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Prisoners Of War

Volume 389: debated on Tuesday 25 May 1943

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16.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he will make a further effort, through the Protecting Power, to obtain a full list of British prisoners in Japanese hands as a result of the fighting in the Malay Peninsula and the capitulation at Singapore?

The flow of notifications by the Japanese Government of the names of British prisoners of war in their hands has shown a distinct improvement lately, and I do not think that further representations through the Protecting Power at the present juncture would result in a speeding-up of the process.

In view of the fact that these lists were compiled over a year ago and have been deliberately withheld by the Japanese Government, will the British Government let it be known that the refusal of the Japanese Government to follow the practice of civilised countries will be borne in mind when the final reckoning is made?

There are a large number of other counts against the Japanese, and some of them much more serious than this. I have no doubt that all these things are being put down in the bill.

Is there a Protecting Power? I understood that the Swiss Government were unable to act in this respect.

There is a Protecting Power. My recollection is that they are not given the normal access which Protecting Powers in other cases are given.

17.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether it is his intention that before long the bulk of the German prisoners captured in Tunisia and elsewhere will be employed on the land and on reconstruction work in this country?

For a variety of reasons I do not think that my hon. and gallant Friend's suggestion is practicable.

18.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware that no communications have been received by some relatives of men held as prisoners of war in Campo P.G. 154 since October last; and can he say what action is being taken to trace the present location of these men?

As regards the first part of the Question, the answer is "Yes, Sir," and I regret to say that inquiries that have been made about individuals through the International Red Cross have failed to elicit any information about them. As regards the second part of the Question, urgent requests for information have been made to the Italian Government, but so far without result.

21.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether any Service or battle-dress, the property of officers who have been taken prisoner, is at present being held in the baggage depots in the Middle East; and whether, in such cases, he will arrange for the despatch of the Service or battle-dress to the relative prison camp?

The kit of officers who are taken prisoner is held in the Middle East for a short time and then as shipping permits is sent back to this country for storage. The kit cannot be disposed of in the Middle East without the officer's directions, and before these were received the kit would in many cases have left the Middle East. Even if it had not, it would be difficult to implement my hon. Friend's proposal as the only means of sending things directly from the Middle East to enemy prison camps is by it lb. postal parcel, and I do not think it would be desirable for special arrangements to be made in the Middle East for opening officers' kits and sending them individual items of clothing.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it is done frequently in many cases of individual officers, and has been done in the last six months?

22.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware that seven weeks ago Roman Catholics in Oflag IX A/ H were transferred to Oflag IX A /Z; that this camp, where there are also many seriously wounded, is overcrowded, 570 being housed in accommodation which used normally to hold 100 to 150 girls; that washing, cooking and sanitary arrangements are very bad; and whether he will make representations, through the Protecting Power, with a view to the improvement of these conditions?

The answer to the first part of the Question is, "Yes, Sir." I understand that this move was made because there is a Roman Catholic chaplain at the new camp. I believe Oflag IX A /Z was formerly a boarding school for boys, but I do not know how many pupils it accommodated. The report of a visit carried out by the Protecting Power at the end of November, 1942, states that the washing and sanitary arrangements were adequate and that there were no complaints about the cooking arrangements. The camp was visited by a representative of the International Red Cross at the end of March. The telegraphic report on the visit states that the accommodation was then overcrowded and the sanitary installations inadequate. The full report is expected soon, and the attention of the Protecting Power will certainly be drawn to any unsatisfactory features it may disclose.

Has the right hon. Gentleman any idea why it is that the reports of the Protecting Power are so invariably optimistic and do not tally with the letters which we get from prisoners?

I could not give any general explanation about that, because it would be an admission of a general statement which I am not prepared to accept without a good deal of further investigation, but in this particular case there is an interval of four months between the two reports, and it is clear that the circumstances have altered materially.

In view of the distress that will be caused to relatives by a Question like this, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that certain officers, including myself, have received better reports from that camp than the Question of my hon. and gallant Friend implies? Also, I believe that not only the Red Cross but representatives of the Protecting Power visited the camp at the end of March or the beginning of April, and will the right hon. Gentleman get a special report?

One of the awkward features about conditions in prisoner-of-war camps is that we do get contradictory and conflicting testimony from prisoners in the same camp about conditions there.

Will the right hon. Gentleman get a special report from the Swiss Government? I understand that representatives of the Swiss Government visited the camp.