§ LORD BERESFORD rose to ask His Majesty's Government whether the number of British prisoners in Germany can be given, differentiating between naval, military, and civilian; whether it is not a fact that the food given them up to now has been inferior in quality and short in quantity; whether it is not a fact that if it had not been for the exertions of Mrs. Picton Warlow and Mrs. Grant-Duff's Committees, and of oilier similar Committees, the prisoners at Ruhleben and other camps would have starved; whether His Majesty's Government will make further representations as to the quality and quantity of the food supplied; whether the number of British prisoners who have died in Germany can be stated, giving their names; whether His Majesty's Government can state the number of British prisoners in Bulgaria and Turkey, and what their condition is as regards food and comfort.
§ The noble and gallant Lord said: My Lords, I do not apologise to my noble friend Lord Newton for bringing the question of prisoners forward again so soon, because we know we have his hearty sympathy and that he will do anything he can for the relief of these men. I should like to 250 amplify my Question in a few words. I understand that the prisoners are not allowed by the Government to make any statement that can be made public afterwards, and we are not allowed to see their depositions. I think that is a great mistake. I hold that the public should be accurately informed as to anything that has occurred to these prisoners, because as far as my information goes—and I have taken a great interest in them ever since the war began—they have been treated in very many instances most brutally. Vindictiveness is shown against the English prisoners particularly, more so than in the case of the Irish, Scottish, and Welsh, by these Germans. I remember that when first we brought this subject forward—it was a long time ago—in a debate in another place I complained of the authorities for not taking enough interest in the matter. That debate was initiated by Sir F. Banbury, and during the first three speeches there was not a single Cabinet Minister on the Front Bench. That was hardly sympathetic; in fact, it was very much the reverse. A day had been given by the Government, and they ought to have been there to answer the questions. It was mentioned at the time that this was not the line of conduct which the Government ought to take with regard to these prisoners.
§ There is another point about which I wish to question my noble friend. The Germans, I understand, have been withholding correspondence. I am not sure what the German authorities allow in regard to the number of cards or letters during the week, but they are now withholding correspondence. Food is also being held up in many cases. Some of the parcels do not arrive at all, and when they do they have been broken into. Germany is no doubt getting very much pressed for food owing to the blockade, and I am afraid that when Germany begins to be crushed the fury of the people will be inconceivable and it will be vented against our unfortunate prisoners, whose fate may be appalling. In my Question on the Paper I mention the names of two ladies. I did not mean, however, to be invidious. I only mention them because they are the two who started the Bread Committee which has been sending bread to the prisoners. But it would be wrong not to call attention also to the splendid work done by regimental committees and by the prisoners' friends.
I do not know whether your Lordships
have seen a letter in the Morning Post to-day from a Dutchman who has recently returned from Germany. What he says is what the prisoners who have come back also tell me in many cases. He says—
There is no doubt that the British prisoners of war are going to be in a very bad way. Undeniably, Germany is suffering from want of food of all kinds, and when the Germans face actual famine the prisoners' parcels will no longer be given to them—certainly not to the English prisoners.
Then he makes a comment on the deplorable mistake quite unintentionally made by Mr. Tennant in another place, and proceeds—
All over Germany now his words are quoted. ' See what the English War Minister has said: the English swine have more than have the brave sons of the Fatherland in cursed England! But he will not say again that the swine who are with us get bettor food. Soon there will be none for them to get.'
Whatever Mr. Tennant has said, it is being used in the German Press against our prisoners and in favour of the German prisoners.
