HL Deb 26 April 1916 vol 21 cc834-6

My Lords, I rise to ask His Majesty's Government whether information can now be given regarding the present position of the negotiations being conducted for getting invalid British and German officers sent from Germany and England respectively to Switzerland; and whether every effort is being made for concluding the matter at an early date. The French Government have a large number—I think 1,700—of French wounded soldiers in Switzerland at the present moment, and I would ask my noble friend the Paymaster-General whether he can give us any information on this subject regarding British invalid prisoners. The odious horrors of Wittenburg and other German prisons have irritated our people to a great extent, and we owe it to our kith and kin and to the relatives of those who have gone abroad to give their lives and their health for their country that every effort should be made to get some of these prisoners, particularly those whose minds are affected, sent into Switzerland. I have been in communication many times with Lord Robert Cecil and with my noble friend opposite, and have received nothing but sympathy from them for the object I have in view. I hope that my noble friend will be able to state to-day that the negotiations are bearing fruit, and that within a very short time British prisoners in Germany will be sent to Switzerland on the same lines as the French.


My Lords, I am sure that everybody sympathises with the object towards which this Question is directed, and deplores the fact that there should appear to be unnecessary delay in bringing these negotiations to a rapid conclusion. I would like to remind my noble and gallant friend that the reciprocal arrangements between the French and German Governments took a considerable time to bring to effect; I think they lasted for several months. Speaking from memory, I think about 2,000 men altogether have been sent to Switzerland from the two countries.

So far as we are concerned, the situation is as follows. We made a proposal to the German Government through the American Embassy that reciprocal engagements should be entered into on the same lines on March 25 last. Why a proposal of this kind was not made before I am not in a position to state, because it is only recently that I have been associated with the Foreign Office. No reply has yet been received from the German Government with regard to our proposal, although several reminders have been sent. Only a day or two ago we again requested the American Embassy to telegraph and obtain the consent of the German Government to the proposal. We have fortunately every reason to suppose that the answer when it does arrive from Germany will be favourable. In the meanwhile, in anticipation of this favourable answer, preparations are being made. The French Government has signified its consent to allowing the German prisoners to pass through France, and we have requested the Swiss Government to make arrangements for the reception of British prisoners when they arrive. I should like in conclusion to assure my noble and gallant friend that nobody is more anxious than I am to bring these negotiations to an early conclusion. It is a most deplorable fact that there should be any delay in a matter of this kind. My noble friend may rest assured that I will do my utmost to facilitate a rapid conclusion. As a matter of fact, ever since I have occupied the position which I hold at the present moment I have done my best to press this upon the attention of the various Departments concerned.


Can my noble friend tell the House approximately the numbers that will be allowed to go?


No; it would be impossible for me to state at this moment what number of prisoners we should be likely to send from this country. That is a War Office question. But I hope that all the facts will be obtained in the course of a very short time. The War Office, I understand, are making the necessary inquiries.

House adjourned at half-past Five o'clock, to Tuesday next, a quarter past Four o'clock.