§ THE LORD BISHOP OF CHICHESTER rose to call attention to the position of German prisoners of war under British control (including those in the Middle East), and to the question of their repatriation, as well as to the position of civilian internees in the British Zone in Germany and to move for Papers. The right reverend Prelate said: My Lords, I invite the attention of your Lordships this afternoon to two classes of German nationals now in British custody. By far the larger class consist of former soldiers now prisoners of war in the United Kingdom and in the Middle East. The other and smaller class is composed of civilians interned in the British Zone of Germany. I will discuss them separately. They present separate problems, but they have much in common, and both raise issues of the first importance in the fields of justice and of world peace. I begin with the prisoners of war.562
§ On September 12, a few weeks after the debate in this House on the Motion of the Lord Bishop of Sheffield, it was announced from Downing Street that prisoners would be repatriated from the United Kingdom to Germany at an average rate of 15,000 a month; and further announcements as to acceleration were promised from time to time. The public at large were grateful for that announcement as an attempt to meet the fundamental issues felt to be involved, but I call attention to the matter now as it is widely felt that something more is urgently required. There are, I believe, about 330,000 German prisoners in the United Kingdom. They are well looked after, and many tributes are paid to those in charge of them. There is, however, another large body of between 80,000 and 90,000 prisoners far away in the Middle East. They are too often forgotten, and I know both from Germans in the desert and from British chaplains who have to do with them the special perils, both to health and morality, due to their isolation and the climate. Although they were not included in the September announcement, I believe that they are beginning to be repatriated now. Yet many of them have been in captivity since El Alamein in 1942 and dread the further experience of two more hot summers.
Let me take the prisoners in the United Kingdom and the Middle East together, some 420,000 men. Suppose that the average rate of 15,000 a month were to be raised to 20,000, it would still be the end of 1948, three and three-quarter years after the end of the war, before the last prisoner went home. I know the difficulties, and I shall come to them, but I would state the ground of principle. There is Article 75 of the Geneva Convention for prisoners of war. Please note the title: "Liberation and Repatriation at the End of Hostilities." Article 75 says:
When belligerents conclude an Armistice Convention they shall normally cause to be included therein provisions concerning repatriation of prisoners of war. If it has not been possible to insert in that Convention such stipulations, the belligerents shall nevertheless enter into communication with each other on the question as soon as possible. In any case, the repatriation of prisoners shall be effected as soon as possible after the conclusion of peace.
It is true that no treaty of peace has been concluded yet and that there is no German State with which it is possible to enter into communication, but it is twenty-one
months since unconditional surrender left the Germans incapable of fighting, and surely the spirit of the Convention is plain.
But, leaving the Convention on one side, let me turn to the principles of general International Law. Sir Hartley Shawcross, in his final speech as Chief British Prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trial, referred to a memorandum presented by Admiral Canaris—murdered by Hitler—of September 15, 1941, protesting against the order of General Keitel dealing with Soviet prisoners. His Majesty's Attorney-General quoted it as correctly stating the legal position, as follows:
The Geneva Convention for the treatment of prisoners of war is not binding in the relationship between Germany and the U.S.S.R. Therefore only the principles of general International Law on the treatment of prisoners of war apply. Since the eighteenth century these have gradually been established along the lines that war captivity is neither revenge nor punishment, but solely protective custody, the only purpose of which is to prevent the prisoners of war from further participation in the war.
I call attention to those last words and their relevance to a state of affairs when there is no war in which participation by our German prisoners is possible. In the early days after the end of the war there were, no doubt, difficulties of transport, general security and so on, but now, certainly, it would appear that according to the spirit of the Convention and the general principles of International Law everything possible should be done to send the prisoners home.
§ What, then, are the present difficulties in the way? The condition of Germany, the shortage of food and accommodation and the general unsettlement have, of course, to be reckoned, but there can be little doubt that the main difficulty is that the German prisoners are urgently required to meet British manpower needs. In September it was stated publicly, side by side with the Downing Street announcement, that 158,000 German prisoners were engaged in agriculture, 50,000 were employed by the War Office on labour duties, 36,000 were employed by the War Office on camp duties, 35,000 were employed by the Ministry of Works, and 19,500 were employed by the Air Ministry. Our labour needs, especially in agriculture, are very heavy, but is it right to go on employing German labour as serf labour? Is it in the long-term interests of British agriculture itself? Are we not only postponing 564 a domestic crisis? Ought we not to strain every nerve to supply our British manpower needs by finding voluntary labour, preferably of our own race? If we cannot do without foreign labour on this scale, it would be far better to send the prisoners of war back to their homes and then to appeal in Germany itself for volunteers to come to Britain as free men, earning full wages and helping freely on the farms, where they have already earned high praise.
§ As to the conditions in Germany, prisoners and their relatives are prepared to take their chance. One of the great gaps in the economic and social life of Germany is the lack of men. In the British zone, I am told, there are seventy women and children to every thirty men. Think of the moral effect which the re-uniting of families would have, and think also of the effect which the arrival of large numbers of healthy men, capable of producing consumer goods for export purposes, would have on German trade and the beginning of economic recovery—which is vital, not to Germany so much as to the whole of Europe.
§ Therefore I would plead that this all too slow process of release should be radically altered. The foundation of the slowness is the bad system of political grading into categories A, B and C—whites, greys and blacks. I agree fully that the notorious Nazis must be singled out for special treatment, but for the rest I would urge, first that repatriation should be decided by ordinary human, economic, family needs—length of captivity, length of war service, marriage, etc.—and not on political categories. Next I would urge that the evidence necessary for a real judgment of political reliability can only be found gradually in Germany and by Germans. In fact, the screening in camps is often extremely sketchy—two or three minutes to each person, with highly artificial questions and without attention to the man's present attitude or even to the opinion of the Regular British officers who are in control of them now.
THE UNDER - SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (LORD PAKENHAM)
I am sorry to interrupt the right reverend Prelate, but does he know of instances where only three minutes were devoted to a man?
THE LORD BISHOP OF CHICHESTER
I have made inquiries in a 565 prisoner of war camp just outside Chichester and also in one in the middle of Sussex. In both those camps two or three minutes was quite a common length of examination. I would also urge that such screening reaches the height of unreality when it is used to decide the fate of youths, that is, those born after January, 1919, who, while under the denazification system in Germany, are bound, by Allied agreement, to be treated as at worst minor offenders, here in our camps are frequently screened as black. I could also give instances of that if desired. Whatever else is done or not done with regard to grading, I hope that youth in future will never be classified as C. In brief with regard to prisoners of war I would plead that their repatriation be completed in toto by the end of the present year.
I turn now to the second class, consisting of German civilians interned in the British Zone. There are something like 35,000 German civilians still in our internment camps. Last spring the conditions of several of these camps, as reported in the Press and mentioned in your Lordships' House and elsewhere, were generally supposed to be far from creditable to British prestige. They are much better now, but there are still desirable improvements to be made, such as giving the men something more to do, more facilities for correspondence, education, recreation and better sanitation. But I am much more concerned with the men themselves. Last October I spent some hours in one of the largest of these internment camps—I think it was No. 7, not far from Paderborn—and I would like to pay my tribute to the Commandant, Mr. Rogers, who with his staff at that time was coping with very difficult material conditions in the most admirable way.
But what struck me, and what would strike any of your Lordships at once, was the extraordinary difference in looks, occupation, outlook and, on a superficial view, what seemed to be character, amongst the 9,000 men there. I wandered up and down the camp and I saw a great many internees. Some were murderers, war criminals and gangsters, but mixed up with them were men of quite another type. Some had held small posts in the local Kreis, some were leaders of Hitler Youth, some had held minor posts in S.S. organizations, and others were 566 clerks in the Health through Joy Movement. There were some 300 doctors and 200 teachers. There was an annexe of 68 special internees cut off from the camp. Here there were Gestapo men, police, Hitler Youth leaders, industrialists, experts in economy and officers in the Intelligence Corps all mingled together. I asked if I might see the youngest internee. He was a boy who had been interned in July, 1945, at the age of 16½ because he was the leader, I was told, of a company of 80 Hitler Youth boys. I went into the solitary detention cells, and here again there were all sorts of internees. In one cell there was a young man of 30, bright and smiling. In the next cell there was a Gestapo man with one of the most villainous countenances I have ever set eyes upon. You may well ask what accounts for this astonishing mixture. My reply is that it is the extraordinary stiffness and rigidity of the denazification system and, I would urge, a radical failure to comprehend the character of the German situation.
I acknowledge the necessity of punishing the proved criminal and of preventing the notoriously unscrupulous Nazi from affecting German life, but it is hard to believe that even half the men in that camp or most other camps fall into that category. Very many of them were interned on purely technical grounds. I saw the chief physician in the camp hospital, Dr. Renne, a well-known surgeon of fifty-eight, who told me that he had some rank in the S.S. simply because when requested to be doctor to the S.S. formation in his own town he said, "Why should I refuse to doctor these men?" There are great numbers in all kinds of callings like him. I sympathize with the difficulties of the Control Office and I know that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has taken special care to go into the matter during these last few weeks, but I think that what is needed is not only an immense acceleration of competent screening, with German help, but a candid consideration by the public as a whole of the question as to what sort of Germany they want to see rising up in the next twenty years. Indeed, this should be the key to our attitude, and the Peace Treaty itself adopts this attitude to the whole German problem.
It is still hardly realized how vast and all-controlling was the Nazi revolution—just as vast as the French Revolution—and 567 how impossible it was to put up effective resistance to Hitler without help from abroad. What could the great bulk of young and active Germans, with the exception of those who were living a quite secluded life and a few others, do, except be inevitably caught up in this horrible machine? There is very little choice in a totalitarian State unless you wish to be killed, or crushed, or come out of a concentration camp at the end, if at all, a physical wreck. When Hitler fell the nation's eyes were to a very considerable extent opened by the experience of the terrible ruin which had come upon his country by his fall. At the end of hostilities National Socialism had to a very great extent gone out of the ordinary German's mind. Intelligent Germans asked, "Why do the men who have to decide our fate not understand that fact?"
