§ Debate on the Motion of the Lord Sydenham "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," resumed (according to Order).
THE EARL OF DUNRAVEN
My Lords, after the speeches delivered last night there is no necessity to go into any question of figures or to examine closely into the legal aspect of the case, and I have no intention whatever of doing so. Nor shall I avail myself of the invitation by the noble Marquess who spoke last night to suggest 130 some alternative scheme to His Majesty's Government. It would, I think, be presumptuous of a humble independent member of your Lordships' House to create schemes and policies. Besides that, I entirely approve of the policy of His Majesty's Government. What troubles me is that I do not think that the most efficacious steps have been taken to carry out that policy. It was just about a year ago that the Prime Minister, speaking after the threat of Germany to sink our mercantile marine at sight, made a memorable speech and enunciated the policy of His Majesty's Government. He said—Her [Germany's] opponents are therefore driven to frame retaliatory measures in order to prevent commodities of any kind from reaching or leaving Germany.To stop imports into enemy ports, especially of commodities requisite for war, is a perfectly legitimate process and in accordance with International Law and with common humanity, and I think it was a pity, as it were, to justify a perfectly legitimate action by founding it on the necessity of retaliation against action on the part of Germany which was not legitimate, nor in accordance with International Law, nor in accordance with common humanity. However, that is a small matter.
I think the policy enunciated by the Prime Minister was perfectly admirable. It indicated the determination of His Majesty's Government to use our most potent weapon, our Sea Power, to do everything possible to stop the introduction of goods of all kinds into Germany. A few days afterwards the Order in Council of March 11 was issued, placing before the country in the most authoritative way possible the policy which the Prime Minister had shortly before stated to Parliament. What did the Order in Council say? The most important declarations in it are in the Preamble and in the third paragraph. The Preamble states that—His Majesty has decided to take further steps for preventing commodities of any kind from reaching or leaving Germany.And Paragraph 3 lays down that—Every merchant vessel on her way to a port other than a German port, carrying goods with an enemy destination or which are enemy property, may be required to discharge such goods in a British or Allied port.131 His Majesty's declaration in the Preamble is absolutely comprehensive. It makes no mention of actual contraband or conditional contraband. The doctrine of continuous voyage is obviously implied. It is all-embracing and as comprehensive as any statement could possibly be; and Paragraph 3 that I have mentioned is to my mind equally satisfactory, for I attach no importance to the use of the word "may" instead of "must." The word "may" is frequently used in Acts of Parliament and other documents, obviously implying "must," except in very extraordinary cases. In the case of a blockade or anything in the nature of a blockade it is obvious that commanders of ships must have some discretionary power, and I think the word "may" was quite naturally and properly used. At any rate, it cannot invalidate the whole meaning and tenor of the clause.
The policy seems to me absolutely sound. What troubles me, as I have said, is that I cannot see that the most effective means have been taken to render the policy operative. Whether it should have been carried out by a real blockade or not is a matter which I do not wish to discuss now. The policy has been, I believe, absolutely successful as regards exports from Germany, but it certainly has not been equally successful as regards imports. Leakage is admitted. It was admitted some time ago by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. I do not think that "leakage" is quite the proper term to use, for leakage obviously implies that the main stream—of, in this case, commodities—has been stopped, and that only merely insignificant quantities dribble through. But I do not think it can or will be denied that as regards some commodities—for instance ores, that were mentioned by Lord Devonport last night—the main stream remains almost intact. There is scarcely any diminution at all, and it is absurd to talk of mere leakage in a case of that kind. The noble Marquess last night gave the House some very interesting and instructive figures indicating the monthly diminution of imports that could go to Germany. Nobody could rejoice more than I do to know that the pressure that we are able to bring to bear, such as it is, has had that good effect. I do not want to examine into the figures, but it must be obvious to your Lordships that a great many causes quite independent 132 of any pressure that we can exercise—the dates, for instance, on which various commodities were made contraband, the difference in freights, the ordinary circumstances that affect seaborne commerce at different times of the year, the difference between summer and winter—all these and other matters must have had some effect on the changes and fluctuations in the monthly rate of imports besides the pressure that we are bringing to bear. But I rejoice to find that the pressure already exercised is having effect. I think the figures which the noble Marquess mentioned prove it, but I do not think they prove that our Sea Power is being exercised in the most effective way to bring about the object of the Order in Council, which is to stop the importation of commodities of every kind into Germany.
I do not think the White Paper issued last month throws much light upon the subject—the statement, I mean, of the measures adopted to intercept the seaborne commerce of Germany. It tells us about the Contraband Committee obtaining information as to the destination of commodities. That is a very good thing. It gives us hints that perhaps some system of "rationing" neutral nations may be possible. That, I think, would be an exceedingly good thing. I am not sure that if it could be done effectively it would not go far to settle the whole case; but the very cautious words used in the White Paper—"may possibly," "perhaps may be done," and so on—rather lead me to suppose that in this case we shall have to "wait and see."
A good deal of information is given in the White Paper as to the Agreements and arrangements that have been made with trusts and syndicates in neutral countries. I confess I do not very much like those arrangements. They are of a very curious character. They are all triangular, and in most cases I should think they ought to be described, if there is such a word, as "multiangular." As I understand it, somebody here—I do not know who—makes an Agreement with a syndicate in a neutral country. The syndicate, of course, is the consignee, and the syndicate makes an agreement with some private trader or company who receives the goods, and the private trader or company makes other agreements with other traders, and so on 133 ad infinitum. Who signs the Agreements for us? The Government cannot sign them. The Government cannot make Agreements of this kind with private foreign syndicates, companies, or traders. I should like to know who does sign the Agreements on our part. Foreign countries have no hand or part in the matter, and without any kind of arrangement between our Government and foreign Governments I cannot see that we have any guarantee whatever that these Agreements are honestly carried out. If they are honestly carried out by the consignee, as I dare say they are, what possible guarantee can we have that the terms of the Agreements are enforced on the traders who distribute the goods? They seem to me in that respect to be an exceedingly unsatisfactory kind of arrangement, and they do not appear to me to be fair upon neutrals. No one neutral country can know what are the terms of the Agreement made with other neutral countries, and it is almost certain that a suspicion, at any rate, of favouritism may be felt. One neutral may think that other neutrals have been better treated, and, that is likely to cause friction that might Otherwise be avoided.
The White Paper enlarges a good deal upon the many difficulties that obviously exist in carrying out the policy enunciated in the Order in Council. All those difficulties, however, must have been perfectly well known a year ago and long before I that. But I do not think His Majesty's Ministers, either individually or collectively, have been accused of being inclined to undue haste in coming to decisions. Certainly the Prime Minister is very cautious, and has never indicated any tendency to hasty and ill-considered action. It surely must be the case that before advising His Majesty to issue the Order in Council the Prime Minister Must have considered, reconsidered, and considered over and over again, every difficulty and circumstance that could possibly arise. The policy enunciated in the Order in Council cannot be said to be carried out. And why? The speech delivered by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs the other day gave me the impression that Sir Edward Grey did not think that it was possible to carry out the Order in Council. He says—You have no right to say that the British Prize Court is to be the neck of the bottle through which all your trade is to pass.134 If that is the case, have we any right or any justification, at any rate, in saying in an Order in Council that the import of all commodities into Germany shall be stopped? They cannot both be right. If the Order in Council is right, then the Secretary of State is wrong. If the Secretary of State is right, then the Order in Council is wrong to the extent that it is not capable of being carried into effect and ought never to have been issued.
I am confident that at the time the Order in Council was issued the Prime Minister and His Majesty's Government had not the slightest doubt of their ability fully to carry out its intentions with the means that they had in hand, and I am almost driven to the conclusion that since that time something—I know not what—must have happened. The policy itself is not bad. The whole country was at its back. I believe it was approved of by all our Allies. It certainly caused a great deal of resentment and perturbation amongst our enemies. If the policy is not in fault, is the executive in fault? The Fleet is the executive—the only real means by which the policy can be carried out. Is there anything wrong with the Fleet? I find it very hard to believe that from the point of view of the Navy any difficulty would be found in carrying out the intentions of the Order in Council to the fullest extent. If we had the opinion of the Admiralty on the subject, it would be very interesting and valuable.
If there is nothing the matter with the Fleet, I fall back on this somewhat mysterious Contraband Committee—a Committee about which very few people outside the sphere of influence of Cabinet Ministers know anything. I do not think the general public have any idea of its composition. I am not sure that they even know that it exists. Does it receive instructions, and from whom? Does it give instructions to the Admiral commanding the main Home Fleet? Does it give instructions to the Prize Court? Does it act as a sort of grand jury and return a good bill or no bill to the Prize Court? And if that is the case, it would be interesting to know what percentage of ships have been freed by the Committee without any reference to the Prize Court at all. Everybody more or less understands a Prize Court. The neutral countries understand it perfectly. They know what its functions are and what its composition is. But the neutral countries 135 cannot know anything about this Contraband Committee or what its functions are; and I am bound to say I think that conducting something in the nature of a blockade by means of a Committee which is in no way responsible to Parliament is very likely to cause unnecessary confusion and difficulty in the minds of neutrals.
I confess I do not much like this system of administration by Committees. I have no doubt that Committees are exceedingly useful. If we were conducting the war under a military dictatorship—which perhaps would be a very good thing—Committees would be indispensable, numbers of them; but then the military dictator would be personally responsible, and if things went wrong a single individual could be summarily removed. But we are conducting the war subject to the ordinary usual constitutional usage and practice. Ministers are responsible to Parliament. These innumerable Committees are not responsible, and I am sure there is an uneasy feeling—without any foundation probably, but still worth considering—in the country that these multitudinous Committees, however useful they may be, may be made to act as a sort of bomb-proof entrenchment in which Ministers can find refuge. I rejoiced to hear last night that the Contraband Committee—and, as I understood, practically the whole system of blockade—is to be presided over by a Cabinet Minister. That is altogether right in itself. Moreover it seems to me to indicate that the Government are gradually conforming themselves to the necessities of the war. We have had for some time a Minister of Munitions, we have now a Minister of Blockade, and I hope it will not be long before we have a Minister connected with the Air Service.
I regretted last night to hear the noble Marquess (Lord Lansdowne) say that he looked upon Lord Sydenham's Resolution as a direct vote of censure. I cannot myself see it in that light. The noble Marquess was very moderate in his admirable speech. He claimed no perfection for the proceedings of the Government; he admitted that mistakes had been and might be made, and he invited suggestions, observing that the Government would most gladly consider and act upon any suggestions if they thought them worth while acting upon. Well, what does the Resolution say? Practically speaking, it suggests that more effective use could be made 136 of the Allied Fleets in carrying out the intentions of the Order in Council of March 11. What is the object of His Majesty's Government tying their hands by practically meeting that with a flat denial, which seems to suggest that no more effective use could possibly be made of His Majesty's Fleet? Personally I think the Fleet could be more effectively used. On land our troops have fought magnificently. That, of course, is not marvellous. They always have behaved and always will behave magnificently. But the creation of great and fully equipped Armies is to me a matter almost miraculous. We have done wonderful things of late. Still, when all is said and done, the sea is our national element. The Fleet is the mainstay of our existence. It is the most potent weapon we can use for the assistance of our Allies, and it certainly is a dominant factor in the war, a factor that has made all these Oversea Expeditions possible. I rejoice to know that by other means some effect—I dare say a considerable effect—has been made upon the importation of goods necessary for war into Germany, but I still think that if more effective use were made of our Fleet we should attain our object more rapidly. I believe that plain, distinct instructions given to the Fleet, and a reasonably free hand in carrying them out, would be more efficacious than anything which can be done by private agreements or arrangements with syndicates of traders in neutral countries.
