HC Deb 21 August 1916 vol 85 cc2241-2

asked the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs whether, seeing that Lord Crewe, on 7th June, 1915, inti- mated that if the Germans used the machinery of the Relief Commission to coerce the Belgian workmen to take employment, directly or indirectly, with the service or for the benefit of the occupying army they must feed the population themselves, that all arrangements between the Government and the Neutral Commission must cease, and that the Foreign Office, in a Memorandum issued in July last, drew the attention of the Neutral Commission to the practical working of forced labour in Belgium and to the fact that many Belgians were working for their enemy, the Government intend to take any action in the direction Lord Crewe indicated?


I think if the hon. Member will read the Memorandum issued in July last he will see that no statement was made in it that "many Belgians were working for their enemy," and I believe such a statement would be an insult to the patriotism and the determined resistance of the Belgian people. But the answer to the hon. Member's question is that His Majesty's Government do intend to take action in the direction indicated by Lord Crewe as soon as they learn that the Germans are attempting to make their illegal but hitherto futile efforts at coercion more effective by interfering with the freedom of action of the Neutral Commission. Article 4 of the German Decree of 15th May provides that "if communes, associations or other bodies favour refusal to work" by granting relief, their heads shall he held responsible and liable to a fine of 10,000 Marks and two years'imprisonment. If any attempt is made to apply this provision to the Neutral Commission His Majesty's Government will certainly take the action indicated.