§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, in asking this Question, I want it to be made perfectly clear that none of the information which I shall use has been received from any non-commissioned officer or man. I do that because I de not know what the consequences would be to any one in the Army giving such information. All my information comes from civilians who have had it given to them when they were abroad, and who have been able while in Holland to go about and see for themselves the conditions under which our prisoners are, living. There is no doubt that these prisoners have been suffering very much from want of food. I have heard that 2 ozs. of meat a week was the ration about a fortnight ago, but I have also heard that they did not get even that; in fact, that they have received no meat at all for over a month.
§ We are not now allowed to send food parcels to our prisoners. The tremendous depreciation of our own money is another factor, because it makes it extremely difficult for the non-commissioned officers or men to supplement their rations by buying food. I do not want to make very much of this, but it seemed to me that this is the time for bringing it forward when we have a Commission over in Holland. Surely advantage should be taken of the presence of that Commission in Holland to take up the question of putting the feeding of our prisoners on a better footing. I have been told that they have not been getting a ration equal to that provided for the civilians in Holland. That does not seem to me to be a right thing.
§ Whatever may be the excuse arising from the scarcity of food in Holland, I think that the manner in which our prisoners are dealt wits as regards their clothing is a most serious matter, and one it regard to which them can be no excuse. I understand that many of our non-commissioned officers are still wearing the prison clothes that they wore in Germany, with yellow stripes upon the trousers and yellow bands—the prison badge—round their arms, and that they are pointed out by Germans and by various spies in the hotels as being incorrigible scoundrels, and as having been put in prison for that reason. That is not a very happy or a healthy state of things for these unfortunate men who have been rescued from prison 627 in Germany and sent to a neutral country; and when we consider that German prisoners who have been confined in this country and then returned to Holland are swaggering about there in purple, blue, grey, or whatever be the colour of the uniform of their regiments, I think it is time we did something to provide new clothes for our own men. It is highly undesirable that they should be left in the very miserable condition in which they now are. I can understand that there may be a scarcity of khaki in this country, and that it may all be required for our soldiers, but why cannot we send out to these men the peace uniforms of their regiments which are now stored away in the depots at the headquarters of the regiments? Surely those uniforms could be used in order to clothe our men decently, and enable them to look respectable in the country where they are interned. Except for the boon of the liberty which they have obtained, the unfortunate non-commissioned officers—I think there are no men there now, all of them having been sent back—in Holland are in no better condition as regards clothing than they were when imprisoned in Germany.
§ I do not wish to press my point unduly, but I think it is one which should be taken up while we have a Commission in Holland. There may be, and very probably there is, considerable difficulty, if bales of clothing are sent over to Holland, in getting tailors to make the clothes, and this is an additional reason for sending the uniforms which are already made and which the men themselves could easily alter if they required alteration.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY OF THE WAR OFFICE (EARL STANHOPE)
My Lords, the rations for the non-commissioned officers at present interned in Holland, as originally planned, were on a liberal scale, and I have here a summary. Approximately a little over 1 lb. of bread a day was given to each man and a little over ½ lb. of meat, inclusive of 20 per cent. of bone. There were also coffee, butter, vegetables, potatoes, and so on. Unfortunately, the Dutch civil population became very dissatisfied with this arrangement, as the ration given to British prisoners was very considerably in excess of what was available for the Dutch civil population. We found it difficult to make the Dutch civil population realise that meat and bread were being imported from England for the purpose of feeding our own 628 prisoners, and therefore it was somewhat difficult to allay their dissatisfaction. His Majesty's Government were very anxious that the good feeling which exists between the Dutch people and our prisoners should be continued and, above all, that no difficulty should be placed in the way of the Dutch Government's accepting further prisoners as we managed to get them released from. Germany.
Therefore, after very full consideration, it was decided that we must reduce the ration for bread and meat given to our prisoners to the amount which was available for the civil population of Holland. In regard to bread, I understand it is about 200 grammes daily. Substitutes are provided in lieu. I have a copy of the weekly diet sheet, which is rather long to readout to the House, but I should be very glad to show it to any noble Lords who desire to see it. But I may add that His Majesty's Government were not satisfied that the conditions with regard to the feeding of our prisoners in Holland were all that we could desire, and therefore when our delegates were sent out to effect an exchange of prisoners with Germany they were asked to go into the whole question of the feeding of our prisoners now interned in Holland. I understand that is is being done.
In regard to uniforms and other clothing required by non-commissioned officers interned, these are sent out from England. There was at first some delay, owing to transport difficulties, in getting our supplies out to that country, and the officer in charge was authorised to purchase immediate requirements locally. Large consignments of clothing have been despatched, and I understand that matters are now on a satisfactory footing. I believe I am correct in saying that more than 5,000 suits of clothing have been sent out to Holland within the past six months, a large part of that having been comparatively recently. I trust, therefore, that our prisoners in Holland are now clothed in the way in which we should desire to see them clothed as members of His Majesty's Forces.
I am much obliged to the noble Earl for the answer he has given. The only thing I would point out is that my information is not more than a fortnight old, and then the men were not getting the food, even the reduced amount to which the noble Earl has referred. Furthermore, they were at that time in 629 prison clothes. It is only a fortnight since I was told these things, and they were seen only three weeks ago. I should be very glad to hear that the Commission had been called upon to undertake the smatter at once and get it done.
§ EARL STANHOPE
I can assure the noble Lord that it is really being done. The clothing was, as I have said, sent out fairly recently and I believe has now arrived, though I cannot guarantee that.