HL Deb 15 July 1915 vol 19 cc451-72

LORD CHARNWOOD had the following Questions on the Paper—

To ask His Majesty's Government whether fresh supplies of cotton are now prevented, so far as the vigilance of the Navy can prevent them, from reaching our enemies either by direct importation or indirectly through neutral countries in Europe; whether the Government believe the naval measures taken for this purpose to be completely successful; what steps are taken to mitigate the injury caused to neutral countries in Europe by such measures, and whether those steps at all impair the stringency of the blockade of our enemies' countries; whether any neutral country in Europe is known to have imported, since the commencement of the present system of blockade, greater quantities of cotton than it had imported in the corresponding periods of former years, or greater quantities than are believed by the Government to be used by the manufacturers of that neutral country; how far the answers to the foregoing questions in regard to cotton apply, first, to other materials capable of use in making munitions of war, and secondly, to seaborne merchandise generally; whether under present circumstances or under any circumstances likely to arise during the war, the difficulty of our enemies in obtaining more cotton would be at all increased by declaring cotton contraband of war; whether, since the commencement of the present system of blockade, any article has been declared contraband of war, and if so, why.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the subject to which I venture to ask your Lordships' attention is one of very keen interest to many most competent observers of the war, not only in this country, but also, I am told, in France as well. I am informed that raw cotton, or cotton waste, is absolutely necessary for the manufacture of any sort of propulsive ammunition. I believe that at the beginning of the war an opinion had some vogue, both here and in Germany, that efficient substitutes could be found, but I am told that that opinion is erroneous, at least as far as regards manufacture on any large scale. At the beginning of the war Germany, no doubt, had very large stocks of cotton, and has since replenished them. But, on the other hand, this is a long war. The expenditure of ammunition has enormously exceeded any possible previous calculation, and, further, cotton in very large quantities is necessary, not only for the making of ammunition, but also for the making of a great variety of things more or less necessary in the conduct of the war. Consequently I believe—and I say this upon the advice of distinguished artillery experts—that it is an object of first-rate military importance to cut off our enemy from the possibility of obtaining fresh supplies of cotton, or, if for any reason that cannot be absolutely done then to cut down his possible supplies to the lowest degree compatible with other national interests that would have to be considered. To my mind I have not stated the importance of this matter at all too high, and I think I shall have accomplished a large part of my object in putting these Questions if I can obtain from the Government some clear assurance that they, too, regard this matter substantially in the light in which I have just tried to put it.

My Questions relate entirely to present conditions, and have no reference to anything that happened in the early stages of the war. Whether I supposed that at the outset of the war the Government had made some grave error of judgment, or whether, on the contrary, I supposed that they acted wisely in pursuit of some paramount national interest, I should be equally averse—and I think your Lordships would be—to discussing now any matter that definitely belongs to the past. For this purpose the present begins at that date in March when the late Government adopted measures for the purpose, as it is defined in the Order in Council of March 11, of preventing commodities of all kinds from reaching or leaving Germany. The actual measures adopted in the carrying out of that policy apply, I understand, to all commodities, contraband or not contraband—to cotton and to everything else. Doubtless I shall be corrected if I am wrong, but I believe that for some purposes it is still convenient to declare certain things contraband, and a good many have quite recently been so declared, but that, provided the blockade measures to which I have referred can be effectively carried out, it is now a matter of extremely little importance whether an article, cotton or any other article, be declared contraband or not—of extremely little importance for this present and principal purpose of preventing those goods from actually reaching the enemy.

The series of Questions which I have put down substantially resolve themselves into this: Do the Government find that the measures they have been taking since last March are effective in regard, especially, to cotton? That, of coarse, is partly a question of the naval dispositions that can be taken, and as to that I suppose the answer will be a simple one; but it is partly also a question of our dealing with tin neutral countries through which cotton or other goods may be passed on to the enemy. That is the difficult point of this whole subject. I hardly suppose that the Government will be able to discuss in any minute details the precise character of their negotiations and dealings with neutral countries upon this subject. But I want to face that side of the question quite fairly, and there are two or three things which I will ask leave to say upon it.

