§ Sir F. BANBURY
I beg to move, "That, in view of the grave statements that have been made regarding the treatment of prisoners of war in Germany, this House requests His Majesty's Government to take all the means in their power to ensure their better treatment in the future."
I should like to take this opportunity of thanking the Prime Minister for having given mo facilities for bringing this question on. I am perfectly well aware of the great difficulty which the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs has to meet in dealing with these matters, and I do not in any kind of way bring this Motion on in a hostile attitude to the Government, but merely because I think the public ought to know the manner in which our brave soldiers are being treated at present, and which is contrary to all the customs of civilised warfare. I am sorry the Government did not publish these Papers earlier. I think, from what I know of my own countrymen, that it is always better to tell them bad news, if there is bad news, and that they are always prepared to meet it in a proper spirit. The Government have, perhaps for good reasons, at a moment when there has been a great desire to obtain recruits, withheld this information. My own belief is that if the manner in which these men are being treated is circulated throughout the country there is not a man who would not, if he was able, at once feel desirous of joining the Army in order to avenge the treatment which has been meted out to these men. In fact, old as I am, when I read the White Paper I felt a desire to 624 ask the Secretary of State for War to find me a commission as second lieutenant in some regiment. I should like to ask why it is that on 13th October, when the Government received some information from the United States Ambassador with regard to the camp at Doberitz, as far as one can see no steps were taken to deal with it until 26th December. On that date a letter was written dealing with the camp at Ruhleben, but not with the camp at Doberitz. Of course, it is possible that Papers have appeared and letters have been written and steps taken which do not appear in the White Paper, and, therefore, I am only asking for information, but apparently no steps were taken between 13th October and 26th December. I should also like to ask for an explanation of the letter which was written on 4th March from the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to the United States Ambassador. Apparently this is the first letter in which His Majesty's Government really attempt to take any steps. It says:—His Majesty's Government feel that the time has come to ask that the same permission as was given by His, Majesty's Government to Mr. Jackson to visit the camps in this country, should be given by the German Government for a similar inspection of camps in Germany, in which British prisoner of war, civil and military, are interned.5.0 P.M.
That seems to be a very likely explanation, but it seems to me that the 4th of March was rather late to ask for permission to visit the camps in Germany in the same way as permission had been given to Mr. Jackson to visit the camps here. I trust that the Press will take notice of this Debate. Large numbers of people in this country do not read White Papers, because it is not in their power to do so, and they do not read the summarised reports that very often appear in the Press of the Debates in the House. I do not know what view the Press generally take upon this subject, but in my opinion it is so important a matter that it is necessary that the Debate which takes place to-day should be very fully reported in the Press, and I hope that that will be so.
There was a question asked to-day about the officers who have been interned in Germany in solitary confinement, in consequence of the treatment which has been meted out to the thirty-nine officers and the crew of the submarines who have been captured. So far as I know the officers and crew of the submarines, if they have been treated differently from the other prisoners of war, have been treated in a 625 humane manner, whereas the thirty-nine British officers who have been taken by the Germans have in some instances not been treated in a humane way. An old friend of mine wrote to me the other day on hearing that I was to raise this question in the House, and she sent me a letter from her niece who is engaged to be married to one of these officers who have been placed in a common gaol in Germany. From that letter, which I have in my pocket, it appears that this gentleman is wounded. I think he is wounded in the lung. They thought he was dead, but they found out later that he was alive, but in a very weak condition, and still suffering from this wound in the lung. In the letter this lady says:—Why cannot they take an unwounded man if it is necessary to make a reprisal of that sort. Why do they take a wounded man, and put a poor weak, wounded man in solitary confinement, whore he has to clean his own cell and so on. I should not have minded so much if he had only been strong and well, because I know he would have borne it for the sake of his country.It seems to me almost incredible that any nation calling itself a civilised nation should do a thing like that. I think the fact, and it is an undoubted fact that that has been done, should be made known all over the country. I propose to confine most of my remarks to certain extracts and letters in the White Paper, but before doing so I should like to relate one or two narratives that have been told me. My hon. Friend the Member for the Holderness Division of Yorkshire (Mr. Stanley Wilson)—I am not quite certain as to what corps or unit he is attached in France—was over here last week, and he told me that a certain communication had been made to him in France by an officer who told him that he was prepared to verify the statements made in it. My hon. Friend made a promise to this officer to read the letter in the House of Commons. He was, however, sent back to France, and he handed the letter to me, and asked me to take his place. This letter has been quoted in one or two papers, and therefore I do not propose to read it unless any hon. Member desires it. I have got it in my pocket and I propose merely to summarise what is in it. I know who wrote it. He is a private soldier in the Army. I know his regiment, and I know how the letter got over here. I am prepared to show that letter to the Government or to any Member of this House who wants to see it, but I think every one will agree with me that as this man is still a prisoner in Germany it 626 would be wise if I do not in any way indicate his regiment or the manner in which he sent the letter over here:—This man says that he is starving. He says that men are tied up to posts in such a way that only the tips of their toes touch the ground, and that it is worse than being in hell.He writes altogether an extremely despairing letter. In the days of my youth I used to read the books of Fennimore Cooper, and I used to see how the American Red Indians behaved to the trappers and settlers who were colonising in America. There was little worse punishment ever inflicted by these American Red Indians than is now apparently being inflicted by these people who call themselves the cultured nation of Europe. That is one case. The other case which has been brought to my notice confirms the statements in the first case, and is from a totally different source. From this totally different source I am informed that it is by no means uncommon for our prisoners to be tied up in the way that has been described for such small breaches of discipline as smoking when smoking is forbidden, or smoking in a place where smoking is forbidden. It is said that men have been bayoneted in the hands and in other parts of the body, and ill-used in the way I have described.
Certain information I received yesterday came to me in the presence of my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin (Lord Robert Cecil). I do not know what impression it made upon him, but certainly I thought that the person who gave me the information was giving me information which was correct and not exaggerated. That gentleman has asked me not to mention his name, if it is possible to avoid it, and not to state the particular camp to which he alludes, and, of course, I understand the reasons which actuate him. I shall be very willing to give in confidence his name, and the name of the camp, to any Member of this House who asks me for them. I think the information has already been given to the Government. This gentleman corroborates the statement about prisoners being tied up in the way I have already indicated. He tells me that at one camp he knows the allowance for food is 6d. per day. Sixpence a day, or 3s. 6d. a week, is not a very large allowance to feed a man upon. In addition to that there is also given every other day a loaf of bread:—He says that prisoners in many cases are being starved, and that to his knowledge people have died from the effects of imprisonment. He did not think it would ever be known how many people have died, 627 because when it is found that they are in a dying state they are quietly taken away, ostensibly to a sanatorium, and nothing more is heard about them.Now I turn to the White Paper, from which I shall only read a few extracts. I presume that Members of the House have read the White Paper, but people outside the House have not read it, and I believe I shall be making my case all the stronger if I take what is admitted by the Government to be true, than if I take statements, however true they may be, which come from other sources. The first extract to which I shall call attention is on page S, and it is from Mr. Gerard. After stating that he is visiting a number of prisoners of war, Mr. Gerard says that their care is a matter which requires the immediate attention of the British Government. That letter was written on 2nd October and received by the Government on the 13th October. It comes from an American who is an impartial observer, and it says:—There are a number of British prisoners of war in this country I have not yet succeeded in getting the exact number and place of confinement, but their care is a matter which requires the immediate attention of the British Government.I visited the camp at Doberitz, near Berlin, the other day, interviewed the sergeants and examined the camp…The prisoners have only one blanket and are without overcoats, as when taken prisoner they are compelled to drop their overcoats and equipment. They therefore suffer from cold, as well as from the condition brought about by having no change of underwear. … I have already purchased and sent out 100 blankets… Some of the men complained that the food was insufficient. One loaf of good black bread is given to three men; each man has a cup of coffee in the morning, some soup in the middle of the day, and a cup of tea or coffee at night, and this constitutes their sole rations. I presume that the British prisoners in other camps are in a similar condition.It does not sound a very great amount of food to have—a cup of coffee in the morning, some soup in the middle of the day, a cup of tea or coffee at night in conjunction with some black bread. But it depends upon what the coffee and the soup and the tea is like, and when you come to read further in the White Paper you will find that the coffee is nothing but a little brown-coloured water, that the tea is as bad, and that the soup is simply a little hot water with a little colouring matter in it from vegetables or something of that kind. The next extract is on page 11, and it is a letter from Mr. Grew, who is the counsellor of the American Embassy in Berlin, who had visited the prisoners' camp at Doberitz. He says:—There were very few complaints on the part of the men. Nothing was said about the food, but the men objected to the fact that the blankets were not thick enough.628 I have been told, and as far as I can make out there is a great deal of foundation for that view, that we must not take too seriously favourable statements about the condition of these prisoners, because I am told the German authorities have left unturned no stone in order to prevent people who are visiting the camps from knowing the true state of affairs. They are only shown what the Germans desire should be be shown, and pressure is brought upon the prisoners not to make any complaint for fear things should be worse than before. Then there is a letter from Mr. Lay, the American Consul-General at Berlin, who gives a list of objectionable features in reference to the treatment of British officers detained at Tergau. At page 13, he says:—Officers have recently been forbidden beer. The water is unfit to drink, likewise the mineral waters provided. Wine and beer, if limited, could not possibly do any harm.At present every officer has to be in bed at 9 p.m. with lights out. An extension, even to 10 p.m., is urgently requested.At present the water-closets are used by officers of all ranks; by English and French orderlies, by German soldiers, and by German civilians employed in the fort. Could not a water-closet and latrines be set apart for English officers and the same for French officers?There are here many officers so badly wounded as to render them permanently unfit to serve again. Many require serious operations. They are unfitted for the rough life here, and in the cause of humanity should be sent to England.Then he deals with various other questions, including the pay of officers. On page 22 there is a letter from Sir Edward Grey to Mr. Page, in which he says:—I have the honour to inform your Excellency that His Majesty's Minister at Stockholm has reported that, according to information received from Russians lately returned from Germany, the British prisoners of war interned at Munsterlager, near Hanover, complain greatly of ill-treatment.That is the first intimation in this White Paper that the Government was dealing seriously with the question. Then, on page 26, there is a letter from Sir G. Buchanan, His Majesty's Minister in Petrograd, to Sir Edward Grey, enclosing a statement made by a Russian medical officer just returned from three weeks' detention as prisoner of war at Dänholm bei Stralsund, who says:—The British officers are not as well treated as the Russian officers. They are classed among the less-educated Russians, who speak no language other than Russian, so that they cannot talk… With regard to the food, the doctor said it was very bad, both in quality and quantity. The coffee was bad and made with dirty water. The officers were given three pieces of bread a day made with potato meal. Lunch consisted mostly of potatoes. In the evening they received bread and a small slice of sausage.629 All these reports come from unbiassed men, and sources which, in all probability, have not been able to obtain full information, because it is evident that the German Government would not like them to do so. Then, on page 28, the Foreign Secretary writes to Mr. Page and makes allusion to a report by Mr. Gaston, and there is a footnote with the words, "Not printed." I do not know why that report is not printed; perhaps there are very excellent reasons. I would ask the hon. Gentleman to make a note of that point, and let me know why the report is not printed. Then there is a statement by a French priest, who says:—While the French prisoners were very well treated and the Russians not so badly, the British were singled out for ill-treatment. According to the French priest the German soldiers kick the British prisoners in the stomach, and break their guns over their backs; they force them to sleep out in marshy places, so that many are now consumptive. The British are almost starved, and such have been their tortures that thirty of them asked to be shot.At page 34 there is a statement by an American citizen who lives at Havre. His name is not given. It is sent by the American Ambassador to the Foreign Secretary. It is a long statement in reference to the British prisoners of war at Döberitz. I will only read a few words. It says:—There are 9,000 men in the Doberitz camp, elbowing each other, sleeping two in a bed. Not one has had a bath since he was first brought to the camp. It isn't likely that one will have a bath while the war lasts. When winter comes, and they move into the permanent wooden barracks which have been provided for them, conditions must grow worse. They will be huddled about stoves then, and in the lack of proper clothing will not keep in the open air. Even now—'Don't touch anything, said the guard. 'You'll get' em on you.'When a man can stand the torture no longer he is sent to the hospital. There he gets—not a bath—but a thorough daubing with a vermin-killing ointment. His clothes are disinfected. He is sent back to be reinhabited.Some of them do their best to keep clean. In the centre of the camp is a horse-trough, perhaps 50 feet long, into which water may be turned from a tap. It stands in the open air. Men who have money and can buy soap at the canteen wash their clothes in this trough. If they are particularly particular they strip themselves and take an ice-water bath. The fall and winter climate of northern Germany is very severe. We were shivering in our overcoats. But we saw half-a-dozen men naked to the waist, rubbing themselves down with water at the horse-trough… 'Seems to me a great many of the Englishmen are very pale,' I said to the guard. 'Do they get enough to eat?'He said they did, but that they didn't like it. The men receive a hunk of war bread, made of rye and potato flour, with a cup of tea in the morning and the same thing at night, with an occasional chunk of sausage added. The one hot meal of the day is at noon, when each gets a pannikin full of a soupy stew of cabbage and carrots and potatoes, or whatever other vegetable may be handy, plus some meat.630'The Russians like that soup,' said the guard. 'The Englishmen and Frenchmen do not. They are always complaining.'I saw that stew in the rough. Perhaps I was influenced by my dislike for cabbage and carrots, but it seemed to me it was a mighty unappetising mess… The men sleep in pairs in the tents or straw ticks. When we were there it had been raining for days. The dirt floor of the tents was a mass of mud. The straw gave off a sour and musty odour. But the guards say that the animal heat of so many men sleeping under a single canvas roof keeps them warm.There is a report at page 46 which deals with the conditions in the camp at Ruhleben, and the conditions there appear to be similar to those which I have already read out. The food appears to have been very bad. In this report the writer says:—Ruhleben is a trotting course with a training establishment attached. The latter is used to house the prisoners. There are eleven stables, each containing twenty-seven horse boxes of 10 ft. 6 in. by 10 ft. 6in., and above them two-large lofts. We are housed in the boxes and in the lofts, each box accommodating six prisoners. The floor is of concrete, and after we arrived we were supplied with a moderate amount of straw, which, strewn on the concrete, serves as one's bed. There is also a table and five chairs. The concrete is damp, and consequently the straw has become damp and clammy also. Recently we were supplied with sacks which were to be filled with straw and to serve as mattresses. For this we had to use the old damp and partly-rotten straw. A long passage runs down the full length of each stable; it contains two taps, which, together with one earthenware dish, constitute all the washing accommodation for the approximately 300 to 400 men housed in each stable. We are roused at 6, and have to get up at once; light in the passage is turned on about 6.30, when there is a scramble for water, afterwards the whole stall is lined up and has to march a distance of 500 to 600 yards for coffee. Each man is supplied with a dish, which he takes with him, and in this he receives about a pint of what is called coffee, but what is really only a concoction of chicory without either milk or sugar. After that the horse's box has to be cleaned. Each stall has a non-commissioned officer and two private soldiers in command. They treat the prisoners with great brutality, shouting at them, and even using personal violence. Between 11 and 12 o'clock the midday meal is served out in the same way and into the same dish as the coffee. Prisoners are marched 500 to 600 yards to one of the kitchens and there receive about 1 to 1½ pints of what is called soup—it is water, potatoes, vegetables, such as Swedish carrots or cabbages, sometimes peas or rice, and very little meat boiled with it. Men sometimes have not received a scrap of meat for a whole week. It is said that the contractor who supplies the food boils the meat first for the soldiers and gives them the best of it, and the bones and leavings then go into the prisoners' soup. The ingredients used seem to be to a great extent condemned stores. The rice, for instance, was sweepings from warehouses and soiled by mice, and the barley also often has the same flavour… They are not actually dying of starvation, but they can only just keep themselves alive and no more.Then there is a very sad statement about the condition of the prisoners who are ill. It is stated that the food given causes diarrhœa. There are no latrines anywhere-except out of doors, and in the middle of the night they have to be used by going 631 out. There are so few that, in the middle of a cold winter night, these unfortunate people suffering from bad food have to line up in queues while waiting to use these latrines. Then there is a statement here about a man who was taken ill one night with gall stones, and hon. Members of this House who have seen a person ill with gall stones must know the frightful pain and suffering which it causes. This man was taken ill at night time, and, of course, he could not get help in the night.But the first thing in the morning the noncommissioned officer was informed, who came and looked at him and sent for the hospital attendant. That attendant turned up a few hours later, took the patient's temperature, found his pulse vary weak, and said it was a case for the doctor, whom he would inform. The sick waited all day, but no doctor came, although he could be seen walking about the square for hours smoking cigarettes. In the evening the hospital attendant came to ask if the doctor had been to see the patient and promised to send him at 8 o'clock, but no doctor fame. Next morning, after thirty-six hours after the man was taken ill, he was informed that if he wanted to see the doctor he would have to dress and go and see him. This he eventually did. His friends dragged him to the consulting room, the doctor did not even examine him, he merely asked him what was the matter and what he wanted. When informed that the patient wanted morphium he told his attendant to give him one capsule, and that ended the matter. All the inmates of this camp are agreed that if anyone here should fall ill his days are numbered unless he be a German Englishman.With regard to this camp, as far as I can make out from what appears in this Paper, the people interned there are all civilians, and, as far as I can also make out, in Germany in the case of every Briton and every man who is born of British parents, or born in any of the Colonies, even if he has been naturalised, if he is between the ages of seventeen and fifty-five, he is interned in these awful places. That is very different from the treatment which we have given, to naturalisel Germans over here. I feel that that ought to be brought borne to naturalised Germans over here, many of whom are connected with people of prominence, of wealth, and of good social position in Germany. Many of them are very rich men; they are naturalised as Englishmen. I am not making any accusation, but I should like to see them do something to show that they are really naturalised Englishmen, and not Germans, who have naturalised themselves in order that they may take advantage of it.
