§ 53. Sir H. CRAIK
asked the hon. Member for Sheffield (Central Division) whether the negotiations for the exchange of prisoners, military as well as civil, have broken down owing to the failure to arrange for a man-for-man exchange; if so, whether he will consider the possibility of arranging for a general exchange without counting numbers, in view of the consequences to be feared in the case of many prisoners who have long been confined and in the interests of humanity, and in order to relieve the strain upon our food supply by the retention of so many prisoners in this country?
§ Mr. JAMES HOPE (Lord of the Treasury)
Proposals for a general release of our civilian prisoners of war in Germany have hitherto been found impracticable, owing to the fact that a wholesale exchange (which alone the Germans would agree to) would give them many times the number of prisoners that we should receive from them. The War Office fee unable to agree to an arrangement so disadvantageous to this country. A limited exchange of civilian prisoners of war over forty-five years of age was, as my hon. Friend is aware, agreed to some time since, and has been carried out to some small extent. It has now become impracticable owing to the German policy of the wholesale destruction of ships. For the same reason the repatriation of incapacitated combatant prisoners of war has also become impracticable. The arrangements for the transfer to Switzerland of British and German combatant prisoners of war remain unaffected as far as this country is concerned, but the Swiss authorities are for the time being averse to receiving more prisoners for internment either from England or Germany, on account of their own internal difficulties.
1850 I regret to add that a very serious error occurred in the Written Answers supplied by me yesterday to the hon. Member for Gateshead (Sir H. Elverston). The number of enemy civilian prisoners interned in this country is 30,282, of whom nearly 26,000 are German. I have to express my sincere regret to the hon. Member for Gateshead and to the House that this very material error should have occurred in the answer.
§ Sir H. CRAIK
Arising out of the reply, inasmuch as the negotiations at present appear to have broken down, and the arrangements with Switzerland are no longer apparently to be carried out, would it not be possible to begin upon a new basis by joining together both military and civilian prisoners and in that way make it possible to have a more equitable exchange?
§ Sir H. CRAIK
My suggestion is sufficiently defined in the question, that civilians and military prisoners should be taken together. As these number about 40,000 on the one hand against about 50,000 on the other, would it not be possible in the case of numbers so fairly balanced to carry out some arrangement in the interests of the men and humanity generally?