the neutral ship is going to run a fair chance of getting through, without any declaration, and relying on the strength of the Navy of the Power to which he is sending the food. Having in view these two main considerations, I believe that we shall be very much in this position as regards food. Without the Declaration it appears to me the position resolves itself into this. It is admitted that food has been, and may again be, declared absolute contraband. It might be suspected of being intended for the troops of the enemy, it might be captured, and the vessel might be sunk. Without the Declaration there is no certainty on any of these points. If the worst happens, the cargo is either captured or destroyed, and a claim in the Prize Court is the only method by which the shipper can seek redress, and there is no appeal from that court. Under the Declaration food cannot be absolute contraband. That may or may not be a great advantage. I think it is some advantage. There has been some doubt as to what constitutes conditional contraband. There is an effort made in Articles 33 and 34 to define what is meant by conditional contraband. The definition may not satisfy everybody. I think no words can be found to satisfy everybody, but a further definition is made of what constitutes conditional contraband. Should a cargo be either destroyed or captured, then the appeal does not lie only to the enemy's court in the country against which the shipper has a grievance. There will be an appeal to an international tribunal, the great majority of whose members are neutral. The Hague Conference set. up the International Arbitration board, which the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh Unviersity (Sir R. Finlay) praised. The international tribunal now proposed to be set up will consist of eminent jurists, the majority of which will be neutrals. The same considerations I believe would help to influence the foreign shipper in choosing to send food to England, in addition to the fact that he would do so because England has the strongest Navy. This would also influence commanders who might be disposed to take great liberty with ships carrying what they believe to be contraband. They would bear in mind the strength of our Navy. I 892 should have liked to ask the Foreign Secretary to repeat in this House certain assurances which he formally gave. The first one is that the expression "enemy" should be clearly understood to apply to an enemy Government. Personally I should have liked him to make the ratification of the Declaration conditional on that. I should have liked also the official adoption by all the signatories of M. Renault's report. I should have liked also a clear reservation of our position and rights on the question of the conversion of merchantmen on the high seas. For the reasons I have given I heartily support this Bill and the Declaration of London which is attached to it, believing that delay in the ratification at this stage would be not only a national but an international blunder, which might involve this country in consequences which would be almost irretrievable.
§ Mr. GERSHOM STEWART
I intervene in this Debate as one who was resident in that part of the world where the episode actually took place which called this Declaration into being. I feel sure I express the opinion of every Englishman east of Suez when I say that they will hear with astonishment and profound disappointment that our Government are prepared to sign a Declaration placing the sinking of neutral British ships at the discretion of any foreign commander. What we have looked upon in the past as regrettable incidents we must now, I suppose, have to accept as the ordinary course of things in time of war. The hon. Member who has just sat down seemed to me to share with us certain doubt about the real virtue of this Declaration, because even he seemed to think that conditions were required, and that we ought to have certain alterations made in it before ratification.
§ Mr. FRANCE
I simply asked that in ratifying, our Foreign Secretary should repeat one of the statements which he has already made with regard to the Declaration, and that he should make two further conditions which he has already announced in other places.
§ Mr. STEWART
But Article 65 in the Declaration says that the whole or nothing must be accepted; you cannot make certain emendations. It is because I wish to see certain emendations made that I support the Motion for delay. The hon. Member seemed to assume that some Members on this side of the House say that we have got advantages from this Declaration, 893 while some say we have not. Does not that show that we are approaching the matter in a non-party spirit? I listened to the speech of the Foreign Secretary with very great interest, and he said that this question was one which should be approached in a non-party spirit. I wish that the Government would back them up in that position. One short week ago, in a moment of universal rejoicing, we forgot all party differences; now, when we are considering a matter of common absolute danger to the whole community, we should do the same thing, because assuredly if and when this Declaration becomes operative, the whole of this country, Tory or Liberal, will have to sink or swim together. The Foreign Secretary said that the crux of the whole contention was the question of our food supply in time of war. He proceeded to give us very cold comfort on that point by saying that the Declaration did nothing to help us in time of trouble. He then proceeded to censure the justice to be obtained in foreign law courts, and it rather seemed to me that if you get little justice in individual cases, when we are dealing with them in large numbers, you cannot hope for very much from the international court. Reference was made to the action of Russia in the late war in a manner which seemed to imply that we did something that we should not have done in accepting what they did. But Russia at the end of the war sank our ships to try to embroil us. They were so annoyed with the help which we had given the Japanese that the few commanders left them acted almost as distracted people. Fortunately this country was not drawn into that contention, and was supported in the course which it took by hon. Gentlemen opposite.
The Foreign Secretary proceeded to say that he could not speculate on what the United States would do, and immediately he proceeded to do so. It seemed to me that he proved that the whole success of this Declaration depends on our being good friends with the United States. We all earnestly hope that that may be, but for the United States to act as convoy to their food ships under Articles 61 and 62, is such an act of participation in hostilities as to be almost equal to being allies. It has been said by the hon. Member for Kingston (Mr. Cave), with whom I agree entirely, that we do not gain as neutrals. As far as I can read this thing, I think we are hit both ways, especially when we are belligerents, because as belligerents we risk our own ships, and we consent to 894 the sinking of our friends' ships when they come to help us. I think we can only look at this thing from the point of view of belligerents. Our interests as neutrals and our profits as neutrals are the interests and profits of the few. When a man's ship is sunk, it is a question more for the underwriters than for the shipowners. Our interests as belligerents are concerned with the food and ability of resistance of the many. This Amendment is reasonable; I cannot understand the objection of the Government to accepting it, unless they are determined from the party point of view to save the face of the Foreign Office and Admiralty for having concluded a bad bargain. The prevailing feeling throughout the whole of the country is that in some way or other we are getting the worse of the bargain. Nothing which I have heard in this Debate has removed that impression from my mind.
One has been struck with the minatory tone of those people who are upholding this Declaration. I have not really heard one single man who seemed to be content and happy that we are going to sign it. They approach it from the point of view that we have not conceded anything, that they admit there are points in it they do not like, but that on the whole they think it a good thing to have a definite agreement in regard to points of maritime war. We are all agreed on that, provided it does not cost too much; and that is a philosophic frame of mind in which to approach it. But we must remember we are dealing with a question in which philosophy will be no help at all when this Declaration comes into active operation. We are told that it illustrates the principle that half a loaf is better than no bread. It may be if the bread is good, but we think that this bread is sour, because it is saturated so much with the spirit of concession. What we wish in asking the Government to withhold ratification immediately from this Declaration is that in future this half a loaf should not be saturated with the tears of our people, grieving at leisure for having legislated in haste. We are told that it has been two years before the public. I admit. But what sort of a period of two years? I do not suppose that in history there have been two years so full of incident in political life in this country. We have had the Budget, we have had two elections, we have had the lamented death of the late King, we have had the Insurance Bill and the Coronation of our King.
895 It is the common experience of political thinkers that the British public like to take one thing at a time. It is only at this individual moment that this question is seriously engaging the attention of this country, and I maintain most earnestly that we have no right to sign a document upon which that most vital point, the promiscuous arming of merchantmen, and the possible revival of privateering in its most vicious form, are left an open issue. As regard that point I object to the Declaration, not only for what is in it, but also I object very much for what is not in it. This question should be cleared up before we tie ourselves up with an ambiguous scheme of this nature. The First Lord in reply to a question of the Noble Lord the Member for Portsmouth (Lord Charles Beresford) gave a very cryptic sort of assurance that if our ships are burned by cruisers or merchantment not properly equipped as we maintain under regular authority as war vessels, it would be worse for the men who did it. What does the right hon. Gentleman mean? If we say nothing now, and leave our position in doubt we certainly cannot tell those men "you are violating public opinion in this country," and the civilised world would be against us if we proceeded to treat them as pirates. And if we did we would engender into hostilities a bitter feeling which would be most deplorable. It is an idle threat for the First Lord. He knows it, and we know it. But I should like to be quite clear as to what position we are going to take up before we sign a scheme of this sort. I was astonished at the light and airy manner in which the hon. Member for Hexham spoke about the damage which our ships might suffer from these armed merchantmen in time of war. I would recommend him, and also any other hon. Member in this House who has never read the book to make a very careful study of Captain Semmes's book, "My Cruises in the Alabama." The "Alabama" was nothing more than an armed merchantman. She was of much the same class as the ships we had afloat in 1885 in China, when the Russian scare was on. I have been on board these vessels. It is absolutely impossible to overestimate the damage which could be done by half-a-dozen "Alabamas" let loose on our trade routes, and interfering with our food supply, which is so vital to the position of this country We would have dismay, consternation, and panic following each other with horrible rapidity. 896 Clause 47 in this agreement gives, as the hon. Member for Kingston pointed out, the right of search and of removal from on board our ships. It is a right which the United States and Great Britain have most jealously resisted. It was our exercise of that right against American ships which brought about the war of 1812. Under this particular Clause, if it had been in operation forty years ago, Captain Semmes himself might have been taken off a British ship, after his ship was sunk, and probably been hanged, because the United States, or the Northern States, were very much incensed against, him. As it was in those more humane days Captain Semmes lived to an old age, and we had to pay £3,000,000 for having a left-handed connection with an irregular war vessel. We used to proudly say that wherever the British flag floated was the safest place. But this Declaration tears a very great piece from our flag when we have to hand over men to foreign Powers. Then there is the question of blockade. It is said that this is one of the things from which we get some advantage. My own idea of the value of the blockade is that it is becoming gradually and beautifully less, and that with submarines, aeroplanes, and mines we cannot risk valuable ships on a coast for blockade purposes. We consent to the sowing of narrow waters like the Thames and the Channel with mines, and we give up the right to close the North Sea between Shetland and Norway.
As far as I can see the whole settlement revolves round the word "conditional." Imagine some naval lieutenant on a wet, blowy night, wishing to damage his enemy. Would he be stopped by paper safeguards? Most assuredly he would not, and he would not be worth his salt if he was. Then we heard a great story about the Imperial Conference having passed some sort of favourable resolution in regard to this Declaration. Australia, I understand, did not assent, and the South African newspapers apparently do not approve of what their representative did. At any rate, too much ought not to be made of their guarded acceptance, because a great many of the proposals put forward have not received very favourable acceptance; but one can understand that, with the natural feeling of good fellowship and the desire not to hurt feelings, this question received less consideration than it should have had on its merits. Immediately after this Declaration was proposed, Canada, through her Prime Minis- 897 ter, expressed the earnest wish that if Great Britain was engaged in any war that Colony should be allowed to contract out. I would point out that in any case we would be called upon to pay any indemnity, and the Colonies would not have to pay. The Declaration, therefore, is a very much less important matter to them than it is to us. As to the international court, I have read about that in the Declaration, but I do not read anything about international police to carry out and enforce the court's decision. It is interesting to note in regard to international law how sailors look at it. In 1895 our ship "Agamemnon" during the Japanese war put into a Japanese port, and a Russian ship came up and trained her guns upon our vessel. It looked as if there was to be a battle on the spot. The Russian admiral was communicated with, and the circumstances pointed out to him, and he replied: "I believe in international law when we have power on the spot to enforce it."
