§ Debate on the Motion of the Earl of Portsmouth, "That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty for Papers relating to a reported Treaty or Arrangement with Great Britain whereby articles exported from Great Britain can be re-exported from Denmark to other countries," resumed (according to Order).
§ LORD SYDENHAM
My Lords, the real question which is raised by this Danish Agreement is this, Are we using our splendid Navy in the best possible way to bring this war to an end? That is a very grave question; it is one which ought to be fully discussed, and it can only be so discussed in present circumstances in your Lordships' House. Nearly half a century ago Mr. Gladstone wrote these remarkable and most prophetic words—It is hard to say whether or when our countrymen will be fully alive to the vast advantages they derive from consummate means of naval defence.…Our lot would, perhaps, be too much favoured if we possessed, together with such advantages, a full sense of what they are. Where the Almighty grants exceptional and peculiar benefits He sometimes permits by counterpoise an insensibility to their value.Those words have a deep significance for us in the crisis in which we are placed to-day.
We began this war under many disabilities, but with one enormous advantage. Relatively and absolutely our Fleet was far stronger than it had ever been at the commencement of any of the great naval wars of the past, and within a few months the Navy handed over to His Majesty's Government the supreme gift of the sea. That was an achievement which was impossible in sailing days, and which surprised even many close students of naval warfare. What use did we make of it? That is a question which will have to be examined with care by the future 697 historian of this war. Meanwhile we know what we did not do with it. A short conference with men who understood the question would have made clear the fact that cotton was a vital commodity in modern war, and that it had practically replaced sulphur and saltpetre which were vital in the wars of the past. His Majesty's Government must have trusted some adviser with that half knowledge which is proverbially dangerous, and it was slowly that the truth dawned. But at last, tar July 20, the Prime Minister used these words—I am not myself satisfied with the existing state of affairs. I believe that a great deal of this material, which is a necessary ingredient in some kinds of ammunition, reaches the enemy which ought tot to reach the enemy.All this had been pointed out more than six months before by Sir William Ramsay, one of our greatest chemists. But, it was not until August, after the war had been going on a year, that cotton was made contraband.
We know fairly well what happened in the meantime. The imports of cotton into Holland and the Scandinavian countries in the eight months from August 31 of last year to April 30 of this year increased from 57,800 bales in the corresponding period of 1913-14 to 1,322,100 bales in this period of eight months—an excess considerably over one-and-a-quarter million bales. Probably the whole of this vast excess did not go into Germany, but a great part of it must have done; and Germany also drew cotton from several other sources. Early in the period of the war the German Government itself undertook measures for shipping part of the American crop of 1914. That was, I believe, told to our late Government, who were at the same time offered an option on so much of that crop as would have secured the ready acquiescence of the Southern cotton interests in making cotton contraband at that time. More than that, the price was so low that it would have been an excellent investment. But nothing was done. Take one other case. A little inquiry would have shown that oil is one of the most important elements in food stuffs, and also that it can be used for the manufacture of nitro-glycerine, which the Germans employ to a considerable extent in their propellants. It has been stated publicly that as much as 33,440 tons of linseed and other oils were imported into Holland in excess of the normal requirements in the eleven months which ended in November. Sir William Ramsay tells us 698 that this would make 18,000 tons of heavy gun ammunition. If ever full investigation is made into this question, I am afraid that some scandals will be revealed. I could quote a great many more figures, but I will not weary your Lordships with statistics. It is sufficient to say that other commodities of extreme importance to Germany have gone and are still going into adjacent neutral countries largely in excess of the normal amounts imported by those countries. My Lords, facts of this kind have made a painful impression in the country. It is certain that had Germany not received indispensable commodities of many kinds the war would have ended before this; and it is absolutely certain that our Navy could have prevented these excess imports from going into Germany. Is it to be wondered at that there is a widespread belief that the "insensibility" which Mr. Gladstone realised has prevailed in our councils?
After seven months of war our policy seemed at last to have settled down upon definite and clear lines. On March 1 the Prime Minister ma de this very important announcement—to which both the noble Lord and the noble Earl referred—that our Fleet henceforth was to take steps to prevent "commodities of any kind" from entering or leaving Germany; and, further than that, all "juridical niceties" were to be swept aside. When the Order in Council was issued ten days after that announcement it seemed that at last the gift of the sea was to be turned to the fullest account. It is curious that the policy of the Prime Minister, announced in those words, is exactly identical with the policy of Germany which was most lucidly stated by Count Caprivi in the Reichstag in 1892. Count Caprivi said—I am of opinion that the cutting off of hostile commerce in a naval war will remain an essential means, an ultima ratio, because nothing else remains. Whoever wages war wants to reach the goal of war, and if he is energetic he attains that by the application of all means, and to this goal belongs in naval war the cutting off of hostile trade. No one can renounce that.That was the policy which doubtless Germany feared that we would adopt. By means of her submarines, which she used in the most ruthless fashion, she attempted to apply that policy to the very end to ourselves; and after February 18 she proceeded to violate every law of sea warfare, so that now there is hardly a neutral which has not had a ship sunk and some of its citizens murdered by the German Navy.
699 When war broke out it was open to us to follow the course which was taken by the Northern States in the great Civil War. They treated supplies of all kinds for the Southern States as absolute contraband, including even such articles as chloroform and surgical instruments, which we should certainly not so include. They also applied the doctrine of continuous voyage most rigorously, and they set up a blockade which we recognised, though we need not have done so because for a long time it was thoroughly ineffective. If to this policy we had added a recognition of the right of neutrals to receive their normal imports, and if, in certain special cases, we had purchased stocks of raw materials, the war would have been brought to a comparatively speedy end. But because we have carried on the war without any definite and consistent naval policy tens of thousands of gallant lives will still have to fall. We know that the difficulties of dealing with neutrals are very great, but I think that any clear and consistent plan would have aroused less irritation to neutrals than arrangements constantly varying which left the neutral in doubt as to what he could do and what he could not do. In the United States I believe that a display of firmness and stability of purpose would have been welcomed in the best quarters because many Americans know full well that it is our Fleet that stands between them and German aggression. One can imagine what the tone of the Notes from Wilhelmstrasse would have been had it not been for our Grand Fleet in the North Sea. For seven months of the war we acted upon a modified version of the disastrous Declaration of London, and the enemy secured thereby many advantages. Subsequently the action of the Navy was regulated by an Order in Council of March 11, tempered by an unknown number of secret Agreements. All that we know is that very large quantities of commodities have passed to the enemy since the Prime Minister's important statement of policy on March 1, and that the influx of those commodities has enabled the enemy to prolong the war.
My Lords, it is because of what has happened in the past that the country looks with natural suspicion upon this Danish Agreement. A Danish correspondent, writing to the Morning Post the other day from Copenhagen, drew attention to the fact that the Chambers with which 700 negotiations were made contained many German Danes; and he went on to point out that—There is no doubt whatever that Denmark has been doing an enormous trade with Germany and Austria during the last seventeen months, and the prosperity of all hero is too apparent, and that Denmark has received far, far more of everything than was necessary for her own use. You have helped in this, and your new Agreement will help much more than ever for Germany to he fed, the war prolonged, and your blockade made a joke. This Agreement is very wrong and should be cancelled, and you should wake up and stir up your officials or dismiss them.I believe that that is not an inaccurate view of the matter.
There are only two certainties in this Agreement. One is that large quantities of most useful commodities will pass into Germany; the other is that many people will make very large sums of money. But the uncertainties are many and most disturbing. I will not quote the Agreement, because I believe that would not be proper. But I must point out that the commodities which are to enter Germany are those of which Germany has great need. Unless the whole of the Agreement were most carefully examined by expert chemists and by expert manufacturers it is quite impossible to ascertain what can be made out of these commodities; and, if they were even partially manufactured, they would then be able to go into Germany apparently in unlimited quantities under new names. I do not wish to criticise the Foreign Office officials for a moment, but I do say this—that the spectacle of Foreign Office officials negotiating with persons whose Teutonic names the noble Earl (Lord Portsmouth) read out the other day is most pathetic. In this as in many other matters we have pitted amateurs against professionals, and we know quite well to what that leads. Until this Agreement has been carefully examined by experts on this side it is absolutely impossible for the Government to know exactly what it involves. It is for that reason that I am very sorry that the Government will not take the people into their confidence and make the Agreement public.
The terms of this Agreement are known to the German Government, and the details which have come from German sources have been purposely altered in order to mislead us. The terms are also known to many Danish and German firms, to Swedes, and to Americans. I even believe 701 the Agreement itself can be bought at a price. In these circumstances surely there is no possibility of concealment except from the people who ought to know the details. One great objection to this Agreement is this. The Foreign Office has negotiated, not with the Danish Government, but with representatives of a large number of private firms. Some of those firms may be purely German; of the rest there must be quite a large number of a "predominantly enemy character," to borrow a phrase from Lord Halsbury's Bill. I am not quite certain, therefore, that the Foreign Office has not brought itself within the scope of our laws prohibiting dealing with enemy aliens.
In his interesting speech last Thursday the noble Marquess (Lord Lansdowne) said that "we have endeavoured to arrive at an understanding" that when the normal amount of commodities required by neutrals for their own consumption is exceeded, enemy destination is implied. If only that rule had been strictly enforced many of our difficulties would have been avoided. But the noble Marquess went on to say—Look what happens. You hold up ships carrying cargo which you suspect is going to the enemy. You may find that you have let through an amount of a particular cargo representing the full limit to which the neutral country is entitled for its own consumption. But if, as time goes on, you find more cargoes coming in and the papers of the ships which carry them are in order and there is no proof of enemy destination, you are absolutely helpless, and you have really to acquiesce and see all these supplies passing through, in spite of your precautions.But, my Lords, we are fighting for our existence as a nation, and if we had enforced the rule that excess imports implied enemy destination then these difficulties would have disappeared and further excess cargoes would not continue to arrive.
