HL Deb 01 April 1925 vol 60 cc860-76

LORD REDESDALE rose to move, That having regard to the information now available as to the actual working of the sea blockade of Germany during the late war, this House requests His Majesty's Government to make a statement as to the effect of any Treaty, Declaration, or other diplomatic instrument now affecting the full rights of this country as a belligerent to act at sea upon sea-borne trade in time of war.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in asking the indulgence of your Lordships for the first time for the very few minutes which it will take me to explain the reason of the Motion standing in my name on the Paper, let me say at once that it is not my intention to attach any blame for what has happened in the past to this person or that; neither do I intend to refer to the past except so far as it may be necessary to do so in order to ascertain the present situation and how that situation was arrived at. It is with the future that I am concerned, and it is in regard to the future that my Motion has been framed. There may be exceptions but, generally speaking, I think no one will be found to deny that the people of this country desire, and will always insist upon, the preservation of our sea power. But, as will be obvious to your Lordships, no amount of actual power at sea, however great, will be of any avail unless we can use that power to the full and in the proper direction. And the sole object of my Motion to-day is to ascertain, if possible from the Government itself, the exact nature and extent of any limitations at present existing upon our rights to use in future our power at sea.

This is a matter of immense practical importance. No man can doubt that for one moment who considers the events of the late war. In 1914 we had a supreme Navy, unmatched in strength, skill and resources. It is certain that had that Navy been used throughout in accordance with the long-standing laws and traditions of this country in the matter of sea power, the war would have been one of months rather than of years. It is impossible to estimate the value of the life and treasure that would have been saved. But it is common knowledge now that our power at sea was not, in fact, so used, at least until the war had already lasted for well over three years and the results were deplorable and far-reaching not only for England but for the whole world. I trust that in speaking of our power to use our Navy in war time I shall not be misunderstood. I do not refer to our right to use the Navy against an enemy's Navy; that right, of course, we always possessed to the full and it was most admirably exercised. My point is that the military value of overwhelming force at sea does not consist only, or even chiefly, in its power to overwhelm the corresponding naval forces of the enemy. It consists far more in its power to refuse the enemy all those sea-borne supplies for his armies and populations without which neither those armies nor those populations can continue their resistance for long.

In peace time no one denies the enormous economic importance of seaborne trade. The oversea trade of a country is everywhere regarded as an index of its prosperity, and if in peace times a modern State must have access to the sea, in war time under modern conditions that access becomes an absolute economic necessity for her, especially if the war is in any degree prolonged. The reason for this is simple. No country contains within its borders, not all the countries of Europe taken together contain within their borders, enough even of the physical materials required to enable them to carry on the operations of modern warfare for more than a very short time. They must replenish their supplies from overseas. The power, therefore, of cutting off those essential supplies from overseas is the true and final power of an overwhelming Navy and is the chief military reason for its existence. To secure the great road of the sea for its own people and to refuse it to its enemies—that, and not the fighting of great naval actions, is the primary and essential function of a Fleet. If, in order to fulfil that function, fighting becomes necessary, fighting must, of course, be done. But if a Navy can fulfil that function completely without fighting so much the better for that Navy and for the country to which it belongs.

The number of Fleet actions fought by England during the Napoleonic Wars was very small and the actual destruction of ships and men effected in those actions was slight; but the pressure of the Navy upon the trade of Europe destroyed the power even of the Emperor Napoleon, and Europe in these days is far more dependent upon the sea for its supplies than it ever was a hundred years ago. The extent to which Germany depended, in 1914, upon the sea for anything but a war of the shortest duration was admitted beforehand by her own leaders. It will be necessary"— said General Bernhardi, in his "Germany and the Next War," to take further steps to secure the importation from abroad of supplies necessary to us, since out communications will be completely cut off by the English

That was what Germany was expecting at our hands at the time of the declaration of war in August, 1914.