§ LORD EMMOTT
My Lords, in the few observations that I ask leave to address to your Lordships this afternoon I shall confine myself entirely to the fundamental question in this debate—namely, whether our action at the present time is or is not on the whole successful in preventing goods from reaching the enemy. I hope, therefore, that the noble Earl who has just addressed your Lordships will forgive me if I do not comment at any length on what he has said. But perhaps I may be permitted to make two observations on his speech. The noble Earl suggested that there were too many Committees. It is quite possible that he may be correct. But he used that as au argument for saying that there was no need for the Contraband Committee. I think that if the noble Earl had any conception of the work done by the Contraband Committee he would soon be convinced that either a Committee to do the work or a single person who could give the whole of 137 his time to it is absolutely essential in order that the cases should be decided with despatch. I have only one other observation on the noble Earl's speech. I regretted to hear his dislike of the Agreements which have been made by His Majesty's Government. I do not propose to argue that question this afternoon, but I can honestly assure him that, having had to sit on a sub-committee recently in which that was one of the subjects for consideration, the unanimous feeling of that sub-committee, composed as to one part of a very distinguished representative of the Admiralty, was that Agreements were the best way of carrying out what is the declared policy of His Majesty's Government.
Statistics are wearisome things, and I am not in the least surprised that there is a certain feeling of bewilderment in the country about the question that your Lordships are discussing in this debate. Newspaper agitations have been raised and alarmist figures have been published. Official and unofficial replies have been made to those figures, but the public has no figures of its own by which it can judge, and therefore I do not wonder, when it hears an extravagant statement on one side replied to by another statement which it may consider equally extravagant on the other, that there is a certain confusion in the public mind. I am going to try to present the case as fairly as I can, but I frankly admit that it needs an angel from Heaven to treat figures quite fairly. Certainly I have never met any mortal capable of doing so. There is a story of a well-known Civil Servant of a bygone age, a great authority on statistics, who, whenever he was asked for figures, said: "What do you want to prove?" And in accordance, I suppose, with the case that had to be proved the figures were provided. I shall not be sorry if His Majesty's Government think fit to publish some of the figures that have been collected by my Department [the War Trade Department] or by other Departments of His Majesty's Government. But I can see the difficulties. Of course, there would be a crop of Parliamentary Questions. But I think the publication of such figures as have been collected, with suitable explanatory notes, would make it impossible to have such agitations as sprang up in the columns of the Daily Mail and the Morning Post before this same question was debated in another place. Such agitations do harm. They irritate neutrals a good deal, and 138 there is a feeling amongst some of the neutrals that whilst they used to be able to trust the British people they are afraid, after such agitations as those to which I refer, that in these modern days we are very little better than the Germans.
As an instance of how mistaken some of are raised, I should like to refer to one particular case. The information I am going to give has come into my hands unsought and unexpectedly. It refers to a statement made in the columns of the Daily Mail on January 12 this year by a correspondent who was dealing with the case of Denmark. The specific statement which he made was this—On Saturday, December 18, for instance, 1,100 cases [of tea] went by the s.s. 'Eos' from England to Aarhus. It was transhipped to the s.s. 'Aarhur' and sent to Copenhagen, where most of it went into German railway trucks and on to Germany by rail.It never occurred to me to investigate a case of that kind, and I had not the ready means of getting at the facts. But the tea merchants who were responsible for the sending of these 1,100 cases were rather concerned at the story and they ascertained what really happened. My Department has also asked the Customs about the matter. The Customs state that the total quantity of tea shipped by this vessel was 114,431 lbs. The firm of which I speak, which has transmitted this information to me, say that they shipped 1,117 packages of tea, the net weight as invoiced being 113,792 lbs. It went by the s.s. "Eos" from Grimsby to Aarhus, and the ship left in the early part of December. After the statement in the Daily Mail they made inquiries with regard to this tea, and they ascertained that only a portion could have been transhipped into the s.s. "Aarhur," because delivery of about 600 of the packages was taken by the consignees at Aarhus, and the packages were disposed of in Aarhus; and 351 other packages were forwarded by rail from Aarhus to Copenhagen, and presumably were therefore not available for the free port. They ascertained that 170 of these packages actually passed through the Custom House at Copenhagen for home consumption, and they were informed that others also passed through this Custom House. A balance of 155 packages alone could have been transhipped, and with regard to these the tea merchants hold a declaration from Danish merchants, whom they believe to be entirely reliable, to the 139 effect that none of these packages went to Germany. So apparently that is another mare's nest exposed.
These agitations of which I speak are supported by figures, and many of the figures are very mistaken. The writers have mixed general and special imports, which, of course, require very careful discrimination, and they have taken no account of the inevitable changes of market due to the war. They select figures which suit their case and ignore others which tell against it. Here and there they hit on a weak spot, as they did in the case of cocoa. When these exaggerated statements are made on one side, they are apt to be replied to by an ex parte statement on the other; and the reply issued by my Department in the Press on the day that this question was debated in the House of Commons—a very able reply, not prepared by myself but by a statistician in my Department, Mr. Harwood—was not meant for publication when it was written, but merely as a comment on the errors and discrepancies in the particular newspaper articles which were dealt with. After a controversy of that kind I am aware that when a one-sided attack is met by an ex parte reply, people are apt to believe of His Majesty's Government that they have been too easy, too sentimental—I have seen that word used—not severe enough, and careless if a certain amount of commodities do go through to the enemy.
What I desire to do is to tell your Lordships the real facts of the work behind the scenes in regard to these matters. At the present time I am really a Civil Servant who happens to have the honour of a seat in your Lordships' House, and I speak from the point of view of the men who are doing this work. In our own Office we are doing all the time what you are urging us to do. Day by day we watch these figures. Any large surplus immediately receives our attention. But the arguments we use there are not the arguments we use when we are attacked for allowing too many goods to go to neutrals. The arguments, at any rate, that I have to use in the War Trade Department are generally arguments to some British trader who complains that his trade is being ruined by our severity, or to some friendly neutral who complains of the harshness of our treatment. I agree that within limits we ought to be as careful as we can be of the feelings of neutrals. We have altered our policy in regard to wool a good 140 deal at times, owing to the view taken by the War Office of military requirements, and I am told that a good many people in the United States are apt to say very unkind things about us, and to allege that we are keeping back wool because we want to take away a trade which they might just as well have. All that is nonsense. Within the limits of what we can do we do try to be as kind as possible to neutrals, except when there is a danger of goods going through to the enemy. I can honestly assure your Lordships that in the course of our watching the statistics of these commodities we have met with practically no surprises of any kind. Although we are constantly learning more, I do not remember a single case in which a trader or a man of science has brought to our notice any facts about the course of trade of a suspicious character of which we were unaware. Lord Sydenham mentioned last night the case of soap going from Holland, loaded, I forget whether with oil or with glycerine.
§ LORD EMMOTT
There were two stories —one glycerine and one oil. Those stories came to us long before they were spoken of in the newspapers, and every case of that kind we had investigated as quickly as possible. One of these soap stories was rather interesting to me. Somebody came from Holland with samples of the soap, and the first thing we did, of course, was to have it analysed. The soap proved utterly harmless, and did not contain the ingredients it was supposed to contain. I mention that to show that we do follow these cases up as soon as possible, and where there is abuse we take steps to have the matter dealt with immediately. Therefore we often find ourselves accused of feeding the enemy when the matter complained of has been already dealt with—that was the case with regard to cocoa, for instance—or when we have been cudgelling our brains to find the best remedy we can; and I confidently appeal to your Lordships, who have had greater experience of affairs than some of the hot-headed outside critics, to make allowance for our difficulties and look at the matter fairly. After all, the character of the British nation for fairness is an asset worth keeping. We do not intend to imitate the brutal behaviour of Germany, still less the horrible murders of which they have been guilty. It is our duty and our interest not to antagonise 141 neutrals unnecessarily, and there was no part of the speech of my noble friend Lord Lansdowne last night—a most able and convincing speech, if I may venture to say so—which pleased me more than that in which he spoke so firmly as regards our attitude to friendly neutrals.
I am not going to discuss principles today. As far as my Departmental work is concerned, policy is decided for me and I do my best to carry it out. But I do think there is good reason for supposing that we are obtaining a much greater measure of success than our critics imagine, and to this question I now turn. Long ago we had figures made out of normal consumption by the countries in which we are specially interested. Those figures were based upon the returns of foreign trade of the countries themselves for the years 1911–13, It is quite clear that figures like that are not an absolute guide; they cannot be treated as more than a rough approximation, and in the course of the experience that we have gained we have found a good many cases in which they wanted correction. A right hon. friend of mine in the House of Commons, who has taken a keen interest in the question of copper from the very beginning of the war, told me recently that he found that the imports into Norway and Sweden were understated in the figures on which we have been working—the normal imports. I have found the same in regard to other commodities. Therefore these figures of normals which we use have to be treated with a certain amount of latitude if we have reason to suppose they do not represent the facts of the case. Such cases do arise owing to differences of foreign classification. Again, we are sending now a great quantity of raw material abroad for a further process of manufacture and then to be returned to us. That applies to crude glycerine, to spelter, to whale oil, and to quite a large number of other commodities—to the cocoa we are sending to Holland, for instance, and some oils and fats we are sending to that country for the margarine that is returned to us. Another upsetting factor that comes in is the amount of food we have been sending to Holland for the use of the Belgian Relief Commission. And with regard to the import into Holland of 8,000 tons of meat in the month of November to which my noble friend Lord Sydenham referred, I may tell him that 7,000 tons of that was for the Belgian Relief 142 Commission, and that the quantities sent since that time into Holland, as the noble Marquess said last night, are very trifling.
Then, again, the period of 1911–13, for which our normal figures are taken, was a period of rising trade. In the ordinary course of things the trade would be bigger to-day than it was in the average year 1912. Take one thing. Our consumption of margarine has risen at least 50 per cent. in the last two or three years. The same factor has occurred in Norway and in Denmark, and something similar at any rate in Holland. Again, to take another point. The first result of the war, instead of being an impetus to trade, brought about a great stoppage in trade. There was a great financial collapse, and the imports and exports of all countries became very much less immediately. The result was that in regard to some of these countries adjacent to Germany, some of the countries in Scandinavia and also Holland, there was a very much less import in August to December, 1914, than the normal. For instance, I take wheat. In 1913 92,000 tons of wheat went into Sweden in the months of August to December; in 1914, only 29,000 tons. Of rye 53,000 tons went in in 1913, and only 8,000 in 1914. Therefore in 1915 there was a certain shortage for which these countries have a right to claim that some allowance should be made. There is another factor that up to the present time has not been mentioned in public, although it is quite well known. There was a deficiency in the Swedish harvest in 1914, and apparently from figures I have recently seen there is a considerable deficiency in the Norwegian harvest for 1915. All I say is that these factors must be allowed for, and it is difficult to allow for all these factors if one is going to publish figures. I mention that as one of the difficulties in the question. If these figures are going to be published and used, they must be used with a certain amount of discretion.
There is in regard to this matter one other consideration of very great importance. In some of these groups the commodities are practically interchangeable. I mean that for wheat rye can be used to some extent, and also rye is used, for instance, both for purposes of fodder for cattle and for the food of man. Therefore in order to obtain a really correct view of these 143 statistics it is essential to take a group in some cases, and I believe it is much the fairest way to take, as the noble Marquess did last night, the group of wheat and grain and fodder, including oilcake, all together; and if one does that one finds that the surplus imported into the four countries of Scandinavia and Holland in 1915 was only 40,000 tons, which is less than one per cent. of their normal and only about half of one per cent. of the normal import of Germany before the war. There is not much to feel great anxiety about in those figures.
