HL Deb 24 July 1918 vol 30 cc1089-110

VISCOUNT DEVONPORT rose to ask His Majesty's Government whether they are able to make any general statement as to the negotiations for the exchange of British combatant and civilian prisoners interned in Germany and elsewhere; whether their attention has been called to the exceedingly high death-rate of British and Indian prisoners in Turkey; whether efforts are being made to alleviate the condition of prisoners in Turkish hands; and whether any negotiations are in progress to effect an exchange of these prisoners on some basis analogous to that concluded by the Franco-German Agreement.

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I am quite sure that I shall be expressing the feelings of every member of this House when I say that we are glad to have Lord Newton with us again after the weeks of strenuous work that he has put in at The Hague. We hope, indeed I think I may say we believe, that he has had success in his mission, and that he has brought back an Agreement which will be in accordance with public expectation and desire, and which will, we hope, fix a term to the sufferings of many who have endured so long and harsh a confinement. I presume that to-day Lord Newton will make something in the nature of a general statement, probably on broad lines, to give us at all events a definite outline of the terms and conditions which he and his colleagues have succeeded in negotiating, and of course it will be necessary for us to hear what he has to say before we can administer to him any of the interrogations which will necessaruily follow, if not to-day, then at some early moment.

But I venture to put to him one, and only one, interrogation, and it is of importance. This Agreement, I assume, is in good form, and awaits ratification. Perhaps he will tell us, in his reply, how soon he expects that ratification will be effected. I submit this question to him, because, as he will remember, at the time that the Franco-German Agreement was adjusted ratification followed immediately. He has had experience of a great interval elapsing between the signing of an Agreement and its ratification. We hope at all events that if this Agreement is in good form, ratification will not be delayed. That is all that I have to say at the moment with regard to The Hague Convention. It is impossible to say more, and therefore I pass on to the portion of my Question which refers to the position of British and Indian prisoners in Turkish hands.

About a fortnight ago, in the House of Commons, the Leader of the House, Mr. Bonar Law, expressed the hope that indirectly The Hague negotiations would be of material advantage to the prisoners in Turkish hands. He submitted the point that if we succeeded in concluding an Agreement with the Germans it would make it more easy, and possibly more certain, that we should succeed in accomplishing something of a more definite character as affecting our prisoners in Turkish hands, and he advised those who were pressing him on the point in another place to await the return of my noble friend and his colleagues. Therefore what I have to say to some extent has a considerable bearing on these recent negotiations, because it has been generally understood—in fact, I think it has been stated on behalf of the Government—that several matters bearing directly on the position of our prisoners in Turkey would be discussed at The Hague. For obvious reasons the Germans more or less hold the key of the situation as to what their Allies do or do not do; consequently if we could bring a reasonable amount of pressure on the Germans at The Hague it would react elsewhere.

As long ago as December an Agreement was reached at Berne between our delegates, of whom Lord Newton was the chief, and the Turkish delegates, for an exchange of prisoners. The scope of the Agreement was very narrow and restricted, because it provided only for three things. The first was the exchange of civilians, the second was the exchange of doctors, and the third dealt with invalid prisoners. The civilians are insignificant in number; the doctors, of course, are not very numerous, although all-important. As regards the invalids, the Agreement provided that 300 British invalids and 700 Indians should be exchanged forthwith for 1,500 Turks, and those exchanges, it was laid down I believe in the negotiations, should be effected by ship sailing from Alexandria across the Mediterranean to a small port just smith of Smyrna called, I think, Scala Nuova, and that this ship should carry on the outward passage our Turkish prisoners from Egypt, and should return with British and Indian prisoners now in Asia Minor and Upper Mesopotamia. It may be a surprise to those who have not followed these matters to learn that no effect has been given to this Agreement, and that nothing whatever has happened. It was concluded in December, but only ratified in April. No ship has sailed, and the thing is a dead-letter, I am informed. I do not know whether it is a Government determination, but I assume it is, that unless and until they get some guarantee of immunity from submarine action the ship will not sail. This is one of the questions that I understand has been dealt with recently at The Hague. We were certainly given to understand that it would be raised, because we should require the guarantee from the Germans and from their Austrian allies. I would be very glad if my noble friend could inform us first as to whether that question was raised, and if so, with what result.

