HL Deb 04 July 1890 vol 346 cc787-9

in rising to ask Her Majesty's Government whether it is proposed in the arrangement for the cession of Heligoland to Germany to make the inhabitants in all respects subject to German laws; and whether the contemplated exemption from military conscription will apply only to persons now living, said: I should not have troubled your Lordships on this occasion had it not been for the very, I must say, vague and indefinite information which has been given by Her Majesty's Government relative to the proposed cession of Heligoland to Germany. I do not wish to enter upon the subject of the limits of secrecy claimed by the Foreign Office with regard to negotiations on Foreign Affairs—it is, no doubt, a very difficult one—but when the noble Marquess at the head of Foreign Affairs recently stated in this House that It is a rule that has always been observed at the Foreign Office that discussions should not take place until negotiations of this kind are concluded, I can hardly suppose that he intended to include in this the giving of such information as it might be convenient to give, as well as the liberty of discussion. That may be another question, but there may be information which could be given perhaps without injury to the Public Service. I am asking only for information. It must be remembered that in the matter now under consideration—I mean the cession of Heligoland to Germany—it is a question of transferring to another European Power a dependency of this country, the population of which for a length of time has enjoyed the rights and privileges of British subjects. Now, it is hardly possible to suppose that in the cession of a country in which British subjects are living, especially when that cession is made to a country like Germany, whose principles of Government differ so materially from those of this country. the population can retain these or similar rights and privileges. Yet I see it was recently stated, as reported, by the First Lord of the Treasury in another place— That the utmost care had been taken in the Agreement with Germany to secure for the inhabitants the continuance of the privileges they had hitherto enjoyed. If this be so, my objections to the cession of Heligoland would be materially lessened. But, on the other hand, as I understand from the recent Despatch of the noble Marquess, Her Majesty's Government propose to stipulate that persons only now living should be free from naval and military conscription, and, consequently, that future generations should be subject to that oppressive law. I can hardly reconcile these conflicting statements, or conceive how it can be said that the continuance of the privileges which they have hitherto enjoyed has been secured for the inhabitants, if the immunities of those who are now British subjects are not to be continued to their children and those that come after them. Unless very clear and definite terms are imposed, it cannot, I think, be doubted that if Heligoland is annexed to Germany, without definite stipulations as to the rights and privileges as British subjects which are to be secured to the inhabitants, burdens will be imposed upon them which to them have been hitherto unknown; and you will be giving over a free and contented population who have hitherto enjoyed the rights of British subjects to become subjects of a country burdened with taxation and oppressed by naval and military conscription.


In answer to a letter which my noble Friend addressed to me I informed him that we had laid the Agreement, which was signed on Tuesday night, on the Table of your Lordships' House. I ventured to submit that I thought perhaps it would be better to defer all questions as to the nature of the Agreement until the Instrument is in the hands of the House. I still think that, on the whole, that would be the more convenient arrangement. I will only say, with regard to what has fallen from my noble Friend, that if Heligoland becomes German soil those who inhabit it will be subject to German laws, but that we have made a special exception in favour of all persons now living, that they shall not be subject to that which British subjects are not subject to, namely, conscription for the Military and Naval Services. I will take this opportunity of saying that I shall ask the House to-night to read the Bill for the cession of Heligoland a first time, and on Thursday next I shall move the Second Reading of the Bill.