§ LORD NEWTON rose to call attention to the Correspondence respecting the treatment of Prisoners of War and Interned Civilians in the United Kingdom and Germany respectively. [Cd. 7817.]
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, more than a month has elapsed since my noble and gallant friend Lord Grenfell and I raised in this House the question of the treatment of British prisoners in Germany. Upon that occasion we received practically no reply from His Majesty's Government, and the discussion was completely ignored in the Press. If I now return to the subject it is not because I have anything fresh to say upon it, but because I feel, in common presumably with everybody here, that the utmost publicity ought to be given to the circumstances connected with this case. Making every possible allowance for exaggeration, nobody can any longer entertain doubt as to the fact that, speaking generally—there are exceptions, as we all know—British prisoners have been abominably treated in Germany. The evidence upon that fact is forthcoming from various sources. It is forthcoming from the unfortunate victims themselves; it is forthcoming from neutrals; and it is forthcoming in the German Press and in German official proclamations.
§ It has also now been made evident that not only have these men been abominably treated, but they have obviously been treated worse than the prisoners of other nationalities. It may be said without exaggeration that their ill-treatment began with their capture, that it became worse as they were being conveyed to their destination, and that when they arrived at their places of confinement in many cases their lives have been rendered almost unendurable by a system of what I can only call cold and calculated ferocity which is more repulsive than the furious outbursts of less civilised people. In many of the camps these men have been left half-clothed and half-starved, and kept in many instances in a condition more appropriate to the Middle Ages than to the 20th century. And all this has been perpetrated not on account of any offences which the prisoners have committed, but clearly and obviously because they happen to be men of British nationality. I dare say that many of those who have read the Correspondence have observed that Major Vandeleur, in his statement, expresses the opinion that this 853 brutal treatment was deliberately arranged for by superior authority. I do not know what grounds there are for this assumption, but this I know perfectly well—and we all know it equally well—that the German Government being what it is, any hint from superior authority in favour of treating these prisoners in a humane manner would have met with an instantaneous response; and it will be a lasting disgrace to what is known as the higher authority in Germany that when the circumstances were made known no effort whatever was taken to mitigate the treatment.
§ This conduct is all the more outrageous because, perhaps with one infinitesimal exception, we have never given any excuse for it. Our own position with regard to the treatment of prisoners of war is a perfectly clear one, and we have no reason to be ashamed of it. His Majesty's Government Lave always made it perfectly plain that they would positively welcome investigation, and so far from putting any obstruction in the way of investigation the camps in this country have been visited by representatives of the American Government. The result of their observations has been communicated to the German Government, and we know quite well that the reports have been of a favourable character. Speaking of my own experience with regard to these camps—I admit it is not a large one—I have been permitted to converse with the prisoners without any interference on the part of the authorities, and I can honestly say that, with the exception of one or two trifling complaints with regard to the delivery of parcels and things of that kind, I have met with no complaints whatsoever. And above all, there is one thing upon which we can pride ourselves, and that is that in no single case can it be shown that we have exercised any discrimination as regards one nationality as against another.
§ Turning to the published Correspondence, I think I may say that it discloses an attitude of extreme moderation and patience, pushed almost to the verge of excess, on the part of His Majesty's Government; and to me it is quite evident that, had His Majesty's Government desired to do so, a far more overwhelming case could have been made against the German Government. It probably will not have escaped notice that the Correspondence refers chiefly to the case of officers. We are all aware that in many instances British officers have been extremely badly treated, but we also 854 know that the men have been treated infinitely worse. There are a number of men in this country who were exchanged as being incapacitated for further service. I have myself examined many of these men, and I have no hesitation in saying that, if the stories which they told had been published in official documents, so much indignation would have been created throughout the country that it would have been almost impossible to resist a demand for retaliation upon German prisoners in this country.
I gather from the official Papers that at first His Majesty's Government were rather disposed, like many other people, including myself, to consider that the reports of ill-treatment were exaggerated. The first official intimation that I am able to discover with regard to ill-treatment appears in a Despatch from the American Ambassador at Berlin, Mr. Gerard, dated October 2, referring to a visit to the DÖberitz camp. On November 5a Report was received from Mr. Page, the American Ambassador here, with reference to the unsatisfactory condition of the camp at Torgau. But it was not until December 11 that Sir Edward Grey made formal complaints. His complaints related to the condition of things at Munster Lager and on the Island of Dän-holm. Towards the middle or end of December Major Vandeleur escaped from Crefeld, and His Majesty's Government were then in a better position to ascertain what the real treatment of British officers in Germany was, and on December 26 Sir Edward Grey made a much stronger protest, in which he spike of the "inhuman treatment" to which these officers were subjected. On January 13 of the present year Sir Edward Grey informed the American Ambassador that His Majesty's Government were quite willing that the conditions of our Concentration Camps should be known as widely as possible, and on the following day he formally accepted the offer of the American Government to lend certain officers from the Quartermaster-General's Department in the United States to act with reference to British prisoners in German camps. On February 3 Sir Edward Grey stated that visits of American representatives to the Concentration Camps in this country would be welcomed. Meanwhile—and this is an important fact—our request for reciprocity on the part of the German Government remained unanswered. I think for con-
siderably more than a month the American Note embodying our views remained without any reply from the German Government; and it was not until March 4 that Sir Edward Grey, finally losing patience, stated that he could not wait any longer, and asked that permission might be given for Americans to visit English camps in Germany just as permission had been given here to visit the German camps. In Communication No. 96—I should like to draw particular attention to this circumstance—there appears the curious statement:
Such inspections as have hitherto been made of German camps have not been at the request of His Majesty's Government.
That is an expression that I do not altogether understand, but there may be some explanation which is not apparent to me. These proposals were finally accepted by the German Government on March 17, and the Correspondence closes with an assurance from the American Government that that Government will do all that they can towards the assistance of British prisoners in Germany. And here I may say, I am sure, on behalf of every one of your Lordships, that we cannot feel too grateful to the American Ambassadors both here and in Berlin for their exertions on behalf of these unfortunate men. It is deplorable to think what the condition of these victims would have been had it not been for the exertions of these two distinguished officials.