A small Republic of South America, or any other small State, would have the right to sink our ships without compensation. Article 65 says that we have to take the whole dose or none at all, and we have to take this foreign medicine for twelve years. In sound finance people do not want long credit, and in diplomacy I maintain that if proposals are not sound, they should not have long credit either. We do not like the medicine, and we do not care to take it for a long period, and all we ask is that this agreement should be subjected to microscopic inspection by our experts. Article 67 requires ratification as soon as possible, so that there is no hurry. We whose interests are overpowering, may be excused if we ask that the matter should be conducted with a little more deliberation. The report of M. Renault is going to be included in the agreement, and if one Amendment is accepted, I suggest that in regard to Article 69, an Amendment should be accepted limiting the period to six years. I would like to put a definite case before the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Burns), who is representing every Department of the Government at the present moment, and no one is more capable of representing British interests than he. I want to put a concrete case before the House, of which I had experience. In 1905, I happened to be in Japan on a French steamer. We were stopped at a certain point by a Japanese destroyer. Twenty-four hours before we had dropped a very great deal of 898 supplies out of the ship for the Russians, amongst them 28,000 cases of brandy. What I ask is this, supposing by accident, bad weather, or some other reason, we had not been able to touch the last-port, and had that cargo on board when the destroyer picked us up. The destroyer could not put a prize crew on board, and it could not leave its beat, and therefore under Article 49 he would have been justified in putting three or four hundred people who were on board into the boats and sinking the vessel. I think under this Declaration that is what would happen. It might be rather interesting, if that is the case, to be given some idea by the Admiralty of what rations they would consider to be necessary for people so treated. There is a question about prize money, and hon. Members opposite have spoken very seriously against it. I to some extent agree, but you must not forget this, that prize money, although it does not prevent the transfer of property, does very much to prevent its wanton destruction, so that there is something to be said for it. It appears to me that the Government entered into these negotiations hoping to raise the level of foreign countries upon the question of maritime war to our level. They failed to do so, and I very much question their wisdom in descending to the lower level from which other people approach this matter. You started by trying to make war humane, and you end by going to sign an agreement which has the effect, I think, of making it more barbarous than it is already. You have not gained except in some slight degree on the material side, and you have lost very much on the moral side. You are asking us to do like Esau, and sell our birthright for a mess of legal pottage. As sure as we do so we shall have to follow the example of Esau and break the yoke on our necks. I do protest against the country committing itself for twelve years to an inglorious agreement of this sort, which, instead of being a safeguard, is a danger. If it will not stand closer examination we are better without it. The result of the discussion, whatever the Division may be to-night, has at any rate this most valuable effect: that it has focussed public attention on the dangerous position of our food supply, and indeed it has given an effectual answer to what I must term, with all respect, what I consider to be the most imprudent and the most speculative party in the whole country—that is, the Little Navy party. A great deal has been made of the Liverpool 899 steamship owners accepting this. Their acceptance is most guarded. I have in my pocket letters from the Liverpool Shipowners' Association and letters from the British Mercantile Marine Officers' Association strongly protesting against this agreement. I represent a large maritime constituency, and as one who believes that the maintenance of naval rights is as the breath of life to this country, I most earnestly ask the Government to favourably consider this most reasonable Amendment which we have before us.
A good deal has been said in the course of this Debate about the opinions of captains and admirals both by the First Lord of the Admiralty and by the Noble Lord the Member for Portsmouth (Lord Charles Beresford). I do not purpose to go into what the admirals think, because I am hardly able to follow the First Lord's arguments, which was that if a man was a captain his opinion was not quite worth so much as if a man was an admiral. It seems to me that if a man was a captain on the 31st May and an admiral on the 1st June that his opinion would be equally good on one day as on the other. It would hardly be the fact, I think, that Lord Kitchener's opinion as a Field Marshal on the 1st June would be better than his opinion as a General on 31st May. I would venture to give to the House a few arguments, which are against the Declaration of London, and which are held, to use an Irishism, by the naval man in the street, if it is possible to have that man. As everyone knows, he strongly objects to privateering. Privateering, the ordinary naval man says, takes them back to the worst form of fighting in the world, the form that existed 100 years ago and is on a par with guerilla warfare. The punishment for privateering and guerilla warfare is that you are hanged out of hand, which may or may not be a pleasant operation, but I am perfectly certain the naval officer strongly objects to that form of fighting, and says that it is taking him back instead of taking him forward. The right hon. Gentleman and those opposite say that they are anxious for the cause of peace, but nobody can say for a single moment that guerilla warfare is in the cause of peace.
Another argument which I think the men talk a great deal about, and to which 900 the Foreign Secretary adverted, was the fact that men who do not mind responsibility are going to take no notice of the Declaration, that is the good men. We know that the good men in the Army and Navy are those who do not care in the least about responsibility, and the First Lord of the Admiralty said that that knocked the bottom out of the argument of the Member for Portsmouth, which was rather a big job. As regards the point I am raising, I should state that the Navy think that it is absolutely impossible for any good mart to avoid sinking ships if necessary, and that the men who are bad men are the men who do nothing. The Navy think when they are good men they would be liable to-be tried by court martial, and they would be subject to court martial if they disobeyed the laws of their country. Another point against the Declaration is that the Navy will no longer be able to seal the North Sea. Some speakers opposite said that that was not so, but I would read this:—Blockading must not extend beyond the ports and coasts belonging to or occupied by the enemy.Article 18 of the Declaration says the blockading forces must notbar access to neutral ports or coasts.so that our Navy will not be able to seal up the North Sea. The further point is that the Navy strongly objects, and I think we can hardly blame them, to the "Dago" Court, which consists of fifteen judges. There is a judge from Paraguay, there is to be a judge from Persia and a judge from Peru and one from Servia and one from Switzerland. I cannot remember that there was ever any navy in Switzerland or a sea coast, and how are we going to have a Swiss admiral who is going to be the judge of the British Navy? We have been reminded by the First Lord of the Admiralty that we have an enormous Navy, but surely that is a reason for having more than one judge out of fifteen who can tell us whether we are doing right or wrong. I can hardly believe that my right hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Burns), for whom we have all the greatest respect, could possibly allow, with his fighting instincts, that one out of fifteen was enough for the British Navy to have in the court. The Prime Minister said this was a question of high policy. If we leave out the word "high" and call it "policy" I think we should be about the mark because, as a good many know, a good many right hon. Gentlemen on the other side are against the treaty. If we 901 leave out the word "high" it is policy which is keeping the Prime Minister on the path he is going as to the Declaration. As regards the question of food, I do not think that the benches on this side are entirely blameless. If this Declaration had been brought in from this side of the House you would have every big town in England reverberating with shrieks about the cost of your food in the time of war. You would have had the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and quite rightly too, coming down and in his silkiest tone protesting against the possibility of the widows and orphans having their food raised in price by one farthing. Quite right indeed; I think we were to blame for not making more of it than we have done; if the Members of the Government had been in our shoes, they would have made the whole of England ring with the possibility of dear food in time of war. There is one more point which I should like to read from a letter to myself by Admiral Penrose Fitzgerald, an officer who has rendered great service to the country. He says: "Is there anything to be done to save us from these disasters. Peradventure there are some righteous men to save us or the Navy might be paid off for all the use it will be." I will conclude with a quotation which I know is a very fine one, and appropriate:—The Fleet of England is her all in all,And in her fleet her fate.
§ Mr. MOLTENO
I have only a few remarks to make. We have had a valuable Debate, in which a great many fallacies and fictions which had been raised around this matter have been dealt with. The Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs and the First Lord of the Admiralty dealt with a number of them, and the latter dealt particularly with the figment that the Navy and naval experts were opposed to this Declaration. The speech of the Foreign Secretary this evening has exposed many of those mistaken ideas about the Declaration which for a considerable period has been put before the country and the House. I only desire to say a few words from the point of view of the shipowner. The Noble Lord the Member for Portsmouth (Lord C. Beresford) said the lawyers would not be there when it came to the test. That is very true, but the shipowner has to regard the thing for himself, apart from the opinions of lawyers and experts. He is not accustomed to be ruled by experts, but he forms his own judgment and directs his affairs in accordance with it. He does not re- 902 quire legal opinion, or even the opinion of an ex-Cabinet Minister. From the point of view of a shipowner we have seen that great uncertainty prevails now with regard to what is contraband. The Shipowners' Societies have pointed out that this placed them in an almost impossible position; there were no means of knowing what they were permitted to do, or what they were not permitted to do. There were no means of telling how things stood in this matter in view of the changes in merchant shipping in modern times. These changes have very largely altered its character. Ships at one time carried a cargo all of one class, and it was easy to know what was their origin and ownership, and to determine to whom they belonged, but to-day the character of shipping and cargo is entirely different. The ships have increased in size, more ports are embraced in the voyages, they have enormous cargoes of a varied character; they may be sometimes as many as a thousand consignments in one ship, and there may be people interested in that ship all over the world. That has altered the position of the shipowner, and the difficulties arising from the uncertainty as to contraband have enormously increased.
When the Russo-Japanese War took place, we had an illustration of the enormous difficulty that confronted the shipowner who desired to carry on his legitimate trade and not to interfere in any way with the rights of the belligerents. We saw that ships were sunk, and in consequence this is one of the resolutions passed by associations of shipowners and addressed to the late Government in 1904:That in consequence of the uncertainty existing among British merchants, shipowners and underwriters, as to what is contraband, a position most detrimental to the interests of the country has arisen, therefore the association begs to impress upon His Majesty's Government the vital necessity for an immediate and satisfactory settlement of the question of what is and what is not contraband. That in consequence of the action of Russian cruisers in seizing and destroying and detaining British ships said to be carrying contraband, a feeling of insecurity with regard to the British flag has arisen, and in consequence thereof the shipowners and merchants of other nations are being benefited. His Majesty's Government is therefore called upon to take immediate steps to protect the British flag.That is the condition of affairs which prevailed then and which still exists, and it was the duty of the Government to do something to assist the shipowners. If we look at the Declaration of London, and the position as regards British shipping, we find that the position is this, that when we are belligerents, it has no effect upon British shipping. Our ships are liable to 903 capture as they were before, and we are able to capture the ships of other nations, therefore when we are belligerents it does not affect us at all, but the position is quite different when we are no longer belligerents but neutrals. Our interests as neutrals are very important. We are the most important shipping nation in the world. We carry half the trade of the world, and therefore this Declaration is very important to us in our position as neutrals. If we gain advantages as neutrals for our shipping to carry on the trade of this country, upon which an immense number of our population is dependent, it is a very important matter. We have been assured in this Debate that this Declaration does not in any way interfere with our fighting powers when we are belligerents. If it has any effect at all in that case it is favourable, but shipowners want to get advantages for carrying on their trade when we are not at war, and it this Declaration gives us those advantages it is perfectly legitimate for us to accept it. The Declaration clears up a number of these doubtful matters; we know now the conditions under which we may carry on our shipping trade. If we are belligerents we are not harmed by the Declaration, but our gain as neutrals is this, that whereas before the Declaration neutrals had no remedy for wrong action except war, the shipowners now can get redress from the Government and through the Prize Court without the dreadful arbitrament of war. By the Declaration we do get something like the beginning of a code of law, and that code is to be administered, not by the partial courts of the captor of your ship, but by an international court.
