HC Deb 27 March 1917 vol 92 cc226-80

I wish to take the opportunity presented by the Third Reading of this Bill to ask the Government some questions as to the administration of the blockade. As my Noble Friend the Minister for Blockade is aware, there is a certain amount of dissatisfaction in the country about the blockade. Whether that is reasonable or unreasonable we will consider later, but there is no doubt that there is that dissatisfaction. I think it would be a great mistake to suppose that that feeling is in any way the result of Press agitation. I think it is also true to say that there are no personal imputations in the matter at all. There is the widest possible interest in the blockade as one of the main provisions of our War measures, and there is the greatest anxiety to know precisely where we are in the matter. I think, if I may say so, that the statements about starvation conditions in Germany are just a little discounted in responsible quarters. A great majority of the business classes are fairly well in touch with German conditions, and they have opportunities, which sometimes, I think, are not shared by the Government, of knowing what is going on in Germany at the present time, and from the character of their business experience and their acquaintance with the necessities of business organisation they are able to interpret certain signs which those who are not in business would not be able to interpret. I will put it in this way: If you know that since the War began Germany has started various new industries, and if you know that certain great firms have apparently been carrying on business on a large scale during the War, then the business man, who knows that the conduct of that manufacture requires the assemblage of certain raw materials and workers in a certain-state of efficiency, and all other conditions of successful production, will conclude that the great mass of the workers so employed cannot be in a state of semi-starvation. There is, no doubt, a great deal of local distress in Germany amongst the civilian population, but the impression which I have formed, and which I think you will find is pretty general amongst people in England with experience of German affairs, is that amongst those workers, who are carrying on war work and all the classes of the population that Germany may consider necessary for the successful prosecution of the War, you can very easily exaggerate the stories of starvation. The different instances that are described in the Press, and which we get from other centres, are probably in the main correct, but by simply adding together all those numerous instances you do not get a complete picture, or a picture in the proper perspective. I venture to say it is because a great many people in England feel that there is a great deal of force left in Germany yet, then there is some question in their minds as to how far the blockade has been really successful.

Take the figures about the blockade. I do not, of course, undertake any patronage or responsibility for any figures that appear in the papers. A great many figures have appeared in the papers, and sometimes we do not quite know where they come from. I think the Noble Lord will agree, on the whole, when you have got the figures they do show that a very fair amount of stuff has been going into Germany since the War began, and that not so much has been coming to this country as some people may think we are entitled to receive, and the question at once leaps to the mind: is not our blockade a failure after all? Take the German side of it. I have been at some pains to find out what Germany thinks of our blockade. If I can sum up my impression in a few words, I do not think that there is any disposition amongst Germans to underrate the hardship which our blockade is inflicting on Germany. I think they admit a great deal of hardship in Germany, but they look at it in this way: I gather that they think that they are going to have a great trial of strength on that matter with us in the next few months to see whether we are going to be really successful, and their general feeling is that we are not going to be successful, and that the organisation which is required for really giving effective counter to the organisation which the Germans have built up cannot be built up in the time now available, and that therefore, in the long run, our blockade will be ineffective. If I may take the critical views held in this country and the critical views held in Germany and strike a sort of mean, I think I am not far wrong in saying that the general impression is that our blockade has been an important contributory cause of hardship in Germany, but that it has not yet been so successful as to either satisfy the expectations of the people of England or to entirely justify the fears of Germany. I do not know whether I am stating that too crudely, but that is my impression. It is not that the efficiency of the blockade is altogether denied. There is no question of that at all. MY Noble Friend knows that it is not a personal question. It is a question of getting at the right policy. But there is that feeling very widespread, and it is a feeling that does not exactly arouse enthusiasm. As for people in England, I will not say they have an exaggerated view of the powers of the British Navy. God forbid that I should say such a thing as that, but I do consider that the great mass of the people do think in a rather simple way, and they know that no country ever had exactly such a Navy as we have. They know the great expectations of the Navy in times past, and when they come to the conclusion that the blockade, though it is to a certain extent successful, is not quite so successful as all that and that there are those leakages, and when they see the picture of the Navy on the one hand and the realities of the blockade on the other, their enthusiasm is not exactly killed, but they form a critical attitude with regard to the Government which is not a very good thing for the Government.

4.0 P.M.

Therefore, I am anxious on this occasion to give the Government an opportunity of meeting these criticisms as far as possible, and letting us know what the actual case really is. I suppose everybody will admit that the Government has had an exceedingly difficult task. I think I said, in a former speech which I made on the blockade—in fact the speech which just preceded the appointment of my Noble Friend as Minister of Blockade—that I did not think any blockade had ever been perfectly successful, but that I thought our own blockade was probably more successful than any blockade we had had before. I am still inclined to that view, but there are conditions in the problem at the present time which I think have enormously increased the difficulties of the Government. What are we trying to do? We are trying to blockade Germany across neutral countries. It is not a clean cut problem. We are blockading Germany through neutral countries, and it is perfectly obvious that you have only to state the problem in those terms to realise that you at once fall into the midst of colossal difficulties. The whole problem becomes entangled in our war diplomacy generally. My Noble Friend has not got before him simply the question of keeping this or that product out of Germany. There are the diplomatic aspects of this or that product. In fact, as he will remember, on the numerous occasions on which the Unionist Business Committee has been so courteously received by him, we have been told that we cannot do it because there is some understanding or some Foreign Office obligation about this or that article; and generally the whole problem is enmeshed in entanglements arising from what might or might not be expected in regard to the conduct of this or that particular neutral country. That is a very unfortunate state of things, and it cannot be avoided.

The difficulties of administering this blockade are enormous; but I have also got to point out that Governments exist to overcome difficulties, and that if they do not overcome the difficulties the difficulties overcome them. That is rather a serious position of affairs, and while you cannot escape the necessity of getting over these difficulties when you are trying to blockade Germany across Scandinavian countries and Holland, I think it points to this, that you may perhaps simplify the problem considerably if you know perfectly well as a country where you are going, what is your precise objective, and what is your policy, and there is a great deal of feeling in the country—I think I am quite right in giving expression to it—that the Government do not precisely know where they are going. There is a great deal of that feeling, that they cannot make up their minds what to do with neutrals and Allies. I am sure it is the feeling of the country that they do not at present know precisely where they stand with regard to the future of our relations with these different countries, and that they are not quite sure whether this country in a short time will not be in a different position from what it is in now. I am only giving expression to that feeling, because it is quite clear that if there is that uncertainty and hesitation on what we may call the fundamental aspects of British policy, it is very likely to affect the daily administration of question? arising from the blockade. I hope I have not overstated that case at all, but I think it is right that I should bring it to the attention of my Noble Friend, because I think it is the basis of some of that feeling, of which he is perfectly well aware—I do not share it myself—that it is not altogether a good thing that the Ministry of Blockade should be identified with the Foreign Office. That is a feeling which it is well to keep in mind, and it is well to meet that objection, because it is a strenuously held opinion in many circles.

There is another analogous question which arises, and that is the peculiar advantages which the inevitable conditions of our blockade confer upon Germany. There is not a neutral country which is not thoroughly permeated with German intrigue—not a single country. In every branch of national activity the Germans attempt to bring that influence to bear. In fact, one of the most striking experiences of the War, I think everybody will agree, is the way in which the various things we have had to do have brought out quite clearly the enormously widespread activities of Germany in permeating and controlling all kinds of activities in practically every country in the world. If anyone before the War had stated in this House that German influence was of that character and as widespread as I have described, he would have been scoffed at, and no one would have believed it, but wherever you go, north, south, east, or west, it is the same. And it is important to remember that this great War is being as much carried on within neutral countries as it is on the Western front, because of the existence of this machinery of intrigue on the part of Germany. I do not want to labour that point, but it is quite obvious that it must enormously affect the efficiency of our blockade. I will take one specific question. In Holland and the Netherlands, and throughout the Scandinavian countries, and extending to the United States of America, the Germans have a widely ramifying business organisation on purpose to counteract our blockade. When the Ministry of Blockade was formed a year ago it had, as I understand, two objects. The first object was to conduct the blockade in the ordinary way, and the second was that you should build up a business, practical organisation within the countries across which we were blockading to counteract the German efforts to check our blockade. When my Noble Friend replies I should be very glad if, so far as he can—I do not want him to tell any secrets that ought not to be told—he will state what has been done in that direction to checkmate the efforts of Germany, which are exceedingly extensive and very expert, and which they are, as a matter of fact, using to lay the foundations of the permeation of these neutral countries after the War with German influence, just as they did before for the purpose of working out their post-war economic policy.

I am glad to see my right hon. Friend the First Lord (Sir E. Carson) on the Front Bench, because I would like to ask him whether, if he chooses to make any observations in this Debate, he could deal with the relation of this German organisation to the submarine activity. The German sources of information, which are based upon this business permeation of neutral countries and of our own, at the present time have, I am convinced from inquiries I have made, a most close relation to the submarine activity of the German Empire. After all, you cannot run a submarine campaign unless you have information, and, as far as I can make out, you will find that in this sphere of operations, as in all the others which we have come across during the War, the Germans have a complete grasp of the relations of the different parts of their policy—blockade, economic policy, and submarines. They all work together, and one is meant to throw light upon the other, and all together are made, as far as possible, to co-operate towards the efficiency of Germany in the War. I should like to know very much from my Noble Friend whether he can tell the House what steps have been taken, and when those steps were taken to cope with the German business anti-English blockade, and whether he can give some indication of the degree of success that has been attained. Then there is another question, and it is this. I know many enthusiastic people who genuinely desire the success of the blockade, who think the present methods adopted by the Government are inefficient, and who think you can stop all trade across the neutral countries. As a matter of fact, you cannot, or I do not see how you can, simply because there is a risk of certain articles going through a neutral country into Germany, take that as a basis for stopping the trade of a neutral country. I think there is a good deal in what I believe is the contention of the Government, that it would not do to create the impression that the British Navy in the full zenith of its power was used for that particular purpose, but there are differences and there are degrees.

The difficulty of dealing with this question of neutral trade and the blockade of Germany led, as the House well knows, to the system of rationing. You cannot arbitrarily stop the trade of all neutral countries, but there is no obligation upon this country to assist neutral countries to trade with Germany, and still less obligation to assist those neutral countries to send more products into Germany since the War began than they did before the War began. I think I may say without exaggeration that in the earlier part of the War the extent to which the neutral countries were supplying Germany with food and materials was an absolute scandal. That is no longer the case, but it was certainly a scandal in the earlier days of the War, and it has been brought within bounds to a very largo extent by the working out of the rationing system. On that subject I want to ask my Noble Friend one or two questions. How is that rationing system organised? By the rationing system we propose to let the neutrals have imports, except, of course, pure war materials and articles genuinely contraband, in accordance with their normal requirements before the War; but these things are constantly shifting, and one of the most remarkable results of the War has been to show the extent to which substitutes can be utilised if one particular article is not available. I do not see myself how you can possibly get a proper rationing system organised unless you have at your command a small body of men with the most intimate knowledge of the needs, trade, and production of the countries that you are rationing, and I should like to know from my Noble Friend whether, as a matter of fact, there is or is not, in connection with the Foreign Office, a body of that kind, and whether, when he is rationing Holland or Denmark or Sweden, or any other country, he draws up one of those rationing lists cm the basis of this expert information about the needs of the situation.