In the first place, I think it is desirable that people in neutral countries should understand—and our debates in Parliament may help them to understand—that we regard these measures as matters of life and death to ourselves, and they are literally matters of life or death to ourselves and to those near to us. In the second place, may I say that I think the Press of this country might do something to make clear to the minds of the people in neutral countries that, we wish, as far as is possible to us, to have regard to the rights and to the interests of neutrals. We recognise, of course, that a great naval Power, fighting for its life, cannot be altogether a convenient neighbour, but we do not wish, where we can avoid it, to be a needlessly inconsiderate neighbour. We know that a great deal we have to do has given some annoyance to the business communities of neutral countries. I will venture to give two slight instances of this. In the restrictions which are imposed on the imports to a neutral country, it may happen, upon grounds which in some cases may conceivably be a mistake, that we withhold from one neutral trader the goods he has ordered from abroad, and at the next moment we pass on goods that have been ordered by his rival in trade in his own country. That creates friction. Or again—and several instances of this have been brought to my notice—our measures result in this, that some neutral trader has a large part of his business taken away, and that business is practically transferred to a trader in this country. That, of course, is a lucky thing for the individual English trader, but emphatically it is not the national object at which our policy aims. I wish to say this that, subject to the paramount necessity that these goods should be prevented from reaching our enemy, we should heartily welcome any assurance that can be given that any possible device will be adopted to mitigate hardships of this kind which cannot be entirely removed and that the co-operation of neutrals will be invited, as no doubt it is being invited for that purpose. I dwell rather emphatically upon that side of the question, because at the present moment German propagandists are busily engaged in circulating in neutral countries the statement that our restrictions upon the trade in cotton are of no military disadvantage to Germany, and that our object in them is to benefit the British trader at the expense of the neutral trader. The precise contrary is, of course, the case, and it is very desirable that that fact should be made clear to the people of the neutral countries concerned.

Now to return to the main question. Is the blockade which we are carrying out effective—effective specially in regard to cotton? There are a good many published figures which would suggest that it is not completely effective, that there is a very considerable leakage of cotton through the neutral countries into enemy countries. Those figures, I ought to say, roust be taken subject to considerable deductions of seine importance. To begin with, most of the figures I have seen in no way distinguish between the importation that had taken place into neutral countries before these blockade measures began to take effect and the importation which may have taken place since; and without such a distinction the figures show nothing, or at any rate nothing clear. Then when one sees, as one often does in the papers, figures showing an increasing importation of cotton, or anything else, from this country to some neutral country, the explanation of that very often is simply that a source from which that country formerly obtained goods has been cut off by the war and the increased importation to that country is really for its own actual necessities.

Then I will take the particular case of Norway, and I do so because instructive figures on this subject have lately appeared in the Press. During the war Norway has re-exported a considerable quantity of cotton, but it is also a fact—and this is worth noticing—that the enormous bulk of that export of cotton on the part of Norway has gone, not to our enemies at all, but to Russia. I thought it right to point out these deductions to be made from the figures one sees. Nevertheless, the figures do leave the impression that a very considerable leakage does go on. And the only figures so far as I know which we have, which clearly relate to the period since the blockade began—I mean the figures given the other day by Mr. Pretyrnan with regard to the imports during the mouth of May by one neutral country in particular—are quite sufficient of themselves, as I am sure the Government recognise, to give grounds for the great anxiety which is felt on this subject by many people in this country.

I make no sort of apology for having put the catechism which I have upon the Paper somewhat elaborately and I humbly hope searchingly. I do not think my Questions need very much explanation, but one of them invites the Government, if they are inclined so to do, to go beyond the question of cotton. And for this reason, that there are many other things needful in war besides cotton to which somewhat similar considerations to those I have been advancing must apply. My Questions are put not in the very least degree from any want of confidence in the Government in this matter; but in a matter so vital it is well that e, and our Allies too, should be told as plainly as possible just where His Majesty's Government stand. May I say this further. This is a very intricate and a very delicate matter. The fullest information in regard to one part of this intricate question lies with the experts of one Department and perhaps sonic experts outside, while the considerations which bear on another part of it are mainly known to a quite different Department. And when a question is of that character it might very easily happen, even in the case of a subject so momentous as this, that no one of sufficient authority had ever really grasped it as a whole in its full and true bearings. I quite understand that I may not succeed in eliciting the full-details, but failing the full details it will go a very long way to satisfy us if the Government can give an assurance that an adequate share of its fully informed judgment—and of its resolution and capacity, if need he, for taking risks—is bestowed upon this particular subject. I should like to add to my Questions on the Paper one of which I have given private notice to the noble Marquess—namely, whether the policy of the Government in this whole matter is framed in concert and consultation with the Governments of the Allied Powers?


My Lords, so much public interest has been taken in this question of supplies which in certain circumstances may reach the enemy that I feel sure the whole House will agree that no apology is necessary from my noble friend for continuing here the discussion which took place in the House of Commons on the 12th of this month, when my hon. friend Lord Robert Cecil made a clear and concise statement on the subject, and succeeded, I think, in relieving some anxieties and in getting rid of some misapprehensions. I was glad to hear from my noble friend that in putting these Questions he desired to deal with circumstances as they are and not to go hack upon debatable questions of what might have been done, for instance, last autumn. That, of course, confines our discussion to a narrower and I think a more profitable field at this moment.