I shall give some figures and facts in a moment which I think will convince your Lordships as to the urgency of the exchange of prisoners being brought about speedily. First I would say, as regards the Berne Agreement, that it stands and should be made effective. Whatever the difficulties may be, it is the duty of the Government to overcome them. But there remains the larger question upon which I hope we shall receive some assurance this afternoon. The Government are already dealing with, or intend to proceed to deal with forthwith, negotiations for a general exchange. Let me say a word or two as to the condition of the prisoners as we note it from information that percolates through. I will give a figure or two bearing upon the mortality, and I think your Lordships will agree that these figures, which are not disputed by the Government, are simply appalling. Mr. Hope, in another place, dealing with the British non-commissioned officers and men who are in captivity, stated that of all the British captured on all the Fronts—that is to say, on the Palestine Front, on the Gallipoli and Mesopotamia Fronts—55 per cent. are either known to have died, or, not having been heard of since their capture, are presumed to be dead, and I think that is a true assumption. Of course, so far as the British noncommissioned officers and men are concerned there is no proscription as to the writing of letters, whereas among the Indians I understand there is some. Therefore if these men have not been heard from since their capture I think it is fair to assume that they will never be heard from again. And it is not surprising that the mortality has been so immense when we consider that the men of the Kut garrison, who surrendered because they were starved, within seven days of their surrender set out to march 600 miles over the desert in the hottest period of the year to railhead at a place called Ras-el-Ain. Of course, the mortality was fearful. These men at that moment [...]ere in a weak and debilitated condition. In the circumstances it is not really surprising, when we look back, that the mortality has been so heavy.

Before I pass from this I have a figure or two here which will illustrate, perhaps, in a more illuminating way what this fearful mortality has been among the British regiments. These figures have been collated from the British regiments at home, where records are kept of the happenings in Kut of some of our well-known regiments. Take, for instance, the Oxfordshire Light Infantry. At the time of the surrender there were captured 286 men; at the present moment there are only 77 of these believed to be alive. Of the Norfolk Regiment 253 were taken at the surrender; of those, 89 only are believed to be still alive. Of the Royal Artillery, Regulars, 731 were taken; of those, only 159 survive to-day. And of the Territorial Artillery 72 were taken, and 14 survive. Summarised, the figures are these:—Out of 1,342 captured, there are only 339 alive; that is to say, 74 per cent. are believed to have died.

As regards the Indian non-commissioned officers and men, Mr. Hope stated in the House of Commons that out of 6,238 men. 3,946 were dead or had not been heard of since their capture. I do not assume that they are all dead in the case of the Indians, because, as I mentioned just now, I understand there is a restriction placed on their correspondence—I do not know why, but it is so; but, assuming that all those who have not been heard of are dead, it would be 63 per cent. But I prefer to assume, and I think we can do that without possibility of question from any quarter, that 50 per cent. of them are dead.

This is not going unnoticed in India. I observed the other day, and I dare say many of your Lordships did too, a communication that was published in The Times and possibly in other papers, that came from Madras. It stated this— A strong feeling exists throughout India that on effort should be spared on behalf of the men who became prisoners of the Turks on the fall of Kut. There is danger in the great events which are occurring in the other theatres of war that these men may be forgotten. There is another danger. Such are the hardships that the defenders have been made to undergo in captivity that, in default of prompt and vigorous action on the part of the British and Indian Governments, none of these heroes may live to be restored to liberty.

Of course, that is what we feel with regard to the English prisoners. The telegram adds:— A petition is now being circulated in the Madras Presidency asking that arrangements may be set on foot for the exchange of these men.

Is it not obvious that if this remnant is to be saved some immediate action must be taken? There is no time to lose. I hope we shall hear—we shall be disappointed if we do not—that the Government have already taken action to resume negotiations with the Turkish Government, fist of all, so that the Berne Agreement, for what it is worth, may become effective; and, secondly, for the negotiation of an Agreement formulated on the lines of the Franco-German Agreement, or perhaps of the Agreement that my noble friend (Lord Newton) has brought back from The Hague.

It is, I am told by those who know, of the utmost importance that steps should be taken, if they are to be taken, to bring about this exchange before the winter comes again. As your Lordships know full well, in Asia Minor and in Upper Mesopotamia the winters are very severe, and the supply of clothing that the men have at the present moment is most defective and deficient. The Dutch Government, I believe, have supplied some, but from what I hear it is not of very good quality, and is lacking in quantity too. And of course, coupled with this, the inadequacy of the food supplies is calculated to drain the strength of these men so that they cannot sustain any further hardships that are associated with a severe winter.

