My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.
The Question was as follows:
To ask Her Majesty's Government whether the protests by members of the forces who were prisoners of war between 1940 and 1945 about deduction of pay have been considered and what decision has been reached.
My Lords, our inquiries into this question have now been completed. A detailed investigation has been carried out by a study group under the leadership of my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Royal Air Force. A copy of its full report has been placed in the Library. With the leave of the House, I will circulate in the Official Report a detailed statement of the work of the group and a summary of its conclusions.In brief, the conclusions are that satisfactory arrangements were made for officers' accounts to be adjusted after the war to take account of money deducted from pay which was not received. It is not possible to prove that every returning PoW had his account adjusted as planned but all the indications are that the vast majority did receive some money. There remains the complaint that officers should not have had any money deducted from their pay or, alternatively, that it should have been repaid in full after repatriation, as some Commonwealth Governments decided to do. The Government decided in September 1945 to refund in full all deductions from the accounts of Japanese PoWs in view of the exceptional hard-ships endured by these prisoners. It was open to them to apply the same policy to former prisoners of the Germans and the Italians. In the light of their knowledge of the situation at the time they decided not to do so and there would seem no case for a British Government 35 years later without the advantage of detailed records or contemporary knowledge to seek to go back on this decision. This is not to say, however, that the Government are in any way unsympathetic to the problems of former PoWs. The Government feel, therefore, that rather than continue to rake over the remaining evidence from 1945, a more constructive approach would be to consider whether additional assistance could be made available. These possibilities are now being studied.
Following is the Statement referred to:
OFFICER PoWs PAY
Following representations received from Flight Lieutenant Roth regarding the deductions from pay of officers held prisoner in the Second World War, which were made public in an article in the Daily Telegraph at the end of August 1980, a study was launched under the chairmanship of the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Royal Air Force, Mr. Geoffrey Pattie. Extensive searches were made into the records of all three Services, the Public Record Office and the Treasury. Unfortunately, documentary evidence is far from complete. The Navy Department still hold some officer pay records from the Second World War in ledger form but no comparable individual pay records exist for the Army or the RAF. Pay records are normally destroyed after six years. The evidence relating to the Army and the RAF is consequently more circumstantial, but it is clear that the policy of all three Services with regard to PoWs throughout the war was co-ordinated by a tri-Service Committee and that a common policy on pay matters was followed. My honourable friend has discussed the matter at some length with a number of ex-PoWs and representatives of ex-officer associations.
The study has examined initially the basis of the then Government's policy in relation to PoW pay and looked for evidence of promulgation of this policy throughout the Services. It has then sought evidence of arrangements for handling returning PoWs with particular emphasis on their pay. A key question has been to discover the existence of evidence to indicate that any payments were made thereby giving prima facie proof that machinery was not only established but functioned. Evidence was also sought on the disposal of the camp communal funds.
Some former PoWs have maintained that they were unaware that any deductions from their pay were being made. Although there is no reason to doubt the genuineness of this contention, we have established that the policy of making convention-related deductions was promulgated in 1940 in the usual manner and that further efforts were made later in the war to remind camp leaders that deductions were taking place.
The central complaint is that money was deducted in the United Kingdom on account of pay they were supposed to have received from the detaining authorities when, for prolonged periods, they either received nothing or were paid in worthless camp currency. They contend that they were not given an opportunity to reclaim these monies on repatriation.
The study group is satisfied on the evidence that, from quite early in the war, the authorities here were aware of the somewhat variable standards in relation to camp pay and arrangements were made for adjustments to be made to officers' accounts after the war. We can never know for certain how effective this procedure was but we do know that over half a million pounds was paid out to ex-RAF PoWs which does indicate a system that was working tolerably well. For Army officers there is evidence of the payment of claims for adjustment. The Navy Department ledgers provide irrefutable evidence that credits were paid by the Navy to returning officer PoWs. It would be impossible to prove that every returning PoW had his account adjusted as planned but all the indications are that the vast majority did receive some money.
No evidence has been found to support or refute Flight Lieutenant Roth's allegations that he was threatened with prosecution under the Official Secrets Act if he pursued his claim. The allegation must be regarded as unproven. However, the group was greatly impressed by the meticulous care shown by the reception procedures and the desire to "bend over backwards" to help returning prisoners. On the question of communal funds, although, in general, individuals were not reimbursed for contributions, clear evidence exists that substantial sums were redeemed at the end of the war by the British Government and donated to charity.