The main question which lies behind the various Questions which my noble friend has asked, and to which I will endeavour to reply as best I can seriatim, is whether or not it is an advisable thing now to add cotton to the contraband list. On that question there have been, as I have already stated, no small number of misunderstandings and misapprehensions, and some of those misunderstandings undoubtedly obtain not only in this country but also in other parts of the world, and particularly in those countries with which we are especially concerned for the moment—namely, the neutral States.

My noble friend's first Question is whether cotton is prevented, so far as the vigilance of the Navy can prevent it, from reaching Germany, and it will be noted that this particular Question has no bearing on the point as to whether cotton ought to be declared contraband or not, and I am able in general terms to reply to it in the affirmative. In the second place, my noble friend asks whether we believe that the naval measures taken for this purpose are completely successful. The word "completely" must, I think, be taken in a somewhat relative sense both by those who question and those who reply. Complete success, literally taken, would mean that no vessel of any kind had succeeded in defeating our naval precautions, and he certainly would be a bold man who, during any time in history at which the stoppage of imports into a particular place has been attempted by blockade or otherwise, would assert that in no instance had those precautions been evaded. But speaking generally I would reply to that Question that, so far as can be ascertained, the answer is "Yes." And in connection with this the third Question of my noble friend—namely, what steps are taken to mitigate the injury earned to neutral countries in Europe by such measures, and whether those steps at all impair the stringency of the blockade of Our enemies 'countries"— becomes relevant to a reminder of what our existing system is. As Inv noble friend has told us, on March 11 an Order in Council was promulgated with the object of preventing exports generally from reaching Germany. As he has pointed out, that Order works equally upon all articles, whether they are on the contraband list or not. All ships are examined, and where it is necessary for the purposes of examination they are brought into port. If they contain a contraband article, that article is taken out and subjected to the decision of a Prize Court. Articles that are not contraband are either forwarded to their destination under restrictions or are dealt with in some other way, in some cases by purchasing them. The destination of the cargo and any part of it is noted, and as far as possible that destination is carefully checked.

It is, of course, to the interest of sonic traders in neutral countries to forward goods to Germany, and we ought in describing these goods to speak of individuals and not of countries. It is obvious that there are certain individual traders whose personal interests are greatly affected by the question of freedom of export to belligerent countries. Therefore when we permit consignments to be made to those countries our endeavour has been either to consign them to a Trust formed, for the purpose of dealing with them and distributing them to those who are entitled to receive them in the neutral country, and engaging to do its utmost to prevent their further proceeding into a belligerent country—for this purpose, of course, Germany; or, in cases where a Trust is not formed, to firms or persons of proved respectability who are willing to give a similar guarantee. This is clearly not a simple or easy matter. The conditions are not the same in different countries. For instance, it has not been found possible to form in every one of the four neutral countries mainly involved a private Trust, not representing the neutral's Government but formed with its consent, such as exists in Holland; and therefore in different countries different methods have to be pursued.

Our hope is as time goes on and by continual friendly negotiations, as my friend described—by no means of an easy character and also a delicate matter—to improve the position progressively towards what must be our main goal and purpose, that is to limit the export to those neutral countries to the precise amount of their actual needs, calculated on the average imports which they have used and employed at home f luring the last few years. If that limitation is made it is also necessary, as the House will perceive, that it should be carried out preferably by domestic arrangements made within the country itself, with fairness to individual merchants and traders there. For example, if the amount of some commodity, say, cotton, exported to one of the Scandinavian countries is limited to a specific amount, unless it could somehow be arranged that the division of that particular amount among the different spinning firms in the country could be fairly allocated you would have precisely the same complaint from the merchant or trader who found that he could get no cotton at all as you would if you adopted the most stringent methods of preventing import altogether. The more, of course, that we can improve these arrangements —and we are endeavouring in all the countries every day to carry out that improvement and to bring them nearer to perfection—the less is the stringency of the blockade, if that is the proper word, which we desire to apply to the ports affected by our, action.