§ I would like to ask my noble friend about the treatment which the British prisoners have had in the German hospitals. I know one case of a man who had his leg badly shattered, and whose diet while in hospital consisted daily of one ounce of food. His breakfast was coffee, without sugar or milk; his dinner, very poor soup containing decayed cabbage and sometimes carrots, with black bread; his supper, poor soup again with black bread; and he had tea on Wednesdays and Saturdays. In this hospital there were no medicines provided at all. I will tell my noble friend the man's name, and where he is at the moment. The patients had to make their own beds, and if they were too helpless their comrades came to their aid. There were French orderlies who looked after these wounded prisoners. Many of the parcels sent from home never reached these men. During the whole of the time that the man to whom I have referred was in hospital, which was a year, he had only two baths, and no soap and no hair-brush. There are many other cases which I can give my noble friend. I would also ask him whether he can give us the numbers of British prisoners in Turkey and Bulgaria. This matter is arousing the greatest interest throughout the whole of the country, and also intense irritation; and it is due to the relatives and friends, to those who have husbands, fathers, and sons in the prisons in Germany that we should make every effort for their relief as soon as we can.252
THE EARL OF MAYO
My Lords, before Lord Newton answers the Question of the noble and gallant Lord, I should like to corroborate what Lord Beresford has said. I interviewed some of the returned prisoners of the Dublin Fusiliers, and your Lordships would be astonished at the beastliness of the food which those prisoners were given. It is quite true, as Mr. Tennant said, that were it not for the parcels they received they would have starved. Now comes a very serious question. Within the last month we have been getting letters from the men saying that they have not received their parcels. I am speaking of the organisation in regard to the Dublin Fusiliers. These prisoners have been receiving their parcels most regularly up to now, almost from the beginning of the war. But we have received letters that they are not now getting their parcels, and we have not received the usual number of cards, the cards which are printed and handed out to the prisoners in Germany for them to fill up saying they have received their parcels. That is a serious state of affairs, and I would ask the noble Lord whether he cannot communicate with the Foreign Office and get the Foreign Office to ask the American Minister in Berlin and also the Swedish Minister to endeavour to find out the reason why almost suddenly the delivery of the parcels has been stopped. We begin to think, as my noble friend Lord Beresford has said, that the Germans are taking the parcels. Things must be pretty bad in Germany, because men who have returned have told me that the guards had asked them to sell them their German rations when they had been able to do without them in consequence of the parcels. I hope representations will be made to the American Minister and the staff there, who I do not think have had that recognition in the Press here which they ought to have had. They have helped a great deal in finding out the state of the prisoners. I hope that the noble Lord will represent this matter to the Foreign Office and try to find out why the parcels are not given to the prisoners. There may be a reason; the men may be out in the fields working, and unable to get the parcels. But I have my doubts. I think the Germans are collaring the food.
LORD MAC DONNELL
My Lords, I should like to mention a few facts to your Lordships in regard to this matter because I happen to be intimately connected with 253 one of the large associations who supply Irish prisoners of war in Germany with food. I refer to the Irish Women's Association, the prominent members of which are the Marchioness of Sligo and the Marchioness of Ormonde, and many other Irish ladies who combined at the beginning of the war for the purpose of supplying food to prisoners of Irish regiments with the exception of those whom my noble friend Lord Mayo has mentioned, the Dublin Fusiliers and another Dublin regiment, At the present time this Irish Women's Association supply every fortnight a parcel to 2,700 prisoners, and it is astonishing to us how punctually the parcels are delivered and how rarely any complaint reaches us. We get cards from each of the prisoners, and these arrive with punctuality. We have had no such cases of complaint as the noble and gallant Lord (Lord Beresford) mentioned to the House. It may be that other associations have not-worked in the same way as our association has done. At all events, we have no complaint whatever to make in this matter. Where prisoners die, the parcels are returned to us. This is of great use, because we are able to examine the parcels and find what particular substance bears the journey well. So far as the experience is concerned of the Irish Women's Association, which is working here in London and whose work has been recognised by their Majesties the King and Queen by the grant to the association of a suite of rooms in Kensington Palace where they carry on their work, they have nothing to complain of against the German authorities.
THE EARL OF MAYO
May I say that it has only just happened that these letters of complaint and not the postcards of acknowledgment are coming in.