The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Mr. Primrose)
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will refer to 632 the Memorandum, No. 16. on page 9 of the White Paper.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I see it is dated 17th October. It states that there aresome few English civilians in Germany who have been placed in prison or in prison camps—about 300. The German Government is informed that a great number of German civilian prisoners—over 6,000—are in prison camps in England.That, however, does not deal with the statement I have just read.
I do not wish to defend what the German Government has done, but the hon. Baronet will find in the Memorandum that Germany pointed out that some civilians would be interned if we took further measures against the civilians here, and that one would be the result of the other.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I am coming to retaliation, of which, however, I am not in favour. The fact does remain that there is a large number—if not all, nearly all—of Englishmen interned in Germany, and there is also a large number of naturalised Germans interned here. That is very different from the treatment given here, and if there is not to be retaliation, at any rate, there is room for it. Although I am against retaliation, unless we are driven to it, yet I do not think we would gain anything by letting the German people think that we are afraid to do it. We have got to make up our mind, and we have got to do something to let the Germans know that we are not going to take these things lying down. Though our soldiers and civilians in Germany are bearing their ills like men, that is no reason why we should allow these people to think that they can impose those hardships with impunity. On page 48 of the Paper there is confirmation of what I have said, and we must not take for granted all that is told us. I give every credit to the representative Americans who are making inquiries, still I do not think we should take for granted everything that they state, because I think they have sometimes been misled. On page 48 we are told that the representative of the American Embassy was allowed to visit certain places in the camp; he was shown comfortable places which had been arranged for him to see. That is nothing new; it has been done over and over again in all sorts of places, and the House must be prepared for something of that sort. Only the other day, according to the White Paper, page 82, this was 633 sent by Sir Edward Grey, the Secretary of State, to the United States Ambassador in London:—We have received information from a prominent official of the Red Gross Society from which it is evident that our prisoners of war in Germany are being kept very short of food—if not starved.This was written on 19th March. I hope the House will excuse me for having brought to their attention these extracts from the White Paper, but I could not have performed my task without doing so, and it is a matter which the country ought to know. I may be asked what is my remedy. There are three remedies—I do not say they are good—which have occurred to me. Probably there may be others with suggestions which they may think better. The first of the three remedies is retaliation. I do not believe in retaliation, because two wrongs do not make a right, and if the Germans are behaving in the horrible manner which I have indicated, and if they break all The Hague Conventions, which I think is undoubtedly the fact, that is no reason why we should do so, or act as they are doing. I would not do it if it could possibly be avoided, but some things might arise which would make it absolutely necessary to take some steps. The next remedy is one proposed by my Noble Friend (Lord C. Beresford), that we should take some of their money. Undoubtedly money goes a long way with a good many people, and certainly the Germans do not like their money interfered with. I was very much taken with my Noble Friend's suggestion when it was first made, but one has got to be a little careful to find out exactly how much money we have got of theirs and how much they have got of ours.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
That is rather a difficult thing to find out. So far as I can make out, I do not think the information we have is at all authentic, and I have not been able to ascertain exactly what the actual facts are. So far as I can gather we have more cash, more security, more actual money of the Germans here than they have of ours; but there are certain debits owing to us by Germany which might possibly alter that position—for instance, acceptances of bills. One does not know exactly what is going to happen after the War; we cannot be too sure that those debts will be paid off, whatever happens. There is a difference between a promise to pay and a golden sovereign in 634 your hand. At present, however, so far as I can make out, we are in a better position with regard to actual assets than are the Germans. I think that is a matter which has to be carefully considered. There can be no question that there is a very large number of naturalised Germans over here who are in partnership, or who have been in partnership, with large numbers in Germany. I believe a good deal of German money is over here in that form. A naturalised German has a business here, and he has also got a firm abroad in Germany; but the partners in Germany do not come over here, though they really are partners, whatever arrangement has been made since the War. A good deal of money belongs to these people, and that has got to be included—at least I should include it—in the amount that we have over here.
Then the last solution is that we should make it one of the conditions in the terms of peace that the people who have been responsible for these outrages should be punished. I think on the whole that is the best solution. We could hold our hands with regard to the others, especially with regard to the money, until we could make that last solution sufficient. I think it would also be well if we could, in concert with our Allies, tell Germany that, at the close of the War—which will undoubtedly be in our favour—the conditions of peace will be more onerous unless an amelioration takes place with regard to the condition of the prisoners, and1 unless the people who have been responsible for what has occurred in the past are to be brought to account. We must not overlook that. I would not let them turn round and say, "We are sorry now."' Those people who are responsible in the past should be made to feel the effects of their wrongdoing, and I think that should be made one of the conditions of peace. I have endeavoured to discharge a difficult task, and I hope I have not wearied the House, but I felt that it was essential that the people should know the truth of what is going on. It was therefore I ventured to ask the Prime Minister to give me a day, and, in conclusion, I thank him and the Secretary of State for War for having given me that day.
§ Mr. POLLOCK
I hope the House will grant me their indulgence while, for a short time, I endeavour to add to the observations which have been so forcibly made by the Member for the City of London. I think we ought, first of all, to 635 point out at once that the discussion on this subject in this House is not brought forward because we are feeling the pinch of the misconduct of Germany towards our prisoners. It must not go forth from any Debate in this House that Germany has succeeded in touching us "on the raw," or that any further departure from international courtesy and rule will be effective in causing us to feel what Germany would wish us to feel, namely, the power of the mailed fist. That will not be the result of this Debate. I hope that it will have another result among the neutral countries where they will read the White Paper—I hope we shall gain, what Germany has always attempted to gain by foul means, by lies, by falsehood and untruth, namely, opinion in our favour in neutral countries. I hope we shall be able, especially in those countries where an interest is taken in this question, and where this Debate may be read, to show that we have got a crime brought home to the Germans, and that neutral countries will realise that we are fighting, as we are fighting, against Prussian militarism and for the cause of humanity and civilisation. One other result, I hope, will arise from this Debate, that it will have the result, as my hon. Friend suggested, of increasing the numbers of recruits by causing it to be realised throughout the country that it is the duty of our men to save their own "pals," as we have heard them described this afternoon, who are in various units at the front—their own friends, their own countrymen—from some of the most grievious horrors that have ever been perpetrated on prisoners of war.
The hon. Baronet detailed a certain number of facts, which are contained in the White Paper, and I assume that all Members of the House are in possession of the salient features of that document. It is not uninteresting to recall the terms of the Convention which Germany has signed. There have been two Conventions which have dealt with the treatment of prisoners of war. Germany has signed both. She signed one on the 29th July, 1899, at The Hague. She signed another with some slight reserve—which I do not think is material, though the Under-Secretary may tell us it is material—on the 18th October, 1907. It comes as no matter of surprise to any Member of this House to find that Germany has acted in direct contradiction of these two Conventions to which she put her hand, and that she has added one more proof of that 636 perfidy of which she has been guilty in breaking treaties by which she was bound as well as ourselves. What are the clauses of those Conventions? Germany may care very little for international law, but at any rate the conditions to which she put her hand set up a standard of treatment which should be accorded to prisoners of war. There are three or four rules. The first is that prisoners must be humanely treated. The next is that the Government into whose hands they have fallen is bound to maintain them. The next, failing special agreement between the belligerents, prisoners shall be treated as regards food, quarters, and clothing, on the same footing as the soldiers of the Government who captured them. The fourth is that there should be a bureau of information established, in order that communications may be made by the prisoners to their relatives at home. Those are four simple rules. Let us come now to what the White Paper tells us from impartial sources as to the terms of treatment being received by our prisoners. Does it accord with anything like that standard which civilised nations have set up, or does it accord more nearly with what we find published on 8th December in the Berlin papers. Some correspondence had taken place in those papers as to whether or not prisoners at Ruhleben were being too well treated, and in an official communiqué, published in Berlin, on 8th December, we find it stated that the Ruhleben prisonerswere not being treated too well, but as severely as possible, in accordance with the wishes of the people.I hope neutral countries will take note of that—"in accordance with the wishes of the people." May I refer also to one or two passages which the hon. Baronet overlooked, and for this reason. I think we have got to remember in a discussion on this subject that there are different sorts of camps. Ruhleben camp is the camp in which a large number of civilian prisoners have been interned. Here, perhaps, I may make this remark, that although I followed the passage to which the Under-Secretary referred to show that not all Englishmen in Germany are being interned, perhaps when he comes to address us he will explain how that coincides with the statement which is made on page 82 of the White Paper and which is put forward apparently from authoritative sources. How does he explain the divergence, and how can he reconcile the two statements? I accept, of course, his 637 statement that all British subjects are not being interned, but on page 82, No. 109, and dated 18th March, there is the statement:—A month ago all British Colonial subjects were rearrested and interned.
The hon. and learned Gentleman misunderstands me. I did not say that British civilians are not being interned now. They are.
§ Mr. POLLOCK
Whether earlier or later, I am sure this House will take just the same interest, and I am not sure that it is much satisfaction to the British subjects who are interned now to tell them that they have been lucky that they were not interned a little while ago. What we really care to know is that they are interned now, and all British Colonial subjects are. As I have pointed out, we must differentiate between the camps. Ruhleben, I think, is, on the whole, the camp in which the civil prisoners have been interned. A description of that camp is to be found on page 65, and a contrast can be made between that description and what appears on page 80 with regard to the principles to be observed in the treatment of the prisoners of war:—In the morning there is coffee, tea, or soup, and at noon a plentiful fare, consisting of meat and vegetables. The meat may be replaced by a correspondingly larger portion of fish, and at night a substantial and plentiful meal.There is a bold statement concerning the principles observed in housing, feeding, and clothing the officers and men held prisoners of war in Germany. Contrast that with what appears on page 8 of the White Paper of a ration of a little coffee in the morning, a little soup in the middle of the day, and practically no food at night. It is all very well to put off the neutral inquirer, and we are very grateful for the way in which the United States Ambassadors have done their best, but the statement of their principles which appears on page 80 is putting us off. Those principles are honoured in the breach and not in the observance, and they are of a kind with a great many other pieces of information which come from Germany. Let us turn from the Ruhleben camp to the other camps, because I think it may be fairly said, and I wish to be quite fair on the matter, there is evidence in this White Paper that the conditions at Ruhleben have much improved. It is quite true that only from about 6d. to 7d. is allowed for food, but since they have apparently removed one or two of what I should call the "German captains," 638 who were originally placed in charge of the camp, matters seem to have improved, and let us hope that they have.
Let us turn now to where the prisoners of war are interned, namely, at Doberitz, Torgau, and Sennelager. Those are all camps where our prisoners are at the present moment being confined. You will find the conditions at Doberitz described on page 8. Even at the other camp at Ruhleben the prisoners were all vermin-ridden, and I do not think that we can believe that the condition of the men at Doberitz is anything better. We have the statement at the bottom of page 35 about these men:—It may be quite true that nothing better can be done for them under the circumstances. Nevertheless, these 9,000 are very miserable men.This is the way it closes—It is true they are vermin-ridden. They have no way of keeping themselves clean.That is at Doberitz. Let us go now to Torgau, a fortress where officers are imprisoned, and of them we read:—Many require serious operations. They are unfitted for the rough life here, and in the cause of humanity should be sent to England.Here is another:—Information regarding the treatment of noncommissioned officers and men of the British Army who are prisoners of war in other camps is anxiously awaited. Rumours of their exposure to the elements, their starvation, and their treatment are rampant all along the line.Let me now come to Sennelager, of which we read the following:—Three prisoner camps at Sennelager require 1,000 uniforms, 1,500 greatcoats, and 1,000 sets of underwear, which should all be addressed and forwarded directly to Kommandateur, Sennelager.That is in a telegram from Mr. Page, United States Ambassador in London, to Sir Edward Grey, and dated Febrnary 16th. We know that the greatcoat is always taken from the prisoners, and very often the tunic, but always the greatcoat, because the German officers wear it, since it is much better than the one with which they are supplied. On page 77 we find further requests for clothing, and that in March the total number of greatcoats required for our troops is 6,815, for those men exposed to the rigour of the climate in Germany, and who had their greatcoats taken from them. Those are details of the three camps set out in the White Paper, and then there is the other question, How are the officers treated? Are they treated in anything like the same way as the officers of our Allies are treated? They are not. On page 26 we find the statement from a Russian medical officer as follows:—The British officers are not as well treated as the Russian officers. They are classed among the 639 less educated Russians, who speak no language other than Russian, so that they cannot talk. The Russians are allowed to buy books, but the British officers are not allowed to do so. The German lieutenant in charge is openly insulting and hostile towards the British prisoners.We must again note the differentiation against the British officer under circumstances which might well imply humiliation and actual discomfort by treatment which must be extremely hard to bear. I need not go through the other statements as to the other camps. Not only have we the details in the White Paper, but a day or two ago I read in the Press a statement by a German prisoner, who said:—On the transports the English and French prisoners were mixed together. When the prisoners were given water to drink the English were always the last to get the water, and if they made any remark they were always roughly ordered to keep silent.6.0 P.M.
