§ 3.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Paget (Northampton)
I am given an opportunity this afternoon which, I am afraid by my own negligence, I missed last week, of raising the question of prisoners of war who are still held in this country and by this country. A proposal for a scheme of release has been mentioned, but I feel that that scheme, at the moment, at any rate, lacks the certainty which such a scheme should have. The success of the Bevin scheme in the Forces depended largely on the fact that everybody understood it. The ordinary man in the Forces, if he knew nothing else, knew what his group was. That is not at all the case with these prisoners. I have talked to a good many of them, and I have not yet found one who has any idea what his place is in the release scheme and whether he is anti-Fascist or not. I think it is important that they should know that.
Most of them do not know whether they are anti-Fascist or not. I have not been able to tell them, because I do not know what the release category of anti-Fascism is. I do not think that anyone has given us any definition of it. We have been told that there is a system of screening, 234 for blacks, whites and greys, but what are the terms of reference of the screeners? Are these people being judged on their opinions or their records? Is the anti-Fascist group which is to have this special privilege to be confined to those who did something active before they were taken prisoner? Is it those who were members of anti-Fascist groups and took part in the underground, or something like that? Is it to be open to those who changed over while they were prisoners, those who may be looked at without disparagement but, from a slightly different angle, as treacherous prisoners?
Finally, is it to include those who since the war, since they have seen it, have become converted to the virtues of democracy, those who, when Hitler's armies were marching, perhaps doubted the virtues of a democratic system but since they have seen how the democratic nations, casting all mere questions of national advantage aside, cooperated together to usher in the century of the common man; that democracy casts down tyrants and replaces them with men like Marshal Tito and King George of Greece, that democracy even when it is armed with so formidable a weapon as an atomic bomb only uses it for what can be described, broadly speaking, as lifesaving purposes? Now that they have seen and experienced in their own person that democracy hates forced labour and is jealous of the liberty of others, in a word does it refer to those who have seen democracy working, and are now convinced of democratic virtue? Are those people to be included in this anti-Fascist class?
Again, are there to be priorities in this anti-Fascist group? Are the latest arrivals in the democratic vineyard to go out with the earlier corners? Are some people to be released rather sooner because they are rather more anti-Fascist, and are some who are less anti-Fascist to be given a rather longer opportunity to learn to love democracy? I do not know, and I am sure the prisoners do not know. What is it that these "screeners" are being asked to look for? What are the definitions as to the groups in which they are to be put? Are the prisoners to be told whether they are in the anti-Fascist group? If they think that they are anti-Fascist and somebody tells them that they are not, are they to be allowed to appeal against that decision? If so, what is to be the appeal tribunal, how is it to be constituted 235 and brought into operation? I ask the Minister to deal with these questions. I think the matter is extremely important and I ask him to give us some indication of the number who it is expected will receive priority on anti-Fascist grounds.
The next group consists of those who are to be released on compassionate grounds, but we have not as yet been given any indication of what will be regarded as compassionate grounds for this purpose. I am not asking for any precise definition. That is never possible in a case of this sort. In the Army, however, one has a general idea of the sort of grounds which will be regarded as grounds for compassionate release. For instance, a number of grounds which occur to me concern men whose families have been driven out of Czechoslovakia and Poland and who are homeless and destitute. Are deportation, destitution and homelessness of prisoners' families regarded as compassionate grounds? Again, is the illness of a near relative, and if so what near relative, a qualification?
Again, what about the one-man business, with which we are fully familiar in our forces? If a man cannot save his means of livelihood in his own home unless he is allowed to return, or because the person looking after his business is ill or dead, will he be released? Is "compassionate" to be regarded as a group? Is there a limit to the number of people to be compassionately released, and, if it is to be a group, how will it rank with the anti-Fascist group? Does an anti-Fascist, who is also a compassionate case, get a double priority? Do the two groups work inside each other, or are they separate, and, if separate, what allocation is there for each group? I would like the answer to these questions.
How is the machine for compassionate release to be put into operation? Does the man apply himself; if so, what sort of evidence is he required to produce? If that is the machinery, what steps have been taken to inform the men of the position so that they know what to do? If, on the other hand, the application has to come from Germany, who applies in Germany, to whom does he apply, what evidence is he required to produce and what is the channel by which the application comes to England? How is it dealt with at this end? Finally, and I think this, 236 perhaps, is most important if the application has to come from Germany, what are the steps taken to publicise the scheme in Germany, so that the German dependents may know if they come within the compassionate release category and what steps they ought to take about it?
