§ 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, this 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.]
§ Question again proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question." Debate resumed.
§ The FIRST LORD of the ADMIRALTY (Mr. McKenna)
I had almost finished the point on which I was addressing the House last night. I was then endeavouring to show that naval expert opinion, so far as I am aware of it, is not opposed to the Declaration of London. I should like to say at once that it has been brought to my notice that I have been reported in more than one newspaper as having said that the opinion of an officer is of no more value than the opinion of the man in the street. Let me say at once that that is a misreport and quite misrepresents what I said. What I did say was that upon the technical side of this question the opinion of a naval officer who was not an expert upon the technical part was of no more value than the opinion of the man in the street, but I also added that the opinion of expert naval officers who have studied and are familiar with the expert side of this question is of the very highest value. There has been circulated to, I suppose, every Member of this House as to myself, a document containing resolutions against the Declaration of London and signed by 120 admirals. The name of a British admiral carries, and rightly carries, the very greatest weight with the British public. When anyone receives a circular signed by 120 British admirals he would naturally attach the very greatest importance to the opinions expressed in the circular, but 575 if the public are not to be misled as to the opinions of the British Navy upon this subject, I think they ought to be informed precisely as to the degree of weight which should attach to the totality of the names appended to this document. It would be most unfortunate if it should become the practice for retired British admirals who number, I believe, upwards of 250, to be canvassed and their opinions sought in a way which savours very much of the methods of ordinary political controversy in order to impress public opinion outside. Most reluctantly, in consequence of the methods which have been pursued on the present occasion, I have felt myself obliged to examine this list and to convey to the House, at any rate, my opinion of the amount of weight which should be attached to the collective opinions of the 120 names so gathered together. Of these 120 admirals, sixty-five retired before reaching that rank and were only promoted on the retired list.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The right hon. Gentleman should be allowed to continue the debate in the ordinary manner.
§ Mr. McKENNA
Of the sixty-five, eighteen retired as commanders and forty-seven retired as captains. My first point is that this list would look very different if it appeared as a list not of 120 admirals, but of eighteen commanders, forty-seven captains, and fifty-five admirals. That is the first correction which has to be made as to the 120 admirals as representing the opinions of flag officers as ordinarily understood. Of the remaining fifty-five twenty-seven reached the rank of admiral on the active list, but were never employed in that rank, so that of the 120 admirals we have twenty-eight who have served in the capacity of admirals. Of these twenty-eight, five are rear-admirals not on the active list at all, so that out of the 120 admirals—a most formidable array in their collective capacity—the list is reduced to twenty-three who have ever hoisted their flag as admirals.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I would suggest that the Noble Lord should follow the usual 576 practice and allow the right hon. Gentleman to continue.
§ Mr. McKENNA
I am only endeavouring to deal with the document which I have received, and in which it is sought to impress public opinion by the collective views of the 120 admirals. There remain then twenty-three admirals who have hoisted their flags. Of these, twelve served only as junior flag officers for not more than two years. My list then is reduced to eleven. The remaining eleven include names of much distinction, and their opinion is entitled, as that of admirals of experience afloat, to all the weight that is to be attached to the opinion of distinguished officers who have had their very great career. But I have said enough, I think, to show that all the weight that the public have got to attach to this document as the opinion of flag officers of experience is such weight as they will give to the individual opinions of the individual officers, who alone have hoisted their flags as officers, and who alone can be supposed to have the administrative experience as admirals who, but for this explanation, the public might suppose, hastily, would attach to every name on the list. I felt myself obliged to refer to this point because there has been made outside a very strong effort to mislead the public into the opinion that the whole Navy is opposed to the Declaration of London. I have said enough to show that while the great bulk of the Navy and almost without exception the whole of the officers on the active list have not expressed opinions—
§ Mr. McKENNA
The Noble Lord asks how could they. He has already named one who has expressed an opinion.
§ Mr. McKENNA
I said on the active list. I did not say on active service. I said with very few exceptions every naval officer on the active list has very properly refrained from expressing an opinion one way or the other. I think, as those officers on the retired list which have been canvassed, in order that the weight of their names might be brought to bear against the policy of the Government, it is very necessary to show precisely what weight ought to be attached to their conjoint pronouncement. I have only one point now to mention. Last night I 577 Undertook to show that of the foodstuffs brought into this country in time of war there would be a larger percentage than ever carried in British ships. It is common ground that in time of peace 90 per cent. of the foodstuffs which reach this country come in British ships. Only 10 per cent. is carried in foreign ships, which might be neutrals in time of war. If the Same proportions were maintained in time of war as in time of peace; thus in any circumstances the Declaration of London could only affect 10 per cent. of the foodstuffs coming to this country, as the Declaration deals only with the relations between belligerents and neutrals. But in time of war, as a fact, a larger percentage than 90 per cent. would be brought in British ships; and I will explain very briefly why.
Roughly speaking, there is only sufficient shipping in the world to carry the total trade of the world. At the present time a considerable proportion of British shipping is engaged in the carrying trade between foreign ports. On the other hand, a certain amount of foreign shipping is engaged in the carrying trade between British and foreign ports. On the outbreak of war in which Great Britain was engaged all British shipping, whether engaged in the carrying trade to British ports or engaged exclusively in the carrying trade between neutral ports, would all be subject to war risks, and the rate of insurance on British ships wherever they were carrying on their trade would be very considerably increased. With regard to foreign ships the same circumstances would not apply. Neutral ships engaged in trade between British and foreign ports would certainly have to pay some higher insurance whatever the trade, because they would always be liable to be stopped and to be searched. If they were engaged in carrying contraband goods or conditional contraband goods the war risks would be increased very considerably. On the other hand, neutral ships engaged in trading between neutral ports only would have to pay no war risks. It would follow from that that neutral ships engaged in trading between neutral ports would be able to compete most successfully with British ships trading between neutral ports. The one would have to pay war risks and the other would not. The effect would be that British ships would be driven out of the trade between neutral ports, and, on the other hand, foreign ships would be driven out of the trade or 578 induced to relinquish the trade between British ports and foreign ports.
§ Mr. McKENNA
It would certainly be a question which was the most profitable. I will remind the right hon. Gentleman that British and foreign ships are now competing in all branches of trade. Under the conditions of war, neutral ships trading between neutral ports would get an advantage which they do not now possess as against British ships; they would get an advantage in war which they have not got now; they would be able to take lower freights and to make equal profits. Therefore in the competition between British and foreign ships, trading between neutral ports, the inevitable tendency would be to drive British ships out of that trade and to give that trade to foreign ships. We have started on the assumption that there is only enough shipping generally all over the world to carry on the trade of the world. If British ships are driven out of the trade between neutral ports, and that the work of the British ships is done by neutral ships, it must follow that British ships will have to do more of the work of trading to British ports. I think the argument perfectly clear and conclusive, that in the event of war the general effect of the imposition of war risks will be to compel British trade to be carried more and more in British ships, and foreign trade—that is to say, trade between neutral ports—will be carried more and more in foreign ships. That was the only outstanding point which I left over from last night. Let me say in conclusion that I have only attempted to deal with this question from the point of view of the Admiralty in the case in which this country would be engaged in war. I have looked at the Declaration of London only as it would affect this country as a belligerent. But it must not be forgotten that there is a much wider point of view from which this question must be regarded. We should gain greatly under the Declaration as neutrals, but further and of still greater importance than our gaining as belligerents or as neutrals, we have got to remember that the Declaration of London marks one step further forward in the process of bringing nations together and teaching them the duty of settling any outstanding quarrels by arrangement instead of by war. I welcome this Declaration of London from every point of view. In speaking on behalf of the Admiralty I 579 have only argued the question on the basis of Great Britain as a belligerent, but for my own sake I wish also to make the statement that I welcome the Declaration of London, even more than in that point of view, as a step forward in the general work of arbitration.
§ Mr. WYNDHAM
The First Lord of the Admiralty, in his concluding words, thought it proper to explain to the House why he confined almost the whole of his speech to defending the position of the Government in respect of the case of Great Britain as a belligerent. But I do not think that any explanation was necessary. It was his duty, if I may say so, to rebut the attack on the Declaration of London which has been made by those who feel that it prejudices our position in the possible event of our becoming belligerent. His concluding observations were that he attached as much importance to other views, namely, the gain which they have secured for neutrals and the advance which they hope to make in what I may call the interests of humanity at large. We on this side of the House believe that the interests of this country as a possible belligerent coincide with the interests of neutrals and coincide with the progress of the civilisation of the methods of war. I only make that observation in order that the right hon. Gentleman should not suppose that we have less regard than he has for the rights of neutrals in time of war, or for making some advance in the civilisation of the methods of war. The right hon. Gentleman devoted to the conclusion of his speech this afternoon a considerable amount of time in discounting the opinion of British admirals. I must take some notice of that. In his first sentences the right hon. Gent Ionian, resuming what he was saying last night before we adjourned, said naval expert opinion is not opposed to the Declaration of London. When there was some controversy in process last night, the First Lord of the Admiralty instanced Admiral Slade as one of the best experts whom he could find, and that Admiral Slade was in favour of the Declaration of London.
§ Mr. McKENNA
I must enter my protest here. I did not refer to the name of Admiral Slade. His name was referred to by the hon. and learned Member for York (Mr. Butcher), who asked me what was the opinion of Admiral Slade. I 580 replied that the opinion of Admiral Slade was in favour of the Declaration, but I did not first instance the opinion myself.
§ Mr. WYNDHAM
The right hon. Gentleman has repeated the very words I used—[HON. MEMBERS: "No"]—except that he-did not start the reference. At any rate we will not quarrel about that. What really is important is the opinion of Admiral Slade, and what really is important is the interpretation which we put on the words of the First Lord when he says that this or that Admiral, or anyone whose opinion is worth taking into account, is in favour of the Declaration of London. As to that passage of arms which took place between the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. and learned Member for York, I think we have nothing to gain by settling the individual opinions of advisers of His Majesty's Government. In the first place there are objections to giving these opinions, and, in the second place, it is impossible—I am not making any charge against the right hon. Gentleman—to interpret what he means when he says this or that admiral is in favour of the Declaration of London. We in this House have the right to be the judges of the relative value of this or that part of the Declaration of London, and if an eminent authority of the Admiralty shows his strong opposition to some part of the Declaration of London which we think vital, it is nothing to us to be told by the Government that the admiral is in favour of the Declaration of London. In the correspondence and documents, I think on page 273, we have the view of Admiral Slade, and it is explicit upon a point which we, rightly or wrongly, think of enormous importance. The view of Admiral Slade on the destruction of neutrals is this: He referred—it was not only his own view—to what were also the views of the Government. I assume that the Government was one of the Powers whom he mentioned who hold that a neutral ship suspected of carrying contraband and captured on the high seas by a belligerent ship ought not in any case to be destroyed, if the belligerent, for reasons affecting the belligerent, finds it impossible to take the prize into a prize port. That was the view of Admiral Slade, and that was the view of the Government. The right hon. Gentleman, I agree, is quite entitled to say that Admiral Slade is in favour of the Declaration of London, if he and his colleagues are still in favour of that view, although his view on that point 581 has been absolutely repudiated. Then I come to the discounting of the opinion of admirals.
§ [ROYAL ASSENT.—Message to attend the Lords Commissioners. The House went, and having returned, Mr. SPEAKER reported the Royal Assent to—
- 1. Consolidated Fund (No. 2) Act, 1911.
- 2. Perjury Act, 1911.
- 3. Dundee Water Order Confirmation Act, 1911.
- 4. Hastings Corporation (Water and Finance) Act, 1911.
- 5. London, Brighton, and South Coast Railway (Steam Vessels) Act, 1911.
- 6. Luton Gas Act, 1911.
- 7. Enfield Gas Act, 1911.
- 8. Rhymney Railway Act, 1911.
- 9. Bristol Corporation Act, 1911.
- 10. Chesterfield Gas and Water Board Act, 1911.
- 11. Gas Light and Coke Company's Act, 1911.
- 12. Metropolitan Electric Supply Company (Acton District) Act, 1911.
- 13. Rhôs-on-Sea Pier Act, 1911.
- 14. West Cheshire Water Act, 1911.
- 15. Wirral Waterworks Act, 1911.
- 16. Clyde Navigation Act, 1911.
- 17. Harrogate Corporation Water Act, 1911.]
§ 4.0 P.M.
§ Mr. WYNDHAM
I was dealing with the right hon. Gentleman's attempt to discount the impression which might be made by what, on the face of it, appeared to be a consensus of opinion on the part of many British admirals against the Declaration of London. He analysed the list of those admirals, and pointed out that many of them had retired from active service so many years ago. But perhaps the most effective argument he used, in order to discount the impression which their opinion might create, was the statement that it had been collected by the ordinary method of political controversy. The Amendment before the House is for this purpose—we are asking the Government to allow the Members of the House of Commons to form an opinion untrammelled by the ordinary method of political controversy. If we are to form such an opinion, we are entitled to take into account and to weigh the views of men whose opinion, on the face of it, is entitled to a great measure of respect. Even if it were true—but I do not accept it for a 582 moment—that because of the dates on which they hauled down their flags only eleven of these admirals are entitled to advise their countrymen in this matter, still I should have said that the opinion of eleven admirals whose worth is acknowledged by the First Lord, is an opinion which the Members of this House, hitherto uninstructed on a very complicated matter, ought to have an opportunity of considering and weighing. But I do not want to pursue that further. I think the matter is so grave that we are not making the best use of our time if we bandy the opinion of this man against the opinion of that man. Take the active list. As far as I know Sir Hedworth Lambton as an admiral, and Sir Ian Hamilton as a soldier, are the only two officers on the active list who have come forward, one against and the other in favour of the view of the Government. We certainly gathered from the Secretary of State for War that he saw grave objections to officers on the active list publishing their opinions if they happened to be opposed to the opinion of the Government. So that on the view taken by the Government we have no opportunity, with the single exception of Sir Hedworth Lambton, of discovering what is the view of the admirals on the active list. Out of the admirals not on the active list, we know that eleven are opposed to the view of the Government.
When the First Lord had finished discounting the impression created by this apparent consensus of opinion, he reverted to a portion of the speech which he made last night, as to the effect of the Declaration of London on the help which neutrals might give to the population of this country when straitened for food. I will deal with that when I come to that portion of the right hon. Gentleman's speech. But I noted an omission. When he was unable to conclude last night, he said that he would finish his observations briefly this afternoon, and I thought he was going to say a word about blockade. As I wish to be brief, I will not dwell on that omission. Still, speaking as First Lord, he might have told us what the view of the Government was in respect of the provision regarding blockade. As I wish to discuss this grave matter, in no party spirit, I will touch upon the question of blockade without any animadversion on the omission from the right hon. Gentleman's speech, or on the provision in the Declaration of London. It is very easy for us to do that, because I do not think I am going too far when I say that the 583 question of blockade has become a matter of comparative unimportance owing to the way in which other and far graver questions are dealt with in the Declaration of London. On the face of it I admit that the question of blockade is one which might be happily dealt with by such an instrument. The practice and theory of great Powers have differed widely on the question of blockade, and it would have been a good thing to arrive at some harmony. Harmony has been arrived at by a simple device. We have rejected the British and American view of blockade, and substituted for it the French view. I still think that the British and American view is the better of the two. As we cannot go into details, one must be permitted to generalise. I do not think the First Lord will deny that the British Government and the American Government since the Civil War have held that the destination of the ship in the matter of blockade should decide the question, and that, on the other hand, the French Government have always held that a ship was entitled to proceed on the off chance of the blockade not being effective. In substance we have given up the British view and substituted the French view.
But I do not think that is a matter which need cause great anxiety on our part, because the whole question of blockade has become almost obsolete owing to the fact that the Government on the question of foodstuffs as contraband have accepted the German view, and on the question of the destruction of neutrals have accepted the Russian view. Our own view does not come in anywhere. We went into this conference in order, if we could, to persuade other great Powers that the British view was one, consonant not only with British interests., but also with the interests of neutrals and of humanity. Certainly, on the last two questions, I think we could make that case good. But it has fallen out, sad to relate, that on these questions our view has not prevailed. Yesterday evening the First Lord of the Admiralty set out to prove, and I think that was the pertinent duty of one holding his office, that British interests, in the case of our being a belligerent, had not suffered or been prejudiced in any way, either by the exclusion from the Declaration of London of the question of the conversion of merchantmen into commerce destroyers, or by the manner in which the question of foodstuffs as contraband of war, and the question of the de- 584 struction of neutrals have been treated in that document. Let me take these three points, which are the three capital points that we have to consider. Even if it were true that the Government on other points had achieved something, still, if we had achieved nothing from the British point of view on these three points, I think this would have been an instrument which the House ought not to ratify, and certainly not without a greater opportunity for consideration.
Take the question of foodstuffs as contraband of war. The argument of the First Lord was, in the first place, that we must rely upon our Navy to keep the sea in time of war. His argument was that there is nothing in this Declaration of London which in any way prejudices our interests as a belligerent in respect of foodstuffs as conditional contraband of war, because unless we can keep the sea nothing else matters. I am not going to enlarge this Debate by asking whether we are in as good a position to keep the sea relatively as we were thirty, forty, or fifty years ago, though on a general survey of the whole question that is a consideration which would have to be taken into account. The second argument was that the Declaration of London does not affect belligerents inter se. That is quite true, but where does it carry us? If you are at war with another Power you can do nothing more. War is the last sanction of diplomacy. If you are at war there is nothing more to be said or done. So that if a belligerent, our opponent, captures a ship, and says that foodstuffs are conditional contraband, we cannot say, "We will go to war with you," because we are at war with them already. What we have to consider is whether the likelihood of a belligerent so treating food will be greater or less if we ratify the Declaration of London. That is the whole point. Therefore, those arguments are not very pertinent to the Debate. Therefore, we may very carefully consider whether the ratification of this instrument would injure us and at the same time injure neutrals. On this point our interests as possible belligerents coincide exactly with the interests of any neutrals in any war, even in a war in which we are not engaged. In order to prove that we should not suffer indirectly, the right hon. Gentleman said that nine ships out of every ten carrying foodstuffs to this country in time of peace are British ships. When he was speaking last night somebody interrupted and asked, "What about time of war?" He 585 answered that the proportion would be greater in time of war. I think it would be if the Declaration of London is ratified. After this Declaration I think any neutral would think once or twice or ten times before it attempted to supplement British ships in the, to us, vital service of carrying foodstuffs to this country. But if this Declaration is not ratified I do not think that the proportion in time of war would be the same as the proportion in time of peace.
That view was not the view held by some of the eminent Liberal statesmen of the past. I cannot give the exact quotation, but I remember perfectly well the late Sir William Harcourt saying in this House, during a Debate on the Naval Estimates, that in time of war we should transfer all our commerce, or a great part of it, to a neutral flag, and then it would be perfectly safe. So that in that day an eminent Member of the Liberal Government thought not only that neutrals would continue to help in the carriage of foodstuffs in time of war, but that British merchantmen would convert themselves into neutrals for that purpose. That view has changed. If views on so important a point change in so brief a period, is there not doubt in the matter? And if there is doubt ought there not to be delay? Ought we not to have further guidance at the hands of experts? I am not prepared without further guidance to accept altogether the right hon. Gentleman's percentages. Something may be allowed for the fact that in the Return ships are determined by number, and not in terms of amount. The hon. Gentleman the Member for South Worcestershire has directed my attention to the Report of the Royal Commission on Foodstuffs, Third Volume, Command Paper 2,645, 1904. It appears there, from a table put in by Mr. Henry Hozier, secretary of Lloyd's, that on 26th March, 1903—I am not giving ships now, but tons of foodstuffs, and not corn alone, but all foodstuffs on the high seas homeward bound in British ships—the amount was 1,523,000 tons. Not on exactly the same day, but on a date very nearly approaching it, the tons of foodstuffs of all character on foreign ships was 986,000 tons, or 39 per cent., and not 10 per cent. That, at any rate, prevents us from accepting the figures of the right hon. Gentleman. Are the figures that I give not worth something in the consideration of this subject?
§ Mr. WYNDHAM
Why, then, is it worth while for the First Lord of the Admiralty to give the figures he did in argument last night and repeat them this afternoon?
§ Mr. McKENNA
I said the figures quoted by the right hon. Gentleman were worth nothing in this argument, because those figures do not represent the amount imported into this country.
§ Mr. WYNDHAM
I see what the right hon. Gentleman refers to. He is perfectly accurate. You can only take the stream of ocean carriage. I agree; but will he deny; will he assert that the percentages in the total stream coming from Western countries to Northern Europe are no guide to the percentage coming to this country? Is he prepared to deny that? [An HON. MEMBER: "Certainly."] Well, they are prepared to deny anything, and to assert anything. What we say is that in view of these figures in the Report of the Royal Commission that we are not entitled coolly to ratify this treaty merely because the Government—that is, the Cabinet—are satisfied, when so many admirals and nearly all chambers of commerce are profoundly dissatisfied with the views of the Government. Our case is a case for delay and examination. Every argument which I am adducing is a fair argument for delay and for examination. The right hon. Gentleman is confident that as we now carry 90 per cent. of the foodstuffs that the proportion will not be altered in time of war except in the direction that we shall carry more, and he begs us to dismiss all our anxiety. I am not going into the intricate arguments with which he supplemented his remarks last night. I think it is sufficient to say this: He declares that British vessels in the case which he takes into account would be driven out of trade because of their war insurance risks, and that neutral ships would be drawn into the trade between neutrals because they were not paying war insurance risks.
Surely if we were at war it would strain the general capacity of our merchant service afloat to do trade with our own country. We need not take any other consideration into account. However that may be, what we have to decide in this matter is this: Is even 10 per cent.—and I put it at no higher figure—of the food supplies of this country in time of war when prices bound up a negligible quantity? Will the aid which neutral ships can give us in time of war be less if this Declaration is ratified? The right hon. Gentleman's contention is that we shall be no worse off 587 for the ratification of this instrument. May I apply two tests to it which I think ought to be studied; what, as a matter of fact, has happened in the past in respect of food as conditional contraband of war? Let us ascertain that, and then contrast it with what will not improbably happen in the future if this Declaration is ratified. I am not attempting to deal with the abstruse question of international law, or with theories which this or that Power has entertained or asserted. I want to compare what has happened in the past with what may—and we think will—happen in the future if this instrument is ratified. To put it shortly, it is, I think, a true statement of the case to say that the treatment of food as conditional contraband of war in a manner aggressive and injurious to neutrals has been rare in the past, and has been almost always disputed. I add for contrast that if the Declaration of London is ratified cases of such interference with food as conditional contraband of war in neutral vessels will be very frequent, and will be disputable every time they occur. That is a change for the worse.
I would most respectfully invite the Foreign Secretary to give us some reassurances upon that point. What has actually happened in the past? I am informed by one authority, one upon whom we may rely—and I do not know how we can value authorities unless we have delay and opportunity of debate—how we are to distinguish between the value of one authority and another—I do not know whether the Government altogether discounts the authority of Dr. Baty. He is a writer, a late Civil Law Fellow of University College and joint general secretary of the International Law Association. He says:—Never a cargo of foodstuffs had been captured over some two centuries without being paid for, except as a confessed illegality.That is from a man whose business is to know this subject. His opinion is entitled to be weighed. We are speaking from general experience. I can pretend to no greater authority. Is it not true that until the event of the late Russo-Japanese War in 1904–5 the only guide to the question of food supply as conditional contraband of war was the question in which France was involved when she blockaded China in 1885? What happened? M. Ferry took one view. Lord Granville protested vigorously against it. A letter from Prince Bismarck has been quoted in this Debate 588 in order to show that M. Ferry was right and that Lord Granville was wrong. When the Government went into this matter their intention was that Lord Granville should be right, and Prince Bismarck wrong. The two tests which I think we must apply in order to decide this question as to whether we shall be worse or Better off are these: Is it probable that future practice will be worse than the historic account of past practice, and also, are the results obtained by the Government those covered in the intention with which the Government went into the conference with the other Powers? Notoriously that is not the case. I will argue the merits if the right hon. Gentleman thinks it worth while, but that has been done so well by others that why should I? What will be the position in the light of Articles 24 (1), 33 and 34, which turn upon the question of destination? Destination is to be decided by this fact whether foodstuffs go to a Government Department, a dealer, or to a place serving as a base. I need not repeat the arguments which have been used, but is it not evident that all these terms separately, and above all taken together, constitute a great enlargement of the view for which we have contended—and rightly contended—namely, that foodstuffs cannot be contraband of war unless they are destined for the forces of the enemy? That has been our contention, and it was in order to get that view accepted by the world that the Government went into this matter at all. They did not get it accepted. At the second Peace Conference at The Hague the Government sought to abolish conditional contraband altogether. It was with that intention they started out. They came back with foodstuffs put as the first article of conditional contraband, and conditional contraband so defined that I really believe a court might well decide that food was contraband on many occasions when they never would have so interpreted it before, and when a naval captian would certainly so decide. If that be so we shall be worse off as belligerents. We will be worse off as neutrals if this treaty is ratified in respect of foodstuffs as conditional contraband.
I pass rapidly to the second capital point in this matter to which the right hon. Gentleman addressed himself yesterday—the destruction of neutrals. May I apply the same two tests to the provision of this instrument which deals with the destruction of neutrals? What has been the practice in the past? What will be 589 the probable practice in the future? Until in 1904–5 Russia destroyed neutral ships can the Government produce in the history of one hundred years many cases, any cases, of the destruction of neutral ships? I know that the Foreign Secretary has used language which would lead one to suppose that he holds that during the Napoleonic war we were guilty of sinking Jour American neutral ships. It is contended by other authorities that these ships were not neutral ships at all, but enemies ships. Between the Napoleonic war when we, it has been asserted by some, destroyed four neutral ships, and the events of 1904–5, when Russia undoubtedly sunk some neutral ships, can the right hon. Gentleman produce many, or any, instances during 100 years of the destruction of neutral vessels? I do not believe he can. That is the past. What is liable to happen in the future under this Declaration of London? Chapter 4 is devoted to this specific subject of the destruction of neutral ships. One article says: "They are not to be destroyed." But before I come to the exact article in the Declaration, may I add that the destruction of neutral ships by Russia in those years was viewed with astonishment, and something approaching to horror in this country, and, indeed, throughout the world. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition said in this House that "it was entirely contrary to the practice of nations," and elsewhere he stated our opposition to the destruction of neutrals, under any circumstances. "From which position," said the right hon. Gentleman, "there is no, I will not say 'probability,' but 'possibility' of our receding." Why are we now practically receding? What has happened to induce this country, which has always declared that neutrals ought not to be destroyed, to recede from that position?