So that we see there is a design and a purpose in the way in which they treat not only the men but the officers. It may be asked, Can we do anything? I confess I am not very confident about retaliation. After all, the treatment of prisoners of war is no new problem. It is a problem which belongs to all wars. I was much interested to read as I have done just lately that a good deal of controversy arose between this country and America during the period of the American War on this subject. Any hon. Member who cares to look back to the year 1782 will find a controversy which arose over a Captain Asgill, who was chosen by lot in answer for Captain Huddy, who had been put to death improperly by an officer of our staff. You will find that each side put forward the claim of man for man, but it came to an end because at that time we were fighting a foe to whom chivalry meant something and who understood the dictates of humanity. Those who wish to make further inquiry into this will find perhaps as noble a letter as ever was penned from George Washington, who ultimately released the captain. It is interesting to note when we are fighting a foe of the type we are now fighting, that not always in the history of the world have we had to do battle against what I may call the foe of civilisation. This particular incident shows that we have fought sometimes against foes who, in the bitter stress of war, have been able to find an opportunity for the expression of some of the highest and noblest 640 qualities. I looked to see whether or not we have succeeded in any steps we have taken. One observes that the Foreign Secretary has taken the step of saying—I do not know whether he has actually done it—that if our prisoners were not treated better he would withdraw some of the pay given to the Germans over here in accordance with the principles of The Hague Convention. I hape that that may have some salutary effect. I think we need not go quite so far as we have done in the treatment of German prisoners over here. In another paper—Miscellaneous No. 5—in a memorandum on the treatment of interned civilians and of prisoners of war in the United Kingdom, a description is given of their food, housing and clothing. This may be read in contrast to the robbing of our prisoners of their greatcoats and tunics, and the requisition which has to be made for clothing to be sent out because the Germans supply none. This is what we read:—Clothing, An ample supply of first-class clothing, including overcoats, boots, shirts, and underclothing, as well as towels, soap, etc., is kept in each camp, and is supplied to those who may have need of it free of charge. Several cases have been brought to notice where aliens have gambled away the garments given to them, and have accordingly suffered from want of clothing until this has been supplied for a second time.Are we not going a little far if we, I do not say allow gambling, but recognise that a gambler is to have more clothing served out to him when he has gambled his first lot away? Is that quite a sensible way of treating them? Hon. members will find that this question was debated in this House during the Napoleonic Wars. I have read the Debate which took place in June, 1811, when the condition of the French prisoners was discussed. It was then stated that the prisoners gambled away all their clothes, and Lord Cochrane stated that he had ascertained that if they had only three rags they would gamble away two of them. We may recognise that gambling is apparently a solace to the prisoners of war, but may we not ask that we should not give to the gamblers a second lot of clothing, while our prisoners are being treated as they are at present in Germany? If retaliation is ruled out, what can we do? I believe that my hon. Friend (Sir F. Banbury), in the course of his speech, struck the right note. There are a certain number of Germans who are ashamed of the way in which our prisoners have been treated by Prussian militarists. I believe that those who would be ashamed are the Germans who might be described 641 as leading business men, men who have businesses over here, and it occurred to me that, quite apart from saying that we would take money belonging to Germans over here, or in partnership with persons over here, we might follow this path. There are a certain number of large trading concerns carrying on their businesses over here under licence. A controller has been appointed, and they are carrying on their businesses under his control. I suppose it is very important from the German point of view that these businesses should continue. I recognise that one must have every possible reserve in making suggestions. One has not sufficient knowledge of the facts to be able to make valuable suggestions. But if I were to make a suggestion it would be that, inasmuch as we have granted these large concerns the right to trade under a controller, it would not be impossible to make the licence in some way conditional, so that the interest of the Germans in these concerns should be subject to be taken if it were thought advisable to do so.
The purpose of this War is that Germany may ultimately not only become strong from a military point of view, but also rise to a point of success in business such as she has never achieved before. If we were to make it clear that that business would be subject to drawbacks, we might possibly have a weapon to secure something like proper treatment for our prisoners. It is abundantly clear that Germany has, by design, treated our prisoners far worse than she has treated the prisoners of any other country. She will not succeed by this treatment in altering our determination to carry on the War. She will arouse an enthusiasm in this country which these facts when brought home to the people will inspire. She will arouse a resentment against herself in neutral countries, because it will be perfectly plain, if any demonstration were necessary, how she is determined to dissociate the English from the other Allies and carry out in the most brutal manner the particular treatment which will satisfy her hate. This country has made it perfectly clear that it will not alter its course of war. We are at least entitled to make a perfectly clear statement of our case, to indict Prussian militarists at the bar of humanity, and convict them, not only of gross cruelty, but of the same perfidy of which they have been found guilty in the matter of treaties, also in the matter of those conventions under which various nations have over a 642 long period of time attempted to ameliorate the horrors of war.
Sir HENRY DALZIEL
I desire in the fewest possible words to associate myself with the hon. Baronet who brought forward this Motion. When this subject was raised before, certain statements were made with regard to the treatment of prisoners abroad, every one of which statements has since been confirmed by the White Paper. I think it is proved, without the need of further extracts, that our men in Germany are being abominably and brutally treated. There is evidence of that on almost every page of the White Paper. They have been insulted away from the battlefield, they have been spat upon by the officers in charge of them; they have been hit by the officers; they have been starved in the camps; they have been allowed to die without proper medical treatment. All these facts are proved up to the hilt, not merely by the White Paper, but by evidence that could be read to the House from absolutely impartial correspondents. There has been throughout calculated brutality inspired from high quarters against our prisoners of war. I might read one extract to show the refined brutality which has been exercised. On page 33, speaking of Crefeld, Major Vandeleur says:—I wish also to state that—, who arrived at Crefeld about December, told me that all the Irishmen at his camp (I think, but am not sure, that it was—) were collected together shortly before he left, and were harangued by the commandant, who stated that the Emperor was aware of the downtrodden state of Ireland, and now wished that the Irishmen should be placed in a separate camp, where they would be better fed and treated differently from the Englishmen. He further stated, that subsequently they went, in a body to the commandant, and said they did not wish to have any different treatment from their compatriots.That shows the kind of calculatel brutality which is being exercised. Admitted that the case exists—and no one can read the White Paper without admitting it—what can best be done in the interests of our fellow-countrymen in Germany? In my opinion the first thing to do would be to interest neutrals much more than has been done up to the present. It is surely impossible to believe that neutral nations can stand aside and be parties—for that is what it comes to—to the brutalities and horrors that are going on every day. I think that a much more dramatic step than has yet been attempted should be taken to bring the real facts before neutral countries. As far as America is concerned our Government have made great efforts, and 643 I do not think that this country can be too grateful to the officials of the American Government for the daily, almost hourly, attention which they have given to this matter. We ought to insist more on an impartial investigation of these camps. We allowed Germany to nominate her own man, so to speak, to go through our camps in this country. I regret very much—I have no doubt there were reasons why it was not done—that we did not make the bargain, "If you are to have your own man in our camps, we must have our man to go through your camps." I would still wish that we should try to get an impartial gentleman, say a member of the American Embassy, to go to all the camps in Germany, and give us a frank and true statement of the condition of things. There is this difference between our investigations there and their investigations here. The visitors to the camps in Germany have never been allowed to converse privately with our men, whereas in our camps here Mr. Jackson was allowed to lunch with the German officers without any Britisher being in the room at all. He was allowed to talk to them as long as he liked, and there was no one present as representing this country. That was frank. We practically opened the doors in the making of the investigation. I am very glad that we were able to do so, because so far as I have seen—and I have been pretty well round the camps now—there is nothing to hide and nothing of which to be ashamed. I do not care who goes to investigate. Of course, there may be small complaints in a great organisation of the kind, but, speaking generally, we are treating them like gentlemen, humanely, and we have nothing of which to be ashamed in respect of that treatment. I hope we shall press for this further impartial investigation. I also hope that an American representative will be introduced. I do not understand that it has been done up to the present time in our camps in Germany. When this subject was mentioned before, the Under-Secretary was good enough to say that he was going to arrange for a quartermaster from America to be present in all our camps in Germany. I hope he will be able to tell us something reassuring in respect of that.
I would further suggest that the question of exchanges should be pressed to a much greater extent than has been done up to the present time. I do not know 644 that the system under which exchanges are carried out is a very good one. For instance, I know a place where German officers are in this country. I think there were eight doctors in the camp. At the time of an exchange seven were taken away and one was left. The one that was left found it rather difficult to understand, as he was one of the oldest of these medical men, with greater qualifications than almost all the others, why he had been left. Therefore I think it would be a good thing that we should exchange all doctors, or, if necessary, equivalent professional men, if there are not sufficient doctors in Germany. At any rate, my policy would be exchanges all the time, and as many as possible; for that undoubtedly is the right line on which we ought to proceed.
I should like to say a word on another aspect of the case. Nothing has been said in regard to the question of reprisals. There is the isolation of the thirty-nine officers in Germany, and the treatment of them as felons. This is a very serious matter indeed. Something, I hope, will be done—I do not know how—to find a way out by which that intolerable state of things may come to an end. It may be by neutral inquiry in some way. I wish we could say that we were entirely free our selves in regard to this matter. So far as we are concerned, I think the dramatic announcement of the manner in which we were going to treat the submarine officers, almost as though it had been a great naval victory, was ill-advised, and in itself was a great political blunder. If we had desired to treat these German submarine officers differently it could have been perfectly well done, and still they might have been treated most humanely—because there is no officer treated badly in this country. I venture to say that the treatment which is being meted out here to these German submarine officers is a very great deal better than meted out to any British officer in Germany; authough there is not the shadow of a doubt that the result of making that announcement has given the impression that we were treating them practically as felons, and punishing them in a way that could not be defended. That policy was, I say, a mistake, and the manner in which it was announced was a still greater mistake.
For my part, as I indicated in the question I put to the First Lord to-day, I cannot for the life of me see where the difference comes in between the German submarine 645 officers who sink ships and the officers of the Blücher, or anybody else who killed women and children at Scarborough, and who, some of them, are now at Donington Hall. They were carrying out the orders of their Government. So were the German submarine officers, though, of course, I do not defend the latter. But that aspect is one for consideration when you come to consider the punishment which ought to be meted out. We have acted in this matter in a way that is not calculated to help our fellow countrymen in Germany. In every step we take in regard to the Germans—civilians and soldiers—in this country, we ought to weigh well how far it is going to help or injure the condition of things in regard to our own people in Germany. Our action was a mistake from the beginning; it was totally unjustified, in my opinion, from any point of view, and I do hope there will be a way found whereby we will make this matter straight; for unless we do that the question of reprisals will get much worse for our own people than they will for the Germans.
In reprisals the Germans will stick at nothing. They do things we should never do, no matter what happens. We, therefore, ought to bear that in mind, whatever they do, that our policy in this country ought to be to treat our prisoners humanely and fairly, and not injuriously. If we start on a policy of reprisals we are not going to get anything from it at all. On the contrary, our own men in Germany would suffer as a result of that policy. Therefore I say we are indebted to the hon. Baronet for raising this question today. It is one that has been rather neglected. I am certain of this, however, that a state of mind is gradually arising outside, and once the country gets to know the facts the people will not allow the Government to tolerate the horrors that are going on in Germany. I am certain that the Under-Secretary is sympathetic in this matter, and I hope he will be able to give us a statement to-day which will be much more hopeful than any of the information we have up to the present.
§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
May I say how very much I agree with what has just fallen from the right hon. Gentleman opposite? May I say how much I agree with him as to the question of exchanges? That is a very important matter. There is a phrase in one of the dispatches where the Foreign Secretary declined to consider 646 any question of individual exchanges. I think that is a great mistake, and a great pity. I think the great object ought to be to get as many people as possible out of Germany. The Under-Secretary, I hope, will not think I am guilty of any personal discourtesy to him—it is the last thing I should wish to be—if I say that I do rather regret that it has been found impossible for the Prime Minister or the Foreign Secretary himself to be here. I do think that this is one of the most important questions that this House can consider. There is an impression—I hope it is entirely unfounded—that the case of the British in Germany has not excited so much official interest as it ought to have excited. I make that observation not for the purpose of scoring a party point, or anything of that kind, but to urge upon the Government that they will—and I am sure they are doing their best—make it clear to the whole world that they really do care intensely about this question.
There are one or two questions which I would like answered on a particular aspect of this question. I shall be very grateful to the Under-Secretary if he can give us some information as to the treatment of Indian prisoners. There are rumours going about that they are being treated even worse than the British prisoners in Germany. If the hon. Gentleman can reassure us on this point I am sure the House will be grateful. There is another question which I raised in a question I put the other day. I have seen a considerable number of letters from wounded prisoners in Germany. The burden of many of them—I will not say all, but certainly frequently—is that the friends hear from their relatives once: that such a relative says he is a wounded prisoner in such and such a German camp. The relatives add, "We have heard nothing further from him at all for weeks." I do not know whether any inquiry is being made on that point from the German authorities, but it seems to suggest some rule which forbids a wounded prisoner, at any rate in some camps, from writing to his relatives more than once. This is a little borne out by a letter which I saw from the commandant of a camp at Gardelegen. It referred to the case of one of our medical officers who is in prison there. The letter was to the relative of this medical officer from the commandant, saying: "Your brother or son" —I forget which it was—"has been brought here from such and such a camp. He is quite well, but for sanitary reasons" 647 —I think that is the phrase—"he will not be allowed to write while he is here, though he will be very glad to receive letters from you." I shall be very glad to send the hon. Gentleman the letter if I have not already done so. I do not understand quite what it means. It can only mean one of two things: either that there is some such rule as that to which I have referred, or some special circumstances dealing with infectious disease which is rife in these camps. Either explanation is very disquieting to the relatives of those who are prisoners. I hope that this matter will not be lost sight of, but will be pressed upon the attention of the German Government.
