§ 4.13 p.m.
THE DUKE OF BUCCLEUCH Arm QUEENSBERRY
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Mansfield I beg to ask the other question which he has on the Paper.
§ [The question was as follows:
§ To ask His Majesty's Government, whether they will consider the advisability of giving to all British prisoners of war, repatriated now or in the future, the option of immediate discharge from His Majesty's Forces, pro- 323 vided that their period of imprisonment shall have been of not less than two years' duration.]
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (LORD CROFT)
My Lords, prisoners of war who have been repatriated under the provisions of the Geneva Convention fall into two classes. They may be seriously ill or wounded and a Mixed Medical Commission may recommend them to be repatriated. On the other hand, they may be protected personnel, for example members of the Royal Army Medical Corps. Most of those in the former category are discharged from the Army on medical grounds. If they are not discharged they are employed either in administrative, training, or other noncombatant units in this country. Protected personnel may be employed in any theatre of war overseas if they are medically fit for such employment, provided that they are not employed in a combatant capacity.
In addition to men repatriated under the provisions of the Geneva Convention there are men who return from captivity in other circumstances, for example the men who were recently rescued while being taken by the Japanese from Siam. There is no Convention which restricts their employment. They are liable to be sent overseas in any capacity for which they are medically fit, but they will not in fact be sent to the Far Eastern theatre. I should perhaps add that they are given six weeks' leave when they arrive and are retained in the Home Establishment for six months and during this time they undergo courses of rehabilitation. Those who are retained for service in the Army are therefore fully attuned to Army life.
The noble Lord's suggestion would deprive the Army of a number of men who are fully capable of useful employment in it, and in view of the very serious man-power situation this loss of useful men would not be justified. Moreover, the application of such a rule as he suggests would be unfair to men who have been prisoners for just under two years and also to men who have not been captured but have undergone the ardours of fighting, perhaps in a number of theatres in the course of several years. I regret, therefore, that His Majesty's Government do not see their way to adopting the noble Lord's suggestion.
THE EARL OF MANSFIELD
My Lords, while thanking my noble friend for his reply and apologizing for having been detained by a slight atmospheric thickness, I hope the Government will bear in mind that many of these men who have been for prolonged periods in captivity will certainly not be in a very good condition for further service in any of the Forces, although they may not be strictly speaking liable to discharge from the Service on medical grounds.