HC Deb 13 October 1942 vol 383 cc1500-2
Mr. Greenwood (by Private Notice)

asked the Prime Minister whether he has arty statement to make on the measures taken by the German Government against prisoners of war from Dieppe and the counter-measures taken by His Majesty's Government?

The Prime Minister (Mr. Churchill)

His Majesty's Government have never countenanced any general order for the tying up of prisoners on the field of battle. Such a process, however, may be necessary from time to time under stress of circumstances, and may indeed be in the best interest of the safety of the prisoners themselves.

The Geneva Convention upon the treatment of prisoners of war does not attempt to regulate what happens in the actual fighting. It is confined solely to the treatment of prisoners who have been securely captured and are in the responsible charge of the hostile Government. Both His Majesty's Government and the German Government are bound by this Convention. The German Government by throwing into chains 1,370 British prisoners of war for whose proper treatment they are responsible have violated Article 2 of the aforesaid Convention. They are thus attempting to use prisoners of war as if they were hostages upon whom reprisals can be taken for occurrences on the field of battle with which the said prisoners can have had nothing to do. This action of the German Government affronts the sanctity of the Geneva Convention which His Majesty's Government have always been anxious to observe punctiliously.

His Majesty's Government have therefore approached the protecting Power and invited that Power to lay before the German Government our solemn protest against this breach of the Geneva Convention and to urge them to desist from it, in which case the counter measures of a similar character which His Majesty's Government felt themselves forced to take in order to protect their prisoners of war in enemy hands will immediately be withdrawn.

Until we learn from the protecting Power the result of this protest, I have no further statement to make upon the subject, and I should strongly deprecate any discussion which might be prejudicial to the action of the protecting Power and consequently to the interests of the prisoners of war of both belligerent countries. As soon as a reply is received, a further statement will be made to the House.

Mr. Greenwood

May I add my word to that of the right hon. Gentleman that the matter should be allowed to stay where it is at the moment?

Mr. Pickthorn

With great diffidence, in view of what both right hon. Gentlemen have said, and with very great diffidence in suggesting verbal ambiguity in anything that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister could say, may I ask whether, when he says "upon whom reprisals can be taken," it should not rather be "upon whom reprisals could be taken," because the form of words he read seemed to me possibly to admit that reprisals could properly be taken in that case?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. It is governed by the word "if" earlier in the sentence, as my hon. Friend should have noticed.

Captain Cunningham-Reid

In view of to-day's reported reactions from Australia can the Prime Minister say whether it is probable that any Australian prisoners in German hands have been chained?