This naval function of cutting off the enemy's sea-borne supplies differs from all other forms of fighting chiefly in this, that it sheds no blood, it destroys no property and is earned out always, not in the heat and confusion of battle but in the calmest deliberation, under the direction of legally constituted Courts—namely, the Prize Courts of the captor's country. It is surely impossible to conceive a more humane operation of war. It is with that operation of war, and with the right of this country to exercise those powers, that my Motion is concerned.

If your Lordships will look at the words of the Motion itself, you will see that it refers to the "full rights of this country as a belligerent to act at sea upon seaborne trade in time of war," and I should like to explain what I intend by that expression. I am no lawyer and I speak in the presence of the most distinguished lawyers in the land; but I think they will support me at least in these two general propositions—firstly, that the decisions and judgments of those Prize Courts to which I have just referred, especially the decisions and judgments of our English Prize Courts, have always been, and still are, accepted with the greatest respect and substantially without question by all civilised countries; and secondly, that the law which those Courts administer is not the domestic law of their own country but that great body of doctrine known as International Law or the common law of nations.

According to the accepted doctrine of that law, as it stood before the year 1856, the rights of a properly commissioned naval force at sea to act upon sea-borne trade in war time were substantially as follows: So far as property belonging to the enemy was concerned that might be captured upon the high seas, wherever it was found. If it were found in an enemy ship, then both ship and property would be condemned as good prize and confiscated to the Crown, but if the enemy property were found in a neutral ship, then the property alone was confiscated and the neutral ship was set free, with payment in full to her owners of freight and demurrage. In this way the neutral shipowner sustained no loss from his venture. The sole legal duty of the neutral was to observe neutrality, and the only conditions in which the Prize Court would hold him to have broken neutrality were three, namely:—he might not break blockade; he might not engage with other belligerents in what was called unaccustomed trade, and he might not carry to the other belligerent goods which, in all the circumstances of the case, a Prize Court would on the evidence hold to be contraband; that is to say, goods actually consigned to an enemy port and of such a character as to be of direct military assistance to the belligerent.

Those, broadly speaking, were the rights of a belligerent at sea and the obligations of a neutral up to the year 1856, and on that clear and simple basis we fought the Emperor Napoleon and faced a situation in which, for over three years, from 1809 to 1812, we had not a single friendly port in the whole of Europe. But we maintained our position, and what Napoleon himself thought of its strength he explained to Lord Amherst, at St. Helena, on July 1, 1817, when he said:— As long as you keep the command of the sea, yon only need Ambassadors to get what you want. For you are able to blockade the whole of Europe. And I know the effect of your blockades. You put a country in the situation of a body soaked in oil, which can no longer breathe.

It is perfectly true that in 1856, in circumstances which have never yet been explained, a document called the Declaration of Paris appeared upon the diplomatic horizon and was signed on behalf of this country. This Declaration contained four articles of which only one, the second, is of any importance to the matter in hand. This said that "the neutral flag covers enemy's merchandise with the exception of contraband of war."

Whether this Declaration ever became entitled to the dignity of being called a Treaty is doubtful, and it is still more doubtful whether it ever, in fact, came to form part of the common law of nations as administered by the Prize Courts, and there are two reasons for those doubts. One is the fact that on the same day as the Declaration itself was signed all the contracting Powers also equally formally agreed "to maintain the indivisibility of the four principles mentioned in the Declaration" and that indivisibility has never, in fact, been maintained in war time by one of them. The second reason is the fact that the United States of America have never to this day agreed to the Declaration at all. Then came the long negotiations begun at The Hague on April 3, 1906, which ended in the Declaration of London of 1909. That Declaration enormously weakened the rights of belligerents at sea, and at the same time greatly increased the uncertainties and difficulties to neutrals. It was signed on behalf of England on February 26, 1909, but, luckily for this country, a new Court, to be called the International Prize Court, was required to administer its doctrine, and this necessitated an Act of Parliament. A convenient vehicle was found in the already existing Naval Prize Bill into which, in 1910, new clauses were inserted setting up the proposed new International Court. This Bill was passed in another place, but was rejected by your Lordships' House on December 12, 1911. The result was, of course, that the whole thing fell to pieces, and all the countries who had subscribed to it upon grounds of high humanitarian principle, abandoned it with one accord so soon as it was seen that England would have nothing to do with it.