What is happening at the present time is this. Our officers board a ship bound for a Dutch port; they find her full of iron ore, and the captain says that it is all perfectly correct and his papers are in order. They put a prize crew on board and take the ship to a Scottish port, and the captain, finding himself captured, admits that the whole of the ore is for Krupps and says that there are other consignments of the same article coming on behind. All this is duly reported. But after a few days a telegram is received ordering the release of the ship. My Lords, this is heartbreaking for our gallant 702 officers and seamen, who often have to risk their lives in boarding these ships in bad weather. It has been said in another place that the Admiralty approved of this Agreement. The term "Admiralty" is sometimes very loosely used; and it is quite impossible to believe that the Board of Admiralty, sitting as a Board, could ever have approved of this Danish Agreement. The noble Marquess pointed out, most justly, that the geographical position of Denmark exposes her very much to pressure from Germany, and he rather indicated that we ought to allow Denmark to obtain and export important commodities in Germany in order to relieve that pressure. I hardly think that we are bound to act in this way. It has suited Germany exceedingly well that Denmark and Holland should remain neutral. Otherwise both would have been treated like Belgium, or forced into belligerency some time ago. If Germany were to win the war the independence of these two small countries would be gone for ever, even if their territories were not annexed, as would certainly happen to a strip of Holland. So that the real interest of these neutrals and of all neutrals all over the world is that the war should end quickly and that the Allies should win. The noble Marquess said most truly that—There are large profits to be made. There is corruption on every side.That is a great danger, because Agreements such as this build up powerful vested interests in the prolongation of the war.
I will touch on only one other point. This Agreement and some others are negotiated by the Foreign Office, not with the Governments of foreign Powers, but with the representatives of private traders. But the High Contracting Parties on our side are not the Foreign Office or the Government. They are the people of this country, the people of the Dominions and of our Colonies, the people of India, and the Allied nations. Surely that is a strong reason for careful expert examination of this Agreement and for the abandonment of secrecy in regard to it. The effect of the pressure which the Navy has been permitted tardily and still most imperfectly to exercise is beginning to be felt. The difference in tone between the German Chancellor's recent speech and that of August last tells its tale. I believe that the most humane course in the interests of the civilised world is that our Sea Power should be used to the utmost extent. Among the 703 many grave mistakes which have marked the conduct of this war I regard the neglect to use our most potent weapon to the best effect as the most serious, because it has reacted upon our operations all over the many theatres of war. The Navy has splendidly upheld its finest traditions. Its resourcefulness in dealing with the submarine menace is above all praise. The skill and daring of our young submarine officers have been brilliant. But we have erred grievously, either because of the "insensibility" of which Mr. Gladstone wrote, or in consequence of that amazing tenderness towards German interests of which we have had too many signs since this war began. If we are to bring the war to a victorious end and save our Empire from destruction we must translate the words of the Prime Minister into deeds, and we must put an end to all secret Agreements.
§ LORD EMMOTT
My Lords, in my comparative ignorance and inexperience of the procedure of your Lordships' House I must confess that I listened with something akin to amazement to the beginning of the speech of the noble Lord who has just sat down. For some years it was my fate to be Chairman of Ways and Means in another place, and I am quite certain that had I been occupying the Chair there when a Motion such as this was before the House I should have had half-a-dozen appeals on the question of Order if I had allowed any speaker to say what was said by the noble Lord at the commencement of his observations. The Motion before the House is one for "Papers relating to a reported Treaty or Arrangement with Great Britain whereby articles exported from Great Britain can be re-exported from Denmark to other countries." But the noble Lord who resumed the debate this evening told us that the real question is whether we made proper use of the Navy in the early months of this year. He talked about the large quantity of cotton that had reached certain neutral countries adjacent to Germany early in the year, and he spoke again about the oft-discussed question of linseed oil. Surely what we are here to discuss is whether we are to give our consent to an Agreement that has been made with certain trading corporations in Denmark. In regard to that question, the alleged laches of the Government in the early part of this year in connection with cotton and linseed oil have very little to 704 do. And when the noble Lord did discuss this Danish Agreement I noticed that he quoted a letter from the Morning Post but did not quote another letter in The Times to-day from a Dane who is not afraid of signing his own name. From the noble Lord's speech, which I followed very carefully, I could not gather how in any respect we should be better off under present conditions if this Agreement were not ratified.
I take a great interest in this question because it is my daily business to interpret such Agreements as the one which the House is discussing, and, if consulted in advance, to advise as to some of their terms. When the present Government was formed the Prime Minister asked me to remain as Director of the War Trade Department, and I have done so until the present moment. I have found it a laborious, difficult, and thankless task; and it is very curious to me in listening to this debate to contrast what I hear from critics of the Danish Agreement with what I hear and read every day when I am in my office at the War Trade Department. Critics in Parliament talk as if it were our chief duty to cripple to the utmost possible extent our export trade. I venture to say that some of these critics, knowing nothing of business, show a lack of proportion and a lack of discrimination in regard to this matter. In the day-to-day work of my Department I hear a very different side of the question. I hear constant complaints, sometimes in the form of appeals ad misericordiam, sometimes in the form of abuse, of the way in which the export trade of this country is being held up. Two arguments are brought forward which are well worthy of attention on the part of anybody who desires to look at this extraordinarily difficult question all round and not at merely one side of it. The first argument is that whatever is done, whether of necessity or whether unwisely, to suppress exports, tends to drive trade which we might capture from Germany or hold for ourselves into the hands of neutrals; and driving trade into the hands of neutrals at the present time means that we must damage our entrepôt trade, and, what is more important in regard to the case we have to deal with, lose control of the trade over which we now retain a good deal of control because it goes through this country. The second argument that I so often have addressed to me is this. What is the use 705 of the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer pointing out, as they have often done, the great importance of maintaining our export trade if by administration the export trade is crippled, the balance of trade against us increased, and our difficulties in financing the war added to. Those are two arguments that, as I say, are well worthy of consideration on the part of anybody who wants to look at this question fairly and all round.
It seems to me that there are two things that we desire to do in regard to Germany, and they are not quite easy to reconcile. We desire to deprive her of things which are necessary to her for the prosecution of the war, and for her existence during the war; and we desire also to break down her foreign exchange. The policy of stopping her exports tends to effect those two objects at the same time; but, on the other hand, if Germany buys from neutral countries luxuries and non-necessities, that, just as much as stopping her exports, tends to break down her exchange; and her exchange has been going to pieces a good deal of late. The whole question is difficult and complicated; and it is perfectly impossible for anybody who wants to look at it fairly to ignore that fundamental economic fact. When one comes to practical application, which I have to deal with day by day so far as licences are concerned, one is met by the fact that articles of necessity are very numerous and that luxuries are very few. One is met also by the fact that the Scandinavian countries and Holland are bases of supply for Germany. The three countries in Scandinavia and Holland are neutrals with which we are on friendly terms, and they have treated us on the whole fairly during this war; but there is no moral obligation on any citizen of those countries to trade with us and not to trade with Germany. The normal trade with Germany is very large, and every one of those countries is filled by German agents and German spies.
In spite of all these difficulties, in spite of whatever may be said in criticism of the conduct of the late Government in the past or of the present Government in more recent months, the Government have been pretty successful in their policy of depriving Germany of necessities. This is seen in the high prices of food. I am not going to say anything derived from secret sources of information, but it is perfectly well known by anybody who has followed the question 706 that the price of butter, of meat, of margarine, and of many other articles has at least doubled in Germany and more than doubled in Austria, that the price of pork is three times its normal, and that the price of lard is a good deal more than three times its normal; and as for cotton, copper, and nickel, I do not suppose there is any market at all, all these articles having been commandeered by the Government. When His Majesty's Government are blamed for what they have- done or failed to do, I think it is only fair to remember how successful on the whole their policy has been up to the present time. There is another feature of the case. The very fact that prices are so high in Germany makes an additional danger. You have the lowest prices in this country; you have higher prices in the neutral countries adjacent to Germany, and you have much higher prices still in Germany itself. There is, therefore, a considerable suction on the part of Germany whereas there is no such suction on our part, because prices here are lower than they are in the neutral countries on the whole.
No one trying to look at this question fairly can fail to see that there are two very different sets of commodities with which we have to deal. Articles of prime necessity in the war include many metals and food, and certainly oils and fat, cotton, wool, and some sorts of leather, and with these articles the Scandinavian countries and Holland certainly supply Germany from their own internal production. But there are other articles, such as stimulants, tea, coffee, tobacco, and certainly all luxuries, which are of secondary importance in the prosecution of the war. I turn from this general discussion to the particular case of Denmark. Denmark, as we all know, is a neighbour of the very powerful Empire with which we are at war. Probably Denmark does not love, but she certainly must fear her powerful neighbour. But I do say this of Denmark, that of all the Scandinavian countries and including Holland there is none that has treated us so fairly as Denmark in regard to the amount of agricultural produce which she still continues to send us. The amount of butter, bacon, and other commodities she is still sending us is much larger than we receive from any other country. On the other hand, in regard to some of the commodities that reach her from overseas, an abnormal quantity has arrived at her ports during the last eleven months.
707 Some months ago, on the instruction of the Government, I set up a new statistical section in my own Department to collect statistics with regard to cargoes that were going to countries with which we were specially interested. I was fortunate in securing and putting at the head of that section Mr. Harwood, who was lent me by the National Health Commission, and he has conducted his work with great energy and ability. We now have particulars long in advance of, and far more reliable than, those which we receive ultimately from those countries. We now have particulars of what is reaching those countries in regard to almost every article in which we are specially interested.
If I am not wearying your Lordships, I would like to say one or two words about the commodities that have reached Denmark in abnormal quantities and those which have not. In grain and corn Denmark has received during the eleven months ended November less than her normal; in fodder she has received a good deal more than her normal; in lard, meat, and tallow she has received more; in metals, on the average, she has received about the normal; in cotton she received far too much in the earlier months of the year, but that has been altered now; in vegetable oils she has received less than her normal, but in the seeds from which vegetable oil is made she has had more than her normal; whilst in woollen and jute manufactures she has received less. But there has been a sudden jump in the demand for linen manufactures which has received prompt attention, and has, indeed, been met by speedy action on the part of His Majesty's Government. I mention that to show that His Majesty's Government in regard to these matters are not asleep. That is the position of things in Denmark.