Next, there is the age-and-service group, and among the prisoners there seems to be a good deal of confusion of mind whether it is age-and-service or age-and-captivity, and there is complete vagueness on how this group works, whether it works by itself or whether the other two groups, anti-Fascist and compassionate, are released on the basis of age-and-captivity, or whatever it may be, or whether there are special priorities for those groups.
With regard to the conditions of captivity, I think we ought to face up to this matter. Some of us do not feel very happy about these people being here at all. I think it is very hard to get away from the fact that this is slave labour, but, on the other hand, whatever we may feel about it, I do feel that we should face up to this question. These men are here to help us because we need their help, and, in those circumstances, we ought, within reason, to do what we can to make life as reasonably pleasant for them as we can. I have in mind here the sort of privileges which were granted to the Italian cooperators. Is there any real reason why these men should not be allowed to go into homes where they are invited? I should have thought that that would have been the very best opportunity of re-education, and that is what we have in mind.
Secondly, is there any real reason why they should not be allowed to go to an occasional cinema during the afternoon or to go to shops and things of that sort? I do recognise, immediately, the difficulties of the matter, and the fact that there would be a great deal of trouble if they were allowed to go out with girls, and, for that sort of reason, it is extremely important that they should be in at night. On the other hand, within this sort of limitation, cannot something be done to give them a little less captive life here in England while they are here for our convenience?
There is one other thing. I have met a good many of these men who came from America, and they were told, when coming from America, that they were going home to Germany. Then they were 237 diverted here, and some of them are naturally very bitter about it. On the other hand, there is one thing on which I have found them quite unanimous, and that is that they much prefer their treatment here to their treatment in America. In America, they were given parties, cigarettes and a great deal of privileges, and lived a far more luxurious life than they do in England. But, on the other hand, they never knew when any guard was going to pet them or strike them. Over here, they say that they can rely upon being treated kindly and humanly by the guards and the people in the camps, and they do value that, and I should like to bring that point out, because I think it is a great credit to the people in charge of these camps.
There is one other matter, which I think is more a question for the Home Office. In view of the economic situation, I believe that, for a long time to come, we shall require foreign assistance to do the work which is essential in this country, and, therefore, at some point, we shall have to accept voluntary labour from abroad. I hope that a scheme of volunteers whereby the prisoners, on certain conditions, can agree to stay here on contract to work for a certain period, will be evolved. I think we should get a very large number indeed of these prisoners who were prepared to stay here on a voluntary basis under a reasonable scheme of this kind. Both from the economic and humanitarian points of view, I feel that the sooner we get away from forced labour and get back to free labour the better, and the question of turning these people from convict labourers into free labourers should have a high priority in the consideration of the Government, and that something on these lines ought to be worked out as soon as possible.
My next question is with regard to the use to which the prisoners are put, and it is in this connection that I want to say a few words about food. I do not think calories are a very satisfactory guide in this matter. When you have a working horse, you give him a maintenance ration and a working ration, and, if you do not give him an adequate working ration, you are wasting your money, because you waste your maintenance ration, and I think that is what is happening to some extent with the prisoners. I do not think the criticism that they are ill-fed from the health point 238 of view holds water at all, but, on the other hand, I do not think that the sort of diet they receive is adequate to produce the best results in terms of work. For instance, the sort of menus which I have come across, and I hope they may be improved, is a breakfast consisting of bread and tea, sometimes with some jam on the bread, but no butter. Then they go out to work, and they take two very thick sandwiches consisting almost entirely of bread and a little very thin meat or fish in it, but no butter or margarine. Later, in the evening, when they get back, they get a meal of stew. That may all add up to a great deal of calories, but one is struck by the tremendous shortage of fats, and I think that there are a good many of us who would feel that the hope of a good meal in the evening would not really assist one through a day's work in which one had had inadequate food for breakfast or lunch. That is an aspect which merits consideration.