That is of very great importance, and it is a great improvement upon what has prevailed up to the present. The Debate on this Declaration has cleared up a number of mistakes in matters of this kind, as to the position of neutrals and the position of belligerents, and in the course of the Debate some speakers have compared not what is in the Declaration, but what the British Government endeavaured to get, and left out of sight what is at present the international law on the subject. Does the Declaration give a distinct improvement upon present conditions for neutrals? I think that in any impartial investigation that question must be answered in the affirmative, and if it is so, and it does not imperil the safety of our country, and it frees shipowners from 904 so many uncertainties, and clears up matters that were vague, I think we have all these advantages, and shipowners may safely accept this Declaration. What do we get? Instead of having Prize Courts which differed in the law they administered, and their procedure, we now get one court which is to administer the law that has been agreed upon beforehand. The matter is not settled in time of stress and strain, and ultimately by act of battle, but coolly and calmly in time of perfect peace. Then we have these rules settled now of all the material points in regard to neutral commerce. Again, we have for the first time food declared not to be contraband when destined for the peaceful inhabitants of a country. The right claimed beforetime to capture and destroy ships is now limited by certain definite rules in the Declaration. The neutral trader is now free to carry all cargo except absolute contraband as between neutral ports.
Again, we have for the first time a free list recognised by international law by which neutrals can carry to ports of the belligerents other than ports actually blockaded. The value of the goods included in this is for one year alone about £300,000,000. For the first time the neutral trader secures the right of redress by trial. I think, in view of all these advantages, the British shipowner should have very little difficulty in accepting the Declaration. In conclusion, to sum up, I must say we have in this Declaration an outline of what may prove a most valuable addition to the sphere of law and order. We shall have much less temptation than before on the part of neutrals to revert to war, because the decisions of the courts will be reviewed. There will be far less temptations, too, on the part of belligerents to take unwarranted action. In this way the causes of war will be limited, and this will be an enormous advantage to shipping. Shipping is that part of the national property which is most exposed to the risk of danger and disaster in time of war, being the first part to be attacked. It is a great importance to shipowners to diminish these risks and free them from the danger which always in the first instance falls most heavily upon the shipowners of any country.
§ Mr. POLLOCK
I wish for a very few moments, desiring to hear the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Bonar Law), to offer my reasons for supporting the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman the Member for York. It is a very curious thing that the 905 persons who are most supposed to gain by this Declaration are those who apparently are most against it. It has been claimed that it is an advantage to neutrals, and that the British shipowner gains very largely. The curious fact is that of the large number of bodies representative of the interests of shipowners and the shipping classes, that all or most of them have passed resolutions asking for further deliberation before the Declaration of London is ratified. It is claimed that in some cases those resolutions have been passed without adequate consideration. But I think that in all cases expert committees have been appointed in order to consider the question, and they have come to a most deliberate opinion that further time and consideration was necessary. Let me illustrate this to the House by referring to the Liverpool Steamshipowners' Association, which has been referred to by hon. Members opposite. One of the most able and excellent theses upon the Declaration of London was prepared and presented in the annual report of that association. It is impartial. That report asks for due deliberation and consideration of not less than four large questions. In the fourth question there are eight sub-questions which are propounded. The closing observation made is that:—If these questions are dealt with in detail the country and Parliament will, I think, be able to judge the Declaration on its merits.It is because we ask that these questions should be deliberated upon and considered that we desire to send this important question to a commission. How then comes the Declaration before us. The letter sent from the Foreign Office shows that the Government intended not to suggest any new doctrine but to crystallise in a few simple propositions questions on which it seemed possible to lay down a guiding principle generally acceptable. That was what they set out to do. They had done too much. They fear to draw back! They shun the prospect of disappointment and ill-success, and they are asking the House now to ratify this Declaration upon their own responsibility alone. The Foreign Secretary offers the responsibility of the Government as he would offer some national security. Does he forget that the finger of time may efface all the right hon. Gentlemen opposite? What we desire is that the best consideration that the best heads possibly can give to this Declaration to be offered to the country should be given. Then the country would be able to judge whether it would be wise 906 or not to ratify this Declaration. M. Renault's Report tells us that it is a matter of compromise—a matter in which if you do not read the Declaration as a whole, but read it in part, the reader may find that interest with which he is specially concerned is jeopardised by the adoption of these rules.
If it is true that any portion of the interests of those concerned are jeopardised by the adoption of these rules, is it not clear that we should ask for the highest possible authority to be given to the Declaration before it is ratified, and before any interests at all are jeopardised? How does the Declaration come before us? It is not suggested that it is a complete and satisfactory piece of work! The Government themselves ask the question to what extent the rules themselves will safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of Great Britain; how far their claim to general validity, and therefore general respect, is made good by their inherent justice, and so on. That question is asked, and left entirely to the judgment of His Majesty's Government. Without any disrespect to those able representatives who represented us upon the Convention of London, it cannot be claimed for them that they spoke the final word on behalf of this country, nor can it be said that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who sit on the Front Opposition Bench are persons who are absolutely qualified, without bias, by their skill to judge whether or not the interests of some class of persons have or have not been jeopardised. The truth is this, that the interests of neutrals are financial and financial only. The interests that we will have in the matter from the point of view of belligerents are vital, and to claim that the Declaration of London is an advance on the right of neutrals is not to claim that it ought to be ratified. No doubt it may have some merits. The question is whether our vital interests decided by our position as belligerents are properly safeguarded, and to that question it is no answer to reply that the Government accept responsibility for what they are doing. Let me turn in order to criticise for a few moments some of the articles in the Declaration itself. The oft-quoted and oft-discussed Clause 34 is claimed by the Foreign Secretary to be some assistance to this country, and he claims that the position of conditional contraband, which, of course, includes foodstuffs, is important by the terms of Articles 33 and 34. Without going into the terms of Article 33 let me agree that we ought 907 to look at the two articles, which have relation to conditional contraband, as a whole, to see whether they form a complete and satisfactory code upon this most important question But if these be looked at as a whole you cannot overlook the fact that Article 34 does give to any belligerent the right to treat as contraband foodstuffs, and also lays down the presumption that will arise when certain circumstances have taken place. That is to say, there is a presumption of their destination for the enemy authority if goods are consigned to a fortified place or to a place of the army or fortress of the enemy, and we know by M. Renault's report these words are to be taken to include the base of operations or supply for the armed forces of the enemy.
The Foreign Secretary does not remind us that that is a new presumption and one that is given away by the Declaration. The words "base of operations" have already been interpreted by an international tribunal, and a disastrous interpretation it has been for this country. Political memories are short, and I have been somewhat surprised that in the course of this Debate we had not greater reference to the great trial of the Alabama claim before the Court of Arbitration at Geneva in 1872. One or two hon. Gentlemen opposite, in referring to the matter, mentioned the name of Lord Selborne, the bearer of an honoured name, who was our representative before that Court, and those who are curious and care to know his view in the matter that came before the Court might be instructed if they read what he has left on record in regard to the matter.
What are the points? One of the points was that we were responsible for the depredations that took place by the "Florida" and the "Shanadoah." The question that came before the Court was whether or not England was responsible for what they did. The "Florida" put into Melbourne and obtained 250 tons of coal, and departed within twenty-four hours. She only got what any other belligerent or neutral could have got. But it was held by the Court that from and after the time the "Florida" left the Port of Melbourne we were responsible, because she treated our colonial port as a base of operation. The "Shanadoah" went into another colonial port. She got, according to the true rights of belligerents, coal, and it was once more held that in consequence of her having put into colonial port we were responsible for the depredations 908 which took place, and the award clearly laid it down and treated these two ports as having been bases of operations. We had a very able representative in this country, Sir Alexander Cockburn, at that Court. He was Lord Chief Justice, and he protested against the award made, and he claimed that a far more limited sense should be given to the use of the term "base of operations," and he laid down the terms which he thought should be the true interpretation of these words and the limited terms that he asked for were as follows:—In naval warfare a base of operation would mean a port or waters from which a fleet or ship of war may watch the enemy and sail forth to attack with the possibility of falling back to the port or water in question for fresh supplies or shelter for the renewal of operations.Is there a single port in this country into which food supplies in any quantities come that would not form a point from which we could watch the enemy or sally forth to attack, and if that is the definition of the Arbitration Court that sat to determine the matter between us and the United States, and the claim and limited claim of our own Lord Chief Justice, does anyone suppose in future decisions a narrower interpretation will be given to these words? Is there a single port that could be useful for receiving foodstuffs that would escape from the interpretation of this Article 34? If that be so, how can it be suggested that Clause 34 docs not give away very considerable rights? It gives the right to our enemies to presume that foodstuffs coming from any of our ports are necessarily going to the enemy authorities, unless and until this presumption is disproved.
I dwell upon this Clause because it is much discussed, but discussed in a limited outlook, and it is even forgotten that we have already a judgment against us which puts us in the unfortunate position that the presumption would always be made against us, and that all our ports and waters would be taken to fall within Article 34. That is a very important and very serious position in which to find ourselves. I pass now to the next Clause, Article 35, and there we are told that ships' papers are to be conclusive proof as to the voyage on which the vessel is engaged and as to the ports for the discharge of her goods. Looking at the report that accompanies that, we are told that in a case of searching a vessel—a most important right, the right of searching is perhaps the most important right that a belligerent can exercise against 909 neutral shipping—that the ship's papers are proof unless the facts show their evidence is false, and indication is given in that report that you may search and discover whether the ship's papers are true. What value is it, then, to tell us that under Article 35 the ship's papers are con-elusive proof? If you read the report of the article it is clear that the article is contrary to the report, and the report overrides the article, and once more confusion is created.
We are told by the reasoning of those representing this Convention that as they gained a point on the question of the continuous voyage in respect of absolute contraband they might give up something on the question of the conditions of contraband. The question of conditional and absolute contraband are matters which can be set off one against the other. That is a most unsatisfactory way of dealing with it, and the reason given in support of the attitude they took up, or rather which they were driven to take up, is, to my mind, highly condemnatory of the unfortunate result of their labours.
On the question of contraband the Foreign Secretary asked us to look at the convoy clauses, in which he said we had gained a great deal because neutral vessels are exempt from search. That is so under Clause 61, but when attention is drawn to Article 62 it is immediately said if a controversy can arise they are really not exempt from search, and if, in the opinion of the commander, the facts justify the capture of one or more vessels the protection of the convoy can be withdrawn from such vessels. The Foreign Secretary suggested that the convoy clauses offered a complete protection for neutral vessels, but we find that a controversy can arise where the convoy is acting improperly, and then the facts are to be examined, and if they justify the capture of one or more vessels then the protection is to be withdrawn. Those two clauses are actually antagonistic, and instead of giving security to neutrals they are only a couple of clauses which add an increasing difficulty to understanding and laying down the principles initiated by the Declaration. Those are a few amongst many points which can be made against the Declaration.