§ What, I take it, we are all anxious to know at the present time is whether since this Correspondence closed any general improvement has taken place with regard to the treatment of British prisoners in Germany. But even if a marked improvement has taken place, I do not think we can altogether obliterate or wipe out what has taken place in the past. As is only natural in the circumstances, a demand has arisen in this country on the part of many people for what is termed "retaliation." I have seen it frequently urged that the French and the Russians have obtained better treatment for their prisoners because they have threatened to retaliate or have actually retaliated upon German prisoners. I have no knowledge as to whether or not this assertion is justified. There is no proof, so far as I am aware, that the prisoners of these nationalities have been better treated in consequence of this threat of retaliation. Personally I am inclined to think that the reason why British prisoners 856 are worse treated than the prisoners of other nationalities is that it has been all along the deliberate policy of the German Government to make the world believe that we are their real enemies, and with that object they have endeavoured to sow dissension between the Allies. I doubt very much whether the threat of retaliation has had anything to do with the better treatment enjoyed by French, by Belgian, and in some cases by Russian prisoners.
§ So far as I am personally concerned, I am strongly averse from any suggestion of retaliating upon German prisoners in this country. And when I say I am averse from proposals of that character I am not looking at the matter solely from a chivalrous or sentimental point of view. It seems to me that there are strong practical objections to such a course. In the first place, it would be folly to ignore the fact that the German prisoners of war in this country are fewer than the British prisoners of war in Germany. But in the second place—and this is a strong argument—if there is to be a competition in brutality between the two nations there is not much doubt that we should be out-distanced immediately. I would further urge this. Judging from the Correspondence I cannot help thinking that the German Government would welcome any excuse for perpetrating further cruelties upon the prisoners who are in their possession. As it is, they can already find a pretence for cruelty. It is alleged, for instance, that there is a scarcity of food in Germany. Well, a more humane nation lets its prisoners go in circumstances of that kind. But judging from its conduct in the past the German Government is quite capable, not perhaps of literally starving its prisoners to death, but certainly of half-starving them, and threats of that nature have already been held out. I remember reading in a German newspaper during the early part of the war, shortly after the Russians had invaded and retired from East Prussia, a Proclamation by General Hindenburg, in which he called attention to the fact that as the Russians during their occupation of East Prussia had destroyed a large amount of grain the first persons to suffer should be the Russian prisoners.
§ But, my Lords, with regard to this question of retaliation we have a singularly unfortunate object lesson before us at the present moment. We have, unfortunately, provided the Germans with a 857 pretext of which they have not been slow to take advantage. Owing to what is generally believed to be the more or less independent action of the First Lord of the Admiralty, the prisoners taken from submarines have been treated differentially from other prisoners. What is the result? The German Government has not only retaliated, but it has retaliated with vindictive tyranny. By retaliation I understand that you do exactly the same thing as the other party. But in this case there is no equality of treatment. The submarine prisoners, I believe, consist of three officers and thirty-six men, whereas the German Government has laid hands upon thirty-nine British officers irrespective of rank, and has apparently chosen officers who belong to families whose names are well known; and it is an instructive sign of the feeling of the German Government with regard to this matter that one of these unfortunate hostages is the son of the ex-British Ambassador at Berlin who only a short time ago was so severely wounded that his life for a time was despaired of. Personally I entertain the opinion that the German Government looks upon prisoners in a totally different light from that in which we do. I am convinced that the German Government looks upon prisoners as mere wreckage. And judging from the Correspondence in the other White Paper recently presented—No. 8—I gather that the only prisoners in whom they take any interest at all and whom they wish to recover are those who are still capable of rendering some form of military service.
§ But when I disclaim all idea of retaliating upon prisoners, I hope very much that His Majesty's Government will not forthwith and immediately dismiss from their minds other forms of retaliation. For one thing, although I do not know that it would amount to very much or whether it would be very valuable, I hope to see the announcement one of these days that certain officers will be held responsible for their acts. But there is another indirect form of retaliation which commends itself to a good many people in this country, and that is that we should retaliate upon German property. To my mind that is about the only threat that is likely to exercise any influence upon Germany at all because the property of Germans in this country is far more valuable and far larger than the property of British subjects in Germany. I hope, therefore, that His 858 Majesty's Government will not altogether dismiss this alternative as an impossibility, because I feel confident that if the German Government were on their side convinced that we should put our threat into execution, their whole attitude with regard to the question of prisoners would change almost immediately. It is, of course, quite possible that the answer made by the Government may be so satisfactory that any question of retaliation is entirely unnecessary.
§ I desire, however, to ask His Majesty's Government for information upon the following specific points. In the first place, I should like to ask whether anything is being done with reference to the further exchange of men who have been incapacitated from taking any further part in the war. In the second place—this is really only a minor point, but still I should welcome information on the subject—I should like to ask why the German military prisoners in this country are supplied with civilian clothing, which in some cases helps to facilitate their escape, whilst we apparently, judging from the official Correspondence, are obliged to supply additional military clothing for British prisoners whenever the German Government asserts that it is required. In the third place, I should like to know the exact circumstances with regard to the treatment of the thirty-nine officers who have been seized as hostages by the German Government. Finally, I desire to ask whether His Majesty's Government can give any definite assurance that British prisoners are at all events not worse treated than the prisoners of other nationalities at the present moment.
§ There is one additional matter to which I desire to refer before I sit down, and it seems to me to be almost the only point on which any reproach can be addressed to us at all. I have visited some of the Concentration Camps in this country, and whereas I expect we are all agreed that there are a number of men at liberty who ought to be interned, it is quite obvious to me that there are a certain number of men interned who ought, on the other hand, to be at liberty. I have come across, for instance, quite a considerable number of men who are interned because they happen to be technically Turkish subjects. Now anybody who has the most elementary knowledge of Turkey knows perfectly well that these men, who consist largely of Armenians, or Syrians, or Jews, are the last 859 people in the world to go back to Turkey and join in any hostile action against this country. I believe them to be in many cases men who have been taken off ships. I expect that in most cases they are entirely harmless, and it seems to me only reasonable that wherever it is possible they should be liberated.
§ The other point to which I cannot refrain from drawing attention is that to my surprise I found that there was a certain number of comparatively old men still detained who were clearly and obviously quite unfit for military service. I understand that there is a general agreement between His Majesty's Government and the German Government that all males under the age of 17 and above the age of 55 should be liberated. I regret to say that I have found men over that age interned; and the Commandant and other officials, and even the General commanding the particular District, have all expressed to me the opinion that it was perfectly useless to keep these men and that they ought to be got rid of. If I might be allowed to make a suggestion—possibly it has already been carried out—I would suggest that somebody should be sent round to the Concentration Camps and should be empowered, after consultation with the Police and the other authorities, to arrange for the liberation of those men who are not destitute and who are looked upon as harmless. That really is all I have to say on the subject. As I said at the beginning of my remarks, I have not brought forward any new facts, but I have returned to the subject because I consider that the greatest possible publicity ought to attach to everything in connection with this question. And speaking for myself personally, I am actuated not only by sympathy for these unfortunate victims of the war, but also by the hope that the world will be able to judge between England and Germany and decide which comes best out of the controversy over this question.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (Earl KITCHENER)
The noble Lord has raised a question of some importance with regard to the treatment of prisoners of war, and has suggested that certain categories of prisoners should be released or exchanged. I may inform the noble Lord that in dealing with alien prisoners a Commission under the direction of a General Officer investigates each case, 860 and when advisable, on the evidence produced, effects a release. The exchange of alien prisoners presents considerable difficulties, which increase as the war progresses owing to the use which Germany makes of the services of prisoners who hitherto, on account of advanced age, would have been immune from military employment.