With regard to the food position itself I do not like to over-state it, but I do not think I do when I say that it is really desperate. There is a great shortage of food there. Take, for example, the officers' position. They receive no rations all from their captors. They are compelled to feed and clothe themselves. They have to go into the open markets to purchase their supply, and the prices are fabulously high; indeed, they are famine prices. Bread is 2s. 6d. per lb. We think we are badly done by if we pay 9d. for a 4 lb. loaf, but their bread is 2s. 6d. per lb. Meat is 5s. per lb.; butter, 20s. per lb.; and sugar 10s. per lb. Now, that is bad enough. But you will agree that it has a worse aspect when I say that the pay allowed to the officers to make these purchases is, first of all, that which they receive from the Turkish Government. They make them a payment, not as we do to prisoners who come here from Germany and elsewhere, on the basis of their rank and on some agreed basis, but they make a payment of £6 to £7 per officer; nothing higher than £7. I do not know why there is that small difference, but there it is. An officer of the highest rank does not get more than £7, and an officer of the lowest rank does not get less than £6.


£7 a month?


Yes, £7 a month. Then the British Government remit through the Netherlands Government—which is the Government looking after our interests at Constantinople—a further amount of the value (at all events when it leaves here) of £10 or £15 per officer per month, according to rank. But when this money gets there, what is its value? The £10 or £15 has shrunk to a value of £2 or £3, because, although the money is paid in here in good British sterling, it is paid out at the other end in depreciated Turkish currency—paper. To give one example of what it really means, £16 sent from this country will provide only £3 worth of purchasing power when it gets into the hands of the officer, because the paper currency there has shrunken by nearly one-sixth of its original value. Therefore the predicament of these men is terrible to contemplate.

Further than that, unlike prisoners in Germany, these men cannot rely upon receiving parcels. At one time there was a parcels-post open, but even then 70 per cent. of the parcels sent from here failed to arrive; and since last March the parcels-post has been entirely closed at the instance of the Austrian Government. The parcels to get to Constantinople and thus into Asia Minor must go through Austria for some reason which I do not know. But perhaps my noble friend will be able to tell me—because this was a matter which was to be discussed at The Hague—why it is that the facilities for the transmission of parcels has been brought to an end at the instance of the Austrian Government.

Then as regards the rations for the men, the Turkish Government claim that they are receiving precisely the same rations as the Turkish soldiers. That may be true; I do not doubt it; but it is totally inadequate and insufficient for these men who are engaged on very heavy work. The bulk of the men are engaged on the Baghdad Railway, some of them on straightfoward construction work near Mosul (I think the place is), and others are in the Taurus Mountains engaged in tunnelling work. These men have always been accustomed to a meat dietary and they find it impossible satisfactorily to sustain themselves; hence the mortality amongst them is large. I am going to make an appeal to LordNewton on this question of helping the officers to keep going whilst they are in captivity, because many of them have not only their immediate wants to provide, but they have responsibilities at home; they are married and have families to sustain here; and as long as the drain on them is so heavy, owing first of all, to the enormous prices, and secondly to the depreciated currency, it is impossible for them to make both ends meet. Those who represent them feel strongly that the Government ought to make an announcement that this abnormal expenditure to which these men are put should be made good to them on their return, This would make a very great difference, and relieve them from a great amount of anxiety; it would also enable them to finance the position in some way which it is now impossible for them to do.

The great need at the moment is to get the whole of these men away. There are very few of them compared with what there were two years ago. I am going to state the numbers, and I will overstate them; if I were to give the figures that were given to me I should place them much lower than I am going to do, but I prefer to be over the mark rather than under it. I am told that there are only 2,000 British officers, non-commissioned officers, and men in the hands of the Turks, and 3,000 to 4,000 Indians; whereas we hold 50,000 Turkish prisoners. With 50,000 Turks in hand I think we ought to manage to get away 5,000 of our subjects. I do not suggest how it is to be done, but it ought to be done. Before I forget it, I may say that I promised to mention the 600 British prisoners in Bulgaria; I hope they will not be forgotten.

All I have to say, in conclusion, is that I think we are entitled to ask for some declaration of the intention of the Government in this matter. We want to hear whether the Government are determined to act; not to say to us, "Well, the difficulties are great; we have concluded an Agreement but nothing has materialised; what more can we do?" I do not think that this will satisfy public opinion. The Government will really have strenuously to apply themselves to saving this situation. There are shipping difficulties, of course, in connection with the Berne Agreement, but is it impossible to get these men back? Is it not possible to exchange them in some other way? I am told—in fact, it is not disputed—that immediately after the fall of Kut 1,000 men on each side consisting of the very worst cases—men, I suppose, so bad that there was no possibility of their marching—were exchanged and passed through the respective lines. It occurs to those who are watching this matter that there may be some possibility of effecting an exchange in that way.