Will the ratification of the Declaration injure our interests and the interests of the world in that matter? Article 48 begins by saying that neutrals are not to be destroyed, Article 49 has an exception and says they may be destroyed if the ship capturing them cannot take them into port without danger to the success of its operations. Now this is going to be interpreted by a court, but it is going to be interpreted also by the captain of the ship which captures the neutral, and I declare in these two articles if ratified we not only recede from the position upheld by Lord Lans- 590 downe in 1904–5, and by Lord Granville, but by every British statesman and officer and every responsible Leader of the Opposition, and as a matter of fact and practice is an injury to our own interests and an injury to the cause of humanity. And here again I apply the second test: what were the intentions of the Government when they first entered into these negotiations? They wished to abolish the destruction of neutrals or rather to prevent the recurrence of destruction of neutrals as in 1904–5. Their representatives says such were our intentions, and the result represents compromise. What was the compromise? The compromise was that we surrendered the historic British view and substituted for it the Russian view which astonished the world in 1904–5.
I have quoted Admiral Slade our representative, and it is clear that the intention of the Government was to prevent a recurrence of these evils. I have dealt first, altering the order of the speech of the First Lord of the Admiralty, with two points which are covered by the Declaration of London, namely, foodstuffs as conditional contraband, and the destruction of neutrals, and I hold that the probable result of the ratification will be that the practice in the future will be worse than the practice in the past, because having tried to persuade the world that the British view is the more humane view, as well as consonant with our own interests, the Government accepted in one case the German view and in the other the Russian view. The First Lord of the Admiralty, speaking yesterday, dealt first with the point of capital importance not included in the Declaration, namely the conversion of merchantmen into commerce destroyers in time of war, and the argument of the First Lord was that the ratification of the Declaration could make no difference at all, because the Declaration of London does not touch the matter. Is that so? What would the view of the court be of an instrument of that character which consecrates the German view and the Russian view upon two points, and upon this third point shows that the world were unable to accept the British view. The intentions of the Government in this matter were clear, and if right hon. Gentlemen opposite do not accept that statement I will elaborate it. They are instituting a court, we do not know what legal procedure that court will follow, but probably if it is a court at all it will interpret this code, and it will find that this 591 code deals with two specific subjects, and that upon another the Powers excluded it from the sphere of their consideration.
Lawyers always declare that there is danger in definition; and having defined two things, and not a third the latter goes to the wall. You have included foodstuffs, and given away a great deal; you have included the destruction of neutrals and given away a great deal, and having been able to effect nothing in connection with the conversion of merchantmen into destroyers, will not the court hold that is a matter upon which the world has been unable to agree, and upon which British opinion has been utterly waived. Now apply the test. In the past that was called privateering. What will it be called in the future? Apply the second test. What were your intentions upon this matter? Your intentions upon this matter were, If you could you wanted to persuade other Powers that merchantmen ought not to be converted into warships in the high seas. What does the Government's representative say?—We did not fail to put forward the arguments which, in the view of His Majesty's Government, militate against that recognition of an unrestricted right on conversion on the high seas.…We were met by a refusal to make any concession.Now, how do we stand with regard to these three capital matters—foodstuffs as a conditional contraband, the destruction of neutrals, and the conversion of merchantmen into ships of war in the high seas? Our interests as belligerents are identical with the interests of humanity. On all these three points, the British Government have for centuries insisted that their view is the right one in the interest of civilisation. On all these three points, although we wielded the undisputed supremacy of the sea, we had acted in a humane and civilised manner, and have been able in a great measure to impress our views upon the world, because of holding the supremacy of the sea, and in order to get these views consecrated by the other great powers of the world, the Government entered into this Conference, and upon every one of these points the British views have been thrown to the wind, and views are adopted against which we always protested in the past. If that account be, I will not say true, but even plausible, and I assure right hon. Gentlemen opposite that it is my view, while I admit their intentions were laudable, I regret they did not succeed, and if they did not succeed, is it wise that 592 this House should ratify that policy without further delaying examination?
The Government by allowing us this Debate, and by giving us another day, are, I assume, inviting us to confer with them upon this matter. They give us the right, they conceded to the Prime Ministers of the sister States, but in limiting this Debate to three days, they deny the opportunity for full consideration, and by the announcement that the determination, of this House on this matter is to be decided by Party allegiance and not by conviction, they are really asserting the right of the Government themselves to ratify this treaty without consulting the representatives of the people. That is a right which the Crown exercises; it is a right conceded to the Government by this House, but it is a right which this House has always most jealously regarded, and I doubt that it could be maintained except on the ground of urgency or secrecy. Neither of these apply here. Here we have documents, and I ask why not examine them in the light of expert opinion? There is no urgency whatever. No other country has ratified this instrument yet, and so we have another view pub forward, namely, that the Declaration is an advance in the interests of humanity, and of safeguarding neutrals and civilising war, and that an advance has been gained without prejudice to us as belligerents. We do not see that. Is it not doubtful, at any rate that that is so when on three points, namely, foodstuffs, neutrals, and the conversion of merchantmen which affect our interest, you failed? Had you not better wait and try to exercise your arts of persuasion again?
§ Mr. HOLT
Perhaps I may be allowed,, as the representative of one of the great interests affected, namely, the shipping interest, to say a few words in this debate? First of all, I should like to suggest to the House, whether in the long dispute that has been going on between belligerents and neutrals as to their rights, we are to take our stand upon the side of the belligerents or upon the side of the neutrals. And I venture to think that although we have in the past taken up a very extreme attitude as to the rights of belligerents, we should now throw ourselves wholeheartedly upon the side of the neutrals in these disputes. I do not think it at all likely that this country will be engaged in anything like frequent wars in the future. There is probably no country which has taken so strong a line, except the United States, in the direction of trying to pro- 593 cure a settlement of international disputes by arbitration and not by war. I believe this policy is in accord with the views of all sections of the House, and, therefore, it should follow, and must follow, that, so far as we are concerned, a very small number of disputes will be required to be settled by war, and that every step, where we get rid of the arbitrament of war, it must necessarily follow our interests are with the neutrals, and not as belligerents. It must also be borne in mind that about half of the merchantmen commerce of the world belongs to us, and in case of war with other Powers our interest as neutrals must be very large indeed. I think that this Declaration does embody very valuable principles and its discussion makes a very considerable step forward from our point of view. First of all, I should like to put my view with regard to neutrals. The right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down told us that as far as our interest in regard to the importation of food is concerned, if we were belligerents, they are not less than our interests as neutrals, that what was good for us as neutrals was good for us also as belligerents.
§ Mr. HOLT
That what was good for us as neutrals helps us as regards receiving assistance for neutrals when we are belligerents. Therefore, if we look at this instrument from the point of view of ourselves as neutrals it will show that as belligerents we should derive advantage from it. We are, first of all, to define what contraband is. Hitherto it has been open to any belligerent to publish its own list of contraband at the beginning of war. In future it cannot do that. It is quite true that, although the list of contraband is not all we could wish, it marks a very considerable advance upon the present state of affairs. After all, when you go into an international Conference of any description, you cannot surely hope to come out with everything gained in your own direction, and nothing conceded to satisfy anybody else. We have another great advantage under this instrument, namely, an appeal to an international Prize Court. It is all very well to have the most beautiful code of rules and a fair list of contraband published by a foreign State, but if their own law courts are going to interpret them, such concession may prove in practice to 594 be useless. Let me give an instance of my own experience. My firm are owners of a vessel which was apprehended during the Russo-Japanese war. She was taken by Russia and was brought to Vladivostock. The authorities there could not condemn the ship as more than half her cargo was not consigned to Japan. What did they do? In the first instance they decided that certain ice-making machinery was contraband, because it might be used for loading cartridges. I have not the least idea of how ice-making machinery could be used for such a purpose, but the court in their own interests decided in their own favour. If a question of that sort has to be decided it is of immense importance that it is going to be decided in a fair and impartial court. In the case I alluded to the larger part of the cargo consisted of timber, and it was held that timber was contraband, because it could be used for building a pier for the shipping of stores. There were also thirty or fifty bales of cotton, the remains of a large consignment, which was actually consigned to a spinning company. This was declared to be contraband be-cause it might be used for making guncotton. The appeal court found that this cotton must be regarded as contraband because if they had not done so we should have had a claim for compensation, and they gave this decision to prevent my company having a good and valid claim for compensation. That kind of thing could not exist in an international court. Without saying anything that goes beyond the bounds of civility to foreign Powers, I think everybody must recognise that in a great many foreign countries the judicial bench has not gob the same independence that we enjoy in this country, because the judges there are looked upon more as servants of the Government, a state of affairs which no one would suggest exists here.
With regard to the destruction of neutrals the right hon. Gentleman said that we had given away our position on that subject, but I do not think we have. The Declaration lays down that neutrals can only be destroyed as a matter of urgent necessity and as an exception. If it can only be done as the exception it may safely be said that no international Prize Court would uphold the practice complained of. It has got to be done as an exception and justified by exceptional circumstances. It is all very well for the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition to say that we have always 595 protested against it most vigorously. This happened when he was in power and his Government protested most vigorously. That is exactly all they did, and they finally ended by acquiescing in the situation. In regard to this matter right hon. Gentlemen opposite used great words and very fine language, but they took no steps to stop it, and what is the use of telling us now to protest against this and the other when all the time, while the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues were in office, they let it go on? As a matter of fact the only effectual thing that could have been done was to declare war. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no."] That is the only thing which could have been done to stop the sinking of neutral ships, and I say that it would have been absolutely monstrous to involve this country in war simply for the sinking of a comparatively small number of ships. It would have been absolutely wrong to go to war on that account, but there would have been no other way out of it. Under the instrument provided in this Declaration you do get the remedy of a trial in what is in fact an impartial international court, and I say that that is a very considerable step forward from our point of view.
I wish to say a word or two upon the question of the supply of food to this country when we are belligerents. We are told that in some mysterious way our adhesion to the Declaration of London will damage our prospects of getting food brought into this country by neutral ships when we are at war. Let us consider that point in detail. It must be assumed, if you are at war with some other nation, and it must be assumed that the nations we are likely to be at war with are so powerful as to cause us serious inconvenience. We must imagine a case of war against a serious naval force. Now, I think that the only naval force that now exists which could possibly give us any real difficulty in keeping the seas clear would be a combination of Germany and France. I think that is the only possible combination, leaving the United States out of the question, that could seriously affect British ships coming to our shores. Let us assume that the countries I have mentioned are our enemies. Who, then, are the neutrals? The neutral ships will be those of Norway, Sweden, and Holland. I do not think there are any other ships worth mentioning in this respect. Does anybody mean to tell me that the neutrals of Norway, Sweden, and Holland are not in a far 596 stronger position under the Declaration of London. You have to consider who the neutrals are. You have also to consider what the means of the particular owners are to bring diplomatic pressure. It is true that the United States or Germany might bring diplomatic pressure to bear successfully, but it does not follow that Norway, Sweden, and Holland would be in a similar position. It is the smaller Powers upon whom we have to rely for neutral service in time of war.
After all the United States has got no shipping which they can possibly bring supplies to our country, and we should all die of starvation long before we could get such a service from America. Considerable discussion has taken place between the First Lord of the Admiralty and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dover (Mr. Wyndham) as to the proportion of our food supplies which comes to this country in neutral ships. For myself I should think 10 per cent. is much more likely to be correct than 30 per cent., but this is not in the least material. Let us assume that even 50 per cent. of our supplies could be brought in foreign neutral ships. That leaves 50 per cent. still to come in British ships, and we should be short by half of our food supply. How could we possibly exist under such circumstances? If we cannot bring food supplies into this country by British ships in time of war, it is absolutely immaterial what happens to the neutrals. We are hopelessly done anyhow, and it is not worth considering whether this Declaration does or does not help to bring neutral commerce in time of war to these shores. I do not think it makes any difference, for it is only a question of whether we are going to be hanged for a sheep or a lamb.
The question of the conversion of merchantmen into war ships is not really a subject of any great magnitude. Does anybody really believe that there is an immense quantity of foreign merchantmen sailing about the seas already to be converted into warships? I only wish our foreign competitors were in that position, because the company I represent would have a first-rate time if these other ships were all hampered with cannons and magazines. Under those circumstances nothing would give me greater pleasure, and I should be quite certain of making a considerable fortune very rapidly. The conversion which has been alluded to only took place with regard to particular ships which were deliberately built for the pur- 597 pose of conversion, which everybody knew were going to be converted on the high seas as soon as they possibly could. That is actually what took place, and any intelligent admiralty would have the commonsense to watch those ships as war ships. I think of all the bugbears we have heard of this one of the peaceful merchantman on the high seas coining from New York to Hamburg with twenty millionaires on board, and a thousand other American citizens, suddenly being armed with guns and popping at British ships is the most ludicrous fantasy that has ever been heard of.
§ Mr. HOLT
They protested because it is quite right to protest against it. A man has no right to continue to do what is objectionable and say that after all I have only done it to a very small extent. It is a very trifling matter altogether. Something has been said about the view of the commercial world on this question, and it has been stated that the representatives of the trading and commercial community are opposed to this Declaration. That is not a statement which strictly speaking can be justified. The hon. and learned Member for York (Mr. Butcher) in the speech he made last night said that the shipowners of various places, including Liverpool, were opposed to this Declaration. I am sorry the hon. and learned Member is not present, because I should like to have asked him what his authority was for making that statement in reference to Liverpool. I am under the impression that the Liverpool Steamship Owners' Association passed a resolution in favour of the Declaration of London, but if I am mistaken on that point, I certainly know that they have passed no resolution against the Declaration.
I find upon looking through a list of the supporters of the Declaration many gentlemen who consented to serve upon a general committee to consider this question. If we may look upon Lord Pirrie as authorised to speak for the well-known companies he represents then we may claim that such companies as the White Star, the Royal Mail Line, and the Elder Dempster Company are in favour of the Declaration. We have got on the Committee I have alluded to representatives of the Orient Line, the Union Castle Line, the Cunard and Harrison Lines, the British India Company, and 598 several other very important trading companies. Really that is a very fair representative lot of those interested in shipping, and if hon. Members will inquire what they have got represented in that little knot I think they may very well leave the rest to other people. I should be very satisfied to take that list under my management, and I should consider I had got the pick of the mercantile marine. There is absolutely no foundation for the statement that the preponderating body of opinion among ship owners is opposed to the ratification of the Declaration of London. Those of us who have had experience in regard to the Russo-Japanese war have considered this question very carefully, and most of us have decided to throw the whole of our weight in favour of the ratification of this Declaration.
There is another matter in the Bill to which I wish to allude, and that is the question of prize money to officers in the Navy. I think that is a most objectionable practice. It is absolutely wrong that officers in the Navy or the Army should receive a pecuniary reward proportionate to the value of the properly which they may capture. The officers in the Army and the Navy ought to receive for their patriotic services and the brains and skill they use adequate and suitable reward, and that ought to have nothing whatever to do with the pecuniary value of the prizes they may succeed in taking from the enemy. Their remuneration should be based upon the military value of their services to the country. Under the system suggested an officer fortunate enough to stop the "Lusitania" might get an enormous reward, whereas a person who might succeed in sinking a "Dreadnought" might get nothing at all, yet there is no comparison between the two in the service rendered to the country. There can be no doubt that in the past history of this country, the holding out of prize money to officers as a reward for services not of a very military character has on more than one occasion led them to turn from the prime military duty of the hour in order to amass personal wealth. I am referring to the well-known instance which occurred somewhere about 150 years ago. I think, when we are passing a Naval Prize Bill, we ought once and for all to stop the practice which enables naval officers to obtain prize money. They should receive proper and suitable reward for their services to the country, based upon the military value of their services, and the 599 idea of rewarding them with prize money should be abandoned. It is uncivilised. It encourages the idea that war is not for public purposes, but for private purposes, and I believe that is contrary to the true interests of the Nation as a whole. I am very much obliged to the House for listening to me so kindly, and I sincerely hope we shall succeed in carrying this Bill and with it the Declaration of London.
§ Sir ALFRED CRIPPS
I should like at the outset to refer to the speech of the First Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. McKenna), because I think it would strike everyone that the views of the First Lord of the Admiralty upon a matter of this kind ought to have great weight both with the House and with the country. The First Lord of the Admiralty suggested that we on our side had been under a very great misunderstanding as regards the purport and meaning of the Declaration of London as comprised in the Naval Prize Bill. It appears to me the misunderstanding is entirely on the side of the First Lord of the Admiralty, and I am glad to see both the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Sir E. Grey) and the Attorney-General (Sir Rufus Isaacs) present, because this is a point of the greatest importance. The First Lord of the Admiralty pointed out that the Declaration of London is not a code which applies as between belligerents, but as between belligerents and neutrals. I have noticed from the many papers issued from the Foreign Office in answer to representations made by chambers of commerce and others that they have supposed chambers of commerce have made a mistake in considering the Declaration of London a code between belligerents, and not as a code limited as between neutrals and belligerents. I do not think that mistake has ever been made. I think I have read all the documents issued by the various chambers of commerce and shipping authorities, and that mistake has not been made in a single one of them. I could not understand the mistake in the first instance, but I appreciate it now since the speech of the First Lord of the Admiralty. It has arisen not with the critics of the Declaration, but with those who are maintaining the value of the Declaration, and in my opinion the First Lord of the Admiralty, according to the speech he made, did not appreciate what it really means. Of course, it is quite true nobody is going to argue for a moment that it is not a code as between 600 belligerents. As between belligerents in the future, as in the past, inter arma silent leges. It is a question of war and not a question of Prize Courts or of an international Prize Court. The First Lord of the Admiralty went wrong, and was misleading here. He inferred from that fact, which no one is likely to deny for an instant, that the Declaration of London did not materially affect us in our position as belligerents. If there is one thing more certain than another—and this is my strong reason for directing the criticisms,. I shall make against the code contained in the Declaration of London—it is that our position as belligerents is vitally affected by the law laid down in the Declaration—I mean the law as between neutrals on the one side and belligerents on the other. I join issue entirely with the views of the First Lord of the Admiralty. He defines the law which would be in force as between neutrals and the enemy Powers, and I believe the law as between neutrals and the enemy Powers, whether for good or bad, has, and necessarily must have, the most material bearing upon the position of this country when a belligerent.
I hope I do not disagree with what I may call general humanitarian principles or with the general principle of international arbitration or an international Prize Court, but I do say our first duty, in considering the effect of the Declaration of London and the code therein contained, is to consider whether, when we are in a belligerent position and our national existence may be at stake, it alters the existing law to our disadvantage or not. It can be demonstrably shown that every change made as regards the law as between neutrals and belligerents and as regards international matters is vitally to the disadvantage of this country when we are in the position of a belligerent Power. When the First Lord of the Admiralty speaks about the instructions he would give to the captains of belligerent vessels if we were at war, and says those instructions would not be affected whether the Declaration of London is passed or not, I say he entirely misunderstands both the meaning of the Declaration and also the meaning of our criticisms against it. Does he mean that, after accepting an international code and an international Prize Court, he is going to give instructions to commanders of war vessels in this country that they are to disregard that code and the decisions of that court? If he does not mean that, what was it he 601 meant when he said that, although we were discussing these questions, yet in a state of war it would merely depend whether we had the force to carry out our wishes or not? We are criticised as not being in favour of an international tribunal and an international code. If the view expressed by the First Lord of the Admiralty is right, we are producing nothing more than a fraud and a sham if we hold ourselves free on the first occasion of war to disregard the code and the decisions of the international tribunal. I hope we shall not be put in a position of that kind. When we give instructions to our own commanders of vessels as regards their relationship towards neutrals, shall we hold ourselves bound by the international prize code and the decisions of the international Prize Court? I assume the answer will be in the affirmative, although I think the whole basis of the speech of the First Lord of the Admiralty was that it will be in the negative.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL (Sir Rufus Isaacs) indicated dissent.
§ Sir A. CRIPPS
What does that mean? I will take his own illustration. I will take the case of a merchantman converted during the course of its voyage into a foreign vessel of war. Of course, so far as that is a foreign vessel of war it will, as between us and the enemy power, be in the same position as any other war vessel. It will be subject to capture and attack. No one has ever denied, or will deny, that proposition. What will be the position as regards neutrals in respect of a vessel which during the course of its voyage is converted from a merchantman into a war vessel? If we allow that principle to be adopted, whatever instructions we may give to our commanders and whatever attitude we may take up upon a question of this kind, every foreign Power will have the opportunity, and, if the international Prize Court takes their view, will have the right, to our detriment and to the detriment of neutral Powers at large, of allowing merchantmen to be converted during their voyage into vessels of war. Surely the position we have taken up in these matters, particularly when it is in accordance with what are called humanitarian views and in accordance with the rights and interests of neutrals, ought to have due weight. We have always said a merchantman cannot be converted into a ship of war after leaving the port. No one will deny that. What is the position to be in the case of a war between us and 602 another country. I hope we shall not depart from the principle we have always laid down, I think, in the interests of neutrals and of humanity, if I may use such a large term, and shall observe the rule that if a merchantman is to be converted into a ship of war it must be converted before it leaves the port. How about our enemy? Our enemy will be justified, if the international Prize Court gives a decision in that direction, in maintaining exactly the opposite proposition. They will have the power of harassing neutrals in a way which we think unjust and unfair. Can anyone deny that the Declaration of London would operate to the detriment of neutrals and in addition would operate to our disadvantage as a belligerent if neutral vessels were treated by us in a different way from what they were treated by the enemy Power?
The First Lord of the Admiralty seemed to think that decisions given by the international Prize Court as regards neutral bodies other than ourselves would not be binding upon this country. That is an impossible attitude to take, but I listened very carefully to what the right hon. Gentleman said yesterday, and it is the attitude which the First Lord of the Admiralty takes. I am delighted to see the learned Attorney-General shakes his head, because you might build up before this international Prize Court a series of rules and law which might be entirely detrimental to the interest of this country and in which we might have no voice and on which our opinions and views might never have been heard at all. The First Lord of the Admiralty says we shall not be affected as belligerents by these decisions between neutrals and other Powers. Of course we shall be affected. What the Court lays down will be the international law on these points. Am I to be told by the First Lord of the Admiralty, who of all persons ought to be accurate on a matter of this kind, that while other Powers are bound by the decisions of the international Prize Court our commanders and cruisers are to go free? I am sure he cannot mean that, but that is what he says, and it was on that ground he criticised the speech of my right hon. Friend, who was Attorney-General under the late Administration (Sir R. Finlay) when he pointed out, I think most justly, that under the Court as constituted we have really no guarantee that either the just rights of neutrals or the just rights of this country as a belligerent will be fairly and properly considered.
603 Before coming to the three points with which I want to deal as regards the matters contained in the Declaration itself, may I say one word as regards the international Prize Court. This is a matter. I hope the learned Attorney-General will deal with when he comes to speak later on. The provision is that the international Prize Court fully constituted shall consist of fifteen members, and that as many as nine members shall be required for a quorum. Eight members of the Court will be representative of what. I may call the Great Powers; the other seven will come from Powers which either have no interest whatever in these maritime questions or which have an interest which is absolutely immaterial for the purposes of considering the position of a great maritime Power like this, and a matter might come to be decided in the Court which would affect our belligerent position for all time by a majority of representatives from Hayti and San Domingo, and other small American Republics. I am not against the constitution of an international Prize Court, but I say it is all important that, if we are to have such a Court, it should be properly constituted and properly manned. I do not believe that anyone with any experience of courts, either as regards the way in which they act or the way in which they are constituted, can say it is right that our interests as a belligerent on some of the most crucial and critical points should be decided by these small Central American Republics which have no interest in maritime questions, and have practically no navy, and whose representatives of whom I do not want to speak with disrespect, are not likely to have the smallest experience in these matters. Why should the whole policy of this country be decided by the representatives of Hayti or San Domingo. But take an older country like Turkey. I do not want to say anything harsh about Turkey, hut she looks at most of these questions from a different standpoint to ourselves. We are advanced in matters of maritime law, we have given a lead to the rest of the world, and the decisions of our courts are quoted.
§ Sir A. CRIPPS
I will later on show how far they are followed on crucial points. You have at the present time a maritime law in this country which has been laid down by leading authorities, and which is 604 referred to even if it is not wholly followed by all countries as a model of what maritime decisions ought to be. Are you going to put it at the mercy of the representatives of small Central American Republics who necessarily have no knowledge of maritime legal procedure and have no interests in that direction, because they are not maritime countries? I am putting this from the point of view of the neutral as well as of the belligerent. We have been on the whole the great protector of neutral commerce in the past. Our code of maritime law is more favourable to neutrals than the code of any other country. Why should we subject it to such a tribunal as is proposed here? It is, I say, a most reactionary proposal. Would it not be better to have a Court constituted of men with a great knowledge of maritime law and of representatives of a country which has taken a leading part in humanitarian dealing with neutrals, as we have done for so many centuries.
I want to come to close quarters with what the Attorney-General said just now with regard to our law being followed. I want to take the question of the conditional contraband of food stuffs. I want to show how the proposals of the Declaration of London are to a greater or a lesser extent wholly detrimental to the position of this country, and wholly detrimental to the interests of neutrals in any part of the world. The present position is this: Whether a cargo is contraband or not is determined by the destination of the cargo, and not by the destination of the ship. What is the first alteration made? The alteration of the greatest importance, and one to the disadvantage of this country as regards conditional contraband, is that in future it is to be the destination of the vessel and not the destination of the cargo! Let me explain what that means. Take the case of Germany. Germany is entirely exempt from any liability for the capture of foodstuffs under the term of conditional contraband, because the vessel will be going to a neutral port, say Rotterdam. In the case of war, of course, all such cargoes would be consigned through neutral ports. Under these conditions, if you had foodstuffs being carried in a neutral vessel for victualling a ship of war which was just going to start out in order to carry on depredations against the vessels of this country no doubt that would be contraband, but if you take the Declaration of London as it stands it absolutely frees every Continental Power likely to be our enemy from any 605 liability or risk in this respect. That is absolutely the case. So long as a neutral vessel under these circumstances is chartered in a neutral port no question can arise. That is in itself decisive, and, instead of taking the common-sense view, instead of merely considering the destination of the vessel, you should consider what is the real destination of the cargo. Even such an authority as Mr. Cohen, who in many ways supports the Declaration of London, admits there is no reason for this distinction between absolute and conditional contraband. The fact is, as regards foodstuffs, any enemy against whom we might be engaged would be held absolutely free from any risk as regards confiscation of foodstuffs carried for the benefit of their armies so long as it was carried in neutral vessels.