I know there is something more to be said, and that it is not quite so simple as that. But what is happening now, unless corrected, is only too likely to bring national socialism back. We must punish and intern the guilty but do not penalize the many. We must try the guilty, or those who are charged with crime in all these camps, and, when they are guilty, convict and detain them; but where there is no specific crime, and where there is no notorious offence giving good ground for long detention, let the rest go. Above all, I would say, free the mass from the haunting shadow of insecurity—the mass of the former Nazi population. If Viscount Maugham's figures given last October are correct, they amount to 8,000,000 within the British Zone. The former Nazi population are, after all, inevitably the main material on which a sound Germany can be built. Germany now—and nobody I think will dispute this—is completely powerless, completely disarmed; but what makes war is the spirit of man. Unless we change our policy, what we are now likely to create is a spiritual war potential of terrible quality. If we want gangsters and nihilists on an unprecedented scale who will follow another still more wicked and ruthless Fuehrer than Hitler, be he German or Pole, Slav or Saxon, unless we change our policy, we are taking the ordinary steps to create them in a considerable number of years from now.
568 But, my Lords, what makes peace is also the spirit of man. What, therefore, we should seek to create in Germany now is a spiritual peace potential of the first magnitude, and we can help in all sorts of ways by our attitude and by our action. We must be firm, we must be prudent; above all we must never deny the Germans justice, or fall short of British principles of freedom. Men are asking, what is this democracy for which Britain claims to stand? If they find it no better than Hitler's pattern, or if they find it, in its results, weak-kneed or uncertain in its attitude to tyranny, from whatever source tyranny comes, the people will despise and condemn us, and our own day will soon be done. A merely political road has proved barren. It is not too late for England to give a lead to the shattered peoples of Europe. It failed at Potsdam, it has another chance at Moscow. Let us not forget that while arms are important they are far less important than moral and spiritual courage, and as an illustration of that wise and generous statesmanship for which the nations are looking to this country, I appeal to His Majesty's Government to make a swift and clear discrimination between war criminals together with other proved Nazi offenders and all others. We should allow the rest who are now interned, together with all other minor offenders, to take their place, with a new measure of hope in the Lord, in the task of building up from Hitler's ruin a right-doing and peace-loving German nation. I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.18 p.m.
§ LORD CHERWELL
My Lords, we have all listened with great interest and attention to the moving words which fell from the right reverend Prelate. His speech fell into two parts: that relating to prisoners of war, and that relating to the civilian internees in Germany awaiting trial under the denazification regulations. I will deal with the second part first, because I find myself in a great measure of agreement with the right reverend Prelate on this issue. It is of course difficult to see where the line should be drawn in these matters. It has been said that all vile and atrocious deeds of the Germans, which we all know about and deplore, were done not by the Germans at all but by an extinct race of Nazis who now, fortunately, no longer 569 encumber the earth. It is true that in Germany it is difficult to find anyone who admits he was a Nazi. It is extremely difficult to find anyone in the camps who does not say he always held views he was unable to express till to-day.
Nevertheless, I think there is great danger of overdoing this denazification. As the right reverend Prelate said, it is difficult for us to conceive the enormous pressures which were put on individuals in Germany to join the Party. Nobody could hold any office, nobody could express himself artistically, scientifically, or in any other way, who openly opposed the Party. And I do agree that you cannot blame the man who failed to be a martyr. I should not say you cannot blame him: we would admire him if he had been one, but I do not think we ought to punish him because he failed to accept martyrdom. All the most efficient and effective people in Germany were caught up in, and had to pay lip service to, the Party, and a great part of our difficulty in reconstituting Germany is precisely that so many of their efficient people, simply because they were efficient, held high office and had to accept the Nazi badge, and are therefore now excluded from helping to rebuild their country. The right reverend Prelate asked, what sort of Germany do we want to build? I imagine we want to build a Germany as nearly like England as we can—or perhaps like England used to be. It has often been said that man makes God in his own image, and I think that is apt to happen to a country also. The trouble is that other countries want to make Germany in their own image. I can imagine that the Eastern neighbours of Germany would not be altogether content if Germany were reconstituted too much like what we are pleased to call the Western democracies and they, I believe, refer to as plutocracies.
There are these difficulties, and I recognize that they do face the Government in these particular matters. But in principle I think—and I believe that many noble Lords on this side of the House agree—that one can easily carry these matters too far. We agree that the real criminals to whom actual criminal acts can be brought home should be punished, and that the people on the very top who bore ultimate responsibility should be punished. But we also feel that large masses of 570 people who may merely have been what corresponds to the president of a local county council, or something like that, whose help is badly needed, and who really did nothing worse as regards joining the Nazis than many soldiers who put down "C. of E.", when asked their religion, might be allowed now to come out of camps and assist in building up the Germany that we all hope to see.
As to the prisoners of war, I think we shall all be agreed that it is a most lamentable thing to have several hundred thousands of men kept away from their homes and families in a foreign country whose language they only imperfectly speak, and forced to work on jobs not of their own choosing, for very little pay, whether they like it or not. All of us, I think, wish that this sort of thing did not happen. And, of course, we hope that it will be possible to put an end to it within a reasonable period. But, if I may speak on this matter as indeed I do, with great anxiety, in the presence of so very many lawn sleeves, I think that we must approach this not merely from the point of view of what we would like to happen, but from the point of view of what is really feasible. We must consider it—I know that this is a horrible expression and one that is hated very much in certain quarters—from the realistic point of view.
As to the legal position of these prisoners of war, I must confess that I do not think that there can be any question but that these people are properly in our power as prisoners of war, and, until peace is signed, prisoners of war they will remain in the eyes of the law. We are obliged by the various Conventions to feed and house them, and we are entitled to put them to work provided that it is not work helping the prosecution of the war. So far as I know—I think that the right reverend Prelate agrees—these conditions have not been infringed in any way. We would all thank God if we could believe that our own men, when in the power of the fellow countrymen of these prisoners of war whose fate we are discussing to-day, had been treated anything like as scrupulously as we are treating them. It is true, of course, that one can make complicated arguments about International Law, but I do not think that there is any reason to suppose that any two lawyers would agree exactly as to interprettion of these matters. Even if they did, I do not think 571 that we need consider ourselves bound by them.
After all, these forms of International Law were developed in times when wars were totally different from what they are to-day. In the past you had a campaign with a small proportion of the population in the field; battles were won, sieges undertaken, peace negotiated, and ultimately made. Then the prisoners of war went home.
That was totally different from the sort of wars to which we are accustomed now, and the International Law appropriate to these days might well be very different from the law that obtained then. In this country, if something happens that changes, by force majeure, the conditions under which we operate, we can change the law. We have seen something of this sort of thing just now when electric power is shed and we get less volts than we contracted to buy. We have to accept it; we cannot suddenly say: "We are going to law about it"—the thing is done. In the same way, when there is a change in the general circumstances, though it would be well indeed if we could change International Law, it cannot be done. So I do not think that from the legal point of view, we have anything very much of which to be ashamed. Finally, if one wishes to take up a pedantic legal attitude, as these. Germans surrendered unconditionally, there can be no question of our having broken any conditions under which they surrendered.
Now, as to the moral or spiritual issue, which is the thing that really matters. We all have great sympathy with much that the right reverend Prelate said. On the other hand, it is extraordinary how rapidly people seem to have forgotten that, after all, the Germans started the war. I have heard arguments as to whether the Germans started the war of 1914, or whether they merely marched into Belgium in order to make a sort of tour of the country, or something of that sort. But I have never found anyone so obtuse and so misguided as to claim that the Germans did not start the war in 1939. Of course, we are told that the ordinary soldier had no say in this matter, that he had to do what he was told, that he was ordered to march and was, in fact, driven into the war by the Nazi Government. I admit that that is perfectly 572 true; in the modern world, unfortunately, it is all too true that once a gang seized power and is prepared to use the most ruthless methods, it is quite easy for it to hold down a large population and to maintain its power, however unpopular it may be. So I do not wish to overstress the fact that these men are Germans and that Germany started the war.
On the other hand, I find it difficult to forget the enthusiasm and delight with which the Nazi bosses were welcomed wherever they showed themselves, and applauded by all within sight and hearing, by practically all classes of the people of Germany. I cannot help thinking that these very men who are now interned would have cheered Hitler and his minions vociferously and enthusiastically if the war had taken a different turn. But I do not think that for that reason we should not treat them reasonably and fairly. The right reverend Prelate said he wanted to select for special treatment those who were particularly tarred with the Nazi brush. I hope he was not thinking of that phrase in the connotation in which it was mentioned before the Nuremberg tribunal, because I think he would find that what the Nazis called "special treatment" of people was to send them to a gas chamber. I, of course, acquit the right reverend Prelate of using that interpretation, though that is what the word sonderbehandlung meant as used by the Nazis.
We are told that it is wicked to make these men work for us. Really, I cannot see the logic of that. Germany has inflicted on this country absolutely astronomical losses by forcing these two wars upon us. Quite apart from the casualties which we have suffered, our national debt has been increased by something like £16,000,000,000, which even at the Chancellor of the Exchequer's very cheap rates of interest means £400,000,000 a year, £1,000,000 a day, or 8s. a week out of every wage earner's pay packet; and even worse than that, we have had something like £4,000,000,000 of external liabilities forced upon us as a consequence of this war. On top of that we are burdened with a cost of about £125,000,000 a year for the costs of occupation and supervision, simply to prevent this terrible tendency of the Germans every generation or so to follow some Pied Piper who induces them to plunge themselves and Europe into disaster. 573 I do not think it is really very wicked if we get from these men some very meagre and almost vanishing return in the form of labour for all the harm that has been done. They can contribute even their mite to restore the economy of this country, an economy which has been wrecked and ruined by the unprovoked attack on European civilization. It is quite true that their leaders ordered, but they obeyed. Nobody thinks it wicked to take reparations from a defeated country, and, after all, what are reparations but forced labour? It is quite true that the people who do the forced labour are working at home, but the fact remains that a part of their labour, whether it is spread over the whole country or not, is devoted to producing something which is sent abroad and handed to people without return.
