HC Deb 30 January 1951 vol 483 cc700-3
18 and 19. Mr. Heathcoat Amory

asked the Secretary of State for War (1) whether he has received any notification as to how many of the 14 officers and 217 other ranks reported missing in Korea are prisoners of war; who is the protecting Power; and whether representatives of the protecting Power have yet visited such British prisoners of war and reported on their condition;

(2) how many prisoners-of-war camps in Korea, containing British troops, are known and marked as such to prevent bombing; whether Red Cross clothing and food are being sent; and whether any letters have been received from the men concerned.

20. Mr. Keeling

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he has any information that any of the missing in Korea are prisoners of war.

Mr. Strachey

I will, with permission, make a statement at the end of Questions in answer to Questions Nos. 18, 19 and 20.


Mr. Strachey

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement in reply to Questions 18, 19 and 20.

No official information has been received that any of the British forces in Korea are prisoners of war, but a Chinese news agency has given the names of two Royal Marines claimed to have been taken prisoner. The next of kin have been informed in each case. Since then, the Chinese Press has reported a North Korean Army communiqué for 12th January last as saying that 472 men of the British Forces, which exceeds the number of missing, have been taken prisoner. There are therefore some grounds for belief that a considerable proportion of the missing are alive in enemy hands.

As the House is aware, we have no information about the conditions under which United Nations forces taken prisoner are held. In July, the North Korean authorities, in response to an approach by the United Nations, said that their Army was strictly abiding by the principles of the Geneva Conventions in regard to prisoners of war, and in August and September they despatched two lists of prisoners, giving the names of 110 United States troops, to the International Red Cross Committee in Geneva. No further such lists have, however, been received.

Requests by the United Nations and by the International Red Cross Committee that representatives of the Committee should be allowed to enter North Korea have so far met with no success. The Chinese Government have adopted the attitude that the matter is one entirely for the North Korean authorities.

Further representations in regard to these matters are now being made in Peking. Efforts are being made at the same time to secure the transmission of mail to and from United Nations prisoners of war and the passage of relief supplies to them, and attempts are being made through national Red Cross Societies and through the normal international postal channels to achieve the same result.

The Supreme Commander of the United Nations forces in Korea has announced that he is following the Geneva Conventions in regard to prisoners of war and wounded and sick. The United Kingdom Government have informed the North, Korean authorities that they will observe the undertakings entered into on behalf of the United Nations forces by the United Nations Commander-in-Chief, and arrangements have been made to ensure that British troops comply with the Conventions. Representatives of the International Red Cross Committee have been sending to the North Korean authorities reports on camps for North Korean prisoners in South Korea, and have been issuing relief supplies to these prisoners. Lists of North Korean prisoners are being sent by the United Nations to the International Red Cross Committee for transmission to the North Koreans.

Our efforts to obtain information about, to secure relief for, and to communicate with, British prisoners will be continued without relaxation and, in the event of any material change in the situation, I will inform the House.

Mr. Keeling

Can the Secretary of State say, first, when the International Red Cross made its last inquiry about British missing, and secondly, whether, in view of the renewed hopes which the right hon. Gentleman expressed that some of the missing men may still be alive, he would ask the International Red Cross to resume its inquiries?

Mr. Strachey

Yes, Sir. They have continually made these attempts, and a representative of the Committee got as far as Tientsin at one moment, but was turned back. The inquiries are now going on, both from the British Red Cross Society and the Chinese Red Cross Society and through official channels in Peking, and we shall pursue these as long as we possibly can.

Mr. Keeling

I said the International Red Cross.

Major Legge-Bourke

Would the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that those of our men who were prisoners in Japanese hands during the last war all say that, of all the guards they most dreaded, none were worse than the Koreans, and, therefore, will he lodge the strongest protest with his right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary to make quite clear to the North Koreans that they must abide by this Convention?

Mr. Strachey

I think my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is doing his utmost through his representative, the British Chargé ďAffaires at Peking.

Mr. Pickthorn

Has the Secretary of State any explanation to give of the apparently high proportion of officers to men amongst the missing?

Mr. Strachey

Not without notice.

Mr. Oakshott

In the figure of 472 which the right hon. Gentleman has given, was there any distinction between officers and other ranks, or were they all grouped together?

Mr. Strachey

No, Sir. This figure must be incorrect, because it is a larger figure than the total number of missing.

Miss Irene Ward

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider publishing the names of the two marines, and does he think it might be wise, from the point of view of the other parents and relatives, if the names were known?

Mr. Strachey

I think that is a question for my noble Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty.

Air Commodore Harvey

In any discussion regarding a possible truce in Korea, will the Government make it quite clear that one condition must be that we should have full information and be given complete satisfaction regarding the safety of these prisoners?

Mr. Strachey

I am sure that will be borne in mind.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Have the Government made any proposals for an exchange of prisoners?

Mr. Strachey

No, Sir, I have given the entire account of what has been done so far.