Let us consider our position as an island Power. I agree with the view put forward by the London Chamber of Commerce that transhipment is impossible. I may quote in this respect what has been said by the shipping associations of the United Kingdom. They say that to their knowledge in neutral ports this idea of transhipment is not possible, because there are no facilities and no docks in which the transhipment can be carried out. After all, this is practically a commercial question. All foodstuffs coming into this country in time of war, apart from transhipment, must be consigned to a port in this country. That is a fact, and it is, under the Declaration of London, possible for every ounce of foodstuffs brought to this country to be treated as contraband. What we have to consider first of all, when dealing with neutrals, is are they likely to desire to carry foodstuffs for us, or will they prefer to carry them for our enemies? If they choose the latter, they are under no liability; their ships are not liable to be seized. If they prefer to carry it for us, it is no imaginary risk at all. At the present time conditional contraband only becomes liable to confiscation and capture if it is intended for the use of naval and military forces, but this Declaration has introduced a distinction which will in every case cause the question to be raised whether it is conditional contraband or not.
This matter has not to be decided by the Prize Court in the first instance. It has first to be decided by the commanders of the enemy's vessels. I am not going to suggest any special wickedness in their case, but is it not quite reasonable to suppose that where there is any doubt at all 606 they will decide in the sense of confiscating the cargo, even at the risk that two or three years later on the court may order compensation to be paid. But such compensation would not be given to us if our corn were seized during time of war, or were prevented from coming to this country in a neutral vessel, and I think I am right in saying that under such circumstances we should get starvation, or somewhere very near the limits of starvations that is what it means to us.
What is said in the Declaration of London? I think I can quote almost the actual terms "if it comes to the base of operations." M. Renault tells us that that means the base of operations or supply. The view of the Government is that M. Renault's explanation is part of the document itself, and it will be seen at once how that will affect this country, in the case of our being at war. I do not believe there is a single big port in this country which would not be sufficiently connected either with military or naval operations in order to bring it within a definition of that sort. I want the Attorney-General to bear with me in this argument. He may say that the answer sent by the Foreign Office to the extremely able paper on the Declaration of London furnished by the Glasgow Chamber of Commerce is sufficient. That chamber of commerce asked the Foreign Office—Will Glasgow, in the case of war, be regarded as a base or not? That was a most vital question. What was the only answer the Foreign Office could give—"We cannot tell you, as that will depend upon the decision of the international Prize Court." What does that mean? It means that instead of having a certainty to refer to, there will be doubt whether a port comes within the definition of the base of operations or supply. In the case of war this country would be, like a beleaguered fortress, badly provisioned; in fact, we have only provisions for a very short time. It is but midsummer madness to ratify a Declaration which as regards this question of corn supply puts us indubitably in a worse position than we are at present. Let me deal with the question of neutrals. I do not agree with what was said by the First Lord of the Admiralty or with his commercial calculations. I am at issue with him in regard to both of them. What is said in the memorandum published by the shipping community of the United Kingdom is this, and I believe it to be perfectly true, that in the case of war we shall be more dependent upon the import of corn in neutral vessels than we 607 are in times of peace, because the conditions are such that owing to the higher rates of freight the neutral vessels will be induced to leave the trade they are carrying on at the moment in order to carry corn for the people of this country.
The hon. Member for the Hexham Division of Northumberland (Mr. Holt) went to the length of saying that if 50 per cent. of our corn was coming in in neutral vessels we need not mind if that quantity were stopped. I say that is a monstrous proposition. If we were to take away 50 per cent. of the corn imported by this country we should have starvation in a few weeks or a month, and yet that was a statement made by the hon. Member in favour of the Declaration. We were dealing with 10 per cent. coming in neutral ships, but he said that taking 50 per cent. we need not be alarmed. I do not think that there are many Members on the opposite side who will agree with that. But after all, what are these matters of calculation? According to my view it matters very little whether they are a little more or a little less. We have got to stand for this. We have first of all to stand for the legitimate rights of neutrals, and those are that contraband is to be determined by the destination of the cargo and only to be liable to confiscation if it is going to a naval or military force. But we have extended that doctrine to the detriment of neutrals. Lot us look at the matter from the point of view of ourselves as belligerents. Can anyone say that we ought to ratify a Declaration which, to a very material extent, may limit the supply of corn which we get from abroad in time of war? I do not think that one word which has been said upon this subject has been said in a spirit of exaggeration at all. We have to consider our peculiar position as an island Power. It is quite true, as the First Lord of the Admiralty said, that we cannot change the geographical conditions, but we can put upon ourselves burdens which no rival Power will have to bear, and that is what will be done if you ratify the Declaration of London.
Let me take the next matter as regards the sinking of neutral ships. Here again I want to take what was said by the Foreign Minister himself. We have had a good deal of discussion as to what the law is, but the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs said that for 200 years we have supported what was the right doctrine, namely, that, except in cases of necessity 608 quite outside Clause 49 of the Declaration of London, a belligerent Power had no right to sink a neutral vessel at all. I am taking the words of the Foreign Secretary himself, and he said that that had been the case for 200 years. I do not want to argue on legal technicalities one way or the other, and I should be prepared in every case to take, what was the original statement of the Foreign Minister on these points. But what has been the result? The right hon. Gentleman pointed out to the representatives of England how important it was, in his opinion, to maintain a great principle of that kind. He pointed out that it was in the cause of humanity and in the cause of neutrals. Further, he said that we were a great maritime Power and had been the leading authority on matters of that kind, and we had adopted that view of the law for the last 200 years. What is the result? Russia brought forward a clause—Russia, who is notoriously reactionary as compared with us in matters of this kind—Russia, against whose action we protested so loudly in the course of the Japanese War, and I believe it was our protest which prevented her going further in the reactionary course of sinking neutrals. Yet we have accepted her clause verbatim, and I do not think there is any difference between the terms of the Declaration of London and the proposal put forward by Russia.
Again I ask right hon. Gentlemen opposite, do they think that we, the foremost country and the most humanitarian country in the world, are to embark upon a reactionary policy because, forsooth, Russia insisted upon her terms as regarded the Declaration? The real truth is this, that the principles are admirably stated as regards conditional contraband, the sinking of neutral ships, and the change of merchantmen into vessels of war by the Foreign Minister himself. There stands upon record his view that the English position is right and ought to be maintained. And what is the result? Why, in every single case of those principles which I agree have been selected as the most crucial questions to debate in order that we may understand where we are—in every single one of them when the true crisis came we gave way to a reactionary power, and were willing to accept what on every ground, having regard to our interests as belligerents or as neutrals, we ought to have resisted. I want to ask hon. Members opposite, do they desire that the old rules under which we protected neutrals shall be preserved or not? Do they 609 desire to ratify a Declaration which puts the neutral in a worse position than he is in at the present time? If so, then let them vote for the Declaration of London, which attacks the position of this country. After all, if this country is in a state of war, it is not a question of mere humanitarianism or generalisation of principles.
The question is whether we can preserve our national existence or not. Let me put this question to hon. Members: Do they think that a Declaration ought to be ratified which on these material points affects the importation of corn into this country when we are under conditions of war, and when it is well known that, so far as this country itself is concerned, we are provisioned for only a short time? It has been said, in fact, that we are only provisioned for a period of six weeks. But whether it is more or less, what I protest against in the interests of the millions of artisans and workers in this country is that we, the House of Commons, should for one moment consent to ratify a Declaration which puts us in a worse position as regards the price and the facility in the transit of corn than we are at present. The sacrifice of the principles to which I have referred will either make the cost of freight to this country immeasurably higher or else will prove prohibitive in regard to the importation of corn in neutrals. It is on those grounds that I hope that the Declaration of London may not be ratified until its proposals have been more clearly appreciated, and I think, if there is one argument which is the strongest possible argument why further discussion is necessary, it is that the First Lord of the Admiralty, who, above all men in this country, ought to have appreciated the purport and meaning of the Declaration, has shown that as regards those facts which are of great interest to this country he has obtained a false idea. Upon these grounds, when the time conies I shall vote most heartily for the Amendment.
§ Mr. DICKINSON
I do not propose to comment at once upon the somewhat lurid picture which has been drawn by my hon. and learned Friend in his speech just now of the terrible condition of affairs which he expects will hold good if this Declaration is ratified. I cannot help thinking that if he had given as careful attention to the legal aspect of the case as he has to the sentimental aspect of it he could not have made the speech which he has done. I hope, in the course of the few remarks 610 which I have to make to this House, to show how very overdrawn his views on this question are. No one can deny that this subject is one of supreme importance; from different points of view it is of great importance. I venture to think that from none is it more important than from the point of view of our position with regard to all the nations of the world if we refuse to ratify this Declaration. May I be allowed shortly to call the attention of the House to the historical position. When the second Hague Conference was being invited to assemble by the Czar of Russia in 1907 an invitation was sent to us and to other nations to attend, and a rough programme was laid before those who were invited to attend. Our Government accepted that invitation, but specifically pointed out that they wished to reserve the right to add to the subjects on this programme, and in the instructions that were given to Sir Edward Fry, who was the principal representative of this country, are these words:—His Majesty's Government, however, are anxious to secure the adaptation of the machinery of the existing tribunal which was created by the Convention to the purposes of an International Tribunal of Appeal from the decisions of belligerent Prize Courts affecting neutrals.After pointing out some of the details in regard to that subject, they said:—His Majesty's Government consider that if The Hague Conference accomplishes no other object than the constitution of such a tribunal it will render an inestimable service to civilisation and mankind.In accordance with those instructions at the first meeting of The Hague Conference our representative, Sir Edward Fry, announced that he had instructions from his Government to ask permission to add to the programme the question of the appointment of the Prize Court tribunal, and also that he was provided with a detailed scheme for settling this question. The representative of Germany stated that he had similar instructions, and he had similar proposals to make before the Conference, and the representative of the United States of America cordially joined in the appeal to the Conference to add this question to their programme. This was done unanimously, and in accordance with it a committee sat and considered the question in detail, and brought up a report, which was adopted in September, 1907. It was adopted in the presence of the representatives of forty-four different countries in the world, and thirty-seven voted in favour and one only against. This action of the Conference was practically unanimous, and Sir Edward Fry, 611 with the authority, I assume, of the Government, at the last meeting of the Conference used these words:—Of all the projects that we have adopted the most remarkable in my opinion is that of the Prize Court, because this is the first time in the history of the world that there has been organised a court truly international. International law of to-day is hardly anything but a chaos of opinions which are often contradictory and of decisions of national courts based upon national laws. We hope to see little by little in the future a system of truly international law form itself round this court which will owe its existence to principles of justice and equity alone, and which in consequence will command not only the admiration of the world, but the respect and obedience of civilised nations.The Government of this country approved of that statement, and wrote a letter fully justifying this observation, but inasmuch as the provisions of the Convention laid it down that one of the matters upon which the court has to decide was the existing international law, our Government asked that before the Convention was ratified some attempt at agreement at what is international law should be made by the Powers, and that attempt has resulted in the preparation of this Declaration. The Declaration contains no fewer than seventy-one Articles, and the comments which have been made in this Debate show that the matters at issue range round not more than three or four of these Articles, and I submit that if on questions like that we who started this proposal, who pressed it on, who elaborated it, and who instituted the Convention which brought about this Declaration, go back on it, we shall do an inestimable disadvantage to the march of civilisation all over the world. We shall show that it is no use bringing together the nations to discuss these questions, because we are the first to say that because it affects us to a slight extent detrimentally we will have nothing to do with the agreement. I think that position is one of very great importance. I do not deny that there might be cases in which the result to this or any country might be so serious and momentous that it would justify us in going back upon this whole question, but the discussion we have had in the country for the last six months, and the Debate of yesterday and to-day, have shown no such vastly important results to this country as would justify us in taking a course which would undoubtedly lead to the result that the nations would give up as hopeless any attempt to come to an international agreement. None of the objections which have been raised possess 612 the seriousness and weight which would have entitled us to take so momentous an action.
I would like to deal with two or three of the objections which have been raised by the speakers of yesterday and to-day. There is one fact which stands out from this Debate above all others, and that is that if we consider the Declaration of London from the point of view of neutrals, there is very little criticism. We have heard next to nothing on that point yesterday and to-day, and if that is so, surely it is a very important matter, for it is the effect upon neutrals that brought about this Declaration and the neutrals are the great mass of the people who will be concerned with this Declaration, and if we find a code of law which is practically admitted as being in favour of the neutral nations of the world, the majority of the world, of course, at the time of any war, we should hesitate very long before we render the whole of this great advantage nugatory to all the neutral nations of the world. The criticism has ranged itself chiefly around the question of what will be our position under the Declaration in the case of our unfortunately being at war. The right hon. Gentleman (Sir Robert Finlay) put forward as the first objection the number of members of the Prize Court and its constitution. As regards its numbers, he pointed out that such a court as that constituted under the provisions of The Hague Tribunal is a better court than the one which is proposed by this Convention. It consists of five members, it is smaller, and it was one of the finest tribunals which could be set up, and he preferred that the court which should adjudicate upon this prize law should be somewhat of the same quality and the same numbers. But I think the right hon. Gentleman failed to see the difficulties that the Conference had before them when they substituted for The Hague Tribunal the Prize Court as proposed. In the first place, it would have been extremely difficult to establish a court consisting of a small number of judges. The Hague Tribunal consists of five, because it adjudicates upon questions which, in the ordinary course, only affect two possible belligerents, and they choose from the panel of judges two judges each, and an umpire is appointed, making a fifth.
It would have been impossible to adopt this plan, because this court is not to be a temporary court established whenever there is a danger of war, but it is to be a permanent court, ready to take up ques- 613 tions which may come before it, and, moreover, it would be absolutely essential in a court of this nature that the neutral nations of the world should be represented. It is the neutrals who are concerned in cases which will come before this court. All the nations of the world may be represented, and it would be almost impossible to establish a court of four or five members which could be said fairly to command the adhesion of all the nations in the world. That, of course, would have been a very great difficulty, and I cannot help thinking that, although we may agree that the number of fifteen, with a quorum of nine, is rather an excessive number, still it is difficult to see how any better scheme could be proposed. But then he objects to the constitution of this court, and I think there is some ground for complaint in the way in which this question has been treated. I have just had handed to me a document which has been circulated all over the south of London, I understand, in which this statement is made:—Another example of Radical misdoing is that they have agreed to the establishment of an international Prize Court to which the rights of the British Navy during war should be made subject, the judges being principally appointed by little States like Paraguay, Hayti, Roumania, etc.This criticism has been more or less repeated by my hon. and learned Friend (Sir A. Cripps). He took exception to what he said was a proposal to establish a court which would submit our interests to representatives of small South American Republics and others. I think that was a very serious misrepresentation of a plan which was elaborated by a very distinguished body of men, those who assembled at the second Hague Conference and who undoubtedly had these very difficulties in mind, when they constituted this court. The court is to consist of representatives of eight great Powers who are always to sit in the court. Seven are to be appointed occasionally, that is to say there will always be seven, but one year the seven represent one group of Powers and next year another group. I have here the arrangement of the States in the way in which they are to compose the court, and I will give the House the names of the nations which will form the court on the first year: England, Germany, France, the United States of America, Russia, Austria, Japan, Italy, Spain. Norway, Holland, Greece, Turkey, the Argentine Republic, and Columbia. The last but one is hardly open to the charge of being a small South American 614 Republic and Columbia is the only one which can be called a small State. A careful arrangement was made so that the smaller states, while having their representation, would have a representation which was really infinitesimal on this court. What is more, the hon. and learned Gentleman (Sir A. Cripps) made a point of the fact that Hayti was to be represented. Hayti is to have no judge on the court at all. It is to have a deputy judge. It is to have a right to nominate a judge if Venezuela cannot nominate its judge, and therefore the only chance that Hayti ever has of adjudicating in this court is that when there is a war and Venezuela cannot send her representative, Hayti shall have a representative. Speeches such as we have just listened to, and documents such as this, which say that judges are to be appointed principally by the little States such as Paraguay and Hayti, are a most serious misrepresentation of the work of the second Hague Conference. It should be remembered that these men are not there to represent the interest of countries. They are there as distinguished judges, men who are going to adjudicate upon the rights which individual owners of properly have against States, and I cannot see why we should not expect as eminent jurists and as highly moral men to be sent by the smaller States as by the greater States. Great States have no monopol5' of morality or of intelligence, and I think we shall find the Court, when set up, will be just like the Court of The Hague tribunal, and will be an assembly of men who will be, as they are intended to be by the words of the Declaration, jurists of known proficiency in international law, and of the highest moral reputation. But will not this court, when we are belligerents, be beneficial to us? The present position is that if a war occurs in which we are engaged the question of prizes are settled by the court of our enemy. The only persons who can argue anything before that court are our enemy and the neutral, or possibly the State to which he belongs. What is going to happen? We are going to have substituted for that a court upon which, for the first time, we are to have an English judge; we are going to have a court upon which the great majority of judges are neutral, and it is only reasonable to anticipate that the tendency to bias, if any, will be in favour of neutrals, and not in favour of our antagonists. This in itself is a distinct advantage.
615 6.0 P.M.
The right hon. Gentleman (Sir Robert Finlay) also stated yesterday that he did not think the institution of a free list was of great importance. I differ from him very much. I look upon the institution of this free list as really of supreme importance at a time when we are at war. It includes several articles which at times various nations have tried to make contraband. The chief advantage of it to us is that it includes all our raw material, and it would be of inestimable value to us if we are at war that we should have the free import of our raw material. It will give our people the opportunity of continuing to export their produce, and it will give us in return for that work the very money we want at a time when money is most necessary. In addition to that, it may have the result that, inasmuch as our raw materials in neutral bottoms will come in without any fear whatever of being attacked, we shall find neutral vessels bringing raw materials to our shores and largely assisting us in obtaining them without their having to be imported in our own ships, and it will free our own ships for the purpose of bringing food to our shores. There can be no doubt that as regards food, whether in neutral or in our own bottoms, we shall have to protect it with our own Navy.
I go further and say in regard to the point to which criticism has been most directed, namely, the effect of this Declaration upon our food supplies, that we actually reap advantage rather than disadvantage. I think, if the Debate has made anything clear in this rather complicated question, it is that you ought to discuss the question with full appreciation of what the existing law is. You cannot invent for yourselves what international law is, but you have to bear in mind what the existing law is, and although it has been discussed at great length, I hope the House will forgive me if I make some repetitions on this very important question. The situation when we are at war presents itself to me in this way. Supposing we were at war with Russia or Germany, I think there can be no doubt that both these nations would declare food to be absolute contraband. It would be to their benefit to do so, and for the success of their operations they would do so. It would be of inestimable value to them if they could cut off the food supplies of this country. I do not say whether they 616 could do so legally or not, but they could and I believe they would do it. We know that food has been declared contraband. Several nations take the view that they have the right to declare anything contraband, and they hold that other nations have no right to say "We do not agree to this or that being contraband." Spain in 1898 claimed the right to declare anything contraband. Germany in 1870 declared coal absolute contraband. Russia in 1904 declared rice and provisions contraband. We know from Bismarck's letter that Germany did not object to rice being regarded as contraband. I believe my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Durham (Mr. Atherley-Jones) told us that Germany had made some change in that respect. The matter has been looked into, and I understand that he was mistaken in what he said about saltpetre. I have here an extract from an article on neutrality in Hortzendorff's "Handbook of International Law," which says:—Prince Bismarck, in reply to a communication from thirty-three Hamburg firms, stated on 21st April, 1885, that it was true that the Powers concerned indicate in each particular case those articles which, according to the locality and according to their own interests they intend to treat as contraband during the hostilities, but that ho shared the opinion expressed in the communication that the former custom of treating saltpetre as contraband would, under present conditions, constitute a purposeless limitation of trade, seeing that saltpetre cannot directly serve war-like purposes, but must be rendered serviceable for such purposes by an elaborate process of manufacture for which, in the present condition of warfare, there can hardly be any demand during the war.There can be no doubt that it would be possible for Germany or Russia to declare food to be absolute contraband. What would be the position if she did? Supposing that the Argentine was sending us food, supposing that Germany declared it to be absolute contraband, and supposing that the Argentine Government protested, the answer would be the same as that given by France to us in the war with China. They would say: "It is not for us to decide, it is for the Prize Court to decide whether out action is right or wrong." That would be undoubtedly the position taken by Russia or Germany, and in the meantime food would be absolute contraband, and no importer would venture to bring food in neutral bottoms under these circumstances. But supposing we admit they would not urge that food was absolute contraband, there can be no shadow of doubt that Germany and Russia would declare it, and treat it as conditional contraband. They are entitled by international law to do so. What would be the position then? They would 617 make their own rules for their own commanders with reference to this subject. They would lay down not our rules but their own, and they would probably say that all our principal ports were to be considered ports of supply to our Army. [Cheers.] Hon. Members opposite cheer me for making that statement. I am pointing out the existing law, and I am not dealing with the law under the Declaration of London. What then would be the position of the importer of food? He would say: "I am not going to venture on conveying food under these conditions. I know that if caught I shall be taken before a German court and adjudicated upon by Germans. I know they will uphold their own countrymen in the view that this is conditional contraband, and that it ought not to go to any port in England." I venture to suggest that under the Declaration of London the position of the importer is so much better and so much safer that he will risk sending food to this country. It would be paid for very well. It would be very important to us, and everybody would wish to get food in if they could. The importers will be very much safer under the Declaration of London because they will know that if they are caught, they are not going before a German court but before an international court. They will know too that the international court will in all probability decide that they must be compensated. They will know, therefore, that they will in all probability get paid for the food brought in these vessels, whereas under present conditions it is extremely unlikely that they would ever get a penny if they came before a Prize Court in Germany in the ordinary way.
There are one or two other points upon which we have been told we have either abandoned doctrines or have introduced something which will be very detrimental to ourselves. One of these is what the hon. and learned Member for the University of Edinburgh termed the abandonment of the doctrine of continuous voyage. He went at some length into that. He said: "What an enormous advantage is this to Germany." My hon. and learned Friend (Sir Alfred Cripps) told us just now in strong words what his opinion is in regard to this change in the law. He said that Germany would get every cargo of her food. I quite agree. I think she will; but every cargo can go to Germany now. There is nothing in our law which could enable us to stop a cargo of food going 618 to Hamburg. There is nothing to prevent that food getting to Germany.
§ Sir ALFRED CRIPPS
May I correct the hon. Gentleman on one point? What I said was that even if it was going under the Declaration of London—if it was going to supply a hostile force in Germany—it would be contraband.
§ Mr. DICKINSON
I agree that if it was going to a hostile force in Germany, it would be contraband. It is just as impossible for us to stop corn going to Germany now as it will be under the Declaration. With regard to the doctrine of continuous voyage, it is all very well to attach such vast importance to it as was done by the hon. and learned Member for the University of Edinburgh, but it is not a doctrine that is accepted at all as a doctrine of international law. It is a doctrine that was started in a very illegitimate way by America, and we accepted it, but I do not know that any other nation accepts it. Our doctrine says that it must be part of a continuous transaction, but this doctrine has been limited to ships taken to one port and out of that port to another. But the proposition that that doctrine can be carried so far as to prevent goods going through Antwerp and being sent on by rail to a Continental Power is one that we have never tested, and I do not think that our doctrine would ever carry us so far as that. The hon. Member for Durham, in his excellent book, ridicules the idea. The abandonment of the doctrine of continuous voyage as regards food is the abandonment of nothing at all. We are just as well off now as we were before. It should be remembered that we have gained something. We have induced Germany to abandon her doctrine as to absolute contraband. In the case of the capture of the "Bundesrath" Germany insisted that you could not interfere with goods going from one neutral port to another neutral port. There is a great deal to be said for that view, but now Germany has given way on that point, and her representatives practically said that from their point of view this was a very great concession.
As to the destruction of prizes, I think my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Durham, has put his view of the law on this question much too high. He said that Lord Stowell had laid it down that nothing could justify the sinking of a neutral ship. Lord Stowell never laid that down. He had before him the case of the "Felicity," and he said:— 619When the vessel is neutral, the act of destruction cannot be justified to the neutral owner by the gravest importance of such an act to the public service of the captor State. To the neutral, it can only be justified, under any such circumstances, by a full restitution in value.His opinion was that in case of destruction the owner was entitled under any circumstances to compensation, but he never decided that a State might not under any circumstances destroy a vessel, and I believe no one has ever held such a proposition at all. We sent out representatives to argue this question, and I think the hon. and learned Gentleman will see that although Admiral Slade made a very able statement of the case, he said at the end that the British Government were willing to consider whether something short of this would not settle the question.
It is perfectly clear that we could not have insisted upon putting that into the Declaration of London, which is a code of existing law, because the great majority of the States deny that it is the law. In the Russo-Japanese war the Russians sank the "Thea," which was a German ship. Germany did not protest against it because she has always recognised the right that the belligerent has under certain circumstances to sink ships. I believe even with regard to the "Knight Commander," in which the United States of America had some interest, that Government even did not protest against the sinking; of that vessel. You will find that with the exception of Great Britain, Japan, and I think Spain, in none of the memoranda was there the definite assertion that in no circumstances could ships be sunk. They all contemplate certain conditions under which it would be likely, and even Professor Holland points out that there is nothing to establish the view that in no circumstances is a neutral prize to be sunk. I say that if we had succeeded in putting into this Declaration an absolute prohibition under all circumstances of the destruction of vessels, we should ourselves have made a new international law. It would not be a code of existing international law as was intended.