Then there is the point as to what these men are to do when they do get back to Germany. It is all very well to say they are to go back and rebuild their country, but industry in Germany, so far as I can make out, is in no condition to absorb a great amount of labour. Many of these men have no relations or friends left in Germany—I have heard of several cases myself. If they got back to their homes they would go to the Eastern Zone, and probably find themselves working under very much harder conditions—in Siberia or something like that—than even the British climate can offer. I think it might well be that many of them are better occupied here in producing something, or in setting free an Englishman to produce something for export or otherwise which will enable us to pay some part of the £125,000,000 which we are at present finding out of our own resources in order to get Germany going. Therefore, as I say, I do not think that the moral claim is absolutely conclusive. After all, these men are not the only people who have to live in a foreign country far from home and families. Many of our own men are conscripted and are forced to serve in Germany or elsewhere in order to prevent a recurrence of just these bloody issues that have been forced upon us twice in one generation by the Germans. It is perfectly right, of course, to forgive the enemy and to pity him. We are all ready to do that. But do not let us forget our own friends and countrymen who are forced to endure a life abroad which is far more unpleasant compared with what they could have at home than is the life 574 of the German prisoners compared with what they could get if they went back to Germany.
You may ask, why are these particular men to be singled out simply because they had the misfortune to be taken prisoners of war? Why should these men be forced to work in a foreign country, when others at home are making the best of what seems to be a pretty bad job? That is a perfectly fair point. I recognize it, and I think it is the essence of the right reverend Prelate's argument. I do not believe these men are better or worse than the average German. There may be some bad ones among them, there may be some very good ones, but it is certainly unfair in a sense to select them at random like this and make them bear the brunt of their country's wrong. If any alternative way of getting the work done were available, nobody would be more pleased than myself, and the sooner they could go home—such of them as want to go home—the better.
It seems to me the Government have been strangely remiss in looking out for alternative sources of labour. We have been told, in a White Paper published recently, in terms of quite unusual gravity, of the very serious position we are in. We have been told of the urgent and immediate need for something like an extra half million men in the export trade, and of the even more urgent and blatant need which made itself felt in the last week, or at any rate has been advertised to the world in the last week, by the lamentable failure to produce as much coal as we have done every year since the war began except in 1945. Why is it we cannot get, for instance, some of these half a million displaced people who are in Germany, to come over and replace the German prisoners? According to all accounts they are living in circumstances none too comfortable, but, bad as the circumstances may be, they are determined, for one reason or another, not to return to the countries from which they have fled—and I think very likely rightly. Why should not some of them be brought over? We have to feed them and house them and pay for them. If we could bring them over and set them to work they would, at any rate, feed themselves.
It is quite true, of course, that if you bring over a whole family nothing is gained except that the man will feed his own family. You will get no profit out of it 575 such as you will get out of the prisoner of war who produces, on the average, two or three men's consumption for one man's work. But there must be very many single men who are displaced persons, and I imagine most of them would be delighted to come over to this country and would jump at the chance of being allowed to work here. That could be done. We should certainly contribute to the raising of both their standard of life and our own. We are told we are short of houses, but, from all one hears, any hovel would be very much better than anything they have lived in for the last few years. In any case, there would be the accommodation which was vacated by the German prisoners of war. Apparently great difficulties are made about getting this sort of labour; difficulty is even made of getting labour from ex-prisoners of war who wish to come back and work here. I have been told that Italian prisoners of war who want to work here are not allowed to do so if they once go back to Italy. I do not know whether that is true or not, but, if so, it does seem a very short-sighted action.
The Government appear to have been very slow in accepting this sort of labour. In France, we are told, a large part of the mining is done by Poles—there are scores of thousands of Polish miners it is said. It would be of great interest if the Government could give us a return of the number of displaced persons believed to be working in France and, particularly, if they could tell us the number working in the French coalfields. If we could get this sort of labour force and use it in this country, it would be perfectly feasible to send back the German prisoners of war without causing immediate disaster. If we could get enough of them we might even mitigate some of the rigours which the Minister of Fuel has found himself unable to avoid this year, and will very likely not be able to avoid next year. As I have said, therefore, although I deplore the fact that we are keeping these German prisoners here and making them work against their will on jobs, I feel the position is so grave—due to the action of these prisoners' countrymen—that it might be disastrous if they were sent home straight away. Our manpower is denuded by the war largely forced upon us by Germany. Of course, we would rather have willing than unwilling men, and I very much hope that the Government will make every effort to 576 secure that state of affairs; but until some replacement has been found, I feel reluctant to press the Government to send home all the prisoners immediately.
§ 3.41 p.m.
THE EARL OF PERTH
My Lords, I think, first of all, we ought to express our gratitude to the right reverend Prelate for having put this Motion on the Order Paper of your Lordships' House. It will allow His Majesty's Government to make a considered statement on the subject to which we eagerly look forward. Your Lordships will no doubt be aware that recently there was a debate on the German situation in another place. Five or six speakers brought up the question of prisoners of war, but, although I have very carefully read the reply of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, I find that he made no allusion whatever to that particular point. I think it very likely he had every intention of doing so but may have been prevented by time and rules of procedure. Therefore, the responsibility of explaining the policy of His Majesty's Government will fall on the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham. I intend to confine my remarks, which I hope will be comparatively short, to the problem of prisoners of war, because I agree in general with what the right reverend Prelate said about internees in Germany. I am quite sure that none of us would wish to support any system of witch-hunting and informers, because that could only create evil results, and I am quite certain that His Majesty's Government have no such intention.
The right reverend Prelate in his speech, whether we agree with it or not (I must say frankly I agree with nearly everything he said) has put forward, to my mind, an unanswerable argument for urgent reconsideration of the whole question of repatriation of prisoners of war. This problem has two aspects, first, the moral aspect, and, secondly, the material side. I gather that we still have some 300,000 prisoners of war in this country, and about 90,000 in the Middle East. The French have some 700,000, of whom 450,000 have been loaned to them by the Americans. The Belgians, have, I think, 30,000, nearly all employed in the mines, and it is calculated that in Russia there are between 2,000,000 and 4,000,000. Let us take a between figure, and say 3,000,000. Therefore there are, at least, some 4,000,000 577 German prisoners in the hands of, and working for, the victorious Powers.
I do not wish to criticize in any way our Russian Allies and our French friends for what they are doing. Both the Russians and the French have seen vast numbers of their young men and women deported to Germany as slave labour, and, although I believe their policy to be wrong and short-sighted, nevertheless I think that there is some human justification for their feelings. I do not think that the same can be said about the prisoners of war whom we hold. Happily, the Germans were never in a position to deport from this country large numbers of British citizens as slave labour. I would ask: What justification have we for the detention of some 390,000 men? I understand that repatriation is taking place at the rate of 15,000 men a month. If that be so, I frankly admit that it is much better than some of us dared to anticipate.
THE PARLIAMENTARY UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (LORD PAKENHAM)
May I interrupt to assist the noble Earl? That is, of course, the figure for the repatriation from this country. There is also the repatriation from the Middle East at the rate of 2,500 a month, rising to 5,000 a month from the beginning of July.
THE EARL OF PERTH
I appreciate that completely. Nevertheless, I wonder whether the number could not be increased. Are the transport difficulties really insuperable? I rather doubt it. Obviously, among those 390,000 there must be a certain proportion of men who hold strong Nazi sympathies, and I agree that they should not be repatriated because they might form a dangerous nucleus in Germany. Then there may also be some prisoners of war—I am afraid the number is not likely to be very great—who may wish to remain in this country and not go back to Germany. I believe that such men ought to be allowed to remain if they are willing to do so, but under better and happier conditions than those which they at present enjoy. For instance, I would suggest for consideration—if it is feasible—that if they do wish to work for us they should perhaps be allowed to have their womenfolk with them.
Let us take away these two categories. There still remain, say, some 300,000, or 578 the number may perhaps be a little smaller, who really ardently desire to return and to help in the reconstruction of their own country. I feel that we ought to do everything possible to help them. It may be argued, as the noble Lord, Lord Cherwell, argued, that under International Law we have the right to keep the prisoners here. It seems to me an extremely doubtful proposition. After listening to what the noble Lord said on International Law—of which I have some knowledge—I would agree to take lessons in science from him but I would hesitate greatly to accept anything from him as to what is laid down by authorities on International Law. He put forward a most dangerous proposition. He said—I do not think I am misquoting him—that International Law changed because war broke out. Can your Lordships imagine anything more dangerous?
§ LORD CHERWELL
The noble Earl completely misunderstood what I said. I said that circumstances have changed in the last three years and certainly in the last fifty years, and there has been no opportunity for changing International Law which was made in circumstances which were totally different. I did not say that International Law changed because war broke out, nor did I pretend to give lessons on International Law. On the contrary, I was endeavouring to point out that we ought not to listen to pedantic lawyers on this matter.
THE EARL OF PERTH
I disagree with the noble Lord that International Law has not changed. It has been developed very considerably, and my experience as an official of the League of Nations showed me quite definitely that it could be changed. It is not the same as it was seventy years ago. When the noble Lord puts forward the doctrine that unconditional surrender is a reason for changing International Law, or for saying that the Geneva Convention does not apply, I would be grateful if he could cite some authority for that view.
§ LORD CHERWELL
If the noble Earl will cite cases of unconditional surrender to which I might refer, I will gladly look them up.