We have heard a good deal of somewhat subtle argument as to the various rights which are intended to be dealt with. I think all those doubts could be set at rest and dealt with if we had the confidence of some high authority to be called to 910 settle this matter. The Foreign Secretary said it would be possible to get a Committee which would condemn the Declaration in twenty-four hours or which might support it in twenty-four hours. We do not ask for either the one Committee or the other, but we do ask that it should be submitted to the unbiassed judgment of men of known repute, and upon their opinion our course should be moulded. But to ask us blindly to accept the Declaration of London on the authority of the Government is to ask us to accept an illusory foundation. This proposal is put forward in no party spirit, but it is an honest and sincere endeavour to serve the best interests of the country. It is with this object that we are asking that the very best intellects should give their attention to this matter and this House should decide when those facts have been placed before it.
§ Mr. BEALE
I do not think the last speaker should be taken seriously when he asserts that the House has been asked blindly to accept the statements of the Government. For the last few weeks various authorities have been at work enlightening us, and having read most of those authorities, not excluding the Admirals, and the opinions of all those who can give us any real light, I have come to the conclusion that there is no foundation for the complaint which has been made in regard to this Declaration. I will endeavour not to go over any of the ground which has been touched upon by previous speakers. It is said that there is a difference of opinion amongst shipowners. I think the hon. Member for Hexham rather understated than overstated the views of shipowners on this question. I have in my hand a copy of the resolution which was quoted by the hon. Member for Leamington, in which it is set forth that the shipowners, having considered the reasons urged against the adoption of the Declaration of London, are of opinion that its provisions are not in favour of the rights of belligerents but in favour of neutrals, and the opposition is based upon the sacrifice of the rights of neutrals to the belligerents. They further declare that they are of opinion that the adoption of the Declaration of London will facilitate and not prejudice the carriage of food supplies in neutral shipping in time of war.
I do not want to carry further any of the points of detail on which hon. Members and parties outside the House are really at 911 issue. We may be wrong in our prophesies and we may be wrong in our conclusions as to what will or what will not happen under this Declaration. Nevertheless, I think we have before us sufficient material without any further enlightenment to make up our mind whether we should vote in favour of this Naval Prize Bill establishing as it does a tribunal available under the general terms of the Declaration of London. There may be provisions in the Naval Prize Bill relating to things which hon. Members opposite think are very essential in the Declaration. For my part I think that the whole question of this particular Amendment is—do we gain anything by postponing or reinquiring as to whether we shall set up this court in view of the adoption of the Declaration of London. So far as I can make out, the great object of hon. Gentlemen opposite is that they think by reconsidering the Declaration of London and rediscussing it with foreign Powers we might possibly go one better. I think the chances of doing that are very small, considering the advantages that shipowners have acknowledged throughout the country. In view of the arguments put forward in favour of this Bill I do not think we ought to hesitate for a moment in regard to its passing through the House of Commons.
I wish to draw attention to one or two points which have not been made the ground work of any speeches of any hon. Gentlemen I have heard. It is not of so much importance whether you or I agree to the Declaration, but it is of importance what our united forces can secure the performance of; and, as this Convention lays down propositions, the violation of which will always be the affair of neutrals, the question is: What means have the neutrals of getting the benefit of the terms of the present law, and what means will they have of getting the benefit of the terms laid down by this Declaration? There are only two ways by which the obligations of a Convention of this kind can be enforced: Either the violation in its terms is casus belli, or there is no remedy except in damages, practically after the war is over. The wrong will be done first, and then there will only be the remedy in damages, but, if you can lay down clearly and distinctly, instead of leaving it in a chaotic state where the wrong exists, so that one may know at once when any belligerent is violating a Convention made by the nations, you get a greater chance of a better remedy. The 912 injured neutral knows he is wronged, and the opinion not only of the injured neutral, but of all neutrals, would turn against the belligerent who does the wrong, and you might possibly get pressure put upon the enemy who does the wrong far more beneficial than merely having recourse to damages. It is for that reason, I think, although there may be a doubt on one or two points, that the advantages are enormously in favour of having the term definite. There is no such difference between the old term as used by Mr. Bryce, "A place serving as a base of military or naval equipment" and the term of the Declaration, "base of supply to the enemy" as would prevent the belligerent from asserting his right in cases of doubt in the one case any more than in the other.
The right hon. Gentleman and learned Gentleman criticised the composition of this international court. I myself do not think that criticism of the Court founded on the fact that the people whose interests have to be decided at the Court have small representation on that Court are sound. The Court must be looked upon as one which will act in a judicial capacity, and I should rather go the other way, and say people who are immediately concerned should not be judges of that Court. I do not think that kind of criticism of the nationality of the judges is of very much value. The thing that struck me most was a passage in the hon. and learned Gentleman's speech to the effect that our Prize Courts already were so good and so complete. Another hon. Member went further and said we have given the lead to the rest of the world, and the decisions of our Courts are quoted. If our Courts have that position, is it to be supposed that a tribunal composed in conformity with the wishes of other nations in the way suggested by the schedule of this Bill will have less respect? I agree with the hon. Member for Dumfriesshire that it is a great gain to shipowners to have a tribunal of this sort set up. The details have been worked out, and all our minds were clear about them long before this Debate began. I do not myself think anything we have heard goes further than the clear summing up of the pros and cons by Lord Lindley. I certainly think no case has been shown to deter us from taking this great step, which I believe is the prelude to a step of greater international importance of more far-reaching effect.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
The subject we have been discussing for three days is certainly a very complicated one, and I suppose, in the end, none of us can say much more than has just been said by the last speaker, that, after listening to everything put forward, we have made up our minds one way or the other. I quite admit it is no argument against this Declaration, or any similar international Declaration, to say that we as a nation do not get everything we want, and that there is a great deal in it we should wish to see left out. After all it is a question of the balance of advantages and disadvantages. Having admitted that, I may say further that if anyone cares to read, with an impartial mind, the letter of instructions sent by the Foreign Secretary to our representatives, pointing out the things which, in his opinion, were vital, and if he compares those instructions with the actual results of the Declaration, then the only conclusion one can arrive at is that we have given up everything we considered vital. The only way to deal with a question of this kind is to deal with the advantages and disadvantages, and set one against the other.
When a party man claims that he is not wishing to deal with a question in a party spirit, such a claim is received with a certain amount of scepticism. In spite of that, however, I desire to make such a claim. I am bound to say I am inclined to think that, when a complicated subject like this has been discussed and dealt with by people whose interests are the same as my own, and who have no bias, the chances are they are more likely to be right in their conclusions, and for that reason, in the early stages of the discussion, I did hold the probability was that the Government were right in this Declaration. The first time I began to change my view was on reading the Debates in the House of Lords, when I had an opportunity of seeing everything that could be said there on behalf of the Government. Since then I have studied as closely as possible whatever has been stated, and now I begin to think that to ratify this Declaration as it stands would be little short of a national misfortune. That, I admit, is a very strong thing to say, and I must do my best to justify what I have said. Let us consider what are the advantages, and set them against the disadvantages.
Let me take first what are claimed to be the advantages. I have either listened to 914 or read every speech by Members of the Government in support of the Convention, and up till to-night I considered there were only two advantages that were claimed for the Convention as it stands. The Foreign Secretary greatly surprised me by introducing a third advantage into the discussion this 'afternoon. He rebuked my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition because he was, he said, out of perspective, and he had left out of account an essential factor of the Declaration, and that was our position in regard to blockades. What does that mean? It means, that there is one case in which, although we have not got our way, by any means, we have approached more nearly getting it than in regard to any other point. I take the view of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, and do not attach great value to this question of the blockade. Every article on this subject written by sailors has declared that the blockade in modern times is not of the value which it used to be, and that, owing to the danger of submarines you cannot have a close blockade, while, by this very Declaration it is impossible for us to have a widely extended blockade, because it is not allowed to cover neutral coasts. I am strongly of opinion that the reason why the right hon. Gentleman so nearly got his way in regard to the matter is that those with whom he was dealing held it to be of little or no value. In regard to its naval value, I admit I am not competent to judge, but it is a most extraordinary fact that the First Lord of the Admiralty, posted by the Admiralty it may be presumed, should have made a long speech on this subject and should not have dealt with the very thing which we are told from a naval point of view is essential. I cannot pretend either to judge it from the point of view of strategy, but I can judge of it by the inconsistencies in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman himself. In the earlier part of his speech he told us it docs not matter much about contraband in regard to any great Continental Power, because we could not seriously affect it. If that is true, what are you going to blockade, and how does it become of such paramount value in dealing with any foreign Power. Sir Edward Fry, our representative at The Hague Conference, surely has some means of judging. The Foreign Secretary tells us that blockading is of immense value. Sir Edward Fry, in an article published on Saturday, said it 915 appeared to him that the right of English traders as neutrals were preserved, and that the limitation of area of capture benefited the trade, but at the same time it must be admitted that to a corresponding extent the rights of England as a belligerent suffered by the limitation.
Let me turn to the other advantages which have been claimed. First there is the free list of articles which are not liable under any circumstances to be treated as contraband. As is pointed out by the Foreign Secretary in his letter of instructions, nothing is more important to the trader than certainty, and it is important to him to be certain that various articles shall not be treated as contraband. But, after all, the importance depends entirely on the nature of the articles included in the list, and when one goes through that list it is found to be entirely illusory. We find, taking the whole list, that, with one or two trifling exceptions, there are only two articles which have never in the whole history of the world been claimed as conditional contraband by any nation. These two articles are hemp and cotton. Hemp was a natural contraband, but no Power would say it is so now. With regard to cotton, how does the position stand? Only once has cotton been claimed as conditional contraband. It was claimed as being so by Russia in the Russo-Japanese war in one case. It was claimed in regard to a new list which they had made contraband. This country remonstrated and the United States remonstrated. What happened? Russia gave way and abandoned the practice. The Liverpool Shipowners' Association is the one body in the whole country which is supporting the Government, and naturally the Foreign Secretary, being very proud of his one ewe lamb, has quoted their opinion in many of the letters he addressed to other bodies. The writer of this pamphlet actually said that he believes it would be possible, though difficult, to constitute the tribunal, forgetting that the tribunal is already constituted and that you can do nothing whatever in the matter now. I am not going to deal any further with the composition of the court, but the other condition, and a very vital condition, is that this court, whatever its composition, should have a body of law to administer which is perfectly clear and distinct. If there is not a reasonable certainty on the part of those who might be supposed to judge in the neutral country as to what the decision is likely to be, the court will be of very 916 little value. You must therefore have a reasonably clear body of doctrine. Whatever else may be said about these seventy-one articles in this Declaration, this at least is certain, that everyone is in the most ambiguous and indistinct form except the one or two where we have clearly given away what we wished to contend for. I think this greatly vitiates the value of the international Prize Court.