The noble Lord opens a wider field in dealing with the treatment meted out to our officers and men who have had the misfortune to fall into the hands of the Germans. Although the conduct of our enemies does not directly affect the operations of the war, it is of the utmost importance to those taking an active part in it, and in a scarcely less degree to their relatives and friends at home. As a soldier, I have hitherto always held the officers of the German Army in respect, and it has been with the greatest reluctance that I have been forced to accept as incontestably true the maltreatment by the German Army of British prisoners. The constant testimony that has come in, not only from our own escaped prisoners, but also from French, Russian, Belgian, and American sources, has brought it home to all who have sifted the evidence that the inhumanity displayed by the German authorities towards British prisoners especially is beyond doubt.
The Hague Convention signed by Germany lays clown rules for the treatment of prisoners of war. Its provisions are broad in scope and admit of such differential treatment as military conditions may demand, while providing stringent rules to prevent the escape or undue combination of prisoners. So long as the rules of this Convention are observed, no just complaint as to prisoners' hardships can reasonably be made by any belligerent nation. With regard to the allegations made against the Germans in this matter, I would quote Articles 4 and 7. Article 4 reads as follows—Prisoners of war must be humanely treated. All their personal belongings, except arms, horses, and military papers, remain their property.Article 7 lays down that—Prisoners of war shall be treated as regards rations, quarters, and clothing, on the same footing as the troops of the Government which captured them.The evidence detailed in the White Paper shows that these two Articles have been flagrantly disregarded by German officers. 861 Our prisoners have been stripped and maltreated in ways, and in some cases evidence goes to prove that they have been shot in cold blood. Our officers, even though wounded, have been wantonly insulted and frequently struck, and testimony has been given by Germans themselves of the way in which our people have been illtreated and injured.
I think it is only right and fair to say that the German Hospitals should be excepted from any charges of deliberate inhumanity. There have been indications of a lamentable lack of medical skill and in individual cases of neglect and indifference to suffering on the part of hospital orderlies. On the other hand, there are statements from prisoners who have been released, as incapacitated, that their experience in hospital did not form any ground for special complaint.
The treatment in the Detention Camps in Germany has varied considerably according to the locality. Our men in most cases have suffered from want of food and have received differential treatment as compared with their French and Russian comrades, and many acts of violence have been complained of. Latterly, however, there does appear to be a slight improvement in some respect, due, perhaps, to the visits of inspection which have been made from time to time through the American Ambassador. Recently some of our officers have been subjected to solitary confinement as a retaliation for supposed treatment to Germans in this country. The Hague Convention does not admit of such confinement of prisoners of war except as an indispensable measure of safety, and I hope before long to obtain some evidence of the manner in which these officers are now being treated.
Germany has for many years posed before the civilised world as a great military nation. She has abundantly proved her military skill and courage, but surely it was also for her to set up a standard of military honour and conduct which would gain the respect if not the friendship of nations. Instead, she has stooped to acts which will surely stain indelibly her military history, and which would vie with the barbarous savagery of the Dervishes of the Sudan. I do not think there can be a soldier of any nationality, even amongst the Germans themselves, who is not heartily ashamed of the slur which has been 862 thus brought upon the profession of arms. The usages of war have not only been outraged by the infliction of cruelties on British prisoners but by a contrivance which must have arrested your Lordships' attention. The Germans have, in the last week, introduced a method of placing their opponents hors de combat by the use of asphyxiating and deleterious gases, and they employ these poisonous methods to prevail when their attack, according to the rules of war, might have otherwise failed. On this subject I would remind your Lordships that Germany was a signatory to the following Article in The Hague Convention—The Contracting Powers agree to abstain from the use of projectiles the object of which is the diffusion of asphyxiating or deleterious gases.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, it is not necessary for me to say more than a few words in continuation of this discussion. The speech which has just been delivered to us by the Secretary of State for War leaves, unfortunately, no room for doubt that the facts as laid before the House by my noble friend behind me are substantially accurate. None of us, I am quite sure, have any desire to exaggerate the complaints which have been made as to the treatment of British prisoners in Germany. I do not think I am going too far when I say that most of us would have been glad to know that there had been exaggeration, and that these acts of cruelty and persecution had either not taken place at all or had been much rarer than we have been led to suppose. But the evidence contained in the White Paper which is before your Lordships makes it, I think, perfectly clear that in a great number, at any rate, of these camps the German authorities have been guilty of deliberate persecution of the most callous and inhuman description. There have been exceptions; and I should be the last person in the world to suggest that we ought to judge the whole German nation or the whole of the German authorities hardly because a small number of brutal boors have taken advantage of their authority in order to torment the unfortunate persons committed to their care. Again, we can quite conceive that there should have been at times circumstances which rendered it very difficult, or perhaps impossible, to give to British prisoners the full amount of care and decent treatment to which they were entitled. But making 863 allowance for all these things, I repeat that there can be no room for doubt that the charges which have been made against the German authorities have been proved, and proved to the hilt. This conduct, as the noble and gallant Field-Marshal has just told the House, has been in flagrant disregard of the obligations imposed by The Hague Convention—obligations which have, as he pointed out to us, been also disregarded in another respect during one of the most recent engagements in Flanders.
Another point which I am afraid is abundantly proved is that this persecution is mainly directed against the British prisoners who are in the charge of the Germans. There has been deliberate discrimination against them. We have that in evidence from a number of sources, and the fact cannot be doubted. When we contrast the treatment which has been meted out to these gallant men with that accorded to the German prisoners who are in our hands we may indeed have a feeling of the most profound indignation. As to our treatment of the German prisoners, we have, fortunately, evidence which cannot be questioned—the evidence of Mr. Jackson, and the evidence of some British Members of Parliament who have made it their business to visit these Internment Camps—to show that that treatment has been not only considerate and liberal but generous to a point sufficient to attract a certain amount of criticism.