Another point is the question of inducements. On the whole—and I do not think Germans are any exception—people do not like work unless they can get some reward. I think we should try to increase the reward available to prisoners. A bonus scheme has been devised. I will not go into the details, but I feel it is very inadequate. Further, these men are now allowed to send some money to Germany, but that is no good at all because nearly all the families of which these men are the supporters are on relief in Germany, so that all they are doing is sending money to Germany to subsidise the local authorities there. It does not do their families any good. They are getting to know this, and that inducement is losing its effect. If, on the other hand, they could send to their relatives in Germany parcels of the articles which they are allowed to buy in their canteens, so that their bonus would be in the terms of the type of goods which are urgently required there, instead of in money which does not amount to anything because it cancels out when it gets there, that would be a very considerable additional inducement. At present their pay works out in many instances at 1½d. an hour, they may get 1½d. an hour, but when they spend that money on cigarettes in their canteens the Government takes 80 per cent. of it back, because they have to pay the full taxation on the cigarettes. Therefore, the 239 reward which they are given is very trivial.
§ Wing-Commander Millington (Chelmsford)
Is my hon. Friend suggesting that the kind of inducement which would get more work out of these men is tax free cigarettes?
§ Mr. Paget
Yes. What I am saying is that the remuneration which is given to them in the form of money which they are confined to spending in a canteen in England, or which if sent to Germany does not do any good, means that neither at the English end nor the German end is there any inducement, and it would be both more honest and beneficial if the Government faced the fact that payment in kind is most desirable in the circumstances. I think that is certainly the experience of farmers. The way in which the regulations are circumvented is that the farmer who is supposed to pay the full agricultural rate, not to the prisoner but to the Government, does not make any return on overtime worked by the prisoner, but pays the prisoner in kind for the overtime with cigarettes, beer and that sort of thing. That is the sort of arrangement that is worked on almost every farm in the country where these prisoners are boarded, and it seems to work very happily.
My other point is that there are believed to be limitations on the sort of work which the prisoners are allowed to do. For instance, farmers complain that prisoners who may be very expert motorists cannot get a driving licence and, therefore, cannot deliver the milk. They cannot take a cow to market, and they cannot even take a tractor down the road. These are all matters which I do feel should definitely be cleared up.
Finally, in regard to priorities. The local authorities are finding great difficulty in getting prisoner of war labour for clearing sites, and that sort of thing. I do feel that, though that priority is too low, on the other hand, agriculture is a very high priority, indeed. It is, of course, absolutely essential in harvest time, but 1 very much doubt whether the gangs available for agricultural work are really worth while. I think it would be a much more efficient organisation if, instead of having a gang available for various farms for 240 threshing, a certain number of prisoners of war were allotted to threshing contractors, so that they could specialise in a particular job, and go round with them. Then others, out of harvest time, could be made available to local authorities. I have raised these various points because I do feel that the publicity which the answers will receive if circulated to the prisoners, will help them a lot to understand just where they stand on these points, and I think it is important that they should know where they stand.
§ 3.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Gammans (Hornsey)
I listened very carefully to what the hon. Gentleman had to say, and, quite frankly, I do not know what he is driving at. When he started off, and pleaded for some orderly scheme of release for German prisoners, I had a good deal of sympathy with him. When he went on to talk about anti-Fascism I had less sympathy with him, and when he finished up on grounds of sloppy sentimentality I had no sympathy at all.
I think it is time we gave up using these ridiculous expressions about Fascism and anti-Fascism. They have ceased to have any meaning at all, and have become terms of abuse like the hissing of a soda water bottle. If the hon. Gentleman goes to Germany, as I have had the good fortune to go, he will discover there are no Nazis in Germany and, so far as one can gather, never have been. The Germans are talking about the Nazis as though they were foreigners, as though they had no responsibility whatever for all the horrors they have inflicted on the world in the last six years. The most damning thing about Germany today is that the Germans do not accept any responsibility for their leaders in this war or the last war, and the most serious thing they say about the Nazis is that they lost the war, and not that they committed atrocities on mankind. I am not impressed by all these ad misericordiam appeals to release Germans because they are not Nazis or anti-Nazis. I think it is most dangerous—
§ Mr. Paget
Would the hon. Gentleman allow me? I do not agree with most of his demands. I have today, and on previous occasions, expressed strong disapproval of the idea that we should have political priorities for release. I think it is absolutely wrong. But what I have 241 been urging is, that if we are to have political priorities, let us define them, let us be precise about them, let us know what they are, so that the men will understand them.