My last word is straying, perhaps, a little away from the Question I have on the Paper, but it has an all-important bearing on the subject of the exchange of prisoners; it relates to the administration of all matters appertaining to prisoners. As your Lordships know, there is at the present moment divided authority controlling matters. We have first of all Lord Newton's Department, which is housed at the House of Lords, near by; then we have General Belfield's Department at the War Office. and Lord Sandwich's Department at Thurloe-place. They are all interested in the same individual. There is no concentration or co-ordination of organisation. It has been objected to and protested against repeatedly in the last two years. The noble Lord, Lord Newton, himself was good enough to say, in a speech which he made here prior to his departure for The Hague, that if we had known that the war was going to last three years we probably should have seen the wisdom of establishing a Ministry to deal with this all important question. Well, I say now that it is more important still that it should be done. We have been dealing with small counters in the past as regards exchanges; now we are going to deal, not with hundreds but with thousands, tens of thousands and probably hundreds of thousands of men, and if we have this divided authority, as sure as I stand here, before many week, are over there will be an outburst of public indignation from the relatives, and from those who are interested in the prisoners, because they will be wanting to ask all sorts of questions, and they will be expecting to get all sorts of information, and if we are to send them, as often in the past, from pillar to post before they get it I think it will lead to trouble. So, my Lords, I hope we shall hear something as to whether there is a possibility of a Ministry being established. We have had a good many Ministries set up, and people have objected to them. This will be one, I think, which they would cordially approve of, so that the whole question of prisoners could be co-ordinated and dealt with in a concentrated form. I beg to ask the Question standing in my name on the Paper.


My Lords, I should like to support Lord Devonport in his efforts to get further information about the prisoners. The noble Lord, Lord Newton, has returned from The Hague, and I hope he will have some sort of good news, or better news with regard to the prisoners in Germany. But what I wish to bring before your Lordships is the question of the prisoners in Turkey. Lord Devonport has explained their condition. There is really only about one-third of them left. The question is most immediate. If we cannot supply these prisoners with food, clothing, and drugs before the winter I do not believe that one single man of them will come back.

Think of the brilliant action that these prisoners carried out at Kut-el-Amara and at Ctesiphon, which the Prime Minister of that day described as the one bright spot in the war. It was not their fault that they had to give in; they had to give in owing to the superiority of numbers and lack of food; but their heroic defence has not been beaten in any tradition in history. That is my view of the situation. I want also to ask Lord Newton whether he can tell us anything about the brilliant Commander of that Expedition. We have heard nothing about Sir Charles Townshend lately. Has any effort been made to obtain his release or to get him exchanged or brought home? We should like very much to hear what has happened to Sir Charles Townshend, where he is, and what efforts the Government are making to get him back to this country.

I agree with Lord Devonport as to the question of finance. The relatives of these unfortunate prisoners, not only those who have died but those who are alive, should be assured by the Government that they will get some sort of pension or a sum of money to make up for the extraordinary drain on their resources owing to the rate of exchange and the difficulties they have of getting money out there. One more point which Lord Devonport mentioned was the question of putting the whole of the establishment under one bureau. It is a very difficult thing, if you have to refer to three or four different heads, as I understand it is at present. If Lord Newton were given commission or authority to undertake the whole of this business he might do so. As it is at present it appears to be under different Departments, which entails very great delay.

I once more plead for these men in Turkey. They did their duty as well as duty has ever been carried out by British soldiers. There have been any amount of conferences with regard to the German prisoners, but we have not heard of any conference, or any efforts—they may have been made, I cannot say—but personally I have not heard of any effort that has been made particularly on behalf of these prisoners in Turkey. We owe them a debt that we cannot repay; the least we can do is to try and save the lives of the deplorably small remainder of these men now prisoners in Turkey.


My Lords, may I say a few words in support of the definite proposition with which the noble Viscount, Lord Devonport, concluded his speech. There is a very widespread feeling throughout the country that the question of the handling of the prisoners has left much to be desired from first to last, and the terrible account which the noble Viscount has given to the House of the gradual dying of these fine men who are prisoners in Turkey will go very far to strengthen that feeling. The reason has been, I am sure, that from first to last there has been no proper machinery set up to deal with this great question. It began on a very small scale, but it has now grown to very large dimensions, and may still expand to larger dimensions before the war is ended.