LORD MAC DONNELL
Up to the present time we have had practically no complaints of the parcels not being delivered.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
My Lords, I can give one piece of testimony on this matter. The point raised by my noble friend is a very important one as regards all the large associations which are sending from day to day considerable consignments of food and comforts and various forms of clothing to Germany. I have some experience of this work, because I am honorary treasurer of the largest of these associations, and I have taken a considerable amount of trouble at 254 various times, with my colleagues, to find out whether the parcels did or did not reach the camps. Our consignments are very large—I am talking of our direct consignments, not of the goods and materials which we supply through the regimental funds—and it is extremely difficult to say whether or not all these consignments reach the German camps. For this reason I took a certain number of cases at random, and was able, through the good offices of the American Ambassador here, to get inquiries made through the American Ambassador in Berlin as to whether these consignments—they were six in number—had or had not reached the camps. I found that in every case they had reached the, camps. I confess that this considerably helped us, because it seemed very strong testimony that the large consignments did reach the camps and were delivered by the Germans. I should not like to say the same about individual consignments. The experience we have had shows that it is desirable that this food and these comforts should be sent in large consignments, not of course officially but under the œgis of some large association, rather than as individual consignments, a great many of which have undoubtedly been pilfered. It is much more difficult for the authorities in Germany to exercise supervision over small consignments, but as regards the large ones we have ample testimony that most of them arrive. I am much concerned, however, by the, statements which have been recently made, and I hope my noble friend in his answer will be able to assure us that the same system as has obtained hitherto is being continued.
§ LORD DEVONPORT
My Lords, I should like to say a few words on this important question, which so far as I am able to judge is becoming very serious and grave. The public are beginning to realise now in what tremendous jeopardy British civilian and military prisoners in Germany are likely to be. On the question of parcels, I would agree with Lord MacDonnell up to a point. It is quite true—I am speaking only as regards the Ruhleben camp, where the civilians are interned—that up till recently the parcels have arrived there almost with great regularity. But now I confirm what Lord Mayo has said, that recently these parcels have not been arriving. What is an ominous feature is the fact that the postcards have not been arriving; no letter has arrived from the 255 Ruhleben camp for the last six weeks. This is the first time within my experience that such a thing has happened, and it happened concurrently with what was said the other day by Lord Robert Cecil in another place, when he referred to the fact that the prisoners were absolutely dependent upon these parcels, which is true, and said he had grave misgivings as to what would be the position in the future. I say the time has arrived when the Government will have to apply themselves most seriously to this problem; otherwise we shall have a great outbreak of national indignation in this country that may carry us very far indeed.
The food that the Germans have been giving to the prisoners—I am speaking only from my knowledge of the civilian prisoners at Ruhleben—has been scandalously defective in quantity and quality from the very commencement. Therefore I was more than amazed when I read about three weeks ago the statement made by Mr. Tennant in another place as to the liberality of the rations that the Germans were according to prisoners. He said that the authorities' scale of rations in Germany was carried out very generously. I think we are entitled to ask upon what authority that statement was made. The noble Lord referred to the fact that this was being circulated broadcast in Germany as good evidence of the liberality of the German rations. Within a fortnight or three weeks of making that statement Mr. Tennant recanted it. And on what grounds! That he had had the opportunity of interviewing prisoners who had returned from this camp—that is to say, he had taken the opportunity of securing first-hand information; and instead of what he had said three weeks before being the fact, it was the very reverse. The true state of affairs was this, that the rations were such that, were it not for the parcels, the men would starve.
I do not want to say that the Government are to blame. I do not want to make any offensive criticism. But this is too important a matter to allow to pass without a protest. I want to know why first-hand information has not been taken advantage of for the year or move that it has been available. I myself have taken a close interest in the fortunes, or misfortunes, of the prisoners at Ruhleben for reasons that I need not explain here. I have interviewed on every occasion that has presented itself—and they have not been few—returned prisoners from Ruhleben. It is certainly 256 more than a year ago since I came into contact with some of those who had been released. Since then the flow of releases, though not great, has been continuous. Surely the Government ought to have access to accurate information and ought not to be making statements such as that made by Mr. Tennant, which he himself withdrew three weeks afterwards because it was founded upon inaccurate information. My point is that if there is a proper bureau here at home returned prisoners ought to be consistently and steadily examined as to the sort of treatment they have received; otherwise the public will not be accurately informed as to what is going on.