§ Mr. Gammans
If that is the hon. Gentleman's viewpoint, all I can say is that he must have put it very badly, because if that is his viewpoint we are, possibly for the first time, sharing the same views on this subject. But nothing is more dangerous than that we should fall for this German blarney which has already started to go round the world. If the hon. Gentleman has read Hitler's "Mein Kampf" he will understand what Hitler said, that had he been Chancellor of Germany after the last war what he would have done would have been to organise sympathy for Germany. The Germans are on that job already, and we are now finding a lot of gullible people in this country who are prepared to swallow all that, hook, line and sinker. To my mind there should be only one criterion about the release of the German prisoners.
The criterion should be that we can now do without them. I cannot have very much sympathy for German prisoners in this country. I have far more sympathy for our own boys who are still thousands of miles across the sea, and who have been away from home for four or five years, because the Germans started this war. The German prisoners have only been here two years. By all means let us send them back when it suits us to do so, but before we make any widespread appeals for getting rid of the German prisoners we had better explain how we are to do without them. The whole of our agricultural production today very largely depends on German labour, and if we got rid of the prisoners this year, it would be a pretty poor solace for people doing without their food the year after next to read the hon. Gentleman's speech in this House today.
In dealing with the German prisoners the hon. Gentleman asked why they did not come here as paid labour. I imagine he was suggesting a wider proposition, namely, that we should employ other foreigners who are prepared to work for us. Perhaps it is a pity that he did not go down to Brighton this week and urge that view on the T.U.C. when they were considering the employment of Poles. If he is logical in what he said, he would 242 urge that we should employ anybody who is prepared to work here. Only if he is prepared to do that, would it be quite logical for him to urge the Government to expedite the release of the German prisoners. I sincerely hope that whoever is to reply for the Government will take the view very strongly that, while we do by all means want to get rid of these German prisoners—they are no asset to this country, and if they enjoyed some of the social advantages proposed by the hon. Gentleman most undesirable repercussions might result—we should get rid of them only when it suits us to do so.
§ 3.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Platts-Mills (Finsbury)
I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, for allowing me just one moment to intervene in this Debate. Like everyone else who has spoken, I want to express satisfaction that the Government have decided to push forward the release of German prisoners. It must be borne in mind that the Americans have sent back, as I understand it, every prisoner from their country, and the Soviet Union has recently liberated 120,000 at one go. We have still about half a million, and there are something under 400,000 in this country. At the present rate of 15,000 a month it will take until the end of 1948 before they are all gone. It therefore follows—and this view which I adopt is quite contrary to that expressed by the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Gammans)—that it is absolutely vital that priority should be given to the proved anti-Nazis among the prisoners here. What I am urging is, not that they should have social amenities in England, although that has been urged, but something else—something that may be additional; that they should have a further chance of establishing their status as anti-Nazis, because I should have thought that no one is really satisfied with the screening that has taken place either in this country or, above all, in the Middle East.
We have all heard of the appalling tragedy of the 999 Division. These men were forced straight from the concentration camps into a division which was called a punitive division. They were given not only the dirty work, the foul work, but the dangerous work in every field in which they were forced to serve, and some of their number when opportunity offered deserted straight into our ranks as whole units. At the same time, others were 243 liberated when they were captured, but liberated in circumstances which put them immediately into British concentration camps where they have now been for two or more years.
§ Mr. C. S. Taylor (Eastbourne)
Can the hon. Member say how many anti-Nazis there were before the war?
§ Mr. Platts-Mills
Does that mean how many there were in Germany, or in the whole world, or in the German Forces?
§ Mr. Platts-Mills
Nobody knows the answer to that question, but anyone who was languishing in a concentration camp, having been screened by Hitler, was, we are certain, a confirmed anti-Nazi, whom not all the terrors of the Nazi concentration camps could turn. These are the men of the 999 Division. It is not the name for some cure as might be thought. On the contrary,. it is an awful curse which rests on the lives of these men because of their staunch and gallant stand against Nazi terror in their own country. What is the difficulty? The difficulty is that they were screened mainly on the reports of the N.C.Os., camp attendants and the like, who were Nazis captured with them. It was done on their reports, and on the decisions of British officers, some of whom had already forgotten when the war was barely over that it was fought against Nazism, and who, as we now know, are very often obsessed with the idea that there will be another war against Bolshevism. They feel that if a man was an anti-Nazi, as like as not he was tainted in some way or other. They have the view of the average hon. Member opposite at the time of Munich. It is such officers who have dealt with these people in the 999 Division. They are still kept in the Middle East, and the Minister has told the House of the great difficulty that the Government have in getting any accurate figures about these men at short notice. They should be given first priority, and should be immediately released when their situation is known. We need these men in the Western zones. Germany needs them throughout its social, political and, above all, its industrial life. We know that the tragedy in our zone and in the American zone is that the morale of the people has not been restored. No one can play a better part in 244 restoring this morale than those who stood against Hitler throughout those evil days in Germany. The people in the 999 Division can play a leading role if only we will let them.