There is another question which arises in that connection, a question which formed the subject of some heated controversy in the Press, and that is the particular article of feeding stuffs. I do not want to go into figures, but there is a great deal of feeling on that subject which my Noble Friend would do well to meet. There is a widespread feeling that when we want feeding stuffs so badly here in England we should be very slow to enter into any arrangements or to favour any measures which facilitated the importation of feeding stuffs from foreign countries into neutral countries which were afterwards, in another shape or form, going to feed our enemies, and that is unquestionably what does take place at the present time. I believe there is a case for the Government to deal with on that point. I should very much like to know what precisely is the reply as to the strong objection felt over the country at the present time to this apparent encouragement of the importation of foodstuffs which we require going into neutral countries, and then the sending on of the products a further stage to Germany, and in that way helping to prolong the War. I do not wish to prolong my remarks or to bore the House with all these points, but there are just one or two things I would wish to say before I sit down. The whole policy of agreements is exceedingly unpopular. I mean this: You have the neutral countries, Holland, Denmark, Sweden, and Switzerland. You have come to agreements by which you get certain amounts of stuffs here, and they send certain amounts elsewhere. That is a broad description of some of these things which take place. There is a great deal of feeling about that which has been expressed in the newspapers. Here, again, the attitude of the ordinary Englishman in the matter is that he does not like to have any truck with any kind of arrangement which is going directly or indirectly to help by one iota his enemies at the present time.

The fact that there are these agreements means that it must require an exceedingly complete system of supervision, vigilance, and overlooking if they are not to be abused. This again is accountable for a great deal of the feeling at the present time about the blockade. There is one division of this subject I will mention which has an important bearing on the whole matter of the blockade—I mean the import restrictions. It is commonly said—it is, I think, said in this House—that when you are dealing with neutrals and Allies there are always cropping up matters of the greatest delicacy in the regulation of trade under the blockade. I reply to that that we did not see any great delicacy the other day in the matter of putting on the import restrictions ! I did not gather that there was any delicacy about it. The same Department, I presume, that has to make the arrangements as to blockade administration has to make the arrangements for the import restrictions. They pull in opposite directions. That is extremely awkward. I think it must be attended with very great inconvenience, because it is pretty clear that if you are stopping importation to this country—whether of food or other things docs not matter—it calls for the determination of branches of the trade, and when you are stopping the import into this country you are probably increasing the inducement to other countries to send stuff to Germany. You cannot avoid that. They are pound to find a market for their goods. I want to know whether the Foreign Office does not think the inconveniences arising from this more or less detached way of dealing with these economic questions suggest that you ought to have something like a general economic policy, so that the war operations under your bleckade, import restrictions, and all these matters, should fall into their proper place in the whole system?

Here you have these questions. My Noble Friend is brought in as Minister of Blockade, and he is mainly, responsible. My right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty is brought in. The shipping organisation is brought in. The Board of Trade is brought in. The Foreign Office generally is brought in, and the War Cabinet is brought in. My Noble Friend will believe me that if is not any personal dissatisfaction, and not any general attitude of criticism or hostility to the Government, but there is a general feeling abroad that the blockade so far has been a side-show of the Foreign Office rather than one of the main branches of our war activity. I suggest to my Noble Friend that perhaps he might be able to assist the House to a more enthusiastic frame of mind if he can hold out some hope or confirm some expectation, that there is co-operative effort and consultative effort between the Ministry of Blockade, the First Lord of the Admiralty, and other branches of the War Service, and that some attempt is really being made to bring about that co-ordinative effort in that direction which we really require. The blockade is one of the most important parts of our war activity, and must not be left alone. We feel—and I feel very strongly indeed—that you will never make any real success of the blockade until the Government makes up its mind quite definitely where it stands in regard to the great economic issues of the War. When it has done that, when it knows where it is going to and what it wants to achieve, then, I think, Governmental activity will assume that efficiency we all desire. At the present time we do not feel quite confident of that efficiency. We feel that there is some ground for the complaints made. We had the highest expectations; on the formation of the present Government. We thought there was going to be a great increase in what we may call co-ordinative efficiency. We do not quite feel, on the evidence that is before us as to the working of the bleckade, that that has yet taken place. If my Noble Friend can remove these feelings of hesitation so that they may give place to enthusiastic support and cheerful anticipations of successful results, nobody, I am sure, will be more delighted than myself.

Commander BELLAIRS

My hon. Friend has made one of those able and suggestive speeches which the House always expects to hear from him in the course of that speech he made one remark which I think is perfectly true, but which yet did not prevent him—nor yet need prevent any of us—from criticising this blockade, that is, that this has been one of the most successful blockades in history. That is what we expected from a blockade under steam instead of sail. The blockade of the South by the North is allowed by all naval historians to have been the most successful blockade in history up to that. We naturally expected that this blockade would succeed with modern resources holding the two ends of the North Sea. But the main success of a blockade is in relation to its effect in ending the War, and not in arithmetical balances of what goes into Germany and what comes into this country. My hon. Friend feels very strongly the need for more publicity. I agree with him that there is a very anxious, almost an angry, feeling in the country in reference to the blockade. It would, therefore, be well if the Government would give us as much publicity in reference to the blockade as the First Lord of the Admiralty has in reference to the submarine campaign—always having in mind, of course, the interests of the country. We are not helped by the small neutral countries themselves. For some reason or other their attitude amounts almost to an unfriendly attitude. For instance, the moment Denmark began to do an enormous trade with Germany she ceased to publish her export statistics.

The MINISTER of BLOCKADE (Lord Robert Cecil)

All the Scandinavian countries do.

Commander BELLAIRS

Holland, I believe, publishes her statistics. I am, however, most curious about Denmark. What I state was not a very friendly act on the part of Denmark. Of course, she was within her rights. We trust to the Government to supply the omission so far as possible. Then the Dutch Government's actions were not particularly friendly, for they themselves traded with Germany in regard to certain metals, such as tin and nickel, and also with regard to rice and jute—jute, for instance, which they could only have got from the British Empire. Holland is, at the present moment, refusing to admit our armed merchant ships and those of the United States. The inference one draws from these actions is that the Scandinavian countries, and the Netherlands, fear Germany more than they do this country. That is an undesirable state of affairs, and it must be borne in mind with the trading policy of that country. Certain statistics of the trade of Holland have been published in the "Morning Post" and in the "Daily-Mail." I dare say my Noble Friend will respond to the request of the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Hewins) by giving us the facts in regard to these statistics. I recognise, in regard to Holland, that if you are going in for agreements, the agreement which was negotiated last June has resulted in a substantial reduction of the amount going into Germany, and an increase in the amount coming into this country. What we want—as the ideal, of course—if we can bring it about, is to effect a practical cessation of the trade of these neutrals with Germany. Whether we can do that by some means or other is the whole question.

In answer to a question the other day my Noble Friend, in addressing the House, said, "Broadly speaking, no overseas supplies now reach Germany through neutral countries, although instances of smuggling and occasional evasions of the naval patrol still occur." The only thing that really matters to the House is the actual trade with Germany. If fertilisers and foodstuffs go into Holland and Denmark, and got out of them into Germany as dead meat, live meat, or as any other form of food, that may be regarded, and is to be regarded by us, from the economic point of view as supplies to Germany through neutral countries. We do not look upon it at all from the Prize Court point of view. If the procedure of the Prize Court is disastrous to the country, and will not get over the difficulties of the case, I am perfectly certain that if my Noble Friend and the Government come to this House for powers they will be given all necessary powers to meet by retaliatory measures which are outside the purview of the Prize Court and altogether exceptional, the unfair, diabolical warfare which Germany is now waging. I recognise very plainly that the start is everything in a war. My Noble Friend took charge of the business as Minister of Blockade long after the start had made its ordered channels deep and broad. He had more or less to follow instead of adopting, perhaps, his own point of view, though I think if he had realised that the War was going on for a long, long time afterwards he might possibly have adopted a different policy. It is also true that an inferior plan may be successful if it is persisted in consistently, whereas other and better plans, if shifted about, would probably fail. I recognise that very, very strongly indeed. What, however, I do feel in regard to the policy of the Government is that there has been no settled plan except that of trusting neutrals. There have been a series of tentative experiments. My hon. Friend declared that the amount of food that went into Germany at the beginning of the War was a scandal. The truth of the matter is that we did not declare a blockade until some seven months after the commencement of the War and all food was free to go direct to Germany until it was made contraband of war.

To show what tentative experiments were made, it was three and a half months before we stopped the enemy reservists going into Germany, seven months before we declared a blockade and seized goods other than contraband, ten months before we used the most powerful lever we possessed, the coal exports, in order to restrain the action of the Scandinavian countries, and thirteen months before cotton was made contraband. And so it went on. The result is that you had a series of tentative experiments, instead of such a policy as that for which my hon. Friend pleaded when all the considerations were thoroughly thought out. Now we have got a new situation. The most powerful and critical neutral is coming in on the side of the Allies—that is, the United States of America. They have been, largely owing to the German propaganda, of which my hon. Friend spoke, the most critical of all the neutrals, and the most difficult for our Foreign Office to deal with. If they are behind us, one of the greatest difficulties in the path of the Foreign Office is avoided. Then there is, in addition, the new policy of the German Government, creating a new situation—and it is a new situation of which the Government might well take advantage. The German Government have gone in, both by land and sea, for the most devilish forms of warfare, and under all schemes of international law it is agreed that a nation may retaliate by what means there are in its power. But there is a broader consideration than that. If there were only two countries at war, then I say the rights of neutrals are very great, but when you have practically the whole of Europe at war—there are twelve nations in Europe at war, and they embrace all the great nations, and you have only standing outside the three Scandinavian countries, the Netherlands, Spain, and Switzerland—I say in circumstances like that we are justified in promulgating a new doctrine—a European doctrine—if we think that that new doctrine will help to bring the War to an end. That is the view of the Resolution which I have put upon the Paper.

The difficulties of the situation in dealing with the Scandinavian countries arise from two of them, Holland and Denmark, having frontiers across which railways pass into Germany. On the other hand, two of the others, Sweden and Norway, can do the whole of their trade by neutral territorial waters into Germany. It must be in order to prevent this trade, enabling Germany to continue the War for month after month, that we must proceed to exceptional measures. There are three ways in which we can deal with the difficulty. You can blockade the North Sea against Germany and the neutral, and then when the standing temptation of Germany to invade Holland or Denmark is removed by the reduction of the huge supplies they have got stored up, you can start your ration scheme on the basis of a subsistence allowance. There is the other method by which the House can pass legislation superseding the Prize Courts, enabling us to detain cargoes of fertilisers and feeding-stuffs for ourselves, and only giving such a quantity as would prevent these countries from killing off their livestock and sending it into Germany. That is the risk. It largely depends on what view you take as to the length of the War as to whether it is worth while. There is the third method, and I think this is probably as important as any. You can, by agreement with the United States, limit all the credits which are given to neutral traders contiguous to Germany. Without credit no nation can trade, and if you limit the credits by your financial organisations in London and New York, you may succeed in bringing the trade largely to an end, or, at any rate, bring the neutral Governments to agree to your point of view.