The question of inspection was referred to by the right hon. Gentleman opposite. I am not quite sure how the question of inspection by Americans really stands. It has been left rather vague. We are told that there has been a proposal for an official from the American Ambassador to visit and distribute food and clothing in the German camps. We are not quite clear whether or not the official ever went there. What is even less clear is, what is to be his right of inspection when he gets there? It is perfectly useless for a man merely to go down to a German camp and to be shown round by the commandant. The only thing that is of the least value is that he should be allowed to have free converse with the prisoners. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the visit of Mr. Jackson. I myself went down to one of four camps with two Swiss gentlemen who came from the Geneva Red Cross. They were allowed to visit our camps, and were made absolutely free. They went where they chose. I did not see them a lot of the time. They were permitted to talk in German to the German prisoners, and everything that was to be known was known to them when they left the camp.
If any investigator on our behalf is merely allowed to talk to the officials of the camp, or even to selected prisoners in the presence of German officials, it is absolutely useless. I hope that will be made perfcetly clear to any Americans who are going to inspect the German camps on our behalf. The House will not forget—I am not sure whether it has been mentioned—but as I understand it the organisation of these camps in Germany is carried out by the German authorities selecting particular prisoners to be cap- 648 tains. In the case of the civilians, the so-called prisoners are prisoners who at any rate are not very unsympathetic, and are practically Germans; and if these are the only people who are to be interviewed by the Americans, that again is really no use. The investigation must be a real investigation to be of any use. I also desire to make clear the question of the food. There is some indication, I am glad to see the matter is quoted in the White Paper, and other information has reached me, that recently there has been an improvement in the food—at any rate in some of the camps. I am not sure how far that improvement extends, whether, as it was put to me by one gentleman who knew what he was talking about, the quality had improved but not the quantity. That really is a very scandalous state of things, because undoubtedly there is overwhelming evidence of the fact that in a number of these camps the men are getting absolutely less than is sufficient to support health and life. I have got a letter here—one of very many, I am sorry to say, that I have seen—I will not read the name, but the substance of the letter is:—I am sorry to inform you that my son, who is a prisoner in Germany, has written a letter to his firm where he worked before leaving for the war, stating that he is dying of starvation. The letter has been three weeks in coming.It came the other day.Would you be so good as to help us in every way you can?That is a very, very serious matter. It is tremendously serious, because it does seem to indicate that about a month ago affairs were still in a most serious condition in some of the camps. I saw a gentleman the other day who informed me that in one of the camps in which either he or a friend of his had been a prisoner, there came in from another camp a number of prisoners. I can give the hon. Gentleman the full name if he is not aware of it. The prisoners were in such a miserable, half-starved condition that the German doctor himself was quite shocked. That is a terrible state of things, and it is a mere truism to say that everything that can be done must be done to put an end to it. Then there is the sanitary question. I do not want to go into sanitary details, which are extremely unsavoury, but, unless I am grievously misinformed, the sanitation of several of these camps is really scandalous. It has been very bad up to now, but as the year advances, and we come to dry and hot weather, one 649 really does tremble to think what may be the result. These are some of the questions I want to put.
There is one other question. The right hon. Gentleman referred, in a forcible sentence, to the scandalous treatment of some of the British prisoners on their way to prison. There is, of course. Major Vandeleur's case, which is very familiar to some Members, but it does not stand alone. It is proved to the hilt that, deliberately and intentionally by order of the superior military authorities in Germany, certain prisoners were submitted to the grossest insult and ill-treatment of a character which makes the blood of anyone who reads it boil with indignation. I do not read that any protest has been made against that particular outrage which the Germans have committed. There may have been such a protest, but I have not come across it in my reading of the White Paper. It is a matter which ought to be raised in the strongest way, both to the Germans and every neutral country throughout the world. That leads me to make one of the very few criticisms I propose to make. I must say that I cannot help feeling there ought to have been, a long time ago, a demand for an inspection by a neutral person of the camps in Germany. We knew as early as the middle of October that there were the gravest reasons to suspect that British prisoners were grossly ill-treated in the camps. I cannot find that any demand for inspection was formally made until 14th January. It is true there were suggestions by Americans themselves on the 26th December, but I cannot find that there was any actual demand made by the British Government for inspection. I may be wrong about that; there may have been demands not stated in the White Paper, but I do think it is matter for regret that so long a period was allowed to elapse before a demand for inspection by neutrals was made.
The hon. Gentleman will perhaps allow me to say that it was a grave matter for regret that the publication of this White Paper was so long delayed. It is quite true a good deal of the information is quite recent, but there was a good deal of information available as early as the end of last year, and certainly the first weeks of this year, and I do think it would have been a very much better plan, in this matter at any rate, if the public had been taken earlier into the confidence of the Government. I do feel this, not only 650 because I think it is right that we should know, but still more because it is important that neutral countries should have the whole of these facts officially before them. I want to say a word or two on the possible remedy. I ventured to say in the House some weeks ago, when this question was being discussed, that I was very much opposed to retaliation. I am still entirely of that opinion. I believe it to be utterly repugnant to the ordinary English feeling in the matter, and I am sure that it is wrong in itself. I think there is another reason which one may fairly add to those two reasons, and that is that it is useless. We are trammelled by our own moderation and good-feeling in this matter. We cannot press retaliation as far as the Germans undoubtedly would press it if they were provoked. In such a matter, therefore, we fight with one hand tied behind our backs, and I should regard it, not only as wicked, but extremely foolish if we were to indulge in a policy of this kind. And, so far as I am personally concerned, I would extend that view to what I sometimes think is called in the Press "reciprocity," which seems only another form of retaliation, and I doubt very much its advantage.
I see it is suggested, and by some of the hon. Gentlemen who sit near me, that, at any rate, we might cut off the luxuries, as they call them, which we give to the German prisoners here. If we are giving them real luxuries, they ought to be cut off on the merits. We are bound to treat the Germans, as I hope we do, only according to the terms of The Hague Convention. I should look with great disfavour upon any modification of that treatment. After all, we want to improve the condition of the treatment of our fellow-subjects in Germany. We believe—at least I believe—that a great deal of ill-treatment is the result of deliberate policy of the high military command in Germany. Is it possible that you are going to affect the high military command in Germany by saying that some of the prisoners here are not to have so much tobacco, or are to have a few shillings less a week, or anything of that kind? They will not be affected in the least degree; they are not that kind of men at all, and, therefore, I do not myself believe that that policy would succeed in the least, and I must say I associate myself for the same reason with a good deal—perhaps not everything—of what fell from the right hon. Gentleman with reference to the treatment of the submarine 651 prisoners. I am not concerned with the abstract justice of making a distinction between these prisoners; I want to treat the matter purely practically. What good are you going to do by any particular policy you adopt, and I confess I agree very largely with the right hon. Gentleman's criticism of the actual policy, and entirely with him in his criticism of the way in which it was announced. I dislike histrionics at all times, particularly when it is a very serious matter of this description.
Therefore, I am utterly against retaliation as a remedy in all forms, and I was very much interested in talking to a gentleman who came from one of these prisoners' camps and to hear him say that he and all his fellow-prisoners were equally against retaliation. What can be done? You have got to remember that there are two currents of thought in Germany. There is the dominant military current, which really—I hesitate to use strong language, because it does not do any good—but which really does seem to me to be about as bad a thing as has existed in Europe for hundreds of years. It is pure animalism, and one chief object of it appears to be to crush out all those features of humanity which distinguish men from wild beasts. I do not believe that is a bit too strong language. If you read, not only what they have done, but the kind of way in which a man like Bismarck used to talk, it is quite plain that, with a people of that kind, any appeal to humanity, or chivalry, or reason, is of no avail. So far as they are concerned there is only one argument, and that is force. I regret very much that the Foreign Secretary, or Prime Minister, is not here to state the policy of the Government. I should like to hear in this House a statement made by one or other of those right hon. Gentlemen that it was an essential part of the policy of the Government that, at the end of the war, any man, be he Kaiser or general, who could be proved to have been instrumental, either directly or indirectly, in inflicting cruelty upon prisoners, should be punished. I believe that an announcement of that kind, particularly if it were concurred in by our Allies of France and Russia, would produce far more effect than any amount of argument addressed to the military class. That is the first thing I should like to see done, and the second thing I should like to see done is to say: that for every injury inflicted full com- 652 pensation for the victims would be demanded, and would be enforced exactly as we have said with reference to Belgium. Why should we not say with reference to our own subjects exactly what we have said with reference to our Belgian Allies? That is the policy I would suggest to deal with what I have called the dominant military class.
But I believe there is another kind of opinion and another kind of man in Germany altogether. I was very much interested to see in the other White Paper an account of the negotiations for the release of Mr. Grant Watson, and a very striking passage in the communications from the German Foreign Office written in a wholly different tone and manner from those which emanated from the military class, saying they would be very glad, in effect, to release Mr. Grant Watson, that they had been able, so far, to prevent his being tried by court-martial as a spy, but that they doubted their power—this comes from the German Foreign Office—to succeed in saving him from that fate much longer. I accept that myself—I may be unduly prejudiced, but I believe it is perfectly true—I believe that is an exact picture of what does go on in the German capital at the present day, that the more humane, the more sane elements of the population do make a struggle against the military section, and are constantly overborne—miserably weak creatures I agree—but they do make a struggle, and occasionally they are able to modify, more or less, the policy of the German Government. One slight instance is the case of the "Asturias," undoubtedly fired upon—personally. I believe, deliberately fired upon—by a German submarine. A kind of halting apology was afterwards issued by the Berlin authorities, partly, no doubt, dictated by a desire to conciliate neutral opinion, but partly. I believe, as a genuine expression of opinion of some of those who live in Berlin. I believe that that section of opinion, be it strong or weak, does regard neutral opinion; they do wish to have the support of the neutral Powers, and to have the approval of neutral opinion, and I do think we ought to do all we can to assist neutral Powers to exert every kind of influence they can to assist in fostering that opinion and bring the Germans back to sanity. I may be wrong in overestimating this power; it may have a very slight existence; it may be entirely overborne by the military power, but let us not forget that the future peace of Europe, the ultimate peace of Europe, depends upon the return to sanity 653 of the German people. That is the great object we have in view—to destroy utterly the power of the military class and, if it may be so, to give to the other elements of the German people, if they exist, some power of again recovering their proper influence, in Germany. It is for that reason I hope the Government will not weary in their efforts to convert neutral Powers to a proper appreciation of this matter. It is of the utmost importance, not only for the safety and welfare of our subjects in the German prisons, but also for the ultimate settlement of this great controversy, that we should do all we can to reconvert the German people from their terrible heresy. It is for that reason I rope the Government will do their best to publish far and wide the case made out in this White Paper.
I wish to express the regret of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs that he is unable to be present to-day to speak for the Foreign Office. I am sure, however, that the House will realise that he has engagements with various foreign representatives at the Foreign Office which it is quite imperative that he should meet, and, therefore, he is quite unable to be present. Personally I welcome this Debate, because it has given an opportunity for a wide expression of the anxiety and horror which is felt by all those who have friends or relations imprisoned in Germany. It is a horror which is not confined to those who have friends in Germany, but I believe it is shared by other civilised nations. I have no intention or wish to palliate any of the horrors which have been perpetrated on any of our prisoners in Germany, and it would be out of my power to do so. I think there have been instances when cruelty seems to have reached a refined height, and seems to have been carefully studied. It does seem to be the case that in many cases British officers and men have been discriminated against. I have heard statements that the Russian prisoners are treated equally badly with the British, but in most cases the German Government seem to have given more favourable treatment to the French prisoners, in the hope, I suppose, by these rather clumsy efforts, of detaching our Allies. The hon. Baronet opposite, in the very temperate speech in which he moved his Motion, suggested that these Papers were delayed on the ground of interference with recruiting. Let me assure 654 the hon. Baronet that the question of its effect upon recruiting never entered our minds.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I did not say it had. What I said was that if they had been published earlier it would have had an effect on recruiting.
Papers were asked for last Session, and I undertook that they should be published as quickly as possible, and every effort was directed to their publication as quickly as possible. I am sure hon. Members will understand that there were a great many Papers to go through, that the correspondence was added to almost every day and a careful selection had to be made, which accounted for the delay. There was no intention of delay, and they were published as quickly as possible. The Government have followed three policies in their endeavour to ameliorate the conditions of these prisoners. In the first place, they have addressed protests about the treatment of prisoners as they were brought from the trenches to their imprisonment. I know the protests were not much good, but it is impossible to pass over some of the flagrant cases which we have known without making some protest, and we have forwarded every case which has come to our notice to the American Ambassador, with a request that he should take notice of them and make a protest. Included amongst those Papers is the letter from a private soldier to which the hon. Baronet opposite refers. But, Sir, the more concrete way in which we have endeavoured to help these unfortunate people is by the inspection of the camps and by supplying money to be distributed among them. May I first show the different ways in which we have given money to the American Embassy at Berlin, and the different ways in which it has been spent? In the first place, of course, the British Government will pay the salaries of all the officials who are used by the American Embassy in their work of inspection and distribution. Secondly, money is allocated for the relief of prisoners of war and interned civilians. The interned civilians are at Ruhleben. With regard to interned civilians, I wish to explain the interruption which the hon. Baronet allowed me to make in his speech when he referred to the fact that in Germany all civilians had been interned. I have no wish to defend the action of the German Government in interning those civilians. It seemed to me to be a most 655 wanton and from every point of view a most stupid thing to do. On page 16 of the White Paper, in Memorandum No. 24, the House will see that Mr. Gerard, the American Ambassador in Berlin, urged the British Government as far as possible to refrain from interning civilians which could only have the effect of bringing about a similar state of things in Germany. I will now come back to the method of the distribution of this money to civilians. It is done through captains who have been appointed for this purpose.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
May I ask the hon. Member whether the Government have received a reply to No. 21 in the White Paper?
I will make an inquiry on that point. Captains have been appointed in civilian camps. The German authorities say it is impossible to appoint captains in military camps of this kind, but in civilian camps captains have been appointed, and it is through them that the distribution of this money is carried out. I saw a gentleman the other day who had recently been released from Ruhleben, and he did not express himself as being satisfied with the captains. He said that in Ruhleben they were not really representative of the prisoners. We have forwarded his complaint to Berlin through the American Ambassador. In regard to that there are two things which I should like to point out. It is very difficult in a camp where two different classes of civilians are interned, such as shopkeepers, sailors, and every variety of mankind, to find captains who will successfully represent all those classes. I think one hon. Member who spoke said that these captains were rather, if anything, pro-German. I have no means of judging whether that is the case or not, but it is quite obvious that it is to the advantage of the prisoners whom they represent that they should be individuals who will get on best with the German officials. However well a bluff sailor might represent the sailors in their camp, he probably would be less successful in negotiating any betterment in their condition than some Englishman who had lived a long time in Germany, and who was more or less acclimatised. In the distribution of this money we take a double receipt, and one goes to the captain and the other to the American Embassy, so that they can see exactly how the money 656 is distributed and to whom it goes. An allowance of five marks a week has been given to all the necessitous civilians who are in Ruhleben.
