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Political Prisoners And Internees

Volume 387: debated on Wednesday 3 March 1943

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8.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he can give any further information regarding the number of political prisoners at present detained in North Africa; and, in particular, whether any de Gaullists are now imprisoned?

Since my last statement on this subject on 10th February, the Joint Commission on Political Prisoners and Internees have received some revised figures from French official sources. According to these figures, which responsible persons on the- spot believe to be substantially accurate, there were a total of 7,100 political prisoners detained in North Africa at the time of the landings, consisting of 900 French, 3,200 Spaniards and 3,000 of other nationalities, and the total of those released up to 19th February last was 1,299, made up of 200 French, 219 Spaniards and 880 of other nationalities. Since this date the Joint Commission has begun to inspect camps with a view to the release of further internees. My right hon. Friend the Minister Resident has assured me that he will continue to press this question with energy. The number of Frenchmen detained for their sympathies with General de Gaulle is said to have been very small and the French authorities declare that none remains in prison.

Are any of these political prisoners detained in convict prisons?

Does not my right hon. Friend think that there has been a quite unnecessary delay in releasing these prisoners, and will he give an assurance that he will go on bringing the maximum pressure to bear on the French authorities?

I think that my answer was pretty clear. I told my hon. Friend of the assurance I had from the Minister Resident. He has very great difficulties in the task he is trying to do, and I have every confidence that he is doing what he can.

If M. Rigaud has been accepted by us because he is now in sympathy with the Allies, why not release at once all the prisoners who express their support for the Allies?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many people have been detained for nominally civil reasons, but really for political reasons, and will he look into these cases?

They are being looked into, but I must ask the House to remember that the Minister Resident has a difficult task.

Will the right hon. Gentleman see that the question of the welfare of prisoners when released is given some consideration by the authorities?

That is exactly the problem. There are a large number of them and it is not merely a question of releasing them but what is to happen to them when they are released.

Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that our Minister in North Africa will be strengthened in his difficult task by the attitude of the House of Commons?

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider sending a small party of Members of Parliament to visit these camps at an early date?

I cannot answer that without notice. The hon. Member must appreciate that this is an area for which the main military responsibility is that of the United States. He must put questions affecting another Government on the Paper.

How can we put questions to the United States Government in this Assembly?