The question of meat is a more difficult one. The real point about meat is not the amount that Germany ordinarily imports. That is a very small figure. It is only 56,000 tons. The real point about meat is that all these countries surrounding Germany supply Germany with the meat they themselves produce, and that is a very difficult thing to stop; in fact, I do not think it can be stopped. That is the real trouble about meat rather than the amount of imports. At any rate I am glad to say, whilst I cannot give any further particulars, that arrangements have already been made of a satisfactory nature with some countries and other arrangements are in progress which will make the meat position a much less anxious one. As to lard—and lard is infinitely more important than meat—the normal imports into Germany are nearly twice those of meat. Earlier in the year far too much went to Denmark, but that position has been greatly improved.
With regard to metals, which are enormously important in this matter, the dangerous metals have for the most part been carefully restricted from the beginning of the war. I think I am correct in saying that in regard to copper nothing over the normal has been sent into all the countries taken together, although into Norway and Sweden something over the normal has gone owing to, their large demands for electrical purposes. By the by, anybody who has read the report of last night's debate in this House will have seen that the figures quoted in The Times professedly in regard to copper were really in regard to cotton, as the noble Marquess quite clearly stated. Any leakage there is in regard to these dangerous metals is, of course, in regard to copper and aluminium, which 144 are raised in the countries themselves. There is no sign of any leakage with regard to imported copper, aluminium, or lead, and with regard to aluminium, tin, and lead the quantities that have gone into the countries are below the normal in the last quarter. The case of iron ore is a difficult one. It is not my affair to reply to it, but I should like to ask one or two questions. I want to know of whom the complaint is made in regard to iron ore. Is it that the Foreign Office stops the Admiralty from holding up the iron ore?
§ LORD EMMOTT
It must be either against the Foreign Office for holding the hands of the Admiralty, or against the Admiralty for not holding it up. I have no reason to suppose that the Foreign Office is holding the hands of the Admiralty in the smallest degree in regard to this particular matter. Therefore it must be—I do not know; I am only arguing from the plain facts of the case—it must be that the Admiralty do not think it is worth while to run the risk of intercepting it. That is a matter which I might recommend my noble friend to speak to the Admiralty about. As to mineral oils, any surplus there has been is absolutely infinitesimal—half of one per cent. No attack has been made with regard to rubber; therefore no defence is required in that respect. With regard to wool, hemp, and jute, there was no surplus during the last part of 1915. As to cotton, everybody knows that far too much went in earlier in the year. I remember speaking in the month of July about that matter in your Lordships' House, when I tentatively put forward the view that the large imports had already stopped. That view has since been amply confirmed, and since April no surplus of cotton that need cause anybody any anxiety has gone into these four countries. With regard to rice much less than the normal has gone, taking the four countries together. Hides and skins—I am afraid this sounds somewhat like a catalogue, but I have very nearly done—hides and skins are again a most important commodity. There is this question always to be faced. These countries are large producers of hides and skins, and some of them are on the balance exporters of these articles. But I am told by those who understand the 145 trade that their cattle produce light hides and skins, and they have to import heavy hides and skins for a good deal of their own work. However, I do not think there is any need to be alarmed about the position of hides and skins; in the last quarter of 1915 the amount sent into these four countries was considerably less than the proportion for the whole year.
Now I come to oils and fats and oleaginous seeds, and those are a group that must be taken together. You can make glycerine from any of those oils although it varies a little in the amount, and from animal fat as well for that matter. And these seeds vary greatly, of course, in their oil-bearing capacity. For instance, copra gives 60 per cent., whereas soya beans give only 10 per cent. Therefore it makes a great difference what the actual import is, and we estimate them according to their oil-bearing capacity which is the best way to take them. It is a long story, but far too much went in earlier in the year; and I must honestly say that His Majesty's Government was mistaken in waiting so long before linseed oil was prohibited. I say so quite frankly, because at that time I was a member of His Majesty's Government and so I am blaming myself as much as my former colleagues. But since that time the whole position has been altered, and for the last quarter of 1915 the amount that went into these four countries above the normal—the normal being, as I say, the average for the years 1911–13—was an amount not sufficient, if the whole of it had gone on to Germany (and I am quite sure it did not), to give them one week of their ordinary import.
But there is satisfactory proof of what really is the state of things from other sources. I have here a table selected from the Dutch official returns which shows in regard to oils and seeds the amount exported from Holland into Germany in the three months of June, November, and December. In June the amount was very heavy indeed, because we had already arranged for a stoppage of these exports from Holland and everybody was hurrying up to get as much as they could at the last moment. Of linseed oil, in June 18,964 tons went into Germany from Holland; in November none went, and in December none went. Take copra—12,022 tons went in in June, and none in November and December. Then I take one other item, tallow and stearin; 2,435 tons went in in 146 June, 351 tons in November, and 242 tons in December. Tallow and stearin, of course, they can make from the produce of their own cattle. Taking the figures dealing with oil and oil substances altogether and turning them into oil values, the facts are these. In June about 40,000 tons went in; in November and December, the two months taken together, 925 tons, of which I should think much more than half was the home produce of Holland and not imported goods at all. Those are published facts in the Dutch returns, which I think are quite honest returns.
Here is an extract from the Soapniakers' Journal in Germany dealing with the prices of oils and fats in that country. It says—Whereas at the end of December, 1914, the prices of the most important articles ranged round about 100 marks per 100 kilos—One hundred marks per 100 kilos at par would be £50 a ton—(oils and fats for soft soaps costing under, those for hard soaps over 100 marks) the present prices move on the undreamt-of level of 350–450 marks. Naturally these prices did not reach such a height at one bound; they are the product of successive increases with a leading tendency upwards, though once, in April, linseed oil and its substitutes registered a strong downward curve.And here follows one sentence to which I beg the attention of the noble Earl opposite—A very powerful factor in the upward movement of prices were the Oversea Trusts forced by England on the neutrals.I do not know whether I must say a word about cocoa. The cocoa position is very much better, but it is not normal yet. It is no use hiding obvious facts. But what does amuse me is that in regard to this particular commodity my Department is attacked. In connection with nearly every other commodity, it is the Contraband Committee and the Foreign Office; but in regard to this particular commodity my Department is attacked for the amount that we have allowed to go. To some extent I do not wonder at it, because the amount shown by our own Customs returns as having been exported to these countries adjacent to Germany in the autumn of last year was very large. Cocoa was prohibited, I think, about July 31. I knew exactly how many licences had been given since that time, and they did not correspond with the Customs figures. Therefore I had the matter examined, and I found that the Customs figures are often so belated that 147 the figures for October contain consignments that left this country in June, July, and August, and even previous months. For, I think it was, five months I obtained the figures for Sweden, and there was shown in the Customs returns an export from this country of over 2,000 tons. The amount we had actually licensed in that period and the only amount that could have gone from this country was 80 tons. Therefore, I do not wonder that there has been a good deal of misunderstanding about this matter.
But there has been an increase due to two things. One is the change in the entrepot trade owing to the closure of Hamburg, and the other is that we are sending manufacturers in Holland a large amount of cocoa under a binding agreement that they shall return it to us, and I need hardly say that they are carrying out their word. With regard to cocoa, the real difficulty is not what we send; we can regulate that. The difficulty has been in the past what goes direct from other countries. Of course, there are two sides to many of these questions. Cocoa is a very valuable food, and on the general policy of His Majesty's Government to stop food cocoa should be stopped. At the same time I have been told of a circular which was issued by a very important Chamber of Commerce in Germany to the cocoa trade begging them not to import cocoa into Germany because it was a very dear sort of foodstuff and used up sugar, which was much better kept for jam. There are other commodities some of which are not prohibited at all which are going in large quantities to these countries. Coffee was restricted later than cocoa, and large quantities are still going direct from overseas and a certain quantity from this country. But the only important increase in the last quarter of commodities going to these countries was in tea and fruit. Some of that tea certainly goes on to Russia, how much I am not sure; but neither tea nor fruit nor tobacco, of which a good deal has gone, is prohibited in this country. I have no doubt fruit must be prohibited now, and I do not know whether some of the other commodities may have to be.
I beg your Lordships to note this point. I have listened carefully to the complaints that have been made, and I think the only specific complaints —except as regards matters which are questions of past history —the only specific complaints of recent months are in regard to cocoa and meat, as to which I have spoken. Those commo- 148 dities are important, I admit, but the matter is a small one compared to the whole range of trade with which I have dealt. And in regard to the situation as a whole I must say that it is my deliberate opinion, after carefully studying this question, that no serious leakage of articles of real military value over which we have any control is reaching these countries adjacent to Germany at the present time.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
My Lords, I should like to ask one or two questions of the Government before the noble Marquess replies. And may I say, first, that the speech to which we have just listened, full as it was of detailed information on some of these matters which have been exercising the minds of the public, constitutes a considerable justification for such debates as this. The noble Lord has shown the immense complexity of the subject, and the large number of pitfalls into which even the most intelligent lookers-on and critics may easily fall. There is a change which I note in this debate from previous debates. I think the critics and speakers were rather charged on a previous occasion with being buccaneers, with plunging rather too violently into the subject. This time we have been treated differently by the Government; we have been treated as if we were a set of peaceful traders. The difference is due probably to the entrance into our debates of the noble and gallant Admiral on my left, who certainly does not look like a buccaneer and I do not think would be accused of being one.
May I congratulate the Government on one thing, and that is with regard to the Committee dealing with this matter. It has been amply established, I think, that some such Committee is essential in order to deal with the large quantity of goods and ships that are stopped before they are allowed to go on to neutral countries. It is absolutely necessary that you should have such a Committee provided with information not only as to origin but as to destination, as to the character and nature of the consignees, and so on, in order that they may be able to judge in these very difficult circumstances as to whether the goods should be allowed to proceed or not. I would like also to congratulate the Government on the fact that they have at last appointed a Minister to control and co-ordinate the Committees which have been dealing with the blockade, 149 because I think it is quite clear that there has been in the past a good deal of difficulty and disturbance caused to neutrals—a point we should all avoid—simply because there have been so many changes in the directions given to the Committees and not sufficient combination among the Committees themselves; and these different orders do not seem to have come front one Public Department but from many. I hope all that lack of co-ordination will be swept aside by the new changes, and as a consequence the position of neutrals made as easy as possible.
There is another point in which this debate has been of value. We have had very clear declarations on important points from the noble Marquess (Lord Lansdowne) and also from the Lord Chancellor. If I Wray say so, I regret there was not a larger attendance here yesterday evening when the Lord Chancellor made his speech upon these questions of International Law. We have now, absolutely established by a Government statement, the application of the doctrine of continuous voyage to sea transport and to land transport as well. As the Lord Chancellor stated, that is a further application of the principle, so that we might more fairly, I think, apply the term "continuous transport" for "continuous voyage" to those doctrines. A further point stated by the noble Marquess was also a very valuable one. He indicated that the Government were perfectly ready to add any necessary subjects to the list of contraband. The list of contraband has been from time to time largely increased during the course of the war, and though, as was stated by the Lord Chancellor, even in the case of contraband you have to prove destination, yet as the penalty for contraband when the destination is proved is very much more severe this acts as a greater deterrent than otherwise to the course of trade.