I should think about a month ago, but I will inquire. That money has been of great assistance to them. Another form of relief has been the distribution of clothing. We understand that the American Ambassador in Berlin has provided clothing in the case of all necessitous cases. Of course, under The Hague Convention the distribution should be done by the German Government, but it is impossible to allow these prisoners to be neglected merely because the German Government did not fulfil its obligations. Clothing has been sent from here, and all necessitous cases have been supplied. Money has been given to civilians who have standing in Germany who have not been interned, but who are in want of money, and for the most part they are women and children. This has been done by the American Embassy through their consols all over Germany. Before I pass from this point I should like to deal with one question which the hon. Baronet raised relating to the camp at Doberitz. The hon. Baronet said that we heard in October from the American Ambassador that the conditions were very bad there. The Secretary of State sent a reply within two days telling the Ambassador that he was authorised to spend £3,000 to relieve these cases. This does not appear in the White Paper. I am not old in official life, and so I asked why it had not appeared in the White Paper, and I was told that a letter which is not official is not usually published, and that this was more of a private note.
With regard to the inspection of the camp on the 26th December, we told the United Spates Ambassador that we wished to put into force this larger scheme, the terms of which the House is cognisant. It is true that it was not until 14th January that we asked the United States Ambassador formally to obtain the assent of the German Government. I would remind the House that before we made a deliberate proposal of this kind we had to receive the assent of the American Government to the scheme, which involved the appointment by them of a certain number of their officials to inspect these camps, and that, I think, accounts for the 657 gap. We did not get a definite answer to that suggestion for about two months. We had repeated telegrams pass on that point.
It has been asked why we did not immediately suggest that we should have inspection of the camps of Germany, in the same way as the German Government had inspection with us. We were very anxious, for reasons which I think will be quite obvious to the House, that the larger scheme should be brought into force, and we were afraid, if we pressed for permission for an immediate inspection, the German Government would say, "You have had your inspection, we cannot agree to the larger scheme." The advantages of the larger scheme, as I say, are obvious. The hon. Baronet quoted one passage showing the difficulty of arriving at a proper knowledge of the conditions in a camp from one inspection. It is very difficult to find out what are the true conditions under which prisoners are kept, and we feel that by the scheme we do arrive at a true statement of the case, and that we do find out exactly the conditions under which prisoners are interned. We did eventually ask to be allowed to have an inspector appointed to these prisons, because we were told in an indirect way that the German Government would not consent to the larger scheme, but on 17th March we were told that the German Government had accepted the scheme, and ten consular officials, United States officials, have been appointed to make this inspection.
The original idea was for quartermasters to be sent over from the United States, but I think we are quite satisfied with this idea of ten officials appointed by the Embassy at Berlin. It allows the scheme to be begun sooner than otherwise, and we hope and believe that the conditions under which it is being worked are satisfactory. Passes have been given to these officials for visits, and they are going to be allowed to pay visits. They need not be formal visits. They are passes which allow them to go whenever they like, and unexpectedly if they prefer it in that way, and as often as they like. Free intercourse is allowed under the scheme. Sixteen camps have already been visited, The camp at Halle was not visited because the American Ambassador went there and he was told by the commandant that he would not be allowed to have informal and free conversation with the inmates. He pointed out that this was against the agreement which had been come to and re- 658 fused to make any inspection at all. At another camp, Salywedel, the same restriction was imposed upon the United States official. However, he merely reported it and went on with the inspection.
We have received these reports. We have thought that it is advisable to wait and publish all these reports as a whole. If, of course, the House have a very strong feeling that they should be published as we receive them—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear !"]—I will communicate that view to my right hon. Friend, but there is a reason for our idea that we should wait until all the camps have been inspected. I do not know how that reason will interfere with the desire of the House. It is one which I cannot communicate in public, but I shall be delighted to do so to anyone who asks me privately. There is undoubtedly an improvement, and I am told that the improvement is due to the publication in Germany of Mr. Jackson's report. That report, of course, has been communicated to the German Government, who have ordered its publication in Germany for the Reichstag, and they have allowed the Press to publish any parts which they like. I have not observed that the German Press have availed themselves of that permission.
It depends when they all come in. They will be published when they are all got together. We have been told that this bad treatment of the prisoners in Germany is due to the impression there that we are treating prisoners badly here. That does not carry any conviction to my mind. After all, we cannot imagine that you can have several thousands of prisoners here and the German Government have no idea of the way in which they are treated. That is quite absurd. It is merely to my mind an excuse for what they have been saying. There is one crumb of consolation I can give to the House, and that is about the Paper which we published, No. 86, in which it speaks of the wounded officer who could not possibly live much longer. We have heard that he is going on well, and I shall be happy to communicate his name to anyone who asks me privately.
As we all know, the treatment of prisoners in camps is not the only cruelty which the German Government have inflicted on our fellow countrymen. Their 659 treatment on the way from the trenches to the camps has been of a cruel—and calculated to be cruel—character. We have the best information, absolutely reliable information, which we cannot publish because of its source, that coats are almost invariably taken from the prisoners, that officers are spat upon without any word of remonstrance from the guards who are accompanying them, and that in the various stations in Germany the German Red Cross people give food and drink to the Belgian and French prisoners, but deliberately refuse it to English prisoners. In spite of these insults, which must have been harder to bear than any other part, of their military career, we have heard, also on good authority, that the bearing of the prisoners throughout has been beyond praise. It is impossible to imagine a case where human nature could be more severely tried than that, and this shows us that Major Vandeleur's narrative is no mere, isolated incident. This conduct is revolting to us. I think that to wreck vengeance upon and to bully harmless people, who can do you at that moment no harm, and who are prisoners unarmed, is alien to the British temperament and quite repulsive to our mind, and it shows us what the Prussian spirit of brutality is in all its naked hideousness. The Germans have raised up for themselves by their cruelty a memorial which will endure in all civilised countries and survive any recollection of their former greatness.
The business of the Foreign Office is to continue to do what they can to help these prisoners. I myself do not think that any defence of what the Foreign Office have done is either asked for or required. These Papers which we have laid before the House speak for themselves. It should be remembered that the ordinary methods of diplomacy are debarred to us. I get a great many letters, as I dare say other Members of this House do, from relatives and friends of prisoners, urging us to do something and asking, "Why does not the Foreign Office help these people?" The writer of one letter I received suggested that we should hold a meeting of protest. There is only one way of putting pressure upon Germany, and that is the pressure which the British Empire is putting on it now with all its strength.
Before I sit down, I would like once more, as I did on the last occasion when I spoke on the subject, to express our 660 deep gratitude to the representatives of the United States of America. Mr. Page in London and Mr. Gerard in Berlin, with all their staff, have spared no effort and no leisure to help us in this matter. I have met some of these gentlemen who have been engaged in the task of relief, and I have said how grateful we all were to them. Their only reply was, "We wish we could do more; we would do anything in a cause like this." We do feel real gratitude to the United States of America, who have, through their representatives, helped us so much in these matters.
There was a point raised by the Noble Lord with reference to the Indian prisoners. We have no very specific information on that subject. They were mentioned in one of the reports we got. Their condition seems to be fairly satisfactory. I should not care to go further than that. As regards remedies, I have nothing to add to what has been already spoken in this House. The suggestion of the hon. Baronet was dealt with in the answer by my right hon. Friend the Attorney-General to the Noble Lord the Member for Portsmouth on the 22nd April in these terms:—The total estimated value of enemy property, which has been registered with the Public Trustee under the provisions of the Trading with the Enemy (Amendment) Act, is £84,600,000, the estimated value of enemy property in partnerships being £1,600,000 and not (as stated in the Noble Lord's question) £16,000,000. As stated in that Act, such property has been registered with the Public Trustee, with a view to arrangements to be made at the conclusion of peace, when questions of compensation may well arise. In the meantime, I am glad to be able to assure the Noble Lord that these German assets are, and will remain, available for such disposal as seems proper."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd April, 1915, col. 399.]It is not for me to suggest any method of retaliation. That is for some more responsible Member of the Government to deal with. But I may add that it is impossible at this moment to anticipate what the terms of peace may be, and of course such retaliation would have to be incorporated in such terms. Still I think I can assure the House that this matter has not been lost sight of, and I can further assure it that the Foreign Office have done and will continue to do all that is in their power to help those whom the changes and chances of war have delivered into German hands.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
My first word must be to associate myself with all that the hon. Gentleman has said as to the indebtedness of our country to the representatives of America and the American 661 Government. To those of us who know him, it will not be news that the American Ambassador in this country would gladly do anything in his power to relieve or mitigate the sufferings of helpless men and women, and we shall gratefully bear in mind, long after these troubles are over, the sympathy which the American representatives have shown and the assistance which they have given. There is not very much, I think, to add to the speeches made from both sides of the House before the hon. Gentleman spoke, either in the way of criticism or of suggestion to the Government. The speech of the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs has brought our information more up-to-date than the White Paper did, and has done something to allay the poignant anxiety which has been felt throughout this country as to the treatment of British prisoners of war in German hands. It is a very modest satisfaction that we receive up to the present time to be told that things may not be quite so bad as they have been. They are a great deal worse than they ought to be.
Our soldiers in misfortune bear themselves, as the hon. Gentleman said, with the same courage and fortitude that they have shown when fighting with arms in their hands. Out people would expect our Government to realise how deeply this subject touches the hearts of every man and woman in this country, and that no time or effort is too precious to be spent upon endeavouring to secure better treatment for these men by any Member of the Government. And so I can say with still more conviction, and with still more obvious sincerity after what the hon. Gentleman has said, that is not from any want of courtesy to him, or from any under-estimate of his capacity as a Minister, that I do deeply regret, as do my hon. Friends behind me, that neither the Prime Minister nor the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, nor the head of one of the fighting services, could be present during this Debate. We shall readily accept the statement of the Under-Secretary that this or the other Minister is unable to be present. But it would have been grateful to the country to see the importance of this Debate recognised, and to know that its interest is shared, by the presence of one of these Gentlemen, not at this stage of the proceedings but at the time when the Debate was being opened and the case was being made out. I say this in the gentlest terms I can use. None of us 662 have any pleasure in criticism at the present time, unless the criticism may be helpful.
I cannot quite agree with the Under-Secretary that a perusal of the White Paper shows that the Government has at all times recognised the extent of the problem or the urgency of it, or has done everything that might be done to secure the better treatment of the prisoners. There is plenty of evidence in the White Paper that the German Government were procrastinating over this subject, and I should have liked to have seen a little more effort on the part of the Foreign Office in keeping the matter before them, and in not waiting for an answer until such time as it might be convenient to the German Government to send it. I am not here to suggest, any more than those who have preceded me, that we should retaliate on the German prisoners the kind of treatment which has been accorded to the British prisoners in Germany. It would be abhorrent to us, and contrary to the dictates of humanity. But although I am not prepared to say that under no circumstances, under no provocation would we take steps which under ordinary circumstances, or fighting any other foe it would never have crossed our mind to contemplate. I do not believe that that is the way to deal with this matter. I do not think that our people would stand seeing accorded to men in distress within our country the treatment which has been accorded to our soldiers in Germany, even under the provocation of that treatment.
But there is something more. Nobody can read the account of what has taken place in Belgium and in the occupied portions of France, nobody can read the account of the treatment of our prisoners between the trenches and the places where they were or are interned without being struck by the fact that the cruelty inflicted on the inhabitants of France and Belgium, or upon our prisoners, is not an accidental outburst by men who are out of hand. It is cruelty by command. It emanates not from undisciplined human nature, but from high quarters, and it is carried out by people disciplined not in civilisation but in savagery. The men who are to be held to account for these deeds are not the unfortunate prisoners here, who have perhaps had no part or lot in them, but those from whom the policy springs, those who are responsible for inculcating and commanding it, and in obedience to whom these brutalities are 663 enacted and perpetrated. I agree with the concluding sentences of the Under-Secretary. This is not now the time to define the terms of peace. Yet they have been to some extent defined by the Prime Minister himself, and I am not sure it would not be well to say that as we shall not sheathe the sword until satisfaction has been given to outraged Belgium, so it ought also to be made a condition that satisfaction shall be given to outraged humanity for the cruelties perpetrated on these defenceless men
§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Asquith)
I rise to make a very brief contribution to this discussion. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will see that my absence during the earlier part of the Debate was not due to any want of sense of the importance of the subject-matter under discussion, for there could be no more painful aspect of the horrors of war than the treatment to which the British prisoners have been subjected. I do not hesitate to say—and I say it in the plainest possible terms—that from the very beginning the British prisoners have been treated by the Germans in a discriminating fashion. There can be no shadow of doubt about it. Those who have read the sworn testimony of our officers, their description of their treatment on the way from the places where they were captured, either in France or Belgium, to the different camps in which they were ultimately interned: those who have read the almost incredible tale of deliberate and calculating insult to which British officers and British soldiers have been exposed, and from which to a considerable extent their French and Belgian fellow victims were shielded, must realise that from the first it has been the deliberate policy of the Germans to expose our soldiers and our officers to the worst possible treatment. That is a fact which is worth placing on record. When we came to consider whether or not—a very proper inquiry—adequate and appropriate steps had been taken by the Government in this matter, we came to the conclusion, I think rightly, that mere publicity and protest would be of no avail if the object was to secure better treatment. On the contrary, the Germans 664 having adopted this as their deliberate policy—the more we protested, and the more we published it to the world, the more they might be tempted to think they were attaining their end, I will not say of intimidating but of exacerbating public feeling in this conutry.
I think the most practical steps were taken when the good offices of the American Ambassador were invoked with, as we know, a considerable mitigation and amelioration of some of the more obvious hardships to which the prisoners were exposed. But it is a horrible story from whatever point of view you look at it. It is one of the blackest, spots on the records even of German methods of warfare, and my main object in rising is to say—and I say it in response to the invitation the right hon. Gentleman gave me in the concluding part of his speech, and I say it with all emphasis and with all deliberation—that when we come to the end of this War, which please God we may, we shall not forget, and ought not to forget, this horrible record of calculated cruelty and crime, and we shall hold it to be our duty to exact such reparation against those who are proved to have been guilty agents or actors in the matter as it may be possible for us to exact. I do not think we should be doing our duty to these brave and unfortunate men, or to the honour of our own country and the plain dictates of humanity, if we were content with anything less than that.
