THE MARQUESS OF CLANRICARDE
, in moving that an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty for Copies of the late Correspondence between Her Majesty's Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and Her Majesty's Consul at Riga, regarding the Export of the Produce of Russia belonging to Her Majesty's Subjects, and to the Rights of Neutrals in the Event of War, said, he wished to call the attention of their Lordships to the following despatch, dated Feb. 16, written by the Under Secretary of State to the English Consul at Riga:—The Earl of Clarendon has had under his consideration your despatch requesting to be informed what respect would be paid by British cruisers in the event of war to bonâ fide British property, the produce of Russia, if shipped on board neutral vessels. I am to acquaint you in reply that property of the description in question, the produce of Russia, and exported therefrom, by and on account of a British merchant domiciled and trading there, although purchased before the war, and exported to England, would not be respected by Her Majesty's cruisers unless in pursuance of a licence, or of some special instructions from Her Majesty to the officers of the Navy. By the law and practice of nations a belligerent has a right to consider as enemies all persons who reside in a hostile country, or who maintain commercial establishments therein, whether such persons be by birth neutrals, allies, enemies, or fellow-subjects; the property of such persons exported from such country is therefore res hostium, and as such lawful prize of war. Such property will be condemned as prize, although its owner may be a native-born subject of the cap- 886 tor's country, and although it may be in transitu to that country; and its being laden on board a neutral ship will not protect the property. You will, therefore, inform those whom it may concern that in the event of war the property in question will not be protected by the consular certificate, or by any other document, but will be liable to capture and condemnation as prize.He did not in the slightest degree call in question the accuracy of the law as laid down in that communication by the noble Earl, nor had he the least doubt that, before sanctioning that declaration of the law with the authority of his office, the noble Earl took good care to have recourse to the best legal advice upon this subject; but he (the Marquess of Clanricarde) thought there was something in the tone of the despatch in question, and in the way in which a grave subject like this was incidentally treated by it, which was not satisfactory. [The noble Marquess here referred, in a tone which was almost inaudible, to a letter written by the noble Earl the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to Her Majesty's Consul at Riga, and was understood to deprecate the indistinct and abrupt terms in which it was couched. The noble Marquess referred to the disagreeable duties which devolved on our diplomatic agents abroad in their endeavours to settle the disputes into which British merchants resident abroad frequently got into with the local authorities in respect of their persons and goods, and appeared to infer that the letter of the noble Earl was calculated to embarrass the Consul at Riga.] He wished to ask the noble Earl whether the document he had read was to be taken as the positive decision of the Government as to the mode in which the property in question was to be treated during the war? He would remind their Lordships that British merchants, in their commercial transactions with Russia, must have made engagements in the autumn of each year, and made advances on their purchases, in order to enable the Russian merchant and producer to bring down their goods to the seaboard in the middle of winter, so that the goods thus purchased and paid for might be regarded as British quite as much as those that were bonded on the banks of the Thames. The detention at Riga was therefore so much clear loss to Great Britain and so much gain to Russia. There was another matter—the rights of neutrals in the event of war—upon which he presumed it was not intended that the despatch in question should be taken as pronouncing the opinion of the Go- 887 vernment. So grave a subject as that, and one which had led to so much controversy, he thought ought not to be discussed in that sort of incidental correspondence. Again, if we were to treat the property in question in the way indicated in this letter, our conduct unfortunately in that case presented a disadvantageous contrast with that of the Emperor of Russia with regard to our own fellow-subjects. Their Lordships would remember that in the autumn of last year the highly respectable body of British merchants, living at St. Petersburg, having taken alarm at the aspect of political affairs, were quieted by our Government by the assurance that the dangers then apprehended would all be ended by negotiation, and they had the further assurance which was made in the Speech from the Throne at the conclusion of the Session; and, later, upon hostilities becoming more probable, the Emperor of Russia gave them an assurance, conveyed to them by the highest authority, that, come what might, their persons and their property should be safe. That was a wise and politic declaration; and, in addition to its being wise and politic, it was an honourable and generous treatment of those persons. There was another point—the conduct of the German Powers. Their Lordships had heard a good deal of blame thrown upon Prussia for the attitude she had assumed in the present crisis; but he thought Prussia