§ Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER, pursuant to the Order of the House of 3rd February, proposed the Question, "That this House do now adjourn."
Sir H. DALZIEL
I desire to detain the House only a very few moments while I mention a matter which I brought before the attention of the House this afternoon in the form of a question, namely, the question of cotton going to the enemy through neutral States. I have been threatened if I raised this question tonight that I would be counted out, and I understand that great efforts have been 713 made during the afternoon to secure that object. Whether it succeeds or not if it is now attempted, I, at any rate, will feel that I have done my duty in trying to bring before the House a matter which I think is of the most urgent importance. If the threat of a count out should be carried into effect the country, I hope, will take note of the efforts of Members to prevent the discussion of matters of supreme interest. I think it is admitted even by the Government itself—and indeed it has been admitted by the President of the Board of Trade—that cotton still goes to Germany. It was admitted at that box the other day. I say it is a very serious state of affairs that after nearly a year of war we are permitting, practically with our connivance, the most essential factor in the making of high explosives to go to our enemy, and that we are assisting them to make munitions to kill our soldiers, while at the same time we are not doing everything we can to give munitions to our own soldiers. This is a question which is a good deal discussed outside. The plain blunt man does not understand all the Parliamentary niceties and other considerations which permits the Government in this crisis of the country to assist the enemy to make high explosive shells. Germany is using at this moment, on a calculation which the present Minister of Munitions made the other day, something like 250,000 shells per day. That means that she must have an enormous amount of cotton for that purpose.
Without the cotton which we are supplying, all the authorities who fully understand this matter, among whom I do not, of course, include myself, have come to the conclusion that Germany would have been practically unable to have continued the War up to the present time. I would like that contention to be replied to. What evidence have the Government got for assuming to-day if we had not supplied her with cotton that she would have been able to make high explosive shells? The Under-Secretary for War said that they were satisfied that Germany had sufficient cotton in stock to make it really unimportant whether we stopped it or not. I think it is a most indefensible and worthless argument to say that because Germany has got enough of anything that therefore we need not take any trouble about it, is a very curious defence indeed. As a matter of fact, it is not correct. Germany did not have at the beginning of the War the stock of cotton which she was 714 reputed to have. There is absolutely no evidence in favour of the contention of the Government, while there is abundant evidence against it. What I have contended throughout is this, that we ought, if money would do it, prevent cotton going to Germany. And money could have done it, and could do it even to-day. If we were to buy to-day the American exports to Austria and Germany we would practically settle the whole question. A sum of £30,000,000 would do it, and what is £30,000,000 when we are spending £3,000,000 per day in regard to the War, and, as an hon. Friend rightly reminds me, it would not be lost, because we might be even able to sell the cotton at a higher price, and at most the loss would be practically infinitesimal, and even if we lost the whole lot, I think it would be a matter of satisfaction that we prevented cotton going to Germany.
I would like to give the latest official figures, and here let me say it is exceedingly difficult to get the real figures with regard to this question. I do not know if the Government have the recent figures, and it seems to me there is great delay in supplying the figures from neutral countries. Take the figures as the basis of the importance of this matter. The imports of American cotton from the 31st of August to the 30th April, 1913–14, to Holland amounted to 32,870 bales, and in 1914–15 to Holland, 413,820 bales; to Denmark in 1913–14 no bales at all, and in 1914–15, 65,370 bales; to Norway, 60 bales before the War, in 1913–14, and 107,400 bales in 1914–15; to Sweden, 24,930 bales before the War, from the 31st of August, 1913, to the 30th April, 1914, and 735,510 bales after the War. I say that those are serious figures, and it is really no good trying to dispute the fact that this is a very great and important question. Germany was also, of course, importing other matters, but I am confining myself particularly to the bales at the present moment. There is another rather interesting fact, and I do not know whether the Government have got these figures at the present moment. I have taken them from the "Cotton Gazette" of Liverpool, which is absolutely right. Take the question of cotton yarn exported during June, 1914, to Norway and the total was 218,700, and in June, 1915, 348,300; to Sweden in June, 1913, 108,900, and in June, 1915, 260,800; to Denmark, 106,400, and in June, 1915, 204,700; and to, the Netherlands, in June, 1914, 3,252,800, and in June, 1915, 4,493,300.