I must apologise for making another reference to the Declaration of London, but my noble and gallant friend raised that point and did not receive an answer. We were told by members of the Government in this House that the Declaration of London was no longer valid, but the representative of the Foreign Office in another place stated, in reply to a question as to whether belligerents could transfer merchantmen to neutrals, that this could not be done because it was contrary to 150 the Declaration of London. It may be, of course, that that particular Article was dealt with only as expressing the previously existing law, but I think it is rather unfortunate, if the Declaration of London as a Declaration is dead, that it should be referred to and quoted as settling the law on some of these subjects.
I do not think that the question has been strongly pressed in the course of this debate as to whether there should be an alteration of Government policy as regards withdrawing—shall I call it?—the reprisal Order in Council of March and substituting for it what is known as a definite blockade. I think the main argument for it was that there was a good deal of feeling in favour of the establishment of a regular blockade in the United States, the greatest neutral with which we have to do. But one, of course, recognises the great difficulties at this time of making such a change as that. I understand that in the first case the blockade was not instituted because of the "juridical niceties" in which we should be involved. I think it is a choice of evils, because your Lordships will, I think, agree that we have fallen into another set of "juridical niceties" owing to the complexities of this Order in Council of March 11. Whether you act under an Order in Council or under what is called a blockade, or whether you call Orders in Council a blockade, as has been sometimes done by the Government, you have, of course, the same difficulty, that of sifting the trade which is going to the neutral from that which is going through to the enemy. And if I may quote a passage from the speech of Lord Robert Cecil in the other House, I think he puts extremely well the difficulty with which we are met. He said—These various fibres of trade are intertwined, and how enormously difficult it is when you have to define and absolutely separate one from the other and to make perfectly certain that you are really cutting away all the trade you want to cut away, and that you should not mistake for neutral trade something which is enemy trade all the time.I cannot help thinking that if those difficulties had been a little more present to the mind of the Government in March when this system was established we should not have had these rather too emphatic statements made by the Prime Minister on behalf of the Government that all trade going into or coming out of Germany was to be stopped.
151 Then I want to deal for a moment with how this can be done, or what standard is to be taken for comparing the trade that ought to go to the neutrals with the trade that went on a previous occasion. We have bad a great deal of criticism from the Government on that point. Different newspapers have produced figures, and those figures have been submitted, very properly, to a searching examination and criticism by the Government; in fact, they have proved that everyone else's figures are wrong. But I do not think they have produced the figures or the standard to which they want to attain. They have deprecated comparison between existing figures or figures for the last year and figures before the war, and it is a little difficult for us to understand what standard the Government think ought to be applied. The noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, when dealing with this subject said that there were many differences as regards the figures which had to be taken into account. He said that new trade had sprung up, that owing to Hamburg being closed Rotterdam had become a place of entrepôt, and therefore it was very difficult to get a standard of comparison. Is it not possible for the Government to state what the proper and correct standard ought to be, in order that we may be able to know whether these neutrals are exceeding the amounts they ought to receive or whether they are not?
I should like to know what is the position of the "rationing" policy at the present time, whether it has been adopted or whether it has not. In the White Paper to which my noble friend Lord Dunraven alluded it does not say that this policy has been adopted, but the rather curious phrase is used that this policy has been advocated. If a definite policy could be laid down—given all these difficulties and differences that ought to be allowed for—for measuring the amount of goods that ought fairly to go into these neutral countries, the Prize Court would have something to go upon, and when a case went into the Prize Court you were enabled to say that the neutral country to which the goods are supposed to be going has had for the year its admitted ration, then surely it is not too much to ask that the onus should be thrown upon the defendant to show that the goods were really intended for the neutral country and not intended to go through to an enemy destination. 152 I quite understand the enormous difficulty that has arisen in the Prize Court of proving enemy destination where it is so easy with modern manipulations to conceal the true consignee or true destination, and no doubt very great care has been taken in bringing before the Prize Courts cases where there is reasonable proof. I think, if I may say so, that the Lord Chancellor almost proved too much in his statement. The charge has been—I do not associate myself with it for a moment—that goods were not brought before the Prize Court which ought to have been brought before it, where there was some sort of presumption or some evidence that they were going through to the enemy. The Lord Chancellor stated that in almost every case where goods had been brought before the Prize Court they had been condemned. If doubtful cases had been brought before the Prize Court you could not have such a record, and such a result might suggest that cases where there was a certain amount of suspicion had not been brought before the Prize Court.
I do not want to say much about the Agreements, because I understand that my noble friend on my right (Lord Faringdon) is going to deal with that matter fully. But if a system of absolute rationing were established there would be far less demand for Agreements; they would only come in then in order to ensure that the ration when it went into the neutral country was not sent on, through the lure of high prices, into the enemy country. It was stated—and the point has not been met by the noble Lord opposite—that it was all very well to set up Agreements with these merchants in the neutral countries that when goods were consigned to them we should assume that they would not go on to the enemy country, but there had been evidence that a great many goods had been consigned to other bodies of merchants. If that is so, the Agreement for the purpose of checking the passing through of goods into the enemy country very largelyf fails. May I ask this. What is the claim, what is the fair claim, that neutrals may ask of us? The noble Marquess put the matter very forcibly when he said that we must fry and place ourselves in the position of neutrals and must ask them to put themselves in our position. He did not, however, tell us what standard he thought was the right standard for the neutrals to adopt. 153 But when he was comparing the figures of goods that had gone into the neutral countries with what went in two years ago, say, he appeared to assume that the neutrals might do as much trade as they had done in previous years. I am not very clear upon that point, because he suggested in another portion of his speech that as the entrepôt business of Hamburg had passed to Copenhagen and Rotterdam those neutrals might do more business than before the war.
I think we have a very good record in this respect. In the American Civil War we did not claim to be put in as good a position as we were in before the war. On the contrary, we suffered very heavily as neutrals during that war, and we did not complain. So that if you are to say that neutrals should be put in the same position as regards trade as they were in before the war you are really putting them—and I do not combat it—in a better position than we placed ourselves when we were neutrals. But I think it is too much to ask that neutrals should be put in a far better position as regards trade than they were in before the war. I should like to ask this question also. One must agree with a great deal that has been said about not making neutrals hostile to us, but surely it is not very good policy to make it advantageous to neutrals that the war should continue as long as possible. Yet that would be the result of allowing them to trade more than they did before the war. We know that most of the neutrals want us to win. Therefore I do not think we should diminish their desire that we should win by placing them in too good a position.
I think the general upshot of the discussion is this, that though the figures are happily progressively improving, as stated by the noble Marquess, yet at the same time the Government spokesmen themselves cannot pretend that a great deal of trade is not still going through into Germany which ought not to go through. I think the inference to be drawn is that we must not raise our hopes too high on the present blockade. The public hopes have been raised very high, and I think exaggeratedly, as regards the starving of Germany. That, of course, is an absolute impossibility. The amount of food produced in that country is so great that it only means that the Germans have to do with, say, four-fifths of the food they had before in order to be able to last 154 out the war. I have been to a University in Germany—Gottingen and not Bonn, if I may say so—and I have been there a good deal since, and I have never yet met a German man or woman who did not overeat, and I cannot help thinking that if they are restricted to four-fifths of their ration they will be very much improved in health instead of injured. Therefore I am afraid we have to admit that the Prime Minister's claim was too high, and that we cannot, anyhow under present circumstances owing to physical difficulties perhaps, do as much damage to Germany in this respect as we should have liked. The inference one must draw from this is that we cannot rely so much on our blockade but that we have to rely on military operations and the defeat of the Germans on land.
§ LORD FARINGDON
My Lords, I did not propose to intervene in this debate but for the fact that I have somewhat recently visited Scandinavia and Holland and have had the opportunity of looking carefully and dispassionately into some of the points brought forward by the noble Lords who have preceded me. In considering the matter raised by the Resolution now under discussion it should be remembered that it was not until March last that the Order in Council established a blockade. Until then a very large quantity of various articles had been freely admitted into Norway, Denmark, and Holland, and thence passed no doubt to Germany through various intermediaries. Some of those intermediaries were natives of the neutral countries, but a very large number were Germans who for the time being had taken up their residence in those countries. Anybody visiting Copenhagen will find a large number of Germans there carrying on a most active trade, men of very keen business experience who have devised many schemes for getting things across the frontier. When those schemes have eventually been bowled over these Germans have been quick to adopt other methods, and it will be at all times difficult to circumvent all their capable schemes. When the tightening-up process proceeded after March last it was some little time before the full effect was felt. An examination of the returns proves, as the noble Marquess said yesterday, that it was not until the later months of 1915 that the full effect of our control of the seas began to be felt.
155 I am convinced that at the present time little contraband is passing, and that neutral countries are doing their best to observe their obligations. In this connection I would draw particular attention to what Denmark is doing to-day. Denmark could sell her agricultural products, or many of them, at much higher prices than she is doing, were it not for her anxiety to keep up her connection with one of her oldest friends. You will find that last year, notwithstanding the fact that there was a slight reduction in the quantity of butter she sent to this country, that the quantity she sent here came to upwards of £10,000,000 sterling. The whole of that butter could have been sold in Germany at a much higher price than it fetched here, and this is an evidence of Denmark's desire not only to remain upon good terms with us, but to keep up that business connection which has been in existence for so many years and which she feels, should it be severed, might and probably would be difficult to regain. I only mention that as an instance of the loyalty which these neutral countries are, many of them, displaying towards Great Britain. But though I am convinced that little contraband is passing and that these neutral countries are doing their best to observe their obligations, make what regulations you please—and your control of the sea may be ever so perfect—you will not altogether prevent smuggling taking place. The difference in prices one side and the other of frontiers not always easily protected will render possible some illegitimate trade. On one side of what I may call an imaginary line an article is selling to-day at 40 or 50 ore and on the other the same thing is producing two kroner. It follows that where these enormous profits are to be realised you will never prevent a certain amount of contraband trading going on.
When attention is drawn to the larger quantities of various articles that pass to Copenhagen and some other Scandinavian ports, it should be borne in mind that in the past Scandinavia was very largely supplied with a considerable number of necessities of life through Germany. Anybody who knows anything about the North German Lloyd Line or the Hamburg-Amerika Line knows how keenly they went into every market of the world to collect as large a quantity of articles of every description. All these were brought to 156 Hamburg and Bremen, and from those ports were distributed to Scandinavia and to other countries. During the debate reference has been made several times to the fact that at the present time a larger amount of certain things is going to Copenhagen, to Christiania, and to Stockholm. To some extent these larger quantities that are going to those centres are to take the place of things that were formerly received through Hamburg and Bremen. Therefore if the figures show that the quantities have increased to the three places that I have named it is not unnatural, because they are getting things direct instead of through the German channels of the past.
The noble Viscount beside me (Lord Peel) referred to the fact that I would probably deal with the "rationing" agreements that have been made with various countries. Well, I can say, having spent some little time looking into these arrangements, that so far as Holland is concerned the Netherlands Oversea Trust is a very remarkable monument of organising power. It was only in last July, I think, that the Agreement was settled in the form in which it is now being carried out. The premises in which the Netherlands Oversea Trust was then carrying on its operations were small and the number of employees insignificant. When I was there last month I found six different establishments, between 600 and 700 clerks, and a card system of a more perfect character than I think I have ever seen before, although the card system is one with which I am familiar; and altogether the arrangements were such as did thorough credit to the men at the head of the organisation. I am certain that those men are the very highest class—honourable men, anxious to carry out the Agreement, and the arrangement that has been made is undoubtedly greatly to the interest of this country. You have rationed these countries, and by rationing you have done this. You have said, "Whatever you were found to consume in the average of the years 1911–1913, that amount we are going to allow to pass to you." In the case of Holland everything, or practically everything, is consigned to the Netherlands Oversea Trust, and nothing can go into any port of Holland without the permission of that Trust. This administration is in honest hands, and the ability that is displayed struck me as quite remarkable. Certain members of ate Trust devote the 157 whole of their time to its affairs, and although, like every other organisation, it may now and again break down, so far as I can learn the number of cases in which there has been anything in the nature of a breakdown is very limited, and prompt steps have always been taken to rectify matters and to prevent a recurrence of anything of the kind.