THE EARL OF PERTH
I imagine that the truth is that this particular situation has no parallel in history at all. It cannot be said that we are at war with 579 Germany; it cannot be said that we are at peace with Germany. Therefore my own view is that although, as the noble Lord argues, there may be some reasons which can be produced in favour of the retention of prisoners of war, the whole spirit of International Law requires that they should be repatriated to Germany at the earliest possible moment. Apart from the two categories of prisoners I have mentioned, there are about 300,000 men, and if the present rate of repatriation is 15,000 a month, or, say, 16,000, if you make a calculation you find that the last prisoners will not return before eighteen months from now. I would like to ask the noble Lord who is to reply one definite question. He may think it is a hypothetical question and say that he would rather not answer it. However, let us assume that our manpower requirements were adequate for our present needs. In that event, would not the great majority of these German prisoners already have been returned to their own country? That is the question I would like to put.
There is a further point which was mentioned by the right reverend Prelate. I think he even underestimated its gravity. The proportion of men to women in Germany to-day, at any rate in our zone, of the age groups between twenty and thirty-five, is three or four women to one man. That is a state of affairs which obviously constitutes a very serious moral problem. In a large measure the solution of this problem must depend upon France, and, above all, on the Soviet Government; but we can, at any rate, make some contribution to it, and in this case, which is different from some others we can act with complete independence. I want to say a few words about the economic aspect. From what I hear, Germany is crying out for manpower for her mines, for her factories—such as still work and for agriculture. The British taxpayer is bearing a very grave extra burden in our zone in Germany because that zone is not self-supporting. The early return of a large number of 'prisoners would certainly greatly help German production and would, therefore, reduce our own financial responsibility. In spite of what the noble Lord, Lord Cherwell, said, I earnestly hope that the Government will not say that our manpower resources make it 580 essential that we should continue to keep a large number of these prisoners here.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Cherwell, when he says that there are other sources from which we can draw manpower, and manpower of a much more permanent nature. There are, as the noble Lord has said, the displaced persons. I understand—and I think the noble Lord made the same statement—that there are a large number of these persons who are anxious and would be happy to come to this country, and they would form a most valuable addition to our manpower. I cannot see why we do not allow them to come here, and send back in exchange, if necessary, an equal number of German prisoners. As a financial proposition it is clearly advantageous that we should no longer have to help to support a large number of displaced persons, and we should obtain an improvement in German economy through the return of German prisoners.
Some people say that you cannot do that because the trade unions will not agree. I do not believe that the great trade unions, with their honourable traditions of nationalism and humanitarianism, would refuse to allow these unhappy refugees, if they had the necessary qualifications both in skill and in industry, to join their ranks, subject, of course, to some very necessary safeguards. Refusal would clearly be contrary to the best interests of the nation as a whole, and I do not think that they would refuse. If, however, we are to follow such a course, then we must do it quickly. There are many countries to-day which require man power, and there is even likely to be competition to secure skilled men from the displaced persons. Therefore we ought to go ahead without delay, as if we do not we may find that the cream has already been taken by other countries and we shall be left with the residue.
The Government were challenged in another place as to what progress they were making with regard to allowing displaced persons to come to this country. What was their answer? They said that they were not doing too badly, and they had already allowed a certain number of women to come and work in the hospitals and institutions. Really, that is not worthy of the Government spokesman; it is totally inadequate justification. I agree that the presence of these women is very 581 desirable, but they obviously do not constitute any appreciable addition to that manpower of which we are so sorely in need and of which we shall be even more in need when the last German prisoner goes back.
There is one further point which I think the right reverend Prelate also mentioned. It is a political argument in favour of the speedy return of the prisoners. If we prolong unduly their period of forced labour, what will be their feelings towards this country when they do return? Will they be a friendly nucleus, or will they bear witness, as the right reverend Prelate says, to our democratic way of life? I fear not; indeed I fear the contrary is likely to be the case. Their feelings will spread to their friends and relations and will have far-reaching effects. What I have said refers only to prisoners of war in our hands, and according to the calculations I have made they represent about one-tenth of the total. It may well be that we shall not be able to persuade the French or the Russians to return their prisoners at an early date, but even so, the number we hold is considerable. Therefore let us try to accelerate their repatriation to the utmost possible extent. It would be to our economic and political advantage and it would be right.
§ 4.1 p.m.
My Lords, I am sure my noble friends on this side of the House enjoyed the conflict between the spokesmen for the two sections of the Opposition on matters of International Law. I hesitate very much to intervene in that part of the discussion, although I must say that as the noble Lord, Lord Cherwell, seemed to support the legality of the actions of His Majesty's Government, I inclined towards him in this matter. I still more inclined towards him when I heard him reminding himself that, after all, our main troubles were due to Hitler, whereas the spokesmen in his Party and the organs of the Press which support his Party have been laying the cause of all our troubles on His Majesty's Government.
I would like to say, with great humility, that I think the right reverend Prelate has done well to give us the opportunity of discussing this very important subject which is exercising the minds of a great many people. People are worried 582 about the moral aspect of keeping men here against their will—or even illegally, as the noble Earl, Lord Perth, suggests. At the same time, the Government are, after all, sending these men back pretty fast. We heard just now from my noble friend Lord Pakenham that they are being sent back at the rate of 15,000 a month from this country, and in view of transport difficulties and so on that is not too bad. They are steadily going back. We have sent all the Italians back, although a lot of them would have liked to stay here—to the great relief of the remaining gamekeepers in the country, they were not allowed to—and many would like to return. The whole matter is not so easy as it might at first appear. It is all very well to say "Let the whole lot go. Ship them across; arrange special trains and special steamers, and never mind what dislocation you cause to British agriculture and industry"; but in the long run I really think the Government will not be found to be so blameworthy in this matter.
I do, however, most completely endorse what the right reverend Prelate said about the unfortunate people in the Middle East. There, I think, there is a special cause for complaint. In the Middle East there is an unemployment problem. The removal of our Forces from Egypt in particular has resulted in a great number of Egyptians becoming unemployed. I do not know what the explanation is, and there may be a perfectly good one, but it seems to me rather unfortunate that we should employ German prisoners of war in Egypt to do work which previously was done, or could be done now, by these unemployed Egyptians who were previously working for our Army authorities. As has already been said by the right reverend Prelate, the climate is not really suitable, especially in summer, and it is hard luck on these men to be separated from their families for so many years. I do think there is a strong case there for accelerated repatriation, and I am sure His Majesty's Government will do what they can.
With regard to the German prisoners of war working in this country, I have been making inquiries about them around the countryside. I have been talking to farmers and others who employ them. I find that a great many farmers are well 583 satisfied with their work and would like to keep them although they do not necessarily want to keep them as prisoners of war. They would be quite prepared, if these men volunteered to stay in this country, to employ them at the ordinary Union rates. After all, these men know the farms and have picked up a smattering of the language. They know our ways, they have given satisfaction and they have proved, more than all the screening by the experts of Military Intelligence or anyone else has done, that they are well-meaning, industrious and well-behaved men. Then there is the question of whether, if they are allowed to remain here, the unions will object. That matter was raised by the noble Earl, Lord Perth. I understand that the Agricultural Workers' Union does not object to foreign labour as long as they receive the same rights, privileges, pay and so on as our own trade unionists.
Then the question arises of their womenfolk. A good many of these men, I gather, are comparatively young and are not married, but even if they did want to bring their womenfolk over here, that could be done gradually. In many cases no doubt their families would remain in Germany and they could remit part of their pay to them. I know there may be difficulties—legal and even diplomatic difficulties—but I would in due course like an assurance from my noble friend, Lord Pakenham (I do not want an answer now) that this matter is being considered sympathetically: in other words, are these men going to be allowed to stay here as volunteers, if they want to, at the recognized rates of pay? The noble Earl, Lord Perth, spoke about the treatment of German prisoners of war in France. I really do not know what he meant by that. Was he suggesting that the French are ill-treating prisoners of war in France?
THE EARL OF PERTH
I gave the number; I did not say anything about their treatment. I said I thought it was right that they should go back as soon as possible, but I did not make any suggestion that they were being ill-treated in either France or Russia.
I was in the country districts of France last December and I saw a lot German prisoners of war at work. Some of them were living in the household in which I stayed. They are treated in just the same way as they are 584 in the countryside in this country. So long as they behave themselves they are perfectly well treated. I read in the Press, however—and I daresay it is true—that the French are asking for volunteers from their German prisoners of war to stay in France and to work at the normal rates. If the French can do that, after all they have suffered at the hands of the Germans, I think we can do it in the case of men who prove that they are decent and well-behaved workmen.
To talk about bringing large numbers of displaced persons over here is again very easy, but I think there is a need to differentiate between various classes of displaced persons. We had a moral lecture from the noble Lord, Lord Cherwell, on the iniquities of the German nation—with which we are all familiar. But the Germans were our open enemies, whereas a good number of these displaced persons—not all, but a good number—were voluntary enemies. They were voluntary adherents to and supporters of the Hitler regime and that is why they cannot go back to their own countries. They sided with our enemies, and although after a certain time we can no doubt excuse them on the grounds of youth or for some other reason and let bygones be bygones, I do hope there is going to be a very careful screening and examination of these people, moral as well as physical, before they come over here.
THE EARL OF PERTH
Will the noble Lord forgive me for one moment? I think he has forgotten the very large number of Baits who did not fight on the German side but who do not want to go back to their country as at present constituted.
I have not forgotten the Baits. They are described to me as admirable people. But of course a good many of them, if they did not fight on the German side, worked on the German side, and worked very well, and were political adherents of Hitler. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Cherwell—I am sorry he has left the Chamber—that it is not very easy in a totalitarian State for a man of normal courage openly to oppose the regime, but there is less excuse for foreigners who voluntarily support a regime of such a horrible nature as the Hitler tyranny, which many of these people did. It is said over and over again that these 585 displaced persons can make up for our manpower shortage. Well it could be done, and we certainly are short of manpower. But it is taking a long time to settle the Poles in this country into British industry. We have a very large Polish Army here—my noble friend can confirm this—of something of the order of 90,000 men. They are being very very slowly put into civil occupations. I believe there are 90,000, or something of that order, in uniform, and many of them are skilled workers. Most of them were our Allies, but a few fought on Hitler's side. We are having great difficulty in getting them settled into civilian life in this country.