§ Lord C. BERESFORD
May I ask the Prime Minister, after his most satisfactory speech—now we know that those who are responsible for the brutality and ferocity to our defenceless prisoners will be called to account—if he will get the Allies also to join with him in a distinct expression of opinion such as he has given to-day? If he does that, I am quite certain that the whole British nation will be at his back and that these brutalities will cease. Bullies are always cowards, and when these people know that they are liable to be tried for murder and that they will suffer when the War is over, they will cease. Is the Prime Minister aware that there is a definite, deliberate plan to cause the death of these prisoners, first by starvation? I have had 665 any number of letters from prisoners, and heart-breaking letters from the relatives of these prisoners, giving the details. I cannot, obviously, mention the names of these people, but our British prisoners are being starved. I have had letters from both officers and men, in which they say:—For God's sake send me bread !That is in addition to the other brutalities, and taking their greatcoats, tunics, and so forth. I believe that these people are in overcrowded places. The American gentlemen, who deserve every gratitude we can give them for their trouble in this inquiry, have not brought out that point. These places are not ventilated. If the men are given punishment in any way, they are only given one blanket, and are ordered to lie on a cold slab. The real point is that these places are not ventilated, and the result will be that a number of these gallant men, when the hot weather comes, will die from consumption. I do not think the thirty-nine officers will suffer so much. They will probably be put in a gaol where there is proper ventilation. No doubt they will have solitary confinement, but the whole world knows their names, and the Germans, in spite of their brutality, will not murder them. All the others—there are thousands of them—are kept in these sheds which are not ventilated, with filthy floors and disgusting sanitary arrangements. Many of them are wounded. There is one case where the wounded men were not attended for a whole week, although they had gangrenous sores, and although all the other prisoners were looked after. I can assure the Prime Minister that these statements are correct. I have had them from officers and soldiers themselves and also from their relatives. The point is, that there is a deliberate attempt to starve our people, and, in addition, to put them in unhealthy surroundings where they are certain to contract consumption, with the result that they will die when the summer comes. I quite agree with my right hon. Friend (Mr. Chamberlain) that this Debate will do a great deal of good. It will let the country know the facts; it will help recruiting, and help the Prime Minister and the Government to take very drastic action, so far as their language goes, as to what will happen when the War is over to these brutes who have been trying to kill, insult, degrade and humiliate honourable foes who have fought them honourably from the beginning of the War.
§ Mr. DICKINSON
I rather regret that the Prime Minister was not present during several speeches made in the course of this Debate, and especially that he did not hear the speech made by the Noble Lord (Lord Robert Cecil) who dealt with this matter in a way which impressed the House very greatly. This Debate will be useless and, perhaps, harmful, if it does not result in the improvement in the condition of our prisoners in Germany. We must all feel that their condition is one of grave danger. We recognise not only from the White Paper, but from other information which comes to us, that the British prisoners in Germany are not being treated in a way in which they ought to be treated, and we also know that the position at the present moment in Germany is extraordinary. The anti-British sentiment has become a hatred which is also akin to madness. The German people are ready to accept from their Government any statements that tend to operate against the British. I cannot help thinking that no threats such as have been used on this occasion will have any effect in improving the condition of the prisoners in Germany. The German people and the German Government are not at this moment afraid of anything that we can do, or of anything that we shall do. No suggestions of retaliation will possibly have any effect upon this particular body. The Noble Lord struck the right note when he said the only way in which we could improve the conditions of British prisoners in Germany was by appealing to the higher feelings of sections of Germans who at the present moment are concerned about this question. Hon. Members and many people in this country will say that there is no such section at all, and that you cannot stir up in Germany at the present moment any better feelings on this subject. I think they are mistaken. I know from my own experience that there are men in Germany who are anxious to improve the condition of affairs in their prisons at the present moment.
Soon after the beginning of the War a committee was started in England for the purpose of watching over the interests of the Germans in this country. That committee has done a very great work, but the greatest result has been that their example has been followed in Germany, and that the Germans have established a committee for that very purpose—a committee of influential persons which is actually 667 working for the benefit of British and other persons interned in Germany in the same way as is being done in this country. I should like the Foreign Office to work upon that ground. I am sure they would find it a more fertile ground than that of the ordinary negotiations between the various Governments. But in order to do that we must ourselves avoid making mistakes. I cannot help affirming that we have made mistakes ourselves, and it is better that we should recognise it. Reference has been made to the internment of civilians in Germany. A great number were interned, but that was not during the early stages of the War. During the early stages of the War British subjects and other aliens were allowed considerable freedom. Of course, they had to register and constantly report themselves to the police, but they had freedom of movement and were not interned. It was not until the reports of our own practices in internment camps became known in Germany that they started their system of interning foreigners in Germany. Those of us who watched the administration of those camps in this country know perfectly well that during the first few weeks of the War, owing to the great practical and administrative difficulties surrounding the subject, the conditions in these camps were not satisfactory, and that there was hardship, discomfort, and many things to which people might justifiably take exception. These reports were sent to Germany, and were thrown broadcast among the people. They had the very greatest effect upon public opinion in Germany, and justified, from the German point of view, their Government in retaliating by interning Englishmen and other aliens who, up to that moment, had been free. That state of affairs was well known. The Prime Minister himself took a personal interest in the matter, and it is largely due to the fact that he did so that things were remedied as quickly as they were in this country. We are now aware that for some months the conditions of German prisoners in our internment camps have been all that could be desired. I believe it is recognised by the people themselves, because I know they have written home about it, and I have knowledge of statements made by them that the conditions in our camps at the present moment are satisfactory.
The original mistake was in not taking sufficient precautions to avoid the difficulties which resulted in a certain degree of 668 hardship upon these persons. I cannot help thinking that we are making another mistake which will have a similar effect. That is the one already referred to, namely, the action taken with regard to the officers in the submarines. It may be justifiable under international law. I will not argue that, although I doubt it myself, but it was a very great error and mistake. The result has been that the German Government have taken it up in order to inflict hardships upon many of our finest officers, for whom we must feel the greatest sympathy. I have no doubt whatever that if these officers themselves were asked, they would say to us, "Do not stir a finger to release us. We will bear our trials like men, and we do not want you to ask any favour on our account from the German Government." That does not release us from the obligation of doing what we can to remedy that state of things. Inasmuch as the initial mistake was made by our announcement that we were going to treat the captive officers of the submarines differently, when, as a matter of fact, we did not treat them differently, except by putting them into different residences—inasmuch as we made that mistake, we had better retreat from that position, or at any rate see whether we cannot come to some further arrangement about prisoners so as to get rid of this difficulty and liberate the unfortunate men who in solitary confinement must undoubtedly be undergoing hardships which are cruel, and certainly not consistent with international law. This might be done by introducing again in this particular special case the good services of some neutral Power. I had a good deal to do with the late Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs, and recognise his great ability in dealing with this particular subject. I have no doubt the Foreign Office could obtain the services of some neutral to negotiate in just the same way as they succeeded in obtaining what was a very great concession, the representative of the United States who visited the camps in Germany. I trust we shall not let this matter of the officers at present in solitary confinement in Germany drop simply by threatening what we will do at the end of the War when we do not even see the end of the War, and have no more means of judging what it will be than the Germans themselves. I hope we shall have this matter attended to rapidly, for the benefit of these men who have been picked out by a very cruel Government 669 because they think that by so doing they can force us to make some other concessions. Let us try and see whether the Ambassador of a neutral Power cannot arrange this matter by appealing to the better sense which still remains in Germany, and then we shall have done some good to these men who are suffering on our behalf.
§ Mr. STEWART
If this Debate has served no other purpose, it has, at least, given us who are following this case of the German prisoners the great satisfaction of hearing the announcement by the Prime Minister, and also the satisfactory announcement made by the Under-Secretary, that he has made a scheme for the inspection by ten United States officers of the internment camps. We can only hope that their work will not be thrown away, and that conditions will be made better. I should like to say a few words on the subject, because, as one of those told off by the War Office to visit the camps in this country, I have personally seen at least 25,000 Germans. I have heard no single complaint of substance. The men are well cared for, and they realise it, and I think it is well that it should be brought out in this Debate. As far as I know from my experience of them, there has been but one death amongst about 30,000 prisoners interned in this country. I have myself seen a man who returned to one of the camps. He was given his liberty, but returned because he was happier there than anywhere else. There is only one omission from the Government statement as far as I can see, and that is, that no one has mentioned the possibility of exchange. Prevention is always better than cure, but I have not heard a statement as to the possibility of any exchange of prisoners, although it is laid down as a recommendation by the American gentleman who saw our men in Germany. I should like to associate myself with the remarks of the hon. Gentleman (Sir H. Dalziel) on the impossibility of retaliation, and about the mistake made in putting the submarine officers into special confinement and giving the Germans an excuse for what they have done. I think we should not be too proud to retreat from that position if, by so doing, we can benefit in some way the men who are now suffering from a foolish Departmental action of this kind. It is against our English ideas that the sins of one man should be visited upon another, and 670 because the German High Admiral has brought indelible disgrace upon the German naval uniform by the orders he gave his officers, I am certain that there is no man in this country who would feel that we were doing any good in taking steps to impose hardships on his own son, who is now a prisoner in this country. That Germany has so far forgotten herself is to be regretted, but we cannot follow in her footsteps.
Is it impossible to arrange this matter of exchange? We have got about 30,000 German prisoners on our hands—prisoners of war and interned people—and we are allowing about 30,000 enemies freedom—not interned. If there is one thing that has been brought out in this war it is the revelation of the German character, and its three main points are arrogance, deceitfulness and brutality. To those of us who knew Germany well, we were prepared for conceit and a certain amount of dishonesty, but the revelation of their cold, calculated brutality is a painful revelation to those of us who have known many Germans. Can we not utilise this conceit in the matter of exchange, and, if need be, lay our hands upon some of the Germans who are in this country, add them to the present stock, and if need be, offer to exchange them at the rate of two to one to get our men back? Surely their personal arrogance might make these people consider some proposal such as that. It is appalling that we should perhaps have to realise in our minds that we shall never see, as hale men, one of those gallant men who are now in Germany. What the Noble Lord (Lord Charles Beresford) said is perhaps a little highly spiced, but the German character has been so displayed that we must prepare ourselves for the very direst possibility. I know of a soldier of eight and a half years' experience, and a man who would not grumble, who wrote to his brother—one of my Constituents—only the other day, that he was absolutely being starved. If we refuse to consider any question of exchange, of course we have to consider other means. Is it possible that we could get our men into some neutral country, such as Switzerland or Norway? Both those countries are suffering from want of tourists, and it would circulate a good deal of money there, and we would guarantee their expenses and guarantee that none of them should be allowed to escape or take any further part in the war.
671 But if all our negotiations fail, we can collect, at any rate, the names of the commandants and officers of every camp in Germany. The commandants have a tremendous influence in the way they conduct their camps, and under absolutely the same rules life in one place may be fairly bearable, and in another may be a hell upon earth. It would be only right that any particularly brutal commandant should receive well-merited punishment, and also any officer who may have been guilty of following his bad example We should also have the names of the States in which the camps are, so that if the guilty officers are not produced we could exercise, when we come to discuss terms of peace, some stringent regulations against the State which tolerated in its midst any infringement of humanity. The last and greatest delinquent of all is the German Government itself. How can we get at them?
I do not think that moral suasion will go a very long way, but I believe we have a weapon which we might use with effect. We might now make a declaration that the treatment of these men is going to be considered as a matter of first importance by us and our Allies, and we might forbid, after the War is over, say for one year, any of the ports in the United Kingdom, or in India, or in any Crown Colony, to be polluted by the sight of the German flag, and we might refuse to allow one of their ships to come into our harbours. If that were considered unwise, we might levy a certain tax on the tonnage entering our ports until it totalled a certain sum of money to be used for the amelioration of the hardships they have committed upon our people. They are thick-skinned but they would not like to pay that tax, and all the world would know the reason why they were called upon to pay it. However powerful they may be on land, we at least are more powerful than they are on the sea, and if we cannot effect justice by our land forces, we have an engine in our maritime supremacy which we can use to make things most unpleasant. I believe after the revelation of their spy system, and the revelations we have heard to-day, that intercourse between Germans and Englishmen can never be the same again as it has been in the past. We have had wars with every sort of savage throughout the whole of the known universe, but this is our first war with educated savages, and their education is a gross addition to the 672 outrages they have committed, not only upon our men in particular, but upon humanity in general, and not even the most modest pacifist would refuse to support the British Government in showing its resentment and its displeasure by every possible means in its power when this War comes to a termination.
§ Mr. ANNAN BRYCE
The last speaker has indulged in some very interesting speculations as to methods of putting pressure upon the German Government. Those speculations might be almost indefinitely extended, but at this moment I doubt whether it is desirable to do so, and my only object in troubling the House is to ask the Secretary to the Treasury how long it is likely to be before further reports upon the condition of prisoners, which the Under-Secretary told us were going to be published together, for a very good reason, are likely to be received, and when they are received, whether the Government will give another day, if the House demands it, for the discussion of the subject in the condition in which it will then appear. It is a matter in which the country takes a most immense interest. I do not think the Government did quite—at all events, in the early stages—realise the extreme importance of pressure in regard to this matter. There is evidence in the White Paper that it is only latterly that the Government has felt quite as strongly about it as the country has been feeling all along, and I think the country will wish it, when this further evidence of the treatment which is now being meted out to these unhappy prisoners in Germany is gathered, a further discussion should take place. There is one point, perhaps, upon which the Secretary to the Treasury might say something in answer to the hon. Member who spoke last, and that is the question of exchanges. It would be of great interest to the House and the country to know something more upon that point.
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Mr. MACMASTER
There has been considerable suggestion here as to the proper remedy for the state of things that exists in Germany in regard to our prisoners, and, of course, it must be admitted to a certain extent that we are powerless. There is one recourse that we might have used more freely than we have done. We should have taken the people of the country more into the confidence of Parliament and of the Government at an earlier stage, so that the country, being fully informed of what we now know from 673 the White Paper, might, through the Press and otherwise, have given greater support to the Government of the day. I am perfectly convinced that what Germans will ultimately have to reckon with is the power that this country and its Allies will have in the last resort. It is perfectly useless to attempt to reason with them, but they certainly will take into account much more the fact that the Government is acting with the country behind them than if the communications are simply made by the Government, or if they pass in the ordinary formula from one office to another. I am not going to read it, but it appears to me that the statement of Major Vandeleur is one of the most circumstantial statements that could possibly have been made. It gives in detail facts that are truly startling in regard to the treatment he received on his way from the field of battle to the place of internment, and also after he arrived there. Unless we actually saw in print details of such cruelty and brutality and we believed in the veracity of the narrator it would have, been almost impossible for us to imagine such things to be true. What I am about to say I do not say in the way of attack upon the Government, or as a matter for argument, but I would point out that Major Vandeleur's letter reached the Government on the 24th December last. On the 26th December they communicated it to the American Ambassador with the request that he would convey it to the American Ambassador in Berlin in order that it might be brought to the notice of the German Government. The statement of Major Vandeleur is of importance, not only for its own intrinsic value, but because in submitting it the Foreign Secretary accompanied it with a number of confirmatory statements of absolutely disinterested witnesses, who were not British born, such, for instance, as the statements of two Russian doctors, the statement of an American citizen, and others.
Therefore the communication that reached the German Government was a detailed circumstantial statement of brutality and cruelty; cruelty of a most despicable character, inflicted upon helpless and unarmed men. This statement of Major Vandeleur, with its supporting testimony, went to the German Government at the end of last year, and yet we heard nothing of it in this House, and nothing of it in the country until a few days ago, 674 that is, about the end of the first week in April, although information was specifically asked for in the House as to the condition of our prisoners in Germany and how their treatment compared with the treatment we were extending to German prisoners in this country. I say with all submission that the Government would wield a much more powerful hand if the letter of Major Vandeleur had been published in this country and had been communicated to Parliament in the early stages three and a half months ago. If it had become public property the people of the United Kingdom and of the Empire would have become aware of its detailed facts and circumstances and the neutral nations would also have known them. Perhaps, then, some sense of shame or some sense of decency, would have been brought to the German Government and the German Empire and a better result might have been arrived at. Whether that is so or not, and whether I am right or wrong in my opinion, I am convinced that the Government in making representations to Germany in regard to the treatment of prisoners, are much stronger when they have the knowledge of the views of the whole of the people of the country behind them, than they are in making official representations in the way in which they have been made.
