HC Deb 19 May 1952 vol 501 cc8-10
6. Mrs. Castle

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he will send British representatives to Korea to interview the prisoners of war in United Nations camps in order to report to Her Majesty's Government on the extent to which, and the reasons why, prisoners are refusing repatriation.

Mr. Selwyn Lloyd

As my right hon. Friend said in his statement on 7th May, the United Nations are willing that an international body or joint national Red Cross teams, accompanied by observers from both sides, should conduct a further census after an armistice. I therefore see no reason to propose interrogation by British representatives.

Mrs. Castle

is not the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that what I am asking is that we should ourselves satisfy ourselves that the reasons why these prisoners do not want to be repatriated are sound reasons, and that the House ought to be satisfied of that in view of the fact that the dragging on of the conflict in Korea is endangering world peace?

Mr. Lloyd

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary dealt with this matter in the statement which he made on 7th May, when he stated: In view of the scrupulous fairness of their interrogation, and of the offer … for subsequent re-checking by independent bodies with Communist observers present … the United Nations Command has had no alternative but to resist forced repatriation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th May, 1952; Vol. 500, c. 387.] To that expression of opinion Her Majesty's Government adhere.

Mr. A. Henderson

Have the United Nations authorities finally made up their minds that they will not in any circumstances agree to this international body, with Chinese observers, interviewing these prisoners before the armistice and not after the armistice? Might that not break the impasse which at present exists over this one point?

Mr. Lloyd

That is another question, which I would much rather see upon the Order Paper.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan

Would my right hon. and learned Friend not agree that the prisoners themselves are the best judges of whether these reasons are genuine or not?

Mr. Mayhew

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that, contrary to that last supplementary question, the point is whether they can return safely, not whether or not they object to doing so?

Mr. S. Silverman

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman remember that, since the Foreign Secretary made his statement there has been published the report of the Red Cross Commission of Inquiry into the proceedings at the prisoner of war camp; that from that report it emerges clearly, beyond controversy, that it is admitted that the interrogation of prisoners took place in the early morning before dawn, with the camp surrounded by machine guns, and with armed forces entering the camp and forcibly separating the prisoners into small groups for interrogation; and does this not throw the most sinister light upon the assertion that the interrogation was fair, and that this was the voluntary decision of the prisoners themselves?

Mr. Lloyd

I want to make it perfectly clear to the House that Her Majesty's Government do not accept as facts the matters to which the hon. Gentleman has just referred.

Mr. Silverman

It is not contested.

Mr. Lloyd

This matter is raised in a later Question put down by the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg), and I will answer it then if I may.

10. Mr. Donnelly

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether, in view of British adherence to the 1949 Geneva Convention on prisoners of war, he will instruct Her Majesty's Government's representatives at the United Nations to ensure that the terms of this convention are applied in the Korean war.

Mr. Selwyn Lloyd

So far as the United Nations Command are concerned, they have been applying the 1949 Convention. So far as the Communists are concerned, there is, unfortunately, no way of compelling them to carry out its provisions. Her Majesty's Government therefore do not consider that any useful purpose would he served by such instructions.

Mr. Donnelly

Is it not a fact that part of this Convention relates to the return of prisoners of war? While no one on this side of the House wishes in any way to detract from our liberal tradition of extending asylum to genuine political refugees, is it not a fact that this country is in an extremely awkward position in this situation because of its signature to this Convention; and is the right hon. and learned Gentleman trying to have it both ways?

Mr. Lloyd

I do not admit that this country is in a difficult position at all, or that there is any question of trying to have it both ways. Her Majesty's Government's interpretation of the relevant part of this Convention is that it cannot be read as involving an obligation forcibly to repatriate prisoners of war who freely object to this, as long as their objection is, in effect, an appeal for political asylum rather than attempting to evade their military responsibility.

Sir T. Moore

In any case, why should we force back men who fight for freedom into slavery, if not to death?

Mr. M. Stewart

In view of our signature to this Convention, ought not the British Government to know, of its own knowledge, through its own representatives, what the wishes of these prisoners are?

Mr. Lloyd

I have already dealt with that matter. We are satisfied with the. assurances we have received as to the fairness in which this interrogation was carried out.

Mr. S. Silverman

On a point of order. In replying to a previous supplementary question relating partly to the same subject matter as this Question, the right hon. and learned Gentleman said that he would await the Question which has just been asked—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—in order to deal with a certain supplementary question that I asked. As he has not dealt with it, may I be permitted to ask it, otherwise the Minister will be encouraged to withhold from and deceive the House on important matters on which he has promised to inform us?

Mr. Speaker

I do not think that is a point of order for me at all. It is impossible for me to guarantee in every case that the answer given by a Minister satisfies his interrogator.