It is very difficult to avoid the conclusion that all these long negotiations were but one further instance of the determination of the military Powers of Europe to lessen, if they could, that very economic power of England at sea to which my Motion refers. In any case the practical result of all this, and the point which I would venture to ask your Lordships especially to notice, is this. In August, 1914, so far as strict law was concerned, no limitation existed upon our full belligerent rights at sea, except those contained in Article 2 of the Declaration of Paris, 1856, and whether or not that Article would, in fact, have been enforced by the Prize Courts is, as I have said, doubtful, but nothing else at that time existed, either in law or in Treaty, to prevent us, had we chosen to do so, from exercising our full belligerent rights at sea—to which I have already referred.

But this course was not adopted. On August 20, 1914, by Order in Council, the Declaration of London, with five quite unimportant modifications, was adopted, and there then followed a long series of Proclamations and Orders in Council altering and re-altering long lists of contraband articles, taking new ground, claiming new rights, imposing new duties upon all concerned; and to enable all these new arrangements to be carried into effect an entirely new machinery was set up in place of the old and tried machinery of the Prize Court. A series of Committees, which finally became crystallised into a body called the Contraband Claims Committee, were set up inside the Foreign Office, and it was this new and hitherto unheard-of body, not a judicial body but a Departmental body, which decided from day to day, upon a procedure of its own, what trade was to be allowed to run unchecked at sea.

It is not necessary to deal in detail with the effect of this course of action, because in the end each step in turn was denounced by its own authors. Thus the Reprisals Order of March 11, 1915, which destroyed the Declaration of Paris, was itself destroyed by the Maritime Rights Order of July 7, 1916, which also expressly denounced and abolished the Declaration of London and, in effect, brought us back at long last to at least the assertion of the old and settled doctrine in these matters. To quote the actual words of the Foreign Office explanation at the time, we must in future confine ourselves simply to applying the historical and admitted rules of the Law of Nations.

As a matter of fact, it was not until many months after July, 1916, that these historical and admitted rules were actually enforced, but from the moment that they were actually enforced, about four or five months before the Armistice, the effect was immediate and the resistance of Germany collapsed.

All these Orders in Council were entirely illegal, as was declared by the Privy Council in their judgment in the case of the "Zamorra." We are thus left at the present moment with no coherence or settled principles anywhere, and the result of this lack of coherence during the time under review was that while enemy trade and property were steadily exempted from capture as such, neutral trade and property was continuously and unlawfully interfered with, and the situation so created, while assisting the enemy on every hand, roused very real and justifiable resentment in America. It is interesting to observe now that the only justification ever suggested for this course of action was the necessity of avoiding disputes with America. If that were the object, it was certainly not achieved, as was amply shown by the long official correspondence with America which has since been published. That correspondence shows throughout that the complaint which America made against our proceedings in respect of her trade at sea in the earlier part of the war was that those proceedings were unlawful, and it also shows beyond doubt that if we had been content from the first merely to enforce against neutrals our ancient and undoubted belligerent rights at sea, America would have acquiesced in that enforcement.

Unhappily, this correspondence also shows that we ourselves, while engaged in trade on a large scale with Scandinavian neutrals under licence from the Contraband Committee, we were endeavouring to prevent America from con ducting a similar trade. The result of this was that while our friends, the neutrals, were thus unlawfully antagonised German trade flourished. Of this there can be no doubt whatever for the figures of the whole trade of Scandinavia during the war have been published, and published by no less an authority than Rear-Admiral Consett, in his book called "The Triumph of Unarmed Forces.' As your Lordships are aware, Admiral Consett was our own naval representative in Scandinavia from 1912 until 1919, and in 1920 was appointed Naval Adviser to the Supreme Council in Paris. The testimony of such an officer must be regarded as unimpeachable; in any case, not one of his facts or figures has so far been questioned.