The proposals which I have just made are proposals of peaceful persuasion. They are not war proposals we are not taking any such drastic action as we took in 1800 and 1807. In 1860 we broke up the Northern Confederacy by the bombardment of Copenhagen at the time when the Northern Confederacy possessed forty-one efficient battleships. Now these powers with which we have to deal do not possess any navies at all. In 1807 we took still more drastic action in order to seize the Danish fleet. I can remember the day when the Prime Minister of this country made an impressive speech in this House—I think on 1st March, 1915—in which he said we were not going to be bound by any judicial niceties. Ever since then we have been hidebound by judicial niceties. We do not put ships into the Prize Courts-simply because we do not think the Prize Courts will admit them. The Prize Courts have stated, or rather the Appeal Court from the Prize Courts, which the Government have set up for some reason or other—I do not know what reason—


It has always existed.

Commander BELLAIRS

I thought the Government had set it up specially. That Appeal Court decided that they were not bound by Orders in Council. The Orders in Council were not binding on them, but Acts of Parliament were. Well, then, the only solution that I can see is to pass legislation in this House which will enable the Prize Courts to act according to the decision of an Act of Parliament. The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs—I wish he were here, because the Minister of Blockade docs not carry all the guns in speaking for foreign affairs—has stated on an occasion—I think in one of his books on philosophy—that the greatest bargains that are ever negotiated are those that are negotiated for the vanity of mankind, because you get something for nothing. I would suggest to the Foreign Office, even in this War, that a greater bargain can be made by negotiating with the appetite of mankind. War sweeps away the vanity which it sharpens and whets the appetite of mankind. The present procedure puts insufficient restraint on the appetite of the neutrals. I would say to the Government this: We want to close the arteries of trade which filter their way through to Germany. In the sixteenth century there was a time when bleeding could only be stopped by a red-hot iron, and there came along a man who said, "Close the arteries." It was a novel idea, and it was a simple idea, like all great ideas. What I would suggest to the Foreign Office is that they are still in the hot-iron stage, and what they have got to do is to try to close these arteries of trade, and so bring the War to a successful conclusion as quickly as possible.


I only desire to add a very little to what the hon. Member for Hereford has put so ably and moderately before the House, and in a tone of asking rather for the reasons which the Minister of Blockade can give for certain things which are undoubtedly agitating commercial opinion in the country very much. In doing that I want to point out, as the hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone (Commander Bellairs) has done, that recently a new factor in this matter of the blockade has undoubtedly come about. A fact that has not yet been touched upon is the declaration by Germany of the extreme submarine action of destroying all vessels, whether neutral or enemy, within certain large zones, comprising most of the European waters. I want just to put this point: By taking that action, surely Germany has interfered with the very basis of those arrangements for the export to this country of a certain proportion of the foodstuffs produced by the northern neutrals in large measure out of the feeding stuffs which are still imported. Germany in effect says this: "We can import our share with our complete organisation in your countries over your land frontier, but we are going to do our very utmost to prevent your sending any foodstuffs, or anything else, into the countries of our enemies overseas, whether in your own ships or in any other vessels." It seems to me impossible to differentiate on any logical grounds between feeding stuffs and foodstuffs. We know a distinction is drawn, and has, I understand, always been drawn between those two things, the food for animals and the food for human beings, in relation to contraband or conditional contraband of war, but of course it is perfectly obvious, and everybody in the House knows perfectly well, that feeding stuffs are only human foodstuffs one degree removed. They have no value except for the production indirectly of human food, and yet, I understand, the Foreign Office have a different system in their rationing arrangements applying to foodstuffs and feeding stuffs.

The policy with regard to foodstuffs is, I understand—and this I should like the Minister of Blockade to go into when he replies—to allow the import into the northern countries of their home requirements. We have no right and no wish to starve neutral populations, but we have no intention to let them be the channel to convey essential foodstuffs straight into enemy territory. But with regard to feeding stuffs, the policy seems to be somewhat different. The calculation is made—and it was very clearly indicated how important that calculation is in the answer the Noble Lord gave me after questions to day—as to the quantity of foodstuffs which were in transit to the enemy. Those are not allowed to go in because they clearly can be shown to be supplies for the enemy territory, but there does not appear to be any policy of keeping out feeding stuffs, which can be converted, in the ordinary process of the agriculture of the country, into foodstuffs. In dealing with that, we have with Holland an arrangement which the Minister of Blockade indicated to me in answer to a question on 21st December last. He said: The imports of both These commodities 'maize and linseed) are limited to a fixed amount agreed upon with His Majesty's Government. The disposal of a surplua import does not, therefore, arise"—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, 21st December, 1916, col. 1579, Vo LXXXVII.] I maintain it does arise, and that it is very material, particularly in view of the action of Germany in attempting, so far as she can by her submarine action, to prevent all export of foodstuffs or feeding stuffs to this country. Another point I wish to touch upon, briefly, is the question raised by the hon. Member for Maidstone (Commander Bellairs) in which he referred to the action—I do not think it is intended to be unfriendly—of Holland in respect of armed merchant ships. It seems to me that the Dutch Government are in a very illogical position. The Germans have practically said, "We are going to try and prevent you doing any trade in agricultural produce with anybody but ourselves," and the Dutch Government practically say, "We are the only neutral which has not allowed merchant vessels which come to our country to take the produce of our trade, which we are entitled to sell to whom we may to arm for defence against submarine attack." The First Lord of the Admiralty told me on the 21st December last: So far as I am aware all neutral Powers, without exception, take the same view which is clearly indicated in the prize regulations of the Germans themselves. That is the view he set forth that merchant vessels are entitled to defend themselves and their cargoes by every means in their power. Since then the public have been somewhat disquieted to hear that Holland has not come into line with other neutrals, and in the case of the steamer "Melita," she was obliged to throw her guns overboard before she was allowed to come into port and discharge her cargo. It seems to me that Holland cannot on any ground of logic object to a much more stringent limitation of the importation of feeding stuffs when she does not come into line with other neutrals in doing all she can under the general law of nations laid down in this House by the First Lord of the Admiralty, that merchant vessels are entitled to defend themselves against being overhauled or sunk by enemy ships. Undoubtedly, we have made a very great advance in this question of the blockade. I do not think it can be said that we are raising the question now because we think that the Department of the Foreign Office which deals with the blockade is not doing a great deal better now than it was in the early days of the War. I believe that it can be seen from the Dutch official figures and the Board of Trade returns clearly that we are getting a somewhat more reasonable proportion, and perhaps the enemy is getting a somewhat less unfair proportion of the essential foodstuffs produced by the Northern neutrals.

We see from the figures, particularly in the last quarter of the year, that in regard to various imports into the Northern neutral countries destined ultimately in a large measure for Germany there is not the same freedom of access that there was. The hon. Member for Maidstone pointed out that we are only just beginning, and he took us up to the first thirteen months of the War. I think it will be found from the figures that as recently as six months ago in regard to many essential commodities to Germany to enable her to carry on the War, the exports from Holland, according to the Dutch official figures, were without parallel in the whole course of the War. I will take one case, and it does not matter which essential article I take. I will take the case of cheese. In the quarter July-September, 1916, Holland exported to Germany, according to her own official figures—which must be as well known in Germany and even better than they are known in this country—26,018 tons of cheese. There is no quarter in the whole course of the year during which so much has been exported. The normal exports for the year 1913 were under 4,000 tons a quarter, and yet in 1915, in the three last quarters, the figures were 17,000 tons. 23,000 tons, and 13,000 tons, and for the first three quarters of 1916 the figures are 22,000 tons. 23,000 tons, and the extreme figure, which I have already quoted, of 26,000 tons. Now we are coming to the last quarter, and there is evidence that the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs is beginning to work, because we find that the export of cheese in the last quarter fell to 4,319 tons. or almost exactly the pre-war average export per quarter. That is not anything very great upon which we are able to congratulate ourselves. Germany is getting as much Dutch cheese as she did before the War, but, according to the figures for the last quarter, she is not getting more, and at any rate she is not getting six times as much as she did in the quarter before.

I do not want to weary the House with other articles, but I can assure hon. Members that they are ail equally remarkable, and they all tell the same tale. I think, however, I must add the corresponding figures of Dutch cheese exported to the United Kingdom, which is one of the great agricultural products and exports. Before the War we used to get rather more Dutch cheese than German We got 19,000 tons in the year 1913, as against Germany's 10,000 tons, and yet we find that in 1915, in the last quarter of the year, all we got was 325 tons. In the January-March quarter of 1916 we got 336 tons, as against 5,000 tons per quarter; during the quarter April-June we got 332 tons; in July-September the right hon. Gentleman began to work, and this country got 1,699 tons, or a little less than half of our pre-war average. During the last quarter of the year the right hon. Gentleman really tried, and he got 4,482 tons, or just a ton or two more than Germany got, and a little within 500 tons less than the average export to this country before the War. But there is nothing so boring as figures. I do not want to go into the other articles, but I can assure, hon Members that if I took bacon or pig products generally, or eggs, it is much the same. It is astonishing the way the export of eggs into Germany has gone up, and diminished to almost nothing into this country until the last few months. But recently the tide seems to have turned, and the system under which we are working our so-called blockade is beginning to operate. I do not, however, think that anything that was ever started in a time of emergency has been so slow coming to any kind of fruition, and has been so gradual in its operation. The hon. Member for Maidstone referred to the fact that it was thirteen months after this War commenced before we made cotton centra-band, and I think it is worth while stating to the House the answer of the then Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Viscount Grey of Falloden) to a question in which he was urged in February, 1915, to make cotton contraband. The answer he gave was: The proportion of German cotton imports used in the manufacture of explosives is very small, and the requirements for that purpose could have been supplied from the stocks of cotton goods held in the country at the outbreak of war. The advantage of treating cotton as contraband of war is therefore not apparent, whilst the disadvantage which would result from such ft step is considerable. We have travelled a long way since that time. At the time that statement was made the late Lord Kitchener was telling the country that he anticipated a three-years war, while the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs was dealing with the matter from the point of view of what quantity of explosives could be manufactured out of the then stocks of cotton held by Germany, which shows that he did not envisage the situation and did not appear to think that the War would last much longer, or else cotton would have been made contraband long before February, 1915, and still longer before it was made contraband in September, 1915. It does not appear to me that in the first eighteen months of this War we made any serious attempt to use our sea power to blockade Germany at all. The Fleet was there in readiness, and the great machinery of British sea power was in being ready to be exercised, and anybody who studies the Board of Trade figures and the exports of other countries in the first eighteen months of the War will see that, broadly speaking, we produced no effect worth talking about on the imports of essentials other than actual contraband of war into Germany.

5.0 P.M.

I quite admit that it is an extremely difficult problem to deal with a blockade when there is a very narrow enemy sea border, and not all of that controlled by the Fleet, and a very large enemy sea border which is fringed with neutral countries with whom you have got to deal. I think, however, there is great force in what the hon. Member for Maidstone said. This War is not a war with a second-rate or a first-rate Power only, because the whole of Europe is engaged with the exception of these Northern neutrals and Spain, and therefore the whole relations between the interests of the belligerents and European civilisation and all the world as a whole, and the importance of the trade interests of the small neutrals that still stand out are affected. I do hope that we shall hear from the Noble Lord when he replies figures which show that a great improvement was made in the last quarter of the year indicative of the fact that by one means or another he is going to do what I am certain the country expects him to do, that is more stringently limit the supply of all these articles which are essential to the carrying on of the War by our enemies than has been done at any previous period of the War. Although he could not give us figures for the month of February, which was the first month the German submarine blockade really operated, we know that these figures must have been extraordinary in their disadvantage to this country, and I hope he will take steps, together with the Admiralty, to see that the basis of our bargains and arrangements with these Northern neutrals have not been upset or are not liable to be upset by the action of the enemy. We frankly recognise the position and we should say to those Northern neutrals, "For two and a half years of this European war we who have the sea power have done our very utmost to protect and keep your trade intact within the fullest interpretation of the legitimate bounds that can be put to it under the stress of war, we have done that at a great disadvantage to ourselves, and we have done it fighting with our hands tied behind our backs, but now at the end of two and a half years it is the enemy who declares to all the world that she is prepared to sink your ships if they go to sea to carry on your legitimate trade. Therefore it is the enemy that prevents us doing for the future what we have done in the past to anything like the same extent that has enabled you to carry on your trade by your citizens in time of war as you have been accustomed to do in times of peace." I do not think they can possibly say that any autocratic action on the part of this country, in interfering with the seaboard of its enemy—and bearing in mind the submarine policy of the enemy-should cause, I will not say, serious differences, of course it will cause differences, but cause any difficulties which could be possibly avoided by any action that may be taken by the right hon. Gentleman's Department or by the Admiralty.