THE EARL OF PERTH
I do not like interrupting the noble Lord again, but I think he is under a false impression. He called it the Polish Army, but I called it the Polish Resettlement Corps. I think it is dangerous that it should go out that it is still a Polish Army.
I am obliged to the noble Earl. That danger had not occurred to me. I am not pretending there is anything sinister in it, and I am not suggesting that we are keeping them as a kind of Foreign Legion. The point I was trying to make with regard to this Polish Resettlement Corps is that the resettlement is taking a rather long time, and until we do settle them I hope that we will not be in too much of a hurry to bring displaced persons over here, because among other things there is the housing difficulty to be considered. With regard to the need of manpower in Germany itself, my information is that there is to-day a great deal of unemployment in Germany owing to lack of raw materials and, also for the same reason as our present trouble, the shortage of electrical power. I was given figures to-day which show that between August and October of last year in Berlin alone there were 19,000 juveniles between the ages of fourteen and eighteen for whom work could not be found. Therefore, the argument that there is need for these men to go back to Germany is not so watertight as it seems. The reason for it is deplorable, and I dare say if I raised a debate in your Lordships' House about the state of affairs in Germany I would have the support of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester. But at the same time there is unemployment in 586 Germany, and the case for hastening the repatriation of prisoners of war in this country should not rest on that.
I want to raise only one other short point with my noble friend, if I may. This has been raised in another place, but the answer was rather vague and I make no excuse for referring to it again. We should avoid what appears to be any injustice, and in all cases the treatment of these men should be humane. I quite agree that the horrible criminals of the real Nazi Party should be shown no mercy at all, but do not send the ordinary rank and file Germans back with any sense of grievance. The point to which I want to refer is that of the exchange rate they get for deferred pay. They get only a certain amount of pay in this country, and they receive the rest under the International Convention when they are repatriated. I understand this is at the rate of 15 marks to the £, which apparently was agreed upon with the Nazi Government when that Government was in existence, through the Red Cross. The official rate of exchange in our zone in Germany is 40 marks to the £. Legally I suppose we could stand pat on the 15 marks to the £, but is it really worth while if these men go back after what they think is hard treatment? I do hope that that matter will be reconsidered. After most of them have worked pretty hard here. I have had good accounts of them and I do not think you should let them go back feeling they have been swindled, so to speak, because of an out-of-date agreement made with their former Government. I do not blame His Majesty's Government for this matter, but I am sure that when it has been brought to their attention they will see whether something cannot be done.
§ 4.15 p.m.
THE LORD BISHOP OF SHEFFIELD
My Lords, I think the noble Lord who spoke last under-estimates the amount of feeling in this country on this subject. There are a lot of people in all ranks of society who are not just worried by this matter but they are made profoundly uncomfortable by an example of the very wide gulf between our practice and our moral and political principles. That causes a great deal more than just a sense of worry. We must also remember that there is a very deep feeling on the whole subject among German people in 587 Germany. They know—and I believe they know with gratitude—that their prisoners in this country are being well treated. They know also that the numbers in this country are considerably less than in some other countries, but they, too, feel this rather marked gap between our practice and those principles which they have been told are the principles which support and underlie our political actions.
This is true also among the prisoners themselves. As your Lordships know, last summer a rather bitter feeling was growing amongst them. The announcement of the Government scheme of repatriation caused a great improvement in the morale of the camps. That improvement was increased, I believe, by the measure of fraternization which was associated with Christmas. But I also believe that unless the process of repatriation is accelerated the feeling of bitterness will creep back and morale will decline, especially among those men who returned about a year ago from America believing, rightly or wrongly, that they were on their way back home, only to find themselves behind barbed wire in this country.
Personally, I am not greatly interested in the rather academic argument about the legalities of International Law. It seems to me we have, on the whole, a straight moral and political issue. I believe the majority of people in this country are profoundly uncomfortable to witness anything which looks like forced labour in this land of ours. One gladly admits that conditions in the camps of this country are good. We have had some independent unbiased witnesses as to that in the shape of visitors from Germany itself who have been to the camps here, and, broadly speaking, they approve of what they found. But I would point out that there are certain specific causes of bitterness which could be removed. So far as I have been able to discover, little or no attempt is being made to give married men, or men who have been prisoners for a very long time, a priority of release. Again, there is a certain discrimination against certain types of men, not because they are more Nazi than the others but because they held in the war certain positions. Two of the best camp leaders I know were U-boat officers. They are not allowed to return because they 588 were U-boat officers. One was taken a prisoner as early as 1939. He is married and had children, yet there he is, and seven years of his life have passed. As we have heard, there is a good deal of criticism of the way in which the process of screening is carried through. Here I should like to endorse all that has been said on the subject by my brother Prelate.
I also visited the camps in Germany to which he referred. Some criticism with regard to civilian internees in Germany and the way they are being handled is often met with from time to time in this country. I would like to ask the noble Lord who is going to reply for the Government if they are really satisfied with the kind of personnel which is being used for this purpose, and the way in which it is being done. I realize that it is rather difficult to find men with the rather rare gifts required for this not unskilful work, but one has to face the question whether this task of screening is at all justified in prisoner of war camps, which I rather doubt. One has also to ask, are the kind of men who are used in the job, men who can resist the rather corrupting influence of the power they are exercising.
I have visited prisoners of war camps in my diocese, as part of my pastoral work. One cannot but feel that there are men there who are labouring under a terrible sense of frustration, men of character and ability who are not being used. I will give one example. In a camp I know extremely well, there is a school of architects. About fourteen or fifteen of them are qualified professional architects, and they are employing their time in training younger fellows in the elements of the profession. Some have been prisoners for a very long time. They have to try to make jobs for themselves. I was allowed by the camp commandant, who is immensely proud of his school in the camp, to set a specific task. This they did, and did with a degree of competence and ability which won the unqualified admiration of one or two of the most distinguished architects in our country. It seems to me quite wrong and extraordinarily wasteful of good human material that men with that capacity should be, so to speak, just marking time, month after month and year after year, behind barbed wire.
With all due deference to the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, I would say there is a considerable amount of work needing 589 architects to be done in the cities of Germany. Germany does need these men. It may be there is unemployment in Germany at the present time among young people between fourteen and nineteen. It does not follow from that that Germany is not in very great need indeed of skilful tradesmen between the ages of twenty and thirty-five or forty. Moreover, I think we have to take realistically the family problem. It is not merely the economic need of these men that one would press, but also the social need. The need is felt on this side by them, and on that side by their wives and families. It is a matter of great seriousness and one would urge their return, not merely on behalf of Germans in the Zone but also, if one may say so, on behalf of our own British executive. There is a great deal of criticism in this country about our British executive, some of which is justified and some of which, I believe, is unjustified. They have an extraordinarily difficult task, and a most frustrating one. Therefore I do plea that we should do nothing on this side to make that extraordinarily difficult task almost impossible. There is no doubt that if one were to take a sample opinion over there, one would get a 100 per cent. vote for the more speedy return of prisoners of war.
May I conclude with one or two specific points? This question of keeping up the morale of prisoners of war while still here is a very serious task. I admire greatly the way in which camp commandants are doing their full share in it. I admire also the kind of things one sees the German pastors trying to do among their fellow prisoners. But one has to face the facts. Some of these German pastors are pretty well played out. When a German Bishop recently was over here, he made a very obvious suggestion that some of these pastors might be allowed to go home to their own Churches, and possibly volunteers from Germany might be allowed to come here and take their place. From what I have seen in the camps I have visited I am quite certain that could be done and I cannot see any extraordinary difficulty. It would make for a great refreshment of a large part of the life of these camps.
THE LORD BISHOP OF SHEFFIELD
In many cases they have been combatant officers and were conscripted. 590 Then one might ask that some of the rather small, irritating restrictions on men who are accepted as of the A grade, in regard to going out of camps and fraternizing—some of these restrictions are really out of date—might be dispensed with. They are not worth the amount of irritation they cause. Further, we are all concerned in the process of re-education, and there is no better method of re-educating the Germans than by allowing them to have continued contact with ordinary decent British folk. I would like to say a word about prisoners of war in the Middle East. This whole question is arousing a great deal of anxiety. From the information that comes from the various sources it is quite clear that a good many of these men are in very bad shape, whether considered in terms of moral, physical or mental condition. I have been told that some of them, I do not know how many, hoping that they were on their way back to Europe, found themselves transferred from the camp on the Egyptian Delta to the one on the Persian Gulf, and the disappointment was, to put it mildly, acute.
I would like to support the plea for an effort to be made to see if it is possible to replace some of the prisoners' labour in this country by bringing over displaced persons from Germany. I am sure that we ought to examine and try out that possibility. Further, I think that, if they wish it, prisoners who have been graded A and have proved themselves in camps and on farms here as first-class workmen should be given a chance of employment as free labour in this country. No doubt the married men will vote almost 100 per cent. to go back to their own country, but some of these men are not married and some belong to parts of Germany about which they feel considerable anxiety. Such men would probably be willing to stay in this country as free labour. If these men have proved themselves good workers as forced labour then surely they are likely to prove themselves even better as free labour.
My conclusion, then, is the same as that of the mover of the Motion—a plea for a more speedy release of these men. One has to take not merely short economic views but long political views. If we can send these men back to Germany impressed by the fact that we really mean what we say when we talk about liberty, and with certain bonds of friendship with people in this country, we 591 shall be laying the foundations of a better and more peaceful Europe. But there is a real danger that men who might go back in that frame of mind in the next few months, if held for another year or so will go back embittered to join those very strong forces still existing in Germany which are not a peace potential but a war potential.
§ 4.34 p.m.