But after all I think that the greatest criticism that has been brought against this Declaration is one that has not been commented upon greatly in this Debate. It was raised by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Balfour), in his speech in the city the other day. He took the view that this was a retrograde step. That is the whole question. Is it a retrograde step? Because if it is retrograde, and if we are doing 620 something to put back the advance of civilisation, then I quite admit that that alters the whole position. The view of the right hon. Gentleman was that food for the non-combatant population ought to be absolutely free, and that we had given way to some extent in the wording of that Declaration on that most important point. I quite agree that from the point of view of civilisation there is nothing more important than that an enemy should be prohibited from starving a non-combatant population. He also said, as I understood his argument, that our propositions with regard to the destruction of vessels were a step backward lather than in advance, because we have always urged most strongly that in no circumstances should they be destroyed; and, of course, there was a similar observation with regard to the conversion of ships on the high sea. Surely this all depends on what exactly the codifying of the law does. I venture to think that in codifying the law with regard to traffic in food we really have made a great advance. The principle of the Declaration is that food for non-combatant populations should come in free. There is no doubt that food is to be conditional contraband, but conditional contraband is only such goods as are clearly destined for the carrying on of the war. That is a great principle. Even if it is not in the Declaration in so many words, it is in the spirit undoubtedly, because the way in which the subject was treated is to put food into conditional contraband and to define conditional contraband as absolutely limited to what is going to the use of the forces, and then to make certain exceptions. And in the Report this comment is made: "The articles included in the list of conditional contraband may serve for peaceful use as well as for hostile purposes. If from the circumstances the peaceful purpose is clear, the capture is not justified."
That principle the international court will take into consideration. They will realise that the whole object of this Declaration was to have free food for the non-combatant population, and I believe whenever a case does come before the court, as undoubtedly there will in the case of a war, one of the earliest decisions will for ever settle the question about food. It is very much the same thing with regard to the destruction of ships. It is perfectly true that we have claimed, not only in our own interests, but 621 in the interests of humanity, that no ships should be destroyed. We are anxious to see that result come about. Here again I cannot help feeling that when one grasps the meaning of Sections forty-eight and forty-nine one will again see that, not only the spirit but the letter of this Declaration means that a neutral vessel is not to be destroyed. It will be a rule of war that a neutral vessel is not to be destroyed. It is quite true that there are certain exceptions, but the tendency of any court, especially a court consisting of majority of neutrals, will be to say that the rights of neutrals are to be respected. With regard to the conversion of ships on the high sea, if a neutral court decides anything it will probably decide against the claim to convert, because it is neutrals who suffer. If ever this question conies before the international court, I cannot help feeling pretty certain that the international court will decide that it is not legal to convert ships; but if it did not so decide, I say that even in that case no harm will have been done, because we shall be left in exactly the same position as we are in at the present time. If it does decide against the claim to convert, then a great advance will have been brought about. So I would say to the right hon. Gentleman that the Declaration is an advance in civilisation and in the methods of conducting war, and it is to our advantage to accept it, and that knowing the great gain that will accrue to civilisation from the adoption of the Declaration, this House ought not to take upon itself the responsibility of rejecting it.
§ Lord CHARLES BERESFORD
I should like to preface my remarks by answering what the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. McKenna) described as the rather thin sneers of the admirals who signed a certain memorandum. I first wish to express this opinion that the seamen, admirals, and officers in the service of the State and the King have no right to point out, either in speeches or in letters, anything that would lead to the inference that they would not obey the orders of the Government. No matter what Government is in power, their business is to obey whatever orders are given them, whatever they may think about those orders. But this is merely a suggestion backed up by a very large number of different institutions, who will all be affected if the Declaration of London is passed, merely asking that the Government should give a 622 little more time and put some experts on some sort of committee or commission to inquire more thoroughly into this business. The First Lord of the Admiralty was not on very safe ground when he said that these seamen were something like the man in the street as far as their opinions on these subjects were concerned. Very large numbers of us have very considerable experience, and a large number of us have drawn attention to various questions, and we have always been proved to be correct on every single occasion. The First Lord of the Admiralty cannot say that one single agitation that we conducted for strengthening the Fleet was ever incorrect, and that what was asked had not to be done eventually. This applies to even the late strengthening of the Fleet, owing to the representations made principally by the seamen. But I must also remind the First Lord of the Admiralty that these names are public; that the wishes expressed are public, and well known to all our countrymen. The First Lord of the Admiralty gets behind what he calls the silent Fleet, because he knows perfectly well that no officer commanding, on full pay, would give his opinion if he were asked, because it is his duty not to do so. But the right hon. Gentleman makes the statement that the Navy is not opposed to this Declaration. Who is most likely to know the opinion of our brother officers? Men who have retired, who have been with them every day, or the First Lord of the Admiralty. I make this statement that the Navy, as far as I know its opinion, which it cannot express, is most decidedly against the Declaration of London. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. McKinnon Wood) opposite laughs. He may see something to amuse him.
Mr. McKINNON WOOD
I beg the Noble Lord's pardon. I was laughing because I could not understand if officers on active service must not express their opinions why they should be quoted by the Noble Lord, or how he quoted them.
§ Lord C. BERESFORD
That is perfectly justifiable. The First Lord of the Admiralty has led us to infer as strongly as he can that the officers on full pay accept this Declaration.
§ Mr. McKENNA
I have made no such statement. I have said that the expert members, the directors of naval intelligence, whom I consulted, were in favour of it.
§ Lord C. BERESFORD
I beg the right hon. Gentleman's pardon. As I read what he said last night, if it is correct, and as I understand what he said to-day, it is that the Navy was not opposed to it. I do not want to fight this question; I only want to be fair in dealing with the matter and to point out that this House must not run away with the idea that these naval officers are doing anything which they have no right to do. They are all retired, and when a man is on half-pay he has a right to give his opinion. I have been in this House for fifteen years on half-pay, and I have expressed myself very strongly on many occasions. I have never done anything against discipline, and I have never quoted the Navy or said that I was giving the Navy's opinion, and I should not do it now if I had not been rather hurt at what the First Lord of the Admiralty wished us to infer, that the Navy was in favour of this Declaration. The First Lord of the Admiralty yesterday, I understand, quoted Admiral Slade. It is an unwise thing, and I must ask the First Lord of the Admiralty not to quote the opinions of experts, to which they cannot reply. You may put anything into their mouths. That is a mistake. They are not there to be quoted. The Cabinet is responsible, and nobody else is responsible for the policy adopted. Therefore, it is unfair and unwise to do what has been done on several occasions in this case in the case of Sir Ian Hamilton, and in the case of Admiral Slade. It ought not to be done, but it has been done, and the First Lord by what he said has made a wrong impression entirely on this House, about Admiral Slade. He supported the Declaration of London under certain qualifications, and the qualifications were that at that time the trade routes were not properly defended, and we were very short of cruisers; and as a fact, it was owing to Admiral Slade's strong opinion on this that he was I will not say turned out, but was taken out of the position of Director of Naval Intelligence and given command of the Fleet in the East Indies. That is a fact.
§ Lord C. BERESFORD
Then we have the case of Captain Campbell. He had charge of the Trade Section of the Ad- 624 miralty. He was very strong in his opinion on this question, Captain Campbell, who held a position in the Trade Department, and who after a certain time was put on half-pay. These are facts for which I can vouch. If the First Lord of the Admiralty placed the papers on the Table, which he knows he will not do, it will be seen that I am correct with regard to Admiral Slade. Admiral Slade merely agreed with the Declaration of London under certain conditions as to the trade routes, which were never fulfilled, and then he went to the East Indies.
§ Mr. McKENNA
I do not think it is fair to Admiral Slade or to myself that it should go out to the world on the authority of the Noble Lord that I removed him from his position as Director of Naval Intelligence owing to the fact of his having expressed certain opinions with regard to our trade routes. I can assure the Noble Lord—and I am the person involved—that I did not remove Admiral Slade from his-position for any such reason. It is entirely incorrect.
§ Lord C. BERESFORD
I still maintain: the fact. The right hon. Gentleman is extremely clever; he comes in and trails a red herring across the path. My point is this that Admiral Slade, when he agreed with the Declaration of London did sounder certain conditions, which were not fulfilled. That was my point. The right hon. Gentleman may shake his head, but f stick to my point. Admiral Slade did go to the East Indies, and I say that was the reason. But I am sure the House will agree that it is inadvisable that points of this kind should be raised in these controversies, and they are not fair to the experts. It has been said very truly that naval officers know nothing about international law. But if it be true that they know nothing about international law, they do know the effect of that law, because they are the people who have to carry it out. They are the people who are responsible for the rapid and punctual delivery of the food supply of this country. It is because so many of us think that this law that we are passing will make it very difficult, if not impossible, for them to carry out the duties which appertain to them of insuring the rapid and punctual delivery of food, that we make this protest, and respectfully urge the Government to delay the Declaration of London until such time as will enable further inquiry to be made and the provisions of the Declaration to be properly understood. In regard to the 625 whole question, we find that even lawyers are not agreed upon it; nor can I see how anyone can agree about it, when we have such a tangled skein before us. We have got a Prize Court scheme, and numerous conventions, some ratified and some not ratified; we have got the new Geneva Convention, and now we have the Declaration of London on top of them all. Each one hinges on the other, and in the Declaration of London parts of it are entirely contradictory. Clauses 33 and 35 are absolutely contradictory, and many other Clauses of the Declaration are very difficult to reconcile one with the other. The whole question is one of our food supply. I should like to devote myself entirely to that aspect of the case, because I am retired now, and can in some degree represent my brother officers who are not retired, and who will be responsible for the safety of our food supplies. It really amounts to this. The trade routes, which are the arteries of our Empire, must be properly defended. My argument is that they are not properly defended, and a great many of my brother officers hold the same view. I will endeavour to prove my point.
All those who are affected either indirectly or immediately by the Declaration of London, insurance companies, shipping companies, chambers of commerce, corn merchants, the mercantile marine, are opposed to this proposal, besides which there is the great body of naval opinion, which is entirely opposed to it. Lawyers and politicians may argue in favour of a new policy to be carried out whether by land or by sea, but when the time comes that the policy is to be made effective, and that will be in time of war, then it is officers and men of the Navy who have to carry it out. When there is such a large and varied body of opinion in the country against this Declaration of London, when there are so many who see the dangers of it, surely it is right that they should make some sort of protest. May I say with all due respect to the legal profession, that the members of it are always looking at what might, should, or could be, whereas seamen take the practical stand, and look at what is. The great point is to look at what is. The arguments in support of this Declaration of London have been ably advanced by lawyers and politicians, who have supported it. Those arguments have been put more clearly than perhaps many of our arguments against the proposal. Lawyers and politicians are extremely 626 clever men, well accustomed to argue, whereas among those who are opposed to it are men like myself, not so well accustomed to argue. [HON MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] For myself I realise that the greatest difficulty is experienced by a man who is not a lawyer when he comes to argue with a lawyer. There are so many points that a lawyer can make which the ordinary man does not think of at the moment. Therefore, those who are opposed to the Declaration of London start to argue on the bad side of the hedge, because they have not made their points so clear as have some of the supporters of the proposal. The whole of the arguments in favour of the Declaration of London have been based on "if." The Secretary for Foreign Affairs, the Prime Minister, the Secretary for War, all based their arguments on "if." "If the Fleet is strong enough," and "if we can command control of the sea." That is the whole point.
If the Fleet were really strong enough to carry out all its duties we need not care about any Declaration. It would not matter one bit, whatever Declaration there was, of any kind or description. I do not think myself that the Fleet is strong enough; and it must be remembered at one time that hon. Members opposite said we were unassailable. But why, since-that view was expressed, have we spent so much money on our Navy? The construction of the German Fleet was known ever since 1900, and there was no alteration in their programme with the exception of the six armoured cruisers added to it. In spite of the view held by hon. Members opposite that we were unassailable, what has occurred since shows that they were wrong. I hold the view that to now say we are unassailable is wrong. Many people in the Navy pointed out that the contention that we were unassailable was not right, and that the Government would have to enormously increase the Naval Estimates. We wore right then, and I submit that we are right now when we say that this Declaration of London will jeopardise to a great extent our food supply. Let me deal with the question of the protection of our food supply. We can only protect the trade routes, the arteries of the Empire, by cruisers. That is the-only way in which we can make our food supply absolutely safe. I submit that we have not enough cruisers to protect those trade routes. The First Lord of the Admiralty stated some time ago that we had 100 cruisers. That is one of those broad 627 statements which he always makes. We have 100 cruisers, but out of that number there are only fifty-two in full commission, that is including those vessels on the trade routes; the rest of them have nucleus or skeleton crews in training.
The main point with regard to our trade routes is that they should be guarded against any sudden and secretly organised attack. As I have stated before in this House, such attacks are suddenly and secretly organised, and will be made by armed merchant vessels. Hon. Gentlemen opposite laugh at armed merchant vessels. Why laugh? They seem to think that an armed merchantman has to be full of guns and ammunition. It is not so; you have only to put a twelve-pounder on board the merchant ship and she can sink the biggest merchant vessel afloat. In regard to the Germans, they already have the emplacements made in their merchant ships; I have seen them with my own two eyes. You cannot suddenly convert a merchant ship, because you have to make an emplacement on board. The Germans have done that already, and they have drilled men on the merchant vessels who have all passed through the Navy. It requires a very short time to put a gun on board a ship. The idea of an American millionaire with a cargo of guns is not quite sensible; and I think an hon. Member opposite spoke of a gun on the flying bridge. That is worthy of opera bouffe. I have heard many statements, which appear to be very feasible, as to our having halt the mercantile tonnage of the world, and that if the Germans convert their vessels why cannot we do so? That sounds very sensible, but the immediate danger is that the shipper will not fill up a gap should his vessel be lost, because the rates of insurance would be prohibitive. These vessels, too, must have the emplacements ready. We cannot spare a single man from the Fleet. We were so short of men that we had to join 12,900 last year, though the annual wastage is only 6,000, this being owing to false economies in the past. These are the facts. We want the emplacements and we want the guns. I do not say that that is going to be done, but with such a tremendous issue as to any question of our people in their millions being short of their food in this country we have no right to risk it in any way in the world.
I have shown that you can only protect the trade routes by cruisers, and they must 628 be small cruisers. You do not want to send armoured cruisers with 700 or 800 men. Their speed would be too slow. You scrap some of the cruisers without putting any thing in their place. You could afford to lose some of the small cruisers which were employed as a protection against armed merchantmen. It is not cruisers which are going out to attack your commerce. If a cruiser goes out you know all about it, and you send two out after it. It is those ships, the merchantmen, that may go out without anybody knowing anything about it, and who may be getting on to the trade routes and making a concerted attack. You want to have cruisers on the trade routes to prevent that. May I point out to the right hon. Gentleman that both in the country and generally there is a great misunderstanding with regard to the question of the defence of the trade routes and the size of battleships. The policy, the strategy, and the tactics which are employed with regard to battleships are absolutely and entirely different from what is necessary for protected cruisers. Battleships are to fight battles. You try and get alongside the enemy and the best tacticiau will win, though he may have the smaller fleet. He may win battles, but battles do not always win wars. Our weak point is and always has been and always will be no matter what you do, our trade routes, because we are absolutely dependent on the sea. Every twenty-four hours we live we get more and more dependent on the sea. I am only touching the question of the food supply, but the right hon. Gentleman knows that the workers depend on the raw material. We are getting more and more dependent on this command of the sea. Why I object to the Declaration of London is that it does unquestionably, and I do not think any hon. Gentleman will disagree with this—give up what we used to describe as our maritime rights, which are our life, and the only power we ever possessed, and which have kept the Empire for centuries. If you give them up what are you getting in return? You are getting nothing whatever under this Declaration. There is a very great deal being taken from you, and you must acknowledge yourselves you are giving up your maritime rights. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no."] You must be giving up your maritime rights if you allow neutrals to be sunk.
You are allowing, by this international law, an enormous amount of things that will affect you and will not affect other nations, and that are affecting your mari- 629 time rights and powers. I am trying to make my argument as clear as I can. I am not touching the legal question. I am merely touching the question, as we would look at it as the servants of the State carrying out our orders to the best of our ability. I will take the point of the armed merchantman. I have explained that the armed merchantman is a possibility—I am afraid it is probable. May I ask the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary this question? You made a great point of this at the Conference. It was your point of objection. Your delegates were instructed to object to armed merchant ships, and, reading Admiral Slade's report, he is almost crying over it that he did not succeed. The German delegates would not even discuss the question. I ask, if you made such a point of it then why do you say now there is nothing in it? Your instructions were of the most definite character that it was to be opposed by every means possible, and the military Powers would not even discuss it. From the seaman's point of view, and really I have studied this for a great many years, I see the very greatest danger for merchant ships. I am afraid they would have effected their object before you do anything at all, and they will stop shipping. The shipper is the most nervous man in the world. He is always perspiring from the time he puts the stuff on board until he gets it to its destination. He is always very excited about it, and he will not ship at the rate of insurance that will prevail. That is where your danger is. If it was done they would achieve their object, but, says some hon. Member, you will soon catch him and put him down. Who is going to catch him? We have not got any cruisers on the trade routes. We have only got twenty now to the sixty we had in 1904. It is quite right to scrap old ships, but never scrap anything which is useful until you put something in its place. The doctrine that battleships are going to protect the trade routes is quite unsound. Battleships and armed cruisers are no more able to do the work of small cruisers and torpedo destroyers than heavy artillery could do the work of cavalry.
Take the Naval Review. It was the finest sight I suppose anybody has ever seen, and this country ought to be proud of what they saw. May I assure the House not only were those ships good, but the officers and men have never been equalled, not only in the zeal to do their work and to get more knowledge, but as 630 well in their loyalty and discipline, and everything that makes a good naval officer and a good naval man, and the sympathy between officers and men is excellent. But what was it you saw? All the papers and all the Press said "what a magnificent Fleet." So it was, but it was a fleet of armoured ships. There were thirty-two battleships and twenty-five armoured cruisers. What did you have as units? You had nine protected cruisers. I tell you from my experience, for what it is worth, if you go to war you ought to have for every battleship fleet at least five protected cruisers to every two battleships. You want them for hundreds of duties that the big armoured cruisers cannot do, and if you have nothing but heavy armoured ships, as you have got, those ships may be rendered ineffective because they have not got their proper units to do their work. Other experts may not agree with me, but that is my experience in handling fleets and manœuvres. It was a case of a shortage of cruisers. It was much the same in the days of Nelson. Half his trouble would not have occurred if he had got a clear line of communication. Your line of communication is more necessary than ever because you can work by steam and speed. In the old sailing ship days you might have time to put a thing right, but you have no time to do so now. Our business is not to risk disaster and not to risk war at all, and if we have a Fleet sufficient to our needs and well organised in all its units, I believe we should not have any chance of war.
Several hon. Members opposite say what is the difference between the position now and the position as it was. I conceive it is very different. I will not detain the House, as the matter has been brought forward so clearly, but the position is very different with regard to the capture and destruction of our own ships and neutrals. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dover (Mr. Wyndham) is perfectly right in stating that before 1904 there is no story of a neutral ship being taken and sunk. It was never allowed. It was put down peremptorily if it were ever done or supposed to be done, by the other Nations. I make that statement. I am sure somebody will answer me if I am incorrect, but as far as I know a neutral ship was never sunk. She was captured but never sunk. [An HON. MEMBER: "Oh, yes."] I have never heard of it. Then there is the question of the neutral ship, and the question of an indemnity. We are to go to a court and get an indemnity if any- 631 thing is done that should not be done. May I ask any hon. Member if he thinks that any captain of a fighting ship worth his salt is going to study what the law about the question is When he is allowed any reasonable doubt, which is the term used, to put down every ship he sees on the horizon do you not suppose he would have a reasonable doubt about everything. Both myself and my brother officers if we saw twenty ships that would cut off the enemy's food supply, and if we were hanged for putting them down we would put them down all the same. Our business is to defeat the enemy. You have qualified it by saying a man has a reasonable doubt. Of course he will have a reasonable doubt. He will put down every slip he sees, whether neutral or the enemy's ship. And then we are told there is to be an indemnity, and the indemnity will come two or three years after the war. What is the use of an indemnity if the action of those foreign officers stopped your food supply, and made your country starve. There is no object in an indemnity then, and the indemnity does not come to us, it comes to the people who ship the corn.
Therefore under every condition of affairs from my point of view we must be much worse off now than we were as we were before. I am afraid I do not explain myself very well. My point is, we are worse or would be worse if the Declaration of London becomes ratified than we were under the old scheme of working under the Declaration of Paris when privateering was abolished. I think you will find you are helping privateering although the lawyers may not think so. Those who have got to do the work that the lawyers enact do think so. When we go to war the whole of it will fall on us, and we shall not hear much more of you. Then there is the question of blockade. Hon. Members will remember the time of the "Dreadnought" arrogance, as I have on several times described it, when we boasted so much and provoked so much irritation abroad. We were told that we had everything in our hands, because we had sealed up the North Sea. Where is the sealing up under this proposal? The seal is broken. The blockade is not effective. It is not a blockade, because you cannot blockade. You cannot touch anything that is outside, and you can touch no ship going to a neutral port. Therefore, that "swank" is done for. Here is another 632 thing the House ought to inquire into. I must go back for a moment to the armoured cruisers. The right hon. Gentleman in his speech yesterday said with some sort of pride that it was not in the Declaration of London at all. Why is it not? If the Government made such a point of it at The Hague Conference, which was on the Declaration of London, why did they not put it in? They say they have left it open. It is left open so that the arming of merchant ships can be carried out, and I say it will be carried out by an enemy in the future. Then to take another point. Why have you allowed a. foreign captain to take your sick and wounded out of your own hospital ships and make them prisoners? I say that that is infamous. I do not think anybody will allow it. I, and so would my brother officers, would sink any man who dared to touch our sick and wounded. It is a monstrous thing. What has it made possible? It makes it possible for an enemy to take our sick and wounded out of our hospital ships and put them into a collier, and then to put his own sick and wounded into our hospital ships. I say that that is monstrous. In any case we ought to get rid of that clause.
§ Lord C. BERESFORD
No, it is not in the Declaration of London. These things that you want to carry in a subtle way you do not put in the Declaration. That is what I object to. The matter is so mixed up that even the great legal magnates cannot make head or tail of it. Then how can we? It is in a Convention that on the demand of the enemy's captain we have to deliver up our sick and wounded in a hospital ship. [Several HON. MEMBERS: "Read."] I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that I am right; I read it most carefully. [An Hon MEMBER: "Where?"] The Second Peace Conference (Conventions) Bill, Clause 4, says:—
"The master of any British ship having on board any sick, wounded, or shipwrecked men, being combatants who have been rescued during or after a naval engagement in which they have taken part, shall, on demand being made in person by or on behalf of a commissioned officer actually in command of a 633 warship of any of the belligerent States, deliver to him all such men."
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Sir Edward Grey)
Does the Noble Lord quote the Prize Court Convention or the Declaration of London?
§ Lord C. BERESFORD
This is a convention which I believe has been ratified. It is not in the Prize Court. It is not in the Declaration of London. Whatever it is in, our sick and wounded are liable to be treated in this way. It is a Government proposal, and I say it is an infamous proposal. Under the Declaration of London I maintain that our dangers are increased and our protection decreased, principally owing to the scrapping of those cruisers which ought to be on the trade routes now. The First Lord of the Admiralty says that the Navy is adequate to protect the trade routes and to ensure sufficient food for the people during war. But he has never told us how. He says that the Fleet is sufficient. I maintain that you cannot guard trade routes with heavy armoured ships and heavy battleships. Your armoured cruisers have to work as armoured cruisers in fleets or small squadrons. The battleships will have to work in fleets. The battleships and the armoured cruisers are to fight battles, which is an altogether different thing from the policy and the strategy necessary to defend the trade routes. The First Lord of the Admiralty has on a previous occasion recognised this fact. My complaint is that he has done nothing to meet it. On 16th March, 1906, he said:—Our commerce, if unprotected in war in both seas will be open to attack by foreign armed merchant ships specially commissioned for the purpose as ships of war.That disposes of the argument that it cannot be done—an argument used by Gentlemen who sit behind the First Lord.
§ Mr. McKENNA made an observation which was inaudible in the Press Gallery.
§ Lord C. BERESFORD
I agree; but what in the name of Heaven is the use of Baying that something ought not to be done if it will be done? Most certainly it will be done. When the Government made it their great point, why did they not say that they would not ratify the Declaration at all? I do not for one moment accuse the Government of wanting to lose the Empire. They are as earnest as I am in wishing to save the Empire, but they are going the right way 634 to lose it. The First Lord of the Admiralty knows that if these ships are transformed at sea, if at one moment a ship is a merchant ship and the next a man of war, if they go out as merchant ships, get to the station they want to reach, and put down in one afternoon six or eight of our ships, their job is done, and what does it matter if they are sunk the day after? If the Government saw the danger and sent their Delegates to the Hague to object, why in the name of fortune do they want us and everybody to agree to ratify this Declaration? It is the weak point in the whole business. If they saw no danger in it the First Lord of the Admiralty would not have made that remark. If they saw no danger in it the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs would not have made such a point of it at The Hague Conference. The First Lord says that he is going to wait and see. You may do that about some things, but you cannot afford to wait and see any attack on your trade routes.
The First Lord in answering a question of mine a little while ago said that they would wait until the circumstances occurred. That is the same as a man telling you that he is going to put a fire service in his house after the house is alight. It will be too late once our trade routes are cut. If we could get over the first twelve weeks I would not be unhappy about it. But I am absolutely certain that if you in any way stop for a short time the food coming into this country there will be such a panic that you will have something akin to a revolution. You have no right in the world to risk it. The only way you can protect the trade routes is by a policy, strategy and tactics totally different from those for fighting a battle. I have already referred to the Naval Review. It is as though I took the right hon. Gentleman down to Aldershot and told him there was the finest army in the world, but that it consisted of nothing but heavy artillery. The Fleet is like an army. The units make the whole. If the units are inefficient or short it jeopardises the whole. You have not the unit for what you admit is the weak point. You called in the aid of one of the experts a most excellent officer, whom everybody respects. I do not believe he ever gave permission for that extraordinarily stupid Memorandum to be published. It was issued to the House as a Board Memorandum. It is always a mistake for any officer in either service to make a personal attack on his brother officers. It does no 635 good; it is not fair; and it is not the point. The Front Bench is responsible, whichever Government is in power. What does the Admiralty Memorandum say:—The really serious danger that this country has to guard against in war is not invasion, but the interruption of our trade and the destruction of our merchant shipping.That is absolutely true; but you have done nothing whatever to guard against this really serious danger. The Memorandum further states that if the Fleet is placed "in a certain position" round this island it will be "almost necessarily sufficient" and "to a great extent" to protect the trade routes. Do we want to have it "almost necessarily sufficient to a great extent"? The door must be either open or shut. The trade routes are either protected or not protected. You cannot protect them with big battleships, and you have not got the cruisers. The Admiralty sees the real danger, but does nothing whatever to meet it. If the House of Commons ratifies this Declaration it ought at once to lay down one hundred small cruisers to protect the trade routes. At once! As I said before, if our Navy was sufficient for this weak point which the Admiralty see and have done nothing whatever to meet, you do not suppose there would be any trouble about the ratification at all? It is because there is a doubt; it is because you know perfectly well you are giving up our maritime rights. Why? For a very laudable plan.
