File No. 763.72112/1888

The Vice Consul at London ( Westacott ) to the Secretary of State

Sir: With reference to my telegram of October 25, 1915,1 reporting the annulling by an order in council of Article 57 of the Declaration of London, I have the honor to transmit herewith in triplicate the second supplement to the London Gazette, issued October 25, containing this order in full.2

No information is at present available regarding the action by which it is proposed to follow this decision, except that contained in the official announcement that “in lieu of the said article, British prize courts shall apply the rules and principles formerly observed in such courts,” and statements made by Sir Edward Grey in the House of Commons replying to two questions. The following report of the parliamentary discussion is from Lloyd’s List of October 30, 1915:

Commander C. Bellairs asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, in view of the repudiation of one of the articles of the Declaration of London, because, as stated, it is no longer expedient for us to adopt it, whether His Majesty’s Government had taken into consideration Article 65, that the provisions of the Declaration of London must be treated as a whole and cannot be separated; and whether it was equally expedient to return to the rules and principles guiding the Royal Navy and the prize courts before the Declaration of London.

Sir Edward Grey: The Declaration not having been ratified, His Majesty’s Government are free to adopt, as they have done, such of its provisions as seem to them to express satisfactorily generally accepted rules of international law.

Mr. B. E. Peto (U., Devizes) asked the Secretary for Foreign Affairs whether he could state which articles of the Declaration of London are still adopted and enforced by the Government, and in what respect the articles still in force differ in principle from the maritime law of nations in force prior to the framing of the Declaration of London; and whether, in view of the fact that the Declaration of London was never approved by Parliament, he would consider the advisability of leaving the actions of the Navy unfettered by its remaining provisions.

Sir Edward Grey stated that the information asked for in the first part of the question might be obtained by reference to the proclamation issued on the subject. The second part of the question raised a number of questions of great complexity which could scarcely be dealt with by way of question and answer.

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As regards the third part I can assure the honourable member that the means of facilitating the effective action of His Majesty’s Fleet receives the constant attention of His Majesty’s Government, and if he will point out any matter in which he thinks it improperly fettered I will gladly consider it.

I must again say that the Declaration of London possesses no force; where any provision taken from it is mentioned it is solely because it is a convenient expression of some generally accepted rule of international law. The action of the Navy is not limited by anything except such rules, and I believe if the honourable member will examine previous wars he will find that the action of the British Navy has not been less free in this war than previously.

Newspaper comment has been very restrained, but the Daily Mail of October 26, 1915, contains the following editorial paragraphs, which may be of possible interest:

The article in question provided that the neutral or hostile character of a vessel was decided by the flag under which she sailed. By it Germans could acquire an interest in Norwegian, Swedish, or American ships, or own them entirely, and derive large profits from the high freights now being earned, while the all-powerful Allied navies were condemned to look on helpless. The Allies now revert to the earlier and saner sea law, which was laid down by British and United States judges, and which allowed the captor of such vessels to investigate the ownership. Where the owner or any part owner is an enemy, the ship or the enemy share in her can be confiscated....

The Germans will doubtless attempt to retaliate, and therefore British subjects who own neutral vessels or shares in neutral vessels plying within reach of the enemy’s guns will do well to dispose of their property.

I have [etc.]

Richard Westacott
  1. Not printed.
  2. Not printed. The order itself is dated October 20.