HC Deb 20 January 1943 vol 386 cc187-90
16. Mr. Ivor Thomas

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what progress has been made in the release of political prisoners in North Africa?

12. Miss Rathbone

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he can now make a statement regarding the position of persons of anti-Nazi sympathies interned, imprisoned or engaged on forced labour in French North Africa; whether the request for the liberation of such persons and for the abrogation of all regulations reflecting Nazi ideology has been complied with; and whether those liberated include Spanish Republicans, members of the International Brigade which fought in Spain and persons of Jewish race confined on racial grounds?

17. Mr. G. Strauss

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he can now make a statement about the release of anti-Fascist prisoners of war in North Africa, including members of the International Brigade?

Mr. Eden

His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom, as also the United States Government, have lost no opportunity of impressing upon the French authorities in North Africa the importance which they attach to the early release of all persons of whatever nationality who have been detained there on account of their sympathies with the Allied cause. It is known that many of these political prisoners have already been released. There must, however, inevitably be a number of doubtful cases. In order to investigate these, a Mixed Commission has now been set up under the joint chairmanship of the British and United States Consuls-General at Algiers. I hope that the Commission's reports will make it possible for me to give the House fuller information about the prisoners still under detention. In the meantime, the following details have become available.

So far as can be ascertained, no British subjects are now improperly detained in Algeria or Morocco. As regards French nationals, the United States authorities were informed at the end of December that orders had been given to prison camp commanders and provincial authorities in North Africa to release all French nationals who were still detained for having helped the Allied cause. It is hoped that the Mixed Commission will be able to verify that these orders have been carried out. As regards Allied nationals, many of whom were, I understand, members of the former International Brigade, the position at the end of December was that some 200 Poles, over 100 Soviet nationals and a few Czechs and Belgians remained under detention in Algeria. Full details are not available of those detained in Morocco. Arrangements are being made however for the early release of the Poles, Czechs and Belgians. The Soviet citizens will return to their own country as soon as transport can be arranged for them, and His Majesty's Government are in touch with the Soviet Government on this question.

As regards other members of the former International Brigade and other Spanish Republican refugees, I regret that I am still without detailed information. The Mixed Commission is well aware of the necessity for finding a satisfactory solution of this particular problem at the earliest possible moment and one of its first tasks will be to investigate the situation of these people. In the meantime, it should be noted that one of its terms of reference is to obtain for them before their release as good living conditions as possible. I am not aware that any persons have been detained in North Africa solely on account of their Jewish faith.

As regards the question of anti-Jewish laws and other measures introduced by the Vichy régime since 1940, the French authorities are aware of our views and although, as the Minister Resident recently stated, the position is not satisfactory, I trust that the necessary steps will be taken as soon as circumstances permit.

Miss Rathbone

Will my right hon. Friend consider two reports which I will send him from refugees quite recently arrived in this country from North Africa, describing the really cruel conditions which existed until a very short time ago, including forced work in labour battalions?

Mr. Eden

I will certainly be glad to consider any reports which the hon. Lady sends me.

Mr. Astor

Does the right hon. Gentleman remember the fact that many of the Free French sympathisers have been locked up not nominally on political charges but on various trumped-up charges, such as desertion or stealing rifles and other things, and will he ask the Commission to take great care to see whether people arrested on supposedly criminal charges were not in fact locked-up for trying to join the Allies?

Mr. Eden

My hon. Friend will understand from the very long answer which I have given that the authorities have been very active in this matter. I think that the appointment of this Commission is the right way to handle an extremely complicated question, affecting a very wide area, but I will bear in mind what the hon. Member has said.

Captain Peter Macdonald

Will the right hon. Gentleman see that the Poles, the Czechs and other Allied prisoners of war who are being released will be returned to this country or to the United States of America and not sent to their own countries?

Mr. Eden

Certainly. Of course they would not be sent back to enemy-occupied territory.

Mr. Kirkwood

Will the prisoners who are going to be released include those 27 French Communist deputies?

Mr. Eden

I rather think that they were released some time ago. But I cannot give a definite answer off-hand.

Mr. Pethick-Lawrence

Do I understand that the subjects of Axis Powers who have been put into prison because of their opposition to the Governments of those countries come within the province of this Commission?

Mr. Eden

Yes, Sir, certainly they do. This Commission is to cover the whole problem of all prisoners, of whom there are many.

Mr. A. Bevan

Can we have the names of the Commission?

Mr. Eden

Perhaps I shall be able to give them, but the chairman will be alternately our own Consul-General in Algiers and the United States Consul-General in Algiers.

Mr. Bevan

Shall we include on the Commission representatives of some of the smaller Allied nations?

Mr. Eden

Perhaps I might be allowed to consider that point. It is not for me to set up the Commission from here, but I did look at the arrangement, and I thought it seemed a very good one.

Mr. Leach

Will this Commission have the right to see that its decisions are carried out?

Mr. Eden

Oh, yes, this Commission was appointed under the Supreme Allied Command in North Africa, and I must make it plain that the American authorities have been most anxious and active in promoting the work of this Commission.