Sir H. DALZIEL
Pounds weight of cotton, yarn. I shall be glad to give the official figures to the Noble Lord. In June, 1915, in addition, we sent to Greece 2,000,000 yards of cotton manufacture more than in the corresponding month for the year before, and 3,500,000 yards more than in the corresponding month of 1913. In June, 1915, we sent 132,000 yards of cotton manufacture to Turkey—as late as June, 1915. I think these facts, which are absolutely reliable, seem to call for some attention and some explanation on the part of the Government. I know we have had replies from the Government that it is difficult to do it. I have no desire to interfere with the relations that may be existing between our own country and neutral countries, but I do think the time has arrived when some definite pronouncement on the part of the new Government should be made as to what their policy is in regard to cotton. Let us know what it is. If there is a defence, let us all know it. We will all be glad to be converted and to get this question out of the way. Let the people outside know, because there is some explanation required. If the Government can convince us that there are even higher considerations than these, though I very much doubt it, I am very sure they will have the sympathy of an approving House, but up to the present moment there has been no real reply given to the contention which we have put before the House.
I would ask the Noble Lord, who will, I presume, reply, Why is cotton not made contraband? We have made other things contraband, thirty within the last few months. The Noble Lord will probably reply that the situation is no better from our point of view if it is contraband. With great deference I disagree. If it is not affected when it is made contraband, why have we gone to all the trouble to make other articles contraband? Wool has only recently been made contraband, and why was it made so and cotton left out? I shall be very much interested to know the reply. It is not the mere fact as to the capture of cotton. The whole question of shipping comes into this matter, because the shipper will not take the risk of the cotton if he knows he stands the chance of losing both the ship and the cargo because the article is contraband. If it is not, he has the chance of being able 716 probably to delay matters and certainly of saving the ship and, it may be, the cotton. Take the position of France. We had a great discussion about the "Dacia." It was allowed to go to France, and what has France done? France has confiscated both ship and cargo. Why cannot we do what France is able to do. The French Press have had articles during the last few days in which they expressed consternation at the fact that we have not made cotton contraband I therefore would submit that something might be done in order to put a stop to this export that is going on. I think the time has come when definite action should be taken by the Government. My sole desire in raising this matter is to ask the Government to be more vigorous in this, as I have asked them to be in other matters. There are many other aspects of the question to which I should like to refer, but time forbids on the present occasion. I do press on the Noble Lord that there is great anxiety on this matter, and I believe he will do a great service not only to this country, but to other counties concerned in our success, if he were at once to say "No more cotton must go to the enemy."
§ Mr. PENNEFATHER
The right hon. Gentleman has endeavoured to impress upon the House the importance of in some way preventing cotton from reaching the enemy. I may not see eye to eye with the last speaker on every point, because, perhaps, I realise more fully than he does, or more fully than he has expressed, the difficulties with which this question is surrounded. I submit that this is not a question for Great Britain only, but concerns all the Allies. It is one in which we have to co-operate with our Allies, and in which we have also, to some extent at all events, to consider the feelings of a great friendly Nation on the other side of the Atlantic. But, after making all allowances for these difficulties, we must not minimise the importance of the matter. We must not shrink from these difficulties; we must consider them in order to overcome them; because it is undoubtedly the case that as long as we allow cotton to leak into Germany we do allow the War to continue and to be waged against us successfully. The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir. H. Dalziel), in common with a great many people who touch upon this subject, dwelt almost exclusively on the fact that cotton is the basis of high explosives. For many years before the War, for 717 purposes entirely unconnected with the War, I have found it necessary to study the various uses to which cotton is put under modern conditions of life in civilised countries, and I can assure the House, as the result of many years' careful study of the subject, that the importance of stopping cotton from reaching Germany does not end with the question of explosives.
