HL Deb 10 February 1982 vol 427 cc178-81

2.59 p.m.

Lord Clifford of Chudleigh

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will publish the letters from the Treasury giving the instructions whereby officer prisoners of war in Italy and Germany had deductions made from their pay and that those deductions should be paid to the Treasury.

The Minister of State for Defence Procurement (Viscount Trenchard)

My Lords, there was no such instruction. In answer to the Unstarred Question on 20th January, I described the policy and system for pay deductions and the arrangements for refunds after the War. I am, however, placing in the Library copies of the three Service Instruments in which the policy regarding deductions from pay was promulgated.

Lord Clifford of Chudleigh

My Lords, may I ask the Minister this: If there were no such instructions, why did these things take place? And would he not now agree that deductions from pay were made from all officer prisoners of war concerned, and that, where lager money was paid—and in many cases it was not, and what was paid was irregular—the value was infinitesimal compared to the deductions made over here? Would he not also agree that, in contradistinction to the Allied and Dominion Governments, the money deducted from officer prisoners of war in this country was handed over to the Treasury instead of being returned to the rightful owners?

Viscount Trenchard

My Lords, the noble Lord took part in the debate on the Unstarred Question and I spoke for 30 minutes, I regret to say, in reply to that debate. I believe that all of the points that he has raised were fully answered in that Unstarred Question and I really have nothing further to add. For the benefit of the House in general, let me say that I made clear in my Answer that deductions were made according to a policy which was known throughout the war. Refunds were considerable and widespread. Some credits did come through during hostilities to officers' accounts in this country. There was no settlement with a partitioned Germany in a situation of unconditional surrender, and Her Majesty's Government, therefore, accepted the full liability and, clearly, any credits that were available for dealing with all the prisoners of war according to the policy concerned.

Lord Shinwell

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the Answer which he gave to the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, and the addendum—for which he was not asked—have only increased the mystery about this affair? In the absence of any communication between the Treasury or any Government department and the Ministry of Defence or the War Office, it is impossible to reach a conclusion about this matter. In the circumstances, ought we not to have the letters—if there were any—which passed between the Treasury or any other Government department and the Ministry of Defence and the War Office so that it is possible for us to reach a conclusion and, if it is regarded as desirable, to meet the claims of the prisoners of war?

Viscount Trenchard

My Lords, I did refer to a number of documents and a number of letters and referred noble Lords' attention particularly to the reports of the Public Accounts Committee and the Comptroller and Auditor General at the end of the period during which all these questions, under two Administrations, were considered. I am seeing my noble friend Lord Kimberley, who raised the Unstarred Question, and some of the members of his unofficial committee tomorrow, as I promised I would do. Dependent upon that meeting, it may seem helpful if we give fuller answers to the many points which he has raised and which they have raised in documents that they have sent to us. The documents are not complete. The two Governments of the time clearly considered all these matters. There are no individual records left and there is no conceivable way of telling individual entitlements today. As I said during the debate on the Unstarred Question, I do not regard it as a service to anyone concerned to raise expectations which I believe cannot possibly be fulfilled, and I do not believe that the expectations were justified.

Lord Shinwell

My Lords, how is it possible for the Minister to declare to your Lordships' House that two Administrations dealt with this matter and reached a conclusion about it? Is he aware that, as Secretary of State for War, I am also aware of what happened during the war from 1943 onwards? I was also Minister of Defence, and from a particular search through the columns of Hansard for the other place I find not a single reference.

Viscount Trenchard

My Lords, there are many references and, in fact, since the Unstarred Question have found a great many more references in Hansard throughout the war years. Indeed, I am wondering whether the noble Lord has read my answer to the Unstarred Question. However, I shall also write to him in relation to his own part at that time when he himself was not involved in this question.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, is the noble Viscount aware that his replies this afternoon still leave the whole question in a thoroughly unsatisfactory state? Is the noble Viscount aware that, although he replied specifically that no instruction had been sent by the Treasury in this regard, he did not, in fact, precisely answer the Question, which referred to letters from the Treasury containing instructions? Is he aware that some slight advantage might be taken by certain civil servants as to the semantic differences between those two terms? Will he now say that no letters were sent from the Treasury to the departments concerned on this matter? If he cannot answer that question in the negative, will he give the House an assurance that such letters as were sent by the Treasury on this matter will be published? Is he aware that, in the absence of such letters, the whole House will wonder how it came about that some of the money landed up in the Treasury?

Viscount Trenchard

My Lords, the noble Lord also took part on the Unstarred Question, although he was unable to stay until the end of the debate. But I did answer all the points that he has raised on that occasion and, on a short Starred Question, to elaborate further is extremely difficult. There was no instruction from the Treasury, and I said that, I think, twice in my speech in the debate. There was considerable correspondence. only part of which has been preserved, and I mentioned a number of Ministers who had been involved in parts of the correspondence. I also mentioned an interdepartmental committee and I drew the noble Lord's attention—I do not know whether he has read them—to the Comptroller and Auditor General's report and to the Public Accounts Committee's report. I think that on a Starred Question I cannot go further.

If the House feels that I have not dealt fully with the Question. and—what is important to me—if the noble Earl's unofficial committee, which I meet tomorrow, as I promised I would, feels, after the pretty exhaustive studies that I and my colleagues have undertaken, that I have not answered the questions, and that there is purpose in having an inquiry and that an inquiry could lead anywhere, rather than raise false expectations for no good purpose, then the House could press me or I might even suggest something.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, might it not be helpful, however, if, when the noble Viscount places in the Library the three Service documents to which he referred, he also places the minutes of the crucial interdepartmental committee to which he has referred, which took the decision which is so widely criticised in many parts of the House?

Viscount Trenchard

My Lords, in the Unstarred Question debate the noble Lord did, indeed, ask me that question. I undertook to consider the degree to which the publication in the Library of further documents or drawing the attention of the House to further documents in a situation of incomplete documents, though very considerable documents, would be helpful. I promised to come back to him on that occasion. If I may, I want to leave the matter until after tomorrow's meeting and the discussion, so that I can take note of whatever the noble Earl's unofficial committee says to me as to whether it would be to the advantage of the House to publish much more or not.

Lord Segal

My Lords,—

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Baroness Young)

My Lords, I think that we have had now a very long time on these Questions and that it is the feeling of the House, as we have important business to deal with, that we should move to the next business.

Lord Segal

My Lords, may I ask the noble Viscount—

Several noble Lords


Lord Segal

My Lords, may I ask the noble Baroness the Leader of the House whether it is in order for a Member to ask a Question before his name has been called by the Table?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I understand that the answer to that Question is that it is a very unusual event.