This question has really got quite out of hand. Lord Newton, as we know, feels the keenest sympathy with these much suffering men, and we know that he has done his best, but from first to last he has never had sufficient power. There are far too many Departments and too many offices which are sharing the responsibility and not properly fulfilling it. I am quite certain that the only possible course is to put the whole matter of the prisoners—prisoners at home as well as prisoners abroad—under one responsible head. We have lately been told that we have now got ninety-one Ministers, and one more Minister cannot matter very much. I think the general feeling against creating new Ministries arises from the fact that it is assumed at once that some enormous new hotel will be taken and a staff of three or four thousand people will be gathered together in that hotel. But that is not the least necessary, it seems to me, in this particular cases. It is only required to bring certain Departments now working apart together under one distinctly responsible head. It was believed before the war that under the Convention of The Hague due provision had been made for the humane treatment of prisoners in future wars. All the hopes that sprang from that Convention were dashed to the ground owing to the vile conduct of our enemies with regard to these helpless men. I feel that no efforts can be too great, and no sacrifice of a larger number of prisoners on our side can he too great, to get these men out of the sufferings which they are now enduring. I believe we can only succeed by appointing one single Minister responsible directly to the War Cabinet for the whole question of prisoners at home and abroad.


My Lords, the three noble Lords who have spoken have introduced a question which in reality has little relevance to that which appears on the Paper—namely, that concerning the administration of prisoners of war in this country. I have frequently explained the position to the best of my ability, and all I can say is that the decision upon this point does not rest with me. It is a question for the Cabinet, and if the Cabinet choose to appoint a Ministry of Prisoners it is for them to say so. But I would venture to point out, without attempting to defend myself personally, that the system which prevails in this country with regard to prisoners is precisely the same system, so far as I know, as that which prevails in every other country, and I am myself, I admit, somewhat sceptical as to whether any marked results would be effected by the proposed change. I quite agree that the addition of, say, a ninety-second member of the Government is not in itself an addition of much importance, but if you are going to withdraw all the requisite officials from the Departments concerned, then it is obviously a large question which requires considerable consideration. I can only repeat that it is a question on which, happily, I have not myself got to decide.

Now, my Lords, with regard to the Question on the Paper. The first portion of the Question relates to the Agreement which has recently been signed at The Hague with Germany, and of course the House will understand that, that Agreement not having been ratified, I am precluded and forbidden from entering upon any details, but it is now public property that the Agreement of which I speak is one of a very far-reaching character, which involves the exchange of a very large number of combatants, and which also involves the exchange, or rather the repatriation, of all such civilians as wish to return to their respective countries; and, of course, the Agreement also deals largely wit h all questions relating to the treatment of prisoners. The negotiations, I may say, were not only protracted but extremely difficult, and I might add that they were in no degree facilitated by the active campaign which was being waged simultaneously in this country against enemy aliens here; but these difficulties were fortunately surmounted at the last moment, and an Agreement was arrived at to the mutual satisfaction of both sides. The noble Lord asked me when the ratification was likely to take place, and whether speedily, and he instanced, not for the first time, that the Franco-German Agreement had been ratified very quickly. If the noble Lord had been engaged in these negotiations himself he would have realized that an Agreement between the German Government and the British Government is a very much more difficult matter than negotiations between the German and the French Governments.

In this particular Agreement there is a vast number of details, and a great number of points had to be considered. They are points of great importance, and candidly, although I am naturally more anxious than anybody else that the Agreement should be rapidly ratified, these points will, I expect, require a good deal of consideration on the part of His Majesty's Government, and if they require consideration on the part of His Majesty's Government they will in all probability require longer consideration on the part of the German Government. I may add, too, a warning note—that there is a reservation on the part of the German delegates which may in itself occasion considerable trouble; but the noble Lord may be perfectly satisfied that, as far as I and my fellow delegates are concerned, we shall naturally do our utmost to expedite the process of ratification. I do not know that there is anything that I can add with regard to this particular Agreement to-day. I shall, of course, be only too pleased to give the fullest details as soon as I am in a position to do so.

I would pass from that portion of the noble Lord's Question to the part which relates to Turkey; and here let ire observe that I do not think the noble Viscount, or many of the other critics of the Government, have realised how very much more difficult is the position with regard to Turkey than it is with regard to Germany when you are dealing with prisoners. At all events, when you are dealing with the German Government you are dealing with a Government which knows what it wants and to a certain degree is anxious to effect exchange; but the Turkish Government neither knows what it wants, nor in the least degree is anxious to effect any exchange at all. I wish to emphasise that fact. Ever since the war began there has been only one Turkish prisoner in whom the Turkish Government has taken any interest, and that man has ceased to take any interest in his own fate. As to the rest of the prisoners in our hands—the 50,000 of whom the noble Lord spoke—I honestly believe that the Turkish Government does not care one fig whether any of them are ever released or not. That really constitutes the whole difficulty. I have observed a tendency on the part of critics to blame us for the failure of these negotiations because we are supposed not to have employed experts for the purpose—I mean experts on Turkey. I really would ask the noble Lord to believe me when I say that we are not quite so simple, or foolish, as we are supposed to be.