There is another count in the indictment which is amply established by these documents. The German Government throughout this Correspondence have deliberately procrastinated and evaded coming to terms with us for the purpose of bringing about an amelioration of the present discreditable state of things. At the very outset of the war the Secretary of State—I think on August 25—made a proposal for instituting an Information Bureau from which information was to be acquired in regard to the whereabouts and the fate of British prisoners in German hands. We lost no time in setting the necessary machinery in motion. Our first list was published on October 5. If you contrast our promptitude with the extraordinary dilatoriness which led Sir Edward Grey to protest as he did on March 4 that he had been left no less than six weeks without comments upon the scheme which he had laid before the German Government through the American Embassy in Berlin on January 14, there 864 can be no doubt that our conduct compares favourably with that of our opponents.
I am glad that my noble friend has again brought this matter to the notice of the House, and I venture to think it is one which cannot be too strongly or too frequently brought before public attention. It is a question which greatly moves the people of this country. I read the other day a very interesting account of a recruiting meeting at which one or two speakers had made eloquent orations with very little effect, but when somebody produced from his pocket an account of the sufferings undergone by a British prisoner in one of the German Internment Camps the meeting was immediately moved and a number of men were at once recruited. It seems to me most important that these facts should become thoroughly well known to the neutral Powers, who have an opportunity of exercising an influence upon opinion in Germany and who should be made thoroughly aware of all that is taking place. As far as I am able to follow the Correspondence, I am bound to say that it seems to me that the Foreign Office has done all that it could to obtain redress for this great grievance, and we have certainly every reason to he grateful to the American Government for the manner in which they have seconded the efforts of the Secretary of State. Without the assistance of the American Embassy at Berlin very little, if anything at all, could have been achieved; and I venture to express my hope that, in spite of the very heavy and disagreeable work which the performance of this task must necessarily impose upon the staff of the American Embassy in Berlin, the members of that staff will persevere in their efforts and will endeavour to bring it about that these inspections, upon which so much depends, shall be frequently made and shall be of a most thorough description. I attach great importance to the thoroughness of the inspection, because stories have reached me to the effect that there have been occasions on which inspection has been, perhaps unavoidably, of a somewhat perfunctory character, and that great pains have been taken by the German authorities to prevent the official who has carried out the inspection from acquiring a real knowledge of the inner circumstances of the Internment Camp.
There is another matter to which the efforts of these kind-hearted American 865 officials might, I think, well be directed. In some of the camps the administration is entrusted to a kind of popularly-elected committee—that is to say, to camp "captains," as I think they are called, who are chosen by the prisoners themselves. That is an admirable arrangement, because you are pretty sure to get in that way a camp captain who really will know what his brother prisoners require and the kind of treatment they are experiencing. The case is quite different if the camp captain is a prisoner chosen by the German authorities and who may be animated by German sympathies and not at all likely to take a dispassionate view of the facts which come before him.
I wish to say a word about another matter—I mean that which is usually spoken of as the question of reprisals. I greatly regret that the word "reprisals" should have been admitted into this controversy at all. Your Lordships are all, I think, familiar with the statement which was published by the Admiralty on March 9 last. It was announced in that statement that prisoners taken from the German submarine U 8 were to be made the subject of special restriction, and could not be accorded the distinctions of their rank or be allowed to mingle with other prisoners of war. Those words, carefully and closely interpreted, do not really go very far; but I am afraid there is no doubt whatever that they have been taken by many people who have read them and by a good many who have not taken the pains to read them carefully to indicate that His Majesty's Government were prepared to embark upon a course of reprisals in the true sense of the word. To my mind no policy could be more unfortunate or disastrous than a policy of reprisals in a case of this kind. It is, to begin with, a policy which I go so far as to say a Christian country could not deliberately adopt. I do not believe that public opinion would support any Government that adopted a policy of reprisals in the full sense of the word; but what is much more to the point—I think my noble friend said so just now—is that in any competition of this kind with the Germans we should be hopelessly out-distanced. It is quite clear that if we were to endeavour to respond to every German act of barbarity by an act of barbarity perpetrated by ourselves we should very soon come to the end of our tether, and certainly to the end of the patience of the public of this country.
866 There is another reason which leads me to hold this opinion. These reprisals are supposed to be directed against the crews of the submarines by whom our vessels and those of our Allies have been sunk during the last few weeks. The crews of these submarines are not the real culprits. They are under the orders of the German Government; they are sent out on this ruthless mission. If they refused to go or to obey the orders given to them they would be shot. The real culprits are not these men; the real culprits are the Government who adopt this policy and send out these submarines on their deadly mission. It is quite true that when a defenceless merchantman is sunk by a submarine no lives are saved. Of course they are not, because a submarine has no means of saving lives. If the captain of the submarine was ever so willing, it would be impossible for him to save the lives of, say, two hundred or three hundred sailors plunged into a wintry sea; and that is why the Prime Minister—to my mind very rightly—protested against these acts of German piracy, because from the very circumstances of the case it was impossible that peaceful vessels should be sunk without the loss of the innocent sailors on board them. I say, therefore, that a policy of reprisals in the usual sense of the word would be, in the first place, a policy unworthy of this country, and, in the next place, a policy which I believe would be futile and predestined to failure. There are other forms of retaliation which are, I think, much more open to consideration. It has been, for example, suggested that those who suffer by the barbarous conditions of their internment might be compensated out of funds levied on German property impounded in this country. That is quite a different form of retaliation, and that kind of retaliation seems to me to be one well worthy of consideration.
I, for one, am deeply convinced that our true policy with regard to these men who are now suffering at the hands of their German captors is to say to the German Government, "Here are your prisoners in our hands; send anybody you like, when you like, and how you like, to inspect them and see how we treat them; and in return allow some one acting on our behalf to inspect our prisoners and see how you are treating them on your side." That seems to me to be what we ought really to endeavour to secure. I have made these few remarks because I was anxious that 867 we should not be under the suspicion of being indifferent to the cruel sufferings of those who are described in these Papers, in rather touching words, as "very miserable men," and also because I felt that this debate ought not to proceed without some word of acknowledgment to the American Government for the great services which in this matter they have rendered to this country and to the cause of humanity.