§ LORD HOLDEN
My Lords, I would not intervene in this debate after so many eloquent speeches but for the fact that I believe that the matter which the right reverend Prelate has introduced is above politics and above Party. Therefore, with your Lordships' permission, I would like to make a very few remarks about prisoners of war in this country, with many of whom I, like other noble Lords, no doubt, have come into contact. I am aware, as everyone must be, that the Germans themselves are responsible for the lack of manpower in this country. I also know how valuable manpower is to us at the moment, and, after what the Earl of Perth has said, I think that I am right in saying that we have, up to a point, a legal right to the services of these prisoners since we have not made peace with Germany. On the other hand, as there is no German Government with whom we can make peace I cannot say, in all honesty, that I am very much impressed by the theory, though it may be quite correct from a legal point of view. I say this with great respect to people who know much more about this particular subject that I do myself.
Against these physical reasons there is one thing, in my opinion, which is an over-riding moral reason and which cannot be ignored. That is that by retaining the people in this country and by compelling them to work for us we are arriving at—I would not say that we have reached—a state in which we might almost be said to be using slave labour. I have learned that His Majesty's Government are repatriating prisoners at an increasing rate and I am delighted to know that that is the case. But may I make a special plea for the married men. I have met several married prisoners in Scotland in the course of the last few months, and I know, from talks which I have had with them, that they feel very bitter about this prolonged separation from their families. I believe that if 592 facilities could be given for them to be the first to go back to their own country, then we should have something to be very proud of here.
A suggestion which I had it in mind to make has already been made in the course of the debate: that is that it would be a great advantage if we could put our enforced labour system on to a voluntary basis by endeavouring to get over here displaced people, either from among those now resident in this country or from among those living in the British Zone. They need not only be Poles; there are, I understand, others ready to work, Lithuanians and Yugoslays among them. We could then let the Germans who want to go back return to their country. I see no reason why we should not allow Germans who wish to stay as volunteers in this country, to do so. I do not think that the political views of any of these people, however reactionary they may be, would be a danger to our democracy, nor am I in the least frightened about the mixture of blood which might result. As a student of history, I know that in the past there have been many mixings of blood which have been very beneficial to this country. I would like to conclude by saying that if we can arrange to put our foreign labour on a voluntary instead of an enforced basis, then I am sure that a very wide and increasing anxiety amongst all sections of the community in this country will be dispelled. I personally am very grateful to the right reverend Prelate for the opportunity of discussing this matter to-day.
THE EARL OF CORK AND ORRERY
My Lords, may I, before Lord Pakenham replies, ask him if he can confirm the statement which I understood the Lord Bishop of Sheffield to make, that ex-U-boat officers are not being allowed to be repatriated simply because they are ex-U-boat officers?
§ 4.37 p.m.
My Lords, I am sure that, on behalf of the Government, I can express very sincere gratitude to the right reverend Prelate for raising this issue and for the tone of his speech, and I can tender it also to all those speakers who have adopted a constructive attitude. Knowing that Lord Cherwell was going to speak I had anticipated that he and I would be, as it were, combatants in the ring, and that the right reverend 593 Prelate would be the referee. But by the time I arrive in the ring I find that the referee has already come to blows with the noble Lord, Lord Cherwell, and that the noble Earl, Lord Perth, who was performing some essential function, such as time keeper or M.C., has also participated in the fray in no uncertain fashion. So my task to that extent is easier.
I would say, first of all, what pleasure it gives me, as Under-Secretary of State for War, to find general agreement in all sections of the House that those who have had these men in their keeping, who have been directly concerned with these fellow human beings now at our mercy (I am referring now to the Army, of course), have discharged their tasks most faithfully and well. I have heard no criticism in any quarter of the House about the way the prisoners of war have actually been treated. Although we may take that for granted by this time, it does seem to me that it is a fact which should not go unnoticed to-day. Certainly the Government, and particularly we in the War Office, feel very great pleasure that it should be so.
Before coming to the main lines of my reply there are just one or two points of, shall I say, medium size, because they are far from unimportant, which should be replied to straight away. The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, in a speech which seemed to me to contain a great many constructive suggestions, asked about the rate of the exchange of reichsmarks to the £ allowed in the case of prisoners. I will certainly lay everything he said before my right honourable friend, as, indeed, I will lay everything other noble Lords have said. But I would explain that this rate of 40 reichsmarks to the £ which he mentioned as the normal rate is, in fact, the special rate allowed to the the troops by agreement with our Allies, and that the rate of 15 reichsmarks to the £ is far from unsatisfactory or unrepresentative as indicating the relationship between the reichsmarks and the £. However, the point will certainly be looked into further.
Various noble Lords, and more than one right reverend Prelate, have referred to the conditions in the Middle East. I feel that I should disabuse the House of any lingering doubt they may have upon that subject. I have no desire myself to be imprisoned in the Middle East, or anywhere else, so I am not arguing that 594 a high level of comfort prevails there, but I would inform the right reverend Prelate, and indeed your Lordships as a whole, that separate visits by two senior officers have recently been made to prisoners of war camps in that area, during which conditions were very thoroughly investigated. These reports indicate that the administration of these camps and the conditions under which prisoners are living compare very favourably with those in the United Kingdom. I hope that the idea will no longer prevail in any quarter that these men in the Middle East are being badly treated. It is quite true, of course, that, for inevitable reasons, they lack the same amount of contact with the civilian population that is offered to prisoners in this country. On the other hand, the canteens in the Middle East are stocked with a number of commodities which are not obtainable in this country, and permission has been granted to prisoners in the Middle East to bring home what they can buy. So, by and large, it is not now thought by those best qualified to judge that the prisoners in the Middle East suffer in comparison with those in this country.
There is one other wider question to which I will refer this afternoon but with regard to which I am afraid I am not in a position to state any final or definite Government attitude. I refer to the whole question—the immensely important question—of bringing in foreign labour to supplement our labour supply. Though I cannot quite accept the implied criticism, I sympathize with the noble Lords who have found previous statements made in another place on behalf of the Government not altogether sufficient, or rather, shall I say, they have not obtained all the enlightenment on this subject which they felt was their due. I can assure the House, though it is not usual, I believe, to explain precisely how a matter of this kind is investigated, that the whole question of bringing foreign labour into this country is being examined on a very high level. I am sure your Lordships will agree that this is a matter on which a final decision must be taken by the Cabinet. It cannot be disposed of by any small process of tinkering about. I can assure the House that there is no prejudice at all in the minds of the Government about the bringing in of this labour, although there are the objections which were most fairly voiced by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi 595 —the difficulties in accommodation and the difficulties of making sure, in collecting, say, too men, that you do not by chance bring in one or two gangsters. At the same time, there is the practical question of finding employment for our friends the Poles, before bringing in others who might take away the jobs for which the Poles are now looking.
I would just mention, without for a moment suggesting that this supplies anything approaching a complete answer, that the scheme which was started last autumn for bringing domestic women workers from the displaced persons camp in the British zone in Germany is being widely developed. Arrangements are being made to place many more in domestic employment in general hospitals, and to speed up the selection and transport of these women. I would also mention that, in consultation with the President of the Board of Trade, the Minister of Labour has made arrangements for inquiries to be set on foot into the possibilities of bringing in other displaced persons suitable for employment in the cotton spinning mills in Lancashire, and an investigating party, which includes representatives of the Cotton Board, is leaving for Austria and Germany for this purpose during the next few days. So you see that a start is being made. But I would repeat, clearly, in the last resort, there is a big decision which will have to be taken here; initially by the Cabinet, and later by Parliament.
I come now to the issue which has been raised in such moving terms by the right reverend Prelate and other speakers. I come to the main qustion of principle. The present rate of repatriation from this country is 15,000 a month, and 2,500 a month from the Middle East rising to 5,000 a month from the beginning of July. I believe there was some small misapprehension in the right reverend Prelate's mind on that point, but I think that, in the exchanges between myself and the noble Earl, any misapprehension, if it ever existed, will have been removed. The cardinal issue, it seems to me, and the issue very troublesome to conscience, especially, perhaps, to the conscience of a Christian body such as this House, can be defined in this way: Is this rate—the rate I have mentioned—sufficiently high to be morally justified? I put the question in this form because I do not think that 596 many serious students of the subject will tell us that the prisoners should be sent back at one fell swoop tomorrow. I do not think that even the great humanitarian who initiated the debate would ask for that.
The question, troublesome to conscience though it is, should not be exaggerated in extra sharpness. The question is not whether to return or to retain the prisoners, but how fast the prisoners should be returned. That seems to me to be the central issue before us this afternoon. In choosing the rate of 15,000 a month from this country and the proportionately corresponding rate from the Middle East, the Government have had to weigh on the one hand the words and spirit of the Geneva Convention. This directs that all prisoners of war should be returned as soon as possible after a Peace Treaty is signed. Although no Peace Treaty has yet been signed with Germany, it is possible to expect one before long. On the other hand, there is the serious—it may be crippling—damage that a fast rate of repatriation this year would cause to our economic recovery—a recovery that we can reasonably regard as being of supreme importance not only to this country but also the whole world, and especially, perhaps, to Germany.
On the other side of the argument there are the various considerations to be assessed. There is the problem of transport, there is the reflection which was SJ forcibly laid before us by the noble Lord, Lord Cherwell, and which can surely not be brushed lightly aside, that our present economic difficulties are, to a great extent, a legacy of a war wantonly inflicted upon us by Germany, and that these difficulties include the onerous task of sustaining a large part of Germany itself by a heavy expenditure of our manpower and money. Above all, there is an agricultural difficulty. Our long-term plan for attracting more British labour into the agricultural industry cannot bear fruit this year. Our immediate measures, for example, accelerated release from the Forces, the maintenance of the Women's Land Army, and, above all,, the recent agreement with the industry with regard to the employment of Poles, cannot possibly bridge the gap. Therefore, any increase in the present rate of repatriation would seriously jeopardize the gathering of this year's harvest, and such a thing the Government 597 cannot contemplate in the interests of this country, and, while we are continuing to feed a large part of Germany, it seems to me that one can add, in the interests of Germany itself.
