HL Deb 06 March 1855 vol 137 cc162-9

said, he had given notice of a Motion for Returns of Lead and other articles contraband of War exported from the different Ports of Great Britain and Ireland to Foreign Ports since the declaration of War; and of the Imports into Great Britain and Ireland of Russian Produce in Neutral Vessels during the last year. The noble Lord said that he thought it his duty to move for these returns in consequence of representations made in the public prints, to the effect that not only munitions of war were sent from this country to Russia, but that they are so sent by authority of the Custom-house in London. He hoped, for the credit of the Government and honour of the country, that those statements might be authoritatively contradicted. He had traced a paragraph to one of the Hull papers, of the 2nd November last, headed "Shipment of Lead to St. Petersburg." It stated that fifty tons of lead had been entered for shipment from London, viâ Hull, to Memel, to be taken thence to St. Petersburg; the paragraph went on to say, that the Custom-house authorities at Hull having refused to pass it, as being an important munition of war, a telegraphic message was sent from London authorising them to forward it, and it was accordingly done. He understood that any articles detained at any of Her Majesty's Custom-houses could not be forwarded without a Treasury warrant. Now, if any officer in the Custom-house or Treasury had given authority for such a transaction as this, it was proper that he should be known and called to account, whether his position was high or low, because it was contrary to the interests of the country, if not to the laws of the land, to proceed as we had been doing, and to send not only an immense amount of gold to the enemy, but even actual munitions of war. It had been stated to him by the editor of the Hull paper to which he alluded, that similar shipments had been going on through the summer months and up to the 30th of November, when the Order in Council appeared, and that in substance the paragraph in question was correct. From a return which he had received from the head of a large house in Liverpool, it appeared that shipments of lead to Memel went on to a great extent. The returns of Trade and Navigation proved that that was the case. Another return showed that the exports of iron and steel to foreign ports had considerably increased, as compared with 1853. The exportation of these articles to foreign countries involved very important national considerations, and the Government ought explicitly to avow the policy they intended to adopt towards nations with which we were at war, and likewise towards nations which regarded themselves as neutrals. Distinct information upon this head should be afforded to the commercial classes of this country, the precise instructions given to our admirals respecting the blockade of foreign ports should also be made known to them, and every officer commanding our cruisers should be fully apprised of the duty they were required to perform. Official returns showed that the importation of a variety of articles of foreign produce had considerably increased of late years; and this remark applied especially to the four great articles of Russian production. In 1854, a large increase in tallow took place. In hemp, flax, and hides, also, a considerable increase would be perceived in the six months ending July, 1854, over the corresponding period of 1852. The following was the detail—

1852. 1853. 1854.
Hemp cwt. 280,607 250,073 332,421
Hides, untanned cwt. 202,464 330,603 272,621
Hides, tanned,lbs. 1,075,207 3,604,769 2,041,580
Flax cwt. 410,876 627,173 643,835
Tallow cwt. 242,469 205,349 256,675

This showed a considerable increase on the first six months, but on the whole twelve months a decrease in tallow and flax, but increase of the import hemp and hides. The former being in twelve months ending 1852, 1,081,220 cwts.; 1854, 1,227,964 cwts.: of the latter, 1852, 550,365 cwts.; 1854, 601,199 cwts.: ditto, dressed, 1852, 2,090,077 lbs.; 1854, 4,180,315 lbs. Then, with respect to corn, it would be seen there was an increase in the year ending January, 1854, over 1853, in wheat alone, of about 1,900,000 quarters. In 1855, the quantity was 3,431,227 quarters, which was less than in the year 1854, but more by 400,000 quarters than 1853. A good deal had been said about the quantity which had been shipped from Odessa. All must recollect Admiral Dundas's despatch apologising for having attacked Odessa, and speaking in a tone of congratulation of having spared the buildings and the stores of corn and wine, stores which had afterwards served to feed the Russian troops in Odessa—an anti-national proceeding. From returns that had been rendered it appeared that the Russian produce taken by this country amounted to 9,600,000l., being 38 per cent of the total exports of that country; that France took 8 per cent and Turkey 5 per cent;—so that we and our Allies took one-half of the whole Russian exports. This, he thought, was a sufficient argument for inducing our Government to resort to every means in their power for crippling the commercial traffic of Russia. He believed that there would be no objection to produce the returns relating to the exports from neutral ports; but, as he was informed that it would be impossible to furnish correct information with regard to the quantities of Russian produce imported into this country, he should not press that part of his Motion.