But there is something more to be said. Some of the people who spoke about that court had an idea, apparently, that all that an injured citizen of a neutral country has to do is to go to the Prize Court and get justice. But it has got to go through the ordinary courts of the nation which has broken the law first, and only afterwards goes to the international Prize Court. What happens then? The international Prize Court cannot give costs in the national court, and, more than that, so far as I have been able to make out, and I have consulted those who are competent to judge, the most that the international Prize Court can give in any case is the value of the property that has been wrongly taken. I ask any hon. Member in the House to realise the expense that the litigant will be put to, to realise the uncertainty and to realise further that he can get no indirect value, including that resulting from the sinking of the ship, at the time which could be used profitably, and I say the value of the international Prize Court is greatly reduced. But there is another consideration which is far more important, and which was made the central argument by the Leader of the Opposition. An international Prize Court is not altogether without value. No one will deny that. Take, then, our position as neutrals. The important thing for the traders of this country as a whole is not that the individual trader whose ship is seized should have a little more chance of getting decent compensation. The important thing is that during the war the neutral's trade should not be interfered with. By accepting this arrangement proposed by the Government we entirely alter the basis upon which the prevention of interference is going to be dealt with. The Under-Secretary, I think, gave it as one of the merits of the Declaration that neutrals would no longer be remonstrating with belligerents. It would all be left to the Prize Court. What is the good of that, even to neutrals? Two or three ships are seized or sunk. Is a shipowner going to risk letting his ship be sunk on the chance of getting compensation later on? The 917 only value to us even as neutrals is the power of remonstrating and putting an end to the evil at the time of its occurrence. The Foreign Secretary and the Under-Secretary both minimised it. They both said nations will not go to war in a case of that kind. They are going against not only the whole of actual experience but against common sense. If two nations were at war, is not that the very time when the neutral power would be able to use diplomatic pressure upon them in a way they could not use it at any other time? They do not wish to add to the number of their enemies. I could not put this better than by quoting the words of the Lord Chancellor himself. Speaking of the position as it exists to-day, he said:—When we are at war we shall then be a. nation interfering with neutrals, and liable to their pressure in the midst of our own great difficulty. We should give way in order to avoid complications even if we were right.If we should do that would not; other nations do it? Is not that our real protection? These are, as far as I have been able to follow, the only advantages which are claimed. There is, it is true, another kind of advantage if you like which has been used, strange to say, as the peroration of their speeches both by the Foreign Secretary and the Under-Secretary. They tell us that not to ratify this Declaration is to go back on the march of civilisation. They tell us that it is to encourage nations to pile up armaments under which they are staggering, and that it will even interfere with international arbitration with the United States. What earthly connection has the one with the other? I can see none. The whole of that kind of argument is simply an appeal to what I may call sloppy sentimentalism, and sentimentalism which is all the more sloppy because in this case the Declaration which we are asked to ratify is not a Declaration which will diminish the horrors of war, but which will admittedly increase them. If that is denied I am prepared to prove it, but everyone admits it. I have considered the advantages which are claimed. Let me consider briefly the disadvantages. Take, first, the conversion of merchant vessels into warships on the high seas. That is a barbarous evil. It could not be put more strongly than in the words of the Foreign Secretary himself. What did he say: that the Declaration makes no difference one way or the other. That is a position which cannot for a moment be maintained by any impartial man. It does make a difference. In the first place nobody will deny that a Prize 918 Court may deal with a case, and if that Prize Court gives it decision against our views we are compelled to accept it, and we have legalised once for all what is piracy or something very like it. Look at the position at which we stand to-day? You cannot discuss anything of this kind around a table, and try to impress your view upon others and fail, and say that the position remains exactly as it was. The thing is impossible. I can bring that to a clear issue by asking a question which I hope the Prime Minister will answer. That is precisely the same question put by the Leader of the Opposition to the Foreign Secretary, who did not answer it very clearly.
What is our position going to be when the Declaration is signed? Remember there is no half-way house. These merchant ships which are to be converted into warships besides the vessels they are going to destroy—are either warships or pirates? Are you going to treat them as pirates?
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
It stopped the practice. Are you, I ask, going to treat them as pirates? If you are you must say so now. You cannot do it after war has broken out. I put then to the right hon. Gentleman this question: What are you going to do now? We are told that if other nations play at that game we can play at it, too. To a certain extent that is true. But we can only play at it if we make preparation in time of peace. We cannot begin to play at it when they are already on the high seas when war breaks out. We must do it beforehand. That is a plain question which I put to the Government. Do they intend to prepare for it in time of peace? If they do not they subject us to an intolerable handicap, and if they do then there is not the slightest use of telling us that the position is unchanged. That is the first disadvantage to which I shall refer. Let me take the sinking of neutral vessels. That, again, is a barbarous practice. It is one from which we shall chiefly suffer. What has the Government done? They have legalised it under, I think, conditions which will make it an almost universal practice. I really was amazed to hear the right hon. Gentleman quoting from one of 919 our representatives a statement that the foreign delegates considered that it would occur very seldom in practice. They must really have thought they were talking to very foolish people. We can judge of that as well as they can. What is the position/ Under Article 49, I think, belligerents are allowed to sink any neutral ship if it will interfere with the business on which the warship is engaged. If you send a ship to destroy commerce of course you will have to take away everything that will interfere with its operations. If it is to be an effective destruction of neutral commerce it must take the form of sinking.
Why have they done it? It is said that the claim has been made by other countries. As a matter of fact it has only been done once in the whole of history. We had it done by Russia in the Russo-Japanese War. What happened? Lord Lansdowne remonstrated, and said it was an outrage. The Secretary for Foreign Affairs (Sir E. Grey) indicated—I am sure he was entirely mistaken, and I do not think he could have meant it—that the remonstrances had no effect. On the contrary, though I have not the exact words used by the Russian Minister, my right hon. Friend (Mr. Balfour) speaking in this House as head of the Government, used these words at that time. He said he had received the most specific assurance that no such action would be taken in the future. But we were told that in spite of this assurance it did take place. So it did, and the explanation given by my right hon. Friend this afternoon was that the Russian Government never contended that they had any right to do it. They said it had been done owing to the disorganisation of their forces. And now we, as a nation, for the first time legalise the barbarous practice on the ground that it was done by a nation which itself gave up the claim to act in that way. It is no wonder that an hon. Member, in a letter to "The Times," said that any British Minister should rather have cut off his right hand than sign a Declaration agreeing to sink neutral ships. But the Government say, "What could we do?" This is the criticism that I make against the Government, and especially against the Foreign Secretary. I do not deny that they have got possibly the best agreement which was possible at the time. It is almost impossible, as anybody knows, to get any reasonable proposal if everybody has to be unanimous in a great compromise. Yes, but the criticism I make against them is 920 this: They apparently went into that Conference determined to get an agreement—a good agreement if they could, but to take a bad one rather than get no agreement at all. I say, without the smallest hesitation, that from the point of view of the interests of civilisation they would have been better not to sign the Convention than, to accept such conditions as are in this one. What would have been our position on these points—the sinking of neutral ships, and the converting of vessels on the high seas? We have a right to protect our interests. They all admit that. Our views are in the interests of humanity. That is admitted, too. Can anyone doubt that those interests would have been better served by protesting against this proposal than by accepting it and making it part of the law of nations? Now I must shorten my remarks, for the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister is going to reply. He only wants twenty-five minutes, and I will stop in time to give him what he requires, whether my argument is concluded or not.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
That is a very poor compliment to my speech. Now I come to what I think is the vital defect in this Convention, and that is its effect upon our food supplies in time of war. Everyone admits how important that is, but I think very few of us realise at all what the position of this country will be at the outbreak of war with a great naval Power. We depend for our food supplier on those that come from overseas. We have never waged war—no nation in the world has ever waged war—under those conditions. It is impossible to realise what the effect of that would be. I believe the really critical time will be in the first few weeks of war. Remember this is the vital fallacy of the speeches we have heard. Remember that what will matter is not what our rights really are or what they are declared to be by Prize Courts. What will matter then will be what the mercantile classes believe our rights to be under the Declaration you are asking us to approve. Can anyone deny that from the point of view of supplying us with food our position is worse under the Declaration than it has hitherto been. I do not see how anyone can deny it, considering the position first of all as regards any possible enemy. We are in precisely the same position now as they are. They 921 have to prove, as we have to prove, that food in these ships is destined for the armed forces of the other side. By the doctrine of continuous voyage, which is not our doctrine, but which the Foreign Secretary said was the accepted doctrine of the world—
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
That may be, but that was the expression of the right hon. Gentleman. I will take it even at that. Under the doctrine of continuous voyage, suppose we are at war—I hope no one will think that I am suggesting that it is likely to happen, I hope it never will—with Germany—as regards food supply we should be in exactly the same position as they. If food destined for the German army or navy went to Antwerp or Rotterdam we could stop it in precisely the same way as that in which Germany could stop it coming to Liverpool or Glasgow. That is the position to-day. Do not let anyone say, as our representative said in this report, that that is a matter of very little consequence. It is not of as much consequence to them as it is to us, but it is of very great consequence to them. Suppose that the German army were mobilised there would be a great part of the population drawn from civil occupations, and they would have to import a great deal of food. They import even now a great deal of food. This Declaration is to last a long time. Before it expires they may be importing immense quantities. Does anyone say the fact that an American ship having tinned meats which were going straight to the German army could pass through our Channel Fleet and we could not touch it it does not mean a prejudicing of our position? And, more than that, suppose we found that our enemy was dealing unreasonably with our neutral shipping, if we could retaliate by treating in the same way the food that was going into Germany it would mean a great deal. Consider now what our position is. I say and believe it is unanswerable that there is not a port in this country to which food can come, even for the civil population, without the probability of a court deciding that it is contraband, and it is certain that the commander of a foreign cruiser would declare 922 it was contraband. The Foreign Secretary passed over that in a very gingerly way. I say that no serious attempt has been made to deny it, that under the effect of Article 34 there is no port in this kingdom to which food for our civil population would come without being treated as contraband. Attempts have been made—the Lord Chancellor made one—to deny this. He was asked to name a single port where the food could come. He named Bristol. Why, Bristol has an artillery depot within twenty-five or thirty miles. Contrast what the Lord Chancellor said with what the Foreign Secretary said. The Glasgow Chamber of Commerce asked "Will food be brought to our civil population of Glasgow without danger of interference?" The right hon. Gentleman said, "I do not know. The Prize Courts will settle that." Then the nett result really, in my opinion, is that it is no exaggeration to say, so far as the Continental enemy is concerned, that we have made this the position, that food in their case is not even conditional contraband, and in our case it is absolute contraband. I am sorry, in the time of my disposal, I have to leave out a great deal of the argument, but I will content myself now with stating this: I speak strongly on this matter, because, as a matter of fact, I do feel that to ratify this Declaration would be an actual misfortune. I may be entirely wrong—I am open to conviction. I cannot understand why the Government refuse to accept the Amendment which was moved by my hon. Friend the Member for York. Let us consider what the position is. We have only-asked that the subject be considered by an impartial tribunal which is interested in the matter. Surely there is good ground for that. The dissatisfaction axpressed with this Convention is more widespread certainly than has ever been the case on any question of the kind in my lifetime. It is uniform, the width of feeling against it. Take the Navy. There never was such declaration against any policy as that which the admirals signed. It is quite true that the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty, who, I am sorry, is not present, did belittle this statement. He belittled it in the beginning by saying that an admiral's opinion was of no more value than that of the man in the street. [HON. MEMBERS: "Some admirals."] I think he qualified that, but even with his qualification it was pretty strong. It may be true—I do not think so—but even if it is true, if the admiral's opinion is of no more value than that of the man in the street it is at 923 least of as much value, certainly more unbiassed than the opinion of a man in the Cabinet. Then the right hon. Gentleman went on with what he called an analysis, which reminded me of the tale of the little nigger boys who went out to sea, and the result of the analysis was that the admirals were not left at all. I do not think it was a good argument, and it seemed to me a case of fouling his own nest. What the First Lord of the Admiralty practically said was this, that these men who bore the rank of admiral were not entitled to the weight which attaches to the name of admiral. May I ask why they were made admirals?