§ 3.53 p.m.
§ Wing-Commander Millington (Chelmsford)
I intervene for only a few moments to follow the argument put up by my hon. Friend the Member for Finsbury (Mr. Platts-Mills) and to repudiate the argument advanced by the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Gammans). The hon. Member for Hornsey tries to give a practical and realistic turn to every Debate in which he takes part. He speaks as a business man, giving a business interpretation to the facts which have been presented.
§ Mr. Gammans
I do not know whether the hon. and gallant Member is supposed to be insulting me by calling me a business man, but in fact I am not a business man.
§ Wing-Commander Millington
I am sorry that I misunderstood the hon. Member. It is no part of my purpose to insult him, nor does it concern me in what way he earns his living. What concerns me is the attitude of mind he brings to bear upon these problems. It would seem, from his observations, that he is trying to be a practical man and cut through what he calls "sloppy mentality" on the part of Members on this side of the House who are concerned with things other than immediate practical day-to-day matters, which are of the utmost concern to the Conservative Members. I challenge the statement he has made from the fair and practical point of view he has introduced into this Debate. He has said that unless we keep incarcerated in these islands, without any amelioration of their position, these 400,000 German prisoners of war, we are unlikely to have a labour force sufficiently large for agriculture. I challenge the hon. Gentleman on that statement alone. I know that he represents an urban constituency. I wonder to what extent, during the last six months or so, he has been acquainted with the way in which this application of prisoner-of-war labour upon the farms is working out in this country. One of the biggest problems is to get any kind of a reasonable day's work from them, whether they are engaged in agriculture, public works, or any of the jobs 245 to which they have been applied. Unless we can get from the War Office, and from the most severe and practical point of view, an amelioration of their conditions, these prisoners are of very little economic value to us.
I remember Questions being put in this House three or four months ago in which an hon. Member sitting on the Conservative benches accused, as it were, the then Secretary of State for War of trying to make a profit out of the prisoners of war. The Minister made it clear, and substantiated his statement by statistics, that the cost of administering the prisoner of war scheme in this country amounted to a considerable charge. We therefore must look for some other reasons why we must keep the prisoners of war and why we must make them contribute far more to the welfare of the country which is now looking after them. I believe we have in those 400,000 people a potential labour force which, if we treated the people in a more humane way—looking at the matter not in a sentimental fashion at all —gave them a chance to live some kind of social life and an opportunity to send part of the reward for their work to help their relatives in Germany, we should get what we want from all workpeople in this country at the moment, a better day's work. Then we should have economic advantage to the country for keeping them here. We have to keep them here for a little while longer. I share the welcome given by my hon. Friend the Member for Finsbury to the new plan for sending some of them back, but as we have to keep them we must work out some sensible scheme for them.
I would return to what was said by the hon. Member for Hornsey. He seems to forget that we fought the war primarily against Nazism and Fascism. There are some people, including the 999 Division in the Middle East and in this country, who were fighting that war against Fascism in their own country before we entered the struggle. In fact, they were fighting that war in their own country when some hon. Members in this House at the moment were encouraging Fascism through the policy of the party then ruling this country. I submit that there is no case against every effort being made by the War Office to find the men who have a prewar anti-Fascist record, and giving them immediate release. As 246 my hon. Friend the Member for Finsbury said, there is an urgent need of these men to carry out the work of social and political re-education in their own country at this time.
§ 3.58 p.m.
