I quite agree with the hon. gentleman that there is no clause in the Hague Convention dealing with civilian prisoners at all. We have to fall back upon the accepted rule of international law, that you may deal with civilian prisoners in the manner which I have indicated. You may say to him, " You shall not stay in the country." Or you may let him stay in the country if you choose, and if you let him stay in the country you are not entitled to punish for being a prisoner of enemy nationality. You may intern him for your protection, that is your right, but when you do that, and cut him off from the means of earning his livelihood, you have to give him his bread and butter and his clothes, and you cannot compel him to labour, as you can compel the soldier prisoner of war under the rules- of the Hague Convention.
I may state that we have had repeated remonstrances from Germany through the United States consuls charging us with subjecting these men to compulsory labour, and the answer we sent back-and, of course, it was the truthful answer-was that we were not compelling them to labour, their labour was voluntary. We did not feel in a position to question the doctrine laid down by Germany that these sections of the Hague Convention did not apply to civilian prisoners; we acquiesced in that view and Great Britain acquiesced in that view.
It might be interesting to the House to learn what they do in Great Britain in regard to compulsory labour. We have heard a good deal about what Germany does, but I am quite sure that hon. gentlemen do not intend to hold Germany up to us as the model that we should follow. I fully appreciate the absolutely natural feeling of irritation that we all share when we see the advantage that is resulting to these people from the fact that our own young men have gone forth to do their duty and fight. But, after all, is it not a part of our duty to control our feelings? Is not one of the things that we want to preserve through this war the reputation which we have been given to boasting of-too much, perhaps-the reputation for the spirit of fair play under all circumstances. I would rather point to the model of Great Britain, and I do not think Great Britain is treating these interned men in any spirit of mawkish sentimentality or because she wants to be ethical with an unmoral people, as one hon. gentleman said this afternoon. She is doing this, no doubt, in recognition of her international law obligations, and also under the direct menace of Germany that otherwise there would be reprisals and it would be worse for us.
It is all very well to say that our men over there cannot be treated any worse than they are. I do not want to extenuate many instances of ill-treatment that have come to our knowledge, but I do know this: that for the long period of time before the United States came into this war we had the advantage of having the German internment camps inspected by the United States consular officers in that country, just as those same officers inspected the camps in this country and reported to Germany. I must say that the reports were on the whole favourable. There were instances where there was ground for complaint and in some of those instances the complaint was listened to and conditions remedied. It is all very well for us sitting at home here to say: " Oh, we don't care. We are mad with the alien enemy here; let us get after him. They cannot treat our boys any worse than they are already treating them." But it is our boys over there who will have to bear the brunt of it. I am a stickler for international law, but I must confess that that argument appeals to me in the strongest possible way. I hold in my hand a despatch from London, dated March 5, 1918, telling how they treat these men in England. It is as follows:
Downing Street, March 5, 1918.
My Lord Duke,-
I have the honour to transmit to Your Excellency, for the information of your Ministers, a copy of a memorandum which has -been prepared at the Home Office as to the procedure followed in the United Kingdom with regard to the internment and treatment of enemy aliens. This information has been furnished in reply to an enquiry made by the Government of New Zealand, and it is considered that a statement of the policy of His Majesty's Government in regard to these matters might be of interest to your Ministers.
2. In connection with the memorandum I should explain that interned enemy subjects are not compelled to work. A number of them work as volunteers for wages, both inside the camps on such industries as can be organized with advantage, and also outside the camps, in quarrying, roadmaking, farm work and reclamation of land. Some hundreds of interned civilians in addition have volunteered for the special working camps, where they are employed in timber-cutting and constructional and other labouring work. Besides these, between 1,500 and 2,000 have on their own application been sent out to employers on license from the camps, either singly or in small groups, for employment in farm work or industries of national importance. In every case the work is undertaken voluntarily, and the alien is at liberty to give it up and go back to the camp from which he came if he so desires.
3. As regards male enemy subjects who are exempted from internment or, in the case of those above military age, from repatriation, it was decided early last year that all these, if
physically fit, must do work of national utility as a condition of retaining their exemptions, and measures have since been taken through the Ministry of National Service and the Employment Exohanges to place them in suitable occupations. Here again, however, there is no absolute compulsion ; the alien, if unwilling to undertake the work offered him, has always the option, if of military age, of going to an internment camp, or if above military age, of being repatriated; and in no case is an alien enemy required, as a condition of retaining his exemption from internment or repatriation, to undertake work on munitions or other work of such a kind.
I have the honour to be,
My Lord Duke,
Your Grace's most obedient, humble servant,