Contrast the treatment of British civilian prisoners in Germany with the treatment which the German civilian prisoners receive here. A gentleman with whom I have had communication returned recently from the camp at Ruhleben, and whilst there he held a very important position, so far as a prisoner can, in the administration of the camp. He has now had the privilege of visiting the Alexandra Palace civilian camp, where the Germans are interned, in order to draw a comparison between the dietary that he suffered under and what was prevalent there. At Ruhleben this was the daily dietary. For breakfast each prisoner received a bowl of coffee, or what is called coffee—I think it is synthetic coffee; it consists of roasted beans and acorns and anything but coffee, but it bears the name of coffee—a bowl of coffee in which there is no sugar or milk. That is the breakfast. A loaf is served out, and that is a ration for two days. For some time past it has been very indigestible, very coarse, and most unpalatable, and all prisoners who can afford it have their bread sent from Berne to the camp under the excellent arrangement that has been made for that. For dinner the prisoner gets a bowl of so-called soup, in the same bowl that he used for his coffee; it is a sort of fixture. I am assured by those who have been fed upon this soup that in appearance and in consistency it is very much like that adhesive substance that bill-stickers use to fasten bills to hoardings. There is no meat in it, or if a piece of meat is encountered it is more of a surprise than an expectation. There are no potatoes served, no vegetables of any kind; and that is the main meal of the day, the dinner. For tea the same bowl serves again, and into it the prisoner can have poured a liquid called either tea or 257 cocoa. And that is the bill of fare! As a returned prisoner put it to me the other day," I had no opportunity of exercising my teeth at German expense from the time I became a prisoner in Ruhleben." The gentleman to whom I have referred told me what he found at the Alexandra Palace. There was a dining-room, a table cloth, and all accessories to a meal—plates, knives, dishes, condiments, first-class joints, and an abundance of vegetables. Contrast that with the terrible dietary that exists at Ruhleben.
I have on several occasions had an opportunity of visiting the officers' internment camp in North Wales, not very far from where I spend my leisure time when I have the opportunity. What did I find there? It is occupied entirely by German officers, among them von Tirpitz, the son of the notorious Admiral. They have splendid surroundings and ample exercise ground, and hockey, football, and games of that description were being played by the Germans without let or hindrance. What about the treatment? They are as well treated as any man would wish to be in any first-class hotel in England. The farmers come every day with milk, cream, poultry, and eggs, and solicit custom and get it; there is no rationing and no limit. Some of those who escaped were found to have in their possession £200 in money; and they enjoy the splendid treatment I have described. I have read about the treatment of British officers in Germany, and it is very bad.
On the one hand yon have this country behaving as it should behave, and on the other you have a country behaving as it should not behave. The question is, What is to be done? I am convinced that the conditions are becoming dangerous to the lives of British prisoners abroad. I am convinced that there is a movement now in Germany which, unless it is arrested by some action on the part of this Government, will condemn hundreds of our fellows there to sufferings that I hardly like to contemplate. Now what is to be done? Some people talk about retaliation. None of us here will listen to that; at least I hope not. But any amelioration that has come to our prisoners has come through the agency of the neutrals, notably the United States of America, through their Embassy in Berlin. I suggest that it is the duty of the Government to bring to the attention of the United States Government what may possibly happen in the future. I take these words 258 from a statement made by Lord Robert Cecil when speaking of the treatment of prisoners. He said—The matter is one which I think ought to be regarded with grave anxiety as to what may possibly happen in the future; it is one of the matters which ought to be very carefully considered by all the Departments concerned.I do not know what he means by" all the Departments concerned." It is the main consideration of the Government, and I suggest that it is their duty, and it is incumbent on them in my judgment, to take immediate action through every available channel against the possibility of British prisoners in Germany being reduced to starvation. We must not, we cannot, we dare not, leave this thing to chance. If we do, it is not only what will happen to British prisoners abroad, but I know there will be an outbreak here which will be a poor look-out for certain prisoners in this country. The Government may do what they can to try and control it, but if the people here once get the idea that British prisoners in Germany are being slowly starved to death no power except that of armed force will keep them quiescent.