There is hardly a branch of human industrial activity at the present time in any civilised country which does not depend upon the supply of cotton. I have here a list of the industries concerned; I am not going to trouble the House with much of it, but I will run through some of the headings. Without cotton it is impossible to run railways. Without cotton it is impossible to run motor-cars, because cotton is the main fabric in connection with the rubber for motor tyres. I am merely touching upon industries connected with warfare. Armies require great quantities of cotton for clothing, bedding, tents, ground sheets, mackintoshes, tarpaulins, and many other purposes. A modern battleship is said to use more cotton than any vessel did in the days of sails; and I have no doubt that enemy submarines would have to cease their operations if we stopped the supply of cotton to Germany. Every class of factory, including munition factories, is bound in many ways to use cotton in some or other of its processes. In fact, to-day, to stop the supply of cotton to any country is to paralyse that country's industries to an extent that would render its armies impotent. That is a very important consideration, quite apart from the question of explosives. The last speaker suggested that we might deal with this question by purchasing the exportable surplus of America's cotton. I do not think the question is as big as that at all; because America at present exports to this country a large portion of its surplus. She exports cotton to Japan. Why should we interfere with that? She exports cotton to India, Spain, Portugal, and other countries. But none of those is concerned in this problem. The real point is the regulation of the export of cotton to the neutral countries immediately adjoining Germany. It is through those countries, and through those countries alone, that the leakage can take place.
Sir H. DALZIEL
What I was dealing with was not the whole American crop, but the amount that went to Austria and Germany before the War.
§ Mr. PENNEFATHER
I am purposly leaving that out of consideration, because I think anybody can see that we are not now discussing the question of any cotton being shipped direct to Germany or Austria. If any such shipments have taken place they have been dealt with, and any such shipments would no doubt be dealt with in the future. The point to which I was directing attention was the leakage which is taking place in regard to cotton shipped to neutral countries ostensibly for the legitimate purposes of those countries, and which is then passed over to our enemies in large quantities. I think there is no country in the world that would or could maintain that we in this country ought tamely to sit down and allow Germany to use the neutral countries as collecting agents. My suggestion is that that would not be a true interpretation of neutrality. If a neutral port is used, not for the purposes of the legitimate trade of that country, but merely as a port in which supplies for our enemy are to be collected under false pretences, then I think that is a matter which we must ask our diplomatists to use their ability to counteract.
But the question is not as large as might be supposed. It may surprise Members to know that the normal yearly consumption of raw cotton in the four countries adjoining Germany is under 250,000 bales; that means in money in normal times on the average of recent years before the War, say, £2,500,000. That is a very small sum as we now speak of money. Surely, it ought not to be beyond the ability of our diplomatists—I do not mean merely of this country, but of Great Britain, France, Russia, and Italy—to make some friendly arrangement by which the Allies would undertake to supply those four countries with 250,000 bales of cotton, or whatever they might require for their own legitimate purposes, in return for undertakings given by responsible parties or corporations in those countries to the effect that such supplies would be used only for their own purposes and not under any circumstances or conditions whatever passed over to our enemies to be used against us. It may be said that America would have something to say to that. I do not profess to have any knowledge whatever of diplomacy; but, speaking with some knowledge of business, I have always found the Americans, whom I know very well and with whom I have done a great deal of business, to be very good business 719 people. If we put it to them that circumstances were such that they had to choose between the two alternatives of cotton being made contraband or of the Allies taking from them sufficient cotton over and above our ordinary requirements to enable us to supply those four neutral countries with their legitimate requirements, speaking as a layman, not as a diplomatist, I am very confident that our good friends across the Atlantic would regard the latter as a sound business proposition and probably agree to it. The subject is a most important one; and while I fully realise the difficulties that surround it from the diplomatic point of view, I also fully realise that every bale of cotton that we allow to go to Germany through any channel does mean the prolongation of the War and the killing and wounding of many of our brave soldiers at the front.
§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
I do not in any way complain of what the right hon. Gentleman has done in bringing this matter again before the House, because it is undoubtedly a question of enormous importance, and I am sure the House will realise that the Government are fully alive to its immense importance. I confess I feel a little difficulty in discussing the question as fully and as frankly as I should like to do. Undoubtedly, very difficult international questions are raised by the subject. You have to consider not only this country and Germany—if those were the only two. countries concerned the problem would be an extremely simple one—but you have to consider the great producing neutral countries like America, and the neutral countries which consume cotton, like Sweden, Norway, and Denmark, particularly Sweden. You have to try to devise a policy which will respect the legitimate rights of neutrals, and yet safeguard our legitimate interests and inflict as much injury as we can upon those of our enemies. I am sure the House will recognise that it is extremely difficult for me, speaking here, to point out the full case which might be made on behalf of any of the neutral interests. I cannot do it. It would be improper, and I cannot do it. Every Member of the House therefore must do that for himself; he must supply that part of the argument for himself, leaving me argumentatively the poorer, and fill in what is obviously wanting in my argument by that consideration. It is 720 therefore with that limitation, and having that before their mind, I ask the attention of the House to what I am about to say.
