LORD SYDENEAM rose to move to resolve—
That this House considers that, in conformity with the principles of International Law and with the legitimate rights of neutrals, more effective use could be made of the Allied Fleets in preventing supplies, directly conducing to the prolongation of the war, from reaching enemy countries.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, in less than nineteen months of war at least ten million casualties have occurred, and the sum total of suffering, sorrow, and destruction which the war has brought defies all possible estimate. It may fairly be said that all the belligerent Powers are moving at different speeds towards bankruptcy, and perhaps also towards revolution. There seems to be no immediate prospect of any such striking military success as would bring us peace on the only terms which the Allies could accept, while looking back one sees that the handling of some of our military strategic problems has left much to be desired. Surely, my Lords, it is inevitable in such circumstances as these that we should ask ourselves whether we are making the best and fullest use of the tremendous weapon of our Sea Power on which we trusted, and which was held up to us as the justification of our small prewar military establishment. We entered upon this war under many and grave disadvantages, but we had ready to our hand naval strength absolutely and relatively far greater than at the beginning of any war of the past. It is still upon the Grand Fleet in the North Sea that the whole of the military operations of the Allies must ultimately rest, from Flanders and France to Salonika, and from Riga to Mesopotamia; and unless the Central Powers can reverse the naval balance, the Armies of the Allies can be reinforced and supplied to the fullest extent that their national resources will permit. So far the advantages which we possess are many and manifest, but our naval strength has not been hitherto so used as to bring the utmost pressure to bear upon the enemy. The political historian of the war will have to explain why this was not done, and I think he will come to the conclusion that the reasons are to be sought in psychological causes.
The late Government were well aware of what naval strength implied. On June 12,
1907, the Foreign Secretary wrote these words to Sir Edward Fry, who was head of our delegation at The Hague:—
For her ability to bring pressure to bear on her enemies in war Great Britain has to rely upon her Navy alone. His Majesty's Government cannot, therefore, authorise you to agree to any Resolution which would diminish the effective means which the Navy has of bringing pressure to bear on an enemy.
It is impossible to state the case better than that, and any one reading those words at the time might have felt assured that the effective handling of the Navy could safely be counted upon in any war in which we might engage. Your Lordships will note the words "rely upon her Navy alone," which implies that it was then considered quite out of the question that we could bring military pressure to bear upon any European enemy. It was all the more necessary on this hypothesis that the means of exerting the fullest maritime pressure should be most carefully studied in time of peace, and that any limitations arising from International Law or the just claims of neutrals should be taken into the fullest account in advance. Was that ever done? In the same letter the following passage occurs—
His Majesty's Government are ready and willing for their part, in lieu of endeavouring to frame new and more satisfactory rules for the prevention of contraband in the future, to abandon the principle of contraband altogether, thus allowing the oversea, trade in neutral vessels between belligerents and neutrals on the one hand and neutrals on the other to continue during war without any restriction, subject only to its exclusion any blockade from an enemy's port.
I do not in the least criticise this view. It could fairly be argued, at that time especially, that the contraband list might be abolished provided you could establish and maintain an effective blockade of the enemy's ports.
§ Since 1907 there have been great developments of submarine warfare which have altered the conditions of all blockades and raised many new questions of great importance which could not at that time be wholly foreseen. In 1909 the disastrous Declaration of London was forced upon the House of Commons, but was most wisely rejected in your Lordships' House. Any one who examines this amazing document might imagine that it was drawn up by a great military Power with a view to hampering the operations of a great naval Power in war. Its principal features 74 were two. First, it made the doctrine of continuous voyage very difficult, if not impossible, to apply. Secondly, it set up an entirely new list of articles which were never to be made contraband in any circumstances. Among those articles were raw cotton, which is essential for small arms and heavy guns; oil seeds, nuts, and copra, most important as fat-containing products used for making nitro-glycerine; metallic ores, on which the making of guns and munitions absolutely depends; and rubber, which is vital for some forms of motor transport and for other military requirements.
§ When war broke out the unratified Declaration of London was put in force with some modifications and with calamitous results. It crippled the action of our Navy for more than seven months and put a stop to the "effective measures of bringing pressure to bear on an enemy," which seven years earlier the Foreign Office had declared it would never abandon. It also had the effect of starting the adjacent neutrals on a new form of commerce from which they have derived immense profits. Clearly the psychology of the Foreign Office had not changed up to 1914, and it may be said that these seven months were gravely injurious to the cause of the Allies. After the battle of the Marne the Germans perfectly realised that their plan of a short and sharp campaign had failed, and they set themselves with great skill, energy, and success to accumulate necessary stores of all kinds. It is clear that in 1907 His Majesty's Government thought that a war with Germany was highly improbable. I do not altogether blame them for that view. There was much "peace talk" in the air just then, and it was not very easy to believe that a nation which was prospering exceedingly in commerce and industry would risk all by forcing war upon Europe when it was not in the slightest danger of being itself attacked and when all the other great Powers were eager for the preservation of peace. It was also fondly believed at that time that Hague Conventions were things which would be binding on all the Powers who subscribed to them.
§ But in the years following 1907 there were strong reasons for a complete change of view. Between the visit of the noble and learned Viscount (Lord Haldane) to Berlin and the outbreak of war lie two and a-half years. The intentions of Germany were made plain to the Government in 1912. 75 And if no naval or military preparations were possible in that time—as I do not admit—there was at least ample time to re-study the whole question of the handling of the Navy from the point of view of war with Germany. The first step in any such study would naturally be to look up international precedents. It would be found at once that the great French Wars were of very little use, because all the naval conditions differed; besides that, neither England nor France adhered to any of the principles of International Law. The main object of Napoleon was to prevent our goods reaching the Continent, and our main object, while cutting off all French supplies, was to insure the ingress of our goods by means of our own and neutral shipping. The Continental system of Napoleon required the conquest of Europe for its success and eventually brought Napoleon into conflict with Russia, which was the first step in his downfall. His Berlin and Milan Decrees flagrantly violated every principle of International Law; and our Orders in Council, which were issued as reprisals, were equally illegal from the international point of view. Thus it can be said that the French Wars could supply no guidance, and until the American Civil War there was very little to be learned on this subject.
§ The action of President Lincoln when the Northern States were fighting, just as the Allies are fighting now, for national existence does, however, supply international precedents of the utmost importance. Briefly, what the Federal Government did at that time was this. It proclaimed a blockade of the whole Confederate coast; it boldly extended the doctrine of continuous voyage, and made foodstuffs and everything that the Confederate States needed for carrying on the war absolute contraband. The practical effect, though not the technical effect, of that was to set up a long-distance blockade, which included neutral Mexican ports, our Port of Nassau in the Bahamas, and also our Port of Bermuda. In the leading case, that of the "Springbok," which came before the Supreme Court of the United States, it was decided that the ship was legally captured because, though she was bound for Nassau, the presumption was that her cargo was to be transhipped there for Matamoros or for some Confederate port. Nassau is more than 1,000 miles from Matamoros and 150 miles from the nearest point on the 76 Florida coast, and Bermuda is 800 miles from Charleston; but Rotterdam is only 150 miles from Emden and about 200 miles from the mouth of the Elbe.
§ As an ignorant layman I feel that I am on dangerous ground in dealing with any question of International Law, but I want to put two questions to noble and learned Lords. First, did President Lincoln violate International Law or did he adapt its principles to meet the needs which arose from the application of steam to navies? Secondly, did not our acquiescence in the measures of President Lincoln, even when the blockade of the Southern States was miserably ineffective, constitute a valid international precedent? If these questions are answered as I believe they must be, then surely it is open to us to modify the practice of International Law to meet the new conditions of the present time without in any way invalidating or violating its principles. But I am afraid that these important questions could not have been adequately studied at the Foreign Office in the two and a-half years of grace allowed to it; and the result of this neglect was, as I have said, that in a modified form the Declaration of London was all that was forthcoming when war broke out in August, 1914. On March 11 last, when it began to be realised that this measure was futile, we issued Orders in Council after public anxiety had been plainly and loudly expressed. We then made the mistake of announcing those Orders in Council as "reprisals" against, the German plan of indiscriminate murder at sea, which came into operation on February 18. As our measures were necessary in any case if we were to win the war, we ought, instead of announcing them as reprisals, to have declared simply that the Allies were going to assert their fullest maritime rights. Since March 11 we have made successive additions to the contraband list, generally after public demand.
What have been the effects of our policy up to the present time? In his very clever but unconvincing speech on January 26 Sir Edward Grey said—
What we want to do is to prevent goods reaching or coming from the enemy country, and that is what we are doing. We want to do it, and we believe that under the Order in Council it is being done.
In the same speech Sir Edward Grey said that the work of carrying out the Orders in Council had been entrusted to the Contra-
band Committee, but he did not tell us what instructions had been given to that Committee, nor did he appear to realise that the whole responsibility for the actions taken by that Committee must rest with the Foreign Office and the Government. I note that in that debate the chairman of the Committee said significantly—
I think that a great deal more might be done.
And he indicated that the difficulty lay in the uncertainty of the action of the Prize Courts. My Lords, the vital question is this. Are supplies necessary to the pro-longation of the war still reaching the enemy or are they stopped, as Sir Edward Grey said the Government believed was "being done"? Our contention is that large supplies of most important commodities continue to reach the enemy every day.
§ Sir Edward Grey complained of "reckless figures" and "reckless statements," and he spent some time in demolishing inferences which had been made from inadequate data. I will try to be very careful not to fall into that error in any figures which I shall lay before your Lordships. The real point is this. Are neutrals adjacent to the enemy country receiving goods essential to the enemy in quantities far in excess of their own home needs? Holland normally imports 824 tons of meat monthly and exports 5,300 tons, but in November last Holland imported 8,024 tons of meat. Holland is a great meat-producing country with an immense surplus for export purposes, yet it seems to have been necessary for her in one month to import nearly ten times her normal amount of meat. Denmark is another great meat-exporting country, yet during the war Denmark has taken to importing meat on a very large and abnormal scale. It cannot be supposed that the Dutch and the Danes are eating more meat than they did before the war, and there cannot be any doubt where this large quantity of meat has gone.
Last month I gave some striking figures showing the abnormal exports of cocoa from this country. Those exports reached the maximum in November last. Since then I am glad to say the exports of cocoa from this country have fallen, but in January last the figures were still nearly six times the normal, and it is quite clear that most of this cocoa has gone into Germany. The Dutch Government prohibited
the export of cocoa butter on October 22, but the export of manufactured cocoa to Germany proceeds steadily. A Dutch merchant, writing from Amsterdam at the end of December last, said—
Now already there are exporters here to Germany of a stuff consisting of about 10 per cent of cocoa powder, 40 per cent, of sugar, and 50 per cent. of cocoa butter. Therefore the food question in respect to cocoa has not become more difficult for Germany, and it would have been more to point if Great Britain had stopped the import to Holland of cocoa beans altogether.",
This seems obvious, and it is difficult to understand why it was not foreseen. I have laid stress on cocoa because it contains nearly 50 per cent. of fat, and fat is a vital commodity not only for food but for some industries and for the manufacture of nitro-glycerine, of which Germany needs immense quantities for the war. All this has been pointed out by our leading chemists, but I am afraid up to the present without result.
§ Materials used in the manufacture of explosives were made absolute contraband on October 12. That was a very wise step. But oleaginous seeds, nuts and kernels, together with animal, fish, and vegetable oils were only made conditional contraband, which seems a most extraordinary proceeding. I am told that one member of the Government said that he had been informed that linseed oil did not contain glycerine. I think it must have been the same member of the Government who at another time said he believed that sheeps' wool was used for ammunition. As regards cotton there was another fallacy arising from that half-knowledge which is always dangerous, and this fallacy proved infinitely advantageous to the enemy. The approximate normal annual fat consumption of Germany is about 2,966,000 tons,of which nearly half has to be imported. Dr. Waller has calculated that, even if it is assumed that the consumption of fat by the population is halved, that the industrial consumption is reduced by one-third, and that, the home production is undiminished, at least 332,000 tons of fat would have to be imported, and I think myself that this figure is very much under the mark. But if that figure or anything like it were true, there was here a very powerful means of bringing pressure to bear on the enemy, but I am afraid it has been neglected. There is an article known as hard soap which goes freely into Germany from Holland, and which is made 79 up of fatty substances which can easily be separated; and, as I have said, great quantities of fat go into Germany in the form of cocoa, much of it from this country. The export of linseed oil from the United Kingdom suddenly sprung up to five times the normal last year, and in three months 31,855 tons were exported from this country to Holland. The Dutch official figures of the export of linseed oil to Germany in 1915 show an excess above the normal of 68,566 tons; and, very curiously, the curves of the exports of linseed oil from the United Kingdom show a very close correspondence with the curves of the Dutch exports of linseed oil to Germany, so that there can be no doubt where most of this oil has gone. The German Government is apparently diverting fat from the food of the population in order to make nitro-glycerine, and great efforts are being made to import fat-producing substances. Those efforts have had much success, and we have helped them both directly and indirectly.