In his fourth Question my noble friend asks whether any neutral country in Europe is known to have imported, since the commencement of the present system of blockade, greater quantities of cotton than it had imported in the corresponding I periods of former years. Seine figures have been published, as my noble friend says, which have excited no little doubt in some minds as to the success of the measures that we have taken. But it is important, as I think my noble friend pointed out himself, in dealing with these figures to note that excessive reliance must not be placed upon them, because it will be found that where different figures, as sometimes happens, are promulgated concerning a particular country, they are different because they do not really apply to the same thing. When we are told, for instance, that a certain amount of cotton has been imported into a particular country in the month of May, and a comparison is made, say, with May of a previous year, it does not follow that the calculation is framed on an identical basis. It happens in some cases, for instance, that consignments are noted and included in the calculation, whilst in other cases only the cotton is included which has been actually landed; and it is necessary to make various deductions in considering the figures which have been promulgated. But it cannot be disputed that there has been in the case of the four countries of which T have been speaking an increase in the imports of raw cotton and cotton waste since March, as compared with the amount in previous years, of several thousands of tons. On the other hand, it is not possible to state with accuracy to what extent the diminished import of manufactured cottons, piece goods and so on, has led to a quite legitimate increase in the import of raw cotton to be worked up in the neutral country itself to replace the cotton goods which in ordinary circumstances it would have been simpler to import. That I have no doubt accounts for some portion of the increase, although I do not think it ought to be taken as accounting for the whole. On tins question of cotton waste and raw cotton my noble friend stated—and I think it is worth while to note this by the way—that in his opinion it was practically proved that cotton of this kind is necessary for the making of all explosives. I should have thought that that was something of an over-statement.


Not of all explosives, not of high explosives, but propulsives.


It is undoubtedly necessary for some, and I am glad to have my noble friend's correction because I think it makes it clear. But even, I fancy, for some explosives which do not come within the category of high explosives substitutes may be found, and knowing what we do of the extraordinary skill and pertinacity of German chemists it would, I think, be a bold thing to assume that no substitute, even if less convenient, can be found in many cases. I do not say that to minimise the importance of keeping raw cotton and cotton waste out of Germany, but I am not prepared to go so far as my noble friend did in speaking of its absolute necessity. Next my noble friend asks how far the answers to his foregoing Questions in regard to cotton apply, first, to other materials capable of use in making munitions of war, and, secondly, to sea-borne merchandise generally. The answer to that Question is that, mutatis mutandis, everything that I say in reply applies to all sea-borne merchandise precisely as it does to cotton.

Then we come to the Question which I think will be regarded by the House and by the public generally as the most interesting. My noble friend asks whether wide present circumstances or under any circumstances likely to arise during the war, the difficulty of our enemies in obtaining morn cotton would be at all increased by declaring cotton contraband of war. I have already stated that no little misapprehension has existed, and for all I know may still exist in sonic quarters, on this question of the effective declaring of either cotton or anything else contraband. My noble friend explained very clearly, and I have endeavoured once more to repeat its effect, what the present system does; and any one who has followed those explanations will see that there can be no magic in the mere declaration of any commodity as contraband so long as we pursue our present system of examining all goods of whatever class, whether contraband or not. Some people have appeared to imagine that it would be possible to institute a regular blockade of the neutral ports and thereby absolutely prevent goods of all kinds passing either by way of the Channel or by way of the North Sea. But I feel sure that nobody in this House can suppose that either under International Law or maintaining the most elementary rules of fair dealing it is possible to institute a blockade of neutral countries with whom we have no kind of quarrel, apart from the practical inconveniences which would accrue to ourselves and our Allies from the adoption of any such policy. Therefore as I have tried to explain, we adopt this policy, which we admit to be a novel one, but which is rendered absolutely necessary by the changed conditions of maritime warfare. Our desire is to permit the export to neutral countries of goods representing their own needs and absolutely no more. That, is what we are endeavouring to do. One difference, which of course will be familiar to every one here, is that if you declare any article contraband, on its finding its wav to the Prize Court it can be Confiscated; whereas in cases of articles not on the contraband list that cannot be done. In the case of these articles which are not contraband, when they come into our ports to be examined they are either in some cases diverted or in other cases we purchase them ourselves in order to reduce to the lowest point the possibility of their finding their way to an enemy destination. As my noble friend very clearly put it, our One and only object is to stop the imports into Germany, and if in the case of any particular article we can effect that object, it is clearly idle merely for the sake of sounding highly energetic in our action to incur whatever, disadvantages may attach to the declaration of any article either absolute or even conditional contraband.

