HC Deb 07 November 1911 vol 30 cc1454-5

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether his attention has been called to the fact that in the Proclamation of Neutrality issued in the years 1859, 1866, 1870, 1877, 1898, and 1904, on the occasion of the wars which took place in those years, British subjects were specially warned of the penalties consequent on breaches, or attempted breaches, of blockade and of the carriage of contraband of war to a belligerent, and were given notice that if they committed such acts they would do so at their peril and of their own wrong, and that they would obtain no protection from the British Sovereign; and whether he can state what change of circumstances has taken place since the year 1904 which made it desirable in the recent Proclamation of Neutrality wholly to omit all mention of breaches, or attempted breaches, of blockade and carriage of contraband of war to belligerents, and all special warning in relation thereto?


I am well aware of the phraseology employed in the Royal Proclamations issued in the years mentioned, but after careful consideration it was held that the wording then used was out of date and not in accordance with modern practice in matters of contraband. The change was made in the recent Proclamation for the reasons stated so fully in the answer to the hon. Member on the 30th ultimo, that I can add nothing to them.


Will the right hon. Gentleman answer the question as to what are the changed circumstances that cause the change in practice?


It has been given in the previous answer to which I have referred. That answer was:— The language used in the King's Proclamation of Neutrality, issued on the 3rd instant, was designed with a view to bringing it into closer harmony with modern requirements and usage than did the phraseology employed in similar instruments issued in past years. The carriage of contraband to a belligerent is not an offence against English law, but is undertaken subject to the usual risk of capture, and the penalties attaching thereto. The same principle applies to breaches, or attempted breaches, of blockade. That being so, it appeared to His Majesty's Government no longer necessary to state that British subjects concerned in such operations would thereby necessarily incur the high displeasure of the Sovereign, and the King was accordingly advised to omit the phraseology referred to from his recent Proclamation. No inference should, however, be drawn from this change of wording that British subjects are no longer liable to the pains and penalties recognised by the Law of Nations if, at their own risk, they embark on such transactions."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th October, 1911, col. 531.]