§ THE EARL OF CROMER
My Lords, may I say a few words in support of a remark dropped incidentally by Lord Newton as regards the treatment of Turkish subjects? No population in the world is more heterogeneous than the Turkish, and although a large number of Turks are hostile and unfriendly to this country there are masses of Turkish subjects who are not only not unfriendly to us but desire that we should succeed. This matter is one that requires attention. I know that in the early days of the war there were a number of Egyptian students in this country who were technically Turkish subjects and who were treated as such. I think that was extremely unwise. A wiser policy would have dictated an endeavour to differentiate between the Turks and the Egyptians. I brought this matter to the attention of the authorities but I got no satisfaction whatever. All the young men in this country who were Egyptians were treated as Turkish subjects. I am convinced that the matter requires consideration, because there must be many more Turkish subjects besides these young Egyptians who would welcome the success of the Allies. I hope that the subject will receive attention.
§ LORD GRENFELL
My Lords, I should not venture to address Your Lordships after the speeches of the Secretary of State for War and the noble Marquess were it not for the fact that since I associated myself with Lord Newton when this question was raised before I have received many letters —some from people who have relatives prisoners in Germany and several from commanding officers—expressing the wish that I should bring some cases before your Lordships. I have several here, but shall not now read more than two. In both cases I can speak with certainty. One is from an officer of a certain rank, the other from an unfortunate trooper of a regiment with which I am intimately connected. The case of the trooper is so dreadful that 868 it really is almost unbelievable. But I have seen his captain, and am assured that the trooper while in the Army was a man of the very best character. He had come back from the Reserve, where he had been some years, a quiet, steady, married man. The officer assures me that every word which his trooper says could be and must be believed. The trooper mentions the place, but of course I cannot state it, neither can I give the name of his regiment. The letter runs—We are being starved here. We get rice water and horse beans only—no solid food; one loaf of bread for six days. Several men have been run through with bayonets by the guard, and a large number are being flogged. Men are tied up to posts for six hours, with their toes just touching the ground. It is worse than being in hell. They do this without just cause. We have only one blanket, and all the men are suffering from itch and dysentery. The guards knock us about unmercifully with their rifles and sticks…The wounded do not get proper treatment and several have died, and there will be a lot more yet. All I have said is quite true. I could tell you much more, but this is enough for now.I will not say how this letter passed through. It came by post concealed, but could have been very easily discovered. And I do not think that a man would risk, if not his life, at any rate very severe punishment, for a statement which had not any reference to fact. As to the case of the officer, he writes—British officers and men are most brutally ill-used. The food is unfit to eat; bread of sawdust and potatoes. Please publish this in the Press. German officers are worse than the men.I have to-day been talking to some of the members of the American Embassy, and I am certain that the best thing to do is to make all these statements as public as possible. When those at the head of the Army and the Government in Germany read, as they must do, The Times—I believe it is still freely circulated in Germany—and see these awful and dreadful disclosures, it can hardly be believed that such statements will have no effect upon them.
May I say that there is a very strong feeling in the Army regarding the internment of the thirty-nine British officers? Bearing in mind the very slight punishment that the German submarine men were to receive it seems to us perfectly incomprehensible why it was necessary to issue any sort of manifesto to the world as to their treatment. The punishment they are now receiving might have been merely a disciplinary question, and when they were sent 869 to their destination they might have been told that they were not considered fit to be accorded the distinction of their rank or to be allowed to mingle with other prisoners of war. But naturally retaliation was immediately taken up by the Germans, and these British officers, some of them sons of members of your Lordships' House, are now suffering we know not what—at any rate, solitary confinement and differential treatment. We all consider it most unfortunate that the Admiralty's manifesto should ever have been issued.
As to inspection of camps, I think the only remedy is constant inspection. And the inspections should be surprise ones. I have heard of an inspection near Berlin which was entirely prepared for, and the prisoners themselves were astonished to find how comfortable they were made. To be of the slightest use inspection must, as I say, be by surprise; and, as was the case when Mr. Jackson, M. Naville, and the other member of the Dutch Red Cross, M. van Berchem, inspected our camps, conversation in private with the prisoners should be allowed. That, I think, is the only means whereby the dreadful sufferings of our men may be mitigated. But I must add that from my conversation to-day with a member of the American Embassy I am convinced that Mr. Gerard, the United States Ambassador in Berlin, is doing every mortal thing lie can to assuage the sufferings of these poor men and to bring such comfort to them as may be possible.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
My Lords, nobody can doubt that the discussion which has taken place this afternoon must do good. Light is what we want on the whole of this matter: information on both sides as to what is actually taking place. I was very glad to hear the noble and gallant Field-Marshal who has just sat down refer to the Report, to which I do riot think enough attention has been given, drawn up by M. Ed. Naville and M. van Berchem, who, on behalf of the International Red Cross Society, visited the English camps. In their Report, published in French and possibly also in English, they drew attention to the fact that they had been allowed, without the slightest reservation or restriction, to hold interviews privately with any person in any of the camps, and that at such interview no official was present. To all impartial readers that Report must carry convincing testimony. The publication of 870 Reports of that kind, in my judgment, should be the weapon we should employ for showing the contrast between what is going on in England and what is apparently happening in Germany.
I cannot help saying a single word of regret at having heard from two noble Lords on the other side something like approval of another measure of retaliation than that which has been already to some extent put in force by the conditions prescribed for the internment of the men taken from the German submarines. I feel that we shall do a wrong thing in principle and commit a very grave blunder at the same time if we allow it to stand upon the records in the history that will hereafter be written about this war that we attempted anything in the way of competition as regards the severities of imprisonment. We want scrupulously and even proudly to repudiate and eschew any action contrary to the ordinary high-minded rules which hold good between belligerents and which is not in accordance with the great Conventions of The Hague Conference. To retaliate upon property may be less cruel and certainly less barbarous than retaliating upon the persons of individuals, but it does come into the category of our going outside what English belligerents regard as honourable. For that reason I believe we shall stand right with ourselves, with posterity, and with history if we adhere absolutely and without reserve to the honourable, high-minded conduct of war. Whatever our foes may do, let us scrupulously avoid any action which can be regarded as contravening the ordinary interchange of international procedure with regard to matters of this kind. I hope the Government will consider many times before they adopt it. After all, and apart from higher reasons, it would not be an extraordinarily effective mode of attempted competition with our enemies on the other side. I shall lament it exceedingly if we adopt action of a retaliatory kind, which I believe would smear us with some mark, at all events, of a sort which Englishmen have always regarded with intense dislike. We want to go down into history absolutely unsullied in the records of our carrying on of this great war.