I could give many more figures but I do not wish to weary your Lordships, and the all-important question of ores will be dealt with by my noble friend Lord Devonport. The great fall in the German exchange shows that Germany must be purchasing largely in outside markets, and this goes to confirm all the other evidence on that point. Incidentally it seems to me that the great attraction of all these supplies to neutral ports for enemy use may be helping to raise prices in this country, and the large tonnage employed in the carrying of these supplies which eventually reach Germany must help to raise freights to this country and thus indirectly to raise prices also. Recently the Foreign Office issued a White Paper which lucidly explains the measures which have been taken, but it makes one statement which seems to me quite misleading. The Paper points out, in paragraph 15, that—
It is necessary to satisfy the Prize Court of the enemy destination of cargoes.
But it goes on to say that—
All this applies as much to goods seized as contraband as it does to those seized for breach of blockade.
An eminent lawyer who has given special study to this subject writes to me that this sentence is "meaningless, because the law contained is not the law of blockade or anything like it." I believe that view is right. Under International Law, as hitherto
understood, breach of effective blockade justifies capture whether the goods are contraband or not, and whether they are enemy goods or neutral. Our Prize Courts used to hold that a ship could be captured at the beginning of her voyage if there was strong presumption that she intended to run a blockade. Is it possible that the instructions given to our Contraband Committee embody the confusion of ideas shown in the White Paper to which I have referred? If that is so, it would explain much which it is very difficult to understand.
§ I believe that our Orders in Council as they stand, though they are open to criticism in several respects, are not at variance with the principles of International Law adapted to meet present conditions, and if they fail to secure the objects which the Prime Minister contemplated the reason is that they are not enforced on definite lines intelligible to us and to neutrals. The noble Marquess the Leader of the House said the other day that the stoppage of cotton was not brought about by making cotton contraband, but by the operation of the Orders in Council. If that is so, and if cotton, copper, and rubber are now stopped, then evidently the same process can be applied to all supplies which are necessary for the prolongation of the war. Cannot the Government decide what the vital supplies are, concentrate their efforts upon stopping those supplies, and leave immaterial commodities alone? I believe there has been a great deal of discussion about coffee. Coffee is a delightful beverage, and I have no doubt that the Germans enjoy it and would feel the absence of it; but compared with cocoa it is absolutely immaterial. The real difficulty seems to be that the psychology which produced the Declaration of London is still alive and potent for harm.
We have heard very much of the "rationing" process, but we have never been told how it is now being applied; and it is quite certain from the figures that I have given, and from many others that I could give, that neutrals have received and are receiving multiple rations. The Foreign Secretary said—
You have still got to let through to neutral countries the things which they really require for their own consumption.
I am quite certain that every one of your Lordships will thoroughly endorse that view. But Sir Edward Grey did not state
whether the goods allowed to the Netherlands Oversea Trust, to the Danish Chambers, and to the other bodies with whom we have secret Agreements are rigidly regulated on this process; and it seems certain either that they are not so regulated, or that a very large number of goods escape the operations of these various trusts. I believe that the Netherlands Oversea Trust is a thoroughly well-organised institution, but it must, be uncommonly leaky. I understand that it sells to customer No. 1, who makes a declaration and sells to No. 2, who makes another declaration; so the process goes on, and the goods get divided up into many hands and at last the obligation is entirely forgotten, and a great deal of the articles get across the frontier into Germany. Up to the end of September the Netherlands Oversea Trust inflicted fines amounting to no less than £45,000, and they have imposed more since. I cannot evaluate fines in terms of goods, but, considering the high prices that prevail it might be profitable to accept a fine, as it only goes to Dutch charity. Therefore you do business and charity at the same time. In addition, smuggling prevails to a great extent and we have no means of stopping it. As the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, truly said the other day, "the temptation to carry on business of this kind is enormous; there are vast profits to be made; there is corruption on every side." If large accumulations of supplies not required for home consumption are allowed to exist in adjacent neutral countries they will infallibly go across the frontier unless the neutral Government takes strong measures to prevent it.
§ I come back to the point that surplus imports into neutral countries must be checked, and I contend that this can be done in full conformity with the principles of international Law applied to our present conditions. What I venture to press on the Government is this: Ration rigorously. Make all essential commodities needed for the prolongation of the war absolute contraband, as did the United States fifty-five years ago, and use your Orders in Council as it is said they have been used in the case of the very important item of cotton. If there is a breach of blockade, if the cargo is contraband, and if, further, the neutral country to which it is bound has already received full normal supplies, then the Prize Court will have the strongest presumption 82 of enemy destination. Our Prize Courts have great traditions and old-established customs, and I believe they could be trusted now as they were in the days of Lord Stowell. No one, I am sure, would wish for a moment to deal harshly with neutrals, but I do not think that Sir Edward Grey laid sufficient stress upon the rights of nations who are fighting for their existence and bearing cruel sacrifices of life and treasure. Napoleon said "there are no neutrals," and he acted consistently upon that principle; but since the great French Wars I do not think any neutral has greatly suffered, except this country at the time of the American Civil War. Then great hardships were inflicted upon a portion of the population of Lancashire, and those hardships were borne with admirable fortitude and patience.
Partly because of those seven months of practical inaction, and partly because of our laxity since, there is a doctrine springing up that neutrals have the right to make immense profits by passing seaborne supplies to the enemy. It seems to me that this is a doctrine which ought to be sternly repudiated. Neutrals have every right to claim that their normal trade should proceed with the least possible interruption and that their necessary home supplies should be fully maintained. No one will deny that right. It has been suggested that if we do not allow neutrals to make full profits out of this new war trade which they have set up we shall convert them into belligerents. In war we must always cake risks, but that is a risk in which I really do not believe. Belligerency in some cases would be disastrous to the neutral and perhaps advantageous to ourselves. I will quote a few words on this subject from a Swedish Liberal periodical of some importance—
Is there really any sane person who cannot see that Great Britain, in case of conflict, would completely cut us off from all supplies? Is there really any normal individual who does not realise that Sweden would risk her existence as a free country by joining voluntarily in the war? True, we must uphold the law of nations and maintain our rights in these critical times to cover our own normal requirements, and this, judging from British declarations, would not meet with in-surmountable obstacles; but what we will be obliged to give up is our demand for the right to export to Germany. Every child will understand that we cannot maintain this export, and an attempt to do so must inevitably lead to a conflict with Great Britain…. Does any one now really mean to say we are bound to declare war against Great Britain on the grounds of a disputed right to supply Germany with goods?
That is sound common sense, and I do not believe that any Swede, Norwegian, Dutch-man, or Dane is ever likely to forget the ruthless disregard of all international obligations which Germany has shown and the many indignities which Germany has inflicted upon most neutrals, including the United States themselves.
§ If the Government, in full concert with our Allies, will take a firm stand on definite and intelligible principles, publicly announced, I believe the difficulties of the Foreign Office in dealing with neutrals will diminish. In all matters of commerce uncertainty and apparent caprice give rise to the maximum of irritation. On Tuesday last the noble Marquess the Leader of the House said, most truly, that the phrase "war of attrition" was "liable to produce a dangerous misapprehension." I am not sure that that misapprehension has not been produced already. As regards this blockade question and other matters there seems to be a tendency in some quarters to assume that if we carry on as we are now doing we shall eventually win the war in some way which nobody understands. That is a dangerous delusion. We can win the war only by striking hard blows such as that which our supremely gallant Ally the Russians have just delivered in Armenia. That was a blow which in a moment altered the situation in the Middle East and will re-act powerfully throughout the Near East. Such a great success as that may not be within our grasp at the present time, but we can and must increase the pressure to be brought to bear on the enemy in the coming months. In the interests of the whole world and of the future progress of humanity it is vital that this war should be brought to an end as soon as possible on terms which will secure Europe against a fresh outburst of German frenzy, while at the same time righting the wrongs of Belgium, Serbia, and Montenegro. Every week brings its fresh tale of slaughter and adds to the terrible burdens which all the warring Powers must bear in the future. It is because I am convinced that it lies within the power of the Allies, by making more effective use of their Fleets, to hasten the end of all this appalling loss and suffering that I venture to move the Resolution which stands in my name.
§ Moved, to resolve, That this House considers that, in conformity with the principles of International Law and with 84 the legitimate rights of neutrals, more effective use could be made of the Allied Fleets in preventing supplies, directly conducing to the prolongation of the war, from reaching enemy countries.—(Lord Sydenham.)
§ LORD BERESFORD
My Lords, Lord Sydenham has made a most interesting speech and brought to the notice of your Lordships the vast amount of commodities which are entering Germany and enabling her to carry on the war. If your Lordships will allow me I will venture to make some suggestions as to how to prevent those commodities getting into Germany to the extent that they are doing at the present time. The one absorbing thought in the public mind is how we are to win this war. The Government wish to win the war just as everybody else in the country does, but there are some doubts as to whether the Government are going the right way to achieve that end. It is with regard to this that I shall venture to make some criticisms, not at all to embarrass or to harass the Government, but to do my level best to help them to do what everybody wants—namely, to win the war. I am firmly convinced that if we had had an effective blockade and had made-enemy goods absolute contraband at first, the war would now have been over—that is to say, had we asserted our legal maritime rights by International Law and effectually used the Fleet. Now we have only a "sort of blockade" carried out by Proclamations, Orders in Council, Agreements, and Committees, and it is not clear who controls that blockade. Is it controlled by the Foreign Office, the Board of Trade, or the Contraband Committee? It would be very interesting to know who is in control.
Instead of ships going to a Prize Court they go before the Contraband Committee. The Navy is employed sending ships to the Prize Court, and the Contraband Committee apparently are employed in letting them, or the greater portion of them, go. In other words, the Contraband Committee arrogate to themselves the functions of the Prize Court. How do the Contraband Committee find out whether the ships should go to the Prize Court or not? This could only be ascertained by them from the ships' manifests, the charter parties, the bills of lading, or the ships' papers. It is perfectly certain that in the case of an enemy such as we are opposed to all these may be forged. 85 Therefore it is a paper blockade instead of every ship that is sent in being searched as it ought to be. International Law instituted the Prize Court to decide the validity of capture, and I should like to know from some of the learned lawyers in this House whether it is under International Law that a Committee such as the Contraband Committee can allow vessels to go or give orders of any sort with regard to the destination of vessels. The Order in Council of March 11 was said to be instituted "to prevent commodities of any kind from reaching or leaving Germany." That is a definite statement. Had that policy been turned over to the Navy to enforce, the Navy could have carried it out; and I maintain that by this time the war would have been over. It was mentioned in the other House that if the Navy were given these powers they would become something like pirates or buccaneers; but if I commit a murder, a forgery, or any other crime, the policeman does not arrest me on proof or evidence but on suspicion. That is what the Navy does. It arrests a ship on suspicion. It sends it to the Court, and it is the Court, and not a Committee, which should adjudicate under International Law as to whether or not the ship should be put on the contraband list. If the Cabinet would settle a definite, policy, then the Navy could enforce it.
There are a great number of extraordinary contradictions in the Orders in force at this moment. I will read one to prove it. In the Order in Council of March 11 it is stated that—Every merchant vessel which sailed from a port other than a German port after March 1, 1915, having on board goods which are of enemy origin or are enemy property may be required to discharge such goods in a British or allied port. Goods so discharged in a British port shall be placed in the custody of the Marshal of the Prize Court.There is nothing about a Committee there. That is a definite Order. I want to know whether it is true that a late Order to the Fleet states—It is decided at present not to detain enemy goods unless there is proof of destination.How on earth are the officers and seamen of the Fleet to find out proof of destination? It appears to me the most extraordinary Order that ever was given; and it is these contradictions in the Proclamations and Orders in Council that confuse the Fleet. They really do not know where they are. There is nothing definite as to what is to happen with regard to these vessels, except 86 that we are told there is a Contraband Committee which has powers above the Prize Court. Since August 4, 1914, there have been seven Proclamations and Orders in Council, most of them contradictory. I submit to your Lordships that a war has never been won yet by Proclamations and Orders in Council. It is won by fighting; and that is what we have to do—to use every effort we possibly can to bring the Germans to their knees and win the war. The first effort is to have a blockade thorough and complete, made out according to International Law.
