HC Deb 25 August 1914 vol 66 cc10-5
Mr. BRIDGEMAN (on behalf of the hon. Member for Salisbury) (Mr. G. Locker-Lampson)

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether any steps are being taken to facilitate the return to this country of British subjects now in Switzerland; and whether arrangements have been made to give those who require it any temporary financial assistance pending their return?


asked the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he could supplement his statement made before the adjournment in reference to the return of Britishers from abroad?


Since 10th August the situation regarding British subjects desiring assistance or facilities for return has become almost normal except in the case of those in Germany and Austria. Thus in Holland His Majesty's chargé d'affaires has made arrangements whereby cheques on British banks endorsed by himself will be cashed by the Netherlands bank; and the number of British subjects returning from the Hook of Holland has recently been very small. From Norway boats are running and are not now uncomfortably crowded. Arrangements have been made with British Consular Officers in all parts of France for supplying money for British subjects in distress, and I do not know of any district from which British subjects are now unable to return by making use of the usual train service. Great numbers have returned from many parts of France during the last fortnight. With regard to Italy the steamship "Cretic" sailed from Genoa on the 13th instant with British subjects from Italy and Switzerland. She had accommodation for about 2,000 passengers and arrived on Friday, the 21st instant. The steamship "Aaro" is sailing from Genoa about the 26th, and will bring back those who may have collected there by then.

The latest information that I have does not show that there is any great number of British subjects at the larger Italian centres anxious to return. There were about 10,000 British subjects in Switzerland on 13th August. Many have since then returned through France, but the train journey has been slow and uncertain, and the British Minister at Berne has not taken the responsibility of advising ladies to undertake the journey. Now, however, a regular through service has been established, of which the first train started or Sunday from Geneva, containing 800 per sons, who are due to arrive in London at 3.45 this afternoon. Similar trains will start to-day and every day henceforward until all have returned. His Majesty's Minister at Berne and His Majesty's Consuls have been able to supply money to those who need it, and are supplying railway tickets, taking such security as is possible for repayment. Their work has been much facilitated by the arrangements made by Messrs. Cook and Sons, whom I desire to thank for the service they have rendered in this matter. Satisfactory arrangements have been made with the Spanish Government for facilitating financial relief to British subjects, and His Majesty's Ambassador reported on 16th August that applications for assistance were much reduced. In the Balkan States His Majesty's representatives are supplied with funds which should be sufficient for the urgent requirements of British subjects.

With regard to British subjects in Germany, the position is as follows: The United States Embassy in London have, at the request of His Majesty's Government, sent the sum of £2,000 to the United States Ambassador at Berlin for the relief of British subjects. The German Government have also placed at the disposal of the United States Embassy at Berlin a sum of approximately £10,000, to be employed for the relief of foreigners whose interests the United States have taken charge of. It is not yet known what proportion of this amount will be available for the relief of British subjects. When that information is received, an equivalent amount will be placed at the disposal of the United States Embassy in London by His Majesty's Government. In addition to these arrangements, His Majesty's Minister at The Hague is arranging to send the sum of £5,000 to the United States Embassy at Berlin for the relief of British subjects, and is asking the American Ambassador to inform the American Consuls at Hanover, Frankfort, Nuremberg, Dresden, Cologne, and Hamburg, that this sum is available. Certain funds in the possession of the King Edward Foundation Fund and of the British Charitable Association at Berlin have been utilised by the United States Embassy there to meet cases of urgent distress. The United States Embassy at Berlin have taken and are taking energetic steps to deal with the cases of distress that are brought before them both in Berlin and the provinces.

The American Embassy in London have also requested the American Embassy at Berlin to ascertain as far as possible the number of British subjects in Germany, and to supply lists of those with whom the Embassy and Consulates are able to get into touch. Inquiry is also being made as to how far British subjects in Germany are being treated as prisoners.

With regard to Austria-Hungary the United States Embassy in London inform me that they learn from the United States Embassy at Vienna that the number of British subjects in Austria-Hungary is probably over 1,000. Of these the young men are mostly under arrest and the remainder of the young men will probably not be allowed to leave the country. Many English families settled in Austria-Hungary desire to remain, and will probably be permitted to do so. It is estimated that 300 visitors to the Bohemian spas and the Tyrol wish to return to England and also a number of governesses, teachers, etc. Many of these people who wish to return are unable to pay for tickets or to meet their hotel bills. The funds now in the hands of the United States Embassy at Vienna are sufficient to meet cases of urgency, but are not sufficient to pay hotel bills or to carry out repatriation on a large scale.

In view of this His Majesty's Government have requested the United States Embassy in London to place the sum of £2,000 in the hands of the United States Embassy at Vienna in order to enable the Ambassador to deal with these cases. I would point out that communication with Germany and Austria-Hungary is still extremely difficult, and that it may be a considerable time before any news can be received as to individual cases. The Foreign Office will communicate with the relatives of those who are unable to leave immediately on receipt of any news. I would add that, apart from the natural inconvenience due to the state of war in Germany and Austria-Hungary, there is no reason to suppose that British subjects in those two countries are in danger.

I trust that the relatives and friends of persons in Germany or Austria-Hungary will realise from this statement that British subjects in these countries are being cared for as well as circumstances permit. It is still impossible to send money to particular persons in these countries, but the amounts of the funds now at the disposal of the United States representatives are, I believe, making it possible for all cases of distress to be properly dealt with.


Can the hon. Gentleman say in how many other towns besides Berlin there are actual representatives of the American Consulate?


I have given the names of a number of the towns, including Hanover, Frankfort, Nuremberg, Dresden, Cologne, and Hamburg, where the American Consuls have been asked to draw on funds placed at their disposal at Berlin.


I desire to ask the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he is aware that several English citizens are in prison, or under detention, at Basle, and in other towns, including some very prominent Liverpool citizens, who were armed with passports?


I am aware of that. I think that about seventy persons who were persons of age for service in war were detained at Basle with certain parties when on their way back from Germany. I believe they have been removed from Basle to some more central camp. I hope to be able to make a fuller statement about that in a day or two, when I have received an answer to the inquiry I referred to in the answer I gave a few minutes ago as to what is being done with regard to the detention of British subjects in Germany.


Are not some of the citizens detained at Basle of middle or advanced age, and not capable of taking part in war?


Yes, Sir, but I think there might have been circumstances which in the eyes of the authorities who detained them, at any rate, may have justified, or seemed to have justified, their detention. I agree that some of them were of a rather advanced age.