§ LORD HYLTON
My Lords, I will trespass upon your Lordships' time for only a few moments, but I think some acknowledgment is due to my noble friend Lord Newton for the zeal with which he has brought forward this matter of the treat- 871 ment of British prisoners in Germany. I am perfectly certain the House will agree that he will receive for his action the very grateful thanks of the families of these prisoners. It will be within the recollection of a great many of your Lordships that the late Mr. Gladstone was rather fond, in alluding to the particular effect of this or that measure, of discussing what the effect would be on the opinion of what he called "the civilised world." I think it is our duty to direct the attention of the civilised world to the very base, cruel, and unmanly treatment of British prisoners in Germany that has been so fully proved in the White Paper; and there can be no difficulty in His Majesty's Government instructing His Majesty's Ministers at the different Courts to which they are accredited abroad to submit copies of the White Paper containing these well-proved instances of brutality and request the Governments to which they are accredited, in the name of common humanity, to appeal to the German Government to put a stop to this very grievous state of things.
I should like to say a word on the subject of the thirty-nine British officers who, we understand, have been sentenced to and are undergoing a form of punishment called solitary confinement in prisons in various parts of the German Empire. This would appear to be the outcome of the instructions conveyed in the Admiralty Order as regards the treatment of Germans captured in submarines and who are prisoners in this country. I think your Lordships will agree that solitary imprisonment, if protracted over an indefinite period, is a very ghastly punishment indeed, and I can conceive in the case of many individuals that death would be preferable. I can only hope that the brave men who are undergoing this form of imprisonment will have the fortitude to endure it with the utmost courage. I happen to have a relative among the men who have been thus sentenced, and I find on inquiry that the War Office is unable to give any information to the families of these officers as to whether the officers will be entitled to receive communications or whether they will be allowed to send any letters to their families; and the question of their treatment at present—and what it will be—is quite unknown in this country. I sincerely hope that His Majesty's Government will direct the attention of neutral countries to the fact that this treatment of prisoners, officers or men, is entirely contrary to The Hague Convention and to 872 what I believe has been the recognised usage of all civilised countries during the last two centuries or more.
This is a time at which I am sure none of us desire to criticise any action of His Majesty's Government, but I think it was injudicious on the part of the Admiralty to have issued those instructions last month with regard to the differential treatment of the officers and men of the German submarines. Every single person one speaks to on this subject has but one opinion on the point—namely, that the instructions were of a singularly injudicious character. I would venture to quote what was said only last Monday in the Daily News—It is doubtful whether we are wise, even in the case of the submarine murderers, to give Germany the excuse of inflicting more misery on the British prisoners of war.And I saw on March 23 a letter in The Times signed by Admiral Sir William Kennedy, in which he said—All this talk about treating the officers and crews of German submarines as pirates and hanging them or treating them differently from other prisoners is nonsense.Now, what has been the net result of these instructions of the Admiralty? The net result is that we have on the credit side of the account a handful of German prisoners, officers and men, who were captured from one of these submarines and are, I fancy, detained in naval barracks somewhere on the South Coast. But their detention appears to be of a very mild character, and mitigated, as the White Paper shows, by the admission of German newspapers and by other amenities. The net result on the debit side is that there are thirty-nine British officers in Germany undergoing one of the most deplorable punishments that could be devised—namely, solitary imprisonment for an indefinite period. I do not know whether it will be the opinion of any other noble Lords, but I do not think it would affect the national honour if our Government were to inform the German Government, through the United States Embassy or in any other way open to them, that for the sake of our officers, and only for the sake of our officers, we were prepared to give the submarine crews the same treatment as the other German prisoners of war in this country, provided that there was an immediate, proper, and decent treatment of the British officers and men who have the misfortune to be prisoners of war in Germany.
§ THE EARL OF ALBEMARLE
My Lords, will you allow me two minutes in which to make a formal protest? I feel that I need make no excuse for addressing you for a brief space, inasmuch as I am deeply interested in the question that is now before Your Lordships' House. My only reason for doing so—I have, by the way, three sons serving His Majesty with the Colours—is that my third son is one of the officers who are undergoing this special punishment in Germany, and I desire to enter a formal protest against, and to record my horror at what has been done in the last few days by, the arrest of these thirty-nine gallant officers. The ground has been so fully covered that I will not say more upon that subject.
But your Lordships will allow me, perhaps, to say that the other day I represented to the First Lord of the Admiralty that it was solely and entirely due to his action that this state of things has arisen. He might have taken the steps which he thought fit in respect of the submarine officers and men now imprisoned in this country, but I cannot see why anything should have been said about it. The Admiralty communiqué of March 9—it is familiar to your Lordships, and therefore I need not trouble to read it through—stated that the Board of Admiralty did not consider themselves justified in extending honourable treatment to the officers and men rescued from the submarine U 8; and in the last paragraph the communiqué stated that—Persons against whom such charges are pending must be the subject of special restrictions and cannot be accorded the distinction of their rank or be allowed to mingle with other prisoners of war.That is all very well, but I hope that before the House rises this evening we shall hear whether it is the First Lord of the Admiralty who is responsible for this procedure or whether he has the full support of the Cabinet. We all know that the First Lord of the Admiralty is a brave man on the field of battle and a brave man on the field of politics, and is not a man to shelter himself behind anybody; and when I represented to him the other day that I felt very keenly, not only about my own son but equally about all the other officers, he was only too ready to say, "Yes; I have laid down this policy, and I am going to adhere to this or that"—I cannot repeat exactly what he said. I would like 874 to have some assurance from the Government whether this, policy has their sup port or has not their support. From what I have heard and seen I think that if this matter had been left in the hands of the Foreign Office we should have heard of no reprisals, and matters would have been amicably and satisfactorily adjusted between the two countries with the aid of the American Ambassador.
THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES (LORD LUCAS)
My Lords, no One who has listened to this debate to-night, or who has read the Papers which have been laid on the Table, or who has followed this question during these past months can fail to realise the extreme seriousness of it. As was said by Lord Kitchener earlier this evening and as is well known to us all, we are not dealing with a case of individual acts of ill-treatment or brutality but with a more or less consistent discrimination against British prisoners, and one which has obviously received the sanction of the highest authorities in Germany. Face to face with a position of that kind your Lordships will readily recognise the difficulty in which His Majesty's Government are placed when dealing not at first hand but through the intermediary of a third party. I am sure your Lordships will realise that the fact that the Foreign Office were not able to attain any speedy results from their labours was not any fault of theirs. It was not through any lack of initiative or flagging on their part that all these months have elapsed before any satisfactory light could be thrown upon this extremely gloomy situation. Even what has been done would not have been possible at all had it not been for the assistance which has been rendered by Mr. Gerard and the United States Embassy at Berlin. Not only His Majesty's Government but, all classes in this country owe to him and his staff a deep debt of gratitude for their untiring efforts on behalf of British prisoners in Germany. From the first days of the war, when Mr. Gerard undertook the care and charge of British subjects remaining in Germany—the personal assistance he rendered to our Ambassador, your Lordships will remember, was dealt. with in the Despatch which our Ambassador wrote after his return—from that time consistently all through we have had most valuable assistance from Mr. Gerard, and I am glad to say that to a 875 certain extent his efforts have at last been crowned with success.