On this matter of cotton it is no use discounting the fact that in the United States, especially in what are known as the Cotton States, where cotton is not only the main product but represents the pivot around which the whole life of those communities revolves, the placing of cotton on the contraband list would cause no small amount of alarm and disturbance. That would undoubtedly be the case, because in the United States also there must exist no small degree of misapprehension as to what the effect of such a declaration would be. There are various such misapprehensions. I have no doubt that there is a tendency in some quarters in the United States and probably also in other countries to ascribe to the action of our Navy losses and disadvantages which ought not to be set down to us but are inherent in the fact that this world-wide war is raging. It is also, as my noble friend very usefully pointed out, believed—again not only in the United States, but no doubt in other countries—that there exists a desire here to secure and abstract the trade not merely of the hostile belligerents but also of neutral countries for the benefit of our own traders. I was glad to note the expression of opinion, which of course we entirely share, that there can be no intention of the kind entertained by the people of this country. It is also, I think, probably believed by many persons in America that if we were to declare cotton contraband a serious and most damaging difference would be made to the growers and merchants, not in the amount of cotton which would find its way into Germany, but in their general trade all over the world.

It is our belief that it would be exceedingly difficult to prove that the placing of cotton on the contraband list would make any difference to the general flow of the American cotton trade, and as matters now stand we are convinced that so far as the entry of cotton into Germany is concerned we should gain no benefit that can be ascertained from placing cotton on the contraband list. That being so, it would clearly be unwise for any of us to disregard the opinion of the United States in this platter, although we may believe that they, in their turn, are under a misapprehension in believing that the turning of cotton into contraband would prejudicially affect them At this moment, as we are well aware, we stand higher than our enemies in the estimation of instructed public opinion of the United States, because they are a fair-minded people who are able to weigh mid are determined to weigh the differing merits and demerits of the methods of warfare which we respectively pursue. Therefore unless it is clear that a change of this kind is imperatively needed, we are naturally—I think noble Lords will say rightly—averse to taking action which would be regarded by a particular interest in the Southern States of America as being substantially aimed at them, as being harmful to their interests, and as being generally unfriendly.

This brings me to the seventh and last Question on the Paper asked by my noble friend—namely, whether, since the commencement of the present system of blockade,- any article has been declared contraband of war, and, if so, why? The answer to the last part of his Question will, I think, be quite clear to the House from what I have just said on the subject of cotton. Certain things have been placed on the contraband list since March 11, including toluol and its deriva- tives. Toluol, as your Lordships know, is a coal-tar product which it was quite of late years discovered could be used for the manufacture of high explosives; it is also used for the manufacture of dye-stuffs, and for a great number of other chemical products. There have also been placed on the contraband list machine tools and machines of a character suitable for making munitions of war, large scale maps of belligerent territory, various forms of lubricants, and also wool. Wool, as noble Lords will appreciate, is of prime importance, and of almost paramount necessity for the clothing of troops in cold weather, for so far as we know no substitute for it has been discovered. It is quite possible that the contraband list may be added to at any time. In the case of cotton I have explained that there are solid objections to placing it on the contraband list, which could only be outweighed by obvious or clearly proved military advantage.

The general conclusion which I would ask the House to accept is this, that the case of every commodity must be considered separately on its particular merits. You cannot make a contraband list which would be anything approaching universal, and the relative advantages and disadvantages must, I submit, be weighed in each case. I am therefore certainly not going to say that if in any case—that of cotton or any other—the military considerations were found to be paramount, we might not have to face the corresponding disadvantages which I have described to the House. That applies to all commodities, and as the conditions of the war may alter as time goes on we should, I am sure, be unwise to bind ourselves strictly in either direction. We feel compelled, as I have said, to leave the door open for ourselves to make such a declaration with regard to any subject, always of course bearing in mind as far as possible the fair claims of neutral countries but being, obliged, as they I am sure will fairly admit, to regard the military necessity. The shortening of the war, and the manner of the final victory, is the absolutely paramount consideration we have to hear in mind. That we shall continue to do, and I hope that I have convinced the House that we have not in any way neglected that object or compromised the interests of the country in the steps that we have so far taken.


My Lords, I should like to say a few words on what is undoubtedly a matter of paramount importance. Nobody denies that this question of cotton and cotton waste is, as has been pointed out by the noble Marquess, a matter of great intricacy and difficulty. I may say that I am entirely in accord with the principle which the noble Marquess has laid down for dealing with this subject. I think he has made the same statement here as that which was so admirably made in the other House by Lord Robert Cecil, and I which I may summarise in these words—that in this great European struggle England has stood in the main for the maintenance of the public law of Europe in matters of this kind. That is a most important principle to maintain. First of all, speaking from the point of view of the legal position, I think it is right and just that we should act upon that principle. Secondly, I think with the noble Marquess that we lose much more by possibly putting ourselves in the wrong on matters of principle though we may gain in what may appear to be the immediate advantage at the particular moment. At the same time I think we all agree with him that a time of paramount necessity from the military standpoint may arise which is so great and so immediate that that principle will have to give way, and that may hereafter be the case as regards the declaration of cotton as contraband.