With your Lordships' permission I will state another most extraordinary example of these Proclamations. The Proclamation of October 29, 1914, withdrew the list of conditional contraband of September 21, 1914, and an extensive increase was made in the list of absolute contraband. At the same time the Declaration of London Order in Council, No. 2, 1914, was published which annulled and replaced the earlier Order in Council of August 20, 1914. The Proclamation of December 23, 1914, again withdrew the previous lists of contraband and fresh lists of absolute contraband were published. Some extremely clever lawyer might snake that out, but I am absolutely certain no seaman could understand it; and that is the sort of Rules and Orders that govern the Fleet at the present moment. The Government should have a definite policy and turn it over to the Navy and let them enforce it.
To the lasting credit of your Lordships' House you saved the Empire by rejecting the Naval Prize Bill, which was clearly an effort of all the military Powers against the great sea Power. Everything in that Declaration was directly against this country; it was an effort, as I maintain, of the military Powers to reduce our naval force if we went to war. The Government appear to be trying to get round the decision of the Legislature by Orders and Proclamations, and so endanger the Empire again. I make bold to make that statement. By the Order in Council of March 11 the British Empire abrogated the Paris Declaration of 1856, the London Declaration of 1908, and the fourteen Hague Conventions. But, as the noble Lord said, the Order in Council of March 11 was clearly a "reprisal"; the words of it were—Whereas such attempts on the part of the enemy" [that is, the murderous piracies they Committed] "give to His Majesty's Government the unquestionable right of retaliation.87 The American Government naturally object to reprisals; they have said so, and I think all the neutrals object. The sort of blockade we have at present is in the nature of a reprisal. And may I say that when war was first declared the United States Government at Washington sent down to the Southern planters to say that England was certain to make cotton contraband of war, as America had done in the Civil War. She then brought about circumstances in England that starved the operatives in Lancashire, and England never made any protest at all. But in addition to the United States Government giving this intimation, the Chambers of Commerce and the Federal and State Agricultural Societies all warned the Southern planters that cotton would be contraband, and they recommended them to put their ground under other crops. Had we made cotton contraband at once we should have had the enormous advantage of stopping Germany from importing the principal ingredient of high explosives.
Orders in Council and Proclamations may, and do, run contrary to the law of nations. As far as I can gather the effect of our extraordinary proceedings is that we are helping the enemy and irritating neutrals. We have entered into arrangements with Holland and Denmark which might have been made provided we had no Fleet at all; but as we have a Fleet I cannot conceive how those arrangements are to our advantage. There is no question that an enormous amount of commodities, particularly things necessary for the manufacture of munitions of war, get into Germany by means of neutral countries. I do not think anybody can deny that all blockades should be impartial; we should not have special preferential advantages for a favoured few.
I believe that to end this war we shall have eventually to make an absolute blockade. But look at the enormous difficulties we have thrown upon ourselves. If we had declared a blockade at first according to International Law no neutral could have said anything. We have, however, allowed neutrals to create an enormous volume of trade and to make large contracts, and when an effective blockade is established will not those neutrals rightly ask, "Why did you not do that at first?" So that I conceive you may have grievous difficulties, but they will all be difficulties of your own creating. If we had but recog- 88 nised long ago that everything allowed by the rules of civilisation must be done to smash our enemy the war would have been over by now. That is my firm belief.
As to our exact position, it is well to be plain spoken. The Army in Flanders know perfectly well that we allowed fatty compounds, cotton, and metal ore to go into Germany. The Army in Flanders know perfectly well that most of the ammunition fired at them now need not have been there provided we had stopped the commodities that made it. They also know that this is not the way to conduct a war. What do we see every day? We see thousands of the finest manhood the world has ever produced. Where are they going? They are going to fill up the casualties in the ranks. How were those casualties caused? By shot and shell—through cotton, fatty compounds, and metal ore getting into Germany. Do your Lordships think that this is calculated to increase the morale of the Services? This is not the way to win the war. These commodities should be stopped, no matter what risks we run or what we do in order to bring the war to finality. The proposals that have been and are beingmade—all these Committees, and Proclamations, and Orders in Council—may be statesmanship, but they are not war and are not likely to end the war.
What is the explanation of all our difficulties? I am not going to make any recriminations—they are not wise or necestry at the present time—but one must look back. The explanation is that the Foreign Office prepared for peace, not for war. The Declaration of London, The Hague Conventions, all that class of legislation—what was it made for? It was made on the supposition that the great British Empire was never going to war. I hope I shall not be impertinent when. I say, What an absurdity. This great Empire always going to be at peace, always going to he neutral! It is impossible. But look what happens when you do go to war if you make all your arrangements for peace. The result is what has happened now—you are totally unprepared in every particular, and you are handicapped, shackled, manacled by all these Declarations and Hague Conventions, and all the while you are losing all this splendid manhood. The Fleet could grip Germany by the throat; the Fleet could hold her and smash her, but you are not letting the Fleet do what it could to end the war.
89 We are now, curiously enough, very parallel to the position that we occupied in the great Napoleonic Wars. We hold the sea. There is no kind of war vessel of Germany afloat upon any water abroad; there is no German merchant ship afloat on the high seas. Why? Because we hold the sea, owing to the ceaseless vigilance of our seamen and owing to their being ready to smash the enemy whenever he comes out. We are in exactly the position that we were in after Trafalgar. Trafalgar did not win the war. Trafalgar cleared the ocean and enabled our cruisers and patrol ships to prevent any article of any sort getting into France; that was what won the war. We are in exactly the same position now, and I implore your Lordships to look this matter in the face and realise that we can end the war if the Government will only allow the Fleet to undertake its legal rights and assert itself according to International Law. I agree with Lord Sydenham in all that he said, but more particularly that we should inconvenience neutrals as little as ever we can. But I would ask this. Do not we hear a great deal about the rights of neutrals and very little about the rights of those at war? I wonder whether the neutrals have considered what would happen to them if (Germany were to win.
I have made some drastic criticisms. I do not think any public man in a crisis such as we are in now should make drastic criticisms unless he is prepared to make some proposals, and if you will allow me I will make a few proposals as to how I think this war might be won and won quicker than we are apparently able to win it at present. First, I would suggest that the Declaration of London should be formally and finally renounced by an official of the Government. I believe that Lord Lansdowne and Lord Crewe have both said in this House that the Declaration of London is no longer valid.
But since they made that statement a member of the Government in the other House declared, with reference to belligerents selling ships to neutrals, that it was opposed to the Declaration of London. So that in the other House the Declaration is valid, but in this House it is not. I think that ought to be cleared up. It is these extraordinary contradictions that make the whole thing so 90 confusing, not only to the Services but to every one else.
My second proposal is that all commodities going into Germany should be made absolute contraband. For my part I would not let anything go into Germany. The suggestion is made that the Germans should get luxuries—women's hats and women's frocks, I think, were suggested. If you let in women's frocks and women's hats they will cover a lot of other little things which will get in. I am not an economist, but the argument of economists is that the Germans will have to pay gold to get these things in. But if you let anything in you are sure to have a leakage. Therefore I would proscribe everything, and not let anything in, either luxuries or the reverse.
Thirdly, I would abolish the distinction between "absolute" and "conditional" contraband. I do not see the slightest use in keeping up these distinctions; they are all against us because they enable something to go into Germany, and that something may be prejudicial to us. Fourthly, I would suggest that the doctrine of "continuons voyage" which is now applied to blockade and some articles of contraband should be applied to all contraband. Fifthly, all enemy property in neutral ships should be confiscated. I know that this is contrary to the Declaration of Paris of 1856, but I maintain that we have abrogated that Declaration ourselves as far as the British Empire goes by the Order in Council of March 11; America was never a party to it; and the Germans have violated that Treaty as they have violated every other law of God and man since they went into this war. They have violated that Treaty by sinking neutral vessels if they thought that British goods were on board them. So that we are perfectly clear with regard to Germany.
Sixthly, I would make a far fuller use of the Prize Court. There is a Treaty with America of 1794; that is a long way back, but it would be useful now. Under Article 18 of that Treaty we could make all provisions contraband, only if we did so we must buy them. I think we should revert to that Treaty now. Seventhly, I would tighten the blockade, and do away with this divided control of Committees, Orders in Council, Proclamations, arrangements, etc. Have no divided responsibility but have one authority, and let the Cabinet declare what the policy is and turn it over 91 to the Navy to enforce and carry out and we should end the war much quicker. If we go on as we are doing we shall have more disasters and more difficulties; they will keep on recurring, and the war will be prolonged indefinitely. Remember that every twenty-four hours means £5,000,000 sterling, and, more than that, the death of hundreds of the best the world can produce.
Now, who is to blame? Is it the sailors? Is it the soldiers? No. Their heroism may have been equalled, but it has never been surpassed in the history of this or any other country. Is it the people in the workshops? No. They are doing their level best. Is it the people who are prepared to pay anything, their last shilling? No. And there are no Party differences. Then what is it? I maintain that it is the conduct and control by the Government. You have a Cabinet of twenty-one amateurs, and they have usurped the Executive. You could not conduct a naval war with twenty-one Admirals; you could not conduct a military war with twenty-one Generals; yet here yon are controlling the greatest war the world has ever seen with twenty-one amateurs who know nothing whatever about it. What is the basis of success in war? Foresight. how can amateurs have foresight of what they do not understand? What you want is foresight, and, when you have got it, quick decisions and prompt action. The fact of the matter is we are not running the war; the war is running us. The management of the war has been even worse since the Coalition. A Coalition is a compromise. You do not win wars by compromise. As I said before, you win them by fighting. I may be taken to task about that, but I can prove it. How many Cabinet meetings were there on plural voting? What has that to do with the war? When the Registration Bill was brought in there was something about plural voting in it. That was a compromise. How many Cabinet meetings were there on the leaving of the Gallipoli Peninsula? Again, a compromise. You cannot control and manage a war like that with any success whatever. What has been the result? We have started too late in every campaign. We started the blockade too late; and we have not got a proper blockade yet. Everything is "too late." One of the Cabinet Ministers himself lectured the House of Commons for a quarter of an hour to the effect that everything was too late. 92 "Everything," he said; and his narrative of actions that were taken too late filled half a page of Hansard. What is the result? Brilliant retreats. Yes, but brilliant retreats do not win wars. The Press and the public have forced the Government to undertake a number of matters that they had not begun at all. I will merely refer to cotton being made contraband, to German Reservists being stopped, to interning enemy aliens, and to taking up the question of munitions. And the Press and the public will vet force the Government to get a better blockade and stop commodities going into Germany.
It may be asked, What is your alternative? If your Lordships will allow me I will give a very good alternative. Instead of a Cabinet of twenty-one to run the war, have a War Council of five with no Departmental work whatever. I do not care who the five Cabinet Ministers are. Why I want Cabinet. Ministers is this. The Cabinet must always dictate the policy, whatever policy there is. Policy is made up of many matters. There is diplomacy, there is finance, there are such things as getting the men for the Army. That has nothing to do with the soldier or the sailor. That is a political question of a very grave and searching character. Let the Cabinet make out their policy, and then let them refer that policy to a General War Staff, which should be composed of the three best Admirals and the three best Generals young men who have proved themselves in the war, with an older man as chairman or president who knows something about war. The Cabinet's policy should be submitted to them.