I have no complaint to make on this occasion—or, indeed, on any previous occasion—of the tone of the speeches which have been made on this subject. I will endeavour, if the House will allow me to do so, to give a somewhat detailed account of what I have tried to do since I have held this office, because this is the first occasion since I was appointed that I have had an opportunity really of doing so. The hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Hewins) was good enough to say that he thought there were two objects for which the appointment of Minister of Blockade was made—one was to intercept: to improve the interference with or prevention of all trade with our enemy in the blockaded zones; and the other was to co-ordinate the various activities of this country, so as to set up some answer to the German commercial system.


As against blockade.


Yes, but it does not stop there; it is a very much wider question than the blockade, and I will tell the hon. Member how far I have dealt with it. I want at the outset to say I quite recognise that as a not unfair description of the duties laid upon me. But I venture myself to think that my principal duty is the duty to blockade. When I was appointed rather more than a year ago. I found that, up to that time, no Blockade Ministry had existed at all. There were a number of Departments—I should say, perhaps, a number of Sub departments, belonging to various other Departments of the Government, who worked together more or less in blockading work, but there was no unity and no definite Ministry of any kind. It was, indeed, because of that state of things that a Ministry of Blockade was created. I am not going, at this moment, to dis- cuss whether that was a right or a preventable state of things; the only observation I will make is that I do not believe that anybody in the world—nobody certainly in this country—had the least conception when the War broke out how we should be able to blockade Germany, or in what way any such blockade ought to be organised. That is a matter with which I have nothing to do at the present moment.

The first thing I did was to secure the closest co-operation in this matter between the Foreign Office, which necessarily must have a good deal to do with this particular kind of blockade, and the Admiralty. I attach enormous importance to these two offices working in the closest co-operation throughout. I do not think I am indiscreet in saying that when I took office there was a certain amount of friction between the two offices. I am glad to say it has entirely disappeared. The first thing I did was to ask the Admiralty whether they could supply me with a naval officer of position who-would be able to advise me as to the feelings and impressions which the Admiralty have of the proceedings of the Foreign Office, and perhaps be able also to convey to the Admiralty how the blockade looked from the Foreign Office point of view. The Admiralty were very kind in meeting my views, and detached for the purpose a very distinguished officer, Admiral Sir Dudley de Chair, who, up to that time, had been in command of the Tenth Cruiser Squadron, the principal blockading squadron in the North Sea. That was an enormous boon to me at the outset of my work. I also asked for the assistance of the Civil Lord (Sir Francis Hopwood), and, by an arrangement which I think has been productive of great good, he remained additional Civil Lord while coming across to advise me in the organisation of the Ministry of Blockade. He was an exceedingly competent adviser, being one of the most experienced and able of our Civil servants; he advised me also from his point of view, and put me in touch with his side of the Admiralty and their point of view. That was the first step.

The second step was with reference to the War Trade Department. The War Trade Department had been very ably presided over by Lord Emmott, but its position in reference to the blockade was a very difficult one. It is concerned with the licensing for export of all goods that are exported from this country. That has a great bearing on the blockade, but it has a great deal more to do than that. It has to consider whether, from the point of view of the necessities of this country, goods ought to be allowed to go out. Of course it acts under the advice of various Departments in exercising these functions. It has all that to do, besides strictly blockading duties, and, further, it has the duty of seeing that goods exported from this country do not find their way directly or indirectly to the enemy. I worked in complete harmony with Lord Emmott. I do not think we ever had any difficulty in working together. At that time there was under the War Trade Department a Department called the Trade Clearing House, which was, in effect, the Intelligence Department of the War Trade Department. It collected all information which was likely to be useful—particu-lary from the blockade point of view—as to trade all over the world, and it furnished indications as to what importers in neutral countries could be trusted and what importers might not, and information of that kind. Lord Emmott was good enough to allow me to take over that Department. I altered its name to the War Trade Intelligence Department; to some extent I strengthened it, and I believe it will be valuable under its very able director, Mr. Pearson, not only for the blockade, but—and this will particularly interest my hon. Friend—the information accumulated in that Department ought to be of great use, after the War is over, for the kind of reconstruction which the hon. Member for Hereford is, rightly, so anxious about.

I also—I am sorry to speak so much about myself, but it is almost inevitable—I also took over the Statistical Department of the War Trade Department, because I felt, and still feel, that statistics are the very vital blood of the blockade. It is essential, if you are to know what is going on, to collect statistics: to know exactly what is going into each country, and compare it with previous exports, and so on. I was very fortunate in securing the services of Mr. Harwood, the head of that Department, which has been strengthened and has been of enormous service, as I am sure anyone who knows anything about the actual administration of the work of the blockade will admit. Just before that had been established—and this is clearly a direct answer to my hon. Friend—a Department of the Foreign Office had been taken over by the Blockade Department. It was called the Foreign Trade Department, and the object of that was, in the first place, to carry out the Trading With the Enemy Act, which forbids trading with people who are regarded not strictly as enemies, but are put on the statutory list of people with whom it is improper for British subjects to trade.

In connection with that I quite agree with my hon. Friend that the investigations which had to be made have shown the enormous extent of the German trade organisation, and the completely different theory which has prevailed in Germany to that which prevails here, namely, that trade and politics must go hand in hand. You establish your commercial house in a foreign country partly with the view of improving the trade of Germany, but partly also to extend its political power. It has been part of the functions of the Foreign Trade Department to find out who are really substantial enemy traders in neutral countries all over the world—not only in the blockaded area, but neutral countries all over the world—and place them on the Statutory List, the effect of which is to make it a criminal offence for British subjects to deal with them, and, at the same time, to see that British trade does not suffer from that alteration. That has been a very delicate and difficult operation. I believe it has on the whole been well carried out, and I believe, too, that the organisation so established will be of the greatest possible service to the Government after the War—and with this perhaps my right hon. Friend (Mr. Runciman) will agree—in connection with any measure of reconstruction that may be undertaken. I can assure my hon. Friend that this question of trade organi-sation is occupying the attention of the Government, and I entirely agree with him it is extremely urgent. I do not think it possible to exaggerate the urgency of it. I feel very very strongly that, in some respects, we ought to be up and doing, even in the middle of a great war, difficult as it is, and I can assure my hon. Friend that, in conjunction with the Board of Trade, we are taking steps now—and it is largely a Board of Trade matter. I am sure hon. Members will be glad to hear we are taking steps to reorganise and improve the Consular service, which will be a very large part of the organisation.

Another Department which it became necessary to create in order to assist our blockade operations was what is called the Financial Section of the Blockade. It is a very delicate and difficult subject with which to deal. Most of the operations of this Department are entirely unintelligible to me. It deals with that most difficult of all subjects, foreign exchanges, but, broadly speaking, its object—and I do understand this—is to secure that the London Money Market, which is still the greatest money market in the world, shall not be made use of by enemy traders for their own purposes. That is a thing of very great importance and difficulty; but it is being carried out as well as it can be under Sir Adam Block, who throughout has had the support of the Governor of the Bank of England and other financial authorities of the City of London. That, roughly, and broadly, is the kind of organisation that I have attempted to carry out in connection with that Department.

I then had to consider what were the first steps that ought to be carried out. There were two things which seemed to me desirable and to which I obtained the assent of the then Cabinet. The first was in connection with the contraband question. I am not going over old history. It seems years since we discussed questions of absolute and conditional contraband but they formed a very heated subject of controversy at that time. I felt, and still feel, that it would be a great mistake to abolish the distinction between absolute and conditional contraband, and the Government of the day entirely agreed. On the other hand, we all felt that, for practical purposes, the distinction had ceased to exist. as the House is perfectly well aware, conditional contraband is contraband which may be stopped only when it is going to the armed forces of the enemy or to the enemy Government. I am not attempting a legal definition, but a popular description of it. Absolute contraband, of course, consists of those kinds of things which may be stopped to whomsoever they are going. What we did was to make a list of all contraband articles, whether absolute or conditional, and to treat that for the purposes of notice as cur contraband list. Some were absolute and some were conditional contraband. Since the German Government had taken over practically the management of all trades, we were entitled, under the Law of Contraband, quite apart, from our Orders in Council, to stop all goods, whether conditional or absolute contraband.

Then there was the Declaration of London. At that time, in the spring of last year, I do not think the Declaration of London, as it then existed, could be regarded as a serious hindrance to our blockade operations. It had been very largely amended, but for reasons which I then explained, it appeared to me desirable to get rid of it altogether. It had ceased to be a practical instrument; it had been so amended and cut about by various Orders in Council which we had issued. It merely hindered and caused misconception both in this country and in neutral countries as to what exactly we really were doing. I tried to abolish it, and I regretted to find that my views and those of His Majesty's Government were not entirely shared by our Allies. It required perfectly friendly but somewhat prolonged negotiations before we were able to point out that it was really to the advantage of the Allies as a whole that this instrument should be withdrawn. It was withdrawn, as the House no doubt remembers, last summer. Those two matters of machinery seemed to me important, but by far the most important thing was the establishment of the principle of rationing, and that we were gradually able to do so. My hon. Friend opposite asked me how it was organised. There are two kinds of rationing. You may obtain the assistance of some body in a neutral country which represents either a particular trade or the whole body of the trade in that neutral country, and the British Government may say to it, "Here are certain articles. We are quite content that you should import into your country all that you need for the purposes of home consumption, but beyond that we do not think that you ought to import"—of course, I am only speaking of border neutrals—"because it is clear, if you do import more than you require for your home consumption, that there is a great chance, at any rate, that it will go directly or indirectly into enemy countries." If you can obtain the agreement and assistance of such a body, your task, comparatively, is a simple one. It is then the business of that body to see that the ration is fairly distributed in the neutral country, and that those who are entitled to it and really require it get their fair share. As far as we are concerned, all that we have to do is to see that the amount is not exceeded.

If, however, you do not obtain any agreement, the only way of establishing the principle of rationing is to say, "We will do our best to hinder the importation into a neutral country of any quantity above a certain amount to meet their home requirements." The disadvantage of that is this: Suppose you fix 1,000 tons per month as the ration of a particular article. The first 1,000 tons comes along, and you let it pass. The great proportion of that, in fact, is going through to the enemy, of course without your knowledge. Though our knowledge is very considerable, it is not omniscient as to what goes on. Then comes along another 1,000 tons. You stop that, and then when you get to the Prize Court the complainants are able to prove overwhelmingly that that second 1,000 tons is really for home consumption, and you are put in considerable difficulty. I am perhaps treating this subject with indiscreet frankness, but I have been appealed to to be as frank as I can, and I am. I hope that I shall do no harm. The result is that rationing by agreement is far more effective and works with far less friction and is far better from a blockade point of view than compulsory rationing. I am glad to say that we have established rationing by agreement in most of the neutral countries with which we have had to deal.