I will not weary your Lordships by quoting more than three figures which will suffice to show the state of affairs. I. will take one commodity only, cotton, which, as I need not point out, necessarily came to Scandinavia from overseas and was of essential use to Germany in the manufacture of explosives. Sweden alone before the war, in 1913, was sending to Germany and Austria 236 tons of cotton. In 1914 Sweden was sending them 4,600 tons and in 1915 no less then 76,000 tons, and of this enormous quantity over 10,000 tons was supplied directly to Sweden by the United Kingdom and the British Empire. That is only one instance, but I think it is a sufficiently striking one, and I am perfectly satisfied that if any of your Lordships will examine the figures of Admiral Consett in further detail they will be found to show that from 1914 until 1917 Germany was being steadily supplied from overseas with all the essentials for war.

Your Lordships will observe the state of affairs. There was our Fleet, the finest and most efficient force at sea the world had ever seen. No merchant ship could get by that Fleet; every merchant ship was in its power. There also were the Prize Courts of this country ready and able to consider evidence and to apply the law in every case of capture brought before them. The whole machinery required for enforcing our undisputed rights at sea was there, and in the end every one of those rights had, in fact, to be enforced under the hard presure of events, but for over three and a half years of actual fighting, to the great injury not only of this country but of the whole world, the full belligerent rights of this country at sea were not enforced. On the contrary, they were deliberately set aside; and why? Simply from lack of belief in the old tried and well settled principles of (he law of war at sea.

I am prepared to believe that, sooner or later, the late war had to come, that it was inevitable, that it was forced upon us; but I do not believe for one moment that it need have lasted, as it did, for four years, with a loss of over five million men killed ashore. On the contrary, I believe that the surest, and indeed the only, way to have enduring peace in Europe for the future lies in the preservation by England of an overwhelming Fleet and a plain declaration by England to the world of the principles she intends to observe at sea in war time in the future. These last, as I have tried to show, are at the present time a matter of complete uncertainty. The Declaration of Paris was, in effect destroyed by the Reprisals Order of March 11, 1915. Is that still in force? The Reprisals Order was superseded by the Maritime Rights Order of July 7, 1916. Is that still in force? We do not yet know the answer to either of these questions.

Upon a subject of such importance and complexity opinions may well differ as to what principles should be considered to be sound, but I suggest that in such a matter, involving, as it does, the whole future peace and steadiness of Europe uncertainty and incoherence cannot in any case be right. They, at all events, can hardly now be adopted as the established policy of England, and, if not, then it is surely not unreasonable to ask His Majesty's Government to tell us our actual position in the matter at this moment. That, and only that, is what my Motion asks the Government to do, and to that end I hope and trust your Lordships will support it. I beg to move.

Moved, That having regard to the information now available as to the actual working of the sea blockade of Germany during the late war, this House requests His Majesty's Government to make a statement as to the effect of any Treaty, Declaration, or other diplomatic instrument now affecting the full rights of this country as a belligerent to act at sea upon sea-borne trade in time of war.—(Lord Redesdale.)


My Lords, I rise to ask the Government to observe great caution in answering the questions put to them. The noble Lord, in a most lucidly expressed speech, has asked for two things. First of all—and this is quite legitimate—he has asked for a list of the diplomatic instruments which modified our old belligerent rights. It is quite desirable that we should know this. But he has asked a second thing which goes much further. He has asked the Government to declare that we intend in any future war to use the Navy in sufficient strength to put an end to the export to any country with which we may be at war by any neutral Power of materials which may assist the country with which we are at war. The noble Lord referred to the war which commenced in 1914, and he said, possibly with truth, that if we had put our complete rights into force, and if we had stopped all imports into Germany, the war might have come to an end very much more quickly than it did. That may be right, but should we have been entangled with Germany alone in that case?

I think one of the most successful things that was done in this country in the early stages of the war consisted of the negotiations—most delicate negotiations, accompanied by partial concessions—which enabled a great deal of trade to go on, trade with neutral countries and particularly with one very great Power which afterwards came to our aid, but which might not have come to our aid if the principles of the noble Lord had been adopted in the bold and bald fashion which he suggests. It is all very well to talk of Napoleon's conversations with Lord Amherst. That was a very long time ago and the face of the world has changed since then. International trade has become of enormously greater importance than it was in those days, and, what is still more to the point, of enormously greater volume. How can you commit yourself beforehand to a policy of interference on the scale which the noble Lord desires without prematurely raising questions which you may never have to raise?

