HC Deb 01 December 1997 vol 302 cc4-6
3. Mr. Gill

If Her Majesty's Government will repay to former prisoners of war the amount deducted from their pay on which they had paid taxes and which was not refunded to the German and Italian Governments in a post-war settlement. [16796]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. John Spellar)

My decision on the review of officer prisoners of war and protected personnel pay deductions during the second world war was taken after very careful consideration of the submissions from ex-officer prisoners of war and protected personnel, and of the long and detailed report of the review, a copy of which is in the Library of the House. I concurred with the findings of previous Ministers that the contemporary evidence did not support the claims being made for further refunding of deductions.

Mr. Gill

The Minister will be aware that this matter was discussed in the House earlier in the year, when there was support for the plight of ex-officer prisoners of war on both sides of the House. They will be disappointed in the answer that he has just given to my question. One of those who will be disappointed will be my constituent, Squadron Leader B. A. James MC, who, along with thousands of other people in the same circumstances, feels that he has been ignored and treated very badly. This question has rumbled on since 1980 and it is disappointing to hear the Minister say that he is not prepared to review the matter. Those involved would like there to be an independent inquiry at which prisoners of war could express their evidence in a way that they have previously been unable to do.

Mr. Spellar

With respect to the hon. Gentleman, we have, as promised, reviewed the situation. I have gone through a mass of documentation, including representations from ex-officer prisoners of war and protected personnel, and through the documentation produced by the Department. However, after full examination, I have to say that the case is not made, which is why we felt it right and proper to confirm the previous Administration's decision.

Mr. Dalyell

Roughly how many people and how much money are involved?

Mr. Spellar

There is considerable argument about several aspects of this matter, especially as much of it relates to records that no longer exist. All the issues were fully discussed in the House and fully examined by the then Government after the second world war and decisions were made on that basis. Successive Governments have gone through the information and confirmed those decisions because the case for doing otherwise has not been made.

Mr. Rendel

I understand that the Government accept that money was deducted from prisoners of war and should therefore have been paid back after the war; but that, now that they have lost all their records, it is impossible to go over the case once again and decide who should be paid and how much. Can we have an assurance from the Government that, at least, individuals who have kept their own records and can prove how much they lost will be paid back?

Mr. Spellar

The hon. Gentleman is not looking at the case. In reality, a number of those who came back after the war were refunded by the authorities. There was discussion about that at the time. In a number of other cases, camp funds were put together, but that is a separate issue. Many of those who had had moneys deducted and who were able to demonstrate that they did not receive the moneys in the camp got a refund after the war. All that forms part of the body of facts that we have established and gone through, which is why we made the decision.

Mr. Gibb

In preparing the report, what steps were taken to ensure that the first-hand experiences of the officers involved were reflected in that report? Is the Minister aware that those ex-prisoners of war, who served our country valiantly and selflessly during the last world war, feel strongly that they have been cheated and that they cannot get justice? Would it not be wiser to offer some consultation with them or, better still, to appoint an independent person to arbitrate on that matter?

Mr. Spellar

All hon. Members, this Administration and previous Administrations fully understand the tremendous contribution made by many of those individuals, both before they were taken prisoner and, in many cases, afterwards, when they tied up many German and Italian troops in trying to recapture escaping prisoners of war. That is common ground. When we move on to the question of whether deductions were adequately repaid, we find that many of the investigations took place immediately after the war, that the issues were discussed in the House of Commons and that parliamentary questions were tabled. At that time, contemporary evidence was closely examined, which is why the previous Conservative Government made the decision that they did and why, having examined the evidence after having entered office after the general election, we had to concur with their finding.

Mr. Michael Jabez Foster

Will my hon. Friend accept that much of the evidence on which he relies was produced before the election of the Labour Government? Several of my constituents have written to me saying that they understood that they had no hope with the other lot, but that they hoped that fresh consideration would be given to this matter. Much of the evidence put to me and to my hon. Friends is new evidence, and I ask that it be reconsidered.

Mr. Spellar

Much of the evidence was considered by the Attlee Labour Government after the last war and the issues examined by those who were much closer to the evidence at the time. That evidence was re-examined by the previous Administration and by this Administration and, when we did it, we looked at a number of representations from those with an individual viewpoint, both officer POWs and protected personnel. We examined that evidence and compared it with the contemporary evidence and with the documentation. It was for that reason that we took our decision.

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