HL Deb 22 July 1941 vol 119 cc902-6

LORD PORTSEA had the following Notice on the Paper: To ask His Majesty's Government, I, whether the privilege granted to prisoners of war in Germany and to prisoners of war in England to send and receive letters or postcards by air can be extended to the prisoners in Jersey and Guernsey; 2, whether parcels of food can be sent to the prisoners in Jersey and Guernsey.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, with your Lordships' permission I will take these two questions together, if my noble friend who is going to reply does not object, and I do not think he will. In another place the other day it was stated that a letter-card or post-card would be on sale to-day and subsequent days at the price of 3d. by which people in this country could write to British prisoners of war in Germany and in Italy, and even internees in this country could send those cards, and they go the whole way by air. I want to ask my noble friend if there is any reciprocity in this arrangement; can a prisoner of war in Germany, if he can get the cards, write to his friends in this country so that his letter or postcard can go by air the whole way, in which case he can receive and return a post-card in the space of a very few days, or at any rate in a week?

A further point, the point that I really wish to ask your Lordships, is: Can a prisoner of war in Jersey and Guernsey use the air-cards in writing to his people on this side of the Channel, so that again he may receive an answer in what I may call a reasonable space of time? If he cannot do this, or if we cannot write to him, by the use of these cards, why is there any differentiation between prisoners of war, who are not prisoners in any way by their own fault? Why is a prisoner of war in the islands differentiated against as compared with a prisoner of war who is in Germany or Italy, or an internee in those countries? I presume there is no question that the people of the Norman Islands are prisoners of war. I have looked up the definition of a "prisoner of war," and such a person is described as "one who has fallen into the hands of, or surrendered to, or been surrendered to, an opponent; a captive." There is little doubt that these poor people come under one of those heads, and they are suffering severely in consequence. At the present moment, through the courtesy and the good work of the Red Cross, we can send from this country messages to the islands. Those messages are limited to twenty words. If you try to write a letter of twenty words once a week to a friend in any part of the country, it is an exceedingly difficult thing to do, and when they receive these messages—and only then—they are allowed, under restrictions, to send a further return message of twenty words. These messages and replies take not less than four and a half to five months.

That is a very long time for those on this side who want to hear from their relatives, and perhaps worse for those in the islands who wish to communicate with their friends that they are well. It leads to a great deal of unnecessary—I may almost call it torture, in this way. More than two months ago a London newspaper of repute published a paragraph that a lady in Jersey—a lady of a very old family—had been sent to a concentration camp in Poland. Naturally it caused on this side terrible anxiety. The editor of the paper, a very charming person, as is to be expected in the case of a newspaper of repute, said his information came from a good source, and he saw no reason to doubt it. Of course, it plunged us all into almost agony of mind to think that a delicately nurtured woman should be sent to a concentration camp in Poland, of all places in the world, which we knew at that moment to be ravaged. But there was nothing to be done. The editor, with the best intentions in the world, said that he could do nothing. If we could have had some means whereby one of these cards could have produced a reply in less time than is the case to-day, we should have been spared an immense amount of suffering.

Now for the second part of the question. The few messages we receive are severely censored. They are censored in the islands, they are censored in Geneva, and they are censored here, and I should not like to say that the censorship here is any milder than it is in-Geneva or Jersey. They give us the information that all these people are fairly well treated, according to the German standard, which is not our standard, that food is very scarce, that the gardens are ransacked for food, that no fishing is allowed except for shrimps, mussels, and such like things along the shore—in short, that the people are feeling their fate very severely. So far as I can make out, nothing is being done on this side for them. No parcels of food, of course, can be sent to these prisoners of war. Prisoners of war in Germany, Italy, and elsewhere are well provided with food and clothing. I read that thousands of parcels are waiting at Geneva for those prisoners who need them, and that the American Government are prepared to send, or are sending, 400,000 tons of food a month for the benefit of prisoners In Germany or Italy. None of that food, as far as I know.—and I think I do know—has yet reached Jersey or the people for whom I consider we are, in a very great measure, responsible, as it is we who have put them in the position in which they find themselves. They had no choice, as your Lordships know. Their young men volunteered, and arms were taken away from the older men. I want my noble friend to give, not only his consideration, but his sympathetic consideration to the matter, so that whatever is possible may be done. I am sure he will, but I appreciate that he is not entirely a free agent. My two questions can be answered very simply and very shortly by my noble friend.


My Lords, my noble friend the Duke of Devonshire is unfortunately away, and has asked me to reply on his behalf. At the outset of his remarks my noble friend Lord Portsea departed a little from the two questions he placed on the Paper. While I am quite certain your Lordships have sincere sympathy with the inhabitants of these islands in these critical days, I would ask my noble friend to let me deal quite shortly with the questions as set down. In the first place, I do not think we can compare exactly the position of prisoners of war and the position of inhabitants of occupied territory. The situation as regards messages is this. A message may be sent as frequently as one likes, provided, as the noble Lord said, it is not more than twenty words in length. It goes from here to Lisbon by air, then by train to Geneva, and through the Red Cross service to the islands. All messages of which we have knowledge have received a reply within approximately three months, and the total number of messages received up to the end of June was 25,000. As regards the second part of the noble Lord's question, I am afraid there are great difficulties about sending parcels to these islands. His Majesty's Government regret very much at this moment that they cannot hold out any hope of being able to get over these difficulties in the near future.


My Lords, if I may just add a word to what Lord Portsea has said, and an addendum to what the noble Duke has said, I should like to ask whether the Government are taking any active steps to remedy matters with regard to these islanders? It is really an appalling state of affairs, and I am sure all your Lordships share the indignation of Lord Portsea about the fate of these poor people, our fellow subjects. Cannot we do something through neutral States? We have succeeded in alleviating the lot of our officer prisoners in Germany through the good offices of the American Diplomatic Service, for which we must be grateful. Can nothing be done in the case of these Channel Islanders?


I shall certainly pass the noble Lord's remarks on to my noble friend when he returns.