You believe in peace and goodwill among the nations, and you want it. So do we. But your method of getting that peace and goodwill will never answer. It has never answered in the history of the world. You cannot get it without respect. You are pulling out your teeth and claws, and you think other nations are going to do the same. They will say: "What a brilliant nation is England; they are so gone about peace and goodwill that they are going to put themselves in the position that if they are attacked in their weak places—which is their trade routes—they cannot defend themselves. Therefore they say, "Let us all disarm." That is not the way to disarm. Be courteous and be civil to other nations; but be strong and firm. [An Hon MEMBER: "Hear, hear."] An hon. Member opposite cheers that sentence. I am sure I have never said anything uncivil of other nations. I respect the Germans. They are men. They know what they want, and they are going the right way to get it. 636 We are like a lot of—something. [Laughter.] It is as a paper said the other day: We are putting hobble skirts on in the race. We are not by this means going to get peace and goodwill. We will not get these without respect. Let as have a fleet big enough. Let us see that we are organised in all particulars. Let us have a proper war staff, and let us put these matters right without insulting other nations as we did when the "Dreadnoughts "were begun. Let us attend to our own business. Let us be properly defended and strong, and then you may talk about peace and goodwill. But you are never going to get it the way you are setting to work. You are giving up our maritime rights and our maritime powers under this Declaration. I most firmly believe that by doing so you will only earn contempt, and not respect, from the nations of the world.
§ Mr. J. M. ROBERTSON
It is extremely difficult to find in the interesting speech of the Noble Lord who has just sat down anything that has any bearing upon the subject. The Noble Lord himself, with a candour which disarms me in my criticism, said he was not used to argument. I think that very fairly covers the main part of his speech. He indulged in a great deal of prophecy, which ho seems to think is one way of proving that he is an expert as regards the question before us, that of the Naval Prize Bill, or the Declaration of London. Four-fifths of his speech have no relevance that I could discover. The main part of it, surely, was a plea for a certain naval policy, for a certain adjustment of the Navy. On that he is entitled to speak as an expert, but all that has nothing to do with the Declaration of London, and as to whether that Declaration should or should not be ratified. He did make some assertions which, had they been true, would have been to the point, but nine-tenths of his speech had nothing to do with the point at issue. He actually quoted from a Convention which had nothing to do with the matter before the House, quoting a clause which he alleged pledged us to give up our sick and wounded. But the very words he read were opposed to what he asserted.
§ Mr. LESLIE SCOTT
May I correct the hon. Gentleman? The Clause says: "The master of any British ship having on board any sick, wounded, or shipwrecked men, being combatants, who have been rescued," and he does not say whether 637 or not they were to be given up to the ships of the enemy. [Hon MEMBERS: "Read on."]
§ Mr. J. M. ROBERTSON
"The master of any British ship having on board any sick, wounded, or shipwrecked men, being combatants who have been rescued during or after a naval engagement in which they have taken part, shall, on demand being made in person by or on behalf of a commissioned officer actually in command of a warship of any of the belligerent States, deliver to him all such men." It is clear that that does not carry, in the least, the meaning that the Noble Lord gives to it. The Noble Lord poses as a practical person. He is dealing here with one of those practical questions that would come before him as a practical man, and he gives us the meaning absolutely upside down. He can hardly be surprised if in regard to the main issue before this House we are naturally a little diffident, a little slow, in giving our assent to his judgment, even on a practical question. While admitting that it is not proper in this House to cite the names and opinions of naval experts, nevertheless a large part of his speech dealt with them. There is plenty of evidence that the Government have taken ample evidence from experts of several kinds in this matter. All the real experts have been consulted. As regards what I may term the general opinion of the Navy, whether it be that of admirals on half-pay or officers in service, perhaps the Noble Lord would be surprised if some of us suggest that it does not very much matter what they think on such an issue as this. It will be perhaps in the memory of the House that in the last century when the old navigation laws were abolished that the Navy was in the main against their abolition. Whatever the kind of opinion that is being worked up against this Declaration, the opinion of that time was against the abolition of the old navigation laws. We had hundreds of those kinds of predictions that the Noble Lord is always giving to us here against the Government. We were told that if the navigation laws were abolished there would be an end to the mercantile and fighting marine of Great Britain. We would, it was said, disappear from the list of nations. Well, both the Mercantile Marine of Great Britain and her other shipping have grown stronger and stronger since the abolition. We see the same sort 638 of unreasoning sentiment worked up against the Declaration of London.
The Noble Lord did bring a practical question before us, namely, the transformation of merchantmen into fighting ships. But he did not in the least show that the Declaration of London was put in a worse position than before. A patent contradiction underlies nearly the whole of the opposition to the Declaration of London. There are two absolutely contradictory assumptions made. We wore repeatedly told by hon. Members opposite that in the event of war the food supplies of this country would be in absolute danger. That was before the Declaration of London was talked about. There is nothing I have heard oftener from the other side than if we were ever engaged in a naval war, what would become of our food supplies? Yet the moment that the Declaration of London conies up hon. Members opposite discover that before-time we were almost absolutely safe in regard to our food supplies.
§ Lord C. BERESFORD
It is quite true what the hon. Member says. We always pointed out this case. The Admiralty themselves have pointed out the seriousness of the case—it is not in the Declaration, but before this Convention, and before The Hague Conference, there was no idea of arming these merchant ships on the high seas.
§ Mr. J. M. ROBERTSON
That is neither here nor there. If I may quote the Noble Lord himself, it is no use saying "what ought to be if it cannot be done." You know very well we were in a naval war before, and there was nothing hindered the enemy from arming his merchant ships. You are giving him no new power by the Declaration of London. He had that power before and would have exercised it. The Noble Lord always assumed so. Many Members of the opposition, with regard to the Declaration, argued before that our food supply in time of war was in the greatest danger. Now they have discovered, in virtue of some mysterious agreement among jurists, that food coming in neutral bottoms was always safe from the enemy. They have discovered it for the purpose of this debate. No doubt in regard to that they have on their side the hon. Gentleman the Member for North-West Durham (Mr. Atherley-Jones), who is a great authority in these matters, and some others. But if I may venture to say so in regard to my hon. and learned Friend, who is really an expert on 639 this topic, he has fallen into a fallacy in assuming that the merely verbal, or as it were, a literal agreement among a number of jurists as to what good feeling dictated in regard to war usages was anything in the nature of a security. Hon. Members on the opposite side have told us on this side that we were sentimentalists in all these matters; that we were far too ready to believe in the goodwill and human kindness of opponents. They claimed that there was no sentiment among men good or bad. They were all hard-headed business men. They were prepared to deal with human nature as they knew it. They would not rely upon the mere humanity of enemies. It appears that they have done so, or have professed to have been relying in a most extraordinary way on the consensus of civilised States that inasmuch as neutral ships ought to be respected in regard to food supplies and not to be made contraband then they would not be made contraband.
I think the nature of that fallacy can be understood if you consider the development of naval questions within the past 100 years. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dover challenges us to point out any case within 100 years in which certain things have been done in which I think neutral ships have not been respected or in which food supplies have been treated as contraband. The whole question is, what change has come over the relations of European Powers in the last 100 years?
§ Mr. J. M. ROBERTSON
An hon. Member on his own side of the House last night actually told us what was done by the Germans in 1872, that they sunk six British merchant, ships in the Seine, and that Prince Bismarck said that the measure, very exceptional in its nature, did not overstep the bounds of international warlike usage. He admitted there ought to be indemnity paid.
§ Mr. WYNDHAM
That is a different point. I was dealing with the destruction of neutral ships on the high seas. I said, not speaking on my own authority, but that of Dr. Baty, that there was no case—it has been alleged that we did sink four American ships during the Napoleonic war, but it is contended that they were hostile vessels—till we come to the year 1904–5.
§ Mr. J. M. ROBERTSON
That is precisely where the thing becomes important. If we take what we did in the eighteenth century we see nowadays that we took a very unscrupulous line indeed. I believe our Governments have always admitted that the line they took could not be maintained. But within the last ten or twenty years a profound difference has arisen in relation of the nations in precisely these matters. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-West Durham last night claimed that all the authorities for 200 years agreed that food supplies ought never to be made contraband, but only conditional contraband. One of the authorities to whom I think he referred realised long ago that if it were a question, of destroying your enemy by stopping his food supply a new consideration would arise. That is precisely the kind of consideration that has arisen to-day. Why were the Powers of fifty, sixty, and 100 years ago willing to give up the question of food as contraband, and let it go in unchecked as a rule? For this very reason, that it seemed a purely vexatious act to interfere with the food supply for non-belligerents. It was not a thing worth bothering over. Nobody supposed in those days that a whole country could be starved out. But hon. Members opposite have told us for the last ten years that a whole country could be starved out. If there is anything in what hon. Members opposite tell us, and there is any possibility of an enemy that we might be fighting, taking up that position, if a whole nation is going to be starved out, it is as well that we should treat food supplies as contraband. The Noble Lord was very candid as to what he would do in time of war. There is nothing, apparently, he would not sink. If he were a German admiral and he was at war with us, I understood him, that if he could do so he would stop our collective food supplies if he could.
§ Mr. ROBERTSON
Very well, then, the Noble Lord has admitted to me—I think he does not see the force of his own admission—that without any Declaration at all we should be in that position. I hope the Noble Lord does not think I am playing the sea lawyer with him and trying to entrap him. The argument I am putting is the argument I set out to make, namely, that there has been a complete reversal of the position amongst hon. Gentlemen opposite with a former position assumed by 641 them, that if we went to war with Germany Germany would make it her business to stop our food supplies. For the purpose of fighting this Declaration they say "No, you are perfectly safe, your food supplies would come in as usual." They make a discovery which they never made before, and it is they who have turned sentimentalists for the purposes of this Debate. In view of the modern economic development, not only of ourselves, but of other countries also, they depend upon imported food. That is the state of things that exists. It is quite true that we ourselves and foreign Powers were disposed to say food supplies for individuals should pass; the practice was not to interfere with it. They argued that it would be doing nothing to stop a war, and that it ought not to be interfered with. To-day no foreign Power would argue that if we were at war with a foreign naval Power it would never seek to stop our food supply, but we had no such security, as we alleged, and the argument by hon. Members opposite about putting ourselves in a worse position under the Declaration than we were in before is not only false, but is grossly inconsistent with their own position.
That is the answer to the whole case put forward by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Durham. He seems to think that because in the past jurists have taken that humane view about food supplies not being contraband, no modern Power would fly in the face of the jurist. Last night my hon. and learned Friend undertook to answer the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and to convict him of inaccuracy; but the whole of my hon. and learned Friend's speech was a condemnation of other facts, and not of those put forward by the Under-Secretary. My hon. and learned Friend seemed to treat as trivial the fact that in 1885 France declared she would make food contraband of war, and that in 1904 Russia declared she would make food contraband. My hon. and learned Friend said the consensus of the jurists is clear. That is true, and he went on to say you may have extravagant cases. But surely we are not to consider all precedent except the latest and most important precedent. The very precedents that are of importance, and especially the precedent of the Russo-Japanese War. The right hon. Gentleman, the Member for Dover, talked as if we had been having a continuous series of naval wars. What naval war was there between the Russo-Japanese War and our 642 own war with France, except the American Civil War.
§ Mr. WYNDHAM
There have been many wars and naval operations, and I do not think the hon. Gentleman is entitled to make much of 1885. He took the case of 1904–5, which shocked the civilised world; we protested against it but we have now adopted it.
§ Mr. ROBERTSON
The Declaration of Russia shows what a civilised Power is prepared to do. All the right hon. Gentleman's declamation about shocking the civilised world is resort to sentimentalism. What does it matter how shocked the civilised world is? If a civilised Power goes on doing it in view of the whole development of modern naval tactics and modern naval sentiment and the kind of sentiment the Noble Lord avowed this afternoon, we might expect to see an enemy take a course that would be shocking. The Noble Lord opposite talked about never being insolent to a foreign Power, but he went on to say if we were as strong as he wished us to be, he would not care for any Declaration as we could defy the whole world, and need not heed anybody's claim. We could defy the universe; the Noble Lord does not want to say that in so many words, but that is the effect of his speech, and that in the language of the Leader of the Opposition is what I should call a retrograde step. Under the Declaration of London, there is power to come to an agreement on matters in which there was no agreement before, and that is a forward step. The declaration of the Noble Lord about more ships and hundred million loans, and the rest of it, are retrograde declarations which stand in the way of agreement.
As regards the practical question before the House, there is one point in the speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Durham, which calls for some examination. He insisted that the provision as to "base" in the Declaration is a provision that would be disregarded by any enemy's captains. That point is arguable, because even among the jurists there has been vacillation as to that very question of destination. There is Lord Stowell, who has been cited as a great authority, and he seems to put forward two contrary propositions. He first laid it down that the destination of food supplies is the test, and in a later decision he said it practically does not matter what is the destination, because the supplies, if 643 going to an ordinary port, could be transferred by land for the purposes of military operation. So that you have all that vacillation among jurists upon this very question of destination. You may argue, as my hon. and learned Friend did, that difficulty may arise as to the destination or base, but I turn to my hon. Friend's own work, "Commerce in War," to which I should like to give special praise for the reason that it cites for us the actual points of many legal judgments. In my hon. and learned Friend's own book issued last year (page 48), quoting in connection with the Declaration of Russia, 1894, he says:—The Supreme Tribunal at St. Petersburg informs us, what we should not otherwise have suspected, that 'ennemi' means the enemy 'Government, contractors, army, navy, fortresses, or naval harbours, find not for private individuals.' So interpreted the code supplies rather a good rule for the ascertainment of the contraband character of prima facie innocent goods.Observe the statement "rather a good rule." If that is a good rule for the ascertainment of the contraband character of the primâ facie innocent goods, how can my hon. and learned Friend say that the definition in the Declaration as to destination is not fully complete. Take his own definition. By the definition in his book it was a good working rule. We are not contending that that definition would prevent the destruction or capture of food supplies in neutral bottoms. The whole point at stake hero is not whether in naval war you are going to have good fortune or bad fortune, but it is whether the Declaration would put us at the slightest disadvantage. The Noble Lord opposite did not show a single point where it would put us at a disadvantage. He declared that we were going to give up our maritime rights. What he meant was, we were going to give up maritime claims not recognised. International law, if it is to be of any value in time of war, exists only in so far as it is embodied in treaties. I admit, of course, that indemnity and compensation may be given afterwards, but that subsisted before, but so far as international sentiment as to what ought to be done is not embodied in treaties it has no value in time of war. The great value of the Declaration of London is that it does embody in treaty form certain rights you had not got before. You had no maritime rights; you had certain claims. We are told that Lord Lansdowne in 1904 and Lord Granville earlier claimed certain things, but they were not given.
§ Mr. ROBERTSON
No, they were not. The right hon. and learned Gentleman (Sir R. Finlay) told us that during the Russo-Japanese War a number of British ships were made the victims of Russian policy, and he used the extraordinary language, "We did not think it worth while to protest." [HON. MEMBERS: "No, not worth while to go to war."] That was not the language he used, because if these were his words there would be nothing in. them. He could not protest, or war would follow.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
As a matter of fact, Lord Lansdowne not only protested, but my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said then on his responsibility as Prime Minister that he had received assurances from the Russian Government that it would not occur again.
§ Mr. ROBERTSON
But it did occur again. It occurred in a number of cases. [HON. MEMBERS: "Two."] I am not making any point against the right hon. Gentleman; I am only showing that that admission amounted to this, that, short of a declaration of war, you had no remedy. The whole point is that under the Declaration of London you have absolute security against these things, which you had not before. The history of the last twenty-five or thirty years has shown that the mere sentiment of jurists and of international lawyers is of the very slightest value or security in these matters. Take one instance. In 1883 there was published a French translation of the German treaties on international law, with annotations by German jurists. In that it was expressly stated that neither bullion nor food was contraband of war; but in 1885, as Hall says in his book, "France revived the old claim in its most extreme form." There is no use telling us the action of France shocked the civilised world. France did it. The question is, what would happen, in war? If France did it in 1885, and Russia did it in 1904, what right have hon. Members opposite to proceed upon the sentimental declaration of jurists that food ought not to be contraband of war? No nation ought to rely upon sentimentalism for securities like that. The Declaration of London supplies, instead of that, a certain amount of definition, and crystallises it in treaty law. There is not a single point on which that treaty places us in a worse position than we were in before, and the whole case of the Noble Lord opposite must, therefore, collapse. 645 Something has been said on the question whether the opposition to this Declaration does not proceed largely from a general distrust or dislike of agreements with foreign Powers. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Edinburgh and St. Andrews Universities (Sir R. Finlay) indignantly repudiated that statement, said he regarded this as a non-party Debate, and that he regarded the assertion made by the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs as an attack upon the Opposition. It was no such thing. The Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs was at the time dealing with the general opposition to the Declaration, and not the Conservative opposition, and he actually cited one of the leading opponents of the Declaration (Mr. Bowles). What was the attitude of the right hon. Gentleman opposite? He said, "Your only proof for that is the quotation of the name of a man who is a supporter of the Government." That was a proof that the Under-Secretary was not making a partisan statement. Mr. Bowles is an important representative of the opposition to this Declaration; in fact, in my opinion he is one of the ablest of them, and has done much to form opinion against it.
I know that a great many of the opponents of this Declaration have a general distrust and dislike of any agreements with Foreign Powers. This very question came up in connection with the Taft proposal which the Foreign Secretary so admirably endorsed. There was a dislike even to a friendly agreement of that kind. I do not want to press such a charge against the Opposition, or even against the opposition to this Declaration. It is an objection rather of sentiment than of reasoned action. This kind of sentiment has been very potent in the case of the opposition to the Declaration of London, It is the same as arose over the old question of the abolition of the Navigation Laws, and the folly of it has been abundantly demonstrated since by the history of the countries affected. When the Noble Lord opposite devotes his speech mainly to the question of how peace can best be maintained and attained he is no more of an expert on that matter than I am. The Noble Lord's own proposals show that he does not understand the conditions under which foreign Powers have to be negotiated with when he puts forward his doctrine of the £100,000,000 loan.
§ Lord C. BERESFORD
I am sure the hon. and learned Member does not wish to misrepresent me. I have never had any- 646 thing to do with a £100,000,000 loan. I suggested a shipbuilding Vote of £60,000,000, and the Government have already actually spent £35,000,000 upon the ships I asked for. The £100,000,000 loan has nothing to do with me whatever.
§ Mr. ROBERTSON
The Noble Lord has repeatedly asked for a Navy about twice as strong as it is. Of course, if I am wrong in my statement about the £100,000,000 loan I withdraw. At any rate, the Noble Lord demands an enormous increase in our Navy sufficiently large to make other Powers desire to keep peace with us.
§ Mr. ROBERTSON
On that point the Noble Lord is no more of an expert than I am. The argument he has used that by making your Navy sufficiently big you will so frighten or cow foreign Powers that they will no longer compete with us shows that the Noble Lord is no expert in. human nature, and that is the only kind of expert that is of any importance in this Debate. Whatever be the opinions of naval experts on this question we have to settle it on our own judgment. The Noble Lord seems to think that by predicting things will not go right on our line, and asserting that they will only go right on his line, he has met the case. That argument does not weigh with us at all. It is not on the quarter deck that you learn the way in which free men think and in. which the minds of free nations work. I say with just as much confidence that the Declaration of London is a step in advance, and at no point is it retrograde. It is true that it does not secure much. The Noble Lord opposite argues that because we did not get all we want the Declaration is a failure, and that is the position taken up by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dover. Can the right hon. Gentleman opposite tell me of any treaty in which any country ever got all that it wanted? It is true we have not got all we wanted in regard to making merchantmen transformable to warships only in port. I never expected we should obtain that concession. We have a good many ports, and it was a simple matter for us to do this and difficult for other people, and, therefore, it was too much for us to expect. The real question is, has the Declaration of London given us something that we had not before? Has it won a few more steps of firm ground for the nation out of the chaos 647 of conflict of claims that existed before? It has done so, and that is its justification.
§ Mr. BAIRD
The hon. and learned Member who has just sat down has stated that although the Declaration of London does not give us all we wanted it is a step in advance. May I remind the House that there has been a former Declaration of London, but it does not occupy a fortunate place amongst Declarations. The previous Declaration was signed in 1871, and it was to this effect:—The plenipotentiaries of all the great Powers in conference, recognise that it is an essential principle of the law of nations that no Power can liberate itself from the engagements of a treaty, nor modify the stipulations contained in it unless with the consent of the consenting Powers by means of an amicable arrangement.That Declaration of London was not worth the paper it was written on, because the Powers that signed it seven years later signed the Treaty of Berlin, and that was torn up only a couple of years ago. For that reason hon. Members opposite are apt to exaggerate the misfortune which might occur supposing this Declaration were not ratified. I quite agree that it would be very uncomfortable, after having invited the representatives of the various Powers to London, and after having agreed that on certain aspects of international law which were formerly in disagreement, if eventually Great Britain says she cannot see her way to ratify that treaty. What is the object of ratification if it is not to afford the people an opportunity for saying whether or not they really want the treaty negotiated in their name? When you put on one side the inconvenience of refusing to ratify a treaty, and on the other side the inconvenience of ratifying a treaty inimical to our interests, I do not think there is room for a moment's hesitation. We have not to consider whether it is a step in advance or whether it is a retrograde step, but whether the principles embodied suit us as a nation and suit the Empire. We have to consider whether we shall be better off and stronger after this Declaration has been ratified than we were before.
I think we are too much concerned about looking after the business of other people. We have interests of our own to look after, and as regards this particular treaty, dealing as it does with the rights of belligerents and neutrals in maritime war, surely we are the people who ought to be first of all considered, because in that connection what is for us a matter of vital 648 importance is for them a matter quite secondary as compared with ourselves. What we have to consider is how we stand under this treaty. I have heard the speech of the hon. Member for North St. Pancras (Mr. Dickinson), and he was under the impression that this treaty-leaves things either very much as they were before or else we gain. I do not think that in all the speeches in which hon. Members have endeavoured to advance that theory they have succeeded in making it good. It is perfectly easy to make an assertion of that kind, and I should be the very first to support the Government in an instrument which had been negotiated with foreign Powers if I did not think a great deal of weight must be given to the objections which have been raised against this instrument by those who are best qualified to judge. I think those best qualified to judge in this matter are the ship owners, the naval men, the insurance people, and those whose daily life brings them into daily contact with the problems dealt with by this Declaration.
