HC Deb 28 February 1917 vol 90 cc2017-8

asked the Under-Secretary of State for War if he will state the reasons why the exchange of British and German civilian prisoners is opposed by the War Office; and whether very few of the German prisoners would now be fit for military service?

Mr. JAMES HOPE (Lord of the Treasury)

Many of the German civilian prisoners in this country are Reservists and quite fit for military service; while nearly all of them would be available for enrolment under the general levy for national service lately brought into force in Germany. On the general question, I would refer my hon. Friend to the answer I gave yesterday to my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow and Aberdeen Universities. I would, however, repeat that the only proposal for a wholesale exchange which the Germans are willing to entertain is one that against our 4,000 at most would entitle them to some 26,000 in this country alone, and 9,000 to 10,000 in the Dominions and Colonies. In other words, they would stand to gain nearly nine men to our one, namely, over 35,000 to probably less than 4,000.


Can my hon. Friend give any approximate estimate of the number who would be fit for service in the field?


No; on the spur of the moment I cannot. No doubt the figures could be got, but not without some considerable trouble. But all of them, or nearly all, are in a position to be made use of by the German authorities if they were returned.


May I ask whether there would not be a corresponding, and even a much greater, benefit to this country by getting rid of these. 35,000 Germans altogether?


That is not the opinion of the responsible military authorities.


If that be so, would it not be advisable to get rid of all German prisoners of war?

Sir J. D. REES

Is it not the case that many interned German civilians are extremely capable men who have now become possessed of information which it is very undesirable that they should be in a position to pass on?


That is another consideration which the military authorities have in mind.


Would it be possible to carry on the arrangement by the pooling of Allied nationals for the purposes of exchange?


That is one of many alternatives that have been proposed at different times and which have not been—I do not say that one in particular—but there are several alternatives which have been proposed and have not been finally rejected.