I may perhaps revive one other ghost and refer to the celebrated Danish agreement. That agreement has been a complete success from a blockade point of view. It has been of the greatest possible advantage and has been a great advantage largely because it has given us a body representing the whole trade of Denmark, with which we have been able to arrange these questions of rationing which are really essential to the effective blockade which we are trying to carry out. Then the only other organisation with reference to rationing which perhaps I may mention is that in order to follow the amounts going into a country we have weekly or fortnightly—I think it is fortnightly—returns of all the amounts taken from the manifests of the cargoes which pass through our controls going to these various countries, and we are able to follow week by week and almost day by day in the case of some of the articles exactly how much is going in.

There is one other device which I am going to describe to the House and which has really been of great assistance to the blockade. I should like to describe it, because I believe it to be the type of device which ought to be employed in a blockade of this description. About the time I was appointed the Consul-General of the United States came to see me, and he pointed out to me: "You say in your diplomatic representations to the United States that, after all, British goods suffer just as much as American goods from the blockade, and that we are not really injuring American goods and American traders in any way beyond the injury which the British trader suffers. That is not quite right, because the British trader can go to your War Trade Department before he makes any arrangements with regard to the shipping of the goods and he can obtain a licence. When he has got his licence he knows that it is all right, and he can proceed to secure ship's space and make his financial arrangements. He-is able to carry on his trade without fear that it will be stopped at the last minute. That is not the case in the United States. Cannot you do something to supply that want?" We thereupon organised a system of Letters of Assurance, as it is called in the States. It is perfectly voluntary. Nobody need take out letters of assurance unless he wishes to do so, but if he likes to go to our authorities there and make inquiries whether a particular ship is likely to meet with difficulty, he can obtain from those authorities in America letters of assurance, and then the goods, generally speaking, unless something exceptional intervenes, go through without any trouble or difficulty. That device has been of enormous importance in smoothing the difficulties which had before then existed with America, and it has been of equal importance in enabling us to know exactly what is going on in reference to exports from the United States to these neutral countries. It has enabled us, without any unfairness or injustice, to regulate the supplies to these neutral countries.


You refer to the British authorities in America?




How long has the system of letters of assurance been going on?


I think the visit of the Consul-General to me took place rather more than a year ago, and I established this system as soon as it could be established. I should think it is about a year ago. It has taken some little time to get it in working order. It is entirely a voluntary system, but now, though I do not say it is universal, it is very largely utilised by traders between the United States and neutral countries. In my judgment, as the result of these measures and other measures, because, of course, they were accompanied by other measures of general tightening-up the various devices which before existed, there has been for some months past a complete cessation of overseas importation into enemy countries. I will give some instances of that in a moment. My hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Peto) said that we had really done nothing, at any rate up to the summer or the third quarter of 1916, because we had not succeeded in stopping the trade of what I will call, roughly, the home produce of these neighbouring countries. I think he must forget that right through the early stages the question of the home produce of neighbouring neutrals was never raised. The whole question which was then discussed was, "Are you really stopping the overseas trade and the imports into Germany?" That was accomplished completely, or substantially completely—nothing is complete in this world—about June or July of last year.


I am sorry there has been any misunderstanding. I would point out to the Noble Lord that I was dealing exclusively with feeding stuffs.


I know that there are certain people out of doors who are not nearly so fair as my hon. Friend. I might easily quote observations as showing the feelings of a highly respected member of the Unionist part on this question. I said I would give a few examples of what has occurred. I do not like giving figures, in spite of the earnest appeal made to me on the subject. I have had some figures prepared. Three or four of them I do not think will do any injury to the State, at any rate, some of them will not. The form in which these figures have been prepared deal with the whole of the neutral countries—that is to say, the three Scandinavian countries and Holland, all in a lump. After all, that is the real test. If you can show that the imports into the whole of these countries have been reduced to something about either just over or just under the pre-war normal figure, you may fairly conclude that there is no considerable direct import into the enemy country.


Will the figures be published?


I will consult my right hon. Friend about that. I propose to give a certain number of them and I do not think there will be any great objection to publishing them, but I should like to talk it over with my right hon. Friend.


I do not want to bother the Noble Lord, but if he is going to quote from a document he knows the obvious difficulty. If there are some of these figures which it is unnecessary to give to the House, I do not wish to stand in his way at all or to impede publication.


I am very much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for reminding me of the Rule. It may be that I had better not quote anything. I should rather like a ruling from you, Sir. Am I allowed to give a certain number of figures, reminding myself, no doubt, by a written or printed document, without quoting the authority of that document, but quoting them on my own authority and as being part of my speech?

Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. Whitley)

The rule of the House is that if a Minister quotes from any document, any hon. Member may claim the placing of the whole of that document on the Table, but to that Rule there is the proviso that Ministers are entitled to claim serious public interest against the publication of a document. For that, of course, the Noble Lord would have to take the responsibility.


May I ask whether quoting figures—not quoting statements, but simply quoting statistics—has ever been held to come under the Rule you have mentioned?


I do not recollect a case where quoting—that is to say, giving certain figures to the House—has entailed giving other figures to the House. I do not think that that point has ever been raised before, but I do not imagine that the House is likely to press for the publication of figures which would be against the public interest, and even if they did so it would always be open to Ministers to state on their responsibility that there was public interest against the publication.


I will give these figures on my own authority, without quoting, then, from any paper. Take corn and grain—corn and flour, corn fodder and oil cake, malt, rice, sago, tapioca, macaroni, beans, peas, and lentils. I will only give the figures in round numbers. The average quarterly import before the War—that is, gross imports—was about 2,150,000 tons. Imports, less all exports, were, roughly speaking, 1,160,000 tons. The total, less imports to enemy countries only, was 1,200,000 tons. In the last quarter, October to December, it was 1,060,000 tons—that is to say, it is less in the last quarter than the pre-war average less all exports, and a good deal less if you take away the enemy exports to the neutral country. I take another instance—I might take almost any of the ordinary articles. Take cocoa, about which a good deal has been said. The import last quarter was 2,634 tons. The gross average imports for the quarter to these neutral countries was 12,000 tons. The net import—that is, import less all exports—was 3,300 tons. There, again, there is considerably less than the pre-war normal. Let me take animal oils and fats, about which a good deal has been said. This last quarter the amount was 18,680 tons. Before the War the gross import was 51,534 tons. The total, less all exports, was 20,000 tons. The total, less exports to enemy countries, was 25,000 tons. There, again, is a very considerable diminution. Vegetable oils and fats now amount to 52,000 tons; before the War, gross, 94,000 tons; total, less all exports, 48,000 tons; total, less exports to all enemy countries, 50,000 tons. On the whole, the House will agree with me that these are very satisfactory figures. I should like to give one more figure, and only one more—that is, in regard to fertilisers. I take this quarter, but I ought to say I do not think it is very fair in this case to take this quarter only, because it is a seasonal trade. There are three main fertilisers—ammonia sulphate, phosphates, and soda-nitrate. In the case of ammonia sulphate, I can only give the figures less exports to enemy countries. They are now 3,136 tons; before the War, 9,384 tons. Phosphates, now 65,000 tons; before the War, 165,000 tons. Soda-nitrate, now 14,000 tons; before the War, 36,000 tons. These are all without exports to enemy countries.


Are the pre-war cargoes to Rotterdam and Dordrecht transhipments to the Rhine ports excluded?


Certainly they would be excluded if they were going on to enemy countries. Either they would not come into the figure at all—I do not know how that may be—either they would not come in as having been imported to Holland at all, or if they did go in they would be taken out as going on to enemy countries. I said that it is not quite fair to take the last quarter, because it is a seasonal trade. I will take the whole year. In the case of ammonia sulphate it is 8,000 tons now, before the War 37,000 tons; phosphates, now 290,000 tons; before the War 663,000 tons; soda-nitrate, now 146,000 tons, and before the War also 146,000 tons. Those figures are also satisfactory as showing that there is no leakage, so far as figures can show it, of any of these articles from these neutral countries to our enemies. I think they are also satisfactory as showing this: We are asked—I am afraid I shall have to deal with that—to diminish both fertilisers and feeding stuffs. I think that my hon. Friend opposite will see that, as a matter of fact, very much less both of fertilisers and of feeding stuffs are now- going through to these neutral countries than were going through before the War. I could give the House more figures, all of which would bear out that contention. I felt when we had succeeded in stopping all imports, apart from questions of smuggling and things of that kind—all overseas imports—we still had not done all that was necessary in order to complete the blockade of Germany. There was the question of the home produce of the border neutrals. That is a much more difficult subject to deal with, as my hon. Friends who have spoken will realise. The foundation of a blockade is the prize; that is the sanction. An ordinary blockade entirely depends upon it. You can only stop ships and goods going to a blockaded port which are and can be condemned in a Prize Court. Where you have to deal with a direct blockade, the matter is perfectly simple. You merely have to ascertain that the ship is going to a blockaded port and put it into a Prize Court, and, if you can prove that fact, the ship is condemned as a matter of course. The House is aware that that is not the problem with which we have to deal here. We have to dealt with an indirect blockade, that is, a blockade through neutral countries. There the position is much more difficult. You can stop and get condemned in a Prize Court any goods which are going into the neutral countries, the ultimate destination of which is the enemy country. That is described in our text books as "continuous voyage," and I believe in the American text books it is described as the "doctrine of ultimate destination." That is the point. We have acted to the full on that doctrine, and have stopped all goods, the ultimate destination of which was Germany or any enemy country.


Whether contraband or not?


Both contraband and every other thing. I will not say that you could not find some exception. For instance, I believe you would have found, until quite recently, at any rate, an exception in wines. There were certain international difficulties about dealing with wines which the House will appreciate without my mentioning them. There were one or two similar articles of that kind as to which I do not think we were completely successful, at any rate up till recently. But speaking generally, you can stop all goods, contraband or non-contraband. Many of these neutral countries produce not only agricultural products but copper, wood pulp, and many things which are of value to our enemies from a military point of view. How far is it possible for us to stop the trade in those goods? It is a very difficult question. I have arrived at the conclusion that there is only one way in which you can stop it, and that is by obtaining an agreement with the neutral countries that they will stop it or diminish it. There is no other way of dealing with the thing at all that I can see. You have to bargain with the neutral country in the same way that you make a commercial treaty or any other commercial bargain. The broad principle is this. The neutral country wants certain things from us. We can legitimately deprive the neutral country of certain advantages. In consideration of our not depriving them of these advantages, and granting the goods or other things that the neutral country wants from us, we ask them to restrain their trade with our enemies. I do not want to go into this matter of negotiations, as the House will easily guess, with undue particularity, but there is one instance I can give, and that is the question of the export from Norway to Germany of copper. The position is this. Norway wants a great deal of copper of a particular refined kind for her electric-works which she is establishng in all parts of the country. She has got copper in her own country, but it is in the form of pyrites, and contains a small quantity of copper in a large amount of sulphur ore. We have made an arrangement by which, in return for our providing electrolytic copper—refined copper—Norway will restrict her trade to Germany, and indeed to us, within certain limits. That is the nature of the bargain we made. It has been of great use to us, and I believe it has been of great use to Norway. That is the kind of negotiation which, as it seems to me, is the only way in which you can deal with the situation.

