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Discussion in Parliament. The discussions in Parliament relating to the Declaration of London have been under the title of the Naval Prize Bill. The British Government promised that the Declaration of London should not be ratified until Parliament should have opportunity to discuss its provisions, though constitutionally the consent of Parliament is not necessary for ratification. The self-governing colonies were also given opportunity to discuss the provisions of the Declaration.
The lord chancellor in a speech in the House of Lords, upon the motion to appoint a Royal Commission to report on the advisability of agreeing to the terms of the Declaration of London, said on March 9, 1911:
I pass now to the subject of neutral prizes. All nations assert the right to destroy neutral prizes if they find they can not take them into port except Great Britain, Japan, Spain, and Holland. That is the law they would apply in their prize courts if you reject this Declaration. Even the record of Great Britain is not quite clear upon this subject of the destruction of neutral ships. The Declaration allows it subject to distinct conditions. A ship may be destroyed if the observance of article 48—that means taking her into port for adjudication—will involve danger to the warship or to the success of the operation in which she is engaged at the time. Suppose we reject this Declaration. Our enemy would destroy neutral prizes at discretion without any limitation at all, acting upon their own laws. But suppose we are neutrals and our merchant ships are destroyed. This actually happened, as we know, in the Russo-Japanese War. We were then put to the choice either of allowing the incident to pass uncompensated or to have recourse to war with Russia. course, the late Government, like sensible men, never thought of making that the subject of a declaration of war.
If that happened again, after the Declaration had been ratified, Russia would have to submit to the International Court and to pay compensation if she was found to be wrong. (Daily Telegraph, Mar. 10, 1910.)
Lord Salisbury, favoring the motion for a Royal Commission, said on March 13:
As matters stood without the Convention, if there were an attempt on the part of a belligerent to capture or destroy all ships carrying foodstuffs to our ports as contraband, there would at once be an uprising on the part of neutral powers.
Discussion in Parliament.
As a matter of fact, the belligerent would be effectively controlled by the public opinion of the neutral powers. During the South African War there was a certain amount of friction between this country and Germany, and the protest of the German Government had immense weight with the British Government at that time; the protest that we were interpreting international law harshly was most effective, and had to be taken into account by us. If this Convention were not passed, he was perfectly certain that neutral Powers would not submit to a belligerent interpreting his powers harshly. If the Convention were ratified, when an enemy began to capture and destroy ships carrying foodstuffs, and if there were a protest the enemy would say: “ It is all right. You can go to the tribunal when the war is over and get compensation. You can not protest, as you are not damaged. You can not take the law into your own hands. It is not for you to say what is a base of supply. That is for the international court when the war is over."
That was the essential point, and that was why this Convention was so dangerous. Under the convention a belligerent could go on destroying ships with foodstuffs, and when the war was over he would not care much whether or not he had to pay compensation.
After quite full discussion of various phases of the Declaration the motion for a Royal Commission was withdrawn on March 13, 1911.
Some who favor the abolition of all laws for war upon the sea so far as concerns Great Britain have made. strong speeches against the Declaration, others have seen only good points, while some have realized that there was no unity in the laws and practices of nations and that the Declaration would substitute in a large degree certainty for uncertainty and confusion likely to lead to international friction and to stir up sentiments favorable to the spread of war.
Letters to the London Times.—Mr. Thomas Gibson Bowles has maintained both in the House of Commons and outside a very active opposition to reforms in naval prize law and to the Declaration of London. His book, Sea Law and Sea Power, is in general opposed to all international agreements in regard to maritime warfare from the Declaration of Paris of 1856 to the Declaration of London of 1909, and including the conventions of the Hague Conferences of 1899 and 1907. In a letter to the London Times he says:
To the EDITOR OF THE TIMES.
SIR: In your review of my book, Sea Law and Sea Power, is this passage: “ We know what Mr. Bowles dislikes. What exactly does he want, and what does he think at the present time practicable?”
I thought I had made clear what I want; but since it is not so I would ask permission to say that what exactly I want is that the Naval Prize Bill shall be withdrawn; or, failing this. that it shall be rejected.
What I think at the present time practicable is to leave things as they are, without making those changes in sea law which the Declaration of London would effect, and especially without accepting that subjection which the Hague convention would achieve, to such a foreign tribunal as is proposed, of our own ancient and honored courts.
With that, at this time, I for one should be content. But if the law of nations is to be recast and the courts that administer it to be superseded, then I hold that the rash and unwise proceeding," as Lord Salisbury called it, of the Declaration of Paris must also be reconsidered, and the question revived of its denunciation.
But what I want most of all is that these novel and most grave proposals shall be duly and deliberately considered and decided upon by Parliament before the country is committed to any new obligations whatever. If that is attained, the purpose of my book will have been achieved. Your faithful servant,
Thos. Gibson BOWLES. 24 LOW NDES SQUARE, SW. November 17.