In saying that I associate myself with the opinion expressed by speakers in this House as to our gratitude for the co-operation that we have received from the American authorities, as they express it, "in the cause of humanity." Really, our position would have been worse if it had not been for this intervention. I think every concession has been granted except one—a notable one—through the intervention of the American authorities.
One more statement in regard to this letter of Major Vandeleur. Notwithstanding the character of his statement, his plain circumstantial statement, it has never been explained, it has never been contradicted, and it has never been apologised for, though it has been in the possession of the German authorities for nearly four months.
With regard to the position of German prisoners in this country, one hon. Gentleman said that in the early stages they were not quite so comfortable as they have been at the later stages. I think that in the early stages the best provision was made for them that possibly could be made. Certainly they were not short of food. There 675 may have been some burdens that they had to bear during the preparation of the camps. However, at a very early stage, they were most comfortably housed and provided for, not merely in country houses, in castles I was going to say, but in some of our finest ships, which were retained by the Government at enormous prices in order to accommodate them. Therefore everything, even in the early stages, was done that possibly could be done to provide for the German prisoners, and there was no excuse whatever for any uneasiness in Germany on that score. In those early stages the Government informed the German Government through the American Embassy exactly the kind of housing provision and comforts were provided for the German prisoners in this country. If that fact was not communicated to the German people, it is not the fault of the people of this country or of the Government of this country.
As to the comforts of German prisoners in this country, I have seen something of the conditions. Like the hon. Gentleman who spoke a few minutes ago (Mr. Gershom Stewart) and the hon. Baronet (Sir Henry Dalziel), I happened to be one of the Committee which has been visiting the German prisoners in the camps and steamers where they are interned, and I have had an opportunity of seeing the conditions under which they are cared for and maintained. I can say this in regard to the huts, that they are infinitely more comfortable than the huts in which our own soldiers and our own officers were housed for a large part of last winter. I have seen the huts in which our officers were housed and those in which the German prisoners have been housed, and whereas the walls of the huts used by our own officers and soldiers were very often perfectly bare and with only one-ply board lining, in every one of the huts used by the German prisoners I found there was a three-ply board lining inside so as to protect them from moisture and draughts.
There is no question in regard to the food of the German prisoners in this country. We found in our inspection that invariably it was admitted that the food was good, though sometimes there was a little complaint about monotony. There was no complaint in regard to bedding or sleeping accommodation, none in regard to ventilation in buildings, 676 and none in regard to ill-treatment in any respect. In some of the camps and steamers there was no complaint whatever, but in others there would be comparatively small complaints which would inevitably be the case with people more or less deprived of their liberty and suffering from conditions of ennui such as we see on ship board in people of different sorts. As a rule the prisoners acknowledged, either in the mass or through their representatives, that they were well clothed, well fed, well housed, and that in respect of latrines and baths and everything of that kind no better provision could possibly have been made. I will give an instance or two. Take the German prisoners interned at Hollyport, near Maidenhead. I visited them along with my colleagues. This is a place where officers only are imprisoned. We found 102 officers there with their servants. We minutely examined the officers in the presence of their own "captain" and asked them if there was any complaint to make or anything they could suggest. The captain (who was "commander" of the "Gneisenau") said there was nothing to complain of and that they were perfectly comfortable in every respect. It could not have been otherwise, because, on examining the rooms, we found that everything was comfortable. They were not overcrowded in the rooms. In every bedroom—though the weather was fairly fine, and in my own home we had not then a fire in every room—we found a coal fire burning, and there was the most absolute comfort in so far as comfort could be provided under the circumstances. There were not only several baths luxuriously provided, but there was a swimming bath, fifteen or sixteen feet broad and twenty-five feet long, supplied with the purest running water. Therefore, if they were not satisfied with the ordinary hot and cold water bath in their bathroom provided for their comfort, they could have this cold bath.
When I read the details of our own poor unfortunate countrymen confined in German prisons without the privilege of a bath and that some of them have never had a bath, though they have been interned there for months, yet with no prospect of a bath, I could not help thinking of the very different treatment we are providing for German prisoners in this country. In the long dining room in that house I found that the chairs were padded. Of course, I do not object to comfort being provided for these people; 677 every reasonable comfort should be provided for them. They should be treated humanely and should not be made uncomfortable by the lack of provision or the lack of attention or by insult. We also visited the great encampment at Dorchester and found every provision made for the private soldiers and the few civilians interned there. There are magnificent grounds where they can play at games and enjoy themselves. The drainage was so excellent that there was an utter absence of dampness, and we found a fire in every one of the huts. In the main barracks, which was used by a large number of prisoners, every comfort was provided, and in that building there were thirty-six bathrooms provided for those who were housed in the huts and eighteen bathrooms provided for those in the barracks. I am not going to say anything in regard to Donington Hall more than this: If one has a good bedstead upon which to rest and a good mattress with ample covering, and gets abundant food and has every facility for baths, as they have there, with six baths and a shower bath for seventy-two men, and lives amongst the finest scenery that you could possibly look upon, breathing the best fresh air in the country, living in large airy rooms and having extensive grounds in which to take exercise, then there is absolute security for perfect health and nothing could be more comfortable. There is ample opportunity to play tennis and any games they like, and they are welcome to it. I trust that the nation will never be so mean as to deny to such men the opportunity of preserving their health in reasonable comfort.
I may say of our Foreign Secretary that he did vigorously protest against the treatment to which our countrymen were subjected in Germany, and, though he did not take the country into his confidence as much as I think he should have done, yet he did protest in adequate language and call the attention of the German authorities through the American authorities to the condition of our people, and to the fact that the proprieties, the necessities, and the decencies of life were denied to them. But I do hope that if the Government will from this forward take the whole country into their confidence, and if they will let the light shine upon our relationship with Germany more than they have done in the past, they will find that there is public strength behind them, which will stand them in much better stead than reliance 678 upon arguments or upon any sort of persuasion. I trust that this Debate may have the effect of procuring better treatment for our fellow-countrymen who are prisoners in Germany.
Though the course which has been taken was taken in good faith, I think that it was a great mistake for any one to have said that we will give different treatment to submarine prisoners from that which we give to others. I believe that when the facts are investigated and known, it will be found that the submarine prisoners in this country are getting all the humane treatment which The Hague Convention provides for them, and that it is all moonshine about them being kept in close confinement, though it has been made an excuse for Germany to intern some of our people under very severe conditions.
Mistake though it is, it may not be too late to retract it. I believe that the best thing to do now is to have these submarine prisoners inspected, their conditions ascertained, to give the result to this House and let it go forth to the public, to the world, and to Germany, and if Germany in face of all that pretends to make the excuse that they are not properly treated and goes on to persecute our prisoners in that country, we may not help it for the moment; but I believe that a day of reckoning is coming, and Germany must be told, through the force of public opinion in this country, that the day of accountability will come, and that it will not be those in subordinate positions who executed the orders who will be held to account, but those in high authority, because we know that by one word from them this bad treatment might have been stopped. We know that the insensate hate of England might have been prevented if the German Emperor and those associated with him in the conduct of this War, had issued but the faintest suggestion that their wish was that our prisoners should receive the humane treatment provided under The Hague Convention. Nothing will deter them from continuing their course except they see that we are firmly resolved to take note of what they are doing, and to hold them to strict account when the day of reckoning comes. We may remind them that their seat of power is not secure, that we have sent a greater man than William to St. Helena, and that we will yet have to deal with the German authorities who have so persecuted our countrymen.
§ Mr. J. M. HENDERSON
I should not have intervened in this Debate but for something which impelled me to do so. The picture has been so sombre and so distressing that if there is anyone who could throw some little brightness upon it from any experience of his own, I think that it is his duty to do it. No doubt the treatment that our unwounded prisoners have received, up to lately at all events, merits all that has been said about it, but when we begin to threaten and say what we are going to do at the end of the War, then I think we are proceeding on a wrong line. I rather follow the Noble Lord the Member for Hitchin. He said in his speech that there were two currents of thought in Germany, and that feeble though one of the currents was, yet it might grow in strength. That is my belief, and it is to that current, with all the other aids that we can bring in, that we must look for relief for our prisoners in Germany, for that, after all, is the object that we have in view. In searching for a relative in the war, I myself came upon several instances of this undercurrent of good feeling in Germany. It is to the military authorities, I think, that we are indebted for this harshness which has been exercised upon our soldiers and officers, but even among the German military there are men of great humanity.
A relative of mine, lying wounded on the field of battle, in a Red Cross Hospital, was approached by a German officer, who said, "Yor are in a forbidden area and you will not be allowed to communicate, but if you write a letter to your people, telling them that you are safe, I will take it in my pocket and see that it is forwarded." Another officer, in another case, was in the hospital at Lille, where another British soldier was. This British soldier had been reported from headquarters as very seriously wounded, and the headquarters of his regiment firmly believed that he was dead. This German officer, whom he saw in hospital, also said, "You are in a forbidden area and not allowed to communicate with your people, but if you will write a letter, I will take it through with me to Germany and I will post it, so that your relatives may know." That letter was posted by the German officer to this soldier's friends, and that was the first intimation which they had that the man was alive, and, of course, it afforded them great delight. I have known several instances which I could name in the House. But when you come to deal with wounded 680 prisoners of war, I am bound to say that my experience points to this, that in no place, in no hospital in France, in Belgium, or in Great Britain are wounded officers or wounded soldiers better treated than they are in the German hospitals. I know of four cases of soldiers who received dangerous and difficult wounds, which have taken months to heal, but they have been healed. The greatest pains, assiduity^ care, and skill have been devoted to them by the surgeons in German hospitals, and in each one of those cases it would have been a very easy thing to lose a limb. Not one lost a limb, and all are convalescent at the present moment.
Another young soldier, writing to his friends at home, said the hospital surgeons were not satisfied with his progress, and they called in a specialist, in whose hands he was improving already. I mention this as coming within my own particular knowledge, but similar cases must have occurred by hundreds in this terrible War. I only hope that through the Embassies and through the neutral countries, and by the continuance of our own generous treatment, things will be improved, because anything else would be foreign to our nature. We cannot bully and oppress helpless men. Rather would we see generous and courteous treatment continued, whatever may happen outside, and it would be perfectly simple to proced on our present course of generous treatment. There is one bright spot which has shown itself throughout this horrible War, and it is the skill and devotion of the surgeons and doctors on both sides. They are not out to fight nationalities; they are out to fight disease and death, and, in order that they may better do so, they are not afraid to face death themselves at any time. Instead of threatening what we shall do or what we shall not do, I hope that the kindness which has been shown to wounded prisoners here, and the kindness, skill and care given to our wounded soldiers in Germany may, when the time comes by and by, be the means of effecting something more in the way of healing some of the bitterness which has been created by this terrible War. The hon. Baronet who introduced the Motion said he objected to retaliation. So do I; so does everybody of any sense. He spoke of seizing money. We do not know where that might land us. But that, again, is on the very principle, which we are repudiating, of punishing one man because of some other man. That is directly 681 in contravention of our principles. We must never condescend to that; we must rather do something which will nourish a better feeling, and which will strengthen a current of feeling which is pretty silent just now, but which by and by will find a stronger voice in Germany, and that will, more than anything else, bring about that amelioration of the treatment of our men, which is clearly the object we have in view.
§ Mr. SANDERSON
Much of what I had intended to say has already been forcibly addressed to the House in the various speeches which have been made, and I only rise because I feel most bitterly on this question of the treatment of our prisoners of war in Germany. I do not think I shall be doing my duty if I fail to add a few words to what has already been said. I was very glad indeed to hear what the hon. Member opposite (Mr. J. M. Henderson) had to say about the treatment of four wounded prisoners in Germany, and I thoroughly agree with him in what he said about surgeons and doctors. My own experience of that profession is that they regard their duty to their patients as sacred, and that they always perform it to the very best of their ability. But the matter which we have been discussing this afternoon does not rest in the hands of the surgeons and doctors. The people who have, been responsible for the cruelties, which the Under-Secretary of State confirmed this afternoon in the clearest possible way, are not the people who are going to listen to any representation, or who have any feeling of duty towards humanity; they are the people who can only be made to listen to reason by fear for their own skin. When we heard from the hon. Gentleman that overcoats and clothing were taken from the prisoners, and when we have the statement of Major Vandeleur, which is a sort of isolated one, and when we hear that the German Red Cross had deliberately refused food to British prisoners while extending it to other prisoners, to my mind it seems a most extraordinary statement, and one which will have a great effect in this country.
When we are dealing with people like that, there is only one thing to be done, and that is, if possible, to make them feel that if they persist in this conduct they themselves will suffer. We do not want to make, anybody else suffer, but we do want the people responsible for these monstrosities to be made to suffer themselves. 682 I listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. Gentleman opposite on the Treasury Bench, and a great number of people in this country will to a certain extent be relieved by the statement which he made. From the statements made by Ministers—though there has been a feeling that the Government has not been treating this matter with sufficient seriousness—the country will be satisfied that no stone will be left unturned, but that everything will be done for our poor countrymen who are prisoners of war in Germany. The main point which I wish to impress on hon. Gentlemen has reference to the statement of the Prime Minister made tonight. No doubt it is one of very great importance, but, with great respect to him and to the Government, I do not think it goes far enough. I think if it is left as it is it will not have the effect which is hoped for. In my opinion, to be really effective, it must be backed up by a statement by France and by Russia as well. We all remember the statement made by the three countries with regard to the terms of peace, that one country would not make peace without the consent and agreement of the other. If we can get statements made by the three great countries, France, Russia, and England, and Belgium, too—I do not see why we should not have them all—that unless the Germans treat our prisoners of war in Germany in a proper and humane manner, we will, when we have won victory—as we shall do—see that the utmost punishment is exacted, and that the persons, even the highest, who are responsible, will be punished.Where the offence lies, let the great axe fall.That is a very good maxim of William Shakespeare to apply in this particular case, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will use his influence to see that it is carried out. I think that for the future all our prisoners in this country should be dealt with in the same way. Personally, I think it is no use saying that we will treat the crews of the submarines different from other prisoners. I am not going to discuss it further than this. An instance was given by the right hon. Gentleman opposite to-day. What good does it do anybody. Further than that, to make a statement that you are going to treat the crews of the submarines differently by keeping them separate from other prisoners because they are not fit to associate with them, to my mind, and I speak with some hesitation, was simply a piece of absolute folly. I do not know 683 who was responsible for it. I have my suspicions, especially after what was said just, now in another place. As I understand, the Government have taken responsibility for it. What could be the result of a statement of that kind? It could not possibly deter the crews of any other submarine from doing what that crew had done. The Germans were not going to be prevented from carrying out their orders by being told that they would be separated from other German prisoners, but that they would get better treatment than any of our prisoners in Germany. The only result that could possibly occur was this, that we were gratutiously giving the Germans an opportunity, and a pretext for treating some of our prisoners in the way they have treated them.