Take the point of contraband. There is not the slightest doubt that, according to the treaty, we have given up our original view with regard to contraband and adopted the German view. Hon. Members who support this Declaration say that in any case ships could be declared contraband of war by Germnay or Russia, or any other Power with which we happened to be at war. Certainly it could, but if this Declaration does not come into force you leave neutral Powers free to make an effective protest, which they cannot do if this Declaration is signed, because they have to abide by the Declaration, and any protest on the part of neutral shipowners as regards the detention of their ships by a belligerent is referred by the Foreign Office of the country in question to the International Court. It does not refer the matter directly to the international courts; it only comes there after the case has been decided in the international Prize Court, and consequently there will be an interminable delay and a great deal of bother, and it is open to doubt whether any one will avail themselves of this court of appeal at all. Meanwhile the damage is done. Let us consider the practice in these matters so far as we are able to examine them. Take the case which has already been alluded to where rice and other things were declared contraband of war by Russia. When that occurred our ambassador was instructed to make a strong representation to the Russian 649 Government. I hope the House will pardon me for reading a quotation upon this subject. In the correspondence respecting contraband of war in connection with the hostilities between Russia and Japan there occurs the following passage in a communication from Lord Lansdowne to Sir C. Hardinge:—His Majesty's Government do not contest that, in particular circumstances, provisions may acquire a contraband character, as for instance, if they should be consigned direct to the Army or Fleet of a belligerent, or to a port where such Fleet may be lying, and if facts should exist raising the presumption that they are about to be employed in victualling the fleet of the enemy. In such cases it is not denied that the other belligerent would be entitled to seize the provisions as contraband of war, on the ground that they would afford material assistance towards the carrying on of war-like operations.What was our contention, and what has it always been with regard to food? Our contention was not in accordance with the one put forward by Russia. We protested and our protest was successful. It was so successful that whereas food had been made contraband by Russia it was modified, and in the upshot this is what Russia did:—In consequence of doubts which have arisen as to the interpretation of Article 6, section 10, of the Regulations respecting Contraband of War, it has been resolved by the Imperial Government that the articles capable of serving for a war-like object, in regard to which no decision has been taken, including rice and foodstuffs, shall be considered as contraband of war if they are destined for—That is what we obtained by negotiations, and I for one am not prepared to say we are able to obtain less by negotiation now than in the past. If that is the contention of the Government, I can understand their signing any agreement or Declaration. What is the difference between that which was obtained by negotiation with Russia and the Declaration, to the ratification of which we are now asked to assent? Article 33 of the Declaration refers to contraband, and Article 34 says:—
- "The Government of the belligerent Power;
- "For its administration;
- "For its Army;
- "For its Navy;
- "For its fortresses;
- "For its naval ports; or
- "For its purveyors."The destination referred to in Article 33 is presumed to exist if the goods are consigned to enemy authorities…or to a fortified place belonging to the enemy, or other place serving as a base for the armed forces of the enemy.It all turns on the words, "Other place serving as a base." How are we to define this question of a base. I have seen a letter from the Foreign Office to the Admiralty to this effect:—Sir Edward Grey, in his speech on April 7th, 1909, expressly said it was exceedingly difficult to give a 650 closer definition of the words 'base of supply,' and reliance must be based on the courts giving a reasonable interpretation in each particular case as it arises.I do not think that is good enough. Can anybody maintain that is a sufficient and a complete safeguard for a country like this? Can anybody say to-day whether a certain port will be a base of supply or not, because, in spite of all the efforts of hon. Members opposite and other people to separate the armed forces of the nation from the civilian population, we are bound in time of war to rise as one man, and everybody will more or less be a soldier. I see the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. McKinnon Wood) laughs. We should have a very poor chance of carrying on a war successfully unless the nation did come forward like that, and I should be very sorry to think we are the only nation which would not rise to such a necessity. If the right hon. Gentleman is prepared to laugh at an idea of that sort, what is he going to put in its place? Is he going to safeguard the country by treaties and declarations which are not worth the paper on which they are written? That is a dangerous attitude to take up, and, if that is what the laughter of the right hon. Gentleman means, I am glad he laughed and made it clear what is really at the back of his mind, what are the sentiments of the Party he represents, and what he considers to be a satisfactory safeguard for this nation if we should unfortunately be at war. The view I have ventured to advance is not merely held in this country. The other day I came across an extract from a newspaper which is published in Vienna. and I think it has a considerable bearing on the subject. The "Borsen und Handelsbericht," of 5th February last, talking of Prize Courts, says that the decisions of the British and French Prize Courts have in almost every case been exceedingly satisfactory because those courts were in charge of well recognised and thoroughly trusted jurists. It then goes on to say:—Some anxiety must be aroused in England when it is proposed to submit the action of English Fleets and warships to the jurisdiction of a Tribunal in which Columbia and Norway have just as much voice as England.Hon. Members opposite demur at that view, but, if they will read the Declaration, they will see deputies are to take the places of judges of certain Powers which may not be in a position to send their own representatives, and those deputies will have the same voice, and possibly a casting voice, in cases coming before the courts. You cannot therefore say you will attach so much value to the judgment 651 of certain judges and less value to the judgment of others. If you do, you make a farce of the whole thing. People who are dissatisfied with the composition of the court are justified in not wishing to submit the judgments of the highest judicial authorities to the revision of a court in which the majority may consist of foreigners who are not entitled to claim they have had the same experience in these matters. This paper goes on to describe the provisions with regard to a base. It says:—Hitherto provisions which were being taken to a country were not considered as contraband unless it was beyond doubt They were destined for the Army, although in practice opposite decisions have been given.Everybody has thought that the ordinary recognised practice, and, whenever States have endeavoured to introduce a different reading, there has been a protest, and that protest has nearly always been successful:—According to the Declaration of London, they are not to be contraband unless carried direct to the enemy's Army, or to a point which might serve as a base for such Army.It all turns on the word "base."It is so vague a condition that it can only be looked at with suspicion. Let us imagine for example, that the Austrian Army is fighting between Isonzo and Tagliamento against Italy. Is wheat that comes from India or Egypt to Fiume contraband? It can be so declared it found desirable, for it can be brought by train from Fiume to Trieste or Gorz, and there used for the Army. If the new text of the Declaration of London is upheld, all wheat that is being brought to England in neutral ships will be contraband, for it can always be carried from Liverpool, Bristol, or Southampton to the English Army by rail. Thus the difficulty of provisioning England during war would be immeasurably increased. All the victories of its fleet would not protect it from starvation or famine prices.I think that is rather a striking quotation. I have translated it for the convenience of the House. The paper is here if the right hon. Gentleman would like to look at it. It represents the opinion expressed by scores of people in this country, people who are not keen politicians, and who are not engaged, as we, unfortunately are, in fighting, because the Government insist on it, on party grounds. The matter ought to be taken out of the party arena altogether. It is impossible to imagine any more potent confession of weakness than the fact that the Government have not dared to take off their Whips, but have insisted on carrying this measure through by the votes of hon. Members who have no obligation whatever to come here, and some of whom openly avow their votes are given, not because of the merits or de- 652 merits of the measure, but because they will support hon. Members opposite so long as there is any chance of them getting Home Rule. It is rather striking and interesting that we should have inaugurated Single-Chamber Government on a matter of such vital importance as this question of the Declaration of London. I should like to refer to the dispatch which the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs addressed to His Majesty's representatives abroad for the purpose of inviting foreign representatives to come to this Conference in London. Here is what he says:—It would be difficult, if not impossible, for his Majesty's Government to carry the legislation necessary to give effect to the Convention, unless they could assure both Houses of the British Parliament that some more definite understanding had been reached as to the rules by which the new Tribunal would be governed,Then we had the Prime Minister's answer to a question last week. He was asked whether he was aware the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs had stated that the Declaration would not be ratified unless passed by Parliament, and whether it was not a fact Parliament meant both Houses of Parliament. The Prime Minister said:—No, it would make no difference to the action of his Majesty's Government whether the House of Lords approved or disapproved.Here we are discussing, as a Single-Chamber Government, a measure which is to stand, if ratified, for twelve years, long after, I hope, the power of the present Government has ceased. We are doing this knowing that the votes which will be given in favour of this Declaration will not be based on the merits of the Declaration, because the vast majority of Members have not taken the trouble to come and listen to the discussion, but will be given because it is looked upon as a party question and as a move in the party game. Having regard to the vital change which this Declaration introduces, having regard to the fact that we had to yield on three substantial points and that the Conference insisted on adopting, not our policy, but the policy of those who possibly would be our rivals, and having regard to the fact that the alterations in international law to be introduced will have far more effect upon us than they can possibly have on those opposed to us, it is little short of a scandal we should be discussing this great question under these conditions. Some day possibly the country will wake up to the fact. Meanwhile, all one can do is to register a protest against this method of transacting the nation's affairs and at the same time point out the blemishes and drawbacks in 653 the Declaration. If the Declaration is such a good thing as hon. Members opposite make out, why have they not succeeding in persuading either the commercial community or the shipping community of its merits? They are not as a rule so bashful that they are averse to stumping the country and making their views heard and known throughout the country. Why have they not succeeded on this occasion? Nothing they have said has succeeded in removing the opposition to this Declaration.
I cannot help thinking nothing could be more dangerous than the view which was expressed in this connection by the hon. Member for North St. Pancras (Mr. Dickinson). He referred to the dreadful state of affairs which would arise as regards our position among the nations if we failed to ratify the Declaration. That is, of course, an uncomfortable thing to contemplate, but it would not be anything like so uncomfortable as if we ratified an instrument which alters the accepted international law in a sense which not only we ourselves but foreign nations admit is unfavourable to Great Britain. I cannot conceive anything less likely to inspire respect for this country than that we should have the weakness to ratify an instrument we do not like simply because it is made in London. I cannot imagine anything much worse than that. There is another argument which the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs advanced. He said, very unfairly, that the opposition to this Declaration came in the main from people who were opposed to international understandings of any kind. Those may not be his words, but he will not deny that was the purport of what he said. He might just as well say that because a man refuses to marry a certain woman he proposes to remain a bachelor all his life.
I cannot imagine anything more foolish than the attitude adopted by the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. Does he mean that every thing passed by our representatives must be ratified? Does he pretend that every country has always ratified everything its representative has signed? Is he not aware that America, with whom we are endeavouring to negotiate a treaty of arbitration, refused by its senate, to ratify a treaty of arbitration, and does he contend the British House of Commons has not as much right in the affairs of this country as the Americans have in the affairs of the United States. Is that the contention of 654 the Under-Secretary? If so, it increases still further the farce we are now taking part in of discussing, on purely party lines, this measure of great national importance subject to the Government Whips. The various points of this Declaration have been gone into so fully and so clearly by my right hon. Friends that I will refrain from going over the ground again. But I should like to call attention to one aspect of the question from a diplomatic point of view, and I should like to refer to the fears expressed by the Under-Secretary as to the results which might arise from our failure to ratify this instrument on the ground that it has been made in London, and on the ground that we were the proposers of it. Those fears, I venture to suggest, are not well founded, and I think, too, that they are outweighed by the importance of only ratifying what is in our own interest. To take a step in advance or sideways or in our rear, and to justify it on the ground that, although it may not be quite so good for us, it is better for the world at large, is a procedure which I do not think this country is ready as yet to adopt, and I should like to remind the Under-Secretary that there is still a rule which obtains in international affairs, and which is not likely to become out-of-date in the lifetime of any of us here present: "La raison du plus fort est toujours la meilleur."
§ Mr. CHARLES ROBERTS
The fact that the Government are going to give a third day to this Debate shows their anxiety to meet the views of hon. Members opposite who have come in such a large number to watch its course. [An HON MEMBER: "Look at your own empty benches."] We are not so anxious as to this Declaration as hon. Members opposite profess to be. I think the hon. Member who has just spoken has been a little unfair to the Government, bearing in mind the fact that it could have ratified this Declaration without consulting the House of Commons at all.
§ Mr. BAIRD
I quite agree, but may I, on the other hand, point out that the Declaration will be perfectly useless unless the Naval Prize Bill is also carried, and it was consequently inevitable that this Declaration should be discussed.
§ Mr. CHARLES ROBERTS
It makes a considerable difference whether the Naval Prize Bill was discussed after the Declaration was ratified or before. If it 655 had been ratified first and the Naval Prize Bill then brought in, it would have been practically impossible for the House of Commons to express its free judgment on the question of this Bill. I think the hon. Gentleman should place that to the credit of the Government when he attacks them for putting on the party Whips. Surely, on a matter of primary importance such as this, it would have been nothing else than a dereliction of duty on their part, and a failure in leadership if they had not thus shown their opinion that this was a matter of prime importance on which they were entitled to appeal to their followers for support. The hon. Member taunted us practically with neglect of British interests in this matter, and implied that we who approved this Declaration regarded the matter purely from the point of view of sentimental internationalism. I do not think that is right. Those of us who support the Declaration believe it is for the interest of England as a whole as well as a great step forward in international progress. I may lay myself open to the hon. Member's attack when I frankly confess I look on this Bill as one who desires to abolish the right of capture altogether and who hopes to see in the future an international agreement which will secure that abolition. I know it would be out of order to discuss that question to-day, but I cannot help thinking that a good deal of grist has been brought to the mill of that cause in these Debates.
We have a document issued by 127 admirals, distinguished by the presence of nerves, and by the absence of logic. They explain in it that our food supplies are in imminent peril and, under their penetrating gaze, the British Navy disappears into twenty-seven cruisers scattered over the high seas, and constituting the sole force available for the protection of our commerce. We are assured, too, that there is no safeguard against the dangers of national starvation. If this is the case I am bound impenitently to say the solution seems to lie in the hope of securing the immunity of private property from capture at sea. I understand that it is not in order to discuss that, because the Declaration and the Naval Prize Bill presuppose the continued existence of that right. I shall, therefore, have only a word or two to say about it later on. I do not mean to go over the whole ground of the discussion; it has 656 been traversed so fully, on both sides, that we now pretty well know the respective views; but I should like, if I may, to state how the matter appeals to my mind after its discussion by experts. The problem before us is to ratify or not to ratify. The Leader of the Opposition declared, in his speech in the City the other day, that one ground for refusing to ratify was that the Declaration was not clear, and did not cover the whole ground. I admit it does not cover the whole ground; but if you are to wait until an international agreement covers the whole ground of international conditions, you will wait for ever. To my mind, it is no reason to refuse to ratify because it does not cover the whole ground. It does take a few definite steps in advance.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Edinburgh University (Sir R. Finlay) made another point. His argument was that it was unwise to ratify this Declaration because you could not go beyond it when you had ratified it. He said you were tied down to the clauses of the agreement, because you recognise that the Declaration embodies existing international law. I am bound to say that I think he could have discovered if he had wished an answer to that, and certainly in the Renault memorandum the answer is absolutely before us. That report contains these passages:—The solutions have been extracted from the various views and practices which prevail and represent what may be called the media sententia. They are not always in absolute agreement with the views peculiar to each country, but they shock the essential ideas of none.…The work is one of compromise and mutual concessions. Is it on the whole a good one?How anybody can argue when you have gone into an agreement which is so described that you are thereby estopped from going further and getting other agreements on points which are not agreed seems to me to be very extraordinary. Therefore my first ground for wishing ratification is that an international agreement breeds other agreements in regard to points that remain open. This Declaration was a work of compromise in which we did not always get our own way, but on the other hand I think to refuse to ratify it would be the greatest bar and obstacle to any further international progress that might be obtained, and from that point of view, while admitting that it does not go the whole way and cover the whole ground, yet I think we ought to rejoice in the fact that after all there is a little firm ground won from the morass of conflicting opinions and international divergencies. On that ground alone I think it is worth our while 657 to secure definiteness and uniformity of action in a limited sphere, joined with the great advantage of a code established up to a certain point, and an international court. I think it is a great advantage to get that and it is an advantage to England as well as to the rest of the whole world.
My other point is this, I have listened to the case which has been put by the other side. I tried to listen with an open mind, and I think I represent the case fairly if I say that their objection to the Declaration is that under it, and in consequence of it, certain things will happen if we ratify it. In the first place there will be certain dangers. They say that cruisers will be converted on the high seas, and they will prey upon our commerce. Secondly, they say food will be declared conditional contraband, and in their view of the position the proof of destination has been somewhat dangerously widened. Thirdly, they say that neutral ships, in case we ourselves were at war, would be sunk in exceptional cases. That, I believe, is the real case which has been presented from the other side. It is said that all these dangers will be incurred if we ratify this Declaration. What will happen if we refuse the ratification? Every one of these dangers will be there. Cruisers will be converted into warships on the high seas. We shall protest; our protest will go for very little, and we shall not think it worth while to go to war. That is what will happen; and the other dangers will equally remain.
I do not say that the lawyers inside this House expect, if we went to war, that food would not be regarded as conditional contraband; but I think outside this House the man in the street thinks it an outrage that food should be regarded as contraband at all. How can we expect that food would be in any other category? All we have got to do is to look at our Prize Manual, published in 1866, and there you have food and liquors fit for the consumption of Army and Navy under the head of conditional contraband. The hon. Member for Rugby said that protests in regard to these matters were of great value, and he instanced the case of our protest against Russia in 1904. He said that by reason of that protest Russia explained her definition of contraband, and it was understood that food was to be regarded as contraband if destined for the Government, or for contractors or for naval fortresses or the Army or Navy and not consigned to individuals. That is practically Article 34 658 of this Declaration. That is to say, if we went to war we should even if we refused this ratification have exactly the same dangers which hon. Members tell us we shall be exposed to if the ratification took place. Then we are told that neutral ships will be sunk in exceptional cases. Now there has been some controversy on that point. The hon. Member for North-West Durham (Mr. Atherley-Jones) last night told us that the ships which were sunk at the end of the Napoleonic wars were not neutral ships, but enemy's ships, and, therefore, they did not count in the decision on the subject. I looked up the reference, and the language, which is perfectly clear, is that of Lord Stowell, who in giving judgment on the case said:—Where a ship is neutral, the act of destruction cannot be justified to the neutral owner by the gravest importance of such an act to the public service of the captor's own State. To the neutral, it can only be justified under any such circumstances by a full restitution in value. These are rules so clear in principle and established in practice, that they require neither reasoning nor precedent to illustrate or support them.'Thus destruction could be justified if you pay compensation, and so we ended up the Napoleonic wars with the definite statement that neutral ships could be sunk on condition that they were paid compensation. That is our own great authority. Moreover, when hon. Members tell us that the whole civilised world is struck with horror at the proposal to sink neutral ships there is the statement by Professor Holland:—There is no established rule of international law which absolutely forbids under any circumstances the sinking of a neutral prize. A consensus gentium to this effect will hardly be alleged by those who are aware that such sinking is permitted by the most recent prize regulations of France, Russia, Japan, and the United States.It is quite true that we individually have accepted that view, but if we went to war it is perfectly plain that our views would not prevail against the views of the Powers who did not accept them. I am ready enough to make a concession to the other side. I think if we had to choose we should obviously have regarded it as more satisfactory if we had had our views accepted with regard to proof of destination, and it would have been more advantageous and more for the benefit of the civilised world. It would have been again a distinct advantage if we could have got our views accepted on the sinking of neutral vessels. We did not succeed. It is admitted we did get our views accepted on a very considerable number of other points. Those points are never referred to on the other side. They only deal with 659 points where we had to make concessions in order to get agreement. I admit that, but at the same time it is a matter of mutual concession, and I cannot imagine how anyone could expect that necessarily we should get our own way in every single thing. We did not. I do not believe we are really exposed to serious danger, but what I feel is that though we did not get our views adopted on these two points, as the other side have triumphantly proved, yet if we refuse to ratify the Declaration it does not mean that foreign nations will thereupon accept our views. If they had proved that, I should say there might be a case for refusing that ratification, but it is perfectly obvious that that would not occur. Foreign nations would continue to hold their views in ignorance which we may regard as benighted or wrong-headed, but that would not alter the fact that the refusal to ratify merely means that they would maintain their views in a more extreme form than anything which is in the present Declaration. Therefore, when they tell us that these dangers will accrue under ratification of the Declaration of London I tell them it seems to me that these same dangers are there, if we refuse to ratify, in a more violent form, and at the same time we lose the very decided advantages which come to us by securing the right for neutrals of an appeal to the international court.
The question of prize money has been referred to by the hon. Member (Mr. Holt), and I wish to support what he said. I dare say it will be said that that question does not really arise on the Naval Prize Bill, because it is part of an ancient traditional custom of the country. That is true, but that ancient and traditional custom of the country really depends on a Clause in the Naval Prize Bill of 1864, and on another Act passed also in 1864, which regulated it and was the legal basis on which the custom rests. That Clause is repeated in this Bill, and the opportunity comes for discussion and, as I hope, settlement of the question. Of course it is not really connected necessarily with the abolition of the right of capture. That is proved by the fact that Japan and the United States have both given up payment of prize money, though they maintain the right of capture. I should submit that those who maintain the necessity of the right of capture ought to abandon prize money, for what is the argument on which the right of capture rests? It is said that 660 it is the exercise of the one and only means by which Great Britain can bring force to bear upon her opponents. It is said we have only got the power of blockade and the power of distraining upon the trade of the enemy. I think myself that the power of blockade and the power of distraining on the overseas possessions of the enemy is quite as effective a method of making war as it was in the days of Chatham, and we should drop the exercise of the right of capture and drop the attack upon trade and secure immunity for our own trade with advantage to England on the whole and with great advantage, I think, to the world.
But if that view is not held surely there is no particular reason why you should pay money to admirals using the national power for their private benefit. In the old days, of course, prize money had a reason of its own. When war took place between two nations you allowed sailors to do a little buccaneering on their own. Prize money had its justification upon that ground. But now in modern days the exercise of the right of capture is, and can only be, justified because the admirals and naval captains who are using that power are exercising the national power for a national benefit. They are not using the national power for the purpose of putting money into their own pockets and the thing is an absurd anachronism. Japan abolished it because captures were made for the benefit of the State, and not for the benefit of the admirals themselves. That seems to me to be ground to which no exception can possibly be taken. I do not think prize-money comes to very much in the estimation of the Navy itself. Certainly in the United States, when it was abolished in 1899, the Navy made no particular fuss about it, and said it was a mere bagatelle, to which they made no objection whatever. I ought to say also that in the United States they have gone rather beyond what I think will satisfy us at present. They have abolished both prize money, money paid on capture of merchantmen, and prize bounty, which is a separate thing altogether, the payment made to the crews and officers on account of the destruction or capture of the armed vessels of the other side. I think something may be said for the maintenance of the prize bounty, and, as a matter of fact, this present Bill has increased the amount of prize bounty which could be paid, and it removes a restriction, I think quite justifiably, on the amount of prize bounty, 661 namely, the sum of money which might be paid to those who have been engaged in actual naval battles. That, I think, is all right; but at the same time, under Clause 45, power is taken again to pay prize money on account of these individual captures. Therefore, I think it would not be unfair to leave prize bounty and take this opportunity of abolishing prize money. After all, it worked exceedingly badly. It led to any amount of heart-burning in the Service itself, it led to really discreditable incidents between rival admirals, and its history in the past is not one which would encourage us to continue the practice any longer. It seems to me that you ought to avoid the possibility of conflict of personal interests in the performance of a national duty, and when doing the best you can in any great crisis of war. I submit these remarks to the representatives of the Government, and I hope they will endeavour in Committee on the Bill to meet the views I have expressed.
§ Mr. LESLIE SCOTT
I speak to-night merely as a lawyer who has had a good deal to do with those questions of international law. During the Japanese War I had to do professionally with most of the cases of capturing that occurred in the course of the conflict. I speak also because I had the honour to represent this country at international conferences in kindred matters and in shipping matters. I appreciate fully the difficulty which the delegates of this country had in coming to an agreement with foreign Powers of a satisfactory character on the complicated questions involved in the Declaration of London. If I venture to offer an opinion upon the results which have been obtained by the delegates of this country at the London Conference it is as a lawyer and on a comparison of the law as proposed by the Declaration of London with the law, as it would be or is without that Declaration. Forming to the best of my ability an opinion on that basis, I have, after long consideration and with considerable anxiety, formed the opinion as a lawyer that the differences created by the Declaration of London are on the balance substantially against the interests of this country when we compare our position under the Declaration with what it is under the existing state of international law.
I cannot help expressing great regret that the Government have thought fit for practical purposes to make this a party 662 question. I recognise that the Government of the day may under certain circumstances have information at its disposal which is not available to the ordinary private Members of this House, which compels them to say, "We have knowledge which you have not. We, therefore, say to the supporters of the Government you must support us, believing in us, accepting our opinion, and relying upon your trust in us." Circumstances may well arise in which that may be the position, but in this case I venture to think that no such position has arisen, and that the Government cannot call in aid and support of the course adopted by them any such consideration. The factors upon which this question must depend are factors relating to three branches of technical knowledge, namely, the Navy, our commerce, and international law. If the Government could say, "We have special knowledge and information at our disposal which is not open to the country at large and which is not open to the Members of this House upon any one of these branches," I would concede the right of the Government to say, "Followers and supporters, believe us, and do not ask for reasons. Vote as we ask you to vote." Surely in this case there are no such considerations which affect the question. Why in this case should the Government say to its supporters, "We deprive you of the right to give effect to your individual opinions in this House by our party Whip," when on the facts of the case every Member of the Government side is as competent, so far as we know, and so far as one can judge from the documents put before the House and the country, to form an individual opinion, has as good a right to express that opinion, and has as strong a duty to his constituents to express that opinion by his vote, as in any case that can be conceived.
If they appeal to the experts on these three branches of knowledge or of interest that are affected by the Convention, what is the answer? If they appeal to the Navy, is there unanimous opinion in the Navy in support of this Convention? What is the view of my hon. and gallant Friend who represents Portsmouth (Sir Charles Beresford)? Is he or is he not qualified to express to this House with some knowledge the view of the Navy on this subject? We have 120 admirals signing a joint resolution, and they are all opposed to the Declaration of London. Take the commercial world. Is there unanimity in favour of the Declaration? The chambers of commerce of this country, who repre- 663 sent not so much the shipowners as the merchants who are interested in the oversea trade of the country are almost unanimous in their opposition to the ratification of the Declaration. The hon. Member for the Hexham Division (Mr. Holt) said today that one of the shipowners' associations was in favour of the Declaration. I agree with the hon. Member that the association in question is an important one. But if you look at the bulk of the shipowning interest in the country, you will find that the great majority of the tonnage as expressed in resolutions by the various bodies is opposed to the ratification of this Declaration. Under those circumstances how can the Government justify their attitude in making this a party question and saying to their followers: "Support us, though you do not know why. Abandon your right of individual opinion and vote with us because we ask you to do so." I submit that this is not a case where the Government has any right to dictate to their supporters and ask them in this House to accept the direction of the Government instead of expressing their individual opinions. What is the other branch of technical knowledge affected by this Declaration? It is international law. What is the position of the leading international lawyers of the country? Are they agreed? What about the opinion of Professor Holland? He probably has spent more time than any other lawyer in this country on the question of international law. He is a member of the Institute of International Law.
His attitude, and his carefully considered attitude, is that on the whole he is opposed to the ratification of the Declaration of London in its present form. What do the lawyers in this House say? Is there a lawyer in this House, except the Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General, who is in favour of the ratification of this Convention? Is there a lawyer in this House who has spoken in favour of it? Not one. The hon. Member for North Durham (Mr. Atherley-Jones), an international lawyer of repute on the Government side, has spoken strongly against it. On this side of the House are there any lawyers conversant with these matters in favour of the Declaration? I know of none. In those circumstances I submit that the Government have no justification for making a party question of it in this House and in the country, and I venture to think that the commercial classes of this country of both political creeds who have 664 opposed ratification of the Declaration will resent it as an injury that the Government should have made it a party question and issued a party whip in favour of it. I agree that primarily the question of the ratification depends on the comparison between the existing stale of law and the state of law that would be brought into being if the Declaration be ratified.. On that I agree with one remark of my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham boroughs, that the primary question is, are you to regard this matter from the point of view of Great Britain as a belligerent? I agree with him that if you regard the matter from the point of view of Great Britain as a neutral it is possible to come to a different conclusion from that at which you will arrive if you regard Great Britain as a belligerent.
I think that very much depends on the solution of this question, on whether you regard it from the point of view of this Empire as a belligerent or this Empire as a neutral. On a review of the Declaration as a whole, it may well be that, regarded from the point of view of the interests of neutrals, the Declaration is advantageous, and marks some progress in favour of neutrals. But I venture to think also that, if on a fair review of the whole terms of the Declaration, you come to the conclusion that whatever good it may do to us as neutrals, it will do harm to us when we are belligerents, the dominating consideration must be, does it do good or do harm to us as belligerents and not as neutrals. In the one case we are concerned merely with money, whether rights of compensation or whether rights of damages. In the other case we are concerned with our existence. I imagine that the House will concede the proposition that though it may do good to us as neutrals, yet if, on the balance, it does harm to us as belligerents, it is not an agreement which should be ratified. Let us consider for a moment what it does for us as neutrals. But before doing so, perhaps I ought to advert to the promise by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs that the Report sent to the Conference by the Drafting Committee, usually known as M. Renault's Report, is to be treated, upon ratification by this country, as a part of the international agreement embodied in this agreement. I venture to think, as the hon. and learned Member for York said yesterday, quoting Professor Holland, that to add that Report to the Declaration would be merely to make confusion worse confounded. I have read and considered 665 carefully the Report, and I venture to think that if it is to be interpreted as a document of convention between nations it will leave far more sources of doubt for solution by the international tribunal than are to be found in the Declaration itself.
