HC Deb 06 August 1914 vol 65 cc2059-62

I beg to ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether his attention has been called to the action of the President of the United States in asking Congress for a Grant of £60,000 to aid Americans stranded in Europe owing to the outbreak of war, and what steps, if any, he proposes to take to ensure the safety of the large number of British subjects similarly stranded in Continental countries and unable to communicate with their friends in this country, in order to enable them to return to England, and whether he will make representations to the Governments of Switzerland and other neutral or friendly States on behalf of such British subjects?


I am aware that the United States President has proposed to Congress to grant a large sum for assisting American citizens, but I am not aware how it will be made available for these persons now in Europe. With regard to the action taken by His Majesty's Government to assist British subjects abroad, our first step was to instruct all His Majesty's representatives to give in every case all the advice and assistance which it may be in their power to afford. We had then to decide as to individual cases in which persons have requested that special action should be taken to assist their friends or relatives. These individual cases number some hundreds, and with regard to them I have been reluctantly compelled to decline to make special telegraphic inquiries. To have made special inquiry in every case brought to our knowledge would, as hon. Members will readily realise, have been impossible under the circumstances, and to have made inquiry in special cases only would have been an injustice to the general body of applicants. In any case it would have been most difficult to ensure the delivery of telegrams to our Consular representatives, and, if they had been delivered, our representatives would have been diverted from their duty of helping all British subjects to special action on behalf of those for whom inquiry was made. This did not seem wise in the general interest. In order to allay anxiety as much as possible, may I say that the non-arrival of postal or telegraphic messages from persons abroad should not be taken as necessarily implying that they are in difficulties, as all means of communication have been very seriously interrupted. Probably the wisest course is for such persons, unless they are under duty to return, to stay quietly where they are until, as I hope, arrangements can be made for their safe return. As regards financial assistance, telegraphic instructions were sent on Monday last to His Majesty's diplomatic representatives in Europe to request the Governments to which they are accredited to allow His Majesty Missions and Consulates to obtain from the State banks moderate sums calculated to suffice for the relief of British subjects who are stranded in foreign countries owing to interruption of all forms of communication. Telegraphic messages are also being sent to-day informing His Majesty's representatives of the reduction of the bank rate and the continuance of payments in gold, and the security of the financial situation here. I hope that within a day or two the majority of British subjects abroad will find little difficulty in cashing cheques, bank notes, circular notes, etc., in the ordinary way.


I desire to ask the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he has received a telegram this morning to the effect that our British Minister at Berne is trying to arrange for trains to take British subjects to France?


The British Minister at Berne telegraphed last night that he was trying to arrange for trains at Geneva frontier to take British subjects to France. That is all I can say at present. If I receive further information as to arrangements made for the return of British subjects from Switzerland, I will at once communicate them to the Press.


I beg to ask the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether it is in any way possible to facilitate the return of British subjects from Germany by providing transport at different ports, or at any particular port; and whether the Government will inquire as to how many British students remain at Hellerau, and how many have left, securing, if possible, the names of the latter?


As to the first part of the question, the Board of Trade are, as announced yesterday, doing their best to meet the situation. As regards the second part, I cannot undertake to make any inquiries of the German authorities, but the United States Government have kindly consented to undertake the protection of British interests in Germany. As I explained, in reply to another question, the absence of news need not be a cause of anxiety.