HC Deb 12 July 1944 vol 401 cc1736-9
Mr. Eden

I ask the leave of the House to make a statement about the exchange of British and German civilians. The House will be glad to know that an agreement has been reached, the Swiss Government acting as intermediary, between His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom and the Dominions and the Government of India and the German Government, whereby, with certain exceptions, all British Commonwealth civilians who are detained in Germany or German-occupied territories and all German civilians who are detained in the British Commonwealth and mandated territories or in territories occupied by British troops shall be repatriated. From this agreement are excepted on both sides: (1) any person who does not wish to be repatriated; (2) any person whose repatriation is considered to be dangerous to the security of the detaining power; (3) any person who is serving a sentence in prison for a breach of the Common Law.

For the purpose of this agreement merchant seamen are not considered as civilians.

The agreement is to be carried out by a series of exchanges, and at each exchange the principle of numerical equality will be observed as far as possible. It is also provided in the agreement that each side shall take into account as far as possible the wishes expressed by the other side as to the order of priority of repatriation of individuals and groups of persons.

Since most of the German civilians who are eligible under this agreement are in overseas territories, they will have to be brought from distant points to the port of exchange. It is not possible to make available more than one ship, and the Swedish motor vessel "Drottningholm" has been specially chartered for this purpose. She sails under a safe-conduct accorded by the belligerents.

The "Drottningholm," carrying German civilians formerly detained in South Africa and who are to be exchanged for British civilians in Germany and German-occupied territories, reached Lisbon yesterday. For the first exchange some 900 Germans have been brought from South Africa. The German Government has undertaken to deliver the British party to Lisbon in three trains. The first of these which will include some 400 persons is due to arrive in the course of the next few days. The remaining 500 will follow shortly after in relays.

From Lisbon the whole British party will be brought to a port in the United Kingdom. Before leaving Lisbon each person will be able to send his or her family a telegram free of charge announcing his or her safe arrival. Next-of-kin are therefore asked to await receipt of this message and not to communicate with the Foreign Office.

On arrival in this country each person will, in addition to food and warm clothing, receive medical attention or hospital treatment if sick, facilities for sending messages to relatives, advice on National Registration, ration books, free travel facilities home. There will also be other arrangements, details of which will be circulated in the OFFICIAL REPORT. Those who are without homes in this country will be offered furnished accommodation rent free so long as they are without means. Those in need of financial help are entitled to apply to the Assistance Board. Special arrangements will be made in the case of Dominion nationals.

It is hoped to arrange further exchanges in the near future, but it must be understood that these arrangements are subject to alteration in the light of military operations.

Mr. Pethick-Lawrence

The House will have listened with satisfaction to the statement made by the Foreign Secretary. I would like to ask whether negotiations are proceeding, or whether the right hon. Gentleman is in a position to say anything about negotiations for a similar exchange with the Japanese.

Mr. Eden

I made a statement about that on our most recent information the other day. I am afraid that the position there is not so satisfactory.

Sir Percy Harris

Will this arrangement assist British civilians detained in France and also people from the Channel Islands who have been transferred to Germany?

Mr. Eden

I must be careful what I say about the Channel Islands. With regard to people detained in France, I should like to have notice of the question. I am not sure, but I rather think so.

Major-General Sir Alfred Knox

Are no merchant seamen to be returned?

Mr. Eden

No, Sir. In all our negotiations with the German Government about repatriation merchant seamen have been treated as prisoners of war.

Mr. Vernon Bartlett

Can the right hon. Gentleman give any rough idea of the numbers involved on either side, because, if there is to be a residue left when the interchange has taken place, we would like to know whether there are more Germans under our control, than Dominion people under German control?

Mr. Eden

I would not like to give a figure straight off, but I believe that it balances fairly evenly.

Mr. Shinwell

In the case of merchant seamen, if an undertaking were given that' they, on their return to this country, would not continue to serve in the Mercantile Marine, would not that alter the position?

Mr. Eden

That is not the whole problem. It is a question also of the repatriation of German merchant seamen, and the use to which they might be put by the Germans.

Miss Ward

In what category does Hess come, in regard to this agreement?

Mr. Eden

He does not, of course, come into any of these categories.

Lieut.-Commander Joynson-Hicks

May we take it that these arrangements have not been made at the expense of any negotiations in connection with prisoners of war?

Mr. Eden

Certainly, Sir. This will not affect any other negotiations. These are separate negotiations which have been going on for a long time, and I think that the House generally will feel satisfied with the result.

Following are the additional details mentioned:

Other arrangements will include transport from the quayside to the railway station, reservations on trains, small cash grants to cover incidental expenses on the journey and temporary accommodation for those who for any reason are unable to continue their journey immediately.