I am not now entering upon the question whether the old rights are rights which can be successfully maintained in the days in which we move. Perhaps they can be. I am only anxious not to raise abstract questions because I am quite sure that if you do raise them you will prove to be trailing your coats in a way which will encourage other people to tread upon them, and you will do yourselves no good. What steps are to be taken towards defining our rights in any future war is a question which needs the most careful consideration. We cannot consider it as if it were an abstract question which we can take up or lay down. We have to bear in mind the susceptibilities of other people who do not see things as we do. We may be driven to the assertion of the rights which we did assert in the last two year's of the Great War. We may have to assert these rights if we are going to succeed, but we certainly do not make our position easier by laying down, in a period of profound peace, principles which will bring us at once into controversy with other great nations whose trade is upon the sea and with whom we desire to remain in friendly relations. At the present time no country is raising the questions which the noble Lord has raised. They may have to be raised, but do not raise them now. This is not a. good time at which to raise them, and by keeping silence about them you are giving nothing away. You are only avoiding finding yourself in a state of entanglement which it is very desirable that we should avoid.

I have risen, as I said at the beginning, to say that part of the noble Lord's Motion seems to me to be very legitimate. He is asking for information. But the wider question which he has raised seems to me a very undesirable one to discuss now. If we are to discuss it, it must be on some very important occasion with a Motion before the House going directly to the whole question. I hope that such an occasion will not arise, and I think that we shall do best to keep ourselves free from this kind of controversy.


My Lords, this Mot on has appeared on your Lordships' Paper on several occasions and has been postponed. I am not quite sure what motive my noble friend had in postponing it from time to time.


May I interrupt the noble Marquess for one moment to tell him that it was down for a definite date, and then the Government went out? That is the point. It was down for a definite date.


I do not complain of the noble Lord having postponed it. I was going to praise him. I was going to suggest that it had perhaps occurred to him that a subject of this great delicacy and importance might not be a very fortunate subject for public debate in your Lordships' House. I agree in that respect with ray noble friend who has just sat down, the Leader of the Opposition. I think that this is a very difficult and delicate matter, which requires to be approached with great care and, may I add, with considerable reticence; and I hope that in criticising that which I have to say this afternoon your Lordships will be good enough to bear that in mind. I am not, of course, in any way personally responsible—I am sorry in some respects that it is so—for any proceedings during the war. I was not in office, this Government was not in office and we had nothing to do with it, and therefore, if I have a word or two to say in defence of those great public servants who were Ministers at that time, it will be from a purely impartial point of view and merely because I am convinced that in the great efforts which they made to save this country, and in the success which crowned those efforts, they are entitled more to praise than to criticism.

My noble friend has spoken very clearly and very pointedly of the Law of Nations as it affects belligerent rights. I think he attributed much greater precision to it than it really possesses. At any rate, I do not propose to go back into the dim and distant past, for that would serve no useful purpose whatever. Suffice it to say that, so far as powers were concerned, the Orders in Council under which the Government of that day operated in the war were ample for all purposes. My noble friend says that they were modified. Of course they were modified. He seems to think that the matter was very simple. It was very complicated, and the Orders required to be modified from time to time as experience showed them to be defective. Order in Council followed Order in Council.

That has always been the practice of this country in time of war. There have been certain great principles of law which bind (he country, and those have been applied by Orders in Council, and those Orders in Council are far more precise in their character than the law which binds the country. These Orders in Council, giving ample powers—municipal powers of the country—to its belligerent servants alone, have been modified as experience of the war showed that those modifications were necessary. But my noble friend spoke all the time as if our action was a purely independent action, which we might take, or forbear from taking, just as it suited our interests. He strangely forgets what was the real situation in the war. We were in great difficulty. The position was not simple—it was very complicated. The matter was not entirely in our own hands. It was not merely a question of what our rights or our Orders in Council were, but what in the highest interests of this country, and of the world, it was politic to do under the circumstances.