§ The Financial Secretary to the War Office (Mr. John Freeman)
When we debated this subject on 8th October, I had occasion to differ in opinion from my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), who raised it again today. He is, of course, fully entitled to come back at me with a series of searching questions, as he has done, to see if he could establish the points which he was seeking to make. I should like to apologise to the House that, unfortunately, through no fault of my hon. Friend. I only heard about this Debate Io minutes before it started, and, as a result, I gathered up a handful of assorted papers which have some bearing on the problem; but I must apologise in advance if any incautious remark which I make is guilty of a slight inaccuracy. Inaccuracy is possible in these circumstances, because my hon. Friend addressed to me a lengthy and very searching list of questions.
He spoke, first of all, about the method of screening prisoners of war in this country, and the method of passing on to them the information about their political grade. I made some remarks on this subject when we previously debated it. I am satisfied that, although there may have been a lack of information in the past, every prisoner of war—
§ It being Four o'clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Bing.]
Every prisoner of war now screened is being informed perfectly clearly what his grade is. He has ample opportunity to appeal against his grading if he thinks fit. I would elaborate that point by saying that there have been already numerous appeals against the original grading, which have succeeded. In the same way, if the camp staff, who are responsible for the prisoner, come to the conclusion that he has been inaccurately graded, they themselves may initiate such an appeal. I think that I can say quite reasonably that if any hon. 247 Member of this House, having special information, forms the opinion that an injustice had been done in the way in which a prisoner of war had been graded, and he will communicate with my right hon. Friend or myself, we will undertake to look once again at the man's political grading.
I was asked a series of detailed questions about the exact method used to establish these grades; but I do not propose to answer them in detail. The Control Commission, which is responsible for the screening of prisoners of war, employ the most expert people they can find for the purpose. They are trained security officers, and trained in the whole history and background of the Nazi movement. I am not prepared to answer the question which was put to me: "Is it a man's record or is it his future prospects which grade him either white, black or grey?" His whole record and his personal behaviour, views and opinions are taken into account, and the men who do the screening are, in our belief, fully qualified to make a fair assessment. If there is any reason to believe that they have made a mistake, then an appeal is possible.
My hon. Friend next asked what sort of priority existed for repatriation inside any particular grade. Perhaps with that question, I can answer a question which he asked me later on, which was whether age and length of service or age and length of captivity were the basic factors in determining the repatriation date of a prisoner who had no particular priority. The answer to both those questions is the same. It is not age and anything"; it is purely length of captivity. We are working on the prisoners graded white to begin with, and their priorities are established by length of captivity. On the whole, we believe that is the most satisfactory method.
My hon. Friend then referred to compassionate grounds for repatriation. Once again, he asked a series of detailed questions about what constitutes compassionate grounds. If he thinks for one moment, he will realise that it is quite impossible to tell him, while I am standing at the Despatch Box, what constitutes compassionate grounds for repatriation. We are allowing every month a certain quota of compassionate cases, and I will describe to the House the method by 248 which we are selecting them. The families in Germany of any prisoners of war who are in such circumstances that they consider compassionate treatment of the husband or father is desirable are empowered to apply through their own German local authority to the Control Commission in order to have the wage earner repatriated with priority on compassionate grounds, and the Control Commission on the spot in Germany, with the advice of the German local authorities, compiles these lists for us within the quota which we allow.
All the considerations and factors which my hon. Friend mentioned will be given due weight, but to say that one aspect of distress has a higher priority than another is, as he will understand, unreal and impossible. He particularly asked about Sudetens and refugees in general who have no homes in Germany. The answer again is that the Control Commission will estimate the degree of compassion which should be applied to their cases so long as they make the original application. In that connection I have discussed with my hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster the point of making quite certain that Sudeten German families who have perhaps not got quite such good contacts with the German local authority in their own home town, shall not be overlooked if and when they make application for the husband or father to have compassionate repatriation. The prisoner of war in this country cannot initiate his own compassionate repatriation.
§ Mr. Freeman
I am informed by the Control Office that during this month, or at any rate quite recently, posters have been put up all over Germany within the British zone explaining this method of repatriation.
§ Mr. Freeman
Remarks have been made on the general conditions of captivity in which we are keeping the prisoners of war in this country, and I was asked why they should not be given the privileges of the Italian cooperators and allowed to make visits and to go to cinemas and shops. I have thought carefully about 249 this since my hon. Friend first addressed the question to me privately some time ago, and the answer is that the Government are not at this moment prepared to do that. We consider that there is a clear distinction between German prisoners held in this country and Italian cooperators who started to cooperate with us during the war and who, in many cases, performed quite valuable services for the war effort of our own people. On the other hand, we are not anxious that captivity for these prisoners should be more oppressive than it need be, and we have managed in one or two limited respects to increase their freedom to move about. For instance, a large proportion of prisoners go out to work on farms or housing sites and so on, and establish contacts with the outside world. There are equally large numbers of them who, as camp staffs doing administrative jobs and so on, have not got any opportunity of making contact with the outside world. In the case of these people we are making arrangements within certain limited restrictions for them to go for walks and generally see the world outside their camps, which we think will be a slight amelioration of their condition.