If that is so, and if that Report was not discussed clause by clause—and we know that it was not discussed clause by clause—why should it be treated as equivalent to an international convention? The dangers inherent in a position of that kind are obvious, and, if I may say so in all humility, with my experience of international conferences, and the use of such reports which are common in international conferences, it would be a lamentable result if that Report were to be treated as equivalent to a document of convention or agreement between the Powers of the world. It is not drawn up for that purpose. Its language is not considered with that precision and that due deliberation which are necessary for the language of a convention of an international character, and if we have that document attached to the Declaration of London, as a part of it, in accordance with the promise of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, the result will only be that we shall not know where we are. There are several points upon which that Report, seriously as it appears, to me changes the language of the convention to the disadvantage of a country like Great Britain when at war. The First Lord of the Admiralty yesterday in his speech in this House, in answer to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Edinburgh University, said that there was nothing in this convention which affected the rights of belligerents inter se. I venture at once to challenge that statement, and I challenge the learned Attorney-General, whom I see opposite, to dispute the proposition which I am going to advance, that if, under the arrangements of the convention establishing the international Prize Court of Appeal a question is brought before that court which affects the rights of belligerents in regard to a claim by a neutral, that court will come to some decision or other. The decision will form a precedent which will guide the court for the future. That decision will operate as an interpretation of the Declaration of London, and for practical purposes it will be an additional clause in the Declaration of London.
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
Does the hon. and learned Gentleman suggest that the Declaration of London deals with the rights of belligerents inter se?
§ Mr. LESLIE SCOTT
No, I do not, and I should have thought the Attorney-General would have known that I do not suggest anything of the sort. The Declaration of London deals with the rights of belligerents and neutrals as between themselves. It does not touch in itself the rights of belligerents inter se. But I do say this, and I am quite certain that the learned Attorney-General will not contradict the proposition, that the fact of the decision of the international Court of Appeal as between belligerents and neutrals pursuant to the Convention, will affect in the result the rights of belligerents inter se. The First Lord of the Admiralty yesterday advanced this proposition, which, with all respect, I think totally untenable. He said:—There is nothing in the Declaration of London which affects the rights of belligerents inter se. It only affects the rights of belligerents themselves as against neutrals.With those propositions I agree. The right hon. Gentleman went on to say:—Consequently, every belligerent as against his enemy is not bound by any decision of the international Prize Courts."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th June, 1911, col. 538.]With all respect I challenge that conclusion from his premises. Let us take, for instance, the question of conversion of merchantmen into ships of war, which is not covered by this Declaration. But under the Convention which is attached to the schedule to the Bill, the Second Reading of which we are discussing, it is provided as follows:—
"The validity of the capture of a merchant ship or its cargo is decided before Prize Courts, in accordance with the present Convention when neutral or enemy property is involved."
Article 7 says:—
"If a question of law to be decided is covered by a treaty in force between the belligerent captor and a Power which is itself, or the subject or citizen of which is, a party to the proceedings, the court is governed by the provisions of the said treaty. In the absence of such provisions, the court shall apply the rules of international law. If no generally recognised rule exists, the court shall give judgment in accordance with the general principles of justice and equity."
The effect of these provisions in the convention is that if there is a matter which is not covered in express terms by the convention then the international Prize Court of Appeal has to decide the question 667 by the rules of justice and equity. Let us imagine a claim brought forward by a neutral against a belligerent for damages for compensation for a neutral vessel belonging to the neutral power, sunk or captured, it does not matter which, by a merchant vessel of the belligerent power, converted into a ship of war in the high seas. Take that as an instance. It comes before the courts of the belligerent country and of appeal before the international court. The international court is bound under this Declaration by no convention or rule as to what is to be the law in such circumstances. It, therefore, has to consider and apply what are considered to be the ordinary rules of justice and equity. Under these circumstances it is perfectly conceivable that the international court of appeal may take one of two views. It may either say that the conversion of a merchant ship into a ship of war on the high seas is contrary to the usage of nations, or it may say that it is consistent with the usage of nations. Whichever view the court takes it gives a decision in accordance with that view. That decision forms a precedent, and, for practical purposes that decision is an additional article of the Declaration of London added for the future to that Declaration, and, for practical purposes binding on the parties to the Declaration who have agreed to the institution of that international court of appeal. Under those circumstances I imagine another war occurring. Can it be said for a moment, when the next war does occur that the belligerents in that war are not affected inter se by the judgment of the international court of appeal, deciding, for instance, that, under the circumstances, the conversion of a merchant ship on the high seas into a ship of war is legitimate and that the neutral, captured by that ship, has no claim to compensation.
It seems to me to follow necessarily, and I am perfectly certain that the learned Attorney-General will not challenge that proposition. A decision in that way given between the belligerent and neutral, once it is given, will affect the rights of belligerents inter se thereafter and forever. It will affect them in this way. Let us imagine this country to be at war. Take a concrete case, and let us see what the application of it is. Let us suppose, for example, that we are at war with France. France has some merchantmen ready equipped in time of peace for conversion into unarmoured cruisers. 668 At the commencement of the war she sends these vessels out on the high seas, in the neighbourhood of the trade routes, over which is brought the food supplies of this country. She converts these ships under sealed orders to be opened at certain places. One of these merchantmen converted into a ship of war captures a merchant vessel bringing a cargo of grain to this country. We are at war with France. The captain of the French merchant vessel, so converted into a cruiser, has orders to act in accordance with instructions, and to seize or capture vessels carrying cargoes of grain to any port in. this country which is a base of supply. Can it be said for a moment that this will not be justified by the pre-existing decision of the international court of appeal given between the belligerent and neutral? I say the question cannot be argued. In that case we are giving to this international court power in regard to all matters not regulated by this Declaration to add to the terms of that Declaration in accordance with what that international court of appeal, constituted as we know it is constituted, may consider to be in accorance with the principles of equity and justice. It is perfectly clear, therefore, that the statement of the First Lord of the Admiralty yesterday that this Declaration, only deals with the rights of belligerents as against neutrals, and does not touch the rights of belligerents inter se, is founded on an entire fallacy, and that when we create this international court of appeal to regulate rights between belligerents and neutrals we are ipso facto giving it the power to regulate the rights of belligerents inter se in this sense, that we affect the rights of belligerents in so far as they may depend, for instance, for their food supplies on the service of neutrals in any future war. So much for the preliminaries of the question.
What is the real question at issue here between those who are in favour of the Declaration and those who are against it? I venture to submit that the real and dominant question is this—are you to regard as of primary importance the rights of this country as a belligerent, the safety of this country as a belligerent, or are you to regard as of primary importance its pecuniary interests as a neutral? The Member for Hexham Boroughs (Mr. Holt) said he approached the question from the point of view of neutrals and that that was the right point of view from which to approach it. There can be no question I 669 think that the point of view from which it ought to be approached is the point of view of Great Britain fighting as a belligerent, and fighting for her existence it may be. Even if we dealt with it from the point of view of neutrals what are the gains that are alleged? I agree, and I desire to be perfectly candid, that from the point of view of a neutral this country on the whole in my opinion does stand to gain from the Declaration of London. I want to be perfectly clear about that. I think it does. I think in view of the existing uncertainty of international law that to have three definite lists is an advantage to this country. One absolute contraband, one conditional, and one free list. I think it is an advantage, and that it is an advantage to traders to know where they are. Secondly, I think also, that in certain respects traders gain from the point of view of a neutral in so far as they are assured of compensation as a result of any breach of the rights of neutrals. Under present circumstances I agree that is a contingency that depends upon the effectiveness to a large extent of diplomatic intervention. I think an international Court of Appeal giving compensation would be greater security for compensation to neutrals than is afforded by the present diplomatic rights of redress. I agree. I want, if I can, to be fair, but when we are considering the position of the country as a neutral and reckoning up those advantages, let us on the other hand reckon also the losses.
There is one point, and particularly one point, to which as yet no Member of the Government and no Member on the opposite side, the side in favour of the ratification, has referred, and that is what is the position of the ship carrying contraband. Is the position of the ship improved under the Convention—under the Declaration, as compared with the existing practice? Under the Convention the provision is that if more than half the cargo by weight, volume, value, or freight, is contraband the ship is subject to confiscation. A good deal of loose language has been used in regard to this Declaration. It is important on this question to remember that there are three separate and essential and distinct Acts that may be done in regard to a ship carrying contraband. One is the ship may be stopped, the second is the ship may be captured, and the third is that the ship may be confiscated. Perhaps I should have added a fourth, namely, that the ship may be sunk, as under the London Convention it may 670 be; but I am dealing with the right under international law of a captor to have the ship which carries contraband cargo confiscated. Let us remember and keep clear that in dealing with contraband we are not dealing with enemy ships, we are dealing with neutral ships, and neutral ships only for this purpose, although under the Declaration of Paris it is quite clear questions of contraband cargo may even arise when carried in enemies' ships. I put that on one side for the moment, because it does not bear upon the argument which I am addressing to the House. I am dealing with the question of the prejudice to Great Britain under the Convention in regard to its position as a neutral. Up to now a British ship, as a neutral in a war between two foreign Powers is not, by the more generally recognised law of nations, liable to be captured because it carries any particular percentage of contraband cargo.
The only circumstances under which a British ship is liable to be captured for carrying contraband cargo are these: (1) If the owner of the ship is the owner of the cargo. That used to be the common practice 100 years ago, and for practical purposes is non-existent under the conditions of modern commerce, so that we put that on one side. The second case, and I believe this to be the only case, is where the owner of the ship is himself interested in the adventure of running contraband cargo, with the knowledge that it is contraband cargo. What does that mean? It does not mean merely only in the case of conditional contraband if the cargo is one of those articles which come within the category of conditional contraband. It is, firstly, that the cargo is within that category, and, secondly, that it is destined for the military forces of the enemy. Knowledge of contraband in the case of conditional contraband connotes those two things, the character of the cargo, the description, and its destination. Unless the owner of the ship is privy to both those facts his ship is free from liability to condemnation. It is subject to capture, I agree, but it is not subject to condemnation. There have been a number of cases, particularly under the law of marine insurance against capture, where those two facts have been considered. The Attorney-General has had, I am sure, in recent years, experience of them just as I have had of a good many. The third eventuality in which a neutral ship carrying contraband may be captured is where not only there are false 671 documents, because that is regarded by the law of this country as comparatively venial, and by the law of most countries, but where documents have actually been destroyed under circumstances which indicate an attempt on the part of the captain to avoid the condemnation of contraband cargo, that is to say, in the presence of the enemy. That is, practically speaking, the only other case. That is the existing law. Let us compare it with the law of the Declaration. Under the existing law, for practical purposes in ninety-nine out of 100 cases it is recognised as legitimate trade for a shipowner to carry conditional contraband. It is only in the hundredth case that he risks the condemnation of his ship for carrying a contraband cargo. What is the position under the Declaration? If more than half the cargo, measured by weight, volume, value, or freight is contraband, a ship is liable to capture. I ask the supporters of this Declaration, who say that it is a great advantage to neutrals, to bear in mind the fact that this country, owning practically half the shipping tonnage or the world, is as much interested in this as practically all the rest of the world put together, and I submit that this Declaration, which prejudices the owners of ships in that respect, is, even from the point of view of neutrals, no great advantage.
I pass from the point of view of neutrals to the point of view of a belligerent. I can understand neutrals, such as shipowners, who are making money out of the shipping business, saying, "The advantage of getting compensation in the event of illegitimate seizures is so great to us that, on the whole, we are in favour of the Declaration." But I ask the House, viewing the question from the point of view of this country as a belligerent, what is the advantage to us, if our food supplies are stopped by the capture of the neutral ships carrying them, of the owners of those cargoes some years later when our population has been starved being given ample compensation by an international court? The two approaches to this convention, the belligerent approach and the neutral approach, are inherently different. Compensation presents attractions to the neutral, but it is nothing to the belligerent. When it is said that under this convention the rules safeguard the neutral, let us see what that means. Does it mean that it prevents the risk of capture of a neutral ship, or does it mean 672 compensation to the owner of the neutral ship when it has been captured? If it means the latter it is of no value to us as a belligerent. Under this Declaration I ask the House to come to the conclusion that it is the latter protection that is in the major degree given to the neutral. Looking at the question from the point of view of a belligerent, what are the gains which it is said this country gets? My own opinion is that as a belligerent we get nothing. The Under-Secretary of State, speaking last winter at the City Liberal Club, claimed that as a belligerent we should gain greatly by the rules as to blockade. What are the points on blockade? I must apologise for occupying so much of the time of the House, but it is impossible to deal with this complicated Declaration, which is thrown at our heads in this way, except in detail. [An HON. MEMBER: "How thrown?"] The country through this House is asked to dispose of this Declaration in a Debate extending over three days. I say it is impossible. [AN HON. MEMBER: "You have had two years in which to consider it."] It is impossible adequately to deal with the provisions of this Declaration in any debate of three days in this House. The only way of adequately dealing with a matter of this kind is to discuss it before a tribunal of experts, who can give adequate time to the consideration of the whole Declaration clause by clause from the point of view of the interests of this country.
Let me deal with the question whether or not, from a belligerent point of view, this country stands to gain by the Declaration. The Under-Secretary of State says that we gain by the rule as to blockade. Do we? What are the changes? The changes in regard to blockade are broadly three. The first—and this is a substantial gain in our favour—is that we have not to give individual notice to each ship attempting to break blockade. It was said, under the foreign rule that was sought to be laid down, that every ship breaking blockade was, like a dog, entitled to one bite gratis, that it was entitled to break blockade, that it then had to receive notice that it must not do it, and if it tried it again it would be liable to capture. In regard to that the Declaration enforces the British rule that any breach of blockade is good, and that individual notice to each ship is not necessary so long as there is general notice given. But conversely, this collection of provisions as to blockade provides that 673 once the pursuit is abandoned the right of capture for breach of blockade is lost. I submit that this is against us to a degree quite equivalent to the concession in our favour in regard to individual notice. The rule of international law at the present time is—if I am challenged on any of these propositions I have the text-books with me and can quote them if necessary—that a ship which commits a breach of blockade is liable to capture until the very end of the voyage upon which that ship is engaged, and according to existing law that includes not only the voyage out but the voyage home. When the Declaration lays down the rule that once the pursuit of a ship is momentarily suspended the ship is free from liability to capture for breach of blockade, we stand to lose very seriously.
Then also the rule about the zone of operations, limiting it very much in the old continental way according to some imaginary line drawn round the blockaded port, is against us. The real question is whether a blockade to-day with modern inventions is in naval operations of the same value to this country as it was 100 years ago. Even assuming that we do gain a little on these rules of blockade, are they worth much to us? I say little about torpedoes, because I am informed that the protection against torpedoes that can be adopted by a blockading squadron is almost adequate. But what about submarines? I understand that, owing to recent inventions, submarines can work at night, and, in the somewhat graphic language of the sailor who described it to me, a submarine can put salt on the propeller of a battleship at night without being seen and without its being known. If that is so, what are the possibilities of a close blockade of any port? Even if a blockade were possible in these days of railways, with the railway communication to a blockaded port, would a blockade have the same effective operation as it had a 100 years ago when the supplies of a blockaded port had to come by sea? I say not. I therefore put aside these rules about blockade, because if you get an advantage on those rules it does not count for much in modern warfare.
I come then to the part of the Declaration which does affect modern warfare, and that is the question of the food supplies of this country. That is the broad and big question. The hon. Gentleman the Member for the Tyneside Division was inclined to be facetious at the expense of hon. Gentlemen on this side who have 674 spoken on the subject of the food supplies to this country. He said we were talking as though the food supplies of this country at the present day were absolutely safe. Nobody on this side says that the food supplies of this country are safe at the present day. Everybody on this side on the contrary recognises that that is a weak spot in our national defence, and it is just because that is the weak spot in our national defence that we cannot afford to make it any weaker. I think it was the same hon. Gentleman who said that under the existing law food might quite easily be declared to be absolute contraband. All I can say is that that is not the view of the great majority of the jurists of the Continent, or other jurists.
If I may I should like to quote from official documents. I have here "Miscellaneous Papers, No. 5, 1909," which contains the views of the different Powers on the various subjects to be submitted to the conference in London. I should like to read to the House the views of the Powers as to the existing law and the existing practice on this particular subject, and see how they stand. What did Germany say? They gave a list of absolute contraband, containing no foodstuffs of any kind, except preserved provisions, which might serve for the use of the troops. The United States gave a list of absolute contraband, containing no foodstuffs whatever. Austro-Hungary said in case the Powers would not agree definitely to abolish the principle of contraband itself it would be at least extremely desirable to abandon that contraband that is called conditional. It would be dangerous to extend, by an international agreement, the idea of contraband beyond that of war material properly so called. Austro-Hungary, the House will note, wants to abolish all contraband except war material. Spain considers that relative and conditional contraband should be abolished. France that foodstuffs destined for non-combatants should not be as a matter of principle considered as contraband of war. They, it said, might be so declared under circumstances of which the Government was to be the judge, and by virtue of an order emanating therefrom. Italy gives a list of contraband in which are no foodstuffs whatever, and makes no mention of conditional contraband. Japan divides the list into contraband and conditional contraband, the first-named containing no foodstuffs whatever. The Low Countries think that conditional contraband should be abolished. Russia gives a list of con- 675 traband containing no foodstuffs except vivres spécialment caracterisés comme servant à Varmée, which means provisions specially prepared for military purposes. These are the views of the Powers when they went into the Conference of London as to conditional contraband in general. The result of it is that with the exception of the doubtful view of France, not one of the Powers includes food-supplies on their lists of absolute contraband. Not one of them.
It is said that in 1885 France made rice absolute contraband in the war with China, but Lord Granville, on the 27th February, 1885—the Note can be found in the Parliamentary Papers, I think it is No. 1 France of that year—protested vigorously against the proclamation by France, and after that there was not a single case of any cargo of rice being captured.
§ Mr. LESLIE SCOTT
I do not know whether it was or not; at any rate that was an end of it. What is it that makes food-supplies subject possibly to the disability attaching to conditional contraband? Obviously—we are agreed—it is their destination. For the moment let us look at the existing views of international lawyers and the Powers of Europe, and the various Powers of the world upon the subject of destination. Let us see what the existing law is in order to compare it with Article 34. Again I quote from the Blue Books. They all practically say, as the United States say: "When they are actually and specially designed for the military and naval forces of the enemy." Japan says: "When they are destined for the military and naval forces of the enemy." That is the generally recognised view of the law, and that was the view expressed by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Foreign Affairs in his Instructions to Lord Desart on entering into the Conference. I quote from the Instructions:—The primary characteristic of conditional contraband is its war-like destination, and in drafting the rules of the subject care should be taken to ensure that condemnation should in no case be allowed unless there is such evidence as would establish or lead to the overwhelming presumption that the destination of the goods was for the armed forces of the enemy and not for the civil population of a place occupied by such forces.I would like to quote one or two books on the subject by writers of eminence. There is one by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for the Walton Division, who is a distinguished international 676 lawyer. In his recent book he epitomises the authorities on the point, and says:—The British rule is that proof of destination for the forces of the enemy is essential with the exception—and so on. He quotes a little later the case in 1798 of the "Yonge Marguerita," the decision in which was—that conditional contraband does not become contraband unless it is actually destined for the military forces of the enemy. It is asked by, I think, the First Lord of the Admiralty what is the invitation in Article 34 to extend that destination further than the military forces of the enemy? The answer is obvious. If the rule of law is that food is not contraband unless it is going actually to the military forces of the enemy, why, under Article 34, provide that it is to be contraband if it is going to one of the Departments of State, even a civil Department of State, or to any port which is a base of supply? Is there any port in this country which, in the case of this country being engaged in war, would not be a port used in fact for the supplying of some of the ships of the Navy? I ask hon. Members to mention any single port in this country to which food supplies in case of war would come that would not be within that category. There is none. Glasgow, Liverpool, Bristol, Falmouth, Portsmouth—go round the coast of the country to every single port to which ships of the tonnage used in commerce for carrying grain in practice come, and every one of them would come within that description.
In these circumstances why invite the belligerent with whom we are at war to stop neutral ships coming to every one of our ports? It is said in regard to the doctrine of continuous voyage by those who seek to justify its abrogation in the case of conditional contraband (Article 35), "What, is the use of the doctrine of continuous voyage with regard to cargoes carried under bills of lading to Antwerp to be forwarded to an ultimate destination in Germany? We could never know that at all. Our cruiser captains could stop ships and search them and see the documents, but they could not compel the confession that their cargoes were ultimately for Germany." I concede the strength of that argument. But I ask why, in the case of Great Britain, when the food Supplies coming to this country and delivered at our ports are in all probability for the civil population, and only possibly for the military forces, I say why give the enemy the advantage under Article 34 of a presumption that they are intended 677 for military use? Why do that when they are in exactly the same difficulty as it is said we should be in with regard to the doctrine of continuous voyage as applied to corn going to Antwerp for Germany? The argument applies with equal force to every one of our ports, which are primarily commercial ports, and only secondarily military ports. It is obvious that the enemy cannot say primâ facie that the cargo is destined for military purposes. Why then give the case away and say you may presume in this case that the cargo is intended for military use. Why put the onus upon ourselves when it should naturally be put upon the enemy. Obviously this is a gratuitous invitation to the enemy to capture ships on the pretext that they are going to "ports of supply"; and what is the use to us if the ship is once captured of the possibility of the owner of the cargo getting compensation years afterwards from a Prize Court? This question of food supplies seems to me to be the critical question from the point of view of the belligerent.
We have finally this question of the conversion of merchantmen. I dealt with the way in which for practical purposes the conversion of merchantmen on the high seas into ships of war may be justified. At the outset of a war, and before the war begins, preparations will be made. Why should we, too, leave it open to foreign Powers with whom we are at war to add that serious difficulty in the way of the feeding of our population in this country? We seem to have done everything in this Declaration to facilitate the operation of the enemy in interfering with the food supplies of the country. I challenge hon. Members opposite to mention any single point in this Declaration which safeguards food supplies to this country, which in case of war will be of use and importance to this country and to the maintenance and security of our people.
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
I think the House will agree with me when I say that we on this side of the House have no reason to complain of many of the observations made by the hon. and learned Gentleman who has just sat down, or of the spirit in which ho has approached this subject. I myself, having a knowledge of him and of his experience in these matters, fully recognise that he was justified in directing the attention of this House to these matters, and I commend the greater part of his speech to the consideration and attention of the House, and especially of those who are in favour of the Declaration, be- 678 cause there has never been in the whole of this Debate and in all the discussion inside and outside this House a more complete and full vindication of the Declaration of London upon one of its main aspects than we have had from the hon. and learned Member. What is it we are discussing? The question before the House is in the first instance whether it is beneficial to this country to have an international Prize Court. Upon that I do not think there is much division of opinion, although I quite recognise that a former distinguished Member of this House (Mr. Gibson Bowles) takes a different view, and has undoubtedly delivered many vehement and forcible speeches upon this subject, and holds the view, apparently, that we should go back beyond 1856. I pass from that because, although there are one or two Members who favour it, I do not think anybody will get up and advocate it in this House. It is certainly not a practical political proposition.
Let me deal with the subject from this point of view; that both sides of the House agree that it is desirable to have an international Prize Court, provided, of course, that you do not sacrifice too much in obtaining it. I understand that is the view taken by hon. Members upon the opposite side as well as upon this. I gather that from what has been said during the course of the Debate. Almost every speaker has avowed himself in favour of the establishment of an international Prize Court. I do not propose to labour. I may say later on a little about the constitution of the court as I have been challenged to do so. The next proposition is whether in establishing your Prize Court you must not have some agreed code of international law at any rate upon some points before you establish such international Prize Court. Again, I think upon that point there is not any difference of opinion. The views of the majority of hon. Members on the other side of the House, as well as upon this side, are that it would not be well to leave everything to an international Prize Court, but you must have some rules of international law on which the court can decide, and it is only when you have not got an agreement that you leave the court to decide on general principles of justice and equity.
We called a conference, and discussed the various proposals until the Declaration of London was agreed to in the form in which it is now presented to this House. What is the real point we have to consider with regard to the Declaration? It is whether, on balance, we gain by it. It is 679 no use selecting one particular item or article and discussing that unless it is of such overwhelming importance and of so dominating a character that all the rest, whatever the advantages may be, are useless. It is of no use doing that, and we must look at the Declaration as a whole. I doubt very much whether there is any responsible Member of this House who would challenge that proposition. I think I am right in saying—and I have not heard any contradiction of it—that up to the present moment, in the various propositions I have put forward, there is no dissension of opinion, and we are all agreed. If you come to the conclusion that on balance the Declaration of London operates in favour of this country then we ought to pass the Naval Prize Bill with its convention and the Declaration of London annexed, and leave the Prize Court to determine the principles on which it will adjudicate.
I agree that there is a further proposition. In weighing up the advantages you must consider this question from two aspects for Great Britain. One of those aspects is that of a belligerent and the other is that of a neutral. I agree to this proposition that, although you might gain advantages as a neutral if you sacrifice your rights and interests as a belligerent, you do not gain on the whole. I do not think there is any difference of opinion on the other side of the House as to that point. We have never suggested on the part of the Government, and it has not been suggested by any hon. Member who has spoken, that if the Declaration of London involved a sacrifice of our interests as a belligerent, and if our position was really prejudiced by what we have done, that that would outweigh any consideration of advantages we may get from our position as a neutral. I think that proposition is almost self-evident. On both sides of the House there will, of course, be a desire to maintain the security of this country, and to give nothing away which would seriously affect our interests. The proposition which I set out to prove is that we gain as neutrals and we do not lose as belligerents, but under this Declaration we get many advantages as neutrals, and we sacrifiec nothing as belligerents.
I have one further proposition upon which I believe there will be no difference of opinion between us. I put this question definitely and clearly to the hon. Member for the 680 Exchange Division of Liverpool (Mr. Leslie Scott) who answered it equally clearly. The same observation was made to-night by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dover (Sir G. Wyndham). I think it is important we should bear this point in mind and not lose sight of it in this House and in the country. It is now admitted that this Declaration of London does not purport to deal with the rights of belligerents inter se. That is beyond all discussion. The right hon. Member for Dover said he had never taken the view that it did affect our rights as belligerents inter se, and he also said that so far as he was aware those who acted with him outside the House had never taken that view. I think the majority of people who have heard the speeches made on this question, and all those who have read the speech made quite recently by the Leader of the Opposition in the City of London, will be surprised to hear that in the House of Commons where we are face to face with this matter and where questions have been put upon it, it is admitted that we in no sense of the word deal with the rights of belligerents inter se.