But there is every reason why raw cotton, should not be declared contraband unless it is a matter of urgent and essential necessity. After all, we are dealing with merchandise sent from a neutral country to a neutral country, and we are bound—and it is an attitude we have taken up in the past with regard to questions of this kind—to give a fair regard to the rights and claims of neutrals as regards traffic of this character. Of course, this is especially important having regard to the conditions in the Southern States of America. The noble Marquess told us in substance that the Government had obtained the results we all desired without declaring cotton contraband. I think that is a very important statement, on which the House is much to be congratulated. Consider the dangers and the difficulties of departing from what has always been our view at any rate of I International Law upon a question of this kind. I admit that in some senses International Law seems to be a figment of the past. But I do not take that view, and I eon glad to hear, from what the noble Marquess has said, that the Government are maintaining what T may call the right principle upon essential points of this character.

Let us consider for a moment the question of contraband in connection with cotton. Practically at the instance of this country, but not entirely so, it was put on the free list in the Declaration of London. I am afraid. I am one of those who always opposed the Declaration of London. It has not been accepted up at the present time. But those who are in favour of the Declaration of London must take note that cotton was put on the free list— that is to say, it was placed as one of those articles which, as against the interests of neutrals, no belligerent was to be allowed to put into a list of contraband. No doubt that was done because we as a great industrial country an more than any other country interested to see that neutral industries were not interfered with during a long war. No other country is more interested than we are in maintaining a principle of that kind. Let me give an instance which came into my mind while the noble Marquess was speaking. The only time when cotton was declared contraband and treated as such was, I think, about 1861, in the Civil We r in America, the war between the Federal States and the Confederate States. That was justified on a very peculiar ground, and only on that ground—it was said that the only form of specie, or money, with which the Confederate States could deal was cotton, and therefore the Federal States on that very ground claimed to put cotton within the contraband list. Well, we can only say that since then every writer of the slightest importance on International Law has thought that that was at least a very doubtful action so far as the Federal authorities were concerned. In 1904 Russia declared cotton to be an absolute contraband in her war with Japan. We at once made a protest—I submit, a very proper protest—against that The result, partly though not entirely satisfac7ory, was that cotton upon that occasion was moved from the absolute contraband list into the conditional contraband list.

I do not want to go into technicalities upon a point of this kind, but no doubt most of your Lordships are aware that the conditions under which contraband can be dealt; with differ whether it is a matter of absolute contraband or a matter of conditional contraband. Therefore oil every ground, and particularly having regard to what the noble Marquess said, it would be a great misfortune—I do not say it tray not become necessary to have to face what I must call in some respects the just criticism of neutral countries and neutral traders—it would be a great misfortune if, after all our history and all our declarations as regards International Law, we did put cotton and cotton waste on the contraband list. But from the answers which have been given in Parliament I understand that there is no question of declaring cotton contraband at the present time—no one, of course, can say what may happen in the future. And further than that, the noble Marquess assures us in substance that what is now being done under the various Defence of the Realm Acts is sufficient to protect this country against what I consider the greatest of all misfortunes—namely, the importation of cotton and cotton waste in any large quantities into Germany, because if we are to bring this war to a termination within anything like a definite time it is in my opinion absolutely essential that on a point of this kind Germany should be as far as possible prohibited front getting assistance by exports from outside.

There is one other point on which wish to say a word. Very often those who criticise the Government upon a point of this kind forget that these problems are extremely intricate and difficult. They seem to put out of sight any other interest or idea except the one dominant factor they may have present to their minds at the particular moment. An illustration of that was given by the noble Marquess. I understand it has been suggested, I presume to the Government, that you might have something like a general blockade of neutral countries. A noble Lord on the other side of the House says "Hear, hear." It appears to me that a suggestion of that kind can hardly emanate from those who have really considered the conditions in which we are at the present moment. It can only he suggested on the hypothesis that you absolutely disregard the rights of every one in every direction except what is suitable to yourselves at a particular moment. Will any one agree with such a proposition as that? One of the great difficulties of a great naval Power like ourselves is so to conduct operations of this character as to be effective, and vet not unduly irritating to neutrals. And if we look abroad and see what is going on in Europe, is there any greater or better support that we could have than the support of neutrals on the ground, the definite ground, that we stand for what is really public rights and public order even during this great struggle of life and death to us? On these ground, so far as my support is of any value I most heartily support the attitude which has been explained by the noble Marquess and which I understand is the same as that mentioned by Lord Robert Cecil in the other House. I deprecate in the strongest manner the notion that for immediate advantage we ought to flout the rights and interests of others, which even in times of stress and difficulty ought to have fair consideration at the hands of our people and at the hands of our Government.