I come to agricultural produce. Simple agricultural produce is different. My hon. Friend (Mr. Peto) stated that in a very plausible way. He said, after all, you let maize come in. It goes to feed the pig, and the pig goes on to Germany. I have heard people put it in a popular way that the pig is merely maize on four legs. After all, when you arrest a cargo of maize you have to show to your Prize Court that it has an ultimate destination—Germany. What you can show is that it is going to feed pigs, part of which will be eaten in Holland or wherever it may be, part of which will be re-exported to this country, and part of which will go, it may be, to Germany. It is very difficult, indeed to say that any particular part of that cargo of maize has the ultimate destination of Germany, even if you disregard the fact that it is intermedialtely being changed into pig. I can only go on what I am advised I can do. That is one difficulty.

I want to make a correction at this stage of what appears to be a popular misunderstanding. There is no question of our exporting maize from this country. That has not been done at all. No feeding stuffs have for months past been exported. I will not say there may not have been some tiny parcels of, perhaps, 100 lbs., but substantially no feeding stuffs have for months past. I am informed, been exported from this country to any neutral country. The question is whether we are entitled and how far we are able to stop maize or oil cake which is coming from a neutral country—the United States—and going to a neutral country and passing through our patrols upon the doctrine which I have tried to describe to the House in the present condition of affairs, I do not want to prejudge anything, but I rather doubt whether we could succeed in a Prize Court if we put forward such a doctrine as that. My hon. and gallant Friend (Commander Bellairs) recognises the difficulty we are in, but says the time has come to put aside the Prize Court altogether. We are to proceed upon what he regards as a new European law. He told us in his notice that we are not to allow any supplies to neutral European countries unless there is an entire cessation of their trade with Germany. That would mean, I suppose, that we are to arrest all the cargoes of feeding stuffs and fertilisers unless neutral countries will undertake that they will not export any agricultural produce to Germany at all—of course, from a neutral country. I have some doubt whether that could be easily defended. I should have some little hesitation in repeating the perorations in which we have indulged about the defence of the rights of small countries. The first thing to ascertain is: Would this plan be a success from the blockade point of view? Unless it is going to succeed it would evidently be improper to adopt such an expedient as that. We have heard a great deal about Denmark. We used to get before the War, not the whole but the bulk of the agricultural produce of Denmark, and the Germans got the bulk of the meat, including live stock. The Germans still get the bulk, practically the whole, of the meat of Denmark. As to agricultural produce, Denmark has always continued, unlike some other neutrals, to export to this country a very considerable proportion of her agricultural produce, but under the economic and other pressure of the War our share has undoubtedly gone down. It reached its nadir some time in the early part of 1916. Since then matters have decidedly improved, and we are getting a larger share of Danish produce. I should be delighted to show any Member of the House, or any responsible person in the country, all the figures connected with this or any other matter. That is the fact about Denmark. What is the fact about Holland? Again, taking it very broadly, we used to have something like half the agricultural produce of Holland. Early in. 1915 we practically got nothing from Holland at all—I will not say absolutely nothing, but very little. That went on until the middle of 1916, and then, in consequence of negotiations, we have now got, I will not say absolutely, but very nearly to the pre-war position.

6.0 P.M.

The question is: Is there anything more we can successfully do—I leave out for the moment the military and political side, but merely on the economic side—to diminish the exports of agricultural produce of these countries to Germany? The matter has been very carefully considered. We had advice, of course, from our representatives in those countries, and in reference to Denmark—I do not think I am saying anything which is a breach of confidence—in order to investigate this and other blockade questions, we recently asked Sir Francis Hop-wood to visit that country and to report to us on the condition which he found there, and whether he thought anything more could be done. It is suggested we are to keep out fertilisers and feeding stuffs. I do not know whether the House fully realises that feeding stuffs represent a very small proportion of the upkeep of the cattle and sheep in these two countries. If we are to cut off the fodder supplies, it is quite obvious that the whole of the surplus production would go straight to our enemies. None of it would come to us. I do not deny that if you cut off the oil cake and maize you would diminish the produce of the herds and crops of those countries, but the question is whether the diminution would be so great that on the balance Germany would lose or gain. She would get the whole of the surplus under the new system. Would the whole surplus be greater or less than the surplus less the share of it which comes to us at present? As far as I can make out the figures. I think it is exceedingly doubtful, putting it at the lowest, on which side the balance of advantage would lie. I quite agree that if, owing to the submarine menace, these countries ceased to export their produce to us altogether very different conditions would arise, but so far they have not ceased to do so, and I see no reason why they should. The submarine menace has not prevented that trade to this country at present, and I do not see why it should prevent it. There is no change in that respect. I am only dealing with the present situation of affairs. There is another aspect that has to be considered. If you cut off the feeding stuffs from these countries the result, of course, would be a rise in the price of fodder. It would become more and more urgent for the farmers in these countries to kill and sell their cattle in the only market which is open to them, and that is the German market, at any rate so far as Denmark is concerned, and you would have, undoubtedly, a large increase of sales to Germany of the surplus stock which it would no longer pay the Danish farmer to keep. That is not a matter of theory, it is a matter of ordinary agricultural economics. We see it actually happen in these countries and in Switzerland, that where there has been for some reason or other a shortage of foodstuffs the immediate result has been an increase, at any rate for the time, of the export of cattle to our enemies. I have put as clearly as I can the purely economic side of this problem, which is one of extreme doubt and extreme difficulty.

It is extremely doubtful whether the plan recommended by my hon. and gallant Friend (Commander Bellairs) would really have the result he anticipates. That is not the only thing. We have to consider our own food problem. We have to consider the loss we should suffer by cutting off the supply of foodstuffs to these countries. We have to consider—and I speak in very general terms here—the getgraphical and military position in these countries. Any hon. Member can, if he chooses, by consulting an ordinary text book, see what was the military power of Denmark, both on sea and land, before the War. I do not know what she may have done to improve that position since then. If he will try to consider what his position would be as a Danish statesman, faced with a demand of the British Government that Denmark should wholly cut off trade with Germany, I think he would begin to count up rather anxiously the number of soldiers and ships at his command. He would have to consider also the relation between Denmark and the other Scandinavian countries. He would have to consider the general effect of any action against her on other neutral nations. He would have to consider the effect of any such policy as that which my hon. and gallant Friend recommends on the general war aims with which this country entered the War. We have above all to remember this, that we cannot lay down this principle—and to do my hon. and gallant Friend justice he does not lay it down—as applied to Denmark only. You have to consider what would be the effect of attempting to apply such a rule as that to all neutrals alike. If my hon. and gallant Friend will allow me to say so, with the greatest respect, for I have great respect for him, I think that plans of this kind ought not to be put forward, even by an unofficial Member, unless very careful thought has been given to the whole military and political effect which they would have if they were carried out. I am aware that I have not been able to deal with this matter in detail. It is a difficult and delicate subject. I have endeavoured to present to the House the general line and the consideration which we have had to adopt in dealing with it, and to say that what I have said applies equally to Holland.

Charges are being made against Denmark. It is suggested that Denmark has been guilty of great delinquencies as regards ourselves. I know, for I have been told so, that that has been very much resented in Denmark. I wish to say, speaking for the British Government, that I make no such charge against Denmark at all I remember the Danish agreement and the campaign then set on foot, and I can only say that that agreement has been carried out with admirable fidelity by the Danish parties to it. I believe that it has proved exceedingly useful and I believe it has been well observed by the whole Danish population, with very few exceptions. It has been suggested that even if that be true of the first Danish agreement, there is some other agreement into which Denmark has entered which she has not kept. So far as Denmark is concerned—I am not speaking of Holland—there has been no agreement with respect to agricultural produce. Both sides, we as well as Denmark, are perfectly free in the matter. Discussions have certainly taken place and assurances have certainly been given, and I desire to say, and to say with the utmost emphasis, that in my judgment the Danes, whenever they have given us any assurances, have endeavoured honestly and honourably to fulfil those assurances. For these reasons, so far as Denmark is concerned, I am authorised by His Majesty's Government to say, after full consideration of all the aspects of it, that they do not see any reason to modify their present blockade policy with respect to that country.

I stated at the beginning of my observations that the relations between the Foreign Office and the Admiralty in blockade matters were admirable. It may perhaps be useful, in answer to the appeal made by the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Hewing), to say this: I have read in the Press and elsewhere suggestions that it would be far better if the Admiralty took charge of the blockade altogether. I can assure the House that it is not the duty which I have any particular fondness to discharge, but I do not think it would be practicable to transfer the administration of this blockade to the Admiralty, and I will tell the House why.

The FIRST LORD Of the ADMIRALTY (Sir E. Carson)

Hear, hear!


I am glad to hear that my right hon. and learned Friend entirely agrees with me in that. The reason is this: Necessarily at every stage the administration of an indirect blockade of this kind involves discussion and negotiations with Foreign Powers. Take any of our devices for distinguishing between enemy and neutral goods. Take the establishment of the Black List of neutral importers whom we suspect of trading with the enemy and of conveying goods to the enemy. The moment any neutral trader finds himself on the Black List he goes to his Government, and that Government makes representations to this Government and says, "Why do you put such and such a firm upon your Black List"? There comes immediately an international question, and it is common knowledge—I am not saying anything indiscreet in reminding the House of it—that one particular matter, the statutory Black List in America, produced an international question of great urgeney and difficulty. Is the Admiralty to deal with all that? Is it to deal with all the negotiations involved in that? Take the question of guarantees. As the House knows, we have arranged a system by which neutral importers give us guarantees that they will not re-export to our enemies. One particular foreign Government—the Swedish Government—made a law by which such guarantees were illegal unless the Government approved of the guarantee. Immediately we asked for the guarantee an international question arose, and negotiations had to take place. That is an international question which had to be discussed between the Swedish Government and ourselves. Take the question of rations. That was the same thing, as I tried to explain to the House earlier. If you are going to have an effective and smooth working of the system of rationing it must be done by agreement. You must have negotiations, and it may involve international questions. The same thing applies in regard to other agreements—shipping agreements, copper agreements, and other agreements.

All these things involve negotiations. They may produce international complications, and these complications may involve a great deal more than the actual dispute. You may have, and have had, an international dispute, as we had in regard to the statutory Black List in America arising out of our blockade arrangements, and which proved to be a serious international question between the two countries. That may happen at any time. You cannot separate them. All your international relations with any particular country are affected, and must be affected, by negotiations which you necessarily have to carry on in order to carry out a blockade of this description. If you were to transfer that to the Admiralty the result would be you would convert the Admiralty into the Foreign Office. That would be the only result. I do not know what my right hon. and learned Friend thinks of the matter, but personally I think that would be an extremely silly thing to do, not because I have any particular admiration for the Foreign Office, though I have an immense admiration for it, contrary to certain people who do not know as much about it as I do—and I have an immense admiration for the officials of the Foreign Office, who are an admirable body of men. Quite apart from that, are you going to put upon the officials of the Admiralty, whom I know from my personal intercourse with them do not know which way to turn with the work that they have to do already, an enormous addition of work which in no way concerns the Navy or the Fleet, but which concerns strictly negotiations with foreign Powers, interviews with foreign Ministers, dispatches to our Ministers abroad, and so on? That is an absolutely impossible solution, and I am convinced that whether the Minister of Blockade is doing this work well or badly, it can only be done in close co-operation with the Foreign Office, and no other method of organisation is possible, or would work with anything like success in the carrying out of these difficult operations.