May I put it to your Lordships in this way Take Constantinople. Supposing the Cabinet had sent their policy to a General War Staff. The General War Staff would have had orders made out showing what you wanted in transports, guns, horses, men, military and naval requirements, stores, ammunition, and everything necessary in order to make that policy a success and enforce it. You do not suppose that under such circumstances there would have been any Gallipoli Expedition. The experts whose duty it would have been to report to the Cabinet—who are supreme, and must always be supreme—would have shown the impossibility of embarking on what one of the Cabinet said was a "gamble." You must run risks in war; that is, in fighting. You can lose a division 93 in order to win; you can lose a whole column of super-Dreadnoughts to win. That is in war. But when you are sitting at a table to calculate your risks, you do not, or you should not, gamble. On one side you should say, What do I gain if I win? and on the other side, What do I lose if I fail? And if the loss is superabundant over the gain, you would not carry out that policy. You would never have gone to Gallipoli and you would never have had all these subsidiary Expeditions if you had had a commonsense businesslike line of policy. I submit that five Cabinet Minister, should dictate the policy, and the experts should say how it is to be carried out, when it should be carried out, and exactly what is to be carried out. That is my alternative to your present scheme, which is sure to bring greater disaster and greater difficulties; because you have twenty-one men, none of whom know anything about war, who have usurped the Executive and are conducting the war instead of leaving it to the Admirals and the Generals of the State. I say that so long as we have civilian and political control of the Executive so long shall we have recurrences of disasters, so long shall we have an ineffective blockade, and so long will our enemy continue to receive raw materials for munitions and the war be indefinitely prolonged.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, I am sure that I speak not only for myself when I express the pleasure and interest with which we have listened to the speech of the noble and gallant Admiral who has for the first time taken part in our debates. A few weeks ago a member of your Lordships' House, Lord Portsmouth, had on the Paper a Notice relating to the subject which we are discussing this evening. That Notice in some mysterious and, as it at first seemed, unaccountable manlier disappeared from the Paper, but it was freely rumoured in the Lobby that the explanation was to be found in the intention of those noble Lords who agree with my noble and gallant friend to produce their heavy naval artillery for the purpose of bombarding His Majesty's Government. Well, we have listened to the bombardment with great interest; and I shall have two or three words to say in reply.
Perhaps before I pass to the discussion which really arises out of the Motion on 94 the Paper I may say one word as to the interesting suggestion with which my noble and gallant friend concluded his speech. In his view all our difficulties arise from the fact that the affairs of the country are in the hands of a numerically large Cabinet composed almost entirely of civilians. He told us what his idea was—a very small Cabinet, I think he said, of five members, advised by a carefully-selected professional staff who were to be untrammelled by Departmental work and who would be expected to deal with and to direct, the whole of the conduct of the war. We have made considerable progress in that direction, and I am not sure that my noble and gallant friend sufficiently recognises this. The conduct of the war at this moment is in the hands of a small Committee consisting of only five members. My noble and gallant friend obviously would not be satisfied with its composition because it comprises the civilian element which he so profoundly distrusts. But this, at any rate, I think I may say—that this small Committee, so far as the conduct of the war is concerned, has since it was first created certainly not been hampered by the interference of the civilian members of the Cabinet. My noble and gallant friend would like to cut his small Committee of five completely off from the main body. On that point I am bound to say I join issue with him. I think that so long as you have Cabinet Government at all in this country, it would be bad for all concerned that there should be no point of contact between the small body directly responsible for the conduct of the war and the larger body comprising the remainder of their colleagues. If, as my noble friend evidently believes, there have been mistakes during the present war, I doubt extremely whether he or anybody else would find it possible to establish that those mistakes were due to the great size of the Cabinet, or that they would have been avoided if a smaller body taken from within it had been entrusted with the supreme conduct of affairs.
I now pass to the Motion on the Paper. The noble mover desires the House to record its opinion that in conformity with the principles of International Law and with the legitimate rights of neutrals a more effective use could be made of the Allied Fleets in preventing supplies from reaching the enemy. So far as the object which the noble Lord on the Cross Benches 95 has in view is concerned, I do not think he will find anybody in this House to differ from him. We all recognise that it is of the first importance that we should prevent supplies from reaching the enemy. That is not only the proper policy, but it is the only policy which can be pursued by a great maritime Power engaged in war with an enemy who has the advantage of fighting on inner lines. I, at any rate, am quite prepared to concede that this policy should be followed, and that it should be enforced unsparingly. But the noble Lord leaves us in no doubt that in his opinion we fall very far short of making that use of the Fleet which might have been made for the purpose of preventing supplies from reaching the enemy; and his Motion is, in effect, a vote of censure upon us for our failures in that respect.
My noble and gallant friend opposite (Lord Beresford) was still more emphatic in his statements. In his view—and it is a view that is held by many people outside this House—we have only to emancipate the Fleet and turn it loose to take whatever steps may seem good to it in order to bring this war to a prompt conclusion. In this House these things are said in temperate and courteous language. They are sometimes said in language of a very different kind. We have all, I suppose, seen caricatures representing the figure of John Bull tightly shackled in bonds of red tape, or of some gallant sailor held back by a Foreign Office clerk and prevented from doing the good work at sea which he is able and anxious to perform. All these complaints seem to me, I must say, to proceed upon a complete misapprehension as to the facts of the case. These attacks are invariably supported by statements directed to show that, owing to our failure to use our great naval power, quantities of indispensable supplies are constantly passing through neutral countries into the hands of the enemy. The way in which the charge is framed is almost always something of this kind. You take the imports of same neutral country for the year 1915, you compare them with the imports of the same neutral country for the year 1913, and then you suggest that the difference between the two figures—which, I admit, has often been very considerable indeed—is the measure of our culpable failure to prevent the enemy from getting what he requires for the purposes of the war. I venture to press 96 upon your Lordships that all these figures and statistics require extremely careful scrutiny before you base any conclusions upon them.
The outbreak of this war led to a tremendous dislocation of trade all over the world. A great many of the principal sources of supply were suddenly closed. Mercantile credit was seriously affected. Shippers naturally declined to run risks. There was a period of chaos and confusion, followed after a time by a great rush of neutral traders to take advantage of the opportunities which were suddenly placed within their reach for doing a very large and lucrative business with the belligerents. It was in these circumstances that the Order in Council of March last saw the light. I do not suppose that anybody could have expected that that Order in Council would produce immediate effects. It was impossible that it should. For example, in some cases a period of grace was given, and I think properly and reasonably given, to traders who had entered into contracts before the issue of the Order in Council. But what became at once apparent was that there would be immense difficulty in distinguishing between those supplies which were passing legitimately into the neutral countries, and which were intended to meet their normal requirements, and those other imports which clearly were of a different character and which were obviously brought in for the purpose of supplying the enemy. At first we had not ready to hand the machinery for distinguishing these different sorts of imports. There were no doubt some cases where it was quite easy to do so. Your Lordships will probably carry in Your minds the case of a vessel called the "Kim," which was one of a group of vessels found to be carrying on board supplies to one of the neutral countries enough to meet the whole of their normal requirements for a year. In flagrant cases of that kind there was no difficulty, but in cases more upon the border line the matter was by no means so simple, and it is with these border line cases that the great difficulty arises.
We have had a great many figures produced during this discussion and outside the House. I do not propose to take up your Lordships' time with a very minute dissection of these figures. A great many of them are, however, certainly open to criticism. Some of the comparisons which 97 are made are made upon altogether erroneous data. The Return for last year sometimes includes commodities which were not included in the Return for 1913. Again, Returns have sometimes been compiled with an obvious inability to grapple with the arithmetic of the case. I have seen one set of Returns which must have been prepared by somebody who did not know the difference between 20 per cent. and 120 per cent., and this error of 100 per cent. runs through the whole of the calculation. Then I have seen Returns which at first sight were very disconcerting, but which can be explained by the fact that they include great quantities of articles of various kinds which were sent into Belgium for the relief of the people of that country during the year 1915.
Them are, however, certain broad considerations which I should like your Lordships not to line sight of when you come to deal with figures of this sort. In the first place you have to reckon with the fact that one of the results of the war has been to divert a great deal of trade into new channels. The entrepôt business, for example, has passed from Hamburg to places like Rotterdam or Copenhagen, and you must expect to find in those neutral ports a great increase of business activity and of business transactions. Another disturbing element is to be found in the growth of new industries. The House probably knows that there has lately been an extraordinary development of the margarine industry in this country as well as in others. We obviously could not take a neutral country to task because it imported last year a larger quantity of margarine than it did in the year 1913. Again, there are articles which go to neutral countries, many of them from this country, only to come back here in a manufactured form. Cocoa is one of those articles, and was referred to when we debated this question the other day. There is one other consideration which should not be forgotten, and that is this. Although in many cases the excess going to the neutral country appears at first sight to be a large one when expressed in tons or hundredweights, the figure is really comparatively insignificant if you have regard to the total consumption of the same commodity by the country to which the goods are passing.
I should like to put in the further caveat that it is by no means the case that there has been anything approaching to a universal increase in the quantity of'goods 98 passing to the neutral countries during the last year. Even if you take the bare comparison between 1913 and 1915 you will find that that, is so. For example, the figures of wheat and wheat flour going from all sources into the Scandinavian countries and Holland were—For 1913, 1,109,000 tons; for 1915, 1,101,000 tons. As your Lordships see, there is a slight falling off. If you aggregate the totals of wheat and wheat flour with the totals of maize, rye, barley, oil-cake, oats, and so on, you will find that the total for the year 1915 was 4,860,000 tons and for 1913 was 4,820,000 tons. The figure is almost the same; at any rate, there is no difference that need occasion any alarm.
But what is even more important is to remember that this filtration of goods to the enemy through neutral countries, which, of course, has been taking place, far from increasing is showing a very marked tendency to diminish owing to the measures of precaution which we have been able to take. If you are to make a fair comparison in regard to t]hese figures it is quite obvious that you ought not to compare the figures for the whole of the year 1915 with the whole of the year 1913, but that you should take the figures month by month during the year and see how the matter was progressing as our precautionary measures began to operate.
Let me take one or two illustrations. Take the import of cotton to Scandinavia and Holland. The figure for 1913 is 73,000 tons; the figure for 1915 is 310,000 tons. That is a very alarming figure— an increase nearly fourfold. But if you make the comparison as I conceive it ought to be made and compare the year, not as a whole, but month by month, you will find—I put it in this way for convenience sake—that in the last six months the figure for 1915 was 52,000 tons and for 1913 was 19,000 tons, an increase, but quite a slight increase compared with the total amount of cotton consumed. Take lard and you find that the same thing is true. If you compare the whole of the year you find what looks like a fourfold increase in the quantity of lard going to Denmark in 1915 as compared with 1913. But if you dissect that you will find that whereas the whole figure for 1915 was 15,000 tons, in October Denmark took only 364 tons, in November 267 tons, and in December 170 tons—a steady diminution, ending in a very small amount indeed.
99 I have here a list of articles which were allowed to enter freely into Scandinavia and Holland until the Order in Council of March, 1915, with a comparison of the imports for the last quarler treated percentage of the average during the three preceding quarters With a single exception the figure for the last quarter shows a diminution, and in the majority of the cases the percentage has fallen to about half of the average of the three earlier quarters of the year.
One word about the things which pass on from neutral countries to the country of the enemy. The noble Lord who moved the Resolution before the House referred several times to the export of oils and oil-bearing seeds. We all know how extremely important it is to prevent these things from reaching the enemy. Consider first the case of oils and fats going through Holland to Germany. In order to avoid giving troublesome figures I will put it as a percentage. Take the figure 100 as representing the whole of the exports from Holland to Germany for the year 1915. Eighty-three per cent. out of the 100 is chargeable to the first half of the year and only 17 per cent to the latter half. The figures for the months of November and December taken together represent only 1 per cent. out of the total of 100 per cent. for the year. The conclusion, I think the noble Lord will agree, is obvious—this particular business was dwindling steadily and dwindled almost to nothing by the end of the year. In the case of oil seeds, it is much the same. Taking again 100 as representing the total export for the year, no less than 93 per cent. is chargeable to the first half and only 7 per cent. to the last half of the year 1915. In the month of December these particular exports had disappeared almost entirely. If you take a large group of exports from Holland to Germany in 1915, consisting mostly of these oil seeds and fatty substances, while the total for the year is 273,000 tons the total for the months of November and December is only just over 1,000 tons.