I therefore beg the Government to consider the matter seriously. I recommend them to address themselves to the United States, and tell them what they fear is about to happen. I will never believe that America will hold aloof and regard it as no concern of theirs if and when helpless prisoners were being slowly and cruelly starved. It is absolutely unthinkable, and I am perfectly sure that one firm word from the United States to Germany to the extent of indicating that it must not happen would settle the thing and it would not happen. I would like to say, in conclusion, that I am convinced that we have in Lord Newton a sympathiser in this matter. I remember with gratitude that he was the first in your Lordships' House to raise the question before he sat on the Ministerial Bench. I was not here last Thursday when he spoke on the subject, but I read his speech with the greatest gratification and thank him for it.
§ LORD SOUTHWARK
My Lords, I do not propose to go over any of the ground that has been covered by other noble Lords, but a suggestion has been made to me with regard to invalid civilian prisoners, about whom nothing has been said this afternoon. The suggestion is that there might be an independent examination for invalid civilian 259 prisoners such as is done with regard to military prisoners by Swiss doctors, and that these men should then either be allowed to go to Switzerland in the same way as military prisoners or be repatriated. I could confirm a great deal of what has been said by noble Lords this afternoon, as for some little time I have taken an interest in these Ruhleben prisoners. I will not, however, detain the House. But I would ask my noble friend to consider the point I have raised.
My Lords, so far as Kentish prisoners are concerned we are quite satisfied that they are getting their parcels. We receive replies methodically and regularly. It cannot be pretended for a moment that the prisoners could live on what is supplied to them by the Germans. That is disproved by the evidence of a doctor who had returned from one prison. What he told us was that some of the men there must die anyhow from the ill-treatment they received last winter, and that some were only going to be kept alive by means of the food sent to them. I am not defending in the least the. German allowance of food; but I am bound in justice, to say that, so far, we have had no reason to suspect that the food sent out to these men from home is not arriving. It is a curious thing that not one noble Lord who has spoken to-night has referred to the interesting White Paper which was circulated a week ago. With reference to what my noble friend here said about our not being grateful enough to the Americans, there is hardly a page in that White Paper upon which there is not a letter from the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs asking that his thanks may be conveyed to this or that official of the American Embassy in Germany for the great care and attention he had given in the direction of making inquiries into every prison in Germany.
I suppose the newspapers have been so crowded that they have not been able to refer to it. Noble Lords who read the White Paper will be relieved to find that his Excellency himself, as well as the subordinate officials, bears witness over and over again to the fact that the men do not complain. They say that the food has a great sameness, but they do not complain that there is not sufficient; 260 and in many cases there are opportunities for games. There is also a report from the American Ambassador about an officers' camp in which I have an unfortunate relative interned. The Ambassador refers to the comforts that are supplied there, and his statement, I am happy to say, is borne out by private letters from my relative.
§ THE EARL OF ALBEMARLE
As your Lordships perhaps know. I am particularly interested in this subject. I listened with attention to what Lord Devonport said, but I should not like it to go forth to the Germans who read the reports of our debates that it has been stated in this House that officer prisoners up to the present moment have been badly treated in Germany. I endorse what Lord Devonport said with regard to the future, and I support his suggestion that the American Embassy in Berlin should be asked to take steps to look into the matter. Before my noble friend Lord Newton replies I should like to express the hope that His Majesty's Government will not overlook those British prisoners in Germany who are not in internment camps but who are spread about on forced labour. Those are the men whom we are very likely to lose sight of, though I think they are in the greatest jeopardy at this moment.