I have tried to make as briefly as I can some survey of the general work I have tried to do since I occupied this position. I am painfully aware that the survey has been necessarily very incomplete. The mass of detail which has to be considered in connection with this matter is very great, and if I were to attempt to give the House a full and complete picture of everything that is necessary, not by myself, but by the whole Ministry, I should tax the patience of the House far more than I have any right to do. I have tried to indicate the general lines that we have pursued. As to the result, my hon. Friend said with perfect truth that nothing is more difficult than to know what is going on in an enemy country. I entirely agree with him that we shall be well advised not to pay too much attention to any reports that reach us from that country. I have never pretended, in public or in this House, hat we can achieve miracles by the blockade but I do think that it would be deceiving the House and the country if I did nor say that, in my judgment, there is now in Germany, as a consequence of the blockade, a very great shortage of food, and a very considerable shortage of a number of other things, such as wool, cotton, leather, lubricants and other necessaries, and although I do not wish to attach too much importance to them, I cannot disregard and cannot disbelieve the repeated and well-authenticated stories of food riots and things of that kind as indicating, at any rate, profound discontent by the population of Germany with the conditions which prevail there. Whether the War will be brought to an end by the blockade is a totally different matter. I never pretended that I thought that we ought to count on any such result, but I do believe that, when we come to fight the final battle, what we have been able to do by the blockade will count greatly in achieving our success in that battle. I believe that the War—I have said so over and over again—can only be won upon the battlefield. We have no right to expect any other termination but victory in the field. But I think that what can be done by the blockade—which I have endeavoured to do, and, I think, with some success—is to give some small assistance—we do not hope to do more than that—to those who are fighting our battles in France and elsewhere.

I do not know whether the House will allow me to say in conclusion a few words about my own personal position. I would not trouble the House except that, not in this House, but elsewhere, I have been assailed by personal attacks I think of rather more than usual venom. I wish to say that I did not ask for the position of Minister of Blockade. It was offered to me. I was asked to take it by the late Government, because they thought that I could be of assistance to my country by taking it. When the present Government was formed the present Prime Minister was kind enough to ask me to go on in my present position. I told him—I do not think that he will mind my repeating it to the House—that from the purely personal point of view, and for purely personal reasons, with which I need not trouble the House. I would rather support the Government as a private Member. He was good enough, none the less, to press me to accept the office, and it was in consequence of his doing so that I thought that in time of war one is not entitled to regard one's own personal inclinations in the matter. I do not very much mind what is said about myself, but I do confess that I resent and resent rather bitterly the attacks which have been made on the personal character of those who are employed in the Foreign Office. I desire to convey to the House my own profound sense of the devotion and ability with which I have been served in that Office. The position of a Civil servant is not a very glorious one. He is not a very highly paid official. He often could get a very much larger salary if he chose to devote his talents, which are generally considerable, to commerce or something of that kind, and I do think that it is a little hard that these men, many of whom have been anxious to enlist and serve in the Army and have been ordered, and properly ordered, by their chiefs to remain, on the ground that they are doing more useful public service in their office, should be assailed and abused as though they were traitors to their country, when I know that not only are they not traitors, but that they are doing their best to serve their country in a way not the most agreeable to themselves and not the most remunerative to themselves, but solely and entirely from a sense of public duty.

Speaking for myself, my course is clear. I have tried to carry out the duties which have been entrusted to me by the Government. Some of my hon. Friends, in a friendly way, suggest that there was no definite policy about the blockade. I cannot agree with that. The policy of the blockade has always been the same since I had anything whatever to do with it. It is to put the greatest possible economic pressure upon our enemies consistent with the paramount objects of a military and political character. I do not think that you can make it more definite than that. That is and must be your policy. The methods I have described. I believe that they have been quite consistently pursued. I do not think that there has been any vacillation or uncertainty about their application in carrying them out. Speaking only of myself, I have been fortunate enough to secure the approbation of the late Prime Minister and the late Foreign Secretary, and I am glad to say that I have retained the good opinion of the present Prime Minister and the present Foreign Secretary. In those circumstances, all I need say is this, that so long as I have the approval of my chiefs and the support of this House I shall continue to discharge the duties which have been laid upon me, confident in the fair-mindedness and sense of justice of my fellow-countrymen.


The House has just listened to a most interesting and frank speech dealing with a subject which involves a great deal of difficulty and a considerable amount of delicacy, and I trust that my Noble Friend will not think that I am endeavouring to add to the burden which has been put upon him when I say that a certain amount of anxiety which exists throughout the country on the subject of the blockade will not be entirely set at rest by the speech which we have just heard. What we contend is that in the general administration of the blockade—I will not say more than that—the country feels that my Noble Friend is perhaps somewhat light-handed in his methods. Before I come to the principal subject with which I wish to deal I would like to remark that, if I understood the figures correctly, the amount of nitrate of soda now allowed to go to a group of neutral countries is the same as it was before the War.


No; that is not so. The amount of nitrate of soda going to these countries is only the same if you except what was exported to the enemy.


All pre-war exports to enemy countries? That of course would involve the supposition that the amount used for agricultural purposes is now the same. Is it not possible that the enormous demand at high prices for nitrate of soda for other than agricultural purposes may cause some of that nitrate of soda to be used for other than agricultural purposes?


I do not think that the hon. Member quite followed the figures. The general amount of fertilisers is very much smaller, or rather was last year, than in pre-war times. The amount of nitrate of soda was about the same, taking the whole year together. If you take only the last three months it was only one-third of what had gone in in pre-war times, allowing for enemy export.


Perhaps I will not go into that point. The feeling undoubtedly throughout the country is that agreements should not be made with these countries which allow food to go into Germany. That is a rough and ready way of putting it. It leads to the question how far the rationing of neutral countries can be effectively carried out. We have had considerable explanation as to what has been done in that direction, and I think that, so far as it affects articles which are either consumed in the state in which they are imported or are consumed in the state immediately next to that, that is to say in the case of raw materials which are worked up in these countries, it seems to me that it is possible that the blockade is perhaps being carried out effectively on the system of rationing. But the question of feeding stuffs is more complicated and, of course, the whole question is not a legal one. It is a question of whether or not these feeding stuffs should be allowed to go in to fatten cattle, of which admittedly a very large proportion go to the enemy. The first thing that occurs to me is that if these cattle are, by the cutting off of feeding stuffs, driven to the enemy at once instead of later on, it is better that they should go to theenemy thin rather than fat. But the real test is whether we are getting back to this country in return for these things a sufficient proportion of agricultural produce. My Noble Friend says that in the case of Denmark the cattle admittedly go to Germany, but that the quantity of agricultural products other than cattle which came to this country has not diminished. That does not seem to be corroborated by information which has been placed at my disposal. From the figures which I have it appears that the amounts of articles, like eggs and butter, have very seriously diminished.


I did not say that. What I said was that in the total division between us and Germany there has been an improvement in the proportion.


By these figures it looks as if the improvement was not marked. At any rate, February was by far the worst month as regards the importation of these articles into this country. There were, of course, special reasons, I think, at that time, but the question of these feeding stuffs is the one which excites most interest outside this House, and is the one which really wants watching the most closely of all these questions connected with the blockade. It is essential that the country should be satisfied, as far as possible, that the produce resulting from the foodstuffs that we allowed to go into those countries does not to any extent go to the enemy beyond what is absolutely impossible to avoid. The amount of interest taken in the blockade is certainly increasing, and I think that everything should be done to allay the anxiety which undoubtedly to a considerable extent exists.


I think it is right, as representing the Navy, that I should say a few words upon this occasion to remove what I conceive to be misapprehensions which, from time to time, arise in the Debates in this House and in the Press. I do not think the country generally understands what exactly is the duty of the Admiralty in relation to blockade, and what is its connection with the Foreign Office and with the Government. I see absurd statements from time to time that "if you will only leave the blockade to the Admiralty all will be right." That only requires a very few minutes consideration to show how absurd the statement is. The policy of the country, whatever it may be, must be the policy not merely of the Foreign Office or of the Navy, but it must be the policy of the Cabinet, and the Cabinet having laid down the policy, the Foreign Office by negotiation, and the Navy by action, have tried to see that policy carried out. Somebody comes and says, "Leave it to the Navy. The blockade will be all right, and nothing will go into Germany." Those who think that do not really see what that means. What they really mean by that is that the Navy will go just as they please, seize every ship of every neutral, bring it into port, and take the goods out of it that were intended for neutral countries, and all will be well. That is really what they imagine. They never imagine for a moment that we are dealing not with one neutral, but with two neutrals—the neutral who is exporting and the neutral who is importing. I would like to know where we would be if this kind of duty had been put upon the Admiralty, that we were simply to get an instruction that nothing was to go to Germany through a neutral country that was imported from another neutral country. The truth of the matter is that those who put forth that absurd doctrine mean that we should go to war with everybody. That is what it really comes to.

When I undertook my present office I took a great deal of pains about this blockade. I knew that there had been a good deal of criticism in the country with reference to it, and I, at all events, was bound to satisfy myself as to the action that the Admiralty and the Navy had to take. After all, at the present moment the blockade, the so-called blockade, or the stopping, at all events, as best we can. of goods going into Germany, is the chief offensive operation of the Navy at the present moment. I felt it my duty to see all those at the Admiralty who are connected with this offensive operation. There were stories told that they were being impeded by my right hon. Friend here and that there was some unseen hand at the back, and all the rest of it. I went through the whole of these operations with the men at the Admiralty who were acquainted with the facts. As far as I can gather from them, they were perfectly satisfied not only that the policy laid down by the Government was being carried out between the Foreign Office and themselves to the best advantage to this country, but that the policy itself was the only possible policy, having regard to the complications that would ensue if you tried to adopt a more aggressive attitude towards neutrals with whom we are on perfectly friendly terms. So far as I was concerned. I found that in the way in which the matter had been arranged by the Foreign Office the blockade was assisted, and enormously assisted, by the agreement they had entered into, and the arrangement they had made with America, which is, of course, the chief neutral and chief exporting country, by which they had secured in a friendly way that the American Government should be satisfied that a large number of the ships which were sailing for neutral countries in Europe should have their cargoes examined and certificates given before they came into European waters at all.

Just look at what that means. If it was not for that arrangement, the blockading squadron at the present moment would have to go out and insist upon every single ship coming into port for examination. That would be almost impossible, certainly with the force we have now; but this arrangement, an arrangement which I think has been of the greatest benefit to this country, not merely by lightening the burdens of the Navy, but in preventing friction with America and with the Scandinavian countries, is, I consider, of inestimable advantage in assisting us to carry out the blockade. Do you think that arrangement would be there if the Navy were doing what it is asked to do, to stop every ship and take out every cargo; that arrangement would not have stood for one moment; you would have irritated the neutral exporters and the neutral importers, and they would have said, if they did not treat it as an act of war, "We will give you no facilities, and you may chase the ships and do your best and go through the whole difficulty of bringing every ship into Kirkwall and into the Prize Court." I would like to know what would be the state of the blockade at the present moment if it had been carried out in that way, instead of the way in which it is carried out now. I have discussed this matter with naval experts, including the First Sea Lord, who was for so long with the Grand Fleet, in co-operation with which the blockading squadron works, and he has told me, at all events, for what his opinion is worth, that he knows of no other system save that which has been carried out, by which one could carry on a blockade of Germany, in the circumstances in which we are placed, through neutral countries. I really do not understand what is the alternative. A great many speeches are made about the difficulties of the Admiralty, as to the uneasiness in the country, and as to the need of something definite being determined. We all have the same uneasiness; we all have these difficulties before us; but I have not heard to-day a single suggestion as to how we are to prevent this any further than we have gone.