What is almost more important is that the figures for the past month—the month of January, 1916—show, I will not say a universally satisfactory picture, but certainly that the improvement upon which I have insisted is still continuing. I have had put together the totals for the four countries, the Scandinavian countries and Holland, in regard to four important groups 100 of imports and I will give to your Lordships the figures as they compare. The comparison is between the figures for the month of January, 1916, and the normal monthly figure based upon the three years 1911–1913. I take first animal oils and fats. The normal figure is 3,529 tons, the figure for January is 2,878 tons—well below the normal. In regard to mineral oils and fats the normal figure is 47,317 tons, and the actual figure for January 43,130 tons—again well below the normal. Vegetable oils and fats, normal figure about. 10,000 tons; the figure for January, 8,000 tons. Corn and grain, normal figure 207,205 tons; January figure, 187,000. Fodder of various kinds, normal figure 191,551 tons; January figure, 142,912. Those figures are not unsatisfactory. I think they show that at any rate we are not on the down grade in this respect, and I am able to say hat the experienced officials who are watching the progress of these imports are of opinion that at this moment practically no commodities of military importance are now being imported in quantities appreciably above the amounts legitimately required for home consumption. And with regard to such leakages as may still be taking place, I am able to assure the House that we are taking all possible precautions.
I hope that when I dwell upon these aspects of the ease your Lordships will not think that I am satisfied that everything is exactly as it should he, or that there is no possibility of a reappearance of this very dangerous leakage; but as to that I should be wanting in frankness if I did not tell the House that in my opinion it is idle to expect that we shall ever be able to seal hermetically the whole of the channels through which leakage of this kind takes place. There are difficulties of various kinds in the way. In some cases they are physical difficulties. Those are the difficulties which we have had to encounter in the case of that movement of iron ore from Scandinavia to which Lord Devonport referred the other day and to which he will no doubt refer again. All I can say is that, although it is unfortunate that any imports of this kind should elude us, the amount which actually gets through bears a very small proportion to the total amount, of iron ore used in Germany. I think Germany has been in the habit of importing about 14,000,000 tons of iron ore and of producing herself about 32,000,000 tons.
101 Quite apart from cases of this kind, there are two very serious difficulties or classes of difficulty of which We shall alWays have to take account. There is, in the first place, this— I think the noble Lord on the Cross Benches referred to it— that however well disposed the neutral Governments may be to us, however sincere and honest in their dealings may be the various associations and groups of traders with whom we have made these Agreements, you have always got arrayed against you a great army of utterly unscrupulous people bent upon getting rich and getting rich by the large profits which they are making, and past masters of every art by which it is possible to elude your precautions—people who, without scruple, resort to the falsification of documents and, to every kind of ingenious trick for concealing the true nature of a ship's cargo and its destination; and there can be no doubt that as our measures of precaution become more stringent so will their efforts to defeat us become more persevering and probably more skilful. We are determined to do what we can to defeat them, but it must always be a very difficult task.
But the great difficulty of all is the difficulty which arises from our obligation to deal fairly and considerately with the neutral Powers. I have never concealed my opinion that it would be not only grossly unjust to brush aside contemptuously the representations which they make to us, but that it would be the height of folly on our part if we were to set to work deliberately to outrage neutral opinion at a time like this. It is not a bad thing in times like this to put yourself in your opponent's place. If we do that we shall realise that these neutrals are independent communities engaged in a trade which is prima facie a perfectly lawful trade. We are obliged in self-defence to attempt to put them, as it were, upon a kind of allowance in regard to the importation of a great many commodities upon which they rely. We are obliged in self-defence to intercept their ships, to take them into port, to search them, to delay them—and delay may mean the loss of a market. When all has been done we may find that our suspicions were not well founded. If we take them into the Prize Court we may find that the Prize Court is not content with the evidence which we are able to tender. Can we 102 be surprised that in these circumstances there should be a good deal of difficulty in dealing with the neutral countries? I venture to say that it is a duty incumbent upon us to spare no pains to ease the situation by treating them with the utmost consideration, and with every desire, so far as we can, to mitigate the hardships which we are obliged to inflict upon them. When we have done that, when we have shown them that we are ready to do all in our power to meet them fairly, then I think we can appeal to them with irresistible effect to put themselves in our place, to remember that while they are fighting for their commerce, we are fighting for our existence as a nation and in defence of a great cause, which is the cause of the neutrals as well as our own, and to help us to discriminate between that commerce which is perfectly legitimate and those excrescences upon their trade which are really contrived for the sole purpose of enabling our enemy to carry on the war by methods which I will not attempt to stigmatise.
I have given your Lordships some account of the methods which we have employed, and I think I am entitled to ask whether those who criticise us really have anything much better to propose. For myself I approach these questions with an entirely open mind, and I think I may say for my colleagues as well as for myself that if anybody is able to show us a better way of arriving at the common object we shall certainly not be too proud to consider, or if necessary to adopt, it. Under our present system we stop everything we can from reaching the enemy. We put into the Prize Court everything that we can put in with a reasonable chance of obtaining a decision in our favour. We keep constantly in view the normal requirements of the neutral countries, and in order to make it easier to meet those requirements we enter into these Agreements which have been discussed in this House with great associations of neutral traders or even with smaller groups of such traders, and we hope that as the result of these Agreements we may gradually be able to bring about a state of things under which we shall be able to go into the Prize Court with so strong a presumption against a cargo which is not innocent that we may look forward confidently to a verdict in our favour.
103 In all the intricate inquiries and investigations which operations of this kind involve we have received invaluable assistance from the Committees which have been set up for the purpose of aiding His Majesty's Government. There are a good many of them. May I mention the Contraband Committee, presided over by a well-known Member of Parliament, Mr. Pollock, and the War Trade Department, in connection with which my noble friend Lord Emmott has rendered such splendid services. On all these Committees are serving a number of men who are doing an immense amount of arduous and thankless work, in most cases, so far as I am aware, without any remuneration, and I think they are entitled to the utmost gratitude of the public. The noble and gallant Admiral spoke just now rather impatiently of Committees, and I think he suggested that we should get on much better without any and that they naturally lead to delay and confusion. I do not believe we could get on at all without the kind of investigations and the kind of advice which these Committees are able to afford to us. We could only get on without them if we could make up our minds to allow the Navy to run amok and to stop every ship that it met on the high seas and that could possibly be carrying a cargo ultimately intended to find its way to the enemy. But there is one thingshould like to say with regard to these Committees. It has been said already elsewhere, but it may as well be repeated. It is a great mistake to suppose that these Committees are in any sense under the thraldom of the Foreign Office. The principal Committee—the Contraband Committee—unless I am mistaken, has only one representative of the Foreign Office upon it as compared with a number of representatives of the other Departments.
But I will administer one grain of comfort to my noble and gallant friend. We propose to take a step which will, I think, considerably facilitate the operations of these Committees. We mean to put the whole of this blockade business— "blockade" is the convenient way of describing it—in charge of a single Minister, who will be of Cabinet rank, and who will he entrusted with the general co-ordination—I think that is the popular word at the present day—of all this business.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
I am glad that my noble and gallant friend welcomes that announcement. That, then is our policy. I have rather looked forward to this debate, because I have always hoped that during the course of it we should get a clear indication of the alternative plan proposed by our critics; and both the noble Lords who have spoken have vouchsafed to the House some rather important information as to that alternative I have dealt already with the plan for getting rid of the big Cabinet and substituting a little one. I pass from that. But the suggestions made are, I understand, mainly of this kind. It is suggested that we should greatly increase our contraband list, that we should do away with the distinction between absolute contraband and conditional contraband, that we should largely extend the doctrine of continuous voyage, and, finally, that we should establish a blockade fulfilling all the requirements of the text-books.
Let me say two or three words with regard to each of these. My noble and gallant friend knows that our contraband list is already a pretty long one. I have not the slightest objection to increasing its length if it can be shown that there are other articles which ought to be added to it. What governs the situation, I think, is this. The German Government has now virtually appropriated all commodities for Government use, and we have therefore a perfect right to increase our contraband list. I am rather disposed to agree with my noble and gallant friend when he suggests that in these days there is really not very much point in distinguishing between absolute contraband and conditional contraband. The distinction is rather obsolete in these days; it dates from the time when it was possible to distinguish sharply between supplies which were intended to reach the army of the enemy and those which were intended to reach the civil population. I do not think that in these days you can maintain that distinction very clearly, and therefore upon that point my mind is quite open.
With regard to the extension of the doctrine of continuous voyage, I am under the impression that at this moment all our proceedings are based upon an extension of that doctrine, and I think we have gone at least as far as the American Government went at the time of the war 105 between the North and South, when there was undoubtedly a new departure in regard to the doctrine of continuous voyage. I do not myself see how we are to go very much further in that direction.
Then we come to the blockade. What I want to know is what we are going to blockade. Clearly my noble and gallant friend has not in his mind merely that we should blockade the German ports. To do that would be to blockade a very small section of the coastline. Are we then to establish a blockade of neutral ports? The noble mover shows by the terms of his Motion that he is a stickler on the rights conferred by International Law. I think he would find that international lawyers would have something to say about a blockade directed not only against enemy ports but against the neutral seaboard as well. But is it not fair to add this further observation I Supposing that you get your revised contraband list, your extension of the doctrine of continuous voyage, your new form of blockade, whatever it is to be, you will still have to count with the Prize Courts, you will still have when you take a ship into Court to produce evidence sufficient to establish the fact that the goods on board her are destined for the enemy. I do not imagine that the noble Lord on the Cross Benches would suggest that we can do without the Prize Courts, but so long as the Prize Courts are there it is surely necessary to satisfy them with adequate evidence. The noble Lord who moved said that in his opinion the Prize Court may be trusted. I quite agree. But I do not think I should trust them to disregard the evidence; and we come back to this difficulty in the end—that evidence must be forth coming. I dare say as the debate proceeds we shall receive further explanations upon this point. But at any rate we hold that our plan, whatever its faults—and I am far from desiring to assert that it is perfect —has accomplished some very satisfactory results, which I have tried to put before your Lordships. I think we have done enough to show that we scarcely deserve to be stigmatised, as we were by a noble Lord behind me (Lord Devonport) the other day, as nerveless, feeble, and stupid.
§ LORD DEVONPORT
I do not know from what the noble Marquess is quoting. I admit the word "nerveless," but I do not think such a word as "stupid" fell from my lips.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
The noble Lord is quite right. The word "stupid" did not fall from his lips, but this is what he said. He said we were "utilising our power of the Navy with feebleness, nervelessness, and no apparent comprehension of what its power meant and what it could achieve." That is a long phrase which can he conveniently compressed into the one word "stupid," and I do not think I did the noble Lord any injustice. I suggest to the noble Lord that our "nerveless" policy has killed the German export trade and that it has seriously crippled the import trade of Germany. Some of the most important branches of that trade have dwindled and finally erased. In the case of cotton, wool, and rubber we have, I think, succeeded in excluding imports altogether; and with every month that passes the pressure which we are able to put upon our opponents is increasing. You have only to read, as I sometimes do, extracts from the German and Austrian newspapers to see what the economic conditions of those countries are. Prices are not a bad criterion. The prices of a great many of the most necessary commodities are doubling and trebling; and I need not dwell upon the downward progress of the German mark, itself a very significant phenomenon.
My Lords, I own that I sometimes wish that the people of this country could, let us say for a fortnight, have a little experience of the kind of conditions prevailing in Germany and in Austria at the present time, of the kind of discomfort, of the kind of economic pressure which those countries experience. If that experiment could be tried I am satisfied that two results would happen. In the first place, we should no longer hear all this talk about the Government of this country sitting with folded hands and doing nothing; and in the next place our people would realise that they could, almost without turning a hair, submit to a great number of sacrifices before they approached to the kind of plight to which our much-derided efforts have brought the people of our adversaries.
§ EARL LOREBURN
My Lords, the noble Lord on the Cross Benches(Lord Sydenham) and the noble and gallant Admiral have undoubtedly given voice to an opinion which is shared by a good many people in this country, but for my part I must 107 express my pleasure that the noble Marquess (Lord Lansdowne) did not comply with the suggestions which they made. I believe they are dangerous suggestions in the interests of this country, and would not be effective for the purpose that they desire. Lord Sydenham, in his Motion, paid homage to International Law and also expressed the view that we ought to attend to the legitimate rights of neutrals. He asked certain questions as to what the progress was or might be of International Law upon a critical point. I do not wish to enter upon that. It is an almost interminable subject. But this much I think I can say. International Law relates much more to history and to treaties and to the usage of nations than to anything which is recognised as law, and for my part I have always preferred to speak of it as International Custom rather than International Law. But the suggestions which have been made by noble Lords would certainly depart from any custom that has hitherto been recognised amongst nations; and while admitting that changed circumstances require a change in the administration of the law, I think if we were to follow the advice of the noble Lords it would be a very grave departure from what has been hitherto recognised. I wish to see stopped from going into Germany everything that is of military value, but I am very much afraid of striking blindly and disregarding our own true interests.