was only pursuing her own interests, well understood, in the course she had taken. It was felt in Prussia, as everywhere else, that the balance of power ought to be maintained, and that it was desirable to preserve the peace of Europe. But the war having become apparently inevitable, at this moment it was impossible that Prussia could fail to see the advantage to her own interests of driving a good transit trade with Russian produce and trade. Prussia having abolished the duties on imports into her territory by land, the consequence of our severity towards our merchants in that country would be, that we should not only injure so much British property for the benefit of Russia, but we should also advance Prussian interests by forcing imports into Russia by way of the land instead of the sea. It might so happen that a neutral vessel might at this moment be loading at Odessa with a cargo for a British merchant; and if a declaration of war should be made in a few days, that vessel might be seized in the Channel, 888 although, as a neutral vessel, she would not be prevented leaving the port. There might be a necessity to be very severe in carrying out the maxims of war, in order that war might not be of long duration; but, on the other hand, it was wise not to interfere with peaceful and useful pursuits when that could be avoided. The noble Marquess then read the following letter, published in this day's Times, from Sir J. Emerson Tennent, dated from the office of Committee of Privy Council for Trade, on the 14th instant, and addressed to a mercantile house in the City by the Board of Trade:—Office of Committee of Privy Council for Trade, Whitehall, March 14, 1854.Gentlemen:—In reply to your letter of the 24th of February, requesting to be informed whether, in the event of war between this country and Russia, Russian goods imported from neutral ports would be considered contraband, or would be admissible into England? I am directed by the Lords of the Committee of Privy Council for Trade to inform you that, in the event of war, every indirect attempt to carry on trade with the enemy's country will be illegal; but, on the other hand, bonâ-fide trade, not subject to the objections above stated, will not become illegal merely because the articles which form the subject-matter of that trade were originally produced in an enemy's country.I am, gentlemen, your obedient servant,J. EMERSON TENNENT.Messrs. Martin, Lewin, and Adler.According to that letter, it would seem that a direct trade with the enemy's country would be legal; but that, of course, could not be meant; and though he had a suspicion of what was really intended to be understood, he thought it desirable that the point should receive some explanation from a Member of the Government. He admitted that in many cases it would be sound policy and humanity to be very severe in carrying on a war, in order that that war might not be of long duration; but, on the other hand, he thought it was one of the highest indications of the wisdom of a Government to avoid interfering, as far as they could, with the peaceful and useful pursuits of commerce. The noble Marquess concluded by moving for the production of the correspondence in question.
§ THE EARL OF CLARENDON
; My Lords, with respect to the letter to which my noble Friend has alluded, and which I had not seen before, it appears to me that, although there may be some indistinctness in its wording, there can be no doubt as to the meaning to be attached to its contents. It meant to state that, in the event of war, all trading, direct or indirect, with 889 the enemy's country would be illegal; but that, on the other hand, trading in articles, the produce of that country, coming through a neutral port, and in the way of bonâ fide trade—that is, in property not belonging to the subjects of the belligerent Power, will not be illegal, from the mere fact that the articles forming the subject-matter of that trade were originally the produce of an enemy's country. This is the meaning I attach to the letter to which the noble Marquess has referred, and this is, I consider, the fair construction to be put upon it. With respect to my letter to Her Majesty's Consul at Riga, I should be very sorry that it should appear to have been written with any unnecessary curtness or severity, or that it should in any way inflict pain on the British merchants resident in Russia, and I can truly state that such was not my intention. I, like my noble Friend, have resided for some time at St. Petersburg, and I feel bound to bear witness to the honourable conduct and bearing of the British subjects resident there; and, although I am ready to agree with the noble Marquess as to the many disagreeable calls we have made upon us relative to the persons and property of British subjects resident in the country to which our Embassies may be attached, yet, with reference to the British residents at St. Petersburg, as far as my experience goes, I must say that I never had the slightest trouble or annoyance with them—they always managed to settle among themselves any disputes they might have. The letter of which I am now speaking became necessary in consequence of certain communications which had been made by a gentleman resident in Russia to the consular authorities at Riga. This gentleman, who was a merchant at Riga, declared his intention of not quitting Russia, but, on the contrary, of remaining a resident there; and he wrote and asked whether he might export Russian goods from Russian ports with safety. The subject was referred to me about a month ago, and I immediately took advantage of all