I never said anything about experts.


Possibly not, but it has been frequently alleged that we have been unsuccessful because we have not employed the right people. We have employed experts and made every use of them, and I can assure the noble Viscount and the House that no means have been neglected to impress upon the Turks the advisability of coming to an agreement with us. No means have been neglected at all.

Now let me endeavour to deal with the complaints made by the noble Viscount—when I say "complaints," it is hardly the correct word to use, because so far as I remember the facts that he gave are almost absolutely correct. I will deal first with the question of mortality. The noble Viscount was perfectly right in saying that the rate of mortality has been excessive and that it is deplorable, but what I want to point out is that, this excessive mortality took place in consequence of the sufferings which the unfortunate men had undergone who were transported from Kut to their respective camps. That is the fact which accounts for the very excessive mortality, and it is known that after the men arrived in the permanent camps the rate of mortality decreased, although I admit that unfortunately it is much higher than it ought to be. With regard to treatment, the information that we receive from time to time tends to show that there has been an improvement, and that this improvement may most certainly be attributed to the result of the conference which took place between the two Governments in the winter at Berne. When the reports are eventually received from the inspectors who are to be sent by the Dutch Legation to the camps in question we shall be able to judge how far this improvement has extended. I regret to say that it has not yet been possible to despatch these inspectors on their work.


Why not?


The noble Marquess might as well ask why many other things have not been done, and if he had to deal with-the Turkish Government he would, perhaps, realise the extreme difficulty of getting things done. With regard to relief allowances, it is perfectly true that there has been a very great depreciation, but recently the Netherlands Minister has been authorised to send remittances more than double as great as those previously allowed, and at the present moment something between £50,000 and £60,000 a month is being spent upon these allowances. Whether these allowances should be increased or not is a matter for the War Office and for the Treasury, and I have no doubt that the arguments of the noble Viscount and his friends will be borne in mind.

Now with regard to food. The noble Lord complains that the food parcels do not reach these prisoners, and that they are consequently inadequately fed. This is another of the difficulties which have to be faced in dealing with prisoners in Turkey. All parcels have to go through enemy countries. The noble Viscount asked me why they could not be sent in some other way. There is no other way that occurs to me.


I did not suggest any other arrangement with regard to parcels. I made no suggestion, but I said that parcels to Constantinople and Asia Minor must necessarily go through Austria.


I am sorry if I misunderstood the noble Viscount, but I understood him to suggest that there were other methods of enabling parcels to reach the prisoners than through enemy countries. That, unfortunately, is not the case, because the only other method of enabling parcels to reach the prisoners would be by sea, and it is obviously impossible to send parcels by sea to an enemy port. At the present moment the reason why fool parcels are not reaching prisoners in Turkey is that they are stopped in Austria, and, in consequence of this stoppage of our parcels by the Austrians, we have stopped Austrian parcels being sent to Austrian prisoners here. We hope that this will remedy the situation. The only really satisfactory way of providing for the needs of the prisoners, either as regards food or as regards clothing, was the method which we agreed upon at Berne—namely, that a ship should take Turkish prisoners to Turkey, bring back British and Indian prisoners, and at the same time convey food and clothing for the use of British prisoners. The noble Viscount seems surprised that the ship has not yet started. Ever since the Agreement has been ratified we have been endeavouring to secure the despatch of this ship, but it must be perfectly obvious, in the first place, that you cannot despatch a ship until a guarantee against attack has been given by the enemy, and, in the second place, that it would be very unwise to do so until we knew that the Turkish Government had collected the British prisoners at the place where they were to be picked up.

The Turkish Government have not carried out either of these two provisions. So far as we know they have not—or, at any rate, they have done very little in that direction—collected the men at the port at which it was agreed they are to be collected, and I very much doubt whether they have taken any real steps to obtain the necessary safeguards from the German Government with regard to the safety of the ship. When we were at The Hague we received directions to approach the German Government with regard to this particular question, and I personally approached one of the chief German delegates upon it and he gave me an assurance that he would take the matter up immediately upon his return to Berlin. I trust, therefore, that we shall shortly succeed in obtaining some assurance, but the noble Viscount may be satisfied that we have been continually pressing to obtain this assurance, up to now unfortunately without any success.