As Lord Newton went into that point rather in detail, perhaps I may lay before your Lordships actually what occurred. I should like to say first of all that by no means all the documents that have reached the Foreign Office have been printed in this White Paper. All the important letters have been printed. But there was an enormous mass of documents, a great many of them very contradictory, and the Government shared the reluctance that we all of us had to believe the worst of these stories that found their way home about the treatment of British prisoners. I do not think that the Government were wrong when they felt that it was incumbent upon them to have some very clear and indisputable evidence as to ill-treatment on an organised scale before any very definite action was taken. Of course, the Government realised quite early certain things. For instance, it was early brought to our notice that a certain number of British prisoners were destitute and badly in need, of clothing and other things. On October 2 a sum of money was placed at Mr. Gerard's disposal, and, although it does not appear clearly in this Paper, from that time on he has had as much money at his disposal for the purchase of clothing and all forms of necessities as he could possibly require. That was one of the things dealt with pretty promptly, and Mr. Gerard has been persistently supplied with money.
The first really definite information on which the Government felt that they could act was the report of Major Vandeleur which appears in the Correspondence. After that there was no sort of delay, and within comparatively a few hours a Despatch was sent asking for inspection. This was shortly followed up by a carefully considered scheme which was worked out at the Foreign Office, with, I think, the assistance of one or two people who had seen the camps, and we asked for a proper system of inspection, and other things. The delay of the German Government in dealing with these questions has been referred to. The scheme was sent forward to them in the Despatch of January 14. By March 4, as I think the noble Marquess pointed out, Sir Edward Grey had practically given up all hopes of acceptance of the scheme, and feeling that anything that could be got was then to be tried for he 876 simply asked whether inspection of the camps would be permitted. However, as a matter of fact—and for this I think we have largely to thank Mr. Gerard—by March 17 the German Government accepted, practically in its entirety, the proposal which had been put forward on January 14, rather more than two months before.
The German Government agreed to a certain number of definite points. The first is a general agreement with regard to transmitting to those countries whose subjects are held by them as prisoners of war a certain amount of the necessary information with regard to lodging, clothing, and food, as well as correspondence and the forwarding of money and presents in kind. That is all to the good. The second point is, I think, the most valuable of them all. General permission to inspect the Detention Camps is to be given to the chiefs of the diplomatic missions who have charge of the protection of the prisoners, as well as to the diplomatic or consular officers of their country who may be designated by them. Under that Mr. Gerard and nine members of his staff have been given general permission to visit the camps. So that I think, as the result of this, we shall be able to have full reports from these vigilant gentlemen. We feel that this general permission to inspect will really produce good results. Then they further agreed—and this is valuable also—to the distribution to necessitous prisoners of the money which we have placed at Mr. Gerard's disposal. The particular £20,000 which is mentioned in the White Paper is only a part of the money that has been placed in his hands; it was the particular sum that was under discussion at the moment. But they stipulate certain restrictions when mentioning the articles upon which the money may be spent. However, no objection is to be interposed on the sending of simple foodstuffs, sweets, &c., by people at home; and to men who are not in a position to get enough to eat that is a valuable provision. That is the arrangement under which we are going to work from now forward. I think we may at any rate say that it is an enormous advance on anything we have been able to get, and if it works as we have every reason to think it will the result Will be considerably to ameliorate the lot of our men who are imprisoned in Germany
877 The noble Lord (Lord Newton) raised a number of other points, and perhaps I may express my thanks to him in that he was kind enough to inform Lord Herschell, who represents the Foreign Office here, as to the points on which he was going to ask for information. With regard to the exchange of incapacitated prisoners, we sent in our list three weeks ago and are waiting for the German reply, which always takes a considerable time in coming. But we have no reason to think that we shall not be able to arrange for a further exchange. As to civilian clothing, the position is this. Lord Newton pointed out that while we provide civilian clothing for German prisoners here we have also to provide military clothing for our own men who are prisoners in Germany. Under The Hague Convention a belligerent country is responsible for clothing the prisoners in its charge, and by rights Germany ought to have clothed our men there. The position, however, was that our men were without clothes—some of them had had their clothes taken from them; others were in rags. The German Government gave not the slightest sign of any intention to provide the men with clothes. To meet the emergency we did a thing which we were under no obligation to do—we sent out clothing for these men. On our side, however, we fulfilled the obligation that rested on us to clothe the German prisoners, and as no uniforms were available they had to be clothed in civilian clothes. But I may say that the possibility of providing a general kind of uniform for these prisoners is now under consideration.
The next question put by the noble Lord was as to the release of aliens. Broadly, the rules are that men of under 17 or over 55 years of age in the case of Germans, or under 18 and over 50 in the case of Austrians, are entitled to be released; and that, generally speaking, has been the policy of the War Office, who is responsible. They have tried as far as possible to repatriate all who are not seamen or suspected of any definite thing. But one of the difficulties met with is that some of these people do not want to go. There was the case of a man who, at his own request, was let out, but who four days afterwards was found, so to speak, sitting on the doorstep asking to he taken in again. Then there is the case of the men who, if let out, will be destitute. The last place such persons want to go to is 878 Germany; they would far sooner remain in these camps. And that applies equally to aliens whom it is suggested you should release, who are domiciled in this country. There is the strongest possible objection to having a number of destitute aliens at large in this country. For these reasons there are a considerable number of men over 55 in the Concentration Camps. I am told that the camp commandants would be only too glad to get rid of them if they could. If there are cases of which the noble Lord knows of men who are over 55 and of blameless character and so on, whom he would like to get out and send hack to Germany, I am sure the War Office would consider the cases.
Then with regard to those who might be called "alien enemy friends"—Armenians and people of that sort who have reason to dislike their own country more than ours. They are being treated in as generous a way as possible. It is realised that there are a number of people of that sort, who, though technically alien enemies, yet are not at all actuated with hostile feelings towards us; and everything is being clone to treat them in the best way possible and to release them if they so desire.
The noble Lord asked whether British prisoners in Germany were not treated worse than the prisoners of our Allies. I think there is no doubt whatsoever that that is so. There is a large body of evidence already to that effect, and all the fresh evidence that comes in—and it is rapidly accumulating—goes to show the same thing. But I doubt very much whether that is at all due to any threats of reprisals. I think it must be put down to the general attitude of mind of the Germans. Really, people who can stamp their paper money with "Gott strafe England !" which is what they do, are quite capable of issuing orders that the treatment of English people is to be different from that of the French, Belgians, and Russians.