The question therefore is, Shall we be better off with an Agreement such as has been described, or shall we be better off without it? I must discuss this question, my Lords, in vacuo. We cannot discuss the actual Agreement. I am sorry for some reasons that that is the case, for at a time like this, a time of universal suspicion, ignotum pro magnifico is correct. At the same time, if I may respectfully say so, I think the reasons against publication are overwhelming. I have to deal with a very large number of these Agreements. Their number is increasing. Some of them, I am sure, it would not be wise to publish 708 and their publication would serve no national interest; yet to publish one and not the others would be a course which His Majesty's Government could hardly pursue. In regard to Denmark, it is quite obvious that there are some commodities over which we have a very imperfect control. I mean maize, oil seeds, fats, copra, and soya beans, although I hope in regard to these two last commodities we may have more control in the future. But in regard to cotton, woollen, and linen manufactures and in regard to sonic metals and tin plates we have almost complete control. We have also the power to hold up and delay ships and so cause a good deal of trouble and delay to the trade; but as I understand, in the present state of International Law, an abnormal supply to a country is not a sufficient reason to condemn a cargo unless you can prove enemy destination, and when cargoes of abnormal amount reach Denmark our control over them ceases. I take it that this Agreement will lead to an agreement with Denmark in regard to the quantities to be imported into that country—an agreement founded upon her normal needs for internal purposes. I take it that it will also include guarantees against any considerable sales to the enemy; and I say that with the quantities arranged and with the guarantees which I have described, trade will go on much more smoothly with Denmark, and a great deal less will reach the enemy than is reaching the enemy at the present time. Any one who has had to deal with neutrals with an Agreement and with neutrals without an Agreement, as I have had to do for a good many months, must know which he prefers.
I noticed that the question was asked in the debate on Thursday last what the consideration was which we received for this Agreement. Surely the consideration leaps to the eye. The consideration is that if we have agreed on quantities and possess guarantees against large supplies reaching the enemy, and if this agreement and these guarantees apply to all supplies, then we are better off because we have control to some extent of the supplies that are going overseas, over which we have now very little control. We have always had control of what we license, because we can impose our own terms; but we have very little control at the present time over what goes direct overseas, and the great consideration we get here is that we shall have control over this also. There are some people who seem to argue as if in any bargain one man gets 709 the better and the other gets the worst. I want to point out in regard to this Agreement that Denmark also gets her advantage from the fact that her trade will go on smoothly and under conditions more favourable than at the present time. I do not forget that it has been stated that some small exports are to be allowed to go to Germany under this Agreement. Those exports, as I understand from disclosures that have been made, not by the Government, are limited in amount.
§ THE EARL OF PORTSMOUTH
Certain goods can be re-exported to Germany in limited quantities; others, such as tea, coffee, chocolate, malt, and women's and Children's clothing can be re-exported to Germany in unlimited quantities.
§ LORD EMMOTT
I heard what the noble Earl said on Thursday last, and I can assure him that lie he mistaken in some of his statements, and what he has even now said is not correct; but I cannot go further.
§ THE EARL OF PORTSMOUTH
Will you enable us to see the Agreement, and then we can judge who is right and who is wrong?
§ LORD EMMOTT
I have just stated that, sorry as I am for it, I think His Majesty's Government are right in not publishing this Agreement. The question f want to ask is this. Even if some goods do go to the enemy and a good many goods go to Sweden and Norway, shall we he worse off than we are to-day? To that question I reply without any hesitation, certainly we shall not be worse off. Those goods are going probably to-day to those countries in much larger quantities than they could or will go under this Agreement. Another question I ask is, Are these goods articles of prime necessity with regard to the war? I take the noble Earl's list. I am compelled to do so. It is true that he rushed in where more delicately constructed people might have feared to tread, and against the rather solemn warning of the noble Marquess (Lord Lansdowne) persisted in reading out his list. I take his list. I wondered when he began to read it what tremendous betrayal on the part of the Government we were going to hear. Supposing he was correct all through, I understand that £5,000 worth of china per quarter is to be allowed to go to Germany, and £7,500 worth of earthenware per quarter, and actually £2,500 worth of toys I think he said.
§ LORD EMMOTT
I certainly saw toys mentioned in the report of the noble Earl's speech. I do not think that any of these articles will be of much use in the trenches or for the purpose of making bombs to hurl at our soldiers. And when I come to beer—
§ THE EARL OF PORTSMOUTH
Will the noble Lord also mention that I said £50,000 per quarter in machinery? He has forgotten that.
§ LORD EMMOTT
I said I had not time to go through the list. But I imagine that there is and always has been a considerable export of Danish-made machinery from Denmark to Germany, and that linty be one of the conditions why such an item was allowed in this particular Agreement. But I revert to beer. The noble Earl taxed His Majesty's Government with great inconsistency. It is arguable whether His Majesty's Government are right or wrong, but I cannot see any inconsistency between taking steps to prevent the British working man drinkit g too much beer and showing a certain indifference as to whether the German drinks it or not.
Another count in the indictment against His Majesty's Government is that a great many goods are to be allowed to go to Sweden and Norway. I presume they are by way of normal trade; and frankly, if it is desirable to make an Agreement at all, how can you make an Agreement if you say there is to be no export in a normal way to Sweden and Norway? I take it, in regard to Sweden and Norway, that His Majesty's Government would take care to have guarantees for goods re-exported similar to those which are made with respect to goods exported to Denmark. On the whole I say unhesitatingly, from the practical experience at any rate of the Licensing Branch of my Department, that such an Agreement as has been outlined, although it may have—I daresay it has—imperfections in detail, is of advantage in stopping supplies reaching the enemy and in introducing a smoother state of commercial working between Denmark and ourselves. I state this not merely to support the Government, but because I believe it is right. I trust I shall not be uncivil in any way to the Government, but honestly I do not owe anything to the 711 Government. I am filling a post with such poor ability as I have, and a somewhat laborious post too, but I am happy to say that I do not eat their salt. I have put in a good many months of hard work because, in the modern slang of the present day, "I am anxious to do my bit" with regard to this war. In those circumstances I venture to say that if I thought it right to do so I am at any rate quite as free to attack the Government as is, if he will allow me to say so, the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, who has attacked one branch of the administration of the Government of which he is a member. I am not going to attack the Government at the wrong time and in regard to a subject in which I believe they are right.
We heard from Lord Sydenham and we have been told in the columns of The Times what the real meaning of this agitation is. Apparently the Government could be trusted to make a Danish Agreement if only they were not distrusted about other things. In its article on Saturday last The Times said the Danish Agreement is the occasion rather than the cause of the disquietude which is aroused. I sometimes wish we could invite Lord Northcliffe to take his seat in your Lordships' House and tell us a little more frankly and fully how he would improve the Government. He might get more support if he did so. I wish also that Lord Northcliffe would ask his leader-writers to learn the elements of the subjects about which they dogmatise. At the end of this same article I find this sentence—As it is, merchants who have obtained licences to export huge quantities of tea, coffee, linseed oil, and other commodities to neutral countries are able to solace their consciences by reflecting that they are not obliged to be more patriotic than the Government.I wonder why the sapient writer of that article did not inquire whether a licence was required for tea. No licence is required for tea. It is being freely exported at the present time. And as to licences for "huge quantities of linseed oil," the amount of linseed oil that has been licensed to be sent to Holland since the embargo was put on is forty tons, which was sent to the Dutch Government because they wanted to send it to the Dutch East Indies. With regard to vegetable oils, the amount arriving in the Scandinavian countries from all quarters during November, including what is sent from here, was less than normal. Therefore, as head of the Licensing Department, I 712 rather resent misstatements such as those to which I have called attention. I have one criticism to make about the way in which this Agreement was concluded. I do think that it would have been better to have given some of the Departments of His Majesty's Government a little more time in which to consider the Agreement in all its bearings. If that had been done, I believe it would have been a better Agreement in detail than it is. I say that although I support the Agreement and the policy of it as a whole.
There is only one other matter on which I will venture to touch. It is admitted by The Times, and I think the noble Earl will not deny it, that this is, if not an engineered opposition, an agitation which is really due to general mistrust of the Government. So far as I can see the mistrust, as applying to this Agreement, does not come from quarters who are at any rate qualified to judge in regard to commercial matters. I do not think it comes from the business men of this country. I leave the debate in another place alone. The opposition there did not seem to me very formidable or to be composed for the most part of men whose judgment is greatly appreciated in the country. But in this House the opposition was led, not for the first time, by my noble friend Lord Strachie, and it was seconded by the noble Earl to whom I have also referred. They are both admirable country gentlemen and pattern landlords; I have no doubt they are members of their county councils and sit at Quarter Sessions; and they are authorities on questions of agriculture. But I am sure if I put to either of them the question, "Are you an authority on business?" he would say "God forbid." On the other hand the Agreement has been criticised by my noble friend Lord Devonport, who is undoubtedly a great and successful business man, but with him I think it was perfectly obvious from his speech that the Danish Agreement was an occasion for showing his distrust of the Government rather than the cause of it.
§ LORD EMMOTT
I merely said that it seemed to me obvious from the noble Lord's speech. I have made it my business to make such inquiry as I can. I inquired last week from the secretary of the London 713 Chamber of Commerce, and he said "I have heard a great deal of curiosity expressed as to the Agreement, but I have not heard one atom of hostility." Last Tuesday I had to go to Manchester, and amongst my engagements was one to receive a deputation from the Manchester Chamber of Commerce who wanted to consult me about another matter altogether. I asked the chairman and the secretary what they had heard about the Danish Agreement, and they said they had not heard one hostile word. Therefore in this matter I hope that the Government will not be frightened by this opposition, and I trust they will not be too apologetic about this Agreement. I believe that what faults there are in it can be remedied. I venture to express the hope that His Majesty's Government will not be deterred from making other Agreements of a sound and sensible character whenever opportunity arises. I offer that advice respectfully and most humbly, because these Agreements do assist us to regulate and control the trade of these neutral countries in such ways as we have a right to, and they assist in preventing goods of importance reaching Germany.