said, there would be no difficulty in acceding to the first part of the return moved for, and, with regard to the second part, if the noble Lord would communicate with the President of the Board of Trade, it could be put into a different form, which would furnish all the information required. With regard to the export of lead from this country to Russia, he had to state that at the commencement of last year, when it seemed probable that a war would break out, a Royal proclamation was issued prohibiting the exportation from this country of arms, ammunition, naval and military stores, and machinery; at the same time the Treasury were empowered to grant licences for the export of those articles under certain circumstances. When war was declared, the subject was referred to a Committee of the Privy Council, by whom it was resolved to limit the prohibition to three classes of articles—namely arms, gunpowder (including brimstone and saltpetre), and marine boilers, engines, or the component parts thereof. East of Malta or north of London was at the same time fixed as the geographical limitation. In the month of October, in consequence of information received, additional restrictions were imposed, and the export of blue lias and cement was prohibited; and in the month of November the exportation of lead was also forbidden. It was with very great doubt that this last article was included in the prohibition, because, after all, it was probably of no great importance, for it was not likely that it could reach the Emperor of Russia from this country in quantities large enough to be of any particular service to him—and, indeed, it appeared that he had drawn the greater part of the lead which he had required from Spain, and that it passed through Prussia and other neutral States. Very early in the war application was made to the Court of Prussia to prohibit the transmission of articles contraband of war through that country to Russia, and an assurance was given that the Prussian Government would do their best to comply with the request—an assurance which he was afraid had not been very perfectly complied with. Lord John Russell, however, had lately informed Her Majesty's Government that the Prussian Government had renewed their assurance, on the subject of trade in the contraband of war passing through their dominions, and had expressed an intention of rendering more effectual the means in her power of preventing such traffic. With regard to the larger question as to the in- tentions of the Government in reference to the trade of neutrals, all he had to state was that Her Majesty's Government had no intention of making any change in the Orders in Council passed last year. He believed that if there were any two points on which the Emperor of Russia reckoned for assistance in the war more than others, they were that there could be no cordial maritime co-operation between England and France, and also, that by insisting strictly on our former belligerent tactics we should very soon be involved in quarrels with the chief maritime neutral States of the world; and indeed, had we not made some very considerable concessions in our old interpretation of the rights of belligerents, there was very little doubt that the Emperor's expectations would have been realised on both points. He looked upon the Orders in Council of last year as a wise measure, both in point of policy and principle. Not a single observation against the course Her Majesty's Government had taken had been made in their Lordships' House; and only one in another place, where the hon. and learned Gentleman who made it was totally unsupported, and he hoped that no attempt would be made to revert to our ancient practice. In order to keep Russian produce altogether out of this country, it would be necessary to go much further back than our tactics of the last war, for even then the very simple process of selling it to a neutral would have put it entirely out of the reach of our cruisers either in neutral or in our own vessels. In fact, to meet the noble Lord's views we must revert to the Berlin and Milan decrees, which not even Napoleon's absolute power could carry completely into effect. He had not been able exactly to follow the noble Lord's statistics with regard to the alleged increase in the importation of Russian produce, but he could safely say that so far from the noble Lord's conclusions being correct, the Board of Trade returns for the last year showed that there had been a considerable decrease in the average amount of the importation of articles of Russian produce: in fact there had been a very marked decrease in every one of the articles. The noble Lord had mentioned hides as an article in the importation of which there had been a considerable increase; but he was informed that, in fact, the importation of hides from Russia and Prussia had completely ceased. He was not aware of any chief article of Rus- sian produce so conveyed the import of which had not declined 40 per cent, and with respect to some articles the import had decreased 60 per cent. No doubt, in the Black Sea, the Baltic, and the White Sea the blockade, from various causes, had not been so effectually and continually carried out as it might be. For this there were obvious reasons in the Baltic and the White Sea, the Russian goods having been previously almost entirely paid for by merchants in this country or in France. With respect to the blockade in the Black Sea, it was contrary to the wish of the Government that the blockade should not be effectual; but it turned out to be impossible to establish such a blockade, and that was the reason why the imports from Russia to this country had been so great. However, the blockades, such as they were, had certainly effected serious damage to Russian commerce. It had been the opinion of an eminent French statesman, in reference to the Russian cotton goods exhibited in this country at the Great Exhibition, that they were so excellent that they threatened very seriously the preponderance which this country had obtained in respect to the manufacture of that article. He was not convinced as to the truth of that opinion; but he might add that the result of the blockade had been that the cotton manufacture in Russia had been stopped from the difficulty of getting fuel, owing to the blockade. If he wanted another proof of the injury inflicted on the foreign trade of Russia by the blockades, he would refer to an article recently published in the Révue des Deux Mondes, in which a French ex-Minister of Finance, Léon Faucher, described the disastrous effects upon the finances of Russia which the war must produce, and the dangerous expedients to which the Russian Government had already been forced, in order to meet the difficulties likely to be produced upon Russian credit in other parts of the world. This article was so severe that it had brought forth a semi-official reply in the St. Petersburg Gazette, in which, while some of the positions of the French writer were combated, an admission was made that it was incontestable that the Russian foreign trade was in a state of suffering. If the proposition to prohibit the introduction into this country of Russian produce were adopted in preference to a blockade, it would only have the effect of inflicting the maximum of injury on England and the minimum on the Russian Empire, because, while England refused the goods, the rest of the world would receive them; the real effect of a blockade was, that though we deprived ourselves of Russian produce, we at the same time prevented the rest of the world from obtaining it, and destroyed almost the whole of the Russian foreign trade.