The basis of what has been said by the noble Lords who support this Resolution is this. They believe that by pressure on the part of our Navy we can bring this war to an end. I do not think that any one has said so from the Treasury Bench either in this House or in the House of Commons; and I do not believe that any of them will say so. It is a very serious thing, knowing how anxious everybody is to see a termination of this horrible conflict, to hold out expectations that by the profuse use of one weapon you would be able to bring about what many people desire. I have grievous doubts. I admit that I am not a person of experience in naval or military matters, but I did not understand Lord Sydenham to pledge his great reputation to the belief that we could bring Germany to her knees by the methods he himself prescribes.
§ EARL LOREBURN
Yes; but that is a very indefinite thing. I believe, on the contrary, we should bring ourselves into the most serious difficulties with neutrals. Consider what the position is as regards the neutrals. Two countries or a variety of nations make war. All the neutrals are disturbed at once in their trade and commerce. They have their rights. The nations that are belligerent are not entitled to take the sea and to blockade the land without regard to the interests of Powers that are perfectly innocent. We have been neutral very often, and we have been very vigilant in insisting upon our rights as neutrals. I trust hereafter that we shall be, I will not say neutrals, because I do not wish any wars at all; but if there are wars I trust we shall be neutrals, and we shall expect the same consideration that we are bound to give to neutral nations now.
Lord Lansdowne has told us that we cannot seal Germany hermetically to prevent trade from going in and coming out. The reason is that there are sovereign States—Holland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and also the United States—which have well ascertained rights. What the extremists—if I may be permitted so to call them—claim is this, that we should put these nations upon a sort of commercial diet, not only with regard to food but with regard to the trade and business they carry on; that, we should prevent more than what we consider to be the average supplies they want from entering their country—not merely prevent munitions from going through, but prevent, any commodity from going through. That was the claim of the noble and gallant Admiral. It is a complete novelty in International Law. No doctrine of continuous voyage that I have ever heard of has contemplated anything of the kind. There is such a thing as national pride, which is quickly kindled and very hard to quench, and it is notorious that we have had serious difficulties with some of these neutral countries already.
We are ourselves largely dependent upon neutral countries for food, for markets, and for that matter for munitions. But leaving those items out, take shipping itself. At this moment, there is a veryserious shortage of ships in this country. A considerable number have been taken by our Government for our own use. For every hundred ships that were available for the general 109 service of the country before the war there are now only sixty-seven, according to the statement of the President of the Board of Trade, and, of those, twenty-one to twenty-four, varying from month to month, are neutral ships. Here I am bound to quote a sentence from what Mr. Runciman said as to what would be the effect if we were to estrange the neutrals and deprive ourselves of the advantage of their shipping. He said—In the whole of the countries of the Allies we are dependent to an enormous extent upon the services of neutral shipping. If out of these sixty-seven ships we drove away from these ports the twenty-one to twenty-four which are neutral, we should starve.And he added that it would he a question of not having food enough, and not having minerals with which to make our munitions, and not having timber with which to prop our mines. No doubt much of the shortage of ships that we feel at the present time is due to the deplorable policy of Expeditions all over the world. Which have brought us so much loss both in lives and in prestige.
§ EARL LOREBURN
We must remember that we rely on neutrals not only for our supplies of food but also for these ships. I know that those who take a strong view say that there is no fear of the neutrals doing anything, that they have stood so much ill-usage from the Germans that they will not think of resenting milder treatment from ourselves. I think that is a very dangerous risk to run. We have allowed them, as the noble and gallant Admiral pointed out, to make their contracts and arrangements for a great many months in the expectation that we should take a particular course, and if we were to come down now and interfere with that there is every reason to believe that they would show their resentment in an active way. They could half ruin us without going to war at all; and if we pressed the naval restrictions so as to alienate them and make them withdraw their commerce and their shipping we might be proved to have shown that form of insanity which precedes utter destruction.
I Wish to say a few words upon the effect which the blockade hitherto has had upon the Germans. I hope that I may be wrong, but I do not believe that this method of 110 pressure by the Fleet will appreciably accelerate the ending of the war. We have had a food blockade of Germany for a considerable time. What has been the result? There has been great inconvenience, no doubt, as the noble Marquess tells us, but I have seen a number of people who have been in Germany and they all tell me, and I have no doubt they tell the Government the same, that whatever inconvenience and discomfort it may cause there is no chance of reducing Germany by starvation. I wonder if the Government will tell us whether they think there is any chance of doing so. We ought to look at realities, and not at the figments that we see constantly quoted in the Press or hear upon platforms. The Germans have seventy per cent. of the food they consume in their own country. It is perfectly certain that there will be a constant leakage notwithstanding our best efforts. It was so in the Napoleonic Wars, and it will be so also in this war. All that we have really succeeded in doing besides creating this discomfort in Germany and if I am wrong I shall be glad to be corrected—is this. We have enabled the Government of Germany with the blockade in the background to get their people willingly to submit to restrictions which without such pressure would have been found intolerable even in Germany, and they have used the fact that we have been stopping food supplies as an argument to unite the German people in a way in which they were never united before. They have been enabled to enforce thrift and stop waste and extravagance, whilst what we have been doing has been merely making speeches about economy, and not even showing an example of how it should be carried out, My belief is that the food blockade has not done anything—and I do not think the noble and gallant Admiral would say that it had done anything—to accelerate the ending of the war, nor do I believe that it will do so.
§ LORD BERESFORD
What I put before the House was the question of stopping the supply of commodities required for making munitions.
I should heartily agree with the noble Lord that we ought to stop that if we can. The difficulty of doing so is the difficulty of the neutrals to which I have already referred. There is one other matter to which I wish to 111 advert, and that is the effect that this policy has had upon those who are our Allies and friends, especially the policy of restricting food. I will say nothing about Belgium, because a good deal has been done successfully I hope, and certainly our Government have done their best, to give assistance in that direction. But I think I ought to take this opportunity of referring to the conditions in that part of Poland and Russia which is under occupation by German troops. When the German advance took place the Russians, for military reasons, destroyed everything they could. They destroyed the houses, the crops, the cattle, and everything else; and something like a million refugees tried to escape eastward with the Russian troops but were caught up by the Germans and were obliged to march back again. They are, I believe, in a frightful state at the present time, the half of them who are supposed to have survived. In addition to that the whole of the district, which is not very-populous but still contains millions of people, is in the utmost state of destitution. They are afraid of famine and disease, and the Germans have expressed their willingness to the American Relief Committee to help in every way they can by the distribution of food and by respecting the local food supplies. Sir Edward Grey, who I know is one of the most humane men that there are, has refused to allow— I have a copy of the letter here; it has been published—has refused to allow food supplies to enter that country except upon the condition that the Germans shall prohibit the export of native food supplies and guarantee that they shall not be drawn upon to maintain the occupying Armies, and so forth. I quite agree that those restrictions would seem to us reasonable and natural, but the situation is this. The Germans say they are not able to supply certain elements of food because they have not got more than sufficient for themselves. If we refuse unless we can get conditions which the Germans may not be willing to give, what will be the consequence? The consequence will be that these people, who are our friends and Allies—I believe they can be counted in millions—will be "between the devil and the deep sea," the Germans declining to help them saying they are not able, and ourselves declining to help them because we cannot get guarantees the performance of which 112 we could never ensure. Therefore these unhappy refugees will be allowed to perish of famine and disease. I take this opportunity of pointing that out to His Majesty's Government. I designedly say very little about it because it is easy to say things that may cause embarrassment instead of furthering the purpose that one has, but I do ask the members of the Government who are here to be kind enough to inquire into this and see what they can do to prevent these wretched people, they being our Allies and our friends, from perishing by the most miserable of all deaths. I do not believe that the tightening of the naval pressure will bring us nearer to the end of the war. We have all been watching it for eighteen months in the hope that some light might appear. But the work of slaughter still goes on, and I believe there is no short cut to the end of this war. It was the Governments and not the nations of Europe that were responsible for the commencement of it, and it is the Governments and not the nations of Europe that are responsible for its continuance. Their only way of averting immeasurable disaster to the entire Continent of Europe is by bringing the war to an end soon.
§ LORD DEVONPORT
My Lords, I am afraid that the noble and learned Earl, in the views which he has just enunciated as to the effect which our naval pressure may have upon future operations, will find very little support in the country. At all events, I am amongst those who believe that by naval pressure and by naval pressure alone ultimate success in this war will be attained by this nation. I am not attempting to suggest that the land forces will not contribute an enormous deal, but there is a large body of opinion in this country that holds the view that without the full effective force of the Navy being used the war will not terminate as satisfactorily as it otherwise would.
The noble Marquess (Lord Lansdowne) in dealing with the critics, of whom I suppose I must rank myself as one, asked for an alternative; he inquired what the alternative was that we had to proffer to what the Government themselves were doing. My reply—and it will, perhaps, not be considered satisfactory—is that we are entitled to expect that the Government should carry out the policy that in the House of Commons and here we have been 113 led to believe was their policy. The Government led us to suppose that they were heart, and soul devoted to a particular policy. Our complaint is that as the days go by and events occur we find that they are not acting upon their expressed and declared policy. Therefore the first thing to be made clear is that when the Government not only adumbrate a policy but declare it to be their policy we expect to see it being carried out.
We have had the advantage of a debate in the other House on this subject. When Sir Edward Grey was speaking for the Government in that debate he laid open the principles of the Government's policy in relation to blockade, and I think in what I shall state now I shall correctly summarise those principles. In the first place he said that neutrals were only getting the supplies necessary for their own consumption. We have been told that many times. It was not reasserted to-day by the noble Marquess. I have noticed with a great deal of pleasure that he is always very frank in admitting that what the Government desire to effect is frequently thwarted in many ways. He referred to-day to the unscrupulousness of persons who endeavour to take every advantage they can to make money. Well, human nature is human nature and has always to be taken into consideration, especially in a time like this which I do not over-describe as "golden." Sir Edward Grey then said that goods destined to the enemy are being stopped; and, in the third place—and this was the most extraordinary statement of all—that no ships at all are going direct to German ports. It is with those three Statements that I desire to deal.
First with regard to neutrals only getting the supplies necessary for their own consumption. We are endeavouring to bring that about by the system of "rationing," as it is termed, and the Agreements incidental thereto. But, as the noble Marquess has said to-day, there are obviously many difficulties to contend with; and it is also quite obvious that neutrals are receiving supplies far in excess of their domestic requirements and that Germany is getting the benefit of that to the neutrals' great pecuniary advantage and to this nation's great detriment. Figures have been adduced by the noble Marquess which are, as he will agree, very difficult to follow, and we shall have to look at them. I dare say they will do what figures mostly do, they will prove a good deal. But I am 114 not seriously affected by the figures; the facts stand out and cannot be controverted. In my judgment, as regards the Agreements with the various neutral bodies of traders, the weak points or some of them are these. In the first plane, very large quantities of goods which reach neutral countries do not pass at all through the hands of these organisations that are supposed to be the strainer through which they go. Take the Netherlands Oversea Trust as a type. The quantities of goods going into Holland free of the Netherlands Oversea Trust are prodigious; yet. we are asked to believe that these organisations which have been set up are sufficient in themselves to prevent abuses occurring. I will show in a moment or two what gross abuses take place. Another weak point is that many ships that are held up by our patrols hold English Consular certificates issued by Consuls abroad. They are reported to London, and the instruction, I am told, comes back from London to allow them to proceed. I am not objecting to that; I suppose it would be only a matter of courtesy. But I warn the Government that a great amount of this leakage is taking place through that method, through these ships being certified on the other side and getting; a leniency of treatment that is not accorded to ships that have not the Consular certificate.