With regard to the possibility of any reconsideration of the rate of repatriation when this year's harvest is completed, I am not in a position to say anything this afternoon. I will certainly consider it my duty to lay everything that has been said before my right honourable friend, and to emphasize the very strong feeling that has been exhibited on this subject in more than one quarter of the House this afternoon. If I am asked the straight question whether I would not be much happier if I learned later on that the rate of repatriation could be accelerated, I reply that I cannot imagine there is any reasonable person inside or outside the Government who would not share that sentiment, or pray that the hope it contains may be fulfilled.
Once the proposition is accepted that we must operate a scheme of steady repatriation at the kind of rate envisaged by the Government, we pass to the question of the principles underlying such a scheme. Here I felt that the right reverend Prelate was hardly at his best. If he will allow me to say so, in all meekness and mildness, as I think St. Paul once said—and he had a fairly bitter tongue at times—I am sure that he would hardly believe in the sincerity of the compliments I paid him earlier unless I mentioned in my speech that I had some difference with him. Therefore, in order to indicate once and for all the evidence of my real warmth towards him, I must say that I thought he completely misunderstood the screening process. I hope that when he comes to reply he will agree with me that it has been conducted much more sensibly than he has allowed the House to suppose.
I think, if we are going to draw up any kind of priorities, we must start, as the right reverend Prelate himself started, by excluding the really dangerous men—we can leave out for the moment the question of how to find them. I forget the exact expression of the right reverend Prelate, but what he said amounted to the fact that the really bad hats should be excluded. There we are on common ground. I do not suppose he will quarrel violently with the proposition that the obviously good men—that is, those who have proved 598 themselves ardent fighters against Nazi Germany—should be sent back first. That is a proposition which would seem to me to commend itself to most members of the House, and I hope in stating it I carry with me the right reverend Prelate. Once those two principles which I have mentioned are accepted, we find ourselves inevitably grading the prisoners into As., Es. and Cs. or, as the right reverend Prelate might prefer to have it, whites, greys and blacks. At any rate, we find ourselves with three broad categories. So that it would seem that the right reverend Prelate's initial contempt for the whole idea revealed considerable misunderstanding.
I would just explain, for the benefit of those who have not specialized in this particular subject as much perhaps as some speakers this afternoon, that prisoners of war are screened in a manner which I will explain in a moment and graded politically as As., that is, those who are reckoned actively anti-Nazi; Bs., those who might be described as non-Nazis; Cs., those tainted with Nazism and C-plus, the ardent Nazis. The right reverend Prelate will have observed that there are three classes, and this I am not in any way concealing from him. Perhaps it would be of interest to the House to mention the numbers who are at the moment to be found in these various categories-the statistics are as at January 25. At the moment there are 8,000 As., actively anti-Nazi; 231,000 Bs., non-Nazis; 33,000 Cs., tainted with Nazism; and 4,000 C-pluses, ardent Nazis. I think it would be fair to regard those 4,000 as the kind of "bad hats" which the right reverend Prelate indicated, although in far more agreeable language, in the course of his speech. There were also unscreened 66,000 prisoners: this figure has since been reduced to some 40,000.
Under our repatriation scheme the first priority is given to the As.; the second priority is given to prisoners of war of any political category (except Cs.) who are required for economic reasons—for example, miners and timber workers; the third priority is given to the Bs., who, as I have explained, represent the vast majority of the prisoners, according to length of captivity. I was not sure whether the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Sheffield was quite clear about the adoption of that priority. At one moment he seemed to suppose that no attention was paid to length of captivity. 599 So far as the Bs. are concerned, that is the sole criterion.
It may be argued that other factors may be introduced: that age should be one of the criteria. As soon as you bring in age you get into the difficulty that many people think that the young men ought to go back first; many think the old men ought to go back first; and I daresay if you had a middle-aged board conducting the scheme, they would think that middle-aged prisoners ought to go back first. At any rate, it is not obviously clear if you adopt the age criterion which way this would operate. After a great deal of consideration, length of captivity—and this applies to the great mass of the prisoners—was adopted as the sole criterion. Sick and compassionate cases are allotted a separate monthly quota according to the numbers available and, except for these sick and compassionate cases, no Cs. or C-pluses are being repatriated at the present time.
Statistically, the programme will work out in this fashion. There are at present 340,000 prisoners of war in the United Kingdom, 90,000 in the Middle East and 1,500 in Gibraltar and Malta. The present rate of repatriation, which I have already explained, will lead to the prisoners of war in the United Kingdom being repatriated by December, 1948, and the prisoners of war in the Middle East being repatriated by November, 1948. So that here again a fairly widespread current misconception that the prisoners in the Middle East are suffering in comparison with those in this country is shown to be wide of the mark, because, in actual fact, the Middle East prisoners of war will get back slightly before the prisoners from this country. Those in Malta and Gibraltar are likely to be repatriated en bloc about January, 1948.
January, 1948? This is a new one to me about prisoners still in Gibraltar and Malta. There is an unemployment problem in those countries. Surely they could be sent back earlier or even brought here?
I will certainly look into the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, which seems to me to be one requiring investigation. It does not seem to me, so far as I have gone, that there can be much criticism of the kind of priority scheme I have 600 suggested, except with regard to one point, and that is our decision not to repatriate the Cs. at the present moment, and not to allow the Cs. a place in the queue. I will have more to say about that in a moment. With that exception there does not seem to be anything to which any noble Lord, and certainly not the right reverend Prelate, would like to take exception.
I think I ought to give the House further information about this process of screening which has been somewhat derided this afternoon. A prisoner is interviewed for a period averaging about a quarter of an hour. I was rather horrified, I do not mind saying, when I heard that the right reverend Prelate could produce instances where the prisoners had been screened for only two or three minutes. I would like to have those cases looked into with particular care, and I will certainly do so if the right reverend Prelate will let me have the facts. Of course, if someone were being up-graded I do not think he would complain at being screened for only two or three minutes. Equally, it is possible for a prisoner to be so recalcitrant that one would just say: "If that is how you feel you are C-plus until you come to a better state of mind." Nevertheless, the matter is one which should clearly be looked into, and I will certainly look into it as I have promised. I watched this screening process. I went down specially to see the screening team at work, in view of this debate, and I will give the House a little more information about it. A prisoner is interviewed for a period averaging about a quarter of an hour by a trained interrogator who, with the help of a fairly comprehensive form that the prisoner has filled in and any information that has been obtained from the commandant of the camp—a point which I hope the right reverend Prelate will not overlook—arrives at one of the four gradings which I have mentioned, A, B, C, or C-plus.
Is any kind of grading of this sort possible? I would mention, in the first place, that some system of screening was essential, quite apart from the question of repatriation. In the early days it was absolutely vital to separate the strong anti-Nazis from the rest, in the interests of the anti-Nazis themselves, to make sure that they were not being persecuted by the others. It was also highly desirable to try and discover leaders, whether for 601 use in the camps or for early return to Germany, and for that reason alone it was necessary to select a number of As, which involved some kind of grading process. It was also necessary for security reasons to discover the really bad men. When I talk about bad men, I am not, of course, necessarily casting a reflection on their moral character, though I think in a great many cases it would be reasonable to do so. I suppose it is possible to be a very strong Nazi and a very good man, but I have not yet heard of such a case, and I shall await with interest the introduction by the noble Lord of any gentleman of that kind.
These and other factors left no option except to adopt some kind of screening. However, it may well be said that the particular process has inevitably been rather hasty. I am not going to disguise my feeling that I would be happier if it had been possible to spend longer than it has been possible to spend on the prisoners, though even as it is there are a number who have not been screened, in spite of the fact that the screeners have worked for very low hours indeed. I would assure your Lordships, from my personal contact with them, that they are a most devoted body of men with a scientific passion for their subject which would certainly appeal to the noble Lord, Lord Cherwell, if, as I believe is the case, he includes applied psychology among the great sciences. At any rate, these screeners are there, they have done everything in their power, and on the whole they have done it pretty well.
The issue still remains—I am anxious not to miss anything—as to whether this screening process which, as I have said, was originally devised for other purposes, is suitable for the establishment of repatriation priorities. That issue still confronts us. Other things being equal, there has obviously been a great advantage in our search for some way of grading people for repatriation in having at our hand a system which had already established gradings roughly analogous. It would have been extreme folly not to make use of the gradings which had already been arrived at. Without going into the whole thing at enormous length, I do admit the possibility of the suggestion that hardship may arise if men who were graded C originally for other purposes were kept out of the repatriation queue. I recognize the pos- 602 sibility of hardship arising under that head, and I am very glad to inform the right reverend Prelate and the rest of the House that the latest steps now in process of being taken will achieve within a measurable number of weeks the results that some of the critics, including the right reverend Prelate, have in mind.
In about ten weeks from now all the prisoners will have received their primary grading, so that all the As, the active anti-Nazis, will be weeded out, with a view to their earliest possible return. Beginning ten weeks from now, the screeners will concentrate primarily on the Cs, with a view to their either being upgraded into the Bs, when they take their place in the repatriation queue, or being down-graded in effect to the C-pluses, in which case they must remain here at the moment until they reach a better state of mind. So this process of re-screening, which will be completed eighteen weeks from now—that is ten weeks and eight weeks; shall we say, in five months from now—will leave us substantially with only two categories, because all the As will then be on the way back to Germany or will have already gone back. The first category then will be the Bs, or as they are sometimes called, the greys, who will be returned according to the length of their captivity; and the second, the C-pluses, the ardent Nazis, whom I think most of us will agree it is dangerous to send back. There are only 4,000 C-pluses at the moment. Of course, their number might be added to, or it might be reduced by this process to which I have referred. So I think that in four or five months from now the right reverend Prelate will get the result that he wishes without anybody being able to say that the existing principles have been abandoned. The existing principles will have developed themselves, and they and the right reverend Prelate will have come together in perfect harmony. Practically everybody will be in the repatriation queue, and those left over will be the few gentlemen whom it is too dangerous to send back.