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
I think the hon. and learned Member may rest satisfied that I am going to deal with his point. We must proceed by steps. Although he has made his admission quite frankly and fairly, I am bound to say that outside the House, amongst those who are not in the position and have not the knowledge and experience in these matters possessed by my hon. and learned Friend the same view has at any rate not been conveyed to the general public. I have spoken with men in the City of considerable position since the recent speech by the Leader of the Opposition, and I can assure this House that it is a matter of intense surprise to them to learn after that speech and after all the agitation and campaign which has been carried on in which I believe 157 admirals—there may be a great many more—have taken part; after all, the documents, which have been circulated to lead the country to believe that as belligerents our rights are being affected by the Declaration, and that our rights are affected as belligerents inter se by the Declaration, I say it is very important to have it made plain that the Declaration does not deal with the rights of belligerents inter se.
681 Let me now pass to the second part of the proposition which I am putting forward. I say that we gain as neutrals by this Declaration. If we gain as neutrals and we do not lose as belligerents, then we have established our case. I will take the hon. and learned Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool as a test of whether we gain or lose by the Declaration. I fully admit that the hon. and learned Member has a right to speak on this subject with authority. I am sure his candour will be very much appreciated, and it is what I should have expected from a lawyer of his standard and reputation. What did he say about our position as neutrals? Not one of us in this House, however enthusiastic we may have been for the Declaration in its aspect affecting this country as a neutral, could have put the case more favourably to us than did the hon. and learned Member. I took down his words, and he said the same thing twice, only he said it differently. First of all, the hon. and learned Member told us that if you regard Great Britain as a neutral and not as a belligerent it is impossible to come to a different conclusion than that which we are asking the House to accept In other words, that it was favourable to Great Britain. He went on to say, warming to his subject, that it might very well be, he quite admitted, it marked a distinct step in favour of neutrals. He continued in these words:—I agree this country, as a neutral, stands to gain by the Declaration of London.That is the clearest and most distinct admission of the second branch of the proposition I am setting out to prove. He went on to say, and rightly say, that according to our view the three lists are an advantage: the list, first of all, of absolute contraband; secondly, the list of conditional contraband; and, thirdly, the free list of raw materials. They are a distinct advantage, because they give greater certainty to neutrals and consequently mean there would be a greater influx to our ports under those lists. I entirely agree with what the hon. and learned Member said with regard to that. A further proposition he put forward was this: "I agree," he says, "neutrals are assured of compensation, and, if there is a war and if Great Britain, as a neutral, has a shipowner or shipper who is suffering under any disadvantage or any injury from one of the belligerents, and makes a claim in the International Prize Court, the result will be that he is assured of compensation if 682 wrong has been done." It marks a great step in advance, and the hon. and learned Member admits it. He went further and gave the best answer that could be given to the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. He said it was better to have that right of compensation in that international court than to have recourse to diplomatic rights of redress. That is the whole case which we are making upon this proposition. As one who has studied this question and has great knowledge, he realises how insecure it is to rest upon diplomatic rights of redress, of which we had very good instances with regard to the Russo-Japanese War. There are at this present moment claims of British shipowners against the Russian Government which are not settled, in spite of all the diplomatic rights of redress having been used both by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition and his Government, and by my right hon. Friend the present Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. The hon. and learned Member is therefore perfectly justified in the assertion that it is no use trusting to these rights of redress. I claim that so far we have got the greatest assistance from the admissions, candour, and fairness of my hon. and learned Friend, whose speech, I say, was based upon knowledge and experience. What is the point which the hon. and learned Gentleman used in argument against the Declaration. He said:—Yes, so far I should be in favour of the Declaration but our rights as belligerents are affected.I followed him with great care, and his case, I understand, rests upon the danger to our food supply in time of war. He said something about blockades, but I do not propose going into that. I am sure the House will agree it is not necessary. If there ever was any necessity of dealing with blockades, it was disposed of by the opening speech of my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. McKinnon Wood), and, if there was anything left to be said, it would have been said long ago. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dover (Mr. Wyndham) very fairly said that really it was not worth going into, and he did not go into it. Therefore I think I am justified in not entering into the question of blockades. I will content myself with one observation about it. The general opinion of the great jurists—I doubt whether there is any division of opinion upon this subject, although I agree there is on the question of contraband—is that in the articles on blockade 683 we have got a complete code, precise, clear and distinct, so that everybody now knows what can be done and what cannot be done and what are the rights and what are not the rights of neutrals under the blockade. That is an enormous advantage. It was discussed at considerable length by one of the most distinguished lawyers at the present time, both on this and other subjects, Mr. Arthur Cohen, who I am sure everyone will admit is peculiarly privileged to speak on this question and to speak with great authority. He occupies a unique position at the Bar of this country. Having given a considerable amount of study and attention to this subject, he has made his answer, and he has told us he is absolutely satisfied, and so far as I know there is no division of opinion upon it. That as one of the four points may be left out of consideration from this time. Before I discuss the three points which are left, may I make one further answer to the hon. and learned Gentleman who last spoke. Both he and some other Members on that side of the House have twitted us with bringing on this Declaration with undue haste. I think the hon. and learned Gentleman used the expression, "Throwing it at our heads."
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
Yes, and I am not suggesting the hon. and learned Member was not impartial. "The heat of advocacy" does not mean he was not fair or not candid or not impartial. What I meant was that he was carried away a little by his anxiety to make his speech against us, and I think those words went a little bit too far, but the matter is not worth discussing. It was a picturesque phrase: "Throwing the Declaration of London at the heads of the House of Commons." What I wanted to point out was that it takes a long time to reach the heads of hon. Members opposite, because, although in point of fact the Declaration was signed in February, 1909. I think I 684 am right in saying the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition made his first speech about it some two or three days ago in the City of London.
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
I am quite ready to admit it might have been made earlier. All I say is that it was made then. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman will say there was any undue haste with regard to the Declaration, considering it has been discussed for a considerable time and that questions have been put again and again across the floor of the House during the last twelve or eighteen months. It has often been discussed, though not in detail I agree. I do not want, however, to take up time in going into this subject. All I want is to repel the suggestion that there has been any undue haste in presenting the Declaration of London to the House of Commons two and a-half years after it was signed. I may perhaps point out that the Blue Book which contains all that is material was presented to both Houses of Parliament in March, 1909.
It is said that this is being made a party question, and complaint is made that the party Whips are not taken off on this side. One hon. and learned Member went so far as to state that in consequence hon. Members on this side of the House were deprived of the right of expressing their opinion. That surely is an extraordinary expression to use, when the hon. Gentleman had before him the spectacle of the hon. and learned Member for North-West Durham (Mr. Atherley-Jones) speaking against the Declaration in the City of London and also seconding the Amendment now before this House, he, at any rate, does not seem to have been affected by the fact that the party Whip is not taken off. Why are not hon. Members on this side of the House to be credited with voting according to their views on a matter of this kind, which is of national importance—why are they not to be credited with voting according to their consciences because the Government Whips are applied?
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
You could not put forward a measure of this kind, after all that has taken place upon it, and after the discussion at the Conference called by the Government—you could not, I say, put forward a Bill which is a Government Bill, and treat it with any other way than as a 685 Government measure. Can the hon. Baronet give me any precedent on his own side of the House in which the Government Whips have not been put on on such a measure? What would have been said if we had come down to the House and said—"We present this Declaration of London, but we take off the party Whips?" The hon. Baronet would have been one of the first to get up and say—"Yes, because you are afraid."
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
I resent very strongly the suggestion that hon. Members on this side are not just as free to vote as they choose when Government Whips are put on as are hon. Members opposite when the Opposition Whip is applied. I pass to another general question involved in the Declaration. Let me say one word with regard to the international Prize Court, especially as I have been asked to do so by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Edinburgh and St. Andrews Universities (Sir R. Finlay), and by the hon. and learned Member for South Bucks (Sir A. Cripps). The position is this: What is said is that we have acting as judges a number of members, including those representing some of the smaller States, such as Paraguay, Hayti, Venezuela and other States. There are altogether forty-four countries who are involved in this Declaration. There are forty-four who are parties to the Convention. Out of the forty-four eight of them may be called the great Powers, and then beyond those there are a number of smaller Powers who are treated as judges, and there are others who are treated merely as deputy-judges. The eight representatives of the great Powers are always selected for every court. They are permanently on the list, and have to be summoned to every court. Then there are the minor Powers, who have the right to appoint judges who are summoned only if they are on the rota. You have eight representatives of the great Powers, there are thirty-six States remaining, and there are only fifteen judges altogether. You have to apportion among the thirty-six seven judges in each rota. Some of the representatives of the minor States do not act as judges unless one of the judges is ill or for any reason is prevented from attending. [An HON. MEMBER: "Venezuela has a judge."] I am not discussing whether Venezuela has or has not, but some of the minor States have deputy-judges who are only called in to sit in 686 point of fact when one of the regular judges is ill and cannot attend. The whole time a man is on the rota he may not be called upon at all.
The point is made inside and outside the House that we are allowing these matters to be judged by States like Honduras and Paraguay, but they are only countries with deputy-judges who never can be called upon to sit at all. Out of the whole fifteen judges the composition of the court must consist of the eight who represent the great Powers, and the seven are selected from such countries as Norway, Holland, Spain and the Argentine, who send their most distinguished jurists. It does not follow, moreover, that because a country is a small Power that it has not a distinguished international lawyer. I think I am right in saying that in the Newfoundland Fishery Arbitration, on which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of St. Andrews (Sir R. Finlay) distinguished himself, one of the arbitrators selected came from the Argentine, and was recognised as a distinguished jurist. We have had other arbitrations, and I can name representatives from Holland and Norway who were selected to sit on those arbitrations because they were distinguished jurists, although they belonged to small countries.
When you add one further point, that under these Articles the judge who is appointed must be a jurist of known proficiency in questions of international maritime law, I think you meet the objections which are raised with regard to the constitution of the court. It is for the purposes of the point we are discussing here quite a small one.
Now let me pass to what is much more important, that is the three subjects upon which there is division of opinion between us. First of all I take food supply, because it seems to me the most important. It is the one with which the hon. Member (Mr. Leslie Scott) dealt during the whole of his speech, and the one which was referred to at greatest length by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Balfour) in his speech in the City. The question of the food supply in time of war is no new problem for this country. For a number of years we have recognised that it is a very serious problem. There was a Royal Commission on it, of which the right hon. Gentleman told us something last night. He explained a great deal of what had happened there, and gave us some interesting and useful information. To what decision did they 687 come? I am going to refer to it here. I think it has so much bearing on the question we are now discussing. It was a very distinguished Commission, and the present King, then Prince of Wales, sat on it, and after going into the matter at great length the conclusion at which they arrived was that the only way in which we could safeguard our food supply in time of war was by relying upon the strength of the Navy.
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
That is the report of the majority. Then I take one further report, which deals with a kindred subject. There was a Committee which sat and reported in 1908 on the national guarantee for the war risks of shipping, of which the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Austen Chamberlain) was chairman. The question whether there should be a national guarantee for the war risks of shipping is very closely allied to the subject of food supply in time of war. Underwriting, insurance, is at the very root of this problem. This is what the Committee say, after again a most careful inquiry:—In our opinion neither of these conditions holds good. We are, therefore, unable to recommend the adoption of any form of national guarantee against the war risks of shipping and maritime trade except that which is provided by the maintenance of a powerful navy.
§ Mr. CHAPLIN
What the hon. and learned Gentleman has just read was precisely the view which was taken in the second report.
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
We have at least the satisfaction of knowing that we are agreed upon that. Throughout the discussion of the Declaration of London I ask the House to bear that in mind because that again is a matter which is of the utmost importance in discussing this problem. It has been discussed by many hon. Members on the other side of the House as if we depended for our food supply upon the food which is carried in neutral bottoms. Not for one moment. Of course we depend first of all upon the food supply we have in this country, then we depend upon the food supply which is carried in our own vessels, and we depend only to a small extent, and proportionately to a very small extent upon the food which is carried in neutral vessels. What is the position with regard to this matter? It is said by some that conditional contraband is introduced by us in this Declaration. I do not think that there is any 688 lawyer or any person who is not a lawyer, who has studied the question, who will assert that. Food has never been free in. recent times. There is no question about food being free like raw materials, of which we have a free list. The only question under discussion is whether food shall be regulated as conditional contraband or whether it should be allowed, as at present, for some countries if they choose in time of war to say that it shall be absolute contraband. The point of the Declaration to which we attach so much importance is this. We say with regard to food that you must not leave that in any doubt. This is a matter of very great importance, and you must not leave that in uncertainty if you can secure certainty. What has been the argument in regard to this? It is said "There is no country which up to the present moment has declared food as absolute contraband, and by your Article which says that it is conditional contraband you are giving something away, because you have introduced certain assumptions which are objectionable." Is that the right view to take?
Let us just examine it for a few moments. I say that to some extent I find myself in agreement with the Noble Lord the Member for Portsmouth (Lord Charles Beresford) who spoke to-night. I would discard text-books of 100, 150, and 200 years ago on this matter. I would look upon them as useless for the consideration of the present-day problem. I am in entire agreement with him. For once I say with him, "throw lawyers overboard," and I fancy he would have no great hesitation in doing so if he got the chance. I have to sail under his flag for the moment. I wish to disregard lawyers for this reason. I am sure no jurist will contradict me when I say that you can quote text-books either way. The change of a word in a sentence, a slight alteration of a phrase or a sequence of phrases, makes a difference, and the consequence is that you do not get anything very definite. There has been very much discussion upon the question You have only to look at the opinions of distinguished lawyers for whose opinions I have very great respect. If you take their opinions for and against the Declaration you arrive at nothing, and for this reason. It is not a lawyer's question whether or not food will be declared absolute contraband by any country when you come to a state of war with that country. It has then passed outside of the lawyers' region. It is a question what you think as a politician, or as a business man looking 689 into the future. What will happen if there is war? That is what you have to look to. I am quite sure that so far the Noble Lord will agree with me when I say that it is useless for me to quote text-books in support of the view I am stating. What we are saying is substantially what has been said by many eminent jurists, although you could produce some who have said not quite the same. I am not going to quote these opinions, for the reason that my submission to the House is that we must look at the question in the light I have indicated. I am not attempting to deal with this in a controversial spirit. My view is that this is a most important matter, and that we have to consider it as such.
I want the House to take the wars that have occurred in the last twenty-five years. Go back to the wars which have happened, we will say, since 1884, and you will find this, that one country asserted a right to declare food absolute contraband. The House will forgive me one moment for stating what is meant by this. It is only for the sake of clarity. It means this, that whatever food is coming to a country which is a belligerent whether it is to be used for military or naval purposes or not, whether it is to be used for the civil population or not, may be seized and captured by the other belligerent, and the vessel that carries it may in certain circumstances be condemned. That is what is meant by it, and the country which claimed it in 1885, and which, it is said, has abandoned the claim or does not persist in it, was France. France, of course, is only an instance of what any other country may do. I may point out to the House the difference between this country and, at any rate, some foreign countries. If contraband is seized by a belligerent it clearly will not be seized by us. In the ordinary course it would not be seized by us, and it would be seized by the belligerents. Then it is taken to the captor's court, not to ours, where the matter has to be discussed and dealt with by the court, which adjudicates upon the matter according to their law and not according to our law. I agree with what was said I think by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Durham (Mr. Atherley-Jones)—it has certainly been said in the course of this discussion—that our Prize Courts stand very high in the estimation of other nations, because they really attempt to deal in a fair and impartial way with claims that have come before the court, irrespective of the fact that they are 690 dealing with a foreign claimant. But that has not been the position with regard to other countries.
Our law, at any rate, has been fairly clearly defined, but foreign law you never know until you are at war. That is a most important thing, which hon. Members must bear in mind. When a foreign country goes to war, what it does is to declare by means of the executive to the courts what shall be and what shall not be contraband, so that you do not know, as you do in this country, or as you have hitherto known what is to be treated as contraband and the ship-owner or shipper cannot tell until the decree comes forth, and that may be followed by another decree when the ship has already sailed, and he may find a decree from that foreign belligerent making the goods which he is carrying contraband and exposing him to the risk of capture, and the unfortunate condition of having to prosecute his claim, say, in a Russian court in order to recover his money. That is a state of things which we must remember happens when we are at war; what it is a foreign country may do. I am not saying that a foreign country has done it. That is not the point. What we are looking at at the present moment is what may happen. What is it we ought to expect to happen, and, at any rate what it is in this most important question of food supply of this country that we ought to guard against? What is it against which we must secure ourselves? It is against the declaration of food as absolute contraband. It may be said there is no fear of it. The hon. and learned Member for the Exchange Division (Mr. Leslie Scott) when he was reading out the claims that had been put so recently at a conference out of which this Declaration sprung read what France claimed. It was read by my right hon. Friend the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs. France has claimed in definite terms the right to declare food absolute contraband. What is the use of that in the year 1907 and onward to 1909, when France intended to enforce the right she claimed in 1885, and when, at this very moment that we are asking her to come over and assist us in arriving at an agreement, she persists in the claim she made-then to reserve to herself the right at any time, if circumstances demanded, to declare food absolute contraband? The same thing would take place with regard to Germany. You have had the quotation from Prince Bismarck. There is much play to and fro as to whether Prince 691 Bulow withdrew or did not withdraw it. It scorns to me following the discussion in this House that it has never been withdrawn. Really, I do not care whether it has or it has not. That is not the point. The point is what would happen if you were at war with France. France reserves to herself the right in terms to declare food absolute contraband. Germany approved that course in 1885, because Prince Bismarck, a perfectly shrewd and sagacious statesman, saw that it would not do for him to disagree with the view of France, because the time time might come when the circumstances would necessitate for the safety of Germany, if it were pressed in a naval war that she should declare food absolute contraband. Therefore he approved it in this sense, when he said it was justifiable so long as you make the rule apply to all neutral countries. Take again what happened in the Russo-Japanese war. There you had another case of food being declared contraband. All these considerations serve to prove—and this is the only proposition I am seeking to establish—that you cannot rest your case upon what happened in the Napoleonic wars. They are not of very much assistance when you want to make food absolute contraband. You will not find that what took place in this country in 1812 or in 1793 will assist the advocates of the view of to-day, that no country has sought to make food absolute contraband.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dover (Mr. Wyndham), who, I think, took the same view, that it is not of much use to go back to those instances. I deal with what has occurred in recent times, in the changed modern conditions under which we now live, which are the conditions we must take into account. I think the most important consideration is that it is known that the food supplies of this country are of the greatest importance to us, and that therefore an enemy who wanted to attack us, and was in difficulty, would, if he could gain anything by it, declare food absolute contraband, in order to use it as a weapon against us, and do the very thing which the Noble Lord (Lord C. Beresford) has pointed out, on this and other occasions, namely, to bring about the danger of preventing the food supply from flowing freely into this country. I would ask the Noble Lord to consider that for a moment. He has had experience. Suppose you have a country at war. They 692 are pressed and in difficulties, and in no sense under any treaty or agreement. They could use their right to declare food absolute contraband. If they did so it would be injurious to us, At any rate, if our enemy is pushed it would take advantage of the position and declare food absolute contraband. I agree with the Noble Lord that that is what would follow, and that is the very thing we want to guard against. It makes our case. It is the foundation of the Declaration of London. It is to protect the food of the people of this country, and to keep it as cheap as we can. It is for the flow of foreign food into this country that we want to have this Declaration of London. We want it in order to take care that we shall never have food declared absolute contraband. I am quite sure the Noble Lord will agree with us in that. If that is so, then I submit the advantage claimed for this Declaration is made out to the full. The most vital thing, as everybody agrees both on this side of the House and the other, is the security of our food supply. What is it we are seeking to do by the Declaration? Having got food declared only conditional contraband only under certain circumstances, and having ruled it out of the list of absolute contraband—
§ Mr. LESLIE SCOTT
I do say that the practical effect as regards this country is to make it absolute contraband.
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
I notice from experience that when some one is pressed and asked to give a definite answer and say "the practical effect," he means it is not so but he does not wish to say it. I am not in the slightest degree attempting to get away from the point which the hon. and learned Member made and which has been made in a good many other statements. It does not make food absolute contraband. It might, if you like, make difficult the conditions for conditional contraband, but that is a very different thing from absolute contraband. As the hon. and learned Gentleman himself pointed out and told us, there is a list of absolute contraband that deals with what is absolute contraband under this Declaration, and only all the goods within that are absolute contraband or what may come within the same class of goods, practically speaking.
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
The hon. and learned Member spoke of the loose language which is sometimes used in discussing this question, and no one knows better than he does that it is much better to keep to the technical expression, because it is a compendious form which we all know and recognise. Absolute contraband, therefore, is ruled out. Our policy is to protect shipments in neutral vessels from neutral shippers to these shores. You may differ from us as to whether we shall by the Declaration be able to carry out that policy. You may say it is your view that we do not effectuate it, but that is the policy. What we are seeking to do is this. We want to see all food that will come to this country attracted in time of war. The great difficulty in the way will be cost. I am sure all business men in the House and ship-owners will agree that the test in this matter, however sordid it may seem, is cost. It is cost that is at the bottom of the whole of this discussion. Whether it affects Great Britain as a neutral or belligerent, it is a question of the cost of the food. If you can attract food in neutral vessels you of course save the situation, and you can only do it by making your route certain and easy for the ship-owner, and that means for the underwriter. The shipper is going to ship, and the ship is going to carry the cargo, and the shipper will want to insure his goods. It is for the underwriter to see what is the risk. Uncertainty in the risk he is running is the most expensive form of insurance there is. If you go to an underwriter at Lloyd's and want to insure against something which is quite incalculable, so that the underwriter, although he knows perfectly well that it is a risk, is not able to measure it, he, of course, demands a higher premium. But if you go to him and say, "This is the risk you run. If the ship you are asked to insure is captured, condemned, and sunk, you will have a right to claim compensation, and if the captor's court does not give it to you you will be able to go to an international tribunal, which will decide impartially on the question and give you the compensation. Therefore, you, as an underwriter, will be entitled to step into the shoes of the insurer if his ship is seized, you will be able to go to the court and recover the compensation payable to the owner"—if you say that to the underwriter, who is in the habit of measuring these 694 things and whose business it is to calculate such matters, he works it out, and he sees for himself what are the risks he runs. He knows, first of all, that there is no danger of absolute contraband. That removes one great burden. As soon as he knows that he can only be brought in under conditional contraband he is able to measure his risk. As I have shown the House by reference to Articles 33 and 34, which have been so much discussed, in almost every case, or in the majority of cases in which vessels may be condemned or sunk, compensation must be payable by virtue of the very terms of the articles with which we are dealing. The burden which is placed upon the captor and which he has to establish in the court before he can make out his right, if he has sunk a vessel, is a very serious one. It is one which it is very difficult for him to discharge, and unless he does discharge it he is ruled out, and has to pay compensation. It is not an unfair deduction to draw from those articles that in most cases in which you do get the sinking of a merchant vessel there will be a right to claim compensation from the international Prize Court. That assists the shipper, the ship-owner, and the underwriter, all tending therefore to keep down freight, the freight being determined to some extent by the cost of insurance. If you keep down the premium payable to the underwriter you keep down the freight and the cost of the goods which are being shipped, because they all have to be insured, and it is all a question of insurance.
Therefore the result will be that, if we are right in saying that we have made it more certain for the shipper and the shipowner if the goods that are shipped are shipped in a neutral vessel, we are right in saying not only that we have given a great advantage, but also that we are helping the flow of food into this country. I pray in aid also what the hon. Member (Mr. Leslie Scott) said in regard to it. He admitted that it was the case with regard to neutrals, and that is the thing upon which everything depends, both as belligerents and as neutrals. The question to us is whether we can get the food. If he is right in saying, as he did say, that as belligerents we should suffer because food would not be brought into this country in neutral vessels in consequence of the danger which would be run either of being sunk or captured or condemned—if he is right in saying that to us as neutrals it would be an advantage to have this Declaration because we shall have a greater 695 certainty as to what will happen, equally there must be greater certainty as to what will happen when we are belligerents.
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
There, again, the hon. and learned Gentleman introduces one of the fallacies which have been underlying the whole of this discussion. Ho says: "Only if as neutrals you are doing this." How on earth are you to carry out your policy, and how on earth are you to get food of any kind in unless you have the British Navy at your back in order to help you? If you do not agree with this Declaration, and if you refuse to ratify it, can any one tell me how we could be one penny the better off? If we sign the Declaration, at least according to the view now as we understand it on the other side, neutrals would be better off. That is conceded. We have got so far. The hon. and learned Gentleman, who speaks with as much authority as any one on the other side of the House, allows that. Well then, if as belligerents we have to deal with the question, if again your food which is going to be introduced is coming in neutral vessels, is the advantage greater or not? I do say that we as belligerents gain, because if the neutral has the advantage the neutral will continue to bring food into this country, and the moment you admit that a neutral gains under this Declaration, it follows that you encourage people when we are belligerents to bring food to this country. I do claim that we have proved from what has been said upon the other side as clearly as possible that our food supplies will not be affected by the Declaration. I am far from saying that what the Noble Lord said is not correct. He said, and I daresay it would be true—and he speaks with far greater knowledge than I could possess upon this subject—that if he had any doubt—and I have no doubt what he would do—if he thought a vessel was carrying contraband, and he wondered whether he ought to sink her or not—I have not the slightest doubt as to what would happen—nor doubtless has the Noble Lord. Intrepid commanders on the other side would doubtless do the same. But what Declaration would ever stop that? You could only stop that by the strength of your arms, by a strong Navy.
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
If that is not strong enough, then all this discussion is by the way. If it is not strong enough, and you cannot protect your shores and ocean routes, then it is not much good discussing what will happen with regard to neutrals. None of these will come in if you cannot keep your own shores. Before I deal with the destruction of neutral prizes I should like to refer to the complaint of the Noble Lord that we have not sufficient cruisers. The policy of providing these cruisers was not the policy of this Government, but the policy of the Government of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition; but a policy I should say that the First Lord of the Admiralty quite agrees with. I am not seeking to impute blame, but only saying, in answer to the Noble Lord, that he must bear in mind that both Governments have taken the same view, and that again the whole question upon which he based his argument was not the Declaration of London, but that he thinks we want a stronger Navy.
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
Yes, cruisers; he introduced the subject very skilfully into the discussion, but it had very little relevance to the point as to whether or not we should accept the Declaration—
And, it being Eleven of the clock, the Debate stood adjourned.
Debate to be resumed upon Monday next (3rd July).