§ THE PAYMASTER-GENERAL (LORD NEWTON)
My Lords, perhaps it would be convenient if I dealt first of all with the specific questions which were addressed to me by my noble and gallant friend opposite—namely, those relating to the numbers of prisoners in respective countries. In Germany there are, so far as we are aware, 25,621 British military prisoners, 1,089 naval prisoners, and 4,000 civilians, these last being, as the House knows, almost entirely concentrated at Ruhleben. Of the military prisoners 1,318 have died; and 7 naval prisoners and 45 civilians have died. In Bulgaria there are about 449 British prisoners, all of whom are military. In Turkey there are 8,857 military prisoners, 103 naval prisoners, and 60 interned civilians, which is not inclusive of Maltese, Cypriots, and Indians. With regard to these two latter countries, Bulgaria and Turkey, there has been, as my noble friend probably knows, considerable difficulty in obtaining accurate information, because the American representatives have found great difficulty in visiting the camps; and as regards Turkey, the American representatives 261 have not yet been able to visit any of the prisoners' camps in Asia Minor. From Bulgaria, as the House is well aware, the first reports were extremely unfavourable and unsatisfactory, but I am happy to be able to state, from information which has reached us recently, that the condition of the prisoners there has greatly improved. The majority of these men are now interned at Philippopolis, and the last reports we have of them state that they are well and kindly treated. I should like to lay emphasis on this fact that, as regards Bulgaria, we and the prisoners owe a very great deal to the exertions of Mr. Einstein, the American Minister there; but I must guard myself against giving the impression that everything is totally satisfactory in Bulgaria, because there are certain districts in which smaller parties of men are employed, and it has not yet been possible to obtain accurate information with regard to them.
§ LORD NEWTON
Yes, the parcels are arriving regularly at Philippopolis. With regard to Turkey, as I explained just now the American representatives have not been able to visit the camps, but from private information which has reached this country it appears that, although in the first instance the reports were extremely unfavourable, an improvement has taken place, and that even in so remote a place in Asia Minor as Bozanti, a place with which I happen to be acquainted, parcels and postcards are arriving regularly; and many of the men are employed, and are receiving in pay sums ranging from 1s. 6d. to 3s. 6d. daily. This information is obtained from what is known as the Government Committee, and in view of what has fallen from previous speakers it may be as well if I explain briefly what this Committee is. It is a Committee which was set up by the Home Office and the Foreign Office for the purpose of obtaining evidence from prisoners returning to this country, and therefore it fulfils exactly the purpose of the body which was asked for by the noble Lord behind me (Lord Devonport), who expressed a strong 262 opinion that there should be a body of persons in this country who should be in a position to receive the evidence of returned prisoners. This Committee has been in existence for, I think, something like nine months. It has worked in conjunction with the Foreign Office and the Home Office, and has rendered most valuable assistance in every way. I believe that this Committee has examined practically every man whose evidence is of any value. It has been all taken down, and, as noble Lords will recollect, a good deal of that evidence appeared in the Wittenberg Report. That Report was, in fact, the Report of this Committee, the chairman of which is Mr. Justice Younger.
I will pass from the Government Committee and Bulgaria and Turkey to what is more important—namely, Germany. The noble and gallant Lord opposite asks in his Question whether it is not the case that the food is inferior and short, and he suggests that were it not for the exertions of Mrs. Grant-Duff and of another lady there would be practically no food at all. I was glad to hear this erroneous impression corrected, because although I should be the last to disparage the services of these two ladies the parcels which they send into Germany amount to only about one-quarter of the total number of parcels which enter Germany at the present moment. The remaining three-quarters of these parcels, whether they consist of food or otherwise, are sent by regimental organisations and by private individuals; and in this capacity what is known as the Prisoners of War Help Committee has been of great assistance.
The House may, perhaps, be surprised to learn that no fewer than 100,000 parcels containing food go into Germany every week. A simple calculation in arithmetic will show that this works out at an average per prisoner of rather over three parcels per week; and considering the enormous number of camps in Germany—there are, if I am not mistaken, considerably over 100 camps in which British prisoners alone are confined—it is a surprising thing that more parcels do not go astray. We have had this afternoon a conflict of opinion upon the subject of parcels, and noble Lords on both sides of the House have given their experience. My own impression is that upon the whole it is really surprising, as I have said, that so few parcels go astray. It must also be borne in mind that parcels are frequently 263 lost and go astray because they are badly made up and are not in a condition to deliver when they arrive. But what I would like to impress on the House is this, that whenever we receive intelligence that parcels sent to these men are not arriving, we at once complain to the American Embassy and request them to investigate the circumstances. In every case this is done, and I have no hesitation in saying that the officials of the American Embassy, from the Ambassador downwards, do their very best to render our prisoners every possible assistance. I would also like to point out in this connection that Mr. Gerrard, the American Ambassador in Berlin, although in virtue of his position he is not bound to do any such thing, has frequently visited the camps himself; and that is an instance of devotion to his work which we ought to be the last to forget. Now my noble and gallant friend suggests that were it not for the parcels which are sent from this country our prisoners would literally starve. I do not know whether he is prepared to adhere to that.