As a matter of fact, the whole of that argument could have been put by the right hon. Gentleman more easily in the form of a conundrum. He could have said to the House, "When is an admiral not an admiral?" and he would have to give the answer, "When he differs with the First Lord." But when all is said and done, this remains, that more than half the Navy alone who are entitled to speak, and who have held the highest rank—others are not allowed to speak—have declared that they consider this Declaration to be disastrous. If we turn to the commercial community it is precisely the same. I would point out to the right hon. Gentleman that in regard to the commercial community there is this difference. Previously politicians have started a question, and we have got them to help us. The exact reverse has taken place with regard to the Declaration. Chambers of commerce and chambers of shipping were the first to move in this matter, and it is the politicians who have followed. I would remind the right hon. Gentleman of this. As I pointed out earlier the vital thing at the outbreak of war is not what the risks may ultimately turn out to be, it is what those engaged in trade think they are, and the fact that they are so unanimously against this proposal shows that they think the risks are increased by the Declaration. If you are right, if you are convinced, and by convincing them, that it would do away with a large part of the danger—if you can conceive them then do that, but if you fail to convince them, then, I say, you ought not to ratify the convention.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
We have been repeatedly told in the course of this Debate and elsewhere that this is not a party question. [Interruption.] I would ask for a little courtesy. 924 We have been told this is not a party question. However much the course of the Debate and the speech to which we have just listened might engender in the mind of the superficial observer the contrary suspicion, I will endeavour to treat it as-such. The fact that a particular controversy does not fall within the domain of what we call party questions does not, when high matters of policy are involved, absolve the Government from the duty of endeavouring to guide the House of Commons, nor does it allow them, for it would be the worst example, if they were to do anything of the kind, to abdicate their responsibility from the decision which the House of Commons will ultimately arrive at. When the executive Government of the day, after full consideration and deliberation, have come to the conclusion that a great international instrument like this is in the highest interests of the peace of the world and of the maritime supremacy of this country they would be guilty of a gross dereliction of duty if they did not use all legitimate means in their power to ensure assent to their policy. Dealing with the matter as I am going to do just for a few moments as a non-party question, and in regard to which, therefore, one may occupy a more or less detached standpoint, I feel free to say that I do not remember a controversy of any sort or kind in which both inside and outside the House there has been such striking disproportion between the weakness of the attack and the strength of the defence. On non-party grounds it is possible to express an opinion of that kind without the ordinary suspicion of bias. Let me ask the House to consider, first of all, what was the origin and what is the object of what is called the Declaration of London. We start here with the substitution by the agreement of the vast majority, both of the great and of the minor Powers of the world, of an international Prize Court for special courts of ultimate appeal of the particular country, to the establishment of which those signatory Powers bind themselves to conform.
Hitherto, as everybody knows, the sole legal authority in all cases that arose between belligerents and neutrals has been the Prize Court of the belligerent Power, a tribunal which was itself directly or indirectly, at any rate, a party to the case upon which it had to adjudicate. I should have thought there was an almost universal agreement that it was an enormous step in advance to have set up an 925 impartial international tribunal before which all these conflicting and interesting decisions of these tribunals of the different countries might be brought up for adjudication. I am not very sure now that we are all agreed on that position. I am not sure we are in that position after listening to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Balfour). I rather gathered that he looked on the setting up of this court as in itself a retrograde step.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Because his argument, as I understand it was this—whilst it may be a very convenient thing for the individual litigant, the man whose ship or goods have been captured, to have a court of appeal, yet the existence of the court of appeal, administering a code of law generally agreed upon between the Powers, would impair, if it did not entirely take away, what the right hon. Gentleman described as, in his experience, the most potent instrument in these matters, the power of diplomatic pressure on the part of a neutral aggrieved. I entirely differ from the right hon. Gentleman on that point. I take the case, which he suggested, though he did not actually express it—I take a case in which, after the Declaration of London has been ratified, a belligerent grossly perverted the provisions of that Declaration, as for instance, according to the suggestion made by the Gentleman who has just sat down, by treating all food as if it were absolute contraband, by treating all food consigned to a country like this, because it has to be landed at a British port, as though it were food destined for a base of operations and therefore might be used for the nutrition of an armed force. If that position were taken up by any belligerent, and he committed the further outrage, which the right hon. Gentleman suggested, of destroying, not only capturing but destroying, a neutral ship conveying such food to one of our ports, as my right hon. Friend said, the United States would be likely to be the only other Power put into that position, does the right hon. Gentleman say that any neutral Power would be in the least degree hampered or hindered in addressing diplomatic remonstrances owing to the existence of the international Prize Court.
To say that by the establishment of an international Prize Court the neutral Powers have thrown away their natural weapons of offence and defence, and of 926 diplomatic pressure, and, after all of ultimate force, seems to me to be a travesty of the whole situation. Let us take it for granted that it is desirable to set up an international Prize Court. It must have a code to administer, and, as we all know, although there are some rules of international law which are well settled, there are many other rules, and, still more, many other practices which are in the highest degree nebulous, doubtful, and conflicting, and the object of the Declaration of London is to enlarge the area of settled rules of international law and practice. I do not intend, and nobody has pretended, to argue in favour of this Declaration, that it is a complete and still less an ideal code. It does not in my opinion, block the road any way or close the door to further negotiations and supplementary agreements. It is further to be observed, as has been stated often in this Debate, though often ignored outside, that the object of the court and of the code is simply to regulate the rights and obligations of belligerents and neutrals. The rights of belligerents as against belligerents, whether in respect of warships or in respect of the mercantile marine, are not in any way by this Declaration either enlarged or contracted. The Leader of the Opposition, at the close of his speech, made the gravamen of his charge against the Declaration, and summed it up, I think, in this accusation. He said, in effect, that under the Declaration, whether as belligerents or as neutrals, but particularly as belligerents, we are placed in a worse position than before, and that, as an insular Power, we are prejudiced by the Declaration in comparison with the Continental Powers of Europe. I think that is a fair representation of the right hon. Gentleman's argument. Let me just examine it. In the first place, it is not, I think, irrelevant to consider what is the authority behind this Declaration. I will not speak of the great or the minor Powers, because it may be said we occupy a special, pre-eminent, and in some respects an invidious position, and that therefore their combined unanimous agreement is no argument that the Declaration is suitable to our interests as a nation. This is a very technical matter, so technical that the Amendment before the House invites us to set up a Commission of experts to inquire into it. Being a technical matter, it is surely not unimportant to observe that our naval experts, including, at any rate, four, if not five, successive Directors of Naval 927 Intelligence and the two perhaps most eminent First Sea Lords we have ever had, are heartily in favour of the ratification of the Declaration. If you look at it again from the juristic point of view, I am sure I am not exaggerating when I say that with one or perhaps two exceptions every authority of the first repute in international law in the United Kingdom is in favour of the ratification. The other day at the Imperial Conference, over which I had the honour to preside, we had a most exhaustive and elaborate debate in which each in turn of the representatives of our self-governing Dominions expressed his opinion, an opinion in no way biassed by that of the Imperial Government. They all of them told us they had been bombarded, ever since they set foot on these shores, by the arguments of the opponents; and without one dissentient voice they passed a unanimous resolution in favour of the ratification of the Declaration. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs said to-night the United States of America, which is not an insular Power any more than it is connected in any way with the Continental Power of Europe, is heartily in favour of ratification. That is a great weight of authority. Are all these people wrong? Are we to substitute for their unanimous and consentient decision some decision of a committee of experts to which the Amendment asks the House of Commons to delegate its supreme authority. I do not think the House of Commons is at all likely to accede to that proposition.
Let me very briefly deal with what I may call the profit and loss account as regards this Declaration. You cannot in an international agreement of this kind have it all your own way. There must be a certain amount of give and take. There must be a certain amount of compromise. The question is whether upon the whole we, as representing the United Kingdom and the Empire, in inviting and asking the House of Commons to accept this Declaration, stand to gain or to lose? For the reasons I am about briefly to give, I am strongly of opinion we stand to gain. Let us see how the account stands. In the first place, on the credit side of the account we have the new definition of blockade contained in the first chapter, the first eighteen articles of the Declaration. The right hon. Gentleman who spoke just now said in an airy manner that blockade was of no importance. I do not know whether he has consulted any naval 928 authority. As far as I know, every naval authority in the world has agreed that, next to the power which is most important of all of meeting and vanquishing your enemy on the high seas, next to the power of sinking his fleet, comes the power of effective blockade, bottling up his ships and impeding his operations, and in that way securing your own supremacy. No one has attempted to argue in the whole of this Debate, nor, so far as I know, in outside controversy, that it is not an enormous gain to a naval Power in the event of war as a belligerent that we should substitute for the rules and practices hitherto put forward by our opponents, the rule we have always contended for, namely, that blockade exists in so far as the area of operations are controlled by our warships, and does not depend upon some imaginary geographical line, and that it is not necessary, in order that a ship should break blockade and be liable to capture, that it should have formal notification upon its papers. In that respect the British view has been wholly—I will not say wholly, but substantially—adopted in all that was essential and important, and now forms part of the agreed code, law, and practice of the nations of the world. If we had that alone and nothing but that, the Declaration of London would mark a great step in advance. But next—I am still speaking on what I may call the credit side of the account—we have the definition of contraband and the list of free articles. That is an enormous gain to us whether as neutrals or as belligerents. It has been alleged, I know, and is alleged, that as belligerents the recognition of the possibility of food as conditional contraband, with the abolition of the doctrine of continuous voyage may have serious effects upon the food supplies of this island in the event of war with another great country. You never can put an island in this matter precisely upon a footing of equality with a continental country. The whole of our food supply not grown at home, must come across the seas. If carried in British ships in the event of war it is liable to capture, whereas in the case of a great continental rival—I mention no names—a very large part, probably much the greater part of the food supplies needed is grown at home and would come overland, and would not be exposed to the risk of sea capture at all. It is absurd to say that you can put an insular Power in. that respect precisely upon 929 the same footing as a continental Power. Let it be observed, first of all, that it is no longer possible under the Declaration for an enemy to treat food as contraband. Food is taken once and for all out of the possible category of absolute contraband, and that is no imaginary danger. In the next place that part of the supplies which comes in British bottoms—something like 80 or 90 per cent.—is in exactly the same position after the Declaration of London as before. The only part affected in any way is that part which comes in neutrals. I am very interested, and perhaps a little amused, more particularly at the hon. Member who has just sat down, to notice this new-born zeal for the supply of food to the people of this country, not from our own dominions, but from the United States, Russia, and other foreign countries. What has become of Tariff Reform? What has become of the great dream of a self-contained and self-supporting Empire? Not a bushel of wheat was to reach our shores to feed our population unless it was grown 6h British soil.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
We are dealing with food which comes in neutral ships. If food comes in British ships they are liable to capture. Those are our clear gains. So far as our losses are concerned, they consist, as far as I can make out first of all of this perfectly imaginary dream of the conversion of merchant ships upon the high seas into ships of war, ships which, as my right hon. Friend said, are few in number, are well known, and not one of
§ which will escape being sunk either by the cruisers which pursue them or lie in wait for them. I do not agree with the suggestion that some kind of sanction has been given by this Declaration to the destruction of neutral ships in circumstances under which it has not previously been allowed. I admit that a compromise has been arrived at, but it is a compromise which does us no harm. With regard to the actual proposition on which the House is now invited to divide, I say that first of all the Government and then the House of Commons would be false to their primary duty if they were to delegate to any other body, whether of experts or however composed, the obligation and responsibility which rests on them in a matter of high and Imperial policy of declaring where the interests of this country lie.