The right hon. Gentleman began the discussion by quoting a number of figures. I should be the last to deny that those figures are disquieting. I have never denied it. There were some figures given by my hon. Friend, in answer to a question, which we have not had time to verify, but which would be still more disquieting if they turned out to be accurate. All I can say with reference to all those figures is this: The policy of the Government, as I understand it, is to prevent the importation of cotton into Germany. We have hitherto been acting upon a certain plan, which I will describe to the House in a moment, which we believed, and still believe to be—I will not say absolutely perfect, because you will never be able to prevent a certain amount of leakage or smuggling, whatever plan you adopt—but on the whole we still believe that that plan is reasonably and substantially effective. If it should turn out that we are wrong—and we are giving close and continuous attention to the matter—if it should turn out, contrary to our expectation and belief, that cotton is still going into Germany, then no regard for Ministerial consistency or anything of that kind will prevent the Government from carrying out whatever plans are necessary to secure the end we have in view.
I do not wish to detain the House at any length, but let me just say a word about the various proposals that have been made. We have been asked on previous occasions—I am not sure that we have been asked to-night—to say that no cotton shall go into any country which could possibly transfer that cotton to Germany; that is to say, that we should cut off the whole of the supplies of all those neutral countries—Holland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and so on. I do not think that that plan is one that is seriously suggested. Obviously it is quite indefensible from the point of view of international law, and would land us in international difficulties which we wish to avoid. Well, then, a plan of purchase was rather tentatively put forward by the right hon. Gentleman. I am not quite sure that I understood what he meant. He talked of purchasing the average supply that went to Germany and Austria. I do not quite know what he means. That by itself would do no good. He did not develop his arguments, but the mere purchase of 721 that supply would not help us at all, because there is nothing to prevent the supplying countries sending in a further supply to the belligerent countries, who, of course, are prepared to offer very considerable prices, as we know. There was a somewhat similar plan suggested by my hon. Friend opposite. Do not let him or anyone think that because I do not see my way to accept these plans that they will not get very careful consideration. Everything put forward will be considered. The plan of the hon. Member was to buy the cotton to go to the United States, and say: "We will buy from you the cotton you usually send to the neutral countries, and in return for that you must not send them any more; we will supply the neutral countries with that amount." That, said the hon. Member, would cost a very small sum of money. I only wish it was as simple a matter as that. The whole case of the right hon. Gentleman who began this Debate is that it is much more than that—that America at present is selling to neutral countries an enormous increase; therefore that would not meet the difficulty at all. In the same way it would not be simple to say to the neutral countries—I do not say it would not be possible—"We are the judges of exactly how much cotton you ought to use, and we will supply you with no more than that." I do not say that some such ultimate plan of what are sometimes called "rations" may not be devised, but it is a. matter of very great complication and difficulty, and one which cannot be done straight off by a mere ipse dixit on the part of this country.
§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
I am sure the hon. Gentleman did not mean that, but if the real proposal is, as sometimes I have heard and read, that we should purchase the whole cotton crop of America, that is a tremendous undertaking* It is a very serious financial undertaking, and the hon. Baronet (Sir F. Banbury) would be the first to recognise that that is not an expedient likely to be adopted. It would mean a very large expenditure of capital, and the transfer of a very considerable sum of money from this country to America, with all the financial disadvantages with which the hon. Baronet is more familiar than I am, with reference to exchange and so on. I do not think that is a policy which certainly ought to be 722 adopted, unless every other plan has failed. What has the Government done? Let me take the case of Holland. They have made an agreement for the establishment in Holland of a body called the Netherlands Oversea Trust, which, I am informed, consists of some of the most substantial men in Holland, men of the highest possible character and the highest possible reputation. To take cotton as an example—and it applies to many other articles—the arrangement is that no cotton is allowed to go into Holland unless it is consigned to, and accepted by this Trust.
§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
I am talking of Holland as an example. You must walk before you run, and you must deal with one country at a time. It is part of the agreement, and sanctioned by very heavy bonds with this trust, that no cotton shall be allowed to go into Germany. I confess that appears to me to be a businesslike arrangement, and one that should succeed, if it does not. It does secure to Holland the legitimate demands which Holland can make for its own internal trade, and it does secure, as far as you can secure, that no part of the cotton imported into Holland goes into Germany.