§ LORD NEWTON
Then I must say it is an exaggeration. If the noble and gallant Lord were correct in his assumption that the prisoners in Germany would literally starve to death if these parcels did not arrive, let me point out to him that hundreds of thousands of prisoners would be dead already. My noble friend must be aware that Russian prisoners in Germany receive no parcels at all. There are over 1,000,000, if I am not mistaken, of Russian prisoners in Germany at the moment; and if it were literally impossible to exist on the food supplied by the German Government these men would have died like flies. I am the last person who would desire to give the Germans credit when it is not due; but it would be infinitely more accurate to say, not that our prisoners would die if they did not receive the parcels, but that it is impossible for them to keep in good health if they have to subsist upon the food which is supplied by the German Government.
But I think the noble and gallant Lord and some other speakers in the debate are rather prone to ignore the fact that 264 Germany is a blockaded country at the present moment; and I think the noble and gallant Lord would be the first to denounce the Government if he thought that the blockade was not being maintained with sufficient severity. The plain truth is that there is a general scarcity of food throughout Germany, and if our prisoners unfortunately do not get as much as they ought to have it has to be admitted that in all probability the vast majority of the German population is also in a state of comparative hunger. You might argue that, however hard up a Government may be, it ought at all events to feed its prisoners properly. If Germany cultivated chivalry, that might be the view taken by the German Government. But the German Government does not pride itself so much upon being a chivalrous Government as on being a practical Government, and that being so there is not very much to be expected from them in the way of generosity so far as food is concerned. But personally I have never been able to see what advantage there is in making out that the case of our prisoners in Germany is worse than it really is. It seems to me to be little short of an act of cruelty to the relations of these unfortunate men in this country to lead them to suppose that our men are not only in a state of misery but in a state of literal starvation as well.
Now what are the broad facts with regard to prisoners in Germany. In the earlier stages of the war these men were treated with gross and almost incredible cruelty. I say "incredible" because it is almost inconceivable that a highly civilised nation could have tolerated the hideous cruelties which were perpetrated upon many unfortunate British prisoners; and what is so remark-able about it is that these acts of cruelty were not the acts of a class, or the acts of a sex even, but they were the result of an incomprehensible feeling of fanatical cruelty directed against British prisoners. I admit all this. It would be absurd to deny that there was distinct and evident discrimination against British prisoners. But I am referring to a long anterior period. Nobody who has paid any attention to this question can fail to realise that there has been an immense improvement; that improvement dates from about a year ago, and I think it would be unjustifiable upon our part to contend that at the present moment there was discrimination against British prisoners. I wish that noble Lords who bring forward 265 these questions would adopt the advice of my noble friend Lord Harris and study the publications on the subject. We produced a large White Paper only a week or two ago, and I should like to know how many noble Lords there are in the House at the present moment who have read that book. I know that Lord Harris has, but I question very much—
§ LORD NEWTON
Then I am disappointed that the noble and gallant Lord was not more correct in his facts.
§ LORD NEWTON
Does the noble and gallant Lord suggest that the Reports which are written by the American representatives are documents to which no credence is to be attached? Those Reports are written in a perfectly impartial spirit, and I venture to suggest that it is extremely unfortunate that the noble and gallant Lord should throw doubt upon them.
§ LORD BERESFORD
I do not say for one moment that the Ambassador and those who worked with him put forward what they did not think was true. I should be the last to say that. But I believe what the prisoners tell me, and it is not in accordance with the Reports. That is all I say.