In Denmark an arrangement of a somewhat similar character to that in operation in Holland has been made with the Merchants' Guild of Copenhagen and with the Manufacturers' Association of Denmark. These are younger creations, but they are working upon sound lines guided by all the experience that has been gained in connection with the Netherlands Oversea Trust, and they promise to give satisfactory results. The great difficulty there, again, has been to fix quantities, and discussion in connection with the fixing of those quantities has taken up a considerable amount of time, but I believe satisfactory figures have now been agreed. The two Danish organisations, which, as in the case of Holland, are under thoroughly responsible and honest men, are at work; and I notice already that in two or three cases merchants who have given guarantees that goods passing from the control of the trust to the individual should not be sent abroad and who have violated that undertaking have had imposed upon them a fine which amounts to twice the value of the goods in the highest European market. That is a very substantial fine, and I understand it is fixed at this figure in all cases, so that the chances of making any profit on the transaction seem extremely remote.
There is another matter that I think we must not forget in connection with the arrangements that have been made. The Governments of some of the neutral countries have been very willing to make arrangements that are tending to our advantage. I take the case of the Dutch Government. I believe that now everything is on the prohibited export list. When I was there there were two or three articles that we had been pressing for—the Government had been pressing for—and I am glad to see that since then those articles have been placed on the list. With the exception of one small item—waste copper, and that is under the control of the Dutch Government—everything is now on the prohibited list. Therefore the 158 chances of any oil or oil products passing to the enemy are not only remote but practically impossible, except in the way of contraband. There is one exception, perhaps, that I should make in that connection. Of course, your Lordships understand that articles of home production, articles produced in Holland,. are dealt with as freely as Holland desires, and therefore do pass into Germany. But the exception I was going to make was this, that in the case of Dutch colonial products, the products of Java, they pass into Holland or into other countries without cooling under the control of the Netherlands Oversea Trust, so far as coffee, cinchona, and tobacco are concerned. All other Dutch colonial products are consigned to the Netherlands Oversea Trust. As I say, there is no fear that oil or fats will cross the Dutch frontier. Similarly the Danish Government have forbidden the export of a very large number of articles, and that list is being constantly added to.
I think that all these facts are evidence of co-operation between the naval authorities and the Foreign Office. There is a disposition to think that there have been divergent views, and that this divergence has led to a considerable quantity of articles passing to the enemy, articles of the nature of oils and fats, that we desire above all things to keep from them. Having, as I say, spent some little time in examining upon the spot what is being done, I have come to the conclusion that far from there being this divergence of opinion between the Navy and the Foreign Office it is the fact of the two working together that has brought about the comparatively satisfactory state of things that exists to-day. Attention has been drawn through the Press and in your Lordships' House to the fact that a certain amount of iron ore is passing through Rotterdam to Germany, and I notice that some of the papers, with a view of making the quantity appear to the uninitiated to be very large, have quoted it not in tons, but in grammes. It is not the custom when we deal with an article that is worth a very few shillings per ton to reduce it to either lbs. or ounces, and the object with which the quotation has been given in grammes is obvious. The actual tonnage of ore that found its way to Rotterdam through territorial waters in 1915 was 817,348 tons. Nearly the whole of that was Swedish ore; a very small portion of 159 it came from Norway. The importations of iron ore to Rotterdam in 1913 were 8,622,258 tons. So that something less than 10 per cent. of the normal passed last year.
I was going to touch upon a question with which Lord Emmott has already dealt, the question of the import of meat into Holland. Under the arrangement with the Netherlands Oversea Trust, meat is barred altogether; but there were a few small consignments that either were on the high seas or had been arranged for before the signature to the Netherlands Oversea Trust Agreement in July last. With the exception of those small consignments, I think I am right in saying that no meat at all has passed through Dutch ports except such as was sent by the Belgian Relief Fund.
I am far from wishing to convey the impression that no contraband is passing, and that there is no room for improvement. One suggestion has been made in the course of this debate with which I am in entire accord—namely, the desirability of strengthening our Consular representation at strategic points. An enormous amount of additional work has been thrown upon our Legations and Consulates, and it should be possible to render them some assistance. I was surprised to find that at the various Legations that I visited it was not a case of working twelve hours a day, but from a fairly early hour in the morning until midnight. The larger part of the staff in those Legations were at it very hard indeed; very few spare hours did they allow themselves out of eighteen. The views of belligerents and of neutrals upon many points must be divergent, and every day, indeed almost every hour, questions are sure to arise that need very delicate handling. I think His Majesty's Government are to be congratulated upon the way in which they have dealt with many difficulties; and although criticism will, no doubt, do them no harm, I believe they deserve our encouraging support.
§ LORD JOICEY
My Lords, I think that if anything were needed to justify the raising of this question by my noble friend, the speech to which we have just listened from the noble Lord, a new member of this House, would certainly justify it. I hope that the information he has given will find its way throughout the length and breadth of the country, so that those 160 who really have no information on the subject and have been ignorant of the action of these important bodies which control the trade in neutral countries may be made aware of the facts.
I have listened to the debate with great interest, and I agree with the statement which was made by the noble Earl opposite that this Resolution is in no way a vote of censure on the Government. I have read it carefully, and it is more in the nature of suggestion than of censure. I cannot understand why His Majesty's Government, through the noble Marquess (Lord Lansdowne), should state that they consider the Resolution as a vote of censure. The only reason I can give is that Governments are very sensitive to criticism. When you have a Coalition Government I presume Ministers think that there should be no criticism whatever of any action which that Government may take. Personally I do not believe in Coalition Governments. To my mind the action of the Government has not been strengthened by the accession of Unionist members. There is an additional responsibility put upon Unionist members in connection with this Government. Having taken away practically the recognised Opposition and the chance of an alternative Government, I think the duty rests upon them most strongly to put some sort of firmness and backbone into the Government which it previously, in my judgment, sadly lacked.
This Resolution is simply intended to stiffen or to strengthen the action of His Majesty's Government. There is a strong feeling throughout the country, particularly as certain statements have been made in the newspapers which are said to be fact, that His Majesty's Government are not allowing the Navy to take the strong and effective action that it ought to do, and I am bound to say that this anxiety up to the present time seems to me to have been fully justified. The figures which have been put before us have been most interesting. I listened to my noble friend below me (Lord Emmott) with great pleasure, for I know his work on the Committee of which he is chairman and I know no one who is gifted with a more impartial mind, who is more anxious to do what is right and give his very best services. I am satisfied that if he had the power to deal with these matters himself, instead of having to submit them possibly to another 161 Department, things would go on very much better. The Government are to blame to a large extent for the feeling of dissatisfaction which exists in the country with their action. They have not given the information which they ought to have given, and when I listened to Lord Emmott I felt that the whole blame rested upon them for not supplying statistics which were reliable and which would have enabled the country to form a proper judgment upon the matter. The late Government was always very slack and indecisive and did not come up to what I thought was tie form of a War Government, and I am afraid that was the general opinion throughout the country. It was a very natural inference to draw from the figures which appeared in the Press, that the Government were not really doing their duty so far as the Navy was concerned.
Again, we all knew that the Government had passed the Declaration of London but it was thrown out by the House of Lords. In that Declaration, as those who took part in the discussion know, certain things are laid down which in the judgment of people who are well able to judge are really being carried out at the present time. Therefore there was a strong feeling throughout the country that the Government or the Foreign Office were acting as if the Declaration of London had been passed by Parliament. Surely that was a very important matter. When the Order in Council was passed on March 11, 1915, it was distinctly declared that we should stop all commodities from either reaching or leaving Germany. Naturally the country expected that this could be carried out, but from what has been stated to-night it will be quite realised that it is not possible to prevent all commodities reaching or leaving Germany. I do not believe it is possible. Even the smuggling Which goes on on the frontiers owing to the difference in prices which was mentioned by Lord Faringdon, that must of itself be the means of taking a large quantity of commodities into Germany. The inducement in the way of large profits to men who want to make money is so great that naturally they run risks in order to make those profits.
How has this Order been carried out? As I learned from the admirable speech of the noble Marquess last night, it has been carried out to the best of their ability; it has been carried out so far as the 162 Government believe it possible to do so. But in the opinion of men who are connected with the Navy, like my noble and gallant friend opposite, the Navy might do something more than it is doing even within International Law. I am not a lawyer. I am not a great stickler for International Law. When we are fighting a great war upon the winning of which the whole existence not only of our country but of many others depends—and the freedom of nations is dependent, too—well naturally I should rather strain even International Law a little for the purpose of winning the war. Lawyers will never win the war. We insist depend upon our Fleet and upon our soldiers, as was said by the noble and gallant Admiral. Instead of crippling our Navy the Government ought to give themselves the benefit of the doubt in connection with International Law and insist upon stopping goods either going into or coming out of Germany wherever they can do so. What would be the action of the German Government, supposing they had the power of stopping grain coming into this country by neutral ships? Do you think they would hesitate for a moment to stop those ships or have a care about the starvation of the people of these islands? They would not have the slightest hesitation in stopping all our supplies and starving us if they could do so. The object of their submarine warfare is entirely to effect that, and when we have an enemy doing that we should not hesitate in carrying out the ordinary action of every belligerent in time of war. When the German Army got to Paris in 1870 they did not for a moment hesitate to stop food going in, whatever might be the condition of the poor unfortunate people there. You cannot carry on war without some sort of suffering. Innocents always suffer in time of war—not that I should recommend or approve such inhuman action as is carried on by the German Government in connection with their submarine warfare and their bombing of innocent people. God forbid that this Government should ever follow Germany in her terrible methods of carrying on war. But you must in carrying on a war cause a certain amount of injury and harm to innocent people.
I am afraid the German people are unanimous against this country. I had the misfortune to be detained in Germany for five weeks after war broke out. I 163 never saw such enthusiasm anywhere in connection with a war; every man, woman, and child was in favour of it. They believed they were going to get a great victory within a short time, and that they were going to get a great deal of money from this country in the shape of indemnity. They expected to have such prosperity afterwards as they had never seen in the history of their country, and they were all keenly in favour of this war. But the disappointment in Germany now must be overwhelming, because they realise that they are not going to be successful.
With regard to what was stated by Lord Faringdon as to agents in neutral countries, I know as a fact that in many of these neutral countries there are large numbers of the enemy who have gone there to carry on trade in order to give supplies to their Government and their people. Therefore when we are considering this question we must not think that we are dealing only with neutrals, but that we are dealing with many German citizens who have established themselves in Holland, Denmark, Norway and Sweden so as to give supplies to their own country. We ought to investigate these matters even more thoroughly than has been done. It is the duty of the Government to do it.
The Government in this debate have shown that there are a great many supplies going into the enemy's country which can be stopped, and they ought to set themselves about a more serious consideration of this matter and allow the Navy to adopt means to put a stop to it. Take one fact alone, which shows clearly that there is a great deal of imports going into Germany. Look at the fall in the value of the mark. Why has that fallen? In my judgment it is because the German Government has to pay for its imports of various goods. That is itself a clear fact showing that there is a large importation into Germany, and it is the duty of our Government to take this matter up much more seriously and insist upon action being taken which would prevent anything going to Germany which could properly be stopped. Figures are not a complete answer to this question. I hope that His Majesty's Government will look upon this discussion as in the nature of an attempt to stimulate them rather than as a vote of censure. We are all anxious to see this war brought to a satisfactory conclusion. How long it will go on, no one can state; 164 but that a stoppage of the supplies that we can stop going to Germany would shorten it I have not the least doubt; and it is the duty of His Majesty's Government to use every effort in order to bring this about. I hope that this Resolution will have the effect of stimulating this important and very large Cabinet, which has now assumed the position of a War Cabinet, to do even more than it is doing, because without some greater effort I am sure the country will not be satisfied.