§ Sir A. MOND
Does that apply to cotton going direct from another country or only to the cotton exported from England?
§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
I understand it applies to all cotton. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I understand that that is so. And I am very much shaken in my opinion by hon. Members contradicting me. My information is that it applies to all cotton going into Holland.
§ Mr. J. M. HENDERSON
It applies only to the licences granted for export from this country, the same as copper or anything else.
§ Mr. POLLOCK
Is not this under the Proclamation of 29th October, that no-goods, unless they are consigned to the order of the particular trust mentioned by the hon. and learned Gentleman, will be allowed to pass, and therefore the Proclamation of 29th October does in fact secure all the right hon. Gentleman says?
§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
I am much obliged to my right hon. and learned Friend. That is perfectly right. All cotton of any kind going into Holland has to go consigned to the Netherlands Oversea Trust; that is the arrangement.
§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
Yes, that is the arrangement carried out by us—American cotton also. That arrangement is accepted by the neutral consumer, because it supplies the cotton which is necessary for neutral consumption, and stops the cotton that is going into Germany. Hon. Members forget that on 11th March, in consequence of the submarine attacks on our trade, we issued an Order in Council, by which we said that we would not allow any trade at all to go on with Germany—I am speaking of my recollection of the Order—and we proceeded to carry that out. We said we would apply to all trade going to a neutral country the doctrine of continuous voyage. If a cargo was consigned to a neutral country under circumstances which made us reasonably believe that it had an enemy destination, we would treat it in the same way as if it had a definite enemy destination. That is the arrangement. Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen seem surprised at that. It is only by doing that or something like it that you can possibly stop the evil of which the right hon. Gentleman complains. That appears to me to be a reasonable, businesslike arrangement, if it is carried out. If it can be carried out in other countries, so much the better. We must devise arrangements, the nearest we can, to prevent cotton reaching Germany. Let me repeat what I said the other day: if you made cotton contraband to-morrow, you are still faced with the difficulty of cotton coming from America to the neutral country. You still have to deal with that, and unless you can show that the cotton is actually going to Germany sooner or later, you are just in the same difficulty as under the Orders in Council. That is the difficulty which besets you. It is part of the great and essential difficulty of the situation, that you have not the command of every road into Germany—because some of these roads go through neutral countries—and it is to deal with cotton going into Germany through neutral countries, that, whether or not it is declared contraband, your difficulties arise. I venture to hope that in future discussions there will be in the mind of every Member 724 that this is the essential difficulty of the situation. Unless that is appreciated, no suggestion, however well meant or however ingenious, will be of service to the Government in dealing with this problem. The right hon. Gentleman said that there were additional advantages in making cotton contraband which do not apply to our present plan of dealing with it under the Order in Council of 11th March, because it would be possible to confiscate the ship and the goods without dealing with it in the milder way under the Order in Council. That is, I concede, an important matter for the Government to consider. I do not think that I can, with due regard to the public service, present the whole argument for or against that procedure. It is quite evident it may be much more severe on the producing country. It is a matter which evidently requires very careful consideration whether it is wise in a particular case to make a particular commodity contraband or not. That is a matter deserving very careful consideration. No doubt it will get it. I am certainly not in a position to declare any change of policy on the part of the Government with regard to that. I have endeavoured to deal very shortly with the rival plans in an extremely difficult and extremely important subject. I ventured to say at the beginning, and I want to say again, that our object is to prevent cotton going into Germany. We have to carry that object out without inflicting injustice upon neutral countries, and we have to carry it out effectively, but with due regard to the public law of Europe—for we stand for the public law of Europe throughout this quarrel. We believe that our plan has brought a considerable measure of success. We believe that it is, in fact, preventing the overwhelmingly greater part of the cotton going into Germany, and that ultimately it will prevent it all. If it should not, we are prepared to consider any scheme. Whatever is really effective for our purpose, subject to the limitation of justice and respect for international law, that plan, the House may rely upon it, the Government will adopt.