the means at my command to ascertain what the law really was with reference to it; and, having ascertained it, I stated it as clearly and as concisely as I could in my despatch to the Consul at Riga. In such despatch I explained to him that, by the law and practice of nations, a belligerent has a right to consider as enemies all persons who reside in a hostile country, or who maintain commercial establishments therein, whether 890 such persons are by birth neutrals, allies, enemies, or fellow-subjects; that the property of such persons exported from such country is res hostium, and, as such, is looked upon as lawful prize of war. Such property, I said, would, in fact, be condemned as prize, although its owner might be a native-born subject of the captor's country, and although it might be in transitu to that country; and the fact of its being laden on board a neutral ship would not protect it. I am exceedingly sorry that the language of the law should be considered to be unnecessarily curt or severe upon this question; but, in writing the despatch to which the noble Marquess has called attention, it was not my duty to alter the words in order to make the opinion of the law officers more bland, or to indulge in any comments as to the severity of the law, but merely to state clearly, distinctly, and explicitly what the law really was. I only wanted to inform him of the truth, what the law was, and what he would expose himself to if he did what he had announced it was his intention to do. I certainly did allude to licences and facilities that might be given; but, without knowing miter what circumstances he was going to export his produce, and, in fact, knowing none of the particulars of the case, I thought was going to the utmost extent allowable, without leading him into error, when I adverted to such facilities, and informed him of the state of the law, leaving him to decide for himself. During the last few days I have received at the Foreign Office very numerous applications indeed on the important subject to which the noble Marquess has referred, many of them requesting information on points of law, others with regard to the safety of transactions in which they are engaged, and others regarding the use of the Russian flag in consequence of the dearth of shipping experienced this year, and many others putting a string of hypothetical cases which it would require no common ingenuity to unravel. I consider it to be no part of my duty to give answers to a great many of these questions that have been put to me; but still I have no wish to make use of official reserve, and, therefore, I have endeavoured to give all the information in my power; but your Lordships will understand that great caution is necessary in doing so, from the fear, in the first place, of leading parties into errors which might have led to their injury; and, secondly, not to commit the Government 891 to courses which may involve great responsibility. With respect to the intentions of Her Majesty's Government, it has been impossible hitherto—though I need hardly tell you that there is every desire on the part of the Government to give all the protection possible to British commerce and British property—it has not been possible hitherto to determine on what principle the dispensing power of the Crown will be exercised—whether licences or Orders in Council shall be resorted to—till we know all the particular cases and the infinite variations which distinguish them. There is also this point to be borne in mind—that we are, for the first time, engaged in a war with a naval ally, and, therefore, it is our duty to be very clear as to the principles we are about to adopt, and the departure which we shall sanction from our former law and practice, as well as the bonâ-fide character of every transaction, before we can call on the French Government to adopt those principles, and to protect British commerce and property in a way that the French might not, in ordinary circumstances, see to be right. A great variety of cases has now been brought under the consideration of Her Majesty's Government, and I think we are now very nearly in a position to determine what rule of conduct to adopt and what facilities to afford. But I should be sorry to enter into any particulars on this subject, and my noble Friend has given a very good reason why, when he stated that the accounts which have appeared in two papers are entirely at variance with each other; but I think we are nearly in a position to determine the principle on which we will allow licences; and I, therefore, only say at the present time, in answer to the observations with which my noble Friend concluded his speech, that, in so far as concerns protection to British subjects and commerce, it is the determination of Her Majesty's Government to act with the utmost liberality consistent with the rights of belligerents. With respect to the rights of neutrals, and with respect to letters of marque, I trust we are about to set an example of liberality by which we shall be able to show that, as far as it is in our power, it is our intention to mitigate the calamities of war, and to act in a manner that shall be consistent with the humanity and civilisation of the age. I have only to say, further, that it is of great importance that our own country and foreign nations should be apprised at as 892 early a period as possible of the course which the Government intend to pursue, and I hope, therefore, in a few days to be able to lay the correspondence applicable to this subject on your Lordships' table.
§ On Question, agreed to.
§ House adjourned to Monday next.