§ LORD GRIMTHORPE
My Lords, I will not stand between the House and the noble Marquess (Lord Crewe) for more than a few minutes. I think that this most useful debate has revealed how much we owe to my noble friend Lord Sydenham. It has certainly enlightened the country, an enlightenment of which the country stood sorely in need, and it has shown an entire agreement on two points between the Government and their critics. Those two points are that there is considerable leakage into Germany, and that the duration of the war to a great extent depends on the stringency of the blockade. I think the Government and their critics are agreed also that it would be most desirable to stop the leakage and increase the stringency if it were possible to do so, but where the critics and the Government differ is as to the possibility of doing this. The critics asked, Why is not more done than has been done? I think most of them are convinced, after having heard the speech of the noble Marquess yesterday and of the noble Lord (Lord Emmott) to-day that much more has been done than the country had any idea of. I think those two speeches will be read with great satisfaction and a great sense of relief in the country at large. The critics have been rather hard on the Government on this point and attacked them very vigorously, but I think they have admitted on reflection that the Government, after all, are every bit as anxious to win the war as is the most bitter critic among them, and are not likely to neglect any means to achieve that end if they think it is in their power to adopt them without antagonising the neutrals.
The whole crux of the matter in regard to this question seems to lie in the attitude of the Government towards the neutrals. Many of the critics have contended that the Government have not done what they 165 ought to have done because, according to them, they are flabby and nerveless and weak and inept for war, that their minds are trained in the arts of peace and not in the arts of war; and they also contend that, however able the Cabinet may be individually, its large size makes it impossible that it should display the qualities of union, aim of purpose, rapidity of decision, strength of prevision, and strength of purpose that are necessary to win the war. I do not propose to discuss that point. Every one will have his own opinion on that matter. But with regard to the attitude of the neutrals I think the Government are too much dominated by the legal mind. They have the provisions of International Law ever before them, and the niceties and technicalities of law have often confused them in their action. They must remember that the country does not care very much about the niceties of law. It does not care very much whether the action is strictly legal or not, but whether it is effective for the object for which it is undertaken.
The people of this country will not be satisfied that the Government are blockading Germany to the extent we ought to do, as long as they believe and as long as it is admitted that large quantities of goods are going into Germany which might be kept out. They see plainly that, though it is quite impossible to starve out Germany—as I think everybody must agree—yet by a very stringent blockade it might be possible to reduce her to such a state of indigence and distress that she would be compelled to sue for peace at an earlier date than she otherwise would. In his most admirable speech yesterday the noble Marquess said he quite recognised that, and he even went so far as to say that if any of the critics would indicate to the Government means by which the blockade could be screwed up to the utmost—without antagonising neutrals; that was at the back of his mind—the Government would be ready to consider all such suggestions. I think it is a mistake on the part of the Government to be too tender towards neutrals. After all, the belligerents have their rights as well as neutrals. We have to search out and destroy the enemy wherever we can, of course as far as possible in accordance with International Law. But we are fighting an enemy who has torn International Law to pieces, and his action may compel us to do things we should not 166 do otherwise; because, after all, we have to win this war. That is the main point; and, as Lord Joicey said, there is no question about it that were we in the position of Germany and Germany in our position she would do much more to bring economic pressure upon us than we have done to bring it upon her. Therefore I think it is quite understood that it is possible to do more than we have done.
And we have to consider not only the attitude of neutrals but the attitude of our Allies. I was in Paris only last week, and I saw several influential people there. They are one and all under the impression that England is too lenient in this matter of the blockade, that she allows Germany to have things that might well be kept out without inflicting undue hardship on neutrals. In fact, one French critic went so far as to say, regarding on the one side the heroism and magnificent fighting qualities of our soldiers and sailors and on the other what he called our weakness, procrastination, and irresolution on other points, that England had muscles of iron but brains of wool. Very few will agree with that, but I mention it to show the impression which the leniency of the Government makes upon our Allies. After all, why should we be so lenient to these neutrals? We are fighting not only our battles but their battles, and they know it. We are fighting for their independence. Supposing Germany won this war, they would be drawn into her orbit; they would become satellites of that great Central Power; they would be forced to form part of it whether they liked it or not. What are they doing on their side? In a great many cases they are enriching themselves at our expense. It is not only the people whom the noble Marquess referred to yesterday as unscrupulous who are enriching themselves in neutral countries. Riches are flowing in upon them in the legitimate way of business. So far from most of the neutral countries having suffered on account of this war, I believe they have thriven. They are becoming accustomed to look upon this as a time when they can make great profits, and, like all pampered people, they cry out if they see any prospect of their profits being limited.
Nobody wishes to force neutral countries into war against us. But there is no chance of that, I think. Whatever action we took, they certainly would not adopt a hostile attitude to us. The analogy of 167 history bears out this view. If you study the history of the Napoleonic Wars you will see that it was the pressure of our blockade that was the means of withdrawing many countries from association with Napoleon and France; it was because they suffered so severely under our blockade that they broke away from France, that the coalition against Napoleon was formed which terminated in the battles of Leipsic and Dresden and practically decided the freedom of the Continent and emancipation from his rule. It was our blockade that brought this about perhaps more than any other thing, in the whole course of the war, and it was because the neutrals suffered so much in this matter that they joined the coalition against Napoleon. That was the result of applying severity to neutrals. As the noble Viscount pointed out, if you treat the neutrals with too much forbearance and enable them to make fortunes out of the state of war they will not be disposed to take any steps towards its ending, whereas if you put pressure on them and make them feel the shadow of the war, like other people, it would be all to the good. And there is no reason why we should not. This war has caused so much suffering all over the world that I do not see why these nations, for whom we are fighting and for whose interests we are making great sacrifices, should not he affected.
During this debate we have had an illustration of two types of mind in approaching this war. In the remarks of the noble and gallant Admiral, on whose first speech in this House we all congratulate him sincerely, we had an example of the fighting mind, and we have had in the speeches of Lord Loreburn and the Lord Chancellor admirable expositions of the legal mind. But I think the country will agree that it is not the legal mind but the fighting mind we must follow if we wish to win this war. The Government announce that they have appointed a Minister of Blockade. His name has been published in the newspapers. He is a gentleman of great ability, but he belongs to the legal profession. I think the country would be much more satisfied if they saw the Ministry of Blockade put in the hands of a fighting man like my noble and gallant friend opposite or Lord Fisher, rather than in the hands of a lawyer, who, however eminent he may be, by reason of the habit of the trained legal mind may look at 168 questions from a legal rather than from a fighting point of view. Lord Loreburn said he spoke in the interests of England. We all do. But the interests of England are but two—to win the war, and to win it as quickly as possible.
THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (THE MARQUESS OF CREWE)
My Lords, at this hour I think your Lordships will forgive me if I do not do more than touch on some of the main landmarks in the large field of debate which has been covered on the Motion of my noble friend on the Cross Benches. My noble friend behind me (Lord Lansdowne) stated that in the opinion of His Majesty's Government the terms of the Motion must be regarded as involving a vote of censure on the Government, and in spite of what has fallen from more than one noble Lord on the subject protesting against that construction by my noble friend I am obliged to maintain the same opinion. The Motion points to a distinct dereliction of duty on the part of the Government in utilising the Fleet; and, even if it stood alone, we should not be able to regard it as anything but involving a vote of censure upon us. But it does not stand alone. It is closely connected with a noisy and in some cases very venomous agitation which is being carried on outside. It is closely connected, in fact, with some manifestations of that agitation. There was a meeting in the City of London the other day at which my noble friend behind me (Lord Devonport) was present, and I rather think that my noble and gallant friend opposite wrote a letter which was read at the meeting. That meeting engaged in not merely censure, but downright abuse of the Government in most unsparing terms; and it is impossible altogether to divorce a Motion couched in the moderate terms used by my noble friend (Lord Sydenham) from these manifestations. I trust, therefore, that the noble Lord will think it right not to press his Motion on this occasion, finding that my noble friends and I, and His Majesty's Government, take the view of it which I have just described.
Without, of course, laying claim to complete success in depriving Germany of a number of commodities we may, I think, lay claim to a considerable and growing measure of success in that direction; and we also most definitely make this claim, 169 that the operations of the Fleet have not been hampered or interfered with by His Majesty's Government in carrying out that policy. Something was said in the course of the debate as to the work done by the Fleet in this war—the respective parts played by the Army and by the Fleet. In my view it is hardly possible to overrate or to overstate the value of the services performed by the Fleet during this war, not merely in clearing the ocean, but in the intensely laborious and what must be often exceedingly dreary work of waiting until the time comes, which we all hope will come, when the Fleet in a great action will have the opportunity of showing how it can defeat and crush our enemy.
So far as the imports into Germany are concerned, so much has been said and has been enforced by figures by more than one of my noble friends that I do not desire at this hour to dwell upon that side of the subject. But I might just quote, not figures, but facts from an outside source—a French official source—confirming in general terms what has been said by my noble friends. Taking the two half-years—the first half of 1915 and the second half of 1915—and comparing the two, it is pointed out that in the item of animal fats, taking the excess over the normal amount that went into the three Scandinavian countries and Holland as all going into Germany—which, of course, is an almost more than fair way of calculating from the point of view of the critic—on that basis less than half the amount of animal fats could have gone into Germany in the second half of the year as compared with the first half. Lard, taken separately, about two-fifths; oil seeds, less than a half; vegetable oils, one-third; and cotton, one-eighteenth. That shows that progress is being made in the rigorous application of what in general terms is described as the "blockade." But we do not deny that there is cause for ceaseless and untiring vigilance and for most continuous care and supervision.
I see that my noble and learned friend Lord Loreburn has not been in the House this afternoon, but I desire to animadvert upon one or two points that were raised by him, as he holds a position of great authority in your Lordships' House. It is evident that Lord Loreburn considers that our attempt to blockade is useless and futile. I have no doubt that, were he 170 asked, he would agree that if a blockade could be instituted which would be successful in starving Germany into making an immediate peace it would be the most humane form of pressure that we could put upon that country. But when Lord Loreburn speaks doubtfully of blockade it is impossible not to remember that he was one of the principal protagonists in your Lordships' House of the opinion that immunity ought to be conferred upon private property at sea; and if that had ever been done it is obvious that it would, if not immediately and explicitly, soon and implicitly, put a complete stop to commercial blockade altogether. That being so, it is evident that my noble friend's view cannot be taken as an unbiased one on a matter of this kind. Even supposing it to be impossible to starve Germany entirely, even from that point of view a mere ignoring of what goes into Germany would be a gross mistake. It is quite evident that if certain commodities were allowed to enter Germany freely there would be vastly extended opportunities of smuggling contraband in conjunction with other cargoes. As a matter of fact, although the complete starving out of Germany regarded it as a besieged area may be remote, there is increasing evidence of serious pressure being put not only upon Germany but also upon Austria-Hungary. I do not know whether any of your Lordships saw the accounts that appeared in some foreign papers of riots that took place in Berlin on January 12. They were evidently of a very serious character; they were food riots, and they had to be put down with a very considerable loss of life even speaking in the terms that we do now of loss of life when we are so sadly used to seeing large figures of casualties. As Lord Loreburn is not in the House I pass over on this occasion what I should have alluded to had he been here—namely, the point that he raised about the relief of Poland. He may possibly recur to that question again, and if he does I shall be able to say something on the subject.
