said, he would beg to ask the First Lord of the Treasury, Whether his attention has been called to the report that the French fleet in the Baltic is to be supplied with coal direct from this Country; whether it would be consistent with neutrality to allow any vessels, either French, English, or others, to carry coal direct from this Country to a belligerent fleet at sea; and, whether English vessels so engaged would be entitled to the protection of their Country if the other belligerent should treat them as enemies, considering them part of the armament to which they were acting as tenders?
Sir, the House has already been apprised, on more than one occasion, that there is nothing in a general way to prevent the exportation of coal from this country. If either of the belligerents capture those vessels supplying coal, the question whether it is contraband of war will be a question for the consideration of the Court of the captors. But the hon. Gentleman has called attention to a particular case; and although the exportation of coal is not generally prohibited, exporters being warned that if it be supplied to either of the belligerents they run the risk of capture, yet of course the case reported, which I can neither affirm nor deny, as I have no more knowledge of it than he has—that is to say, the knowledge derived from general rumour—presents itself under a somewhat different aspect, and in that form the question has been referred to the Law Officers of the Crown. They have given their opinion, which we have adopted, that if colliers are chartered for the purpose of attending the fleet of a belligerent, and supplying that fleet with coal for the purpose of enabling it to pursue its hostile operations, such colliers would, to all practical intents and purposes, become store-ships to that fleet, and if that fact were established they would be liable, if within reach, to the operation of the English law under the provisions of the Foreign Enlistment Act. It will be the duty of the Government, and they will act upon that duty, when such reports arise, to institute searching inquiries into the existence of any such cases.