§ VISCOUNT MILNER
My Lords, I fear that I shall come under the condemnation of the noble Lord who has just addressed you in a speech the valuable information contained in which was, I think, appreciated by all members of the House; for I am sure that the remarks which I am about to make would have come under his censure as Chairman of Committees in the House of Commons because they may take a somewhat wider range than would be permitted in that Assembly on a Motion of this character. I am one of those who think that in certain circumstances and especially at the present time it is of advantage to the country that the Rules of Debate in this House should be broader than they are in the other. But I must be allowed to observe that the noble Lord himself, with all Iris experience as a Chairman of Committees, has singularly misconceived the nature of the discussion on which we are at present engaged. He stated—I believe I am right in saying—that what we were discussing was whether or not we were to give our approval to this Agreement. Why, my Lords, that is just one of the points of our complaint. It is impossible for us to express either approval or disapproval. The whole question is not 714 whether we approve of this Agreement or disapprove of it, but whether we and the country are entitled to know its nature. That is the Motion before the House. It is a Motion for information; and I may say, speaking for myself personally, that what I most welcomed about the Motion was that I hoped it would lead, and I believe it is going to lead, to a clearer statement of the policy of His Majesty's Government, not only with regard to this single Agreement but with regard to the whole of their trade policy, which is of such vital importance in the conduct of the war.
Throughout the noble Lord's speech he seemed to argue that this was an attack upon the Government. I do not know what may be the intention of other noble Lords, but I take part in this debate not with any intention to attack the Government. What I want to do is to clear up an extremely obscure situation, and to obtain some light, if possible, for the instruction of the public upon the principles upon which His Majesty's Government are proceeding in the matter of the exercise of our belligerent rights. After those remarks you will not be surprised if I say that I do not propose, in the few observations that I shall address to your Lordships, to entangle myself in the details of this Danish Agreement. I do not know all about it. We all experience the immense inconvenience of discussing a document when almost every speaker who refers to any of the details is pulled up by some other speaker who contradicts his facts, and nobody is in a position authoritatively to say whether the original statement or the contradiction is correct. I say it is impossible in those circumstances for us to discuss the Agreement, and I am not going to discuss it.
The Government have declared their determination that the Agreement is not to be made public, whatever may be the decision of this House in the matter. I cannot say that the reasons given for the refusal to make the Agreement known are in the least convincing, but, of course, the Government have the matter in their own power. Whatever may be the course which the noble Earl behind me (Lord Portsmouth) chooses to take with regard to his Motion to-night, it is obvious that we cannot force the Government to produce the Agreement. This is one of the many subjects of which in the theory of the 715 Government, it is not good for us or the country to know too much. May I say, in passing, that this policy of keeping people as much as possible in the dark—the theory that the proper attitude for Parliament and for the country is to shut their eyes and open their mouths and receive whatever the Government in its wisdom may see fit to offer them, without the impertinence of criticising it—has been carried during this war to a length which I think is quite unprecedented in this supposedly free and self-governing country. Ministers protest against the suggestion that their secretiveness is due to their wishing to conceal the nature of their acts. It never would have occurred to me to make that suggestion. Speaking for myself, I am perfectly convinced that they are only animated, as we are all animated, by the desire to do the best for our country under present circumstances. I do not for a moment question that; and certainly I am unable to see any indication on their part of dissatisfaction with their own performances. In the matter of this Agreement they look, as I take it from the speeches we have heard from the Government side, upon their completed handiwork and pronounce it with absolute conviction to be very good. I only hope that they are right.
As I say, I will not criticise the Agreement because it is not before us. Even if it were, we should not know the situation as a whole. It has been stated over and over again that this is only one of a number of Agreements. Some have been already concluded, and others are coming along. Even if we had the document before us in its entirety we should not know what really we are most concerned to know—that is, the full extent to which we are allowing seaborne goods which we can intercept to pass through neutral countries to the enemy, and the reasons why we are allowing them to pass at all. But, unsatisfactory as the position is, I think we are greatly indebted to the two noble Lords who have initiated this discussion. They may not be successful in obtaining the production of this particular Agreement. They may not even be successful in getting the Government to own up to any of the alleged provisions in it to which reference has been made in this House. But they have succeeded in obtaining from the Government a promise to present us with a Memorandum in which the principles 716 which are guiding them in this important matter of policy are to be clearly set forth. In my humble opinion it is most necessary that we should have a statement of that kind.
The present position of affairs is most bewildering. The other night I listened with the greatest possible attention to the statement of the noble Marquess (Lord Lansdowne) in this debate, and despite the marvellous power of lucid statement which we always admire in him, I am bound to say I found it extremely difficult, and I believe any ordinary person would have found it difficult, to get from his speech a clear view of the situation. I venture to think that that was due, not to any failure on the part of the noble Marquess, but to the difficulty of harmonising the contradictions and inconsistencies which have characterised our action as a nation with regard to the exercise of our belligerent rights during the present war. It seems to me, in this infinitely complicated and difficult question of the extent to which we are justified in exercising belligerent rights in maritime warfare, that there are two absolutely opposite and conflicting points of view in this country, and that the policy of the Government has oscillated between the one and the other.
On the one hand there is what I hope I may without offence call the Foreign Office point of view, the view which inspired the Declaration of London. This school seeks to limit in every way the exercise of belligerent rights in the interests of peaceful commerce. I do not myself agree with that view, but I want to be perfectly just. I do not for a moment suggest, as I have seen suggested, that they have any desire to weaken the maritime power of this country for the mere sake of weakening it. I believe that the considerations which weigh with them are that this is the greatest commercial nation, that we have the largest amount of shipping, that we are ourselves exceptionally dependent—more dependent than any other nation—upon seaborne supplies, and that therefore we have as a nation a very special interest in the freedom of the seas. The weakness of their position, as it seems to me, is their reliance upon International Agreements—"scraps of paper." I feel perfectly certain that if ever Germany were in a position to disregard those International Agreements we should very soon find out that the only thing we could rely upon for our 717 protection was superior strength at sea. Such, at least, is the conviction of the opposite school.
The opposite school—what I may be allowed, perhaps, to call the Navy school—so far from seeking to restrict our belligerent rights are anxious to do everything in their power, consistently with humanity, to preserve them. There can be no doubt which of these two views was favoured by the Government at the outset of the war. Undoubtedly they started with a leaning in favour of the view which finds its highest expression, if I may say so, in the Declaration of London. It must be within your Lordships' recollection that the Government—or perhaps I ought to say the late Government—left no stone unturned to foist that Declaration upon this country, and were only prevented from doing so by the action of your Lordships' House. But so strong was the attachment of our Foreign Office to their fixed idea on this subject that, even after that failure, when the war began they actually adopted the Declaration of London, which, by common consent, has no validity whatever for any one, as the basis of their policy. It is true that in doing so they introduced a number of important modifications into it, and by that very act killed the Declaration, if it were not already dead, because it was an essential feature of the Declaration of London that you had either to take it or leave it in its entirety. It is impossible to imagine a course more perverse, more misleading, more certain to lead to misunderstanding and to excite suspicion than this attempt to revive the corpse of the Declaration of London and to make it the basis of our policy throughout the war.
The vast majority of the people of this country are, I am convinced, dead against this fixed idea of the Foreign Office. With the true instinct of self-preservation they are intensely jealous of any attempt to limit the exercise of our Sea Power or to weaken us in its pressure upon the enemy. The feebleness with which that power was exercised during the first six or seven months of the war—Lord Sydenham has already alluded to this, and I will not say anything more about it—led to a formidable outery throughout the country, which was aggravated by the conduct of the enemy in throwing overboard not only International Agreements but the commonest instincts of humanity in their naval warfare. Frightened by this agitation 718 the Government effected a complete volte face announced by the Prime Minister in a declaration in the House of Commons which was warmly applauded and subsequently embodied in the Order in Council of March 11, to which frequent reference has been made in this deate.
The object which this Order in Council proclaims is to prevent goods of any kind from entering or leaving Germany. It is impossible to imagine anything more inconsistent than that Order, not only with the Declaration of London from which we started, but even with the Declaration of Paris. It is, as a matter of fact, the most extreme assertion possible to imagine of the belligerent rights of the superior maritime Power. I am not criticising the principle of it. Far from it. I think, considering all the circumstances and in view of the provocation to which the Order itself refers, it was a perfectly defensible position to take up; but it certainly was in striking contrast to all our previous attitude and action. But the Foreign Office was not even then prepared to give up its struggle against the policy desired by the Navy and the nation. The Order itself in its operative clauses is so obscurely worded, so vague, hesitating, and full of permissive provisions that a reader may well be justified in doubting whether the Preamble itself is not mainly "bluff," and whether the Order is, after all, a bona fide attempt to cut off Germany from all seaborne commerce.
Although undoubtedly there has been much greater vigour in our maritime action against enemy trade since the Order in Council came into force we are still very far from having a clear-cut and consistent policy, and trade statistics show that great quantities of seaborne goods still go through to the enemy. Ships are constantly being taken into port and released upon orders from London which are the despair of the naval officers who are engaged in detaining them. The Navy is still complaining that its ceaseless vigil on the bleak waters of the North Sea is deprived of half its effectiveness, and the public are still suspicious. Into this maze of doubt, uncertainty, and inconsistency now comes this secret Agreement with certain Danish traders, which we are not allowed to know about, although it is known in part to hundreds of people in this country, in Germany, and in the Scandinavian countries. The noble Lord 719 who just addressed us (Lord Emmott) told us—and I was glad to hear it—that the Agreement did not meet with disapproval in commercial circles in London or in commercial circles in Manchester. It is evident that if it meets with approval there its terms must be pretty generally known. But is it really surprising that this secret Agreement, concluded under the conditions under which it has been, has in the circumstances revived all the old uneasiness and doubts as to whether we really mean business with our declared policy of entirely cutting off Germany from seaborne trade? It has revived all the old doubts as to whether the spirit which inspired the Declaration of London is not still living and active in the inner circles of the Government.
Personally, I disbelieve all the hints and rumours with which the air is rife of the existence of some unavowed reason for the tenderness which has been shown to enemy trade. I have no doubt that there is always for every concession that we make some reason, good or bad, which at any rate appears good to the authority making it, whether it be the Cabinet, or a Committee, or a Minister, or even a Foreign Office clerk. But it is not to be wondered at, after all these fluctuations of policy, that the man in the street is inclined to believe these rumours. If there is this persistent belief in the existence of some occult German influence in the very heart of our administration it seems to me that the policy of the Government is largely responsible for it. The constant halting between irreconcilable opinions, bold professions followed by irresolute action, and on the top of it all this secretiveness, are sufficient to account for the hold which this pernicious belief has upon the public mind. As I have said, I believe myself that there are sufficient explanations for all that appears so unsatisfactory and inexplicable in these proceedings—I say "sufficient reasons"; I mean that there are reasons which, whether they are good or bad in themselves, are at any rate honestly believed to be sound by those who are influenced by them. I hope the Memorandum which is promised to us will state clearly what the principles upon which the Government are acting in this matter really are. Whatever justification there may be for allowing the re-export from Denmark of certain articles—important or less important, I am not prepared to say—it is quite evident that it is a flat contradiction of the avowed object of the Order in Council.
