HL Deb 02 March 1915 vol 18 cc602-3

My Lords, I wish to ask the Lord Chancellor whether he can give the House any information in respect of the proceedings of the Committee appointed by His Majesty's Government to inquire into such allegations of atrocities on the part of the German troops in Belgium and France as can be investigated in this country.

Your Lordships will remember that when people in this country were staggered with the stories of the terrible doings of some of the German soldiers in Belgium it became evident that many stories were passing currency which could not be substantiated as well as stories which, alas! were only too fully corroborated by evidence which could not be controverted. I think many of your Lordships felt that it was not to the honour of the Allies that we should allow stories of atrocities to be manufactured for which no evidence was forthcoming. Not only was that contrary to the honour of the Allies, but it necessarily followed that for every invented story proved to be unfounded so much doubt was cast on narratives which were only too well and clearly substantiated. In those circumstances I had a private correspondence with the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack, as a result of which he informed me that it was the intention of His Majesty's Government to appoint a Committee to investigate, so far as was possible, all stories of atrocities committed in Belgium and France which could be in any degree examined and weighed in England. A notice also appeared publicly afterwards to the effect that such a Committee had been appointed, but I have never seen any report of its proceedings or any further notice as to the course of its action. Therefore I have put down this Question, and I shall be glad if the noble and learned Viscount can give us some information on the matter.


My Lords, I think I can give the noble Earl the information which he requires. He will remember that it was towards the end of September that the Prime Minister stated in the other House that as numerous allegations had come in about these outrages he had referred the matter to the Home Secretary and the Attorney-General to consider what steps should be taken to sift the stories which had been told. As a result of that the Public Prosecutor was communicated with. He placed his staff at the disposal of the Home Secretary and the Attorney-General, and an investigation was made in which great assistance was given by the Belgian Legation, our own War Office, the War Refugees' Committee, and other bodies, and information was obtained from the wounded in hospitals in France and here. A large number of cases were thus collected and it was necessary to investigate them still more closely. Accordingly several members of the Bar gave their assistance for this purpose voluntarily. They saw the persons who had furnished the narratives, examined them, sifted their stories, and collected an immense mass of material. There were about 1,000 cases in all. Those were collected, and then it became desirable to sift them yet more closely. Accordingly the Committee to which the noble Earl has referred, of which Viscount Bryce is the chairman, was appointed. That Committee, which was of a more or less expert character, has been at work and has done an immense amount of sifting; and although the work is not complete I understand from inquiries I have made that the Committee are in sight of the period at which they can make their Report. They hope possibly at the end of this month to present a Report upon the large number of cases which have been submitted to them, and the inferences that are to be drawn.


Will the Committee's Report be presented to Parliament eventually?


I will inquire about that. I should think it is not improbable.