I pass to a quite different question raised by the noble Lord behind me (Lord Devonport) and mentioned by some other noble Lords—namely, the question of the import of iron ore to Rotterdam from Sweden, and also, as my noble friend opposite (Lord Faringdon) pointed out, to a small extent from Norway. That iron ore is practically all what is known as 171 magnetic iron ore from Sweden, which in Germany I believe is used not so much for the production of steel as for the making of pig iron and ordinary articles of iron manufacture. There was a contest of opinion between the noble Lord behind me and my noble friend the Duke of Devonshire with regard to some figures which my noble friend gave on a former occasion. I will not pursue that difference of opinion now, because it is not in itself important. The precise amount which has passed into Rotterdam since March 11 is less important than if Lord Devonport was able to substantiate in our opinion all the allegations which he made. I venture to assure the noble Lord that he altogether underrates the naval difficulty of stopping these cargoes on their way. He will understand that I am not going in this House to tell him why, but he should appreciate the fact that merely looking at the map and studying the conformation of the coasts of the three countries is not in itself a complete guide to all the facts of the case. Apart from those physical difficulties, as one may call them, there are some other difficulties connected with the whole question—complications which I am also unable to describe to the House. But since I am certain that my noble friend would desire to have information, I can only say that if he and the noble Lord on the Cross Benches (Lord Sydenham) would do me the honour to come at some time to my office I would place them in possession of such facts as I can properly communicate to those who are not actually concerned with the Government, and communicate, of course, as the noble Lords will understand in confidence. I have been told of a story of a gentleman who not very long ago was intending to make a strong attack on His Majesty's Government on some kindred matter, although not on this matter, and he received from a member of the Government who knew all the facts a similar offer to that which I have just made to my noble friends, but he begged the member of the Government not to give him the information—which was of a confidential character —on the ground that it would spoil the speech he was going to make in attacking His Majesty's Government. I will not accuse my noble friends of any desire of that kind. Therefore I can assure them that my offer remains open if and when they are willing to take advantage of it.
As to the question of the Prize Courts and their practice, in my view the account 172 which my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack gave last night was a complete and final statement of the practice and purpose of the Prize Courts in this country in this war. It was the most complete and certainly not the least authoritative that has been given in the course of this present discussion. I only regret that all the noble Lords who are interested in this subject were not in the House when my noble and learned friend made his speech, because it did not, I am sorry to say, receive due justice in the newspaper reports, being delivered at a somewhat late hour; and it is quite evident from one or two of the speeches made by noble Lords this evening—by the noble Earl, Lord Dunraven, for one—that they had neither heard nor read the speech—
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
Because the noble Earl asked a number of questions which were quite explicitly answered in anticipation by my noble and learned friend last night. There are, however, one or two points connected with this matter on which I should like to say a word. A large number of ships, as it is known, is stopped by the naval patrols and then allowed to proceed; and that is one of the main grounds of complaint, as being supposed apparently to involve some kind of slight on the Navy. But it cannot be, I think, understood by those who make those complaints that in a large number of cases those ships proceed on their way, having given an undertaking to return their cargoes or such parts of their cargoes as we desire to see returned, either for our own use or to be kept here owing to some suspicion connected with them; and that as a matter of fact the goods in practically all cases—I will not say in all cases—are so returned. Then where it is proper and necessary Prize Court proceedings are instituted, so that the complete work of the Navy in respect of those cargoes, and if need be of the ships, is actually carried out, although they have been for a time allowed to proceed on their way. I cannot help thinking that some of the complaints from private sources of which we have all heard —the astonishment, possibly, of a young officer who has helped to bring a ship in and has then seen her proceed—may be due to such cases as those which I have mentioned. I must point out again that 173 if all ships of every kind were brought in and immediately prize-courted, the congestion both of the ports and of the Prize Courts would be such as I think nobody would desire to contemplate. I must also point out again that to prize-court ship after ship and lose your case is in itself a very serious disadvantage. It is a material disadvantage, because it may involve you in very large charges for demurrage and possibly also charges for actual damage; and it is also a moral disadvantage because it clearly, even if it does not weaken the reputation of the Court, is bound to weaken the reputation of the administration if it is perpetually failing in cases which it undertakes. I must therefore ask my noble and gallant friend opposite whether he really considers it would be useful or practical to hand the whole of this intensely complicated work over to the Navy alone. As he very truly remarked, it is the business of the Navy to fight; and it is a business which we know it carries out magnificently. But besides fighting there are a number of highly intellectual men in the Navy, and so far as their capacity is concerned I have no doubt that a large number of them would be thoroughly competent to carry out this work. But those who do take part in it I would engage to say do not dislike, but positively welcome, the assistance in carrying it out of men of tried legal and diplomatic experience.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
And if the whole matter were left to be done by themselves and themselves alone, or by themselves and some of their brother officers, they would not prefer the change.
I pass next to the topic of the rights of neutrals, upon which my noble friend who has just sat down (Lord Grimthorpe) expressed himself with considerable vigour. He spoke with much contempt for the niceties of the law when questions of the rights of neutrals have to be considered, and he uttered the admirable and, I am glad to say, oft-repeated sentiment that we have to win this war. But I must remind him that it was contempt for the niceties of the law which sent the Germans through Belgium. The proceedings of Germany in Belgium—the blood-stained path that she pursued there—has sometimes caused people to forget that her 174 going there at all, even if she had gone with the utmost gentleness through Belgium, was a monstrous breach of public law. And when people talk lightly of the rights of neutrals and of International Law, I would implore them to remember that when our success in the war comes—as it will unquestionably come—it ought to come to us and must come to us with absolutely clean hands in all respects. Therefore it does not do, I venture to think, to speak slightingly of the just claims of neutrals, even though the expressions are accompanied by a general sentiment of desire to treat them as well as we can without injuring ourselves.
As regards these particular countries—the three Scandinavian countries and Holland—I must remind the House of this. Those countries, all of them in fact, have a great historical past. Their prowess by land and by sea—sometimes employed, as they occasionally were, in defeating us—and their distinction in the arts of peace make them as proud of their history as we can be of our own, and it is not likely that people with a past of that sort would agree to be treated in the way in which the inhabitants of one of the islands in the South Seas—the Solomon Islanders, or some such people—may be treated if they committed an outrage on a European trader and destroyed his goods. These nations are entitled to be treated, and have a right to expect to be treated, on equal and even terms with ourselves and in strict accordance with International Law. In our turn we have the right—a right we exercise—to point out to them, what has truly been said to-night, that they cannot expect that a gigantic war of this kind can be carried on without putting them to inconvenience, in some cases to loss—although there are of course cases, as the noble Lord behind me pointed out, in which individuals make large fortunes—and to all the disabilities which must accompany the break-up of the great system of international tra[...]. We have to put it to them, and we do put it quite clearly to them, that we expect their assistance; and also in certain cases we cannot refrain, and do not refrain, from putting such pressure on them as we can in order to carry out our intention of keeping at any rate the most important goods out of Germany. It must also not be forgotten that although the neutrals may need much from us, yet in many cases we need imports from them. 175 Some instances have been mentioned. My noble friend opposite, Lord Faringdon—whose intervention in the debate gave us much pleasure—mentioned the case of the import of Danish butter to this country. There must be a certain degree of give and take in these matters, although we are steadfastly determined not to surrender any of our just rights.
The most important part of this debate, to us at any rate, has been the concrete suggestions which were made by various noble Lords in the course of it. I listened with great pleasure to the maiden speech in this House of my noble and gallant friend Lord Beresford, and I confess that I looked with some anxiety at more than one daily paper this morning to see whether my noble friend was described as having made a "breezy speech," and I am sorry to say that in more than one newspaper I found that this epithet—which I feel must have become almost loathsome to him from its frequent repetition—[Lord BERESFORD: Hear, hear]—was used to describe his eloquence. But in addition to anything which was in that vein, my noble friend also made certain definite suggestions, some were made by my noble friend on the Cross Benches who introduced the Motion, and some others have been made by other noble Lords. In the first place we are glad to know that the step that has been taken in concentrating the general supervision of this Committee work upon one Minister—upon my noble friend Lord Robert Cecil—is a course which meets with the general approval of the House, only slightly marred by the regret which fell from the noble Lord who spoke last that my noble friend (Lord Robert Cecil) belongs to the legal profession. I cannot help remarking that one among many of his high qualifications for this particular work is that he is, besides being many other things, a highly distinguished lawyer. I was glad to observe that it has been admitted by some speakers that in this mass of facts and figures with which we have to deal it is practically necessary to work to some extent through Committees. It would have been very difficult, I think, to entrust to individuals, however competent and however hardworking, the sole management of these different Departments, as they have indeed become; and as it happens to have been for many months my lot to see something of the work done by most of these Committees I cannot avoid expressing my 176 sense of the great public debt which we owe to the gentlemen who have served upon them, including not only the most distinguished Civil Servants—many of whom, hard working at ordinary times, have become almost doubly hardworking now—but also Members of Parliament and others, eminent barristers, and professional men of different types, who have freely given to the Public Service a kind of hard work which it is really impossible to overestimate and for which it is impossible to be too grateful. Therefore when Committees are hardly spoken of—and, as my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack observed last night, no one ever becomes sentimental about a Committee—it becomes a duty to pay that tribute to them.
One of the concrete suggestions made was the abolition of the distinction between conditional and absolute contraband, which both my noble friends and my colleagues have regarded with considerable favour. As the Lord Chancellor pointed out, it is not so much a question of abolishing the distinction as of the distinction having evaporated by itself by the course of events and by the conditions under which the war has been carried on. I would not like offhand myself to say that it will be found practicable—taking into consideration various international reasons—to abolish immediately the whole distinction; but of this I am quite certain, that a very large number of additions could be made to the list of absolute contraband. A great many, as noble Lords know, have been made, but a great many more might be and in my opinion ought to be made. Of course, as has been made quite clear in the debate, it does not do to hope too much from the mere placing of an article on the list of absolute contraband when we know what can be done and is clone under the Order in Council. But the point which was made by, I think, Lord Peel to-night, and which had been already mentioned by my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack yesterday—namely, that the mere fact of a commodity being absolute contraband is of itself a strong deterrent to a dubious shipper—affords a good reason undoubtedly for adding to the number of articles on the list.
I do not want to enter to-night into the question of the declaration of what is called a complete and satisfactory blockade. It would take too long to discuss the 177 matter in all its bearings, but I think it is necessary to bear this in mind—that if there is any prospect of a blockade being declared and then not accepted by this or that country on the ground that it is not an actual blockade of the kind which was presumed to be effective in the old days, you are in no better position than you are at present; indeed, not in quite as good a one, unless you are in a position to show that some positive gain in the stoppage of articles followed the declaration of the blockade even though it were repudiated by this or the other country.
Then it was suggested that the doctrine of continuous voyage should be made applicable to exports from Germany as well as to imports into that country. That is a matter quite worthy of consideration, but I may remind the House that in every case of that kind, even though you admit the principle, the evidence of enemy origin has to be forthcoming in each special instance. And I might venture to remind the House also—I think it was my noble and gallant friend opposite who mentioned the subject—that the application of the doctrine of continuous voyage to conditional contraband was made by Order in Council in certainly the first two months of the war in 1914, and made by one of those very Orders in Council of which my noble and gallant friend spoke, I am afraid, so disrespectfully.