§ The PRIME MINISTER, having concluded his speech, rose in his place and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 301; Noes, 231.933
|Division No. 253.]||AYES.||[11.0 p.m.|
|Abraham, William (Dublin Harbour)||Bentham, George Jackson||Collins, Godfrey P. (Greenock)|
|Abraham, Rt. Hon. William (Rhondda)||Bethell, Sir John Henry||Collins, Stephen (Lambeth)|
|Acland, Francis Dyke||Birrell, Rt. Hon. Augustine||Compton-Rickett, Rt. Hon. Sir J.|
|Adamson, William||Black, Arthur W.||Condon, Thomas Joseph|
|Addison, Dr. C.||Boland, John Plus||Cornwall, Sir Edwin A.|
|Adkins, Sir W. Ryland D.||Booth, Frederick Handel||Cowan, W. H.|
|Agar-Robartes, Hon. T. C. R.||Bowerman, C. W.||Craig, Herbert J. (Tynemouth)|
|Agnew, Sir George William||Boyle, Daniel (Mayo, North)||Crawshay-Williams, Eliot|
|Ainsworth, John Stirling||Brace, William||Crooks, William|
|Alden, Percy||Brady, Patrick Joseph||Crumley, Patrick|
|Allen, Arthur A. (Dumbartonshire)||Brocklehurst, W. B.||Dalziel, Sir James H. (Kirkcaldy)|
|Allen, Charles P. (Stroud)||Brunner, J. F. L.||Davies, David (Montgomery Co.)|
|Armitage, Robert||Bryce, J. Annan||Davies, Timothy (Lincs., Louth)|
|Asquith, Rt. Hon. Herbert Henry||Burns, Rt. Hon. John||Davies, Sir W. Howell (Bristol, S.)|
|Baker, Joseph A. (Finsbury, E.)||Burt, Rt. Hon. Thomas||Davies, M. Vaughan-(Cardigan)|
|Balfour, Sir Robert (Lanark)||Buxton, Rt. Hon. S. C. (Poplar)||Dawes, J. A.|
|Baring, Sir Godfrey (Barnstaple)||Buxton, Noel (Norfolk, North)||Denman, Hon. R. D.|
|Barlow, Sir John Emmott (Somerset)||Byles, Sir William Pollard||Dewar, Sir J. A.|
|Barnes, George N.||Cameron, Robert||Dickinson, W. H.|
|Barren, Sir John N. (Hawick B.)||Carr-Gomm, H. W.||Doris, W.|
|Barran, Rowland Hurst (Leeds, N.)||Cawley, Sir Frederick (Prestwich)||Duffy, William J.|
|Barry, Redmond J. (Tyrone, N.)||Cawley, H. T. (Lanes., Heywood)||Duncan, C. (Barrow-In-Furness)|
|Barton, William||Chancellor, H. G.||Duncan, J. Hastings (York, Otley)|
|Beale, W. P.||Chapple, Dr. William Allen||Edwards, Enoch (Hanley)|
|Beck, Arthur Cecil||Churchill, Rt. Hon. Winston S.||Edwards, Sir Francis (Radnor)|
|Benn, W. W. (T. H'mts., St George)||Clough, William||Elverston, Sir Harold|
|Esmonde, Dr. John (Tipperary, N.)||Levy, Sir Maurice||Rea, Rt. Hon. Russell (South Shields)|
|Esmonde, Sir Thomas (Wexford, N.)||Lewis, John Herbert||Rea, Walter Russell (Scarborough)|
|Esslemont, George Birnie||Logan, John William||Reddy, M.|
|Falconer, J.||Low, Sir Frederick (Norwich)||Redmond, John E. (Waterford)|
|Fenwick, Charles||Lundon, T.||Redmond, William (Clare, E.)|
|Ferens, Thomas Robinson||Lyell, Charles Henry||Rendall, Athelstan|
|Ffrench, Peter||Lynch, A. A.||Richards, Thomas|
|Field, William||Macdonald, J. Ramsay (Leicester)||Richardson, Albion (Peckham)|
|Fiennes, Hon. Eustace Edward||Macdonald, J. M. (Falkirk Burghs)||Richardson, Thomas (Whitehaven)|
|Fitzgibbon, John||Maclean, Donald||Roberts, Charles H. (Lincoln)|
|Flavin, Michael Joseph||Macnamara, Dr. Thomas J.||Roberts, George H. (Norwich)|
|France, G. A.||MacNeill, John Gordon Swift||Roberts, Sir J. H. (Denbighs)|
|Gelder, Sir William Alfred||Macpherson, James Ian||Robertson, Sir G. Scott (Bradford)|
|George, Rt. Hon. D. Lloyd||MacVeagh, Jeremiah||Robertson, John M. (Tyneside)|
|Gibson, Sir James Puckering||McKenna, Rt. Hon. Reginald||Robinson, Sidney|
|Gill, Alfred Henry||M'Laren, H. D. (Leices.)||Roch, Walter F. (Pembroke)|
|Glanville, H. J.||M'Laren, F. W. S. (Lines., Spaiding)||Roche, Augustine (Louth)|
|Goddard, Sir Daniel Ford||M'Laren, Walter S. B. (Ches., Crewe)||Roe, Sir Thomas|
|Goldstone, Frank||M'Micking, Major Gilbert||Rose, Sir Charles Day|
|Greenwood, Granville G. (Peterborough)||Manfield, Harry||Rowlands, James|
|Greig, Colonel J. W.||Markham, Sir Arthur Basil||Rowntree, Arnold|
|Grey, Rt. Hon. Sir Edward||Marks, Sir George Croydon||Runciman, Rt. Hon. Walter|
|Griffith, Ellis Jones||Marshall, Arthur Harold||Samuel, Rt. Hon. H. L. (Cleveland)|
|Guest, Major Hon. C. H. C. (Pembroke)||Martin, Joseph||Samuel, J. (Stockton-on-Tees)|
|Guest, Hon. Frederick E. (Dorset, E.)||Mason, David M. (Coventry)||Samuel, S. M. (Whitechapel)|
|Gulland, John William||Menzies, Sir Walter||Schwann, Rt. Hon. Sir C. E.|
|Gwynn, Stephen Lucius (Galway)||Molteno, Percy Alport||Scott, A. MacCallum (Glas., Bridgeton)|
|Hackett, John||Mond, Sir Alfred M.||Seely, Colonel Rt. Hon. J. E. B.|
|Hall, Frederick (Normanton)||Money, L. G. Chiozza||Sheehy, David|
|Hancock, John George||Montagu, Hon. E. S.||Shortt, Edward|
|Harcourt, Rt. Hon. Lewis (Rossendale)||Mooney, John J.||Simon, Sir John Allsebrook|
|Harcourt, Robert V. (Montrose)||Morgan, George Hay||Smith, Albert (Lanes., Clitheroe)|
|Hardie, J. Keir (Merthyr Tydvil)||Morrell, Philip||Smyth, Thomas F. (Leitrim, S.)|
|Harmsworth, R. L.||Morton, Alpheus Cleophas||Soames, Arthur Wellesley|
|Harvey, A. G. C. (Rochdale)||Muldoon, John||Spicer, Sir Albert|
|Harvey, T. E. (Leeds, West)||Munro-Ferguson, Rt. Hon. R. C.||Stanley, Albert (Staffs, N.W.)|
|Harvey, W. E. (Derbyshire, N.E.)||Murray, Capt. Hon. A. C.||Strachey, Sir Edward|
|Harwood, George||Needham, Christopher T.||Summers, James Woolley|
|Haslam, James (Derbyshire)||Neilson, Francis||Sutherland, J. E.|
|Haslam, Lewis (Monmouth)||Nicholson, Charles N. (Doncaster)||Taylor, John W. (Durham)|
|Havelock-Allan, Sir Henry||Nolan, Joseph||Taylor, Theodore C. (Radcliffe)|
|Haworth, Sir Arthur A.||Norman, Sir Henry||Tennant, Harold John|
|Hayden, John Patrick||Norton, Captain Cecil W.||Thomas, James Henry (Derby)|
|Hayward, Evan||Nugent, Sir Walter Richard||Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton)|
|Helme, Norval Watson||Nuttall, Harry||Toulmin, Sir George|
|Henderson, J. M. (Aberdeen, W.)||O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny)||Trevelyan, Charles Philips|
|Henry, Sir Charles S.||O'Connor, John (Kildare, N.)||Ure, Rt. Hon. Alexander|
|Herbert, Col. Sir Ivor||O'Connor, T. P. (Liverpool)||Verney, Sir Harry|
|Hinds, John||O'Doherty, Philip||Wadsworth, J.|
|Hobhouse, Rt. Hon. Charles E. H.||Ogden, Fred||Walsh, Stephen (Lanes., Ince)|
|Hodge, John||O'Kelly, James (Roscommon, N.)||Walton, Sir Joseph|
|Holt, Richard Durning||O'Malley, William||Ward, W. Dudley (Southampton)|
|Home, Charles Silvester (Ipswich)||O'Neill, Dr. Charles (Armagh, S.)||Wardle, George J.|
|Howard, Hon. Geoffrey||O'Shaughnessy, P. J.||Warner, Sir Thomas Courtenay|
|Hudson, Walter||O'Sullivan, Timothy||Wason, Rt. Hon. E. (Clackmannan)|
|Hughes, Spencer Leigh||Palmer, Godfrey Mark||Wason, John Cathcart (Orkney)|
|Hunter, W. (Govan)||Parker, James (Halifax)||Webb, H.|
|Isaacs, Sir Rufus Daniel||Pearce, Robert (Staffs., Leek)||White, Sir George (Norfolk)|
|Jardine, Sir John (Roxburghshire)||Pearce, William (Limehouse)||White, Patrick (Meath, North)|
|Johnson, W.||Pearson, Hon. Weetman H. M.||Whitehouse, John Howard|
|Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)||Pease, Rt. Hon. Joseph A. (Rotherham)||Whittaker, Rt. Hon. Sir T. P.|
|Jones, William (Carnarvonshire)||Philipps, Col. Ivor (Southampton)||Whyte, A, F. (Perth)|
|Jones, W. S. Glyn- (T. H'mts, Stepney)||Philips, John (Longford, S.)||Wiles, Thomas|
|Jowett, Frederick William||Pirie, Duncan V.||Wilkie, Alexander|
