HC Deb 29 March 1945 vol 409 cc1539-41

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper in the name of Sir CHARLES EDWARDS:

62. To ask the Secretary of State for War to what extent Allied prisoners of war in Japan are compelled to work in war factories; and if, as they are housed in wooden sheds near these factories and the bombing now going on endangers the lives of these men, he will take whatever steps may be possible to have them removed from the danger zone.

At the end of Questions

Mr. A. Henderson

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I. would like to make a statement in reply to Question 62. Article 9 of the International Convention relative to the treatment of prisoners of war provides that no prisoner may at any time be sent to an area where he would be exposed to the fire of the fighting zone, or be employed to render, by his presence, certain points or areas immune from bombardment. This article precludes the establishment of prisoner of war camps in close proximity to areas or targets which are liable to bombardment from the air. We and our Allies have conscientiously observed this principle and shall continue to do so.

I regret to inform the House that the Japanese authorities are not conforming to this principle. Early in 1943 the first reports on prisoner of war camps in Metropolitan Japan reached this country. We noted with anxiety that many of the camps were situated in the dockyard and factory areas of Tokyo, Yokohama, Osaka, and other cities. After consulting our Allies, we represented through the Protecting Power that these camps should be moved from areas which constituted important military targets. These representations have been renewed on several occasions, but without effect. The Japanese have stated that they are "always very careful to establish camps outside danger areas," but none of the camps of which we have complained have been moved. During the construction of the Burma-Siam railway the camps were close to the line and casualties inevitably occurred from Allied bombs.

The railway is a primary objective of our bombing attacks since it is the principal line of supplies to the Japanese forces opposing the 14th Army in Burma. I regret to say that evidence is accumulating that the Japanese are attempting to hamper these attacks by the very means which are specifically forbidden by Article g of the Convention. In other words, they are moving prisoners of war into close proximity to the line with the obvious intention of "rendering it immune from bombardment."

It is essential that attacks on targets vital to the prosecution of the war should go on and that the task of our troops in Burma and elsewhere should not be made more difficult than it already is. The House may be assured, however, that all possible care will be taken by all Allied Air Forces engaged to avoid endangering our prisoners of war. A protest in the strongest terms has been made through the Protecting Power to the Japanese both by His Majesty's Government on behalf of the Commonwealth Governments and by the United States Government.

Mr. McEntee

Will the Minister consider treating the Japanese who are responsible for this as war criminals?

Mr. Henderson

That question would have to be addressed to another quarter.

Sir R. Glyn

Does the hon. and learned Gentleman realise that his statement will cause anxiety to a great many relatives? Can he say more definitely who are the prisoners of war, whether they are naval or military, and what actual steps have been taken to remove them from these places?

Mr. Henderson

It is not within the province of His Majesty's Government to remove these prisoners. It is a matter for the Japanese Government. The difficulty is that it is the policy of the Japanese Government not to move them away from, but to move them into close proximity to, bombing targets.

Mr. J. J. Lawson

Has there yet been any answer to the protest that was made?

Mr. Henderson

No, Sir.