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Prisoners Of War

Volume 389: debated on Tuesday 4 May 1943

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asked the Secretary of State for War whether all the prisoners of war now being repatriated to and from Italy are disabled or seriously ill?

No, Sir. More than half of those repatriated are doctors, medical orderlies, drivers of ambulances and chaplains. These are entitled to be repatriated,under International Conventions, but a sufficient number has been retained at the camps to care for the needs of the prisoners.

On what principle does the exchange take place? Are they exchanged man for man, and do they give an undertaking not to take any further part in the war? How are they selected on either side? Are fit men sent while wounded men are left behind?

They are selected in accordance with the principles of the Convention.

Have those either in Italy or Germany who have been prisoners longest not a claim to be repatriated?

I am afraid the length of time has nothing to do with it. It is a question, at any rate in the case of Italy, of conforming to the terms of the Convention.

On what principle is it done? Are they exchanged man for man? Who goes first? How are they selected?

Does that mean that the total on one side has to agree with the total on the other?

Will my right hon. Friend circulate an explanation in the OFFICIAL REPORT?

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper in the name of Mr. JOHN DUGDALE:

44. To ask the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware of the hardship suffered by the wives of prisoners of war in having to buy clothes and send them out to their husbands; and whether he will consider making them a clothing grant towards the cost thereof.

I put this Question originally to the Prime Minister and Minister of Defence because it concerns all three Services, and may I ask why it has been found necessary to transfer it to the head of one of the Service Departments?

It is the usual custom that the Prime Minister hands the Question to the Department concerned.

Possibly I can throw a little light on this point. It has been the custom for a great many months for the War Office, which is the Service predominantly concerned, to answer general questions on the subject of prisoners of war. Sufficient uniform clothing, underclothing and boots for the prisoners' needs are despatched through the British Red Cross to the International Red Cross at Geneva to provide all British prisoners of war in Germany and Italy with adequate clothing, underclothing and boots. Relatives can, however, if they wish, supplement this provision by putting clothing in the quarterly next-of-kin parcels. If, in particular cases, they are unable to provide what they would desire to insert in the next-of-kin parcel, they might get in touch with their Regimental Association or with the nearest representative of the British Red Cross Society or the Order of St. John of Jerusalem who may be able to assist them in the matter.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in many cases the Red Cross simply send coupons, and the wives of these prisoners have to spend anything up to £10 or more in buying the clothes, and there is great dissatisfaction in many districts?

As I said, the ordinary official arrangements are supposed to supply sufficient uniform clothing, underclothing and boots, so I do not think it is necessary for supplementary provision to be made to an extent which causes hardship, as the hon. Member has suggested.

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider circulating a list of the clothing which is supplied to these men, so that we may ascertain what they do obtain?