In answer to some further observations made by Lord BERNERS.


said, that certainly the importation of Russian articles was increased last year; but the amount of those articles coming from Russia and Prussia was very much decreased.


did not clearly understand whether or not the export of lead was now prohibited. The noble Earl said it was, but he thought the noble Earl had not explained why, when the export of nitre was prohibited by the Orders in Council, the export of the material for making balls was not prohibited at the same time. He thought that if the present policy of England with regard to neutrals were carried out under all circumstances it would not be found to answer. In countries like France, Spain, or the United States of America, where there was a vast extent of seaboard, there could be no effectual blockade if trade were allowed in neutral vessels.


made some observations, which were totally inaudible in the gallery.

In reply, LORD BERNERS again pressed the Ministers as to the authority given for the exports of the lead before alluded to, and was informed by Lord Granville that lead was not then contraband of war, the articles restricted only being sulphur, brimstone, and gunpowder, as well as boilers.


said, it was of great importance that the war should be conducted with the utmost vigour; yet it appeared to him that at the commencement the action of our naval force had been completely neutralised, It always appeared inexplicable to him how it was that the fleet of England in the Black Sea was conducted as it had been since the commencement of the war; and when the vote of thanks was given to Admiral Dundas he, feeling this matter deeply, took the liberty of observing sarcastically that after that we should hear no more of the ports in the Black Sea not being blockaded. He did not know whether or not the fault lay with the Admiral, but there was a mystery with respect to the ports in the Black Sea. His opinion was, that it was mainly owing to the severe contests in the Crimea and the investment of Sebastopol that the whole of the ports in the Black Sea were not blockaded. He was convinced that if the whole of the force had been applied in a proper manner, and if the battles in the Crimea had not prevented a fit disposition of the fleet for the purpose of blockade, their Lordships never would have heard the story attempted to be palmed off on the country last year as to the impossibility of the ships being kept in the Black Sea during winter. In answer to that statement, he remembered saying that he would undertake to keep any sea in all weathers and in all seasons, with the ships and sailors of England. He would not say any more on the present occasion, because there was a future notice on the paper with respect to the blockade; but he must add that, of the various errors committed by the Government in reference to the conduct of the present war, none more affected the interests of this country, and strengthened the power of the enemy, than the manner in which the blockade had been conducted.


thought it extremely probable that the noble Earl was mistaken in a statement he had made. He (the Duke of Argyll) was not aware of any attempt to palm off on the country the story that the fleets of England could not keep in the Black Sea during the winter.

Motion amended as follows— Return of Lead and other Articles contraband of War exported from the United Kingdom to Foreign Countries since the Declaration of War; specifying to what Countries the same have been exported:" And also— Return of the Quantities of Tallow, Hemp, Linseed, Flax, Tar, and Bristles, imported into the United Kingdom in Foreign Vessels during the Year 1854; specifying from what Countries the same were imported.

Agreed to.