There remains the complaint that prisoners should not have had any money deducted from their pay or alternatively that it should have been repaid in full after repatriation, in accordance with the practice of some Commonwealth Governments. Her Majesty's Government decided in September 1945 to refund in full all deductions from the accounts of Japanese PoWs. This decision was taken in the light of the appalling experiences that these men had endured. It was open to the Government at the same time to reverse their policy in relation to former prisioners of the Germans and Italians. Her Majesty's Government with their contemporary knowledge of the situation and with all the records available decided not to do so and there would seem to be no reason why a British Government 35 years later without the advantage of contemporary insights should seek to vary this policy. The study group is satisfied that despite the fact that many important records are missing, the above conclusions are soundly based. The full report has been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
On the basis of the evidence before it, the study group had little alternative but to reach the conclusions it did. That is not to say, however, that the Government are in any way unsympathetic to the problems of former PoWs. The Government feel, therefore, that rather than continue to rake over the remaining evidence from 1945 a more constructive response would be to consider whether additional assistance could be made available. These possibilities are now being studied.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord the Minister for what I must regard as a favourable response to the demands made by ex-prisoners of war. But without an examination of the report, I am bound to ask one or two probing questions. The first is whether the matter of inflation has been under consideration, because some of the PoWs have raised that issue. The second is whether the Minister is satisfied that the currency arrangements were adequate and favourable to the men concerned. May I also ask, in a further supplementary question which was one of the purposes of putting down my original Question, whether, in view of the continued existence of PoWs after 1945—a state of affairs which continued for several years while the Attlee Government was in office—there is anything in the Cabinet records (which, obviously, are at the disposal of the noble Lord) to indicate that, either at the War Office when I was present as Secretary of State for War or at the Ministry of Defence when I was Minister of Defence, the matter was ever brought to my notice?I had no opportunity of responding in any fashion to the requests made by ex-PoWs and, therefore, in no way can it be urged that the Attlee Government was responsible. In fact, I cannot recall the matter ever being raised at a Cabinet meeting; and I came to the conclusion that the matter was being dealt with by the Treasury—than which nothing could have been worse for the men concerned! It seems to me that in all the circumstances the Government are doing the right thing. I would hope—although there may be some cases which are somewhat doubtful—that, where people are living under difficult and straitened circumstances, the Government will exercise the utmost tolerance.
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for his extremely understanding response, particularly in view of the fact that he has not yet had the opportunity to read the report. The sentiments that he expresses are exactly those which are expressed in this report. I can reassure him on one point: I do not believe that his name appears in the report in any way. I can also assure him that my honourable friend has taken a lot of trouble to check on what records were available. I think that I shall have to inquire of my honourable friend regarding Cabinet minutes. The question of inflation does not really arise once one assumes that the arrangements were properly administered at the time; and the question of the worthlessness or otherwise of camp currency is one of the matters which is addressed in the report.
My Lords, while welcoming some of the Minister's answers to the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, may I question him on the fact that a great many people died on the Burma road who were prisoners of Japan, and a great many more, now in late middle age, are suffering ill-health which does not help them when we consider the rate of inflation at the present time.
My Lords, the noble Lord is referring to exactly the point to which I was addressing myself in the last paragraph of my Answer, which is to say that really we would be better advised now to look at what is happening today rather than try to rake over too many of the events of past history.
My Lords, while thanking the Minister for his reply, particularly the last sentence, may I ask him whether he is aware that there were a large number of omissions, and that many letters have been received about this? May I ask that a fund should be set up to rectify this, and that the greatest possible publicity should be given to this fund? The greatest possible help should be given to those prisoners of war who are suffering disabilities as a result of their imprisonment.
My Lords, whether there were a large number of commissions is one of the difficulties. Certainly it is true that there must have been some omissions—if "omissions" is the right word. It is quite impossible now to establish that total fairness applied to everybody. That is admitted. On my friend's suggestion about the fund, I am sure that that is the kind of issue that my honourable friend intends to look into in the inquiry he has promised. With regard to publicity, he is meeting the members of the press at this moment to discuss these questions.
My Lords, following the question put by the noble Baroness, Lady Airey of Abingdon—a most appropriate question in the circumstances, if I may say so—may I ask whether the Minister could state what funds are there in the Treasury which could be made available? Is there any part of the fund which could be utilised for the purposes suggested by the noble Baroness?
My Lords, the noble Lord was a Minister long enough to know that there are never any funds available in the Treasury for anything!
My Lords, if I were to put down a Question on the situation of the other ranks on this matter, would the noble Lord the Minister be kind enough to inquire what the views of the Government would be on this?
My Lords, I am very glad that my noble friend recognises that the other ranks is a different question. Of course I shall be happy to answer any Question that she puts down.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that there are old comrades associations in every regiment? They can certainly supply him with a list of old soldiers and old comrades who are suffering from disabilities.
My Lords, I am sure that is true.
My Lords, will the Minister consider the wives who were widowed during the time that their husbands were imprisoned in Germany?
My Lords, Yes. This is again a matter that could be included in any inquiry.