§ Mr. Ivor Owen Thomas (The Wrekin)
Can the hon. Gentleman indicate whether any facilities for recreation and education are available for the prisoners in these camps?
§ Mr. Freeman
There are both educational and entertainment facilities available, though not, of course, in the quantity some of us would like, but I am in 3 position to tell the House that we have managed to provide some mobile cinemas which will go round the camps and, I hope, give the prisoners a feeling that they are not quite so cut off from the rest of the world. There is a widespread desire both in the War Office and among the guards themselves, on grounds both moral and strictly practical, to ameliorate as far as we reasonably and possibly can the conditions under which we are keeping these men. In that connection, I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I am sure it will be noted, for his reference to the quality of the British prisoner-of-war guards, compared with other guards
In this long catechism addressed to me, my hon. Friend next spoke about the possibility of allowing prisoners of war to stay here permanently. With some force, 250 I think, he said it would be much better to develop free voluntary labour than convict labour. That is a matter upon which I cannot make any statement this afternoon, and my hon. Friend will very readily realise that it is not within my Department to do so. But I will draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to what my hon. Friend has said, and perhaps the matter could be pursued through other channels. On the subject of rations, we are on very delicate ground. No one is going to suggest that at this moment we should make further sacrifices in the limited rations we have at present in order to make more attractive and tasty for prisoners the diet which in itself is adequate. We have been recently looking very carefully into the matter of rations, and have found that, by making certain administrative changes within the total volume of rations already being issued, it is possible to give slightly more variety to the average prisoner. Particularly, we have found a way of distributing the fat ration which will make it go a little further than it has seemed to go in the past. I can, however, hold out no prospect what ever that there will be an overall increase of rations for prisoners at present.
On the subject of inducements to work, as my hon. Friend said, we are paying a small money bonus to prisoners. I do not entirely accept the view he expressed that this does not provide a real inducement. Our experience is that it does provide quite substantial inducements, but I recognise the point he made that the difficult economic circumstances in Germany at the moment invalidate to some extent sending money home to one's family in Germany. However, I am satisfied that that is an inducement, and is working as an inducement. We are considering very carefully whether it will not be possible to add a bonus of tobacco as a reward for good workmanship among the prisoners of war. I am not at present in a position to make a final statement about it. The tobacco situation, as we all realise, is far from easy for everybody in this country. But it seems to us, on strictly practical grounds, in order to get the best value out of these men, that we should give them the greatest inducements we can to work well. I am hopeful that we may be able to devise a way in the near future of allowing a tobacco bonus to be added. Perhaps if my hon. Friend will address a Question to my right hon. Friend, or 251 to myself, in a couple of months or so, or even in one month, it might be possible to take the matter a step further.
On the question of driving trucks, and the type of work prisoners of war are allowed to do, I can only say that my hon. Friend has been entirely misinformed about the situation. We test German prisoners who claim to be able to drive, and give them a permit which qualifies them to drive vehicles on duty on farms, and so on. If he has on his own farm, and he has been speaking a good deal about his personal experience in this matter, had any particular difficulty in this respect, I feel sure that he and I could clear it up together in private conversation.
Lastly, my hon. Friend referred to the priority of labour among prisoners of war, and he suggested that local authorities were not getting quite a high enough priority. I have consulted with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour, whose is the responsibility on this point, and he authorises me to say what I think is well known to the House already, that these prisoners are allocated to work of national importance for which British labour is not at present available. Priority is given to agriculture and the provision of housing sites. During the period just ended the needs of agriculture have had special attention directed to them. With the end of the harvest considerable numbers will become available for other work, including housing and civil engineering. That covers the point my hon. Friend made that the greatest value of the agricultural workers was at harvest time. So much for my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton.
The hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Gammans) made some remarks of a rather different nature. He accused my hon. Friend of muddled thinking. In doing so, he put one or two perfectly valid points to the House. We must, I think, keep a balance in this matter of the treatment of prisoners of war. We must decide whether we are putting things forward because they are good business, or because they are good morals, or perhaps because they happen to be both. I entirely agree with him that it is necessary to make these distinctions and to be quite clear what we are b working for. What I cannot agree with him upon, so 252 far as we on this side of the House are concerned, is the general line of his remarks that the distinctions between Fascists and anti-Fascists have now become invalid—terms of abuse, I think he said. I can understand his saying that, because I do not think these distinctions were ever very valid to the hon. Gentleman. To us they are valid, and it is a fact of history which should go on record that many of these anti-Nazi prisoners of war, whom we have screened as whites, in the jargon we use, were fighting actively on the same side in the same war in which this country subsequently took part, at a time when the hon. Gentleman and many of his friends were fighting on the opposite side.
§ Mr. Gammans
Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that we on this side of the House were fighting for Fascism and fighting for Germany?
§ Mr. Freeman
I should not like, on an occasion like this, to end the afternoon in a feeling of too great rancour with the hon. Gentleman, who has, after all, been courteous enough to stay and hear what I have to say. But in effect I do say just that. He asked whether we on this side of the House have read "Mein Kampf." The answer is "We have"—and we have also read" Tory M.P."
§ Mr. Freeman
Some of us, I agree. These distinctions are valid. They mean something to us. The hon. Member is perfectly entitled to reject them if he wishes, but while this Government are in power, we shall give priority to anti-Fascists and anti-Nazis rather than to Fascists and Nazis. Having said that, I would ask the hon. Gentleman, even though there may be political disagreement between us here, to look at the matter, as I am sure he does, from a moral point of view. This "wishy-washy sentimentality" that he talks about, this desire to keep down the underdog—is this really the right line for an hon. Member to take who belongs to a party which puts as the first plank in its electoral programme the defence of the Christian religion?
In considering the delicate balance between morals and expediency, in this matter of dealing with prisoners of war, I think we must take our stand on what we believe to be right and moral
§ Mr. Gammans
I would not like the Minister to misquote me. All I said was that if we have to choose between keeping the German prisoners of war here for the benefit of our own harvest, and releasing them, remembering that our own men have been overseas for many years, then I said we should keep them here. I did not say I would keep them here if it was not necessary to do so.
§ Mr. Freeman
If that hypothesis were correct, I might agree with the hon. Gentleman. What we are concerned with is not only the fair administration of these prisoners, and relieving ourselves of a considerable burden; we are also seeking to build up a democratic way of life in Germany and Central Europe which, surely the hon. Gentleman will agree, is of the greatest importance to our own future. These people are needed in Germany far more urgently than they are needed in this country, and the Government are determined to get them back there as quickly as possible, taking account of all the circumstances.
My hon. Friend the Member for Finsbury (Mr. Platts-Mills) addressed to me some questions about the 999 Division. There has been no difficulty about getting this information about the 999 Division in the sense that that Division was neglected and that the information could not be obtained. The difficulty has been that we are stretched to the utmost in the staffs which are administering these prisoners of war, and the trouble which is involved in finding out detailed information is disproportionate. The reply which I gave on 8th October seemed to me to be cogent 254 and to obviate the need for more detailed information about the individuals who comprise the 999 Division. However, in response to what was obviously a genuine desire on the part of many hon. Members, I have gone into this matter again and this afternoon I am prepared to divulge a certain amount of more detailed information.
Among the German prisoners of war in the Middle East so far screened, we have found 2,600 who are classified as "white," and of that number 1,200 are ex-members of the 999 Division. The screening is not yet complete and there is no doubt that as we proceed other members of the 999 Division will come to light. As I told the House on 8th October, the repatriation of all "whites" in the Middle East will take place in the near future. In the first batch of 2,000 which will go from the Middle East, the 1,200 members of the 999 Division so tar located will be included. Others will go as screening is carried out. I sincerely think the House should not press me to say that members of the 999 Division necessarily will go with a higher priority than other people who are screened "white." After all, it is difficult enough to become screened "white." If a man is "white" it does not seem to me to matter very much whether or not he comes from 999 Division. With those remarks on that subject, which contain considerably more information than the House had before, I trust my hon. Friend will not press me further.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-three Minutes past Four o' Clock.