720 I must say that I was greatly disquieted by the passage in the speech of the noble Marquess (Lord Lansdowne) last Thursday to which Lord Sydenham has to-day referred. The matter is one of such supreme importance that I would beg to be allowed briefly to refer to it, and to try, if possible, to reinforce the arguments which have already been addressed to you on this subject. The noble Marquess referred to the great difficulty of preventing the importation into neutral countries of goods in excess of their normal requirements. I fancied so at the time; and I gather from the speech of the noble Lord who has just addressed us (Lord Emmott), that it is in order to strengthen our hands in this respect that we are entering into these Agreements, or at least that this is one of the principal objects we have in view. We are told that if, even after the normal requirements of a neutral have been exceeded, ships continue to arrive which carry cargo in excess of those normal requirements and we cannot prove that any particular cargo has an enemy destination, then we are absolutely helpless to stop it. It is apparently in order to obtain assistance from the neutral countries themselves to produce evidence to entitle us to stop such cargoes that we are entering into these Agreements. Everybody must appreciate the great value of neutral assistance, whether it be that of Governments or of traders, in helping us to check the re-export to Germany of goods which we have allowed to enter a neutral country. But if we are going to admit the principle that we are not free to stop importation when the normal requirements of the neutral country have been reached without being able to prove evil intent in regard to a particular cargo, then the bottom is absolutely knocked out of the Order in Council. It is one thing to get all the assistance possible from neutral countries in carrying out the policy of that Order—that is right and desirable, and I fully agree with the noble Lord who has just addressed us that it is wise and politic to get all the assistance you can from neutral countries —but it is quite another thing to put yourselves absolutely in their hands and to admit, as it seems to me the noble Marquess admits, if I rightly understood him, that failing their support you would have to abandon the attempt altogether.
721 Both in this debate and in the previous one Ministers have shown an inclination to blame noble Lords on this side of the House for their alleged indifference to the consideration of the interests and feelings of neutrals. This is a matter of the most vital importance. Speaking for myself, I am as alive as anybody possibly can be to the importance of these considerations. But do not let us fall between two stools. No course short of the complete abandonment of the exercise of our superior power at sea, except for mere purposes of self-protection, the protection of our own shores, our own shipping, and our own supplies, will enable us to obviate all difficulties with neutrals. You always have had and you always will have friction with neutrals the moment you extend the exercise of your Sea Power beyond the puroses of self-protection in order to bring economic pressure to bear upon the enemy. If you are going to bring that economic pressure to bear upon the enemy at all, then I am firmly convinced that the only wise course is to bring it to bear with the greatest possible amount of resolution and insistence. If you are going to exercise it timidly, hesitatingly, and ineffectively you will not even then avoid friction with neutrals. You will only prolong the agony and thus give more opportunity for that friction to develop into really formidable proportions.
If you want to obviate trouble with neutrals the best course is to shorten the war, and there is no course so likely to shorten the war as to keep up economic pressure on neutrals with an unwavering hand. When I say that, I do not mean for a moment that we ought to take arbitrary action. There is nothing which neutral trade hates so much as uncertainty. Lay down the principles which you intend to follow as clearly as possible. Let those principles be as easy and as indulgent to neutrals as is consistent with the one supreme object of strangling the enemy; but, having once laid them down, then adhere to them and enforce them with iron resolution. I know there are objections to that course. There are objections to any possible course in the extremely difficult and complicated matter with which we are dealing here. But I am sure that there is no other policy so likely either to shorten the war or to prevent the difficulties with neutrals from becoming even more serious and embarrassing than they already are.
§ LORD PARMOOR
My Lords, I would like to say a few words upon a particular portion of the debate to which your Lordships have listened. I should like, however, to say that I agree with the general principle laid down by Lord Milner, and that I do not regret that I took my part in another place in reducing the Declaration of London as far as we could to the condition of a corpse. There never was a suggested International Code less fair to a maritime Power or to an island country than was the Declaration of London, But I do not wish to say more as regards the Declaration of London, because I assume that there is no chance of its resurrection, and that we do not intend to have our Sea Power crippled by any such International Code or by any such International Tribunal.
I regret that this particular Danish Agreement cannot be produced. I shall say a word or two later as regards the speech made on Thursday last by the noble Marquess (Lord Lansdowne), a speech of great candour and carrying great weight, in which he gave the reasons why he thought that the Danish Agreement ought not to be produced having regard to matters of public policy. But I want before that to say how entirely I agree with Lord Milner that in all these matters the distrust, the want of confidence, and much of the other evils which have attended the progress of this war rise in secrecy and mystery in matters which might be disclosed, and which, if they were disclosed, would bring confidence and courage and truth as regards our public policy and our public action. There is not a member of your Lordships' House who, if be were convinced that a particular Agreement or document ought not to be produced owing to public policy, would desire to press for its production. I think that is true of your Lordships Oil all sides of the House. But when you come to analyse a particular Agreement, when you begin to discuss what that Agreement contains, we all know that it is not only legitimate but common that difference of opinion arises as to whether the particular Agreement ought or ought not to be disclosed.
I do not intend to follow Lord Emmott—he is not in his place at the moment—because it seemed to me that he was entirely out of order according to his own definition. We are not discussing at the present moment what the Agreement contains. What we are discussing is an 723 entirely different point altogether. It is whether, consistently with national requirements, this Agreement can properly be made public at the present time. When the noble Earl (Lord Portsmouth) was speaking the other day he made what appeared to me to be a strong point—namely, that as he understood the Agreement it was inconsistent with International Rules and International Law. I should regret immensely that our Government should enter into any Agreement during a period of warfare inconsistent with International Law and International Rules. I believe it is a great source of strength that we should acknowledge International Rules and International Law and should abide by them. Further, the noble Earl pointed out that the effect of the Agreement might be the giving of something like an unfair preference to particular neutrals. Now an Agreement which did that would be entirely contrary to the true basis of our public policy at the present moment. And it was only when the noble Marquess who was than leading the House (Lord Lansdowne) spoke that I for the first time appreciated words which he used which showed, as far as he disclosed what the nature of the Agreement was, that at any rate in this respect the primd facie view which was held by the noble Earl was contradicted. Let me say upon this point how unsatisfactory it is that this Agreement has not been produced.
But Lord Emmott to-night put the Agreement on a wholly different ground from that on which it had been put by the noble Marquess the other evening. Speaking from his experience he said that goods passing under the Agreement were passing under licences to trade given to English subjects. That is a very important point to consider. Of course, that is absolutely within the control of all International Law and International Rules. Primd facie all trading between a subject of this country and an enemy is illegal and wrong. The person who engages in trading of that kind is subjected to imprisonment, and the goods and ships engaged in a trade of that character may be confiscated. But the noble Lord to-night introduced an entirely new element which certainly had never occurred to me before. Speaking with a knowledge of the Agreement, although, as he said, he was not in a position to disclose its terms, he put it upon this ground—that it was wise to grant certain licences to trade to subjects 724 of this country, and of course if those licences had not been granted that trade would be wholly illegal and improper. Whether that is wise or not must depend upon the terms of the particular Agreement. Speaking for myself I think that licences of this character ought to be restricted within very narrow limits. If they are given at all, they ought only to be given under very special and exceptional circumstances.
When we are informed that this Agreement is based upon licences of that character and we are told at the same time that we cannot see what the real nature of that Agreement is, can Ministers wonder at an air of want of confidence and suspicion? Can they wonder that it should be said of them that they are sacrificing unduly our belligerent rights, and sacrificing them unduly in this respect—if I may emphasise for a moment what was said by Lord Milner—sacrificing them so as to prolong the war, when, on every ground of humanity and prudence, they ought to seek to bring it to an end at the earliest possible moment? There was, I think, no indication whatever in the speech of the noble Marquess last Thursday that what were dealt with in the Danish Agreement were these licences to trade between English subjects and enemy countries. I listened closely from the point of view of International Rules and International Law, and I heard no hint of anything of that kind. I am still unable to understand what the noble Marquess said, but perhaps we shall have further information given to us. The noble Marquess spoke as though there were certain blockaded ports, and he said that in running the blockade there was no special advantage given to a particular country because all neutrals could have the same advantage if they cared to take it. If I may put it on the ground of International Rules and International Law, that is a perfectly sound argument. But I realised when that answer was made by the noble Marquess the difficulty of the noble Earl as regards questions of International Rules and International Law.
I should like to ask the noble Marquess (Lord Crewe), who is going to reply, I suppose, later—What has this Danish Agreement to do with matters of blockade? I am unable to see how it is faintly connected with the question of blockade. We cannot blockade neutral ports; it is 725 not suggested that we are blockading neutral ports; that is one of those matters about which one wants to be very particular in a matter of this kind. I am satisfied that the Agreement has nothing whatever to do with questions of blockading, and it is on that ground amongst, others—and I am only too pleased to make this admission—that I think no charge can be made against the Government that, whatever this Agreement contains, it is in any sense a breach of International Rules or International Law.
The next point made by the noble Marquess, in which I entirely concurred, was this. He said that one of the desires was as far as possible to minimise friction with neutrals. I think all your Lordships will agree that, assuming we maintain, as I hope we always shall, our full belligerent rights, it is all-important to reduce friction between ourselves and neutrals as far as we possibly can. It is both right and politic from the point of view of our own interests that we should do so. It is impossible to say much in the absence of the Agreement itself, but I can quite understand, from the indications which the noble Marquess gave, that an Agreement of this kind might have an important influence in minimising friction as between neutrals and ourselves. It is on points of view like those that I regret we are not permitted to see the Agreement. If it can be shown that this Agreement does not conflict with any principle of International Rule and International Law, as the noble Marquess so clearly put it; if it can be shown that we are not sacrificing any belligerent, right; if it, can be shown that the Agreement is useful in minimising friction between ourselves and neutrals—I ask, What reason is there against its production? I think the Government are making the difficulty for themselves. If the Agreement carries out what we are told, so far from its production being disadvantageous either to the Government or to public policy it would take away the prevailing air of suspicion and want of confidence. The public in this country are quite courageous enough to be told the truth—about an Agreement of this kind, and they want to know where they stand as regards their belligerent rights.