|Joyce, Michael||Pointer, Joseph||Williams, J. (Glamorgan)|
|Keating, Matthew||Pollard, Sir George H.||Williams, Llewellyn (Carmarthen)|
|Kellaway, Frederick George||Ponsonby, Arthur A. W. H.||Wilson, J. W. (Worcestershire, N.)|
|Kelly, Edward||Power, Patrick Joseph||Wilson, W. T. (Westhoughton)|
|Lamb, Ernest Henry||Price, C. E. (Edinburgh, Central)||Winfrey, Richard|
|Lambert. George (Devon, S. Molton)||Priestley, Sir Arthur (Grantham)||Wood, T. McKinnon (Glasgow)|
|Lambert, Richard (Wilts, Cricklade)||Priestley, Sir W. E. B. (Bradford, E.)||Yoxall, Sir James Henry|
|Lansbury, George||Pringle, William M. R.|
|Lardner, James Carrige Rushe||Radford, George Heynes|
|Law. Hugh A. (Donegal, West)||Rattan, Peter Wilson||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Master of Elibank and Mr. Illingworth.|
|Lawson. Sir W. (Cumb'rid, Cockerm'th)||Rainy, A. Rolland|
|Leach, Charles||Raphael, Sir Herbert H,|
|Agg-Gardner, James Tynte||Arkwright, John Stanhope||Baker, Sir Randolf L. (Dorset, N.)|
|Aitken, Sir William Max||Ashley, Wilfrid W.||Balcarres, Lord|
|Amery, L. C. M. S.||Astor, Waldorf||Baldwin, Stanley|
|Anson, Sir William Reynell||Bagot, Lieut.-Col. J,||Balfour, Rt. Hon. A. J. (City, Lond.)|
|Anstruther-Gray, Major William||Baird, John Lawrence||Banbury, Sir Frederick George|
|Barlow, Montague (Salford, South)||Hall, Fred (Dulwich)||Nield, Herbert|
|Barnston, H.||Hall, Marshall, (E. Toxteth)||Norton-Griffiths, J.|
|Bathurst, Hon. A. B. (Glouc., E.)||Hambro, Angus Valdemar||O'Grady, James|
|Bathurst, Charles (Wilts, Wilton)||Hamersley, Alfred St. George||O'Neill, Hon. A. E. B. (Antrim, Mid)|
|Beach, Hon. Michael Hugh Hicks||Hamilton, Lord C. J. (Kensington)||Orde-Powlett, Hon. W. G. A.|
|Beckett, Hon. W. Gervase||Hamilton, Marquess of (Londonderry)||Paget, Almeric Hugh|
|Benn, I. H. (Greenwich)||Hardy, Laurence (Kent, Ashford)||Parker, Sir Gilbert (Gravesend)|
|Bennett-Goldney, Francis||Harris, Henry Percy||Parkes, Ebenezer|
|Bentinck, Lord H. Cavendish||Helmsley, Viscount||Pease, Herbert Pike (Darlington)|
|Beresford, Lord Charles||Henderson, Major H. (Berks., Abingdon)||Peel, Capt. R. F. (Woodbridge)|
|Bigland, Alfred||Hickman, Col. Thomas E.||Peel, Hon. W. R. W. (Taunton)|
|Bird, Alfred||Hill, Sir Clement L. (Shrewsbury)||Perkins, Walter Frank|
|Boscawen, Sir Arthur S. T. Griffith||Hillier, Dr. Alfred Peter||Peto, Basil Edward|
|Boyle, W. Lewis (Norfolk, Mid)||Hills, John Waller||Pole-Carew, Sir R.|
|Brassey, H. Leonard Campbell||Hill-Wood, Samuel||Pollock, Ernest Murray|
|Bridgeman, W. Clive||Hoare, S. J. G.||Pretyman, Ernest George|
|Bull, Sir William James||Hohler, Gerald Fitzroy||Pryce-Jones, Col. E.|
|Burdett-Coutts, W.||Hope, James Fitzalan (Sheffield)||Quilter, William Eley C.|
|Burgoyne, Alan Hughes||Home, William E. (Surrey, Guildford||Ratcliff, R. F.|
|Burn, Colonel C. R.||Horner, Andrew Long||Rawlinson, John Frederick Peel|
|Campion, W. R.||Houston, Robert Paterson||Rawson, Col. Richard H.|
|Carlile, Sir Edward Hildred||Hume-Williams, William Ellis||Remnant, James Farquharson|
|Cassel, Felix||Hunt, Rowland||Roberts, S. (Sheffield, Ecclesall)|
|Castlereagh, Viscount||Hunter, Sir C. R. (Bath)||Rolleston, Sir John|
|Cator, John||Ingleby, Holcombe||Ronaldshay, Earl of|
|Cautley, Henry Strother||Jackson, Sir John||Rutherford, John (Lancs., Darwen)|
|Cave, George||Jardine, Ernest (Somerset, East)||Rutherford, Watson (L'pool, W. Derby)|
|Cecil, Lord Hugh (Oxford University)||Jessel, Captain H. M.||Salter, Arthur Clavell|
|Chaloner, Col. R. G. W.||Jones, Sir D. Brynmor (Swansea)||Samuel, Sir Harry (Norwood)|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. J. A. (Worc'r.)||Joynson-Hicks, William||Sandys, G. J. (Somerset, Wells)|
|Chaplin, Rt. Hon. Henry||Kebty-Fletcher, J. R.||Scott, Leslie (Liverpool, Exchange)|
|Clay, Captain H. H. Spender||Kerr-Smiley, Peter Kerr||Scott, Sir S. (Marylebone, W.)|
|Clive, Percy Archer||Kerry, Earl of||Stanier, Beville|
|Coates, Major Sir Edward Feetham||Keswick, William||Stanley, Hon. Arthur (Ormskirk)|
|Cooper, Richard Ashmole||Kimber, Sir Henry||Stanley, Hon. G. F. (Preston)|
|Courthope, George Loyd||Kinloch-Cooke, sir Clement||Starkey, John Ralph|
|Craig, Captain James (Down, E.)||Kirkwood, John H. M.||Staveley-Hill, Henry|
|Craik, Sir Henry||Knight, Capt. Eric Ayshford||Steel-Maitland, A. D.|
|Cripps, Sir Charles Alfred||Lane-Fox, G. R.||Stewart, Gershom|
|Croft, H. P.||Larmor, Sir J.||Strauss, Arthur (Paddington, North)|
|Dalrymple, Viscount||Law, Andrew Bonar (Bootle, Lancs.)||Swift, Rigby|
|Dalziel, Davison (Brixton)||Lawson, Hon. H. (T, H'mts., Mile End)||Sykes, Alan John|
|Dixon, Charles Harvey||Lee, Arthur H.||Talbot, Lord Edmund|
|Du Cros, Arthur Philip||Lewisham, Viscount||Terrell, G. (Wilts, N. W.)|
|Duke, Henry Edward||Lloyd, George Ambrose||Terrell, H. (Gloucester)|
|Eyres-Monsell, Bolton M.||Locker-Lampson, G. (Salisbury)||Thompson, Robert (Belfast, N.)|
|Faber, George D. (Clapham)||Locker-Lampson, O. (Ramsey)||Thomson, W. Mitchell-(Down, North)|
|Faber, Capt. W. V. (Hants, W.)||Lockwood, Rt. Hon. Lt.-Col. A. R.||Tobin, Alfred Aspinall|
|Falle, Bertram Godfrey||Long, Rt. Hon. Walter||Touche, George Alexander|
|Fell, Arthur||Lonsdale, Sir John Brownlee||Tryon, Captain George Clement|
|Finlay, Sir Robert||Lowe, Sir F. W. (Birm., Edgbaston)||Valentia, Viscount|
|Fisher, William Hayes||Lowther, Claude (Cumberland, Eskdale)||Walker, Col. William Hall|
|Fitzroy, Hon. Edward A.||Lyttelton, Rt. Hon. A. (S. Geo. Han. S.)||Walrond, Hon. Lionel|
|Flannery, Sir J. Fortescue||Lyttelton, Hon. J. C. (Droitwich)||Ward, Arnold S. (Herts, Watford)|
|Fletcher, John Samuel (Hampstead)||MacCaw, Wm. J. MacGeagh||Warde, Col. C. E. (Kent, Mid)|
|Forster, Henry William||Mackinder, Halford J.||Wheler, Granville|
|Foster, Philip Staveley||Macmaster, Donald||White, Major G. D. (Lanes, Southport)|
|Frewen, Moreton||Magnus, Sir Philip||Williams. Col. R. (Dorset, W.)|
|Gardner, Ernest||Malcolm, Ian||Willoughby, Major Hon. Claude|
|Gastrell, Major W. Houghton||Mason, James F. (Windsor)||Wilson, A. Stanley (York, E.R.)|
|Gibbs, G. A.||Meysey-Thompson, E. C.||Wolmer, Viscount|
|Gilmour, Capt. John||Middlemore, John Throgmorton||Wood, Hon. E. F. L. (Ripon)|
|Goldman, C. S.||Mildmay, Francis Bingham||Wood, John (Stalybridge)|
|Goldsmith Frank||Mills, Hon. Charles Thomas||Worthington-Evans, L.|
|Gordon, John (Londonderry, South)||Moore, William||Wortley, Rt. Hon. C. B. Stuart-|
|Gordon, Hon. John Edward (Brighton)||Morrison, Captain James A.||Wyndham, Rt. Hon. George|
|Goulding, E. A.||Morrison-Bell, Capt. E. F. (Ashburton)||Yate, Colonel C. E.|
|Grant, James Augustus||Morrison-Bell, Major A. C. (Honiton)||Yerburgh, Robert|
|Greene, Walter Raymond||Mount, William Arthur||Younger, Sir George|
|Gretton, John||Neville, Reginald J. N.|
|Gwynne. R. S. (Sussex, Eastbourne)||Newman, John R. P.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Mr. Butcher and Mr. Shirley Benn.|
|Haddock, George B.||Newton, Harry Kottingham|
|Hall, D. B. (Isle of Wight)||Nicholson, Wm. G. (Petersfield)|
Bill read a second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.
§ Adjourned at Twenty minutes after Eleven o'clock.