Other letters to the Times vary in character. Some are apparently prompted by party prejudices rather than based upon knowledge of the law or of the provisions of the Declaration of London. Letters of Mr. Arthur Cohen, Prof. T. E. Ilolland, Prof. J. Westlake, and men of like standing are such as show sober British judgment.
In a letter bearing the date of February 1, 1911, Prof. Westlake particularly speaks of the destruction of neutral prizes, saying: To the EDITOR OF THE TIMES.
Sir: Having discussed the topics on which the Naval Couference of London was unable to reach an agreement, I come to the agreement comprised in the 71 articles and the report. It will be well to take first a topic with which, if it was not to be Letters to London Times.
another eliminated one, it was not possible to deal otherwise than as the Declaration does. This is the destruction of neutral prizes at sea. If the cause of the Knight Commander and the others which occurred during the Russo-Japanese War have inflamed British opinion against such destruction, they have also proved our inability to prevent it without going to war whenever a British neutral prize is sunk, an heroic remedy when we consider that the practice is allowed by the regulations of France, the United States, and Japan, as well as of Russia, and that the Institute of International Law has declined to condemn it. The Declaration has done what was possible for the view claimed as the British one, by a reasonable limitation of the practice and the provision of indemnity in case the limits laid down are transgressed. No doubt article 49 leaves it open that the inability to spare a prize crew may be held a justification ; but the British Admiralty Manual of 1888 expressly allowed that justification for sinking an enemy prize, even with neutral goods on board, between which case and that of sinking a neutral prize the distinction in principle is the very point in dispute.
After considering other important articles of the Declaration, he further says:
The remainii portions of the Declaration are scarcely important enough to weigh much with any one in favor of its rejection and are highly technical. To what give and take may be found in them, or in the articles which have been selected for notice, there applies the general remark that not only is it fairly balanced, but that it has the great merit of securing to England the enjoyment of the rights in which the Declaration confirms her. Those who would reject that benefit or even, like Jr. Bowles, return to an earlier state of things by undoing the Declaration of Paris, are usually ignorant how groundless was the claim to treat all British pretensions as recognized international law. Now, too, the multiplication of great sea Powers necessarily leads to the consequence that any flaw in our clainis—whether arising from their nerer having been acknowledged law or from the change of circumstances to which all international law, however acknowledged at some time, is bound to adjust itself—will be pressed against us with a force very different from that which we had to meet when the neutrals were generally smaller Powers. A rare opportunity is offered us. On our belligerent rights against an enemy we must stand firm, and we are not asked to forego them. In questions between helligerents and neutrals whatever can be described as vital has not been made the subject of compromise, but stands outside the Declaration of London, and, as I have shown, can be saved by the necessary reservations from prejudicing us either in an International Prize Court or in diplomacy. Regret that eren on those points there has not been agreement must not prevent our accepting the agreement arrived at, which gives us the benefit of assured law on so wide a field and of being relieved by an International Prize Court from the odium of being the final judges in our own case.
Naval opinion in Great Britain. In the House of Commons on February 14, 1911, certain questions were asked of Mr. McKenna, the First Lord of the Admiralty:
Mr. Lee asked the First Lord of the Admiralty whether the provisions of the Declaration of London had been submitted to and considered by the Board of Admiralty, with special reference to naval interests and the protection of British commerce, and whether the Board had signified its approval of the Declaration.
Mr. MCKENNA. The Admiralty were represented at the International Naval Conference which led up to the Declaration of London. Its provisions were submitted to and considered by the Admiralty, and there was no occasion for the Board to signify their approval in a formal manner.
Mr. LEE. In view of the fact that the Board of Admiralty has not signified its approval of the Declaration, will the Government undertake that the Declaration will not be ratified until the Admiralty has declared itself satisfied that the naval interests of this country will be safeguarded ?
Mr. MCKENNA. The honorable member must not assume from my reply that, because the Board did not signify its approval in a formal manner, the Board did not approve.
Mr. LEE. Then it has approved?
Mr. MCKENNA. Yes, sir. No. Let me explain. It is an extremely important question. The Admiralty being represented at the conference, there was no formal meeting of the Board of Admiralty, and consequently no formal approval was ever expressed by the Board, but approval has been given, and the assent of individual members must be supposed.
Mr. LEE. Was the representative at the Conference a member of the Board of Admiralty?
Mr. MCKENNA. No; he was the Director of Naval Intelligence, and, representing the Admiralty, put forward the Admiralty's views at the Conference. His action was approved by the Board, and, therefore, that must be accepted as the approval of the Conference.
Idmiral Sir Algernon de Horsey is reported to have said:
The Declaration of London is well calculated to destroy the British Empire in case of war. It is inconceivable how the British delegate could sign it. (London Daily Mail, Jan. 23, 1911.)