So long as we persist with these Agreements—and I am quite prepared to accept the noble Marquess's assurance that we could not get on without them—I think we are entitled to take every step to see that they are observed. We have no representatives abroad specially placed there to watch and conserve our interests. It is notorious that even some of these traders with which our Agreements are made have broken the law, and are only too ready to break the law upon the first occasion. There was a case reported in the London newspapers a few days ago of one of the leading men in these bodies of traders who had committed an offence before and had repeated it, and I think he was subjected to a fine of £1,000 or something like that. But we ought to have some one on the spot, representing us and being permanently there, seeing that these Agreements, which are founded on the basis that the neutrals are only to get supplies necessary for their own consumption, are observed. Take the town of Rotterdam, which I used to know very well some years ago. There are English firms there of the greatest repute, old-established firms of 115 splendid status. It would not be difficult to get some advice from them as to the type of men who should be there to protect our interests, and I offer that as a suggestion to His Majesty's Government.
I now come to the second point—that goods destined to the enemy are being stopped. That is what the Government told us in the debate a few weeks ago, a statement which I have already traversed in this House in connection with the importation into Rotterdam of ore cargoes which pass on to Germany. As to the fact, I think the Government would hardly question it. It is so obvious that it must be so. There are no facilities in Holland for dealing with iron ore. I do not want to traverse the ground I covered three weeks ago, but as this is material perhaps I may be allowed to repeat what I then said on this point. There are no blast furnaces in Holland; there are no coke ovens; there is no coal, at all events none commercially possible to be used for the treatment of iron ore. Therefore I say that the Government cannot really question the fact, and I doubt very much whether they do question it. In his reply—it was not really a reply—the noble Duke (the Duke of Devonshire), whose courtesy at all times we all recognise, quoted the figures before the war and since the war, and said that the average quantity of iron ore imported annually into Holland during the three years 1911–13 was approximately 5,500,000 tons, nearly the whole of which used to go into Germany. That is good presumptive evidence that what is going through now goes to Germany, and there is not a doubt about it. The Government spokesman upon that occasion said that every possible precaution was being taken to stop the traffic. That is comforting to this extent, that it shows that the Government recognise that this traffic is illegitimate and is a traffic that ought to be stopped. Then he went on to say that in so far as the vessels carrying ore are in neutral waters we cannot under the rules of International Law stop them with our cruisers. Of course, we cannot; but if the suggestion is that these ships can make their long voyage and keep within neutral waters the whole way, I venture to differ from it, and I think I can dispose of it in a few words.
Take the ships that come from Norway. There are the two great ore ports—one is Kirkenaes, right on the very top of Norway; and the other is Narvik, a little 116 lower down. Ships coming from Norway to Rotterdam must pass the mouth of the Skager Rack, and that is sixty miles across; they are certainly out of territorial waters then. I have studied the chart, too, of the whole coast line right away down to Rotterdam; and in several places I am certain that owing to shallow water the ships would have to travel outside neutral waters. Then take the other ships that bring so much ore that come from Sweden. They come from the Gulf of Bothnia. The two great ports there are Lulea and Oxelosund. It is perfectly impossible to get through the Baltic and keep in territorial waters all the way. Beyond that the Government themselves claim that they have got well hold of this iron ore traffic in the Baltic, for Mr. Runciman used these words in the House of Commons on January 10 last—Germany had for some time a certain amount of traffic in the Baltic, which we were not able to place under naval control. We have since signally interfered with her traffic. Our submarines have almost stopped the supply of ore which came from Sweden. At all events, we have so diminished those supplies that the German ironworks have been short of the main necessities of that manufacture for some months past.If the Government succeeded in stopping those vessels going to German ports in the Baltic, surely they can stop them when they leave the Baltic from the selfsame ports on their road to Rotterdam.
The noble Viscount opposite, Lord Midleton, speaking the other day in the debate on the Address, referred to certain statements I had made, and said that the figures I had given ought to be refuted if they were not correct, or, if they were supportable, then the Government ought to admit them. I said that from the commencement of the war to December, 1915, 300 of these cargoes of iron ore had arrived at Rotterdam and gone on to Germany, and that the total weight of these cargoes was in round figures 1,500,000 tons. The noble Duke who replied for the Government gave figures for the year 1915. He stated the quantities as 650,000 tons for the whole of that year, and said the divergence between his figures and mine was so great that it was impossible for any reconciliation between them to be possible. For the purpose of comparison I have adjusted my figures to the noble Duke's period-namely, 1915. For that period I arrive at the total of 1,000,000 tons, whereas the noble Duke's figure is 650,000 tons.
117 As the noble Duke has been good enough to challenge my figures I am going to take the liberty of challenging his, and I do so on the basis of a good authority—namely, on a Foreign Office statement. I have a letter here from the Foreign Office. It is dated January 21 last, and is addressed to a friend of mine in reply to a protest against this importation of iron ore into Holland. The Foreign Office state—The imports of iron ore into Holland in 1915 (April to December) were 657,000 tons … but no statistics are at present available to show what quantity of iron ore reached Holland during 1915 from Spain and sources other than Scandinavia.So we have two lapses in these figures. The Foreign Office give practically the same figure as was given by the noble Duke for 1915, but the Foreign Office figure is only for nine months—April to December—and expressly does not include imports of iron ore which reached Holland during 1915 from Spain and sources other than Scandinavia. Therefore before we get to close grips about figures I suggest that the Government should revise theirs. Of course, the Government figures are official. And so are mine; they are formed from official information from Rotterdam. There is published daily at Rotterdam an official Shipping Gazette, the equivalent of our Lloyds Gazette. It sets forth the movements of shipping in the port day by day, and it is from this source that I have extracted my information. It is quite easy for the Government to verify it. They can ask their Consul at Rotterdam to check the figures. I will be very happy to hand the Government my list, which gives details of every ship that has gone into Rotterdam since the beginning of the war. With regard to the weights, the Customs have the weights and record them in kilos., which I have taken the liberty of transposing into tons.
There are two subsidiary points on which I think we ought to have some reply. Hematite ore and magnetic ore— magnetic is the ore that comes from Sweden and Norway—were both made conditional contraband in September, 1914. A month later hematite ore was made absolute contraband and has remained so ever since, but no change has been made in the status of magnetic ore. Now this is the quality which is going so largely into Holland and Germany by every means, and it seems rather extraordinary that it should not be declared absolute contra 118 band. Again in connection with the Netherlands Oversea Trust, some of the ores go through its control—a very small percentage. I do not know why that should be. Certainly all these ores that come from Scandinavia pass free, and do not go through its control at all. I think those two points are possibly susceptible of an explanation.
I come now to the third point in the statement made by Sir Edward Grey, that no shipments were going through the German ports at all. I do not know on what foundation he makes that statement. In the debate on the 26th of last month I gave a record of the ore cargoes that had gone into German ports, either Baltic ports or North Sea ports, during the eight months from May 1 to December 31 last. They reached the enormous number of 557, and the contents of the shipments amounted to over 2,080,000 tons. I do not see why this trade should continue, but it is continuing at this very moment. I have here the figures for this last month of the ships going to the German Baltic and North Sea ports. The shipments amouunts to the very large figure of 105,000 tons for the month of January and up to February 5. Mr. Runciman claimed, in the statement I read just now, that we Lad succeeded in dealing with this traffic in the Baltic; but in view of those figures I think there remains something to be done.
Here is a fresh point in connection with these ores going into Rotterdam. I have ascertained that since the beginning of the year there has gone direct, not this time to Germany but to Belgium, no less a quantity than 20,000 tons of zinc ore. It has gone to Liége direct from Rotterdam. There have been no less than fifty boats carrying this zinc ore. It is transhipped to small steamers that take the water route to Liége. At Liége there is one of the biggest spelter producing companies on the Continent, La V. A. Montagne Compagnie. This company has passed into German control, as has, unfortunately, the major portion of Belgium. This zinc ore which we allow to go into Rotterdam goes openly—there is no concealment about it at all—to Liége, and there it is converted into spelter and sent in some cases to Ruhrort, where Krupp's furnaces are, and circulated all over Germany. In addition to this zinc ore making spelter for munitions purposes, a fine grade of 119 zine ore which comes from Gothenburg in Sweden is the very quality the Germans require to use in connection with the preparation of hydrogen gas, and that is the gas with which they inflate the Zeppelins. So it should be, I am sure, a matter of concern to the British Government, now that they have this information—and they have it not from me only but from other sources—that they should set themselves to overcome the difficulty of preventing this zinc ore going into Rotterdam to enable German Zeppelins to pay their too frequent visits here.
The last matter with which I will deal is in connection with the Prize Court procedure, and I want to say a word or two with regard to its working in relation to ships seized or detained. Sir Edward Grey, in the same debate in the House of Commons, said—If there is reason to suppose that a cargo is not destined for bona fide neutral use, then undoubtedly it ought to be put in the Prize Court.And he went on to explain that this would be settled by the Contraband Committee. So in effect the Contraband Committee decides in the first place whether a ship, or any part of its cargo, shall be put in the Prize Court, or whether it shall be released and allowed to go forward. But Sir Edward Grey also mentioned the interesting fact that the Government reserve to themselves an overriding power over the Contraband Committee. That is to say, the Contraband Committee decide that such and such a ship should be detained. If the Government think it should not—for good reasons, no doubt—the Government will prevail. But it comes to this, that you have two bodies, neither judicial, standing as it were as a sort of winnowing machine for the legitimate work that I claim, as the noble and gallant Admiral did, should be the exclusive executive work of the Prize Court. Here is the Contraband Committee doing the sifting, the winnowing, deciding what ships and cargoes shall be detained, and so on. It is not a judicial body. It is quite true that it has an eminent lawyer at its head. The Solicitor-General was at its head at one time, and Mr. Pollock is at its head now. There is also one representative from the Board of Trade, one from the Home Office, and so on. Although it is not a judicial body it has functions taking precedence over Prize Court decisions. I think myself—and here I am in agreement with the noble and gallant 120 Admiral—that once a ship is found to have contravened our legitimate rights under International Law the Prize Courts alone should determine the case. They are better able than any non-judicial Committee to infer from the facts and the surrounding circumstances what the real ultimate destination is or what are the real circumstances connected with the goods.
I have a case here to illustrate how dangerously and how badly the existing system is working. I am going to quote the case of the steamship "Esrom," which sailed at the end of last year from New York destined for Copenhagen. She sailed under the Danish flag. She was held up by the patrols and taken into Lerwick, where she was handed over to the boarding and Customs officials and there searched, and she was found to be full of contraband. A part of the cargo was discharged at Lerwick, where the facilities are very poor; there is very little quay accommodation there to handle cargoes. The ship was then sent south to Hull for the remainder to be discharged. When the ship got to Hull there were taken out of her, amongst other things, 1,000 tons of copper, which is, of course, absolute contraband. Then a writ was issued against the ship, and the charges were set forth in the writ. I have a copy of the writ here, and your Lordships will be able to appreciate the serious gravity of the charges against this ship. She was charged on the ground that "she belonged at the time of capture and seizure to enemies of the Crown," and that "the cargo was contraband of war and/or enemy property." Of course, were the ship the property of enemies of the Crown the property would be a fortiori enemy property. The worst was that she was sailing under false papers. False papers embrace such things as false description of goods, false consignee, and false destination. Attached to this writ—which is the common form, I understand—is a schedule of the goods that were seized. They included lubricating oil, vegetable wax, broom-root, which I believe is used for making dyes, all sorts of oils, machinery, coffee, and so on.
But the 1,000 tons of copper are not scheduled in the writ or mentioned at all. Why was that? For the very best of all reasons—the copper was not seized, the copper was not detained. The progress of the copper to its ultimate—which I believe to be an enemy—destination was accelerated by the action of the Registrar 121 of the Prize Court. But long before it reached the Registrar there would stand between the Registrar and any decision he would make, first of all the Contraband Committee, and secondly the possibly overriding Committee of the Government. I want to know why a ship charged with all these serious crimes as against Sea Law—there is only one other crime you could possibly add, and that is the crime of piracy—I want to know why these 1,000 tons of copper were not seized. Their money value alone was £100,000; copper is about £106 a ton to-day. Yet this copper was never seized, never, detained, although it was taken out under the eyes of the Customs and put on the quays Hull, and it has since gone forward to its destination. A person who thought this very strange endeavoured to get action taken, and this is the reply he received from the Customs at Hull—The 1,000 tons of copper have not been seized as prize, and I have no power to detain them.Those goods, as I say, have gone forward. There was an application made by summons to the Registrar of the Prize Court to allow the goods to go forward, and he made an order accordingly. Why he made the order I cannot say. It was certainly not within his province or jurisdiction to make the order, because the goods were not within the purview of the Prize Court. I entirely fail to understand where his jurisdiction came in. But he made the order and indicated the route by which they should go, and they went by the Wilson Line to their destination. I want to know which of those bodies gave the order that these 1,000 tons of contraband copper should be allowed to go forward.