One word on the question of "rationing," as to which suggestions have also been made. It has been pointed out by more than one of my noble friends tonight that if you desire to confine a neutral country to its normal consumption you should name a figure and when that figure is reached after twelve o'clock that night say that no more of the particular commodity shall enter that country in any circumstances whatever. It might be highly convenient if that could be done, but noble Lords will see that this is not a practical proposition. Take, for instance, a case of this kind. Take such a commodity as copper. The ration of copper—whatever you fix it at—has been reached by, say, one of the Scandinavian countries. A considerable consignment of copper arrives—I am taking a hypothetical case—to the Government of that country for the purpose of making telephone wires, perhaps a very large and alarming consignment. Well, that is an excellent reason for considering most carefully what the destination of that copper is to be, and getting every 178 conceivable guarantee about it. But you cannot put that copper into the Prize Court on the ground that it has become illegal or contraband by the fact that you have announced a certain ration, and expect the Prize Court to condemn it and the ship. I put an extreme case, but it is one which shows that rationing, however accurate you may make it, will not allow you to bind a country down to a specific figure.
The noble Viscount, Lord Peel, asked whether it would not be possible to supply him with some information as to the standard of rationing which we should propose to apply to any particular country, and that I should enunciate some kind of principle. I think my noble friend will see that a more difficult or complicated task than the fixing of a proper and reasonable ration of a particular article to a particular country could scarcely be found, and in my view it would be hardly possible to do it in any other way than by a great deal of discussion and agreement with the country itself. I do not think it is a matter about which it would be possible for us to lay down the law without agreement from the neutral country, and simply to say, "Thus much you shall have and no more, not an ounce more or a pint more; that is our order, and you must abide by it." That is, I think, an impossible attitude to take; and I should recommend any noble Lord who has in his mind a suspicion of belief that mere excess over the normal will be taken by the Prize Court as being a reason of itself for condemnation to read carefully the judgment of the Prize Court Judge in what has become now a leading case, the case of the "Kim" and the other ships which were condemned at the time. Noble Lords will see there what Sir Samuel Evans laid down as the necessary canon of proof even in view of such enormous imports as were being made in those ships, and it will be noticed that mere excess itself, however strong a presumption it might create, was not allowed to be taken as absolute proof.
On this question of proof, I should like to say a word because I feel that the time will come—and I should hope that it might come fairly soon—when a heavier burden of proof will be laid on the defendant in these cases than is the practice at present. But speaking with some diffidence, as I am not a lawyer, I do not think it is possible to bring that about by a mere announcement that you propose 179 that the Prize Court should transfer the onus of proof from one set of shoulders to another; but I think that, by ensuring the adjudication of strong and appropriate cases, within a comparatively short time that result will be likely to come about of itself, and in my view it would mark a great advance in our Prize Court procedure, and an advance of a legitimate kind due to the fact which my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack emphasised—namely, that Prize Court procedure is a fluid or growing thing, and that reasonable developments of it, in conformity with circumstances, ought to take place and do take place. I cannot he help feeling that we are liable in this matter of the burden of proof to be a shade misled by the well-known and valued rule of our own law, particularly our Criminal Law, that a man is to be treated as absolutely innocent until he is proved to be guilty. That is a rule which in its application to our own polity we all appreciate and value and regard with pride, but it is only reasonable to remember that we are practically the only country in the world which lays down such a rule as that, and which refrains from making any direct inquiry of an accused person as to whether he is guilty or not. I have sometimes in relation to other work I have had to do with in different parts of the world wondered whether we have not overdone that in some respects even in our Criminal Jurisprudence, but that is another story on which I will not enter. I would merely state that this rule of the whole burden of proof resting on the accuser must not be taken as Quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus, for it is one which we value in certain circumstances but one to which we need not be enslaved.
There is one other point involving a suggestion on which I wish to touch for a moment. It is with regard to the question of the capture of enemy property, of which my noble and gallant friend spoke. It is not necessary, I think, to enter into the question of the Declaration of Paris of 1856. It has been pointed out that the United States are not and never have been parties to that pronouncement, and that it therefore in certain circumstances need not be taken as applicable to them. But, apart from that, I think it is worth while to examine for a moment what can be done and what cannot be done in the direction of capturing enemy property at sea on whatever ship it be found. There is an exceedingly clever gentleman, Mr. Thomas 180 Gibson Bowles, who has made a close study of these matters. Although he is not a professor of International Law, yet he has studied the matter closely, more particularly in relation to Sea Power and its exercise; and in a Review which he conducts and in which he writes largely himself he expressed the view—I think it was in the last number —that the capture of the property of enemies at sea would be the greatest step which could be taken towards crippling Germany. The view he takes is this, that if we would only do this every neutral intending to ship to Germany would take care to have either the goods or the money before entering on the transaction at all. And that, Mr. Bowles says, works out in this way. If a neutral merchant were shipping to Germany a commodity which would presumably be contraband, he would expect to be paid before the goods started; otherwise he would not run the risk. He having been paid, the goods at sea become enemy property and could therefore be seized, and, if the proportion of cargo allowed, the ship also confiscated. Then in the case of exports from Germany the purchaser would require that the goods should be in his possession before he paid for them, and so equally while the goods were at sea they would still be enemy property and therefore liable to seizure and confiscation. As we know, the amount of exports from Germany has been small, not more than 10 or 15 per cent. of the normal; but the imports, as we know, have been considerable. What occurs to me as the weak point in this highly ingenious suggestion is that it ignores the skilful manœuvres by which goods can be shipped and passed through a number of hands before they arrive at an enemy destination, and as it would still be necessary to prove that destination by means which would satisfy a Court of Law I very much doubt whether you would get any forwarder in practice by saying that you would seize all enemy goods at sea wherever found and ignoring the Declaration of Paris. As my noble and gallant friend opposite pointed out, even when consigned to the Netherlands Oversea Trust goods of certain kinds pass through a great number of hands; such an article as coffee might pass through a vast number of hands before it filtered down to the village grocer, who might smuggle it into Germany. Therefore the obtaining of proof that these were anything that could strictly be called enemy goods would, I fear, be hardly possible to obtain.
181 The only other suggestion on which I must say a word was that made by my noble friend Lord Emmott with regard to the publication of more figures. I have long felt that it would be a desirable thing to give as far as possible more information to the public. I have felt that some of the misunderstandings which have occurred with regard to our action, which have seemed to us hastily adopted and in many cases unreasonable, have a certain excuse from the lack of authentic information to which they are due. My noble friend, who knows this subject up and down, will know quite well that there are certain figures on certain subjects which it would be impossible to publish; but I think that more might be done than has been done, and I have very little doubt that my noble friend Lord Robert Cecil, when lie takes over the whole of this business, will be somewhat more free in what he is able to publish than the various Departments, without any blame to themselves, have hitherto found it possible to be. Speaking of my noble friend Lord Emmott, I was glad to observe the other day in a German paper an elaborate compliment paid to the manner in which he conducted his Department in comparison with the way in which German licences were issued. I am sure it must be comforting to my noble friend, as he has received some degree of adverse comment and criticism from time to time here, to know that an important German newspaper compared his operations so favourably with theirs.
In conclusion I would merely repeat that His Majesty's Government in no way object to or resent the inception of a debate of this kind; on the contrary, we definitely welcome it. It gives us an opportunity of saying certain things which we may desire to say and should have found it difficult to say otherwise; and, although I barely expect noble Lords to believe it, I can assure them that we do welcome all honest criticism of our efforts. Nor do we feel entitled to resent any form of criticism even though we consider it unreasonable if it is due to the lack of certain information which may be in our possession. We also welcome heartily definite suggestions made by noble Lords in this House, even if in all cases we do not feel it possible to adopt them; and we certainly lay no claim whatever to having evolved or to be carrying on a system so complete in its perfection that it cannot be improved possibly in some quite material respects. But we do 182 venture to say that the state of things in regard to the exhibition of our maritime preponderance is distinctly improving, and we believe it will go on improving as we get more knowledge and more experience. To say that we shall obtain the victory over our enemies by blockade alone is, in my view, to ignore other important facts and factors, and it appears to me to involve something like an unmerited slight on the efforts of the Army. But we do say that this blockade —as we describe it for purposes of convenience—represents a definite and a powerful element in the gaining of that victory, of the ultimate certainty of which we are absolutely assured.
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
My Lords, after the ample discussion which we have had I do not rise to detain your Lordships. But the question does arise as to what course my noble friend Lord Sydenham will take with regard to the Motion which he has on the Paper. I think we shall all feel that his Motion, introduced in an admirable speech, has been amply justified. His Majesty's Government themselves in the statements they have made have furnished the justification for this discussion. My noble friend invited us to say that a more effective use should be made of the Allied Fleets. I think we should have some little difficulty in voting upon that at this moment. The mass of figures placed before us by Lord Lansdowne and by Lord Emmott and the statement by Lord Faringdon as to his personal experience show that very great advance has been made recently. The most telling figures which were quoted by the noble Marquess opposite were figures relating to the beginning of the present year and the last month or two of 1915, and that fact itself justifies us in feeling that a more effective use might have been made of the Allied Fleets at an earlier period. Still we have this great advantage, that the Government have spoken with much greater resolution and have shown that there is much greater continuity in the present procedure.
We have also learnt from the debate that there is to be an actual Ministry for Blockade. Lord Lansdowne seemed to think that it would add more comfort to my noble and gallant friend to be told that the Committees to which reference has been made would be condensed into the hands of a single member of the Cabinet. I am not sure that my noble and gallant friend does not hold the same view 183 as some of us—namely, that the position of the Minister would be greatly strengthened if he were not merely one member of so enormously inflated a Cabinet as now exists. We understand that shortly there is to be a Minister for Air, and I presume he will be in the Cabinet. Gradually the Cabinet will run up to thirty and the question will arise whether it is to be manœuvred as a double company as at present, or whether a battalion formation will become necessary. I hope that the debate which took place here a few months ago will not be altogether lost sight of. In that debate we were given some reason to hope that there would be a reduction of the Cabinet; it was authoritatively stated that this would be so.
Appeals have been made to us, more especially by the Lord Chancellor, to consider the position of neutrals. We all have clearly before our minds the necessity of doing everything possible to carry neutrals with us. But may I not enter this caveat? The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack implored us to remember that we had begun the war in defence of neutrality against a gross breach of neutrality, and he thought it would be deplorable if we were to end the war in a less favourable attitude towards neutrals. There are two things to be said, if I may be allowed to say them. The first is that neutrals cannot expect to carry on their old trade and at the same time have the advantage of the enormous new trade which they have acquired through the war. They must understand that circumstances of war are not made in order to create a fresh means of employment of their resources. The second point is one which was made by my noble and gallant friend and which I wish to emphasise—namely, that what in 1914 would have been regarded as a concession from this country becomes an established precedent, and in 1915 any question of its withdrawal is regarded as a grievance. Therefore if you do not take a resolute stand now, as far as you can, your difficulty in a few months' time in withdrawing everything you have conceded will be infinitely greater. As to the Motion on the Paper I trust that my noble friend will feel it right to be content with the excellent discussion which he has produced.
§ LORD SYDENHAM
My Lords, I wish to assure the noble Marquess that there was no intention in this Motion of mine to convey the slightest censure upon the 184 Government. Our only hope was to throw light on some rather obscure points in the many subjects connected with the question of blockade, to strengthen the hands of the Government, and to assure them that if they saw their way to exert a little extra stringency there would be behind them a strong body of opinion in this House. I think I may say that the debate has had that effect, and I therefore beg to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.