HL Deb 13 July 1905 vol 149 cc522-4

My Lords, rise to ask the Question standing in my name—viz.: "Whether, in regard to the claims for compensation lodged by His Majesty's Government for the seizure, detention, and destruction of British merchant vessels by Russian men-of-war, the claims of the captains, officers, and crews of these merchant vessels for personal suffering and loss have been included; and whether, considering the length of time which has elapsed since several British vessels were seized or sunk, there is a probability of an early settlement of these claims being effected."


My Lords, I am able to inform the noble Lord that in nearly all of the cases in which claims have been put forward for compensation on account of the seizure, detention, and destruction of British merchant vessels by Russian men-of-war an amount has been included for the claims of the captains, officers, and crews of those vessels. That is certainly true of those cases which have attracted most public attention. For example, in the case of the "Knight Commander" a claim has been made for the loss of the effects of the captain, officers, and crew, and for compensation. In the case of the "Hipsang" a considerable sum has been claimed for the same purpose So also in the case of the "Ardova," which was only detained for eight days. Even in that case a sum has been asked for on account of certain men who were compulsorily paid off at Suez. In the case of the "Malacca" we believe that the lump sum claimed by the Peninsular and Oriental Steamship Company is intended to cover all claims of the kind to which the noble Lord refers. In the case of the "Calchas" we have only just received the judgment of the Prize Court, and the claim has not yet been made out. In the case of the "Allanton" the claims of the crew have been put forward by the Sailors' and Firemen's Union, and an inquiry is being made into their claims.

Then the noble Lord calls attention to the length of time that has elapsed since these British vessels were seized, and asks whether there is a probability of an early settlement of the claims being effected. The settlement of these claims is necessarily a matter which takes a considerable time, in the first place, because it is essential that in these cases the claimants should exhaust their legal remedies, and that, I need not remind the noble Lord, means that they have to appeal first to the Prize Court, and then to the Supreme Court, which hears cases on appeal from the Court below. As in most of these cases the seizure took place in the China Seas, and as the Prize Court is held at Vladivostok, there has obviously been a very considerable amount of delay. Besides that, it is, essential that in all these cases, before a claim is put forward by His Majesty's Government, the particulars of the claim should be carefully considered and sifted; and I am told that even in cases where claims have been put forward before a Prize Court in this country the delay is always appreciable. But it is not the case that nothing has been accomplished in the way of settlement of these claims. For example, in the case of the "Calchas" the Russian Government have already paid the value of the flour on board. In the case of the "Frankby" the owners have received the greater part of their claim. In the case of the "Ettrickdale" there has been payment in full, and the case is closed. In the case of the "Foxton Hall" 80 per cent, of the amount claimed has been paid, and we understand that the owner is satisfied. If there are any other cases in regard to which the noble Lore desires information, I need not say that I shall be glad to give it to him.


I should like to ask the noble Marquess whether it is not the fact that in a great many cases the captures were made, not by regular men-of-war, but by vessels of the Volunteer Navy, which, according to the laws of war, are not authorised to make captures at all, and which formerly would have been regarded as pirates?


I am afraid I cannot answer that Question offhand; but it is the case, as we all know, that some of these seizures were made by vessels belonging to the Russian Volunteer Fleet.


May I ask the noble Marquess whether any representation has been made on the subject?




I should like to call the noble Marquess's attention to a case which he will recollect well. One of these Volunteer cruisers—the "Dnieper"—on her retreat after the battle of Tsu Shima sunk a British vessel and took the crew on board. The crew have, I understand, been recently released at Suez. Can the noble Marquess give information as to any proceedings that have taken place in Tegard to this matter.


It would be better that the noble Earl should put the Question on the Paper. The matter is very technical, and I should like to be exactly accurate as to details.