HC Deb 26 June 1916 vol 83 cc538-40

(by Private Notice) asked the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether any further reports have been received from the United States Ambassador about the dietary in force at Ruhleben and the conditions at that camp since the issue of the last White Paper on the subject, and whether he will give the House any information he may possess regarding these matters?


On the 31st ultimo we received a further report by Dr. Taylor on the food supply and nutrition at Ruhleben showing that, since Dr. Taylor's first report was drawn up, a fresh scale of diet had been put in force, and that civilians at Ruhleben were receiving only a little more than one-third of the protein carrying foods allowed to combatant prisoners of war, while the potato rations of the civilians had been reduced to less than one-half of those issued to combatant prisoners.

On 3rd June we informed the German Government, through the United States Ambassador, that if they were not in a position to feed prisoners of war in their hands properly it was clearly their duty to release them. We pointed out at the same time that, so far from doing so, they were detaining persons entitled to repatriation on the ground of ill-health, and had made no reply to our proposal that civilians over fifty should be repatriated and those over forty-five also if unfit for service in the field. We pointed out that the German prisoners in our hands were not dependent on parcels for nourishment. We said we were ready to consider any proposals for an exchange of civilians on an extended scale. We asked the United States Ambassador to inquire the numbers, and, if possible, the names of the men at Ruhleben who were receiving no parcels.

On 8th June we asked Mr. Gerard to obtain permission, if possible, for us to send at fixed intervals sufficient food in bulk for 500 men.

As the result of Dr. Taylor's report, the Prisoners of War Help Committee decided to send parcels for 250 men, in addition to those previously sent.

On 21st June we received a still more unfavourable report by Dr. Taylor, from which it appears that the German authorities have deliberately reduced the official food rations at Ruhleben, and that they have accumulated a large sum of money estimated at between 60,000 and 200,000 Marks, which should have been spent in rations. Dr. Taylor states that the food supplied during the week ending 14th June, if applied to all the men interned at Ruhleben, represents less than half of the requisite food units, and that matters are made worse by the fact that much of the bread coming from outside Germany during the last month is of inferior quality, or has arrived in bad condition.

As the result of this report, we addressed a Note to Mr. Page for communication to the German Government by telegraph, recapitulating the observations in our Note of the 3rd instant as to the duty of the German Government to feed the prisoners properly, or to release them, and as to their failure to reply to our proposals to release civilians over fifty and over forty-five in certain conditions, and concluding by proposing that all the British civilians at Ruhleben should be released in exchange for a similar number of German civilians, and stating that, should the German Government not accept this proposal within a week from the receipt by them of the telegraphic summary of this Note, we should be compelled to consider what course to adopt with regard to the rations of German civilians interned here.

The correspondence will be laid before Parliament as soon as possible.