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Question

Volume 203: debated on Monday 18 July 1870

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I beg leave, Sir, to ask the First Lord of the Treasury this Question, of which I have given him private Notice, Whether, having regard to the hostilities now unhappily imminent in Europe, it is the intention of the Government to issue a Proclamation, warning the subjects of the Queen to abstain from all participation in such hostilities, and to observe the Laws now in force for the maintenance of the neutrality of the United Kingdom in time of war; and whether, in accordance with the recommendation of the Royal Commission of 1868, it is the intention of the Government to introduce at once a measure to amend the existing Law, and to strengthen the hands of the Executive Government, in order the better to enable them to enforce its observance?

Sir, it is the intention of the Government at the proper time—and I am afraid I must consider it certain to arrive—to issue a Proclamation of Neutrality to the effect and for the purpose described by my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford; but in point of technical regularity the proper moment cannot be said to have arrived until either a declaration of war has been issued, or until actual hostilities have commenced. [Mr. OTWAY at this moment placed a document in the right hon. Gentleman's hands.] At the moment when I am speaking, my hon. Friend the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs has placed in my hands a telegram which has just been received from Lord Lyons at Paris. He states that the French Minister of Foreign Affairs has informed him that a declaration of war was despatched to Berlin yesterday, and that as soon as he hears of its arrival there it will be communicated to the Prussian Chargé d'Affaires. That being so, the matter has reached the point at which it will be the duty of the Government at the earliest period—probably to-morrow—to issue a Proclamation of Neutrality. With respect to the second Question, it is our duty to introduce at once a measure to amend the existing law, and to strengthen the hands of the Executive Government, in order the better to enforce its observance. The Government have taken into consideration the recommendations of the Royal Commission of 1868, and, without pledging themselves to precise principles, I may say it is their intention to introduce a Bill for the purposes to which my hon. Friend refers—namely, to secure the more complete and effectual fulfilment of all obligations that may be considered to attach to us in any contingency, under the Law of Nations, with respect to ships departing from our ports.