HL Deb 06 August 1914 vol 17 cc441-3

My Lords, I rise to ask His Majesty's Government a Question of which I have given them private notice—namely, whether any financial assistance can be rendered immediately to a large number of comparatively poor English visitors to Switzerland who are unable to obtain money from the banks and unable to obtain accommodation from many of the hotels as they are being closed, and who are therefore in great straits; and whether arrangements can be made with the French Government at an early date for trains from Geneva to a Channel port. I am personally interested in this matter as a director of companies which have several hundreds of clients now in Switzerland. I had a telegram yesterday from one of my co-directors to say that the position was most serious, and he urged me to ask the Government whether they could not possibly send a ship to Genoa. Of course, that could not possibly be done now. Therefore the easier plan would be to make arrangements with the French Government for trains from Geneva to a Channel port as soon as possible. The Free Church Touring Guild of the Polytechnic have many hundreds of their members stranded without any money or means of getting home. The only tickets they have for the homeward journey are by the Eastern railway of France, and it is impossible for those to be used because on that railway from Bale to Mulhausen you have to pass through German territory.


My Lords, His Majesty's Government are naturally very much concerned, not only with regard to those British subjects who are in Switzer- land, but with regard to a large number of British subjects who are in various health resorts all over the Continent, or who were there at the time war broke out. With regard to the action taken by His Majesty's Government to assist British subjects abroad, our first step was to instruct all His Majesty's representatives to give in every case all the advice and assistance which it may be in their power to afford. We had then to decide as to individual cases in which persons have requested that special action should be taken to assist their friends or relatives. These individual cases number some hundreds, and with regard to them we have been reluctantly compelled to decline to make special telegraphic inquiries. To have made special inquiry in every case brought to our knowledge would, as will be readily realised, have been impossible in the circumstances, and to have made inquiry in special cases only would have been an injustice to the general body of applicants. In any case it would have been most difficult to ensure the delivery of telegrams to our Consular representatives, and if they had been delivered our representatives would have been diverted from their duty of helping all British subjects to special action on behalf of those for whom inquiry was made. This did not seem wise in the general interest.

In order to allay anxiety as much as possible, may I say that the non-arrival of postal or telegraphic messages from persons abroad should not be taken as necessarily implying that they are in difficulties, as all means of communication have been seriously interrupted. Probably the wisest course is for such persons, unless they are under duty to return, to stay quietly where they are until, as I hope, arrangements can be made for their safe return. As regards financial assistance, telegraphic instructions were sent on Monday last to His Majesty's Diplomatic representatives in Europe to request the Governments to which they are accredited to allow His Majesty's Missions and Consulates to obtain from the State banks moderate sums, calculated to suffice for the relief of British subjects who are stranded in foreign countries owing to interruption of all forms of communication. Telegraphic messages are also being sent to-day, informing His Majesty's representatives of the reduction of the Bank Rate, of the continuance of payments in gold, and of the security of the financial situation here. I hope that within a day or two the majority of British subjects abroad will find little difficulty in cashing cheques, bank notes, circular notes, etc., in the ordinary way.

With regard to the second part of the noble Lord's Question, whether arrangements could be made with the French Government at an early date for trains from Geneva to a Channel port, I think it is fair to point out that though the dislocation of traffic abroad is undoubtedly very serious at the present time, there is no reason to suppose that it will continue to be as had as it is at present as soon as the mobilisation arrangements have been finished. There will naturally not be a resumption of the ordinary traffic. That, I believe, is too much to expect. But there will be something of a return to more normal circumstances. In conditions like these we must hope that those who are fortunate enough to find themselves in neutral or friendly countries may be able to return to this country.