The noble Marquess said there were four points of view why be was not desirous that this Agreement should be disclosed at the present moment. He 726 did not wish the Agreement disclosed from the point of view, first, of our own countrymen. Surely there cannot be a worse policy in a great national crisis of this kind than not telling the people of this country as frankly and fairly as you can how the position stands and what their liabilities are Of course, we all make the exception as regards matters of naval and military importance. But I do emphasise this. If you want to rouse and concentrate the national spirit of this country, and make it of the greatest use and service at this great crisis, the one way to do it is to put on one side this enervating policy of secrecy and substitute for it the invigorating policy of trust, truth, and confidence.
Next the noble Marquess spoke as regards the effect of publication upon other neutrals and other Agreements. Surely the answer to that is sufficiently clear. This is not an Agreement between ourselves and a neutral Government; it is an Agreement between ourselves and an association of neutral traders. Agreements of that kind, of course, are subject to suspicion. The noble Marquess hit the nail on the head when he said that there is a good deal of money and corruption in matters of this kind. Where you have money and corruption you want, not secrecy, but disclosure. Assuming what the noble Marquess said with regard to the nature of this Agreement, how can it be disadvantageous to neutrals to disclose it? The whole basis of his argument is that the Agreement is in favour of neutrals and minimises friction, and if it is in our power to disclose an Agreement which is in favour of neutrals and which minimises friction it appears to me on every ground bad policy to keep it, secret.
The noble Marquess's last point of view was as regards the enemy. I should like to ask the noble Marquess or any member of the Government, Do they in their wildest moments suppose that, the German Government has not full information as regards the details and effect of this Agreement? We know perfectly well that the enemy has full information as regards the subject-matter in dispute, and knowing that, as we do, does it not seem a parody of what is right in questions of this sort for the Government to say they will not allow the people of this country to have the same knowledge? I am not one of those persons who have had this Agreement in his pocket, nor have I seen it. There- 727 fore I am one of those who are specially desirous to know what is in it. Speaking from a legal point of view, I should give no opinion on a document of this kind before I had seen it. But putting that on one side, does any Minister on the Front Bench believe for a moment that in concealing a document of this kind from the knowledge of this country he is depriving the enemy of any information they have not already got? It is for those reason that I regret that the Government have determined that they cannot disclose this secret Agreement with the Danish traders.
I admit that the only reason that makes me suspicious of it, after what the noble Marquess said, is the fact that the Agreement is not disclosed. I have tried to rack my brain to discover why it is not disclosed, taking what the noble Marquess said the other day as regards its nature and subject-matter. It should be to the advantage of every one to know its contents. It would take away this suspicion. It would dispel the idea, of which Lord Milner spoke, that the policy of the Declaration of London was coming again to the front. It would make people certain of two points on which they want to be certain. They want to know that within legitimate limits our belligerent rights are pressed to the utmost; they want, on the other hand, to know that, while pressing our belligerent rights to the utmost, we do what we can to limit the inconvenience caused to neutrals, sympathising with them in the difficulties necessarily caused to their trade by a great and prolonged war of this character.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
My Lords, there is one point on which I should like to say a word about this Agreement. Perhaps I ought not to speak on this matter, because I come rather under Lord Emmott's ban of being a country gentleman. But I can say in extenuation that I am not nearly so large and important a country gentleman as the noble Earl on my left (Lord Portsmouth), and that perhaps may be my excuse. We are now discussing not so much the Agreement as the question whether or not it should be made public. Some of the reasons against its publication have been disposed of by my noble and learned friend who has just spoken. I imagine that the chief reason must lie in some arrangements that the Government have entered into either with the Danish Government or with the traders themselves, 728 because I cannot help saying with all respect to the noble Marquess that I think the reasons which he gave the other evening for not disclosing it were in the nature of afterthoughts, for many of them will hardly stand close criticism. I think it is perhaps not an unfair question to ask whether the understanding not to publish the Agreement was entered into with the Danish Government or with the traders, because there is a great difference between those two propositions. The noble Marquess's statement was consistent with either explanation. He said that the Agreement could not be published without consulting the Danish Government, and from that statement it was not clear whether the promise had been made to the Danish Government or merely to the traders.
We were told by the noble Marquess that this Agreement was made with bodies in Denmark who practically embrace the whole of the commercial and trading community of that country. I do not know whether Danes possess a gift of reticence that is not shared by His Majesty's subjects in this country, but to me it is almost inconceivable, if thousands of persons in the trading community of Denmark know this Agreement, that it is humanly possible to keep it secret. Owing to past policy there has been a certain amount of suspicion—unjust, if you like—on the way in which these matters have been conducted. You are certain to have this Agreement brought up here, and then you will have the Government put in the very unfortunate position of neither being able to affirm or deny it. To-day Lord Emmott, I think in rather an acid voice, said: "The statements of my noble friend do not precisely coincide with the words of the Agreement." I am a firm supporter of the Government, and do not want them to be put in such a position. I may say that I should be an equally firm supporter of any Government that took the place of those gentlemen in order to conduct the war. But I think this incident has placed the Government in an unpleasant position.
Then we are told that there is some fear in Denmark that pressure might be exerted upon Denmark by Germany if the Agreement were published. Why, we have been told that Germans belong to the Danish Association; or, if they do not belong to it, I think £500 would easily purchase a copy of the Agreement. Is it possible 729 that more pressure would be put on Denmark because the Agreement had been published? Pressure is being put by Germany on every one of these neutrals; they are putting pressure on them every day as hard as they can, and I should like to know who will tell me that the Germans are going to put any heavier pressure on the Danes than they have been putting on these gentlemen for the last six months. As regards neutrals, a difficult point could only arise if this Agreement were preferential. We have been told—and, of course, I accept the statement—that this is not a preferential Agreement. In that case what possible harm could be done by discussing it And may I say this on the question whether or not the Agreement is preferential. The noble Marquess rather poured scorn on my noble friend Lord Portsmouth for suggesting that all agreements with neutrals must be on all fours and must "run in the same mould." I do not think the noble Earl did commit himself to a statement which would have been so unworthy of his intelligence. My point is that these two Agreements—the Netherlands Agreement and the Danish Agreement—are not in the same mould, and that there is a principle involved in the second Agreement that was not contained in the first.
I understand that under the Netherlands Agreement a particular association of traders were to import articles into Holland, and that when those particular articles exceeded the amount which had on the average of the two previous years been imported into that country, they were to notify the Government that this was so. But there is nothing there about exporting into Germany, whether in limited or unlimited quantities; and that is the reason why there has been this suspicion about the action of the Government in this case. The public has seen in it the gradual whittling away of the policy declared by the Prime Minister in March. First of all you have an Agreement allowing goods to be taken into a neutral country, and then you have a second Agreement going further than the first and allowing goods not only to be brought into the neutral countries but to be re-exported into Germany from those countries. I contend that this is a step downwards so far as it goes. We are told by Lord Emmott that in his opinion this is the only way of checking goods from going into Germany. 730 It may be so, but it seems paradoxical that the only way of preventing goods going into Germany is by allowing them to go there.
The broad point of the whole thing is this. Has there or has there not been any change of policy between the declaration of the Prime Minister in March and this time? That is the matter on which the public interest is most deeply concentrated. The noble Marquess told us that there has not been a change of policy; but if there has not been a change of policy, most certainly there has been a change of method. The declaration of the Prime Minister in March excited more interest in the country than any other had—the declaration that the Navy was going to use its full force to prevent goods entering or leaving Germany. Unfortunately we had not been as successful as we might have been on land, and this idea of putting economic pressure on Germany by sea was a matter which was deeply felt throughout the country. Now, without any public declamation of policy, we are told that the making of Agreements with neutral countries is the way of preventing goods from getting into Germany and not the method of the Navy.
The noble Marquess made, a remarkable statement is his speech last Thursday. He said—Unless yon can obtain a working arrangement with the neutral country itself, an arrangement which that country will respect and which it will endeavour to carry oat to the best of its powers, I believe you will be helpless to prevent dm passage of almost unlimited quantities of supplies to your enemies.That is a very remarkable statement. It amounts to this, that the British Navy unassisted by these Agreements is unable to prevent an almost unlimited quantity of goods going into Germany. Contrast that with the statement made by the Prime Minister in March. Surely there is a vast difference between the two. People look back more than one hundred years to when we were fighting a great war and we replied to the attacks of our great enemy by our Orders in Council carried out by the Fleet. Now they are not to be carried out by the Fleet, but by a body of traders in Denmark. The Fleet is scrapped, and for the Fleet you substitute apparently a large body of traders in Denmark, many of whom are Germans. I submit that the Government have been wrong in this— 731 this is a change of policy and ought to have been placed clearly before the country, and if that had been done you would not have got all these unfortunate suspicions and so on which have been aroused by this change of policy.
One word on the position of neutrals. The noble Marquess said that he could not conceive anything more unfortunate for this country than at a moment when we have the whole of the forces of our enemies arrayed against us "we should also be confronted by the resentment and ill-will of the whole of the neutral Powers." Look for a moment at our policy towards neutrals, and contrast it with that of Germany. Nobody is desirous that we should imitate Germany, but one has seen the attitude which Germany has taken up towards one great neutral. Germany has sunk her ships, and has engaged in conspiracy in that neutral's country. What has been the result? The result has been a large issue of Notes. Then further outrages have been committed resulting in a further issue of Notes. That does not suggest that neutrals are likely to be disturbed by a little firm pressure. Germany may have been a little overbearing, but we have been a little underbearing in our attitude. May I remind the Government about the cotton question. The Government have been shown to be wrong in their treatment of neutrals in that respect. They may have had excellent information, but they did in that case undoubtedly mistake the outcry of a few Teutons in America and a few interested cotton sellers for the public opinion of the United States, because, when a change was made, there was no outcry whatever in the United States. As to the smaller neutrals is it not clear that their interest is in the war being brought to a conclusion as rapidly as possible? Can they really strongly resent measures taken to carry out to the full the belligerent powers of this country when they know that their interests and ours are the same, when they know that we have been, as we have stated so often, standing up for the small neutral countries, and when they know the treatment which has been served out to those small neutral countries by Germany herself? I cannot help thinking that action based upon a little more reliance on the broad interests of those neutrals would help us more than a more sensitive attitude towards them.