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Mr. J. M. HENDERSON
I am glad to hear the Noble Lord say that this arrangement has been made. I am glad that all cotton that is going to Holland is going to what is known as the Netherlands Oversea Trust; but I cannot help thinking that the Noble Lord is somewhat mistaken in saying that American shippers have agreed to consign their cotton to the Netherlands 725 Oversea Trust. How can you compel them to do that? You can do it. Copper you have made contraband, and in regard to copper let me say that all these countries use copper just as largely as cotton. You have declared copper contraband as far back as 13th September, and I do not know why that was not done when War broke out in August. Since then no copper can be exported from this country without this particular licence to the Netherlands Oversea Trust. Further than that, you have very wisely, with regard to Sweden and Norway, stipulated that there should be a declaration that it is for their own particular consumption and not for export, and there, again, the Swedish Government has helped you by refusing to allow those things which are contraband to be exported. Very well, that is all right. If the copper companies in America—and the great bulk of it comes from there—send a ship with copper or nickel to Sweden or Norway our ships stop it at once, and, unless they are satisfied it is going to those countries for their actual purposes, it is confiscated. There was a large cargo of copper going to Norway, and there is no doubt it was going to Germany, but, by reason of it being contraband, you were enabled to seize it. Assuming that a Galveston shipper consigns a shipment of cotton to Christiania, will our ships stop it, and on what ground? It is not contraband.
§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
You cannot stop any ship on the ground of contraband, or anything else. All you can stop it for is for search. If you find any cargo on board which contravenes the provision of the Order in Council we stop it now.
§ Mr. HENDERSON
Then, am I to understand that you treat cotton exactly in the same way as you treat copper?
§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
As far as the stopping of the cargo is concerned, yes. The hon. Gentleman is quite right in pointing out there are certain legal consequences which accrue to the subsequent disposal of the goods concerned if contraband, which do not apply to goods if not contraband; but, so far as regards the stoppage of goods, that is absolutely the same thing, whether contraband or not.
§ Mr. HENDERSON
Then I am afraid I do not quite understand the distinction between contraband and not contraband. 726 Why should you not make cotton contraband the same as copper? America sells by far the largest amount of cotton of any country in the world to this country and all the other countries, and there must be some occult reason we do not know why you deal with it differently from copper.
§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
I thought the hon. Gentleman knew the historical part of the subject. Everyone knows that in past times there has been considerable dispute about this question of cotton. I do not want to shut the door on any solution, but there is a doubt. The hon. Gentleman really, I think, ought to inform himself on the elements of the subject as to whether cotton is contraband or not.
§ Mr. HENDERSON
I know it may be contended it is not contraband, but you can declare anything contraband if it goes to an enemy and is useful to that enemy; if you can establish that any substance is of use for the manufacture of implements of war you can make it contraband. Germany has declared pit-props contraband. No one ever heard of these being contraband before, and there is nothing to hinder this country, so far as I know, from declaring cotton contraband of war, and if we do that, all the rest follows. It may be that if you offend the shippers in America they may be open to a deal to get rid of that. But, at the present moment, I cannot see that you are putting cotton in the same category as copper, and it is evident that copper has been to a very large extent stopped, while cotton has not. I would not ask my Noble Friend to put too much trust in this Netherlands Oversea Trust. Let me tell him something. A large consignment of ferro-manganese went to the Netherlands. Ferro-manganese and iron ore are only used in smelting, and there is not a furnace in the whole of Holland. That was going to Germany. That is not an absolute protection. It may be there is something else; but it does seem to me cotton is quite as necessary in the making of munitions, especially high explosives, and, having made copper contraband, I see no earthly reason why you should not make cotton contraband.
Mr. MacCALLUM SCOTT
There was one point which was not made clear in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, which has been partly elucidated by question and answer when my hon. Friend was speaking just now. I think there was lacking an assurance that all cotton was 727 now being stopped under the present arrangement which could be stopped by declaring cotton contraband.
§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
I did say so, and I said so a few days ago in this House in the clearest possible language I could command.
Mr. MacCALLUM SCOTT
I listened attentively and I did not catch it quite so clearly and distinctly as the right hon. Gentleman said it just now. But I think, when that fact is appreciated in the country, a good deal of the alarm and uneasiness which has undoubtedly been excited by certain newspaper comments and by various speeches will be removed and quietened. I hold here a copy of the Order in Council under which the Government is acting at the present time, and there I find it declared that:—Every merchant vessel which sails from her port of departure after 1st March, 1915, on her way to a port other than a German port, carrying goods with an enemy destination, or which are enemy property, may be required to discharge such goods in a British or an Allied port.Any goods whatever destined for Germany may be stopped and discharged, and on their being discharged two things may happen. In the first place, if they come within the Schedule of those goods now listed as contraband, they are confiscated. If they are not contraband, they are not allowed to proceed to Germany, but are either requisitioned for the use of the Government or handed back to the owner on such conditions as the Government determine, but one of these conditions is that they shall not be imported into Germany.
