HC Deb 21 November 1918 vol 110 cc3460-2
Mr. PETO (by Private Notice)

asked the Prime Minister whether his attention has been called to the recent communication by wireless from the German Government advising British prisoners of war to remain at work; whether his attention has been called to Mr. Justice Younger's Committee's Report upon the labour conditions in the coal and salt mines in Germany, and in view of this, whether he can say what steps are being taken to reach and provide transport and the necessary food and clothing for British prisoners of war in remote camps in the interior of Germany, and also particularly those employed in the coal and salt mines?

7. Colonel THORNE

asked the Prime Minister if his attention has been drawn to Mr. Justice Younger's Report on British prisoners of war in German coal and salt mines and of the manner in which prisoners of war have been treated; and whether any efforts are being made to have these men sent home at once?

Mr. J. HOPE (Lord of the Treasury)

The first part of the question of my hon. Friend (Mr. Peto) is really covered by the answer of the Leader of the House yesterday. The very serious attention of His Majesty's Government has been given to the matter referred to in Mr. Justice Younger's Report, and the House will remember the terms of the ultimatum addressed to the German Government on the subject before the Armistice was proposed. His Majesty's Government intend, by every means in their power, to procure the early release and repatriation of all British prisoners of war, and to secure that no British prisoner, pending release, should be employed in a mine against his will.


Has the hon. Gentleman considered the advisability of demanding from the German Government transit facilities for an Inter-Allied Mission under the Red Cross, with powers to visit all these places immediately, with the necessary supplies, and demand the evacuation of our prisoners on the spot and their immediate transport to their own country?


If Germany does not comply with the request of the Government, will they consider that this is a breach of the conditions of the Armistice?


I do not think my hon. Friend was here yesterday. I think, if he will read the answer given by the Leader of the House on that subject, it will be found quite satisfactory. As regards the other question, instructions have been given to General Headquarters in France to do everything possible in the sense my hon. Friend suggests.


Will the hon. Gentleman say what is happening to prisoners in Switzerland?


They are being got out as soon as possible.


What does the hon. Gentleman mean by that?


"As soon as possible" means, as soon as the French authorities can provide transit.


Will my hon. Friend have the suggestion I have made transmitted to Spa at the earliest possible moment?


My right hon. Friend says that that will be done.


Have all the prisoners in Turkish hands been handed over?


No, I am afraid they have not all been handed over yet. Exactly how many I could not say. Some of them have arrived at Otranto.


Will the hon. Gentleman not make an announcement in the Press as to the numbers handed over, as there is a great deal of anxiety about the prisoners in Turkish hands?


I understand that has already been arranged for by the authorities at the War Office from day to day. It is almost impossible to say at any one minute how many have passed through enemy hands; they come by all sorts of routes and means.


I had hoped to ask a supplementary question, but someone else has been before me, with regard to the treatment of our prisoners incarcerated in Germany. I should like now to ask if it is not considered highly desirable, in view of what our prisoners have to spend to keep alive, that the War Office should at once appoint an official to go abroad directly, inspect all these prison camps, and see what has become of the prisoners that were there?