My Lords, I think Lord Charnwood has done well in bringing this matter before the House. At the same time, like nearly all those who wish us to take stronger measures as regards cotton, he made his speech without making any allusion to the effect that a sterner dealing with cotton would have on our relations with the United States. I was in the United States at the time of the Civil War, when the Southern Press was full of articles condemning the Northern States for declaring cotton contraband. I was again in that country a few months ago, and in the South I found the Press unanimous in attacking Great Britain for its interference with the cotton trade. Unfortunately all the writers in the Press in America and all the writers in the Press in England were discussing the matter from totally different points of view, and apparently were ignorant of one another's arguments. The one fallacy of the Southern Press in America is that they keep on quoting the prices that cotton is now fetching in Germany as prices that the whole of their cotton crop would reach if they managed to get it exported to that country. I have seen one suggestion which may be of benefit—I am not financier enough to know whether it would be practicable to carry it out—but it is to buy the whole of the American cotton crop for this year. I know the immense importance of keeping cotton out of Germany. At the same time I want those who think strongly on that point to realise the immense importance of cultivating good relations with the United States.


My Lords, my noble friend Lord Charnwood has brought before the House a matter of the greatest interest and importance, and in his series of seven Questions there are practically two matters dealt with. The first is whether we are now successful in preventing cotton going to the enemy, and the second whether we should be better able to prevent cotton going to the enemy if we declared it contraband. I am sure we shall all agree that it is most. important, if we possibly can, to stop cotton reaching the enemy. Yet we all desire—and I was glad to hear the noble stand made by Lord Parmoor for the maintenance of International Law and international right— to allow neutrals their normal supply for internal purposes, and to act fairly to the great producing country which is, and I hope will always remain, our friend.

I was very glad to hear my noble friend the Leader of the House give a categorically affirmative answer to Lord Charnwood's question whether the position at present is better than it was some time ago. I believe that the present position is much better than any figures that have yet been made public show. Up to now the figures which have been made public—the figure that was used in another place the other day, for instance—are rat her alarming. I have seen some exaggerations, but it is undoubtedly the fact. that hundreds of thousands of bales of cotton over the normal consumption of Holland and Sweden have gone through those countries, and no doubt a good many of those bales have gone on to Germany. Both Holland and Sweden have each of them had, during the early part of this year, at least 50,000 tons of cotton over the normal, and when saving that I am not over-stating the case at all.

I am very much interested in this matter in various ways. During my active business career I was in the cotton trade, and for the last few months—since February, in fact—I have been Director of the War Trade Department, which has had to deal not only with cotton but with a great many other commodities. The War Trade Department issues licences for export, and a most difficult and thankless task it is, for it is perfectly impossible to satisfy at one and the same time the man who looks with the utmost suspicion on every commodity that leaves this country, and the man who desires to do his ordinary export trade and believes that at any rate his customers are to be trusted not to deal with the enemy. It is entirely new work; a large new staff has had to be organised, with very few established men. I believe that the War Trade Department receives now between 2,500 and 3,000 communications a day; and I must take this opportunity of expressing a, word of cordial thanks to the staff, which has worked in season and out of season, late at night, on Sundays, and sometimes all through the night, in order to cope with the enormous amount of work thrown on that Department. We have been subjected from time to time to a certain amount of not very generous criticism. We are expected, in the circumstances I have described, to do things much better and quicker than the older Departments.

I will, however, say no more about the War Trade Department except this. In order to pursue rationally a policy of licensing, you trust know some of the statistics of the commodities which are gong to the countries in which von are specially interested. We find ourselves very short of statistics brought up to a recent date. Those published by the neutral countries surrounding Germany, which are the countries that interest us most, are often published very late, and they are not always reliable. Indeed, some of those countries appear to have given up issuing monthly returns, or, if they have not stopped them altogether, they are certainly very greatly in arrear. Some trades publish statistics of a fairly reliable character but by no means all, and therefore it became the duty of the War Trade Department to see what could he done in order to obtain statistics more up to date than any in the possession of the Board of Trade or any other Government Department. Amongst others I consulted the eminent statistician Mr. Bowled, and he agreed that the best plan would be to obtain particulars of the cargoes of all the ships going to countries in which we had a special interest. For some weeks I have had a staff working in the collection and tabulation of those figures, and I regret to say that the head of that staff, who has worked with extraordinary energy and ability, has broken down under the strain to which he has been subjected. I hope, however, that he may shortly be back at his work again. But already a good many figures have been collected, and we have pretty late figures about cotton.