§ LORD NEWTON
I think that if the noble and gallant Lord will carefully study the reports of the prisoners themselves he will find that there is not such a great difference in the facts as he supposes. I think that anybody who has taken the trouble to study the Reports must realise the great difficulties which surround this 266 question. The Germans have an enormous number of prisoners to deal with, and I doubt whether that fact has been sufficiently realised. I suppose that at the present moment there are 2,000,000 prisoners in Germany; and the English prisoners alone, as I stated earlier, are distributed over more than 100 camps. It is therefore not surprising that you should find considerable variation in the conditions at those camps. We all know that the conditions of a camp depend largely upon the character of the commandant, and I think it will be evident to anybody who studies the subject that there are all varieties of camps in Germany. There are bad camps—Wittenberg is an example—and there are others, perhaps, almost equally as bad. There are indifferent camps. There are also—I do not know why we should not admit it—good camps, camps in which it is perfectly evident that our prisoners have no complaint whatever to make against their guardians; and it is not altogether beyond the bounds of possibility that these well-conducted camps might in some instances compare with our own. It is a somewhat peculiar circumstance worth noting in connection with these varying conditions that the camps where the prisoners are best treated are usually camps which are commanded by men who have had some association with this country, and in which the guards are men who have actually fought against our men in the field; whereas when you get a camp which is commanded or managed by a man of pure unviolated German blood, then the conditions are apt to be much less satisfactory.
But what I would insist upon is that whenever complaints come to our notice we invariably take action, and I do not think I have heard any method suggested by any speaker in the course of the afternoon by which any abuses could be effectively remedied. Everybody, as I understand, repudiates retaliation; and in connection with this I believe it is a mistake to imagine, as is imagined in some quarters, that retaliation has produced amelioration of the prisoners' lot. What retaliation has done is this. In certain instances it has restored the conditions to their original level. One Government has heard that its prisoners have been ill treated; it has threatened retaliation, and the men's original condition has been restored; but whether this has 267 effected any real improvement I have considerable doubt.
I have already detained the House longer than I intended, but I do not want to conclude without some reference to what the noble Lord behind me (Lord Devonport) said with regard to Ruhleben. He complained that he had not received any communications from Ruhleben within the last six weeks. I confess that I do not clearly understand that, because no complaints with regard to this particular point have reached us. But with a great deal of what he said I am in entire concurrence. Speaking for myself personally and looking at the question generally I confess that the people who appeal to me most and whose case seems to me to be the most pitiful are the civilians who are interned not only at Ruhleben but also in this country, and I think the first thing we ought to set ourselves to do is to secure the liberation of as many of these men as possible. The noble Lord behind me suggested that we should appeal to the Americans for assistance. We are doing that every day. It is to the Americans to whom we appeal.
§ LORD DEVONPORT
I was assuming that the forebodings of Lord Robert Cecil were likely to prove true. That is quite a different question. You are in communication with the American Embassy at Berlin only in regard to incidentals that crop up from time to time. But Lord Robert Cecil rather gave the indication—and communications from other directions point the same way—that these parcels are going to be interfered with, and that it is impossible for the men to live without them. If the Government believe that, then it is time to make representations to the United States and see what can be done.
§ LORD NEWTON
The noble Lord may take it for granted that we are fully aware of the danger to which he has alluded, and it is imperative upon us to do all we can to avert so horrible a calamity. But it seems to me, looking at the matter from a plain practical point of view, that we ought to get away as many of these people as we can. That was the burden of what I said the other day in this House, and I remain of the same opinion. I think we ought to do all we can, in the first place, to get as many of these civilians as possible away from Ruhleben; and if I could contribute in any way towards that result and restore these unfortunate men to freedom 268 I should consider that for once in a way I had rendered a service not only in the cause of humanity but in the cause of common sense.
§ LORD SOUTHWARK
The noble Lord has said nothing about the invalid civilian prisoners at Ruhleben. I do not know whether he can hold out any hope.
§ LORD NEWTON
The arrangement to which the noble Lord referred applies at the present moment only to military prisoners. The noble Lord asked whether it could be made to apply to civilians. That is a question which has not yet been considered. It will be a matter of very great complexity, and at the present moment I do not feel in a position to express any definite opinion on the subject.