Does he think we could ignore the great neutrals who stood outside the war? Does he think it was merely a question of enforcing just what our Fleet could enforce? He spoke with becoming pride of the power of the British Fleet. It is quite true it is enormously powerful. We were, and are, all proud of it, but he would not counsel this country, and would not have counselled it then, to use the Fleet without reference to the interests and wishes of neutrals. The noble Viscount said just now: What was one of the main objects of the policy which governed this country during the earlier part of the war? Was it not to make it possible for the United States to enter the war as one of our Allies? The whole event of the war turned upon that. It was the vital matter, and yet my noble friend does not think it mattered whether we embittered, or embarrassed, or antagonised her. All that appeared to him to be a matter of indifference: there was the power of the British Fleet! Yes, my Lords, it is not a question of power, but of policy in its highest sense, and therefore I cannot accept the criterion which my noble friend submits to your Lordships.

No, we had to consider the position of the great neutrals. Anything like a complete blockade in the old sense of the term was impossible in the circumstances. I need not go into the geography of it, but my noble friend knows that it was impossible. It was a question of how we were to treat neutrals and their property—how we were to treat the imports into neutral countries, consigned to neutral consignees, and the property of those neutrals. It may be that my noble friend thinks, or indeed that he knows, that some of that property ultimately reached the enemy, but that did not make it possible to ignore the rights of the neutrals. They had to be considered, and not only had they to be considered then but they will always have to be considered. He says that all these things were known by a certain gallant officer who has written a book. That gallant officer occupied an important official position, but he was not responsible for the government of this country, and that makes a great difference.

I wonder whether it is true to say that the attitude which we adopted towards neutrals in the earlier part of the war was misdirected, and that the much more stringent attitude adopted at the end of the war was more successful. I am not sure that it is true. I believe that the attitude of coming to an agreement with neutrals was, in point of fact, more successful than the more stringent and drastic policy adopted towards the end of the war; that is to say, we prevented more of what ultimately turned out to be contraband reaching the enemy by the former plan, than we did by the latter plan. I do not criticise the adoption of the later plan, but I doubt whether the more stringent plan was the more successful. Then my noble friend criticised us for keeping up trade with neutrals. Why should we not? There was certain trade which neutrals had and which we could not do without, and therefore to have quarrelled with the neutrals would have been equivalent to cutting off our nose to spite our face.

I have said as much as this in order that I may recall to your Lordships what you very well know—namely, that the matter was not simply a matter of the power of the British Navy or of what we should have done if there had been none of these great neutral Powers in existence. The matter was one of the greatest delicacy and difficulty, and had to be achieved by the greatest tact and diplomacy, and I think it ill becomes noble Lords, if I may venture to say so, after the great efforts made at that time, to criticise the policy which was, after all, in the end, wholly successful.

The noble Lord wants to have a declaration of the position of this country now. I deprecate going into that very deeply at this moment, and for this reason: The situation produced by the war, the experience of the war, the complete destruction of many of the ideals which had governed belligerent rights up to that time, have produced a situation requiring complete reconsideration by the Powers of the world, and that reconsideration is going on. It was going on, as I well remember, when we were in office two years ago. As a member of the Committee of Imperial Defence at that time I know that the matter was repeatedly under our serious consideration, and that consideration is going on at this moment. To go into it in any great detail now would not, I think, help matters forward, but rather retard them. That the public law of Europe is again in a stare of evolution—I mean the belligerent public law of Europe—can be seen by your Lordships by observing the provisions of the Treaty of Washington, which, of course, is binding on this country, or rather will be binding on this country as soon as it is ratified by the other signatories. At present, as your Lordships know, the Washington Treaty has been ratified by this country but it has not been ratified by France, and until it is ratified by France it is not binding on this country. So it would not be accurate for me to describe it as binding on this country, because it is not, actually binding, though it would be binding if France were to ratify it.

