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British Prisoners Of War

Volume 391: debated on Tuesday 13 July 1943

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asked the Secretary of State for War whether he has received any further information regarding conditions in Campo P.G. 21 in Italy?

No further official information as to present conditions has yet arrived, nor has any reply to our demand for the closure of the camp in default of radical improvements been received from the Italian Government. The Protecting Power is believed to have revisited the camp recently, and a further report is awaited.

Is it not possible to speed up the telegraphic reports from the Protecting Power?

We do our best about it, but I am completely barren of any suggestions for speeding it up still further.

Shall we not be in a position to investigate for ourselves very shortly?


asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware that 480 lire to the £ has been fixed by agreement at Pan-tellaria as a fair rate of exchange; and whether he will take steps to bring about an alteration in the rate of 72 lire to the £ adopted for British prisoners of war in Italy?

I am not aware that any rate of exchange for Pantellaria has been fixed by agreement as stated by my hon. and gallant Friend, and I would refer him to a reply given by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to my right hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence) on 6th July. Any change in the rate of exchange governing the pay of prisoners of war would, of course, require agreement with the Italian Government.

Surely it is most unfair that these men should have their pay cut in this country by £1, which will leave a purchasing power of only about 2s. or 3s.? It should be looked into.

As I have tried to explain to the hon. and gallant Member on many occasions in this House, they do get special allowances which are intended to compensate them for that.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that that rate is more than five times the peace-time rate of exchange, and has he considered this in relation to the question of good relations between the occupying Power and the local people?

No doubt it is my fault, but I am completely unaware of what particular object that question is addressed to. I do not understand it at all.

Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that if an excessively favourable rate of exchange for the £ is fixed by the occupying Power, it may have deleterious consequences, both military and political?

The rate of exchange has not been fixed for local purposes but merely for the purpose of crediting soldiers who are furnished with lire locally?

Does the right hon. Gentleman not consider this question worth taking up in the interests of our prisoners of war?

I have tried to explain to the hon. and gallant Gentleman on a great number of occasions in this House that it has been taken up. It has been the subject of prolonged negotiations, and short of knocking them out of the war I cannot see any means of coercing the Italian Government.


asked the Secretary of State for War whether he can give an estimate of the number of British prisoners, military and civilian, now in Japanese custody; and how many Red Cross parcels have been delivered to these prisoners?

The number of officers and other ranks of the Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force whose names have been notified to us as prisoners in Japanese hands is 31,800. Over 24,000 are still recorded as missing, but the majority of these are thought to be prisoners. The number of civilians in Japanese hands is not known, but it is expected to be of the order of 40,000.


asked the Secretary of State for War how many parcels for prisoners of war in Japanese hands are now stored at Lourenço Marques; how long these parcels have been there; and what prospect there is of delivering them to the prisoners?

All efforts to secure Japanese agreement to regular transport of relief supplies for the Far East have hitherto been unsuccessful; and it has only been possible to send such supplies on Japanese ships returning to Japan with exchanged Japanese subjects. Supplies of food, medicine and clothing were assembled through the efforts of the British, Dominion and Indian Red Cross Societies at Lourenço Marques last autumn in connection with the exchanges which then took place, and as much as possible was loaded on the ships returning to Japan. The remaining supplies, which could be suitably held, have been retained at Lourenço Marques for use in connection with any further exchanges. Definite information has been received that the supplies shipped reached prisoners and internees in places as widely separated as Japan, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Singapore. Efforts to arrange for despatch of relief supplies are still being pursued, and the Red Cross Societies of this country and of the Empire have plans laid to enable any opportunity which opens to be used.