I come now to the question of the treatment of the crews of these submarines. I think it should be explained at once that their special treatment was not a question of reprisals. It was not done from the point of view of a reprisal, but, if I may so express it, as an expression of the highest kind of moral disapproval of what was 879 being done. You were faced by an action on the part of these men which was unique in civilised warfare. I need not go into the number of actions by submarines. These facts are familiar to every one. But it was felt very strongly that there should be some sort of expression of the most severe disapproval. These people were therefore treated as a separate class. But it is important in this context that it should be quite clearly understood by every one concerned that these men are to be treated according to conditions laid down by The Hague Convention. In all these things we entirely agree that there is only one standard on which we can go, and that is the standard laid down by international law; and nothing has yet occurred, though there has been a great deal of provocation, which can tempt us to depart from that course.
We are in negotiation, again through the American Ambassador in Berlin, to obtain inspection of the conditions under which the thirty-nine officers referred to are living. We have not yet received an answer to our application, but we hope that it will come, though it is impossible for me to say for certain at the present time. What we are aiming at is to secure inspection so that we may obtain information as to what the conditions are under which these officers live. That is an indispensable preliminary to any action. There was one other point. The noble Marquess mentioned what occurs in some of these camps, where a camp captain is selected by the prisoners and is to a great extent responsible for the internal management. I speak under correction, but my impression is that that occurs only in camps like Ruhleben where there are civilian prisoners, and not in camps where there are prisoners of war. It certainly appears to work very well in the civilian camps, and it is a system which one hopes might be extended.
I hope I have sufficiently met the points which have been raised this afternoon. I can only repeat that we welcome this debate. The facts which have been shown, in the White Paper and in the information which reaches this country, prove that the state of things is deplorable, and one hopes that some good may be done at any rate by a wide diffusion of the facts and the utmost possible knowledge of what is occurring. That is the only thing which we can hope now will have any effect. As far as 880 the Government can do anything further to improve the lot of these unhappy people, I am sure that we on this side would welcome any suggestion towards that end.
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
The noble Lord has omitted to answer one very important point with reference to the Admiralty circular which I am sure we all agree was the origin of the retaliation by the Germans. If any individual member of a Cabinet is to issue circulars of that kind, it seems to me that he is taking upon himself a very grave responsibility—a responsibility which no single member of any Cabinet ought to be able to assume. What we wish to know is whether this circular originated with the First Lord of the Admiralty alone, or had it the approval of the Cabinet.
I can only answer the noble Earl's inquiry in general terms. As I understand the Constitution of this country, there is only one form of decision in matters of this kind—the decision of the whole Government. The decision with which we are dealing, like all other decisions, was the decision of the Government as a whole. And in this matter I hope that the present Cabinet is not less nor more Constitutional than other Cabinets.
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
My Lords, I do not know that we have received much consolation from the last reply with which the noble Lord has favoured us. We all know the Constitutional position—that a Minister speaks on behalf of his colleagues, with their knowledge and consent. But, as the noble Lord knows very well, since the commencement of this war there has been more than one case in which there has been an appearance of independent action on the part of one Minister in particular—the First Lord of the Admiralty; and the noble Lord must not be surprised if the continued recurrence of these incidents is called attention to in this House, as it has undoubtedly caused profound disquiet and anxiety in the country. There is an appearance from time to time of independent action on the part of this Minister —action which raises doubts as to whether it is supported by his colleagues at the Admiralty, and also whether the course in question could conceivably have been approved by the Government as a whole. I do not desire to press the matter unduly. 881 But no member of the Government can be ignorant of the fact that those doubts are felt; and the Government should practise greater care in their action, and still more in the control they exercise over their colleague, than has hitherto been the case.
While saying that the last few remarks of the noble Lord in reply to Lord Camper-down do not give us much solace, I think that from his speech we could derive more satisfaction. He gave us what I understand to be the Ministerial explanation of what was in their minds when this Admiralty declaration was made. I only wish that that explanation had been given rather earlier in the day. The noble Lord told us this afternoon that the Government, in authorising this statement—if they did—were merely emphasising the high moral considerations which they entertain in regard to the action of these German submarines. So far so good. We are entirely with them in that matter. But why did they allow the enunciation of this moral principle to be couched in such a form? Can anybody doubt that the publication of that announcement to the world, urbi et orbi, in the form which was adopted, did suggest that it was a deliberate statement on the part of our Government of an intention to exact reprisals? I need not enter into the question of reprisals. I think we are all agreed about it, from the most rev. Primate down to every layman who has spoken this evening. But the form in which the Proclamation was made undoubtedly was open to grave misinterpretation. We all abhor the acts of the German Government which led to the announcement in question, but I would counsel His Majesty's Government, if I may do so without impertinence, to be rather more careful as to the way in which they make their statements, all the more because the sufferings of which we complain to-night are without a doubt the consequence of the mistake made on that occasion.
§ LORD COURTNEY OF PENWITH
My Lords, I do not wish to enter into this discussion for the purpose of inquiring into the indiscretion, real or imaginary, of the First Lord of the Admiralty; but I must say, in justice to the right hon. gentleman, that I seem to remember an utterance by the First Lord of the Treasury which adumbrated, if it did not suggest, the exact words of the circular. But I leave 882 that. I rise simply for the purpose of asking my noble friend Lord Lucas whether he could not supplement his speech with some further information. He told us that after a delay of two months the American Embassy in Berlin was able to obtain from the German Government a comparatively fall, if not a complete, acceptance of the suggestions made by Sir Edward Grey for visitation to the persons in the German camps. That came after a delay of two mouths. Some weeks have elapsed since then. Has not my noble friend something to say in pursuit of that? I read in The Times to-day an account of a visit made by members of the American Embassy in Berlin to the camp at Göttingen where numerous British prisoners are lodged, with the result that investigations were made on the principle enunciated in Sir Edward Grey's Memorandum. I suppose other noble Lords have seen this short report. Incidentally I may say that coupled with it is what is rather a grotesque circumstance. The report continues that several professors of Göttingen University are giving lectures to the prisoners on the war, its causes, and the attitude of the Powers, especially Great Britain. But the other information given in this newspaper report is of sufficient value and authority to require a further statement from my noble friend.
These reports are being made at the present moment by the staff of the American Embassy, and some of them have already been received. But it is not intended to publish them or to take any action upon them until all the camps have been reported on.