Will any hon. Member get up here for instance, to say in this House, "You ought to prevent anything going to Norway which, by any possibility, can go to Germany under any circumstances"? Will anybody get up and say that? What would be the result? Norway would say, "Very well, you shall no longer get from us what is essential for your munitions and other matters of that kind." Will anybody say that this is a course we ought to pursue? No; what the system of blockade that is carried out by my right hon. Friend means is this—and we profess nothing more—not that we are able to prevent food and imports entirely from getting into Germany through neutral countries, but that this is the best system for minimising imports from getting into Germany. My hon. Friend who spoke last about the food cry took as an illustration feeding stuffs that go to the fattening of cattle in neutral countries, and suggested that we ought to do something to prevent the produce of those feeding stuffs from ever going into Germany. I do not know where our rights come in to do that. Will he tell me that we have a right to say to America that she is to have no trade with neutral countries? Does he say that? Of course he cannot. The only way, leaving international law and international rights out of account, of doing this is by saying that what is really going into Denmark, or Holland, or wherever it may be, is really intended to go into Germany. That is what is called the doctrine of continuous voyage. Was there ever a more absurd theory put forward than that the doctrine of continuous voyage was to be treated in this way? You sent foodstuff into Denmark or Holland; it does not go into Germany, but is used to feed pigs, and eventually the pigs when fattened may go into Germany, or may be eaten in Denmark or Holland, and you are to go into Court and say that by the doctrine of continuous voyage that food ought not to be allowed to go into the neutral countries, because it is food which is used to feed the pigs which may or may not go to Germany. On the face of that you might starve the Danes, or the Dutch, or other neutrals. How do you know when bread goes into Norway that the Norwegian who feeds upon it may not join the German army? There is continuous voyage for you?

No; the truth of the matter is that everybody can see that there must be disappointment if any food goes from neutral countries into Germany. But let it not be imagined that this is the whole case. My hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Peto) read out a great many figures as regards the amount of cheese that goes to Germany. He said, I forget how many thousands or millions of tons, but at any rate an enormous amount of cheese went to Germany. Does he suggest how we are to stop it? He has not told us, nor can anybody tell us, how we are to stop it. You cannot tell who, through the neutrals, are sending goods into Germany. Certainly we cannot send the Fleet into Denmark to prevent them going over the frontier inland. Therefore, I say that, while these are matters which very naturally give rise to a great deal of heartburning, when people see what the Germans are getting, I do not think that anything is gained by exciting people on that subject and by trying to rouse the idea that we are doing nothing. Nobody, so far as I know, that I have heard in the course of this Debate has been able to suggest any single step which my Noble Friend could have taken which he has not taken. However, I merely rose for one purpose—that is to say that, so far as I know—having frequently consulted on this subject the best expert opinion at the Admiralty—the Department are in thorough agreement and in most harmonious working with my Noble Friend, and we believe that everything that can be done is being done.


I desire in a single word, as one who has raised this question on many occasions, to express my gratitude to my Noble Friend for his clear statement this afternoon. Let me observe that he was speaking this afternoon of the period during which he has had unlimited control. I do not think it is right to hold him responsible for anything that happened before the time that he had that control. I think that the House will have observed this afternoon a most striking admission which I think the Noble Lord made in his speech. He said that when he took it over, about eighteen months after the War began, he found no unity with regard to the blockade and no adequate organisation. That is a very important statement, because it justifies practically all the criticisms which were offered during the first eighteen months of the War. We have only got to look at the statistics now to see that things are very much better than they were at that time. In fact there has been a gradual improvement, although I am very far from saying that matters are quite satisfactory as one would appear to imagine from all that has been said this afternoon. I was glad that my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty intervened in this Debate. There is a great deal to be said from the point of view he put forward, but it is also the case that for the first eighteen months of the War the Admiralty were in a state of despair with regard to the actions of the Foreign Office. Take incidents that happened to anyone's knowledge at the time. They were bringing in day after day ships which were admittedly were carrying cargo to the benefit of the enemy. It is on record that day after day and week after week they brought in those ships. What happened? A telegram was sent to London to the Foreign Office, and in reply, often in the course of a few hours, a telegram came informing them that they ought to let that ship go through, for some explanation, or for some reasons which no doubt were considered satisfactory by the Foreign Office, but which tended to make our sailors absolutely depressed and in despair. It is the fact that for months at a time the officers themselves absolutely refused to take ships into port. They used to send junior officers and midshipmen, who took the ships into the harbour, and, treating the matter jocularly, told the Harbour Master to let the ships away in a few hours to Germany. The whole thing was treated as a farce, though ship after ship, to the knowledge of the officers, carried goods for Germany.

That went on much too long. That is what we complained of. I am positive it will not go on so long as the present First Lord of the Admiralty is there. But those were the fatal months of the War. Those were the months that might almost have ended the War by the present time. Why it took us about nine months' agitation to induce them to make cotton contraband. There are some who say it does not matter, that that has been done even now, and there is a case to put forward in justification of that, although I think it is not convincing. But this War was nearly lost by the mismanagement with regard to the blockade for the first eighteen months of the War. I will not withdraw a single word I said. I have been brought into close connection with this matter, and I have had communications with my. Noble Friend on the subject, and I have been struck with his readiness to receive complaints and to ask the co-operation and assistance of the most insignificant Members in this House in order to help him in his work. I have been certain he was honest from the start and that he tried to do something to get rid of red-tape. If he has not succeeded, it may possibly be because there have been greater difficulties in the way than some of us supposed. I listened to the statement about Denmark. To some extent his action there is probably in the long run justified, although I maintain my protest against an arrangement for certain specific articles to be sent with our connivance to the enemy. No doubt there may be reasons for that, but my reply is that we have never had all the facts in connection with the matter before us.


I do not think anything has gone into Germany under the agreement.


I am delighted to hear that. That puts quite a different aspect on the matter, more especially as our assertions were not contradicted. The agreement provided for it, and it is very satisfactory to hear that so far as my Noble Friend knows he does not think any goods went to Germany under that agreement. We have not heard with regard to Holland. The Noble Lord is aware that we are not at present getting anything like what we used to receive from Holland.


expressed dissent.


I admit that every quarter now shows some increase, and that there has been an extraordinary change. But, so far as my recent figures go, whilst there has been an improvement, I do not think you would call it anything like the amount we were receiving before the War. There are some very striking figures. We have never got to the real facts in regard to the Netherlands Oversea Trust. That Trust has the power of levying heavy fines against any Dutch trader for sending into Germany goods he had received from this country. It is a very curious commentary on the whole situation that although those fines have been very high, I have never been able to get from my Noble Friend the total. He offered to show me privately, but I did not see much advantage in that, because I would not be able to use the exact figures. I think he refused to make public the amount of money collected in fines from Dutch traders for sending goods into Germany. I brought forward a casein which one firm paid £25,000 fine. That is a firm doing a big business in this country and opening factories here with the support of the Government. The facts were, I think, admitted, and current report at the time was that the firm made £75,000 profit out of that transaction. That is only one case, and there have been many cases. I think the House ought to be in the position and I make the suggestion to the Minister so that he may again consider the question, of having the full figures of the amount of fines levied on traders for sending goods received from this country to the enemy country. I think that, if possible, we ought to have the names of the people who have so offended, and that they ought to be put in a black list. I think there is yet a great deal to be done, but I gladly and freely recognise that the Noble Lord has very considerably improved the prevailing state of things.


I am disposed to agree very largely with all that the right hon. Gentleman has said as to the laxity with which our blockade was conducted in the early part of the War. But I confess for the moment that question docs not concern me very deeply. I am far more concerned presently with the way in which the blockade is conducted now. I think the country and the Members of this House will have been reassured very largely upon that point by the speeches which have been delivered to-day by the representatives of the Foreign Office and of the Admiralty. For myself I was extremely glad that the First Lord of the Admiralty took part in this Debate, because if there is any comment that has been made more often than another by the more violent and ignorant controversialists, and their violence is generally in direct proportion to their ignorance, it is this: "Leave it all to the Navy, turn the Foreign Office down, leave it to the men in blue, everything will be all right, and we should have no trouble with neutrals and we should starve Germany." That is really a comment, or complaint which is founded very largely upon ignorance, and I think the speech of the First Lord to-day has shown us that the Navy must act in these matters in co-operation with the Foreign Office, and act upon certain principles of international law, unless we are going to have the neutral world at war with us, and even then, perhaps, we might fail in our object.

This question of blockade naturally excites a great deal of interest, but I am equally confident that there is a very great deal of misapprehension on the subject, and for this reason. In former times a blockade has been conducted mostly by one belligerent against another, by means of blockading the belligerent ports directly and preventing goods going into the belligerent ports and so carrying out the blockade. That is an operation which is easy enough if you have got sufficient naval power, because all you have got to do is to see that ships do not go into the blockaded ports of the enemy.


There were no mines then.

7.0 P.M.


As my hon. Friend remarks, there were no mines then, and there were no submarines, or anything of that kind in those days. The difficulty in this War is not to blockade the German ports directly, since that we have done ever since the beginning of the War, but to prevent goods going through neutral countries to a German destination. That raises questions which are almost of an entirely novel character, though not wholly, in international law, and also raises questions of the most difficult character as regards neutral rights. I think, on the whole, that the blockade, considering the great difficulties arising from the new international situation and international law, and the new questions raised with regard to neutrals, has been carried out within the last—well, I would hesitate to say what time, but at any rate within the last many months, fairly well on the whole. My right hon. Friend has pointed out the great difficulty we have got to deal with is to prevent neutral countries from sending their own goods into belligerent countries, and there is no way in which that can be done except by means of negotiations. Fortunately we have got some basis on which we can negotiate with neutrals. Neutrals want some goods of ours, and we are able to say to them, "You shall not have those goods which you want unless you will undertake on your part not to send goods to Germany which they want." In that way I believe the arrangements which have been made, though probably not perfect—and it would be quite impossible to expect that they would be—have, on the whole, worked fairly well. I was much interested in the figures given by my right hon. Friend to-day. I was very glad he was able to give them, and was not prevented by the fear of being asked for some other figures. It would have been an extraordinary thing if a Minister, because he gives some figures, is required to give figures which he did not want to give. The figures which he did give show that there has been a very large diminution of goods going into Germany of which they stood in need. There is only one other point I want to touch on, and that is the question of friction with neutrals. It would have been exceedingly easy to carry on this blockade in such a manner as to involve ourselves in the greatest difficulties, if not in war, and I think it is greatly to the credit of the Foreign Office that we have been able to carry out so stringent a blockade without producing an acute international situation, which might have greatly hampered us in the conduct of the War and in the ultimate results which we intend to obtain by this War. I only rose to express my personal conviction that the blockade has of recent times been carried out effectively, a result which we owe practically entirely, as I venture to think, to the present Minister of Blockade and to those who are working with him