It will be seen, by looking at the particulars of the Treaty of Washington, that all these matters are being reformulated by the great civilised Powers. All the matters relating to the right of search, the authority to attack merchant vessels, the question of the conditions under which that can be done and the conditions under which they can be destroyed, are formulated in the Treaty of Washington, and also the use of submarines as commerce destroyers, which, as your Lordships know, under that Treaty is forbidden. This will show that the whole of this matter is in a condition of evolution. I do not think it would serve any useful purpose if I were to make a declaration of the position of this country while that process is going on, and I would therefore ask your Lordships to excuse me.

But of one thing your Lordships may rest assured, that the policy and attitude of this country will be governed by the experience of the war, by all those things to which my noble friend has called attention to-night, and in the ultimate result I earnestly hope we may be able to build up again something like a proper jurisprudence in these matters, which may help us, if ever the need should arise again, to conduct another war with some regard to those principles of humanity and civilisation for which this country has always stood.


My Lords, I think the House as a whole will be most grateful to the noble Lord for having brought forward this exceedingly important question, but I fully feel the force of what the noble Marquess said, when he pointed out the unwisdom, perhaps the impossibility, of His Majesty's Government making public any declaration of policy in these matters at the present time. But I do hope, and I rather gather from the latter part of his speech that it will be the case, that His Majesty's Government, with the help of their expert advisers, will consider the lessons that we learnt in the war as to the methods of blockade and as to the law to be applied by this country for the purpose of rendering that blockade effective. I do not suggest that they should make public the result of those deliberations, at present at any rate, but I do think it is vitally important that they should get the best possible legal, military and naval advice to go over the lessons of the war to find out where, if possible, improvements of practice may be made and where it may be desirable to follow the same course again if the same disastrous necessity should ever arise.

May I refer to one point raised by the noble Lord which is not without importance? Is the Declaration of Paris still in existence? As a matter of fact, it was never signed by the United States of America at all, but it was brought up in the House of Commons, shortly after it had been signed in Paris, I think no less than three times with a view of getting it ratified, as it required to be, and on each occasion there was opposition to ratification, with the very strange result that in each case the Government of the day avoided an issue upon it, and there was no decision whatever. In one case the previous question was moved, and on another occasion it was talked out. But there was this remarkable result, that this Declaration was never ratified by either House of Parliament. In those circumstances it is not immaterial to ask the question: Is that Declaration binding on us now? As the noble Lord pointed out, one of the most vital questions which arose in the late war was whether the Flag should cover merchandise, except contraband of war, and if we were not bound by the Declaration of Paris we should be in a position of much greater freedom.

I entirely agree with the noble Marquess that our action as regards blockade in the early part of the war was one of the most intense difficulty. Had it been mismanaged we should undoubtedly have had either a rupture, or something very like it, with the United States of America. For my part, I think that if we had not had here the late Mr. Page as American Ambassador during those troublous and most critical times the position would have been even more dangerous than it was. As a matter of fact, we did not assert anything like what we considered to be our full belligerent rights, but we adopted what turned out in the long turn to be rather an ingenious way of dealing with things.

We enormously extended the definition of contraband, extended it far beyond anything, so far as I know, that had ever been done by International Law before, and it is remarkable to remember that the Declaration of London, which was sought to be foisted upon us in 1909, would have made it absolutely impossible to declare cotton contraband, because cotton is one of those articles which, under the Declaration of London, was never in any case to be declared contraband. Well, we did declare cotton contraband. We declared a very great number of other things contraband which had not been declared contraband before, and we carried that doctrine of contraband into effect, as I think those who were concerned in the matter will agree—and I see the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, here who knows the facts as well as any one—by greatly extending the doctrine of continuous voyage, and a very valuable doctrine it was for us. By it, we were able to trace cotton going into Holland for Germany, and to seize it en route. I only mention these things to show that these are matters which require consideration at the present moment, and I trust that the Government will be prepared, if ever the necessity should arise again, with a somewhat, more settled policy than we had at the beginning of the late war.


I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.