HC Deb 03 December 1946 vol 431 cc200-1
30. Mr. W. Shepherd

asked the Secretary of State for War how many protected personnel, under Article 9 of the Geneva Convention, are being retained in this country on work other than the care of their sick and wounded, contrary to the Convention.

Mr. Bellenger

I apologise for the length of the answer. I explained to the hon. Member in a reply on 22nd October, the basis of the retention of protected personnel required to look after prisoners of war still in this country. There are now about 1,300 medical orderlies who are surplus to our present requirements, many of whom were captured in the later stages of the war. It was not until the autumn of this year that the number of prisoner-of-war camps in this country was stabilised, and it was not, therefore, possible to estimate earlier what the surplus would be. In order to give the fairest possible treatment to these men, I am now withdrawing from medical duties those captured earlier, and replacing them from the surplus. By this means I hope to repatriate by the end of February all medical orderlies who were captured before July, 1944. When this exchange has been completed there will be no medical personnel surplus to our requirements. While awaiting this reorganisation, some of the surplus orderlies have volunteered for work on a day to day basis, but none have been compulsorily employed on other than medical duties. Owing to the intermittent character of this work, records are not available of the exact number employed on any one day, but I can assure the hon. Member that none has been compulsorily retained for such work. As repatriation reduces the total number of prisoners of war held in this country a corresponding reduction will be made in the number of protected personnel employed on medical duties. I should, perhaps add that, owing to the limited numbers available, the repatriation of medical officers and chaplains must, at present, be restricted to those who are unfit for work.

Mr. Shepherd

Will not the Minister agree that the employment of these men, on duties contrary to the Convention which we have signed, is very bad for our prestige, and will he see that this never happens again?

Mr. Bellenger

I do not think that, while we are waiting to repatriate these protected personnel, there is anything wrong in letting them volunteer to do a little bit of work.