The noble Viscount asks whether His Majesty's Government were prepared to make any definite proposals with regard to further exchange. The House is probably familiar with the terms of exchange already agreed upon with regard to invalids; and "invalid," let me explain, is a very wide term and ought to cover a very large number of men. I understand that the Cabinet are quite prepared to make further proposals with regard to an exchange, and I hope to be able to announce in a few days exactly what has been decided. For my part, I have always been firmly convinced—I have never altered my opinion at all—that the only solution of this question so far as Turkey is concerned, is the ex-change of prisoners. We have done our best up to now to exchange invalids only, and in view of our failure to do that, I am afraid that the prospect of the Turkish Government agreeing to a total exchange is even more improbable. But I should like to make it perfectly clear that there has never been any opposition on our part to anything of the kind, and that all the opposition has come from the side of the Turkish Government, which, I can only repeat, has never shown the smallest disposition to an exchange or to meet our demands in any sort of way. As far as I am concerned, I can assure the noble Viscount that I will do my utmost to bring about an exchange on as wide a scale as possible. What particular form the proposal will take depends upon the decision of the Cabinet, but I can only say again that in a wide, far-reaching exchange I personally see the only satisfactory solution of this question.


What about the prisoners in Bulgaria?


I am coming to that. The noble Lord, Lord Beresford, addressed a question to me with special reference to General Townshend. It has always been the practice of His Majesty's Government—and in my opinion it is a thoroughly sound practice—not to entertain the question of what are known as individual exchanges, and I do not think that any-body asserts that, so far as exchanges are concerned, General Townshend has any higher claim to be exchanged than any other officer who has been taken prisoner by the Turks. I have always understood that his position is not considered to be different from that of other officers who have the misfortune to be prisoners at the present time, and that all cases must be dealt with on the same basis. With regard to Bulgaria, when we were at The Hague I was able to get into communication with the Bulgarian Minister there, upon instructions from His Majesty's Government, and we have ascertained that the Bulgarian Government are quite ready to negotiate an Agreement with us upon the lines of that which has just been signed between ourselves and the German Government.


May I ask my noble friend whether any effort is being made at this moment for Sir Charles Townshend and the rest of the officers by way of exchange?


The whole course of ray speech, or of a large portion of it, was made with the object of showing—I am afraid I have lamentably failed—that we have been consistently trying for a long time to exchange not only General Townshend but the other officers and all the combatants in Turkey.


May I ask my noble friend if it has been considered whether it would not be possible to exchange prisoners either by way of Baghdad, or, better still, by way of Jerusalem? That would not necessitate the use of any shipping. Of course, no provisions could be sent, but it would do away with any danger of the submarine menace.


Before the noble Lord answers I should like to ask another question. He is aware, and the House is aware, that the United States is not technically at war with Turkey, and I have some reason to think that objects destined for relief have succeeded in finding their way into Turkey, and I do not think it is certain that they found their way in through Austria. I would like to suggest to the noble Lord whether it is not possible that this fact that the United States is not at war may not be used to enable some other way than the way through Austria to be found for sending parcels into Turkey for the benefit of our prisoners, As regards what he has said about Turkey, it is perfectly true, and any one who has any knowledge or dealings with Turkey knows, that their total want of humanity extends to their own people, and therefore we, as a civilised Power, have nothing to offer them. Barbarians like the Turks do not care what becomes of their own prisoners, and they naturally do not feel the same desire to get them back as a civilised Power would feel. I sincerely hope that the Government will do all they possibly can for these unfortunate fellow countrymen of ours in Turkey. Like all who have spoken, I feel that the noble Lord has done all in his power, and we are grateful to him fur the efforts he has made.


My Lords, I should like to emphasise one or two points. I am under no illusion as to the character of the Turks. I have not, perhaps, the same experience as Lord Bryce, but I know, during the course of foreign policy for many years that the Turks are quite impossible to negotiate with, but that there are, sometimes, means of approaching them which they value (not of a kind we generally talk about) and which is often very effective, and would certainly be justifiable in the case of the relief of prisoners.

A good deal has been said of the difficulty of getting parcels through Austria. It occurred to some of us sitting on this bench to ask why parcels should not be sent by sea. The noble Lord opposite dealt with the question of using the sea route in respect of prisoners, but he did not deal with it in respect of parcels. He was dealing with the difficulties and the objections to the sea route as regards prisoners, and one of his reasons for hesitating to adopt the plan was that the Turks have shown no signs of collecting British prisoners at an appropriate Turkish port, and therefore it would be premature to send a ship with Turkish prisoners to meet them. That may be perfectly true, but that criticism does not apply to parcels, and I do not see any reason, on the face of it, why parcels should not be sent by sea to a Turkish port and delivered there. At any rate they would have a better chance of arriving than if they were stopped in their passage through Austria. I make that suggestion to my noble friend for his consideration. I ventured to interrupt (and I hope the noble Lord did not think I was rude) when he was speaking of the despatch of the Dutch inspectors to the Turkish camps where British prisoners are found. I think that was an arrangement come to as far back as December of last year.