There is one further rather technical point, although it raises a rather human question, and the right reverend Prelate referred to it. I allude to the problem of youth. The right reverend Prelate is quite well aware that in Germany at the present time in relation to the civil internees there is a so-called amnesty, which means that 603 youths are released from these camps unless they are either suspected of having committed a war crime individually, or of belonging to organizations indicted at Nuremberg, or as individuals who are regarded as specially dangerous from the security point of view. I think the right reverend Prelate would probably desire that some such amnesty should operate in this country. The need for it will, of course, be considerably reduced owing to the steps which I have outlined to the House, but it may still be said: "Why not have the same amnesty here as they have in Germany?" The short answer is that we could not have precisely the same amnesty, because in Germany those who benefit from the amnesty are at once released, and here it would only be a question, as I think most of us would agree, of putting them into their normal places in the repatriation queue. Without again going into what might be very intricate technicalities, I can assure the right reverend Prelate that the instructions now being issued in regard to screening will secure the result that he has in mind and, mutatis mutandis, ensure that the principles represented by the amnesty in Germany are applied here. I hope that those two pieces of information will console and fortify the right reverend Prelate.
I now come to the question of civil internees in Germany. Here again, I am very grateful to the right reverend Prelate and other speakers for stripping the question of a lot of minor technicalities regarding incidents, real or alleged, in particular camps. All the noble Lords who spoke, and certainly the right reverend Prelate, dealt with the matter on very broad grounds. I can, of course, if necessary, give him chapter and verse to prove that conditions in camps which have been criticized in the past have been enormously improved. The camp which he visited in October, as he himself said, was then only just getting under way, and I understand they would be delighted if he returned there at the earliest possible opportunity but they are rather afraid he might not recognize it as the same place. I think he may be sure that all is well there. The camp which was most criticized in the Press a year ago was No. 5 C.I.C. at Paderborn. This camp was inspected by M. Stefan of 604 the International Red Cross on September 13, 1946. His verdict was—this, of course, was after a great many improvements had been effected—as follows:There is no doubt that, thanks to the efforts of the Commandant, Lieut.-Colonel Burke-Murphy, many improvements in the Camp have been achieved, and that he is doing his best in difficult conditions to improve the all-round situation still further, Every one of the internees we came in contact with spoke highly of the Commandant and of the correct and fair treatment they received from the Commandant downwards to the private soldier.This report about conditions in that camp is thoroughly borne out by various more recent investigations, including one on February I last which led to a report by Miss D. J. Wilson, Deputy Inspector-General, Penal Branch, Control Commission for Germany, who accompanied Major-General Bishop, Deputy Chief-of-Staff, Control Commission for Germany, in a five and a half hour tour of inspection of this camp. That was at the beginning of this month. They were thoroughly satisfied that not only was the report of the International Red Cross in September last to be confirmed, but that conditions had still further improved. I draw towards a close, but I cannot finish without dealing with this complicated question of the basis of detention and release in these camps, and also with the question of whether, whatever our ideas may be, we are proceeding to carry them out fast enough. Here I cannot avoid—and I must apologize to the House for it—a certain number of figures and a certain amount of rather recently acquired legal erudition.
I would begin by mentioning that out of a total of 68,000 persons originally interned, 35,200 have already been released, leaving 32,800 still interned. There are 32,800 still interned, but more than half the original total have been released. Under the new scheme, whose outlines were explained in the Press last Friday, those 32,800 internees are being divided into five categories, which have been cut down to three for the benefit—I will not say of the House, because that would sound as though I were underestimating the rapidity of apprehension in this Chamber, but, at any rate, for my own benefit. These 32,800 internees fall into the following categories:
Category I. comprises members of the Nazi organizations found guilty at Nuremberg, who are now to be individually 605 tried. In that category there are 19,000 persons and they are liable to be tried as members of criminal organizations—S.S., Gestapo, and so forth. I would like to make it plain that under the Nuremberg verdicts it would be quite impossible for us to adopt any other procedure with regard to these people, but it must not be assumed that it is sufficient simply to be found to be a member of those organizations. There are various qualifications to that simple statement. It has to be proved that the man had knowledge of the guilty purposes of the organization, for example, and if a man was forced into the organization that would, I understand, be an adequate defence. These people must, however, be interned for the moment whilst awaiting trial according to the verdicts of Nuremberg—a quite inescapable state of affairs once those verdicts were recorded.
The second category includes especially dangerous Nazis who will undergo prolonged internment in the interests of Allied security. This category comprises some 5,000 persons who, because of their special danger to Allied security, will be committed to prolonged terms of internment. These cases are to be adjudicated on by British Review Boards and will be dealt with by the end of 1947. Apart therefore, from Nuremberg, we are holding only 5,600 people—a number which I hope the right reverend Prelate will not regard as hopelessly excessive and which certainly bears no relation to the figure of 8,000,0000 which was mentioned earlier. I only give it to assist in correcting the perspective.
Finally, in what I call the third category, but which is officially split up into categories 3, 4 and 5, there are 8,800 persons at present interned who will be released. They are being released at the rate of 600 a week, and it is hoped they will all be released by about the end of March, 1947. It was impossible to release them much earlier, partly because we had to await the result of the Nuremburg trials and partly because in some cases it was necessary to dissociate them from their evil companions or evil habits. These 8,800 are, however, being rapidly released. We shall therefore be left, by the end of March, with a total of 24,000, which will, in its turn, tend to be reduced by the processes I have mentioned, all of which will be completed by the end of 1947.
606 I would just say one word about youth, as I know that specially interests the right reverend Prelate and other members of your Lordships' House. Our policy is that the most sympathetic consideration should be given to youths in the camps, and they are scheduled for priority review with a view to release. I have already explained the amnesty and I would add that Major-General Bishop, Deputy Chief of Staff, is personally going into the matter of interned youths in order that wherever possible they should be released in the very near future. To sum up our principles with regard to these civil internees and the speed with which we are applying them, I would point out that we are attempting to secure a final decision with regard to all these people (nearly all of whom have already had their cases investigated at least once) by the end of this year.
All those who we believe are obviously suitable for release should be released in about six weeks from now. I can only end in the way I began, by saying how grateful I am, and how proud, speaking for the War Office, that we are felt by the House (and the same holds true of all those civilians who have had responsibility for prisoners) to have adopted and lived up to the only standards your Lordships' House would tolerate towards these people—namely, the Christian standard of treating them as human beings like ourselves. Most of them are personally good and a few of them are bad, but all of them sinners who, like ourselves, must one day hope to be forgiven.
§ 5.21 p.m.
THE LORD BISHOP OF CHICHESTER
My Lords, I should like to express my great appreciation of the course which this debate has taken and the remarks which have fallen from all the speakers. I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord who has just spoken for the Government, and I am touched by his kind words and not frightened by his severe tones. His remarks are most encouraging to those of us—and obviously to Members of your Lordships House as well as members of the outside public—who feel keenly the humane issues raised by the presence of so many prisoners of war in this country. The whole approach of His Majesty's Government to this matter is very cheery indeed.
I do not wish to trouble your Lordships with further arguments with regard to 607 many statements which have been made. I will only say that with regard to the number of unemployed in Germany, which was referred to by the noble Lord below me, I was told in October by an expert on German manpower in the Control Commission, that in Dusseldorf they were, at that time, 250,000 persons short, and therefore many persons could be accommodated with food and with work, especially with work in the mines and in industry of various kinds. Although that may be a larger figure than one would expect, or what may be true now, there is a very considerable opening for the employment of prisoners of war.
Your Lordships will expect me to say a word in reply to the charge of the slight departure attributed to me in other parts of my statement in connexion with screening. May I say at once that the noble Lord gave me the main part of what I was hoping for when he said that all the Bs., who constitute the great majority of the prisoners of war, are lined up together in the repatriation queue. I entirely accept the need for differentiating between the anti-Nazis, the violent offenders, and the pro-Nazis. Where it seems to me the screening is not quite so adequate, shall I say, is in the grades at the bottom of the B category and at the top of the C category. I could give the noble Lord instances especially affecting youth, in which it is extremely hard to understand why certain young persons in these prisoner of war camps should have been put into the C group rather than into the B group.
There are quite a number of sorrowful complaints when people notice that they have been graded C when they fully expected to be regarded as grey. It is really much more difficult than perhaps the noble Lord led the House to suppose to get a proper appreciation of the political attitude of the great majority of the prisoners of war. I still maintain that there are very many instances in which the screening is inadequate, and also that you cannot, by foreign interrogation, get an accurate account of the attitude, of particular prisoners of war here in England to the Nazi regime. You can only do so with German help in Germany, and it takes quite a considerable time. I will furnish and even fortify the noble Lord with some instances if I may later on, about my criticisms of the screening 608 process. I am also very grateful for what the noble Lord said about the position of the internment camps for civilians in the British Zone.
I think perhaps I ought to dissipate a misunderstanding with regard to the number of lesser offenders. I did mention the number of 8,000,000, not at all supposing that 8,000,000 could form any portion of 35,000 interned persons but because that was the figure which was given by the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Maugham, on October 15 in the debate on the Trials in the British Zone. He said that there were no fewer than 8,000,000 Nazis in our Zone. I am informed by the Control Office that there are about 1,125,000 persons who remain to be cleared on the denazification category system. It would be interesting to learn how large a number of persons there are who have some sort of association with the Nazi Party, who may be, at present haunted by the feeling of uncertainty. My main point was that in the internment camps themselves there is this very great discrepancy between the bad hats and the lesser caps or bowlers. I do not wish to detain your Lordships any longer, and I would like to thank the noble Lord once again for the courtesy of his remarks, and the encouragement and sympathy of his reply, and beg leave to withdraw my Motion.
Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.