HC Deb 26 June 1890 vol 346 cc58-60

I beg to ask the First Lord of the Treasury whether he is aware that of recent years German newspapers, partly non-official and partly semi-official, in discussing the possibility of the cession of Heligoland, have repeatedly given expression to the desire, which is widely entertainedin military circles in Germany, that the island should be converted into a high-class fortress similar to Kronstadt; whether, in view of the limited area of the island, a scheme of that description would of necessity involve the dispossession of the inhabitants, and consequently be injurious to the interests of the fishermen from the East Coast of England, who are now able to make use of Heligoland for various purposes connected with their industry; and whether the Government will consider the desirability of arriving at an understanding with Germany that in the event of the cession taking place no such scheme shall be carried out?

MR. SUMMERS (Huddersfield)

I beg to ask the First Lord of the Treasury whether the Government will consider the advisability of stipulating, in the event of Heligoland being ceded to Germany, that the island shall not be converted into a naval fortress, and that the islanders shall be permanently exempted from military service?

*THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH,) Strand, Westminster

No conditions with respect to the fortifications of the Island of Heligoland can be made, as the German Government must obviously be left to decide on the measures necessary for the defence of its own coasts. Her Majesty's Government are in communication with the German Government with a view to the adoption of measures for the protection of British fishing interests and the immunity of the present inhabitants from conscription.

*MR. CHANNING (Northampton, E.)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, if fortifications and naval works are constructed by the Germans on so small an area, it will practically amount to an order to the inhabitants to leave the island?


No, Sir; I am not aware of that fact.


I beg to ask the First Lord of the Treasury whether the Prime Minister is correctly reported, at the Merchant Taylors' Company's Dinner on 27th May, to have laid down as the canon of his policy as regards the surrender or the acquisition of territory that these are questions on which the public opinion of England and the full assent of Parliament should be previously obtained; whether, the opinion of Parliament will be taken on the Cession of Heligoland Bill before the Treaty is signed by the Representative of Great Britain; and whether having regard to the declarations of the Prime Minister, an opportunity will be given to this, House to discuss the whole of the arrangements come to between Great Britain and Germany before the Treaty is signed?


The Treaty will be drawn in such terms as to be conditional on the passing of the Bill. I understand that the Question does not convey an accurate representation of the remarks of my noble Friend; but as to any remarks he may have made, it would be more convenient that the question should be addressed to him in the House where he sits. I may add that any engagement of the nature indicated will be fulfilled by the submission of the Bill to Parliament, on which the whole Agreement depends.

MR. HANBURY (Preston)

I beg to ask the First Lord of the Treasury whether any Reports from the Naval or Military Authorities, as to the proposed cession of Heligoland, will be laid upon the Table in time for the discussion on the Bill which is necessary to carry the cession into effect?


Confidential Reports of naval and military men upon strategic questions could not conveniently be published.


I beg to ask the First Lord of the Treasury whether he will inform the House what steps have been taken by the Government to ascertain the views of the inhabitants of Heligoland on the proposed cession of the island to Germany?


The arrangement cannot be made dependent upon a popular vote. The possession of the island was acquired without the consent of the people, and Her Majesty's Government fulfil their duty towards them by securing to all now living exceptional privileges. We have every reason to believe that their interests will in no wav suffer by the change of Sovereignty.


Has the attention of the right hon. Gentleman been drawn to a series of letters in the Pall Mall Gazette to the effect that they can find no one in the island who is in favour of the transfer?


If the hon. Gentleman will be good enough to draw my attention to the Pall Mall Gazette, I shall be glad to give him an answer, but he will not be surprised to hear that I am not able just now to read many newspapers.

MR. BRYCE (Aberdeen, S.)

The right hon. Gentleman says that communications are passing with the German Government with regard to the immunity of the present inhabitants of Heligoland from military service. We understood that that was one of the points stipulated in the original Agreement that no one now living should be compelled to serve. Is that point still open to discussion?


The hon. Gentleman is quite right in drawing my attention to the language. There is an undertaking on the part of the German Government that all the present inhabitants of Heligoland shall be exempt from military service.


Then on what point, may I ask, are further communications with regard to military service passing?


The hon. Gentleman will be aware that it is necessary to put these undertakings into diplomatic language.