Yes, but not ratified until April.


At any rate, it was ratified in April of this year. That is several months ago, and I should like to ask where the difficulty of getting these Dutch inspectors has arisen. It may arise from the difficulties raised by the Dutch Government, but I do not think my noble friend suggested this. He suggested that the difficulty was always with the Turks. I should certainly think that, as the Dutch Government is neutral, they would be likely to have much more effect in pressing the point upon the Turkish Government than we should ourselves, and I should hope the Dutch Government would have been willing to use all the pressure in their power for so humane a purpose as sending their inspectors to Turkish camps where British prisoners are found. I should like to ask the noble Lord whether he thinks everything has been done to induce a friendly Government like the Dutch to do their utmost on behalf of prisoners and, in particular, in obtaining the authority for these inspectors to visit Turkish camps.

Lastly I should like to press again the point, which has been already mentioned by Lord Devonport, as to the pecuniary compensation of our wretched fellow-countrymen in these circumstances. I confess it was impossible for us to listen without emotion to the account Lord Devonport gave of the terrible sufferings of these officers and men, and if it is merely a question of money, trifling and trivial, in order to enable them to buy the necessary provisions to keep body and soul together, there is nobody, not a single man, in either House of Parliament, or the country, who would not spend ten times the sum to achieve that end. I am quite certain that my noble friend has only to represent this to the War Office, or to the Cabinet, to get an immediate assent, and that any sum of money which is necessary to be sent to our officers and men under these distressing circumstances would be readily and instantly granted for so great and noble a purpose. I desire to press that point very much upon my noble friend.

In the course of his speech Lord Newton said that. he was afraid the Agreement which he has brought back—I 4m glad he has brought it back—from The Hague would require a good deal of consideration in its details. That may be so. I should he very sorry to criticise that, but I earnestly hope, so far as the British Government is concerned, the consideration will he got through in the shortest possible time. There has been—shall I say—perhaps a little too much consideration. We want things done promptly, and so far as this Government is concerned we earnestly hope they will not allow any unnecessary delay to take place.


My Lords, I want, not for the first time, to say a single word about part of the answer which the noble Lord has made to-night. We all believe he has done his best in an extremely difficult matter, but what does seem to me to be somewhat strange is that, time after time, when this question comes up, the noble Lord has said, "I have done this; the rest does not rest with me; it rests with the Cabinet." We do not care who it rests with. The Question is not addressed to the noble Lord; it is addressed to the Government, and we have been told, at last on five different times, that the noble Lord has done what he could, but that the rest is the responsibility of His Majesty's Government. It seems to me to be a strange mode of treating this House. I think we are entitled to have a direct answer from the Government to the Question asked. It is really an important matter, and this is not the kind of way in which the answer should be given.


I am very sorry if my answers do not give general satisfaction in this House, but I think the obvious reply is that all really important matters concerning prisoners have to go to the Cabinet, and they will continue to do so, so far as I know. That really is not my fault.


Certainly not. I make no imputation against the noble Lord.


I do not very well see what else can be expected. Differences of opinion must constantly arise, and, if they do arise, they must be eventually decided by the War Cabinet. I will endeavour, shortly, to answer the questions put to me by the noble Marquess. I should like to assure him that the additional arguments which he suggested might be used with respect to the Turks have not by any means been overlooked. I thought that I had already conveyed that in my speech. With regard to his proposal that the parcels should go in the ship, I do not think that he quite realises that that ship would not be going to a neutral port, but to a belligerent port. And what are the prospects of its getting there?


It would be a neutral ship.


It might get there, but on the other hand it is extremely probable that it would be torpedoed. It would have to he protected, and even then it might not arrive. The other point was as to the inspectors. Inspectors exist. I saw one the other day on his way out there. In addition, there are inspectors at Constantinople, at the Dutch Legation, but the Dutch Legation cannot get permission from the Turkish Government to send them to inspect the camps. I have no doubt that the Dutch Legation do their best with the Turkish Government, but, like ourselves, they are not so successful as they ought to be.

One further suggestion was made by my noble friend upon the Cross Benches, Lord Oramnore and Brown—namely, that in view of the difficulties attending transport by sea the prisoners should be exchanged over land. That is a solution which has constantly occurred to me, and probably to many other people, but I have always been told that it is a thing to which the military authorities on every side refuse to consent. It was carried out immediately after the capitulation of Kut, but that, I believe, is the only occasion on which it has been done, and I presume that the military objections with regard to it are insurmountable. At all events, whenever I have approached them on the subject I have always been told that they would not consider it.