I am not going to quote these figures, because I have not hail time to test them sufficiently thoroughly yet, but I may say that they do not agree at all, month by month, with the latest official statistics issued by the Netherlands Government. For instance, the figures show that twice as much cotton entered Holland in March as is shown in the official Dutch figures; mid instead of 30,500 tons which are said to have entered Holland in May, the figures collected for me show a very small amount indeed. It is obvious, therefore, as my noble friend the' Leader of the House said in regard to the statistics, that these figures deal with different periods. But taking the five or six months of this year, and addling up the times which have been collected for the War Trade Department and the figures issued officially by the Dutch Government, there is substantial agreement in the totals. Therefore I feel considerable confidence in the figures that have been collected, and my belief is that in May and June the amount of cotton reaching the Scandinavian countries and Holland was not on time whole above the normal. In the case of Norway it was more than the normal, but in the other countries—Denmark, Sweden, and Rolland —I believe it was rather less than the normal. The figures collected for my Department apply to ships which have arrived in the countries in question and the cargoes on those ships. Of course a certain number of ships may be missed, but not any large number, and the general effect produced on my mind by the figures is that His Majesty's Government have at the present time control of this cotton question. If, as I hope, they can maintain that control, I do not think your Lordships need fear that any large quantities of cotton will go through these countries adjacent to Germany into Germany. On that point I feel considerable confidence in the statement I have made.

I have only one or two more words to say on the extraordinarily difficult question of whether cotton should be considered contraband or not. One cannot discuss the matter very fully, but I entirely agree with the noble and learned Lord opposite (Lord Parmoor) that we ought to remember that we have looked at this matter from the point of view of a neutral in the past, and we may have to regard it from that point of view at sonic future date. In any case it would not be fair or wise to tear up International Law as Germany seems inclined to do whenever she so desires. While the present position lasts, which really has curtailed the supplies going to Germany during the last month or two months, no substantial advantage can be gained by declaring cotton contraband. Were cotton declared contraband no more could be done than is now being done. In this matter the House will do well to trust the Government. It is a Government singularly strong in experience and knowledge of foreign affairs, and I do not think any body of men could be picked out of the whole of this country who could give a better decision on any point of that kind.

There is just one suggestion that I should like to make to them. The present position under which cotton is dealt with is based upon the famous Order in Council of which we have already heard. That Order avowedly proclaims a policy of reprisal on the German proclamation of the danger zone. The German proclamation was a violation of every canon of International Law as hitherto understood. I do not suggest for a moment that Germany is going to alter her present practice and procedure. I see no reason to suppose that that is likely to take place. But I do say that if Germany did alter her present practice and procedure the position as regards cotton, for instance, might be made more difficult than it is. I am not going to discuss the desirability or otherwise of making cotton contraband. I am glad that His Majesty's Government have declared their intention of keeping an open mind in case necessity should drive them to such a course. But I venture to suggest whether the present method of dealing with cotton, a method which it is most desirable to maintain if we can do so, is best founded on the Order in Council of March 11, or whether it might not be equally well based on other grounds no more contentious in their character to neutrals and giving perhaps an even more permanent sanction to the procedure and methods that we are adopting with regard to cotton at the present moment.


My Lords, there is one feature of this matter which has not been discussed to-day. It is beyond doubt that Germany is still doing an enormous trade with the Scandinavian countries. We have not heard a word to-day on the export trade of Germany across the Baltic. She is sending large quantities of commodities—I believe I am right in saying five or six times her usual amount—through Denmark and through Sweden, and I hope that His Majesty's Government will pay particular attention to the destination of those goods. They are, of course, fully aware that for every ton of goods sent out of Germany the Germans get a quid pro quo either in money or in merchandise. The Baltic Sea is at present nearly absolutely under German control, and this trade ought to be watched and stopped as far as possible. The noble Marquess, in answer to Lord Charnwood, said that the Government were checking the destination of all goods sent from this country. That is a very difficult matter. A trader sends goods on a bil! of lading to a firm, say, in Gothenburg; they sell those goods or pass on the bill of lading, or the consignees send an order for the goods to he transferred to a third person, and he sends them on to a fourth person, and then they slip across from Malmo, or go By another of the well-known routes, into Germany. I know that the international question mentioned by Lord Parmoor is a very difficult one. It is to our interest to stick up for International Law; but are we not, perhaps, hesitating too long in exercising the command of the sea which we do hold outside the Baltic? This war is going to be a long and difficult war, and there is a great public opinion in this country that we ought to stop at no means by which we can strangle the trade of Germany, and, in the end, help to strangle her.