§ 3.46 p.m.
§ LORD SNELL
My Lords, I beg to ask His Majesty's Government if they have any statement to make on the international situation.
§ EARL STANHOPE
My Lords, the Government have no statement to make, because there has been nothing of great consequence since your Lordships had the last statement. I much regret that I did not have the opportunity of informing your Lordships of that earlier, but I myself did not know until this morning.
§ 3.47 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
My Lords, perhaps your Lordships will allow me to say a word or two about the statement made on behalf of His Majesty's Government, that in reprisal for the many illegal acts that Germany has committed they have decided to establish a blockade. I use that word in the ordinary, popular sense. Of course, it is not strictly a blockade, but a prohibition of all exports from Germany. I rejoice very much at that decision of the Government. Your Lordships will no doubt remember that in the last war it was not possible for the Government to reach that decision until, I think, about six or seven months after the war began. That also was done by a reprisal Order. It was carried out by the blockade machinery which was established before I had any 1875 thing to do with it and there was a practically complete prohibition of exports from Germany. I would like to mention that credit for the extremely efficient way in which it was done, though it attached of course to the whole of the staff, was due particularly to my late friend, Mr. Leverton Harris. The work he did was admirable and I think that that work, added to his other exertions, hastened his very untimely death. It was a matter of enormous importance.
In the late war, the Germans had very considerable reserves outside their own country and so, although after the imposition of the rule that they could not make any exports, they were unable materially to increase those resources, still they were so considerable as to enable the Germans to pay for any imports they could make. We know that for a long time past the Germans have been in great difficulty in obtaining any foreign currency in order to pay for imports into Germany, and I am in great hopes that this new prohibition will add very greatly to their difficulties. Of course we cannot prevent all imports into Germany, but if we prevent exports from Germany we take away the means of payment, and that will make another barrier against imports which I hope may be of very considerable advantage to us.
I see that criticisms are coming from neutral countries. It is, of course, natural for them to dislike anything which interferes with their trade, but I think they are making undue protests. I think they will find that the position will not be so bad as they fear. There are bound to be difficulties, but there were difficulties in the late war and they were all settled without any great injury to neutrals in the end. Therefore, I most heartily welcome this departure which the Government have made. If I were inclined to be captious in criticism, I would say that I should have liked it to have been done earlier, but I have no doubt there were technical reasons why the Government could not do it earlier.
As I am speaking on the blockade question, would your Lordships allow me just to add one word on another matter, of what is called the "Navicert" system? We have had no official statement yet, but I see stated in the newspapers that the Government are prepared to put in force 1876 what we used to know as the "Navicert" system. I am very glad of that, too, because it was an extremely useful element in the blockade in the last war. If your Lordships are not quite so familiar with the details of these matters as I was forced to become in the last war, I might say just a word about that system. Under the ordinary rules of blockade you have a right of search to see whether contraband is on board a ship. That is extremely difficult to carry out under the conditions of a blockade of a whole country such as we are enforcing. You cannot have the search in mid-ocean, as they used to do in the close blockade; the difficulties are much too great. You therefore have to send the ship into some harbour where it is examined, and very considerable delay takes place, and even if there is in fact no contraband the ship-owner and those interested in the voyage necessarily suffer great loss by the demurrage occasioned to the ship.
The device that was used during the last war—and I think I am not indiscreet in saying that it came from an American friend of mine who suggested it to me, and I passed it on to the Department—is this: You say to any ship-owner, "If you like to have your cargo examined at the port of loading before the ship starts, and we find that there is no contraband on board, then we will give you a certificate that that is so. In that case, if you meet any of the blockading squadrons you will merely have to show them the certificate, and you will be allowed to complete your voyage without any further delay." That, very roughly, is the system. It answered in the last war very well; I heard no complaint about it. It was of immense advantage to the ship-owner, and it was a great advantage to us, because it was a far more effective system than anything else we could have adopted. I am therefore very glad to see that the Government are going to adopt it. Again, if I may be allowed to be captious, I will express regret that it was not done earlier. I think perhaps that is all that I had better say on the blockade question. There are other questions, but I think perhaps they would arise more conveniently on another occasion. I thought it was just as well that we should take notice of this very important departure in this House, as an announcement on the subject was made in the other House.
§ 3.52 p.m.
THE EARL OF CRAWFORD
If on another occasion other points connected with this subject are going to be raised, would the noble Viscount please give notice of them? He has now made a speech without any Motion being put from the Woolsack, which in my opinion is entirely out of order in consequence.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
I do not know whether a Motion was put from the Woolsack, but a Motion was made.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
Well, he has a Motion on the Paper, and 1878 he spoke to it. He certainly spoke to it, and even if he did not make a Motion he asked a question. As the noble Earl knows very well, it is perfectly in order for any of your Lordships to intervene when a question is asked. Certainly it is perfectly in order.
§ EARL STANHOPE
My Lords, my only reply is to thank the noble Viscount for what he has said, which of course I will bring to the notice of my right honourable friend the Minister for Economic Warfare, and we shall certainly take into consideration what he has said for our assistance. I should like to point out that a statement was made in this House by the Minister without Portfolio, so that your Lordships had notice of the reprisal, which was also announced in another place by the Prime Minister.
§ House adjourned at six minutes before four o'clock.