732 There is one other point to which I hope your Lordships will allow me to allude. I felt that this policy towards Germany was probably due to one of those compromises which perhaps are necessary when you are governed by so large a Cabinet. The statement of Lord Emmott was exceedingly significant in this respect because there have been two policies advocated as regards the treatment of Germany. One is the policy laid down by the Prime Minister—that goods of any sort should neither go into nor come from Germany; and then there is the policy—quite a respectable policy, I admit—that the best way to act is to do what Lord Emmott called break down Germany's exchange. It is said that the way to do that is to send as many goods as you can into Germany, in order that Germany may pay in gold. Germany now is paying in gold, but being a prudent people she is paying in Austrian gold and not in German gold. But those two policies are wholly inconsistent, and you must take your stand on one of them. You must either decide on a policy to bring pressure to bear on Germany in the way of preventing goods going into or coming from Germany, or try to break down her exchange. You cannot do both Personally I think both policies have been followed here by way of compromise, with the usual fatal results of a compromise when it is applied in war.
I should like to ask whether this policy or this Agreement was submitted to the Admiralty for their criticism before it was made. It is one thing to submit it before it is made and another to submit it after it is made. I want to know whether those who know most about the difficulty of stopping vessels on the sea were asked whether or not they approved of this Agreement. My second question is this. If we are going to have more of these Agreements—and the Government have told us we are—could not the Admiralty be consulted before they are made? Could not some eminent sailor have some part in the criticism if not in the negotiation of these Agreements? I have great confidence in diplomacy in its proper place, but I have even more confidence in our sailors. This is a matter which so closely touches the business which they know so well, and know far better than any diplomatist could know, that they should have some knowledge of and a voice in these Agreements before they are negotiated and settled.
THE EARL OF MAYO
My Lords, I entertained some doubt as to whether I ought to say anything upon this subject, but after Lord Emmott's speech in which he said that the two noble Lords who initiated the debate were nothing more nor less than country gentlemen Who perhaps sat upon county councils and that sort of thing, I thought I had every right to say something. Lord Emmott's speech was one which I must designate as full of nothing but special pleading. He dealt with the export trade of this country and said it was necessary that our exports should be kept up. With that I quite agree. But surely the export trade of this country has nothing to do with the matter at all if the exports are to go to Germany, and he has admitted that some of them will go to Germany. The noble Lord also said that we ought to be very thankful to Denmark, because Denmark sent us such a lot of produce. But Denmark does not send us produce for nothing. They have made money out of us and interfered with our Irish trade very much; indeed, they do not send us butter and pigs for nothing, but make us pay well for them. I do not think there is any reason why we should have this special Agreement with Denmark on that ground. I was very glad to hear the noble Lord say that less will go to Germany, and that under this Agreement England will have control of goods that come oversea. But the noble Lord, as I said before, admitted that some goods will go through to Germany—
§ LORD EMMOTT
I am sorry to interrupt the noble Earl, but I do not think I admitted anything of the kind. I took certain statements made on the opposite side of the House and said that; even if they were true—etc., etc.
THE EARL OF MAYO
I took it down. The noble Lord certainly said that some goods could go through to Germany. I object to any Agreement—
§ LORD EMMOTT
What I said was that the noble Earl (Lord Portsmouth) had stated that, and I said that, assuming merely for the sake of argument it were true, then I would make certain observations upon it.
THE EARL OF MAYO
At all events, the matter stands thus. We have a trade Agreement with Denmark. The terms of 734 that Agreement are known and have not been contradicted; yet the Government refuse to publish any of its terms. I should like to ask any member of the Government whether he could stand on a public platform in this country and defend the policy of the Danish Agreement. If a Minister had to defend this policy he would be compelled to produce the Agreement. As far as I know, the policy is that these, Danish associations of traders can import goods of various kinds into Denmark and then when Denmark has had what she wants of them the rest of the goods can be re-exported into Germany. That has never been contradicted. Considering that our Navy commands the whole of the seas of the world I think that this Agreement entered into by the present Government Weakens the power of our Navy and lets things through to the enemy that ought to be stopped.
THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (THE MARQUESS OF CREWE)
My Lords, the question on the Paper has been very fully debated in the course of these two days, and a great number of other questions, some of them closely allied and others less closely allied, have also been debated. But I confess that having read all the speeches delivered last Thursday, when I was prevented from being present, and having heard all those that have been delivered to-day, I have not got a clear conception as to what our critics or the critics of this particular Agreement would do if they were in a position to exercise their own authority on all questions connected with foreign trade in its relation both to belligerents and to neutrals.
There seem to be three separate points of view from which three sets of questions might be asked among those who criticise not only the Agreement but our policy generally. Some, apparently, would ask "Ought we or ought we not" —and it is more "ought we not" than "ought we" —to let the Navy loose to work its will upon both belligerents and neutrals with the Object of preventing supplies of any character getting into Germany?" Another set of critics would ask this question, "Instead of having made the various modifications that we have by the Order in Council of last March, ought we not to have depended strictly upon the precepts and the practice of International Law as well known to us from the experience of 735 more. than a century?" The third set of questions would be concerned with the actual subject-matter of this Motion and would ask whether—assuming that it was not possible to depend entirely on the system of International Law as generally accepted up to the outbreak of the war, and assuming that we had to make some arrangement of the kind—whether this arrangement was a good one or a faulty one in itself.
As regards the first school of thought—those who think that the Navy ought to have an absolutely free hand—that view has been at the back of several of the speeches which have been delivered during this debate and is also to be found in much of the criticism levelled at the action of the Government in the Press. Some people, I think, would like to go back to the spacious days when there was a very indeterminate line drawn between the seamen and officers of the Queen's Navy, those who styled themselves "gentlemen adventurers," and those who were styled, at least, by others, mere buccaneers. I could not help noticing some longings of that kind in the speech of my noble friend Lord Sydenham. [LORD SYDENHAM laughingly shook his head.] He and I have been associated, very pleasantly for me, in many public enterprises, but I certainly should not have thought in those times of crediting him with any piratical ideas. And still more markedly I traced these unrealisable longings in the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Milner. We have to remember, when all is said and done, that this war is founded on our protest against the violation of neutral rights, and if we are going to expect that it is possible for us, when it is convenient, to treat neutrals as though they were belligerents and all the time expect them to treat us as if we were their Allies, we are dreaming dreams which are altogether vain.
Then nextthere is a strong body of opinion which has not been forcibly expressed in this House, but which has found vent in by no means ill-informed quarters outside—namely, that we ought to have merely stuck to the traditional system of naval warfare which has served us well in the past, and that we have made a great mistake in trying, as we admittedly have tried under the Order in Council of March, to modify that old system because of the various changes which have taken place in the methods of warfare at sea. It is quite 736 true that those who look back with regret to those days regard the Declaration of Paris of 1856 as having been a lamentable blunder. Those critics would say that a neutral flag ought not in any case to cover the goods of enemies, and that we have greatly crippled our strong right hand by having adhered to that Declaration. It would not be profitable to attempt to argue that question at any length now. All I think we are entitled to say is that it is not an easy matter in a war of this kind to depart from our practice of sixty years, which although not formally adopted by all other nations has, we know, been generally accepted—even accepted in one well-known instance by the United States—as the proper rule of conduct for warfare at sea. And I confess it appears to me, on any definition which would be accepted by the authorities as covering the meaning of the phrase "enemy goods," that in the particular circumstances and owing to our extraordinary success in clearing the seas of enemy commerce the exercise of such a power would not be, in fact, specially profitable to us during this war. It might conceivably have been profitable during the first few weeks of the war.
Then those critics would frankly admit—and this is a point which has been touched on by more than one noble Lord, and in particular, by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Parmoor—that we are not blockading Germany. I do not propose to discuss at this moment the question whether the Orders in Council involve the formal institution of a blockade. But this much it is reasonable to say, that the ancient conception of a blockade, which may not greatly have altered in a thousand years until quite the other day, has to be abandoned in view of the changed conditions of maritime warfare. That is a fact which both belligerent and neutral nations must accept, because it is supported by irrefragable evidence. It is absolutely certain, as the noble and learned Lord said with the utmost truth, that whatever modification the term may be subject to, in no case can there be a question of a blockade of neutral ports and neutral countries. It is, of course, true that our system, be it blockade or be it more fitly described by some other term, does not involve the actual sealing up of all the German ports. Under the old system the effect of that fact would have been that all neutral trade, except trade in contraband, 737 would have been free to go to Germany. But you cannot—and this is a point which does not seem to have been appreciated by all the noble Lords who have taken part in the debate—you cannot. make every Commodity contraband by calling it so.
It has been, I confess, a matter of some surprise to us on this Bench that in the whole course of this debate noble Lords, in criticising this Agreement, do not seem to have realised, or, at any rate, have altogether avoided mentioning, the tram[...]elling conditions of the International Law under which we have to work. No noble Lord has mentioned the fact that before a cargo can be dealt with it has to be brought into a Prize Court and condemned. I do not know whether noble Lords suppose that the Prize Court is ready to condemn all cargoes or ships which it may be convenient for the Government of the country in which it sits to have condemned. To make a homely illustration, the Judges who sit in the Prize Court are in the position of umpires in a cricket match; and the mere fact that one of the umpires is a retired professional belonging to a particular county or club taking part in the match he is umpiring does not, as we are quite well aware, cause him to swerve an inch aside from the duty of giving a right decision on the game. So with a Judge of the Prize Court. To imagine for a moment that you can get the cargoes dealt with condemned simply because you happen to think it inconvenient that they should reach Germany is one more of the idle dreams of which I have already spoken. It is quite true that absolute contraband, which it is most important to keep out of the enemy I country, would always be condemned. But as regards conditional contraband, it I is quite well known that unless an enemy destination can be proved it will be allowed to go through.