I am bound to say I do not envy the person or people who were responsible for that extreme act of foolishness, because if they will only think about it, they must come to the conclusion that they and they alone are responsible, now for the indignity which has been imposed upon no less than thirty-nine of our officers in Germany. If it had not been for that act, those thirty-nine officers would not at the present moment have been interned and treated as common prisoners. I hope nothing of the kind will ever be done again, Let us make it clear with regard to all prisoners of war that we shall treat them in the same humane manner as we have treated them in the past, and do not let us in any shape or form give Germany a pretext for the ill-treatment of our prisoners. My object in rising, and the only object of everybody, is, if possible, to mitigate the conditions under which our poor countrymen are living in Germany. I am perfectly certain that the only way to do so is for ourselves to treat them in a humane manner, all of them, and make it, plain, with the assistance of France and of Russia, and the whole world, that if the Germans do not do the same we will hold those who are guilty liable to the last extent.
§ Sir WALTER ESSEX
(indistinctly heard): I cannot agree with the last speaker altogether in the matter of the submarine prisoners, although in what he has said in the main I agree with him. I do not think I agree quite with what anybody has said on the subject, except the hon. Member who represents the Foreign Office, and it seemed to me that he put the true position when he said that 684 we have no precedents whereby we may guide ourselves in our treatment of these men. Neither The Hague Convention nor any of the other various arrangements made internationally provide for these unexpected and unprecedented events. Again, I would ask the hon. Gentleman opposite to remember the temper we were all in, and the horror and indignation with which we heard of those outrages against all previous practices and humane ideas of war, when crews were sent to the bottom composed of simple honest sailors harmlessly going about their business, and when we had women and children sent to the bottom without any attempt being made to rescue or help them, and, as one report had it, with jeers and laughter meeting them in their death struggles. It was a submarine to which that story attached. With that indignation has grown a good deal of the power which forced forward the policy which has been adopted. It has been pointed out that what these men have done was done under orders, and that they were bound to do it, just as, if we can conceive our submarines engaging in such a practice, if our men were ordered to do so they would be bound to obey orders. But I do think the Government is right in keeping those people apart. The charge we make against them, and that has been committed against civilisation, has been committed by them in an unprecedented way, and we have no law laid down by which we may guide ourselves. But at least we may signalize a unique practice that has crept into the naval aspect of this War by keeping these people separate until we have decided what shall be done, and by that separateness recognising them as a class of prisoners apart, and in doing that we shall have done a very great, deal to show the peoples of the neutral countries of the world what our feelings in this matter are.
I sincerely hope that we shall not allow ourselves in our just and proper indignation to play into the hands of our enemies by giving them satisfaction at any excessive display of anger at these abominable outrages which our men have to suffer. That we should be angry is right and proper, but I do not want that to be carried too far. I believe that the brutes who have so treated these men would rejoice in their coarse hearts at every expression that came from us of indignation. I would not give them even that satisfaction. Inasmuch as the Government have shown very 685 clearly that they have never been unmindful of these things, and with the splendid help afforded by the American Government have done what they could to mitigate those horrors, I feel we may keep our eyes open and, as the hon. Member has just said, see to it that we are not led into any undignified attitude of reprisals against the helpless persons under our charge. The hon. Member for West Aberdeen (Mr. J. M. Henderson), in his pathetic reference to his son, bore grateful testimony to the fact that all Germans are not like those we are complaining of to-day, and in doing so was only following out the line of the Noble Lord the hon. Member for Hitchin (Lord R. Cecil). I had a very curious experience in the early hours of the Sunday morning preceding the outbreak of the War. I was marching about the streets of Berlin in the midst of an excited crowd along the Unter den Linden and other main thoroughfares. As leaflets were thrown out in showers from the offices of the evening papers I had the satisfaction and pleasure of hearing my country cheered again and again. It is true that I could not join in singing "Deutschland uber Alles," but conversation with a number of Germans showed me that what the hon. Member for Aberdeen and the Noble Lord the Member for Hitchin had said was true—that there had been, at any rate, in the recent past, two sorts of Germans. I do not know whether there are to-day. You have a very significant indication of the change of German opinion in the letter in this morning's Press from Professor Haeckel—a man who, for many years, was a friend of England, but who now certainly despises this country, and hopes never to have anything to do with her again.
But the Prime Minister was right when he suggested that these things were not the outcome of the bitterness of the German nation. They are the outcome of a distinct order, and are part of the policy of the men who made this War. Those men are the men who intended that this War should be the prelude to another war; they are then men who have made me hug to myself the satisfaction of feeling that our country has anticipated their ulterior end by joining with her Allies in this great struggle. Their chagrin is manifest in all these brutalities; they have stimulated their people to do these things. These influences, on the one hand, and the ever-present nightmare of the Slavonic force which besets the heart of the average 686 German, account for the present frenzied lunacy of the German people. In these brutalities they are playing the game of angry children; we will not follow them in that. England will, I hope, treat her prisoners of war in a dignified, honourable way, not lavishing excessive comforts or unwonted luxuries upon them, but treating them as soldiers and honourable men, leaving it to the judgment of the world to see that, as we began this war with high ideals and noble purposes, so we shall go through it, paying its bitter and bloody price, fighting it through to the end, with unblenching courage, without any attacks against weak and defenceless persons, but carrying it through in a way which will enable us at the close to lay a tight fist upon everyone of those persons, many of whom are in high places, to whom Christendom owes this, the bitterest and foulest blot that has ever rested on her fair fame.
§ Mr. JONATHAN SAMUEL
I have one suggestion I wish to make in regard to the unfortunate persons in this country who have friends prisoners in Germany. It has come to my knowledge in more than, one case—I have submitted one case to the Foreign Office—that when friends of prisoners have sent parcels or money to Germany, neither parcels nor money has reached the prisoners. I received a letter from the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs enclosing a circular which pointed out what could be done. There is a committee in London called the Foreign Prisoners' Help Society, through which parcels and money can be sent. I would suggest that this organisation should be made better known throughout the country, and that the Foreign Office should notify the Post Office that when people send parcels or money it would be much better for them to be advised to send it through this central committee. The people who send these parcels belong largely to the working classes, and make great sacrifices to send them, and it is a shame that, when money is sent, it does not reach its intended destination. I am certain that the bulk of these people have no knowledge of this central committee, otherwise they would utlise its services. One speaker this evening said that the country was more or less dissatisfied with the work of the Foreign Office in regard to prisoners in Germany. Speaking for myself, I think that that is a wrong impression. I have had to go to the Foreign Office during the time both of the present Under-Secretary and of his 687 predecessor, and I am bound to say that they have been friendly and alert, and have paid the greatest amount of attention to any request made to them. I cannot understand how anyone, after reading the White Paper, can say that the Government have not attended to this department of their work. I have read the White Paper through from end to end, and there is every indication there that the Government have been alert, and that they have attempted to do perhaps what they could not do, and that the Government have endeavoured to mitigate the horrible state of affairs of which we have learnt through the White Paper. I hope that the result of this Debate will be that that mitigation will go on, and that the prisoners will reap some advantage.
§ The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the TREASURY (Mr. Acland)
I do not think that the House will grudge me the privilege of bringing the Debate to an end, considering that I have listened to every word of it. We have had a most interesting Debate; we have had some extremely interesting speeches, even in the thin House which we have enjoyed or suffered from during the last hour or so. The Government have been asked two questions which I will try to answer, as I was personally concerned in these matters from the beginning of the War up to the beginning of February. Members have asked what is the position with regard to exchanges, and why we cannot do more than we have done to effect what everybody desires, namely, that our prisoners in Germany should come back altogether in exchange for Germans at present detained here. If the White Papers are read, it will be seen that, at a certain stage in the negotiations with regard to the exchange of prisoners, incapacitated officers and so on, the offer was made by this country that there should be a general exchange of prisoners of war. That offer was made by His Majesty's Government, and declined by the German Government. So much for the exchange of that category of prisoners. Undoubtedly more might have been effected, more exchanges might have taken place than have taken place with regard to civilians. There, however, we were confronted with this difficulty: We proposed to exchange civilians who were not trained and not fit for military service against civilians who were similarly not trained and not fit for military 688 service in this country. We were wanting our untrained men to come here, and willing to release German untrained men to go back there; that was declined by the German Government. They have no use for men who will not be ready at once to take their place in the fighting line. On the other hand, the Germans were willing to send back men who would have been of no military use to us in exchange for prisoners who would have been of considerable military use to them, because they would have taken their place in the fighting line. That suggestion was, not unnaturally, declined by our War Office, because it has been, and I think will remain, one of the principles upon which we go, that if exchanges are effected, they shall be exchanges of persons of equal value.
There were two categories in which we were able to do something, that of incapacitated officers, of whom a considerable number have been exchanged, and invalid civilians. Both of these were arranged largely owing to the good offices of the Pope, who acted in the matter and put forward proposals. If those here at present could realise the difficulty in getting even those two categories of persons arranged for, they would not, I think, regard it as an easy matter to have gone further. When you rule out military prisoners, the exchange of whom was refused by Germany, and the civilians, owing to reasons I have stated, these two categories, incapacitated military men and invalid civilians, are the only categories left. It is something, at any rate, that exchanges have been arranged in these two categories, and that in these we have been able to go further. I want to say a word in answer to another question as to further time for debate, after the reports which are now being made by the representatives of the United States in Germany are published. I cannot in any way pledge the Government, but I feel sure when these reports are published, if there is a general desire and feeling that further time should be given, and it is brought to the attention of the Government in the ordinary way, that every attempt will be made to afford more time.
§ 9.0 P.M.
§ Mr. ACLAND
We cannot tell. It is not entirely within our control as to when these visits are paid and when the reports 689 will be completed and received. There are reasons why it is better to publish the reports altogether than to publish them piecemeal while they are coming in. There certainly would be no reason for delaying the publication of the reports when they have all been received. I should like to explain the reasons for not publishing some of the Papers which have been referred to as soon as they were received, as some think might have been done. I would like to deal with that point because it is one that personally touches me very nearly. It is suggested that we did not feel strongly enough about the matter. It is suggested that we might have acted at an earlier stage and got things made better at an earlier stage. I feel personally about this, because I was responsible for advising the Secretary of State in this matter. In the face of the multitude of duties which he had to perform he could not personally study all these indirect matters from day to day, and to some extent I was connected with the policy that he followed. May I draw the attention of the House to one little matter which seems to me to illustrate the way I had to deal with these things, and so reply to the suggestion of slackness which has been made? It has reference to the letter of 26th December. The hon. and learned Gentleman has rightly said we saw Major Vandeleur on Christmas Eve. On the evening of Christmas Day he first visited me at the Foreign Office.
On the morning of Boxing Day I sent on that very full letter containing his report, and other reports which we had previously received. I must say that I spent a somewhat busy Christmas Day, with an officer at the Foreign Office, in composing that letter, and—when many persons were, quite naturally, absent from their work and absent from London—obtaining sanction from the Treasury and from the War Office, so that I could, on the morning of Boxing Day, post that letter, with a request for the immediate representation of its contents at Berlin at the hands of the American Ambassador. I knew that these other reports were coming in; that we ran the risk of being accused of slackness; that we were not feeling strongly about it, if we did not publish these reports and other reports that we had received, and so show to the world what was going on. I may have made a mistake. The Government may have made a mistake. What was in my mind—I confess it frankly to the House—was this: 690 What is my duty? Surely everything was to give way in favour of taking every action to get the treatment made better! It is very tempting to make a great protest. It is very tempting to declare to the world how your men are being treated. But the prevailing temper in Germany—and there are two tempers, and I hope we shall gradually be able to appeal to the better temper—is such that any publication of our complaints, of our exposure of facts to the world, would only delight them more, and would only make them rejoice in their power, as they would think, to put pressure on us. The thing to do was not for the moment to publish these reports, but simply to concentrate on definite detailed plans for working out the machinery which would improve the state of things in the camps. That was not easy. It was not quick. It was not simple. It involved a good deal of machinery. It involved a good deal of correspondence. After all, one must judge these things having in one's view the state of mind at the time. It is very easy to forget that state of mind when you are reviewing the question a few months later. It did, however, seem to us at that time that the only thing to do was to keep our mouths shut, so far as public protests were concerned, and concentrate on the definite plans which occurred to us, which, by the help of Americans both here and in Germany, we were eventually able to work out, rather than by publishing the facts as we knew them, tempting though that was. I do not know if I have satisfied the hon. and learned Member. I quite understand his point, and, at the time of the conversation with Major Vandeleur, publication seemed to be the natural thing. But, on further consideration, it seemed to be better to settle down to these detailed ways by which we have now succeeded in getting considerable amounts of money and better supplies of food and clothing regularly distributed, and by which we have succeeded in getting persons who have a right, not to make casual inspection, but visits when they like. In having succeeded in getting these things seemed to be the best way, because the conditions seemed so terrible that the only thing one could have in one's mind was the quickest and best way of getting them remedied.
§ Mr. KING
I am sure the House must be very grateful to the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, not only for his speech but also for the revelation he gave us of the way in which he spent his Christmas 691 in the service of those who are suffering in bondage. I am sure we realise with gratitude his services to our captive fellow countrymen for the first six months of the War when he was at the Foreign Office, and it is only fitting, I think, that some expression should be given of the gratitude, not only of the House but of the nation. But I venture to speak in order to call attention to two omissions which I noted in the hon. Gentleman's speech. I am very sorry that, summing up the whole Debate as he did for the Government, he should not have said whether the Government intend to accept or to refuse this Motion.
§ Mr. KING
I am very glad he has accepted, and that gives me the opportunity of referring to the second omission in his speech. He made no reference to the condemnation which we had in several speeches on either side of the House of the policy which the First Lord of the Admiralty defended to-day in connection with prisoners taken from enemy submarines. As far as I have listened to the Debate, there has been no approval of the policy of the First Lord of the Admiralty. On the other hand, there have been several most emphatic condemnations of it, and certainly it has not been defended by the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, and has listened to the whole Debate. I am sorry the First Lord of the Admiralty has not been here, and I hope that in the great and arduous work in which he is, 692 of course, engaged at his office, he will find time either to read or to have communicated to him the condemnation which has been given to his policy of reprisals on enemy officers. I believe myself that the one way to ensure better treatment for our men who are in captivity is to make it perfectly clear to all the world that we are treating well and, if possible, better and better those of our enemies whom we capture and intern here. I believe the policy of reprisals, though it may have some justification, will, at any rate, have this result, that it will make the lot of our fellow countrymen in captivity harder than ever.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Resolved, "That, in view of the grave statements that have been made regarding the treatment of prisoners of war I in Germany, this House requests His Majesty's Government to take all the means in their power to ensure their better treatment in the future."
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.
§ Whereupon Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER, in pursuance to the Order of the House of the 3rd February, proposed the Question, "That this House do now adjourn."
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at Ten minutes after Nine o'clock.