Although I am a critic, I endeavour to be a fair critic. Perhaps at times my language is not so modulated as it should be, but that is temperament and excess of zeal. But I feel that there is room for improvement in what outside people call the "tightening up" of our blockade. We ought to bear in mind—indeed the noble Marquess (Lord Lansdowne) reminded us of it in a speech he made before the recess—that every day this war is continued it costs us not only money but great sacrifice of life. He at that moment was preaching the same moral that I am endeavouring to convey now—that we ought to use every power we control to bring this war to an end. Only by utilising the full power and strength of the British Fleet do I think this can be accomplished.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (LORD BUCKMASTER)
My Lords, the Motion before the House is framed in careful, I think I might say in studiously careful, language. It seeks, in the first place, to preserve in all respects the rights of all people, according to International Law, and subject only to that provision does it require that a more effective use should be made of our Fleet. I cannot help thinking that the two parts of the Motion pull one against the other, and that the noble Lord who moved it will find, when he looks a little more closely into the matter, that the constraint that he has put upon his Resolution by its first sentence will prevent the latter part of the Resolution from becoming of great value.
The noble Lord asked that somebody should make a statement as to the way in which International Law was used to-day, and whether or no Abraham Lincoln exceeded his rights under International Law in what he did in the great war of 1861. Let me say this to begin with. I agree with the noble and learned Earl (Lord Loreburn) that International Law may be a term misused in application to the law that applies in the Prize Courts, but it is a convenient phrase, and I will use it to cover what is no doubt a series of constitutional usages adopted from time to time in the various Prize Courts as applicable to the rules of the sea during war. I have myself always taken the view that you cannot define this branch of International Law merely by examining the cases in which it has been discussed. Cases are nothing but illustrations of a principle, and the principle itself that underlies them may be a living and a growing principle capable of change and adaptation from time to time owing to the changing conditions of society and commerce. I therefore have no hesitation at all in saving that Abraham Lincoln was quite right when he extended the then existing principles of International Law so as to make them cover the doctrine of continuous voyage as it was applied to contraband coming into America.
The principles of International Law are flexible, and are capable, like all living principles, of growth and change. Yet I trust your Lordships will permit me to say that I think we cannot in this great struggle be too sensitive in considering what those rights really are. After all, we entered this struggle in part animated 123 by a feeling of resentment at the grossest and most flagrant breach of the law of neutral people that has been known to history, and We should certainly have lost when this war ends if it could be urged against us that under the stress of necessity, because we thought we could get an advantage, we had used the power that we possessed to infringe in even a small degree the legal rights of neutral people. I would rather that it should be recorded that the rights of neutral people on the sea are never so safe as under the protection of the power of the English Fleet, and that they should be able, when the war is over, to contrast what we have done with what would have been done by Germany had she the power that we possess.
May I say a few words as to what are, in fact, the principles of International Law which govern the whole of this controversy? I cannot help thinking, from what has been said by both Lord Devonport—who, I am sorry to see, has left the House—and by the noble and gallant Admiral, that some little confusion exists in the minds of people who criticise the Government as to what these rights may be. Roughly speaking, the power of any belligerent nation to stop goods on the high seas depends either on the goods being contraband or conditional contraband, or upon there having been a blockade declared. That is a rough statement. Goods are not contraband merely because they happen to be of a character which an enemy can use; they are contraband when they are of that character and consigned to the enemy country. If we found a perfectly fair and legitimate transaction between Holland and the United States of America in which the United States were sending to Holland something which is contraband of war so far as Germany is concerned, we should have no right to stop it—that is, if the transaction was in fact a perfectly fair and honest transaction between two neutral traders and the goods were to be consumed in a neutral country. Therefore when Lord Devonport spoke, as he did just now, about a cargo of copper and assumed that directly he had proved that the cargo was copper he consequently had proved that we had the right to stop and seize it, he overlooked the most essential feature in the whole case. The fact that the cargo was copper should no doubt cause us to be unusually anxious and suspicious 124 as to what its real destination is, and should cause us to inquire with the utmost vigilance as to all the circumstances attaching to the ship's papers and the commercial documents by which the title to that cargo is shown; but if, on the most elaborate investigation, you are unable to produce any circumstance of suspicion as to the cargo you have no more right to stop it than if it were a cargo of wood or anything beyond suspicion. The noble and gallant Admiral thought that if the Fleet had its way it would be able to tighten the band that is now around Germany, and he seemed to have been led to think that the Fleet could stop anything of that character sailing on the high seas.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I am glad the noble Lord makes that admission. But directly he denies that, he opens the loophole for exactly the transactions of which Lord Deyonport has spoken—that certain goods which we wish to keep from the Germans may be the subject of legitimate and fair trade transactions between neutral countries which we cannot stop. I think what the noble and gallant Admiral said is quite right, that there is no reason whatever for maintaining the difference between absolute and conditional contraband. The difference was that in one case you stopped commodities if shipped to the enemy country, and in the other case where they were destined for the use of the enemy's forces or Government. At the present moment it is indifferent, because since March 11 our policy has been to stop the importation of everything into Germany, contraband or not contraband—nothing that has an enemy destination shall, so far as we can allow it, be permitted to enter; nothing that has an enemy origin shall be allowed to depart, so far as we can prevant it. Therefore the whole of the discussion about contraband and the suggestions which the noble and gallant Admiral threw out as to what should be done in place of what we are doing now, so far as it relates to contraband, can be disregarded.
Whether we declare something which is conditional contraband to-day absolute contraband to-morrow really makes no difference. The only difference it makes is this, that if the property is contraband you can confiscate it when you stop it; 125 and if the vessel is carrying more than half contraband of what she is earrying altogether, you can confiscate the vessel itself. It consequently follows that if You make any article contraband you place an additional reason before the consignors why they should not deal with it. But as far as the actual arrest of the commodity is concerned, we exercise to-day just the same power to interfere with all articles destined to Germany that are not contraband as those that are. There is no real difference between the two. The Order in Council of March 11 in effect blockades the German coast; but that we cannot blockade it as we blockaded the French coast in the days of Napoleon is due to obvious geographical difficulties. It is no use asking us to place round Germany the same girdle that You could put round France or Spain. There are difficulties in the way. Therefore our blockade, impartial as it is and mist be, and effectual as it is too, is more difficult to enforce against Germany, situated as she is geographically, than against any other European Power.
We have applied the doctrine of continuous voyage to the principle of blockade. We have said that if articles are going into a neutral port destined for Germany they should be stopped at the neutral port. I am certain the noble and gallant Admiral will realise what an advance that is. The ordinary principle of blockade is to blockade the enemy ports. We say, "Yes, but in addition to that we will blockade the neutral ports if the goods that are going in there can be ascertained and established to be goods intended to be passed on to Germany." But there is this that must be remembered. If any question arises with regard to the exercise of our powers, either in attempting to confiscate contraband or to stop goods that are not contraband, there is one tribunal and one tribunal only before which it can be tried—the Prize Court; and that Court is bound to administer the law of nations applied to the particular cargo that has been the subject of seizure. It is no use saying, when you have seized a particular cargo that on investigation proves to be innocent, "Ah, yes; but a number of other cargoes of this kind have slipped us, and we do not believe they were innocent. The sum total of your cargoes cannot be innocent, because the sum total represents more than you need. We do not believe, therefore, that this cargo is innocent." That is not 126 sufficient. It simply means that our attempt to keep the blockade perfect round that neutral port has failed. It cannot, entitle you to do more than to stop the particular cargo proof of the absolute destination of which is established before the Prize Court; and it is there that our difficulty lies. It is precisely because of this that we have entered into the arrangements which have been derided with the groups of traders in the neutral places. The Netherlands Oversea Trust is an example. It is said, "The goods we will consign to you we will pass as consigned to an honest consignee, and we trust you, in your turn, not to allow any of these goods to be transhipped to Germany. If you are treated as a fair neutral you must behave as a fair neutral too." And although such an Agreement has been made the subject of considerable criticism, I cannot myself see how it is possible to effect what we all desire to effect—the arrest of the flow of goods from neutral countries into Germany—by any means other than those. The noble and gallant Admiral says, "Let the Fleet have its way; the Fleet will stop everything." But then you must stop all goods, not only going into Germany, but goods that neutrals are entitled to have.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
Yes, and that leads me to my next point. I am sure your Lordships do not want me to disclose here what steps we take with regard to the control of ships on the sea. One thing, at least, is obvious. The old rule by which you boarded and examined your prize when you took her can no longer apply. For one very simple and obvious reason. If a German submarine came by when you were doing it both you and your prize would be torpedoed, and it is clear that we have no right, to submit a neutral vessel to such a risk, and no neutral has the right to expect, that we should be subjected to such a risk. Therefore the vessels must be brought into port. Then comes the next part.
The noble and gallant Admiral and Lord Devonport complained bitterly of what happened at the Contraband Committee. I do not suppose anybody has ever been effusive about a Committee. A Committee generally consists of able, hard-working people, who do a great deal of work, whose 127 recommendations are generally disregarded, and who get no thanks for the work they do. Now, what does this Contraband Committee do There are two ways in which you can make the necessary preliminary investigations before you put a ship in prize. The old way was that the captain of the boat who seized the prize looked at the papers; if he liked them, the ship went on; if he did not, he took the ship and put it in the Prize Court. But to-day I venture to say it would be impossible to throw upon a naval officer the duty of examining the papers and at the same time call upon him to accept the responsibility of saying whether the ship should be let go or be taken prize.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
What, put an innocent ship in the Prize Court? The result of such an action would be that you would be hit in heavy damages, and the whole value of your seizure would be destroyed. One of the greatest things that have happened in this war is that we have hardly put an innocent vessel into the Prize Court; and if we were seizing innocent vessels and throwing them into the Prize Court, not only would there not be a Prize Court large enough to deal with the work, but multiply it as much as you would you could not enable it to do it. But you would instantly destroy the justice and wisdom of seizure, which I venture to submit we enjoy at present despite the criticisms that have been uttered. Nobody knows better than I do the fairness of the noble and gallant Admiral. We have known each other in another place, and I am sure he will give consideration to what I say even if he does not accept it. I say that no man on board a boat could possibly examine these documents. I will tell you why. Because part of the reason that leads one to doubt the commercial documents which on their face are generally in order is the history either of the cargoes or of the consignees or consignors, and that history cannot be present to anybody except people who have got a careful record of what the consignor has dealt in before, what his names are, who the consignee is, where the branches of his firms may be, and what are the 128 ramifications of the business; and those matters have to be investigated, not after you have put the vessel into prize, but before you determine whether you can do it or not. I would be glad to know, as between the gallant officer on the vessel that boards the prize and the Committee that sit with an eminent lawyer at their head, a man who gives his whole time to this work and who has sacrificed his practice to do so—the real question you have to settle being a question of legal evidence —which is it that the noble and gallant Admiral would desire? I feel quite satisfied that any officer in the Navy would say at once, "It is odious and impossible to ask us to do this." We must have somebody to look into it, and the Committee is the best means. That is, I suggest, a matter for consideration with regard to the Committee.
I do not desire—there is no reason why I should—to complain of the criticisms that are made against, the Government. I know quite well what is happening. Every man's mind in this country is sore. He sees that we are in the face of this tremendous struggle, and he keeps thinking "Is not there something more that can be done to bring it to an end?" Thus he thinks that in this respect and in that respect the Government have been a little lax; and as he cannot possibly know what is being done, and as sometimes appearances are against the Government although the realities are in their favour, it is not unnatural that he should complain and say that more activity and more energy would produce a better state of affairs. I beg the noble and gallant Admiral to believe that though we may be civilians, though we may be amateurs, there is no one of us who is not anxious to do the uttermost in his power to bring this war to an end, and, further, to receive suggestions from other sources as to the means by which that end may be accomplished; and I certainly trust that he will not think that we have neglected the great opportunity that lies to our hand in the Fleet, or been negligent in the use of those opportunities, or, above all things, that we have attempted to belittle or disparage the immeasurable services which the Fleet has rendered.
Further debate adjourned till to-morrow, and to be taken first.
§ House adjourned at Eight o'clock, till To-morrow, a quarter past Four o'clock.