The noble Viscount, Lord Milner, spoke of it as a monstrous and intolerable thing, if a fixed proportion of a single article had gone to a neutral country and another cargo was afterwards seized, that this cargo should not be ipso facto condemned. But what course would the noble Viscount take if the Prize Court did not condemn the cargo? Would he take steps such as might have been taken in Tudor times with the Judge of the Prize Court? I can assure the noble Viscount and the House that these matters are by no means so 738 simple and easy as he and apparently, from the applause he received, other noble Lords appear to suppose. We heard a number of phrases to the effect that the power of the Navy must in no way be limited or interfered with, and we on this Bench are all regarded as poor creatures because we are not prepared to seize every cargo and every ship which on general grounds we should prefer not to go to a neutral country on the off-chance that some of its cargo or contents might find its way sooner or later to Germany. The noble Viscount opposite, Lord Peel, also mentioned this point, and it had been produced by one of the previous speakers.
We were told—I think it was the noble Viscount, Lord Milner, who mentioned it—that the Prime Minister when speaking in the House of Commons used the phrase that "no goods should be allowed to enter Germany." My right hon. friend is generally believed to be a master of clear statement, but it has been his fate on some recent occasions to be accused of saying things which have not been clearly understood by those who listened to them in another place. Surely nobody can imagine that when Mr. Asquith said that goods of all kinds should be kept out of Germany he meant to tear to ribbons all the accepted rules of International Law, and to use the power of the Navy in a manner altogether unprecedented and not justifiable on any ground except that which we are only too familiar with as used by our chief opponent, the ground of sheer necessity, which is the plea that has been used to cover all the German excesses. It is quite evident that my right hon. friend's declaration on the use to which the Order in Council was to be put was subject to the accepted principles of International Law, and that what he intended was that within those principles every conceivable effort should be made to prevent goods that mattered either entering or leaving Germany.
I am in precisely the same position as my noble friend behind me who spoke on the first evening (Lord Lansdowne) with regard to the actual contents of this Agreement with Denmark. I do not intend to describe those contents any more than my noble friend did. One criticism that has been made of the Agreement is that it should have been made with a body of representative traders rather than with the Danish Government. 739 It is a fair question for argument as to whether Agreements of this kind bad better be made with the Governments of neutral countries if they are willing to make them, or whether they may properly be made with substantial and representative bodies of traders such as these gentlemen are in Denmark. Almost every speaker has pressed the question of the publication of this Agreement. But it was not until the noble and learned Lord, Lord Parmoor, rose that any noble Lord condescended to touch on the four reasons which my noble friend behind me gave as actuating us in declining its publication. The noble Viscount, Lord Peel, also touched on my noble friend's reply. But neither of the speeches which dealt with Lord Lansdowne's answer were entirely complete, because they failed to deal wi[...]h at least one of the reasons which he gave. One point on which both noble Lords depended was the assumption that the full contents of the Agreement are known to two sets of persons—namely, the traders in Denmark and the German Government. I greatly doubt whether either of these assertions can be maintained. So far as the traders in Denmark are concerned, it is quite obvious that in the course of business they will come, or may already have come, to a knowledge of the terms of the Agreement so far as it affects, their particular business; but there is no reason that I can appreciate why they should be made acquainted with all the terms of the Agreement, and I should think it is exceedingly likely that most of them never will.
Then it is said, "Oh, but the German Government know all the terms of the Agreement." I take leave to doubt whether they do. But supposing that by some means or another they have obtained cognizance of the general terms of the Agreement, or even of the details. From the point of view, which certainly appears to me to be one of the strongest arguments against publication, of possible extra pressure—and with all respect to the noble Viscount, Lord Peel, I venture tc think that it would be well within the power of Germany to put considerable extra pressure upon Denmark and upon some other of the neutrals if she had a mind—from the point of view of possible extra pressure, there is a marked difference between knowledge casually obtained and knowledge obtained by an ostentatious publication 740 by us of the terms of the Agreement. The other particular point of my noble friend Lord Lansdowne which I think has not been seriously met in debate by any of the noble Lords was that if these Agreements are all to be published—and I do not think it is disputed that if you published one you could not refrain from publishing the others—if they are All to be published, the terms of them, the assumed advantages or disadvantages, would naturally become the subject of discussion in this House and in another place, and I dare say free criticism would be offered of particular terms and items in the various Agreements, at any rate until the reason for the framing of the particular clause had been explained. I make bold to say that if that course were taken you might have these arrangements with neutrals, but you would never have any more. That is surely an important consideration to bear in mind, when we have almost certainly a long period of war before us.
There were one or two specific points made by various speakers in the course of the debate on which 1 wish to say a word. My noble friend Lord Sydenham alluded to a particular case of a cargo of iron ore which was brought into port, according to his statement, in the ordinary way. The captain of the ship, according to Lord Sydenham, stated that the cargo was consigned to Messrs. Krupp, and he further stated that there were some more ships similarly laden and bound to a similar destination. This ship, my noble friend stated, was immediately released. My noble friend is not at the moment in the House, but I must ask him—he will see the report of my speech—to be so good, as I have no knowledge of the alleged case, to supply us with the particulars, and we will, of course, inquire into it. Then Lord Peel asked whether this Danish Agreement had received Admiralty support. It was fully and carefully considered by a Committee on which the Admiralty were strongly represented. Further than that, when it was drawn and completed it was sent to the Admiralty itself and was approved by them.
My noble friend Lord Sydenham complained of the bad use made by us of the powers of the Navy, and he again mentioned the question of cotton, which he apparently desired the House to believe was only stopped from freely going into Germany when it was made contraband 741 in August. I confess that my noble friends and I are a little surprised to see the ancient legend resuscitated that the declaration of cotton as contraband had any real bearing on its going into Germany or staying out of it. What did affect the entrance of cotton into Germany was the Order in Council of March. Up to that time a certain proportion of cotton—not nearly so much as some have maintained or contended—undoubtedly found its way into Germany. But the real stoppage of cotton dated from the March Order in Council. My noble friend also mentioned the question of oils and nuts, with which Lord Emmott dealt in the course of his weighty and powerful speech. The whole question, not merely of oils and palm kernels and commodities of that kind but of all forms of animal fat, is one which has given us the greatest anxiety for a long time past. There is no set of commodities which in our opinion it is more important to restrict the use of in Germany than these, from two points of view Partly because some of them, as has been pointed out by the noble Viscount, are the basis of important munitions of war, and partly because the consumption of fatty substances as food is one of the things with which a nation can barely dispense. I say "barely," because the use of substances of that kind—the carbon order of foods—can to some extent be supplied, though by no means fully, by the increased use of sugar in various forms. The pressure which may be laid cat a country by starving it of oils and fats is if not quite but almost unlimited, and it is therefore one of the points to which we attach the greatest importance and about which we take the greatest pains.
But apart from this particular matter we have to realise, and there is no good blinking the fact, that whatever system you may pursue in limiting as far as possible the supply of goods to neutral countries, it is not possible altogether to close the land frontiers of Germany. It is futile to suppose, Germany being for the purposes of this war somewhat fortunately situated, that this particular penalty can be laid upon her. Our sole desire in this matter is to keep oat of Germany everything that she wants, within the limits allowed by those geographical difficulties of which I have spoken, and, of course, compatibly with the obligations placed upon us by the rules of International Law, although we are certainly not disposed to interpret those 742 rules in any sense unfavourable to ourselves. We have seen with some amusement that our desire and our efforts to starve Germany have been branded by the speakers and writers in that country as partaking of gross inhumanity. That is a subject of which they know something, and on which they are therefore qualified to speak. If we could absolutely besiege Germany and really starve the country we should do so at the first possible moment. There is no difference that I am aware of in the matter of humanity between the siege of a city and the siege of a country. When the Germans besieged Paris they did not consider the sufferings of the people inside. If they ever could have been in a position to carry out a real blockade of this country of course they would have carried it out to the utmost, starve as we might, and nobody would have blamed them for carrying out a regular blockade if they had been in a position to do so. There is only one single reservation in the general rule of keeping commodities Out of Germany—namely, that we do not want to keep out of Germany but would rather introduce into the country commodities the possession of which in no way helps them to win the war, for which they have to pay and thereby weaken their financial stability. That applies to luxuries of many kinds, and I confess that when I read in one of the speeches in the first debate that somebody had drawn a comparison to our discredit between the high price that the poor woman had to pay for her tea in this country whereas it could flow freely into Germany, I can only say I should be glad if the whole German nation stupified itself with tea to any extent. It is not a food that would sustain the population in order to enable them to win the war, and I should be very glad if the whole German people spent their savings on it.
I do not think it is necessary for me to rebut the suggestion—which would be offensive if it were not so obviously grotesque—that the actions of the Government have shown any species of tenderness towards Germany. It is a charge which I do not think ought to be brought against the Government, because there is not a shadow of foundation for it in anything that we have done. I confess that it was with still greater regret that I heard the noble Viscount below the Gangway (Lord Milner) allude to a belief which he said was prevalent in the mind of the man in the 743 street that there was some, I think the phrase was, "occult German influe[...]ce," which was brought to bear on the minds of members of the Government. My Lords, I am inclined to ask the noble Viscount to state precisely what he means by that statement, which is one, in my judgment, that he ought not to have made; and I am sorry to have to say to him that in my experience of this House, now extending over thirty years, I have never heard a less creditable innuendo made by any noble Lord against those who sit with him in this House. I will not pursue the subject further, except to express my regret that the noble Viscount should have lent something like the shadow of his name, which is connected with great public service, to monstrous calumnies of this kind. directed against His Majesty's Government.
§ THE EARL OF PORTSMOUTH
My Lords, I think the best course for me to adopt would be to withdraw my Motion for Papers, for this reason only, that the Government have persistently declined to place them on the Table of the House, and neither I nor any noble Lord nor any body of noble Lords can force them to do so. Therefore I think it would be undesirable to put your Lordships to the trouble of a Division. At the same time I would venture to say that I have not been convinced myself, nor I think have a great number of noble Lords on this side of the House, that any adequate arguments or reasons have been given by the Government why this Agreement should not be made known. Looking at it from the point of view of restoring the confidence of the 744 public to the Government, it would have been much more desirable that the Agreement should not be concealed from the people of this country. Its publication would have removed what does exist and what must exist—a very deep and strong sense of suspicion and distrust. But in the circumstances I withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.