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Collective Punishment (Civilian Populations)

Volume 499: debated on Tuesday 22 April 1952

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asked the Secretary of State for War if he will give instructions that the imposition of collective penalties is not to be used by the British Army, as it was scheduled by the United Nations War Crimes Commission in 1943.

In the imposition of collective punishment the British Amy follows the customary laws and usages of war, and in particular the so-called Hague Rules. No collective penalty may be inflicted on the population in occupied territory on account of acts of individuals for which it cannot be regarded as collectively responsible, although in certain circumstances action against a locality or a community may be admissible specifically as reprisals. My right hon. Friend sees no reason at the present time to vary the existing policy.

While that sounds a very complicated legal formula for preventing something which has been universally condemned, would it not be easier for the War Office to draw the attention of the British Army to this decision as mentioned in the Question, and were not people tried and condemned at Nuremberg for doing that very thing?

I do not know what specific case the hon. Gentleman has in mind, but I am not aware of any collective penalties being imposed by the British Army at all.

Is the Under-Secretary of State aware that the Colonial Secretary has supported General Templer in imposing collective punishment? Is he aware that the punishing of the innocent for the guilty is anathema to millions in this country? Is he further aware that this punishment entailed keeping young children confined for 22 hours out of 24, and will he have a word with the Colonial Secretary to see that this practice is not continued?

I suggest that the hon. Gentleman himself could have a word with the Colonial Secretary by putting down a Question to him. This is not my responsibility.