HC Deb 15 February 1956 vol 548 cc2331-2
1. Sir J. Hutchison

asked the Minister of Defence, in view of the treatment of prisoners of war by certain foreign Communist States, what variations of existing instructions he will issue to members of the Forces.

The Minister of Defence (Sir Walter Monckton)

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

Sir J. Hutchison

In considering this thorny problem, has my right hon. and learned Friend been in consultation with the United States authorities, who are, of course, presented with the same difficulty? Would he agree that a prisoner of war, in addition to what he is now entitled to do, should be entitled, in order to save his sanity and his life, to appear to agree to the ideological theories of his captors?

Sir W. Monckton

We have certainly been in touch with United States' thinking on this problem. I do not think that our thinking is far apart. As to the second part of the supplementary question, it would be very dangerous for me to lay down a general rule, and I would ask my hon. Friend to read the Answer which will be circulated.

Following is the reply: The rules for the treatment of prisoners of war by civilised nations are laid down in the 1949 Geneva Convention relative to the treatment of prisoners of war. In ratifying that Convention, the Soviet Government made a reservation to the effect that the U.S.S.R. would not feel bound to extend its benefits to prisoners of war convicted under the law of the detaining Power of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Similar reservations were made by other Communist States. The use that might be made of a reservation to this effect is illustrated by the Chinese contention in the Korean operations that all prisoners of war were, by the very act of having waged war against them, war criminals. The Government have decided that members of the Forces shall be instructed that, if taken prisoner in any future operations, they can only be required, under the terms of the Geneva Convention, to furnish to their captors their name, rank, number and date of birth. Experience has shown that any relaxation of this rule can only result in the divulgence by prisoners of war of information useful to the enemy. At the same time, members of the Forces will be told about conditions they may meet if taken prisoner. The aim will be to strengthen by various training and administrative methods those military qualities which support a fighting man in the stresses of combat conditions, and sustain him if he becomes a prisoner of war. But I would emphasise that the only satisfactory solution of this problem would be for all nations to observe the code of conduct towards prisoners of war embodied in the 1949 Geneva Prisoners of War Convention.