Some criticism has been directed to the fact that this Order in Council is permissive; the words are "may be required to discharge." But I understand that we have the assurance of the Government. I have seen it stated in announcements in the Press; I have seen it stated in correspondence which the former Attorney-General had with the secretary of the Society of Chemists that, although the words here are permissive, the Government are stopping all cotton and goods of that kind in every case whatever, so that there is nothing to be gained in the way of stopping goods going into Germany through neutral countries by declaring cotton contraband. By declaring cotton contraband we could not stop a single ounce going into Germany more than is being stopped at the present time. That, 728 I understand, to be the statement of the Government—and, indeed, it is quite clear. The definition in the Order in Council is a definition which includes goods of whatever class, whether contraband or not, "carrying goods with an enemy destination." All goods with an enemy destination are stopped, and, so far as goods reaching Germany are concerned, not a single ounce more could be prevented from reaching Germany by declaring cotton contraband. I think it is important that that should be clearly understood in the country. The quarrel which my right hon. Friend has with the Government in this matter is a quarrel, not as to the purposes to be achieved, but as to the manner and method. He thinks the better method would be to declare goods contraband just as other goods have been declared contraband. The Government, for reasons which are known best to themselves, think that, under the special circumstances, the procedure laid down in this Order in Council is the best procedure for the present.
§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
I hope I have made it quite clear that the Government do not shut the door on any suggestions.
Mr. MacCALLUM SCOTT
I thought I made it clear that that is what I understood. The Government are of opinion that the procedure laid down in the Schedule is the best procedure under present circumstances and for the present. What the reasons of the Government for this differential action are the right hon. Gentleman has not made clear—he has not attempted to make clear. He has only vaguely hinted at them, but, from the hints which have been given, it is clear that there are international reasons of the very gravest kind. In dealing with the international questions we are really dealing with high explosives, and I should be the last to attempt to say anything on that subject that would hamper the Government or would raise international difficulties. I would only throw out one suggestion to my right hon. Friend. In this matter we are dealing, not with the prejudices of neutral Powers and not merely with the desires and interests of neutral Powers; we are dealing with the international rights of neutral Powers, and there is no way of getting over those rights of overriding them—except by placing a pistol to their heads. That is not a method of diplomacy which it would be safe to adopt with neutral Powers at the present time. We have to remember also 729 that these international rights are rights which are of the greatest value to ourselves; that the time has been in the past, and the time may come in the future, when we ourselves will be a neutral Power, and when other nations, possibly great nations, may be at war, and that one of the things which the Government has got to safeguard and protect are the rights which are essential and vital to our commerce in the future. We have not only got to look to the present. In those circumstances, seeing that it is only a matter of method that all cotton is now being stopped that could be stopped by declaring it contraband, I think it is desirable to give the Government a free hand in this matter, and not to hamper it by intermeddling with the very difficult, the very dangerous, and the very delicate international questions which are bound up in it.
§ Mr. PETO
I want to call the attention of the House to one aspect of this question, which I am quite sure the right hon. Gentleman will not overlook. We are gaming experience as to how far the present arrangements are or are not watertight. Nothing gave me greater satisfaction than the statement of the right hon. Gentleman 730 that no regard for ministerial consistency would prevent the Government from adopting other methods if the present methods were not effective. We know the present methods have not prevented Germany getting all the cotton she required, and vastly more than she got during the twelve months preceding the War. We have now to remember that our experience so far during the War has been dealing with last year's cotton crop, and the cotton which is coming through now is the very small residuum of the old cotton crop, and six weeks from now a fresh problem will be before the Government, for they will have to ask, how have we dealt with the crop of 1914? They will have to ask, has that method been sufficiently successful to satisfy us that there will not be a vast new influx through the same back door of the cotton which is ripening in the United States—
§ It being one hour after the conclusion of Government business, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Order of the House of the 3rd February.
§ Adjourned at Seventeen minutes after Seven o'clock.