HC Deb 21 May 1946 vol 423 cc186-9
21. Mr. Stokes

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is satisfied that prisoners of war in British camps in Germany and Belgium, as also in this country, are receiving rations equal to those of the garrison troops in accordance with the provisions of the Geneva Convention.

Mr. Lawson

As the answer is rather long, I will, with permission, circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Mr, Stokes

Whilst deprecating that form of reply, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he is aware that as recently as the beginning of April, 100 men are said to have arrived at Stamford from a Belgian camp, and it is admitted by both medical officers of health that they were entirely unfitted for work through starvation? If I give him particulars of the case, will he have it thoroughly examined and the responsible person dealt with?

Mr. Lawson

Yes, Sir. I should he very much obliged for definite information upon that point. I can assure my hon. Friend that this is a long and detailed answer in which we give him all the information at our disposal, setting forth some facts as to calories and other matters. I could not have read it.

Mr. Lipson

Is the Minister having inquiries made into the conditions that have obtained in the British camps for prisoners of war in Belgium, in view of the very great concern caused by Press statements about this matter?

Mr. Lawson

That will depend upon the information the hon. Gentleman gives me.

Mr. Eden

In view of the very grave charges made by the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes), if they are not justified I think the world ought to know they are not justified. Much harm is done to the British name if charges are made and the results of the investigation are not known.

Mr. Lawson

I was very much alarmed to see in the newspapers this weekend a very extensive statement on this point. I did take steps about it, but my hon. Friend has made a definite statement and I hope he will give me details.

Mr. M. Lindsay

Surely the Minister has official sources of information without relying, upon the accounts of the hon. Member for Ipswich?

Following is the answer:

The Government have always attached the highest importance to a proper observance of the terms of the Geneva Convention even though the enemy Powers have during the war in various degrees failed to conform to its terms. They took this view because they regard the Geneva Convention as a code of international behaviour setting forth the standards which civilised nations have agreed should govern the treatment by a detaining. Power of prisoners of war. They do not propose, in so far as practical circumstances permit, to depart from these standards because the enemy Powers are now defeated.

The Convention says in Article 11 that the food rations of prisoners of war shall be equivalent in quantity and quality to that of the "depot troops."The term "depot troops "Is one well known in European military' terminology but in our own case we do not maintain any troops at depots and the term "depot troops,"Therefore, has no clear meaning. During hostilities, we applied the Convention to the best of our ability by giving nonworking prisoners a ration scale equivalent to that of our own sedentary troops whose food was limited, in rationed foods, to the same amounts as are admissible for civilians.

On the other hand, working enemy prisoners of war were given a ration scale approximately equivalent in calorific value, though not similar in all its items, to that for active British troops at home, until shortly after the surrender of Germany. In view of the world food shortage and of the serious food situation of the displaced persons and of our Allies on the Continent as revealed at that time, the Government decided that prisoners of war rations should be further reduced. This decision was announced to the House of Commons on 29th May, 1945, by the then Secretary of State for war in the following terms: In view of the world-wide shortage of food it has been decided that the normal scale for German prisoners held by His Majesty's Government must be further reduced and instructions have been issued for a new scale providing approximately 2,000 calories of all items, that is irrespective of whether they are rationed for civilians in this country or not. Two thousand calories is, of course, substantially less than the average civilian consumption in this country. Suitable additions of non-rationed foods, mainly bread and potatoes, will be made to cover the minimum extra needs of working prisoners, but otherwise they will receive the same scale as non-working prisoners."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th May, 1945; Vol. 411, C. 9.]

It is relevant to recall that the present food situation in Europe has been caused largely by the military and other operations of Germany and her Allies, and it would be wrong not to take that factor;[...]to consideration in fixing the scales of rations of German prisoners of war. The whole of this question was very carefully considered before the decision referred to above was taken.

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