I feel I should preface my remarks with an expression of regret that I have to delay my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War immediately after such a long Debate. I would like to make one or two very brief general observations before I come to argue my main thesis. I fully appreciate, as I am sure my right hon. Friend does, that all of us who have any responsibility for prisoners of war wish to make the best possible contribution we can to their welfare and safety and that we also want to keep helpful contacts with their relatives in this country. Therefore, I regret all the more that I find myself in some conflict with my right hon. Friend to-day. I also want to make it perfectly clear that I am not raising this issue as a personal matter at all. I have no connection either with the British Red Cross or with the Prisoners of War Organisation or with Mr. Stanley Adams, who was managing director I undertook to raise the original Adjournment Question on Mr. Adams' resignation on behalf of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wycombe (Sir A. Knox). I would, however, like to place it on record—because I think it would be appreciated by many thousands of prisoners and their relatives—my praise of the work Mr. Adams did during the time he was at the Prisoners of War Organisation.
My reason for raising this question to-day is on a matter of general principle. I believe that my right hon. Friend, either through inadvertence, lack of co-ordination between Ministers or lack of cooperation between Ministers, has contravened the traditional relationships existing between the Executive and Parliament. I cannot view with equanimity a possible future repetition of such a contravention. Therefore, I felt that I must raise the issue in order to give my right hon. Friend and other Ministers associated with him an opportunity of explaining to the House the exact position, because I am completely in the dark as to what happened about the inquiry promised by the Lord Privy Seal. I come now to my story. I had undertaken, on behalf of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wycombe, to raise on the Adjournment the question of Mr. Adams' resignation, as there had been a great deal of public anxiety expressed when his resignation was announced. The Adjournment was set for a special day. The day before I received a manuscript letter from my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Privy Seal, in these terms:
I am most anxious for the sake of the relatives of the prisoners of war to avoid any more public discussion of the British Red Cross Society difficulty. If it is discussed on the Adjournment it will only lead to violently partisan statements on the two sides and we shall be no further forward. I have therefore approached the War Office and the British Red Cross Society and offered to hold a private inquiry myself at once into the matter and to report to the Secretary of State for War my findings. They have both accepted this proposal subject to the supporters of Mr. Adams' case doing the same. If therefore (a) you will not raise the matter on the Adjournment at any rate till after the inquiry and report, and (b) you will get other supporters to leave the matter quiet (so far as you are able), I will undertake the inquiry at once. I hope you will agree that this is a sensible solution.
I contacted Mr. Adams, who very readily agreed to co-operate in the inquiry, and I subsequently saw the Lord Privy Seal and asked for certain safeguards. The Lord Privy Seal assured me that he had arranged with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War that if there was any difficulty about the findings, he had reserved to himself the right to raise the matter with the War Cabinet. I also raised—and this is important—the question of a statement to the House, because I felt that the relatives of the prisoners of war were entitled to be told that my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Privy Seal was undertaking this inquiry. The Lord Privy Seal said, "I was afraid you would ask for that." I said, "I think it is the only right and proper course to take; may I have a Private Notice Question to-morrow?" He agreed. I want my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War to bear that in mind. Subsequently, on 5th March, which was the day on which the announcement had been made in the House and the date of the original Adjournment on which I was to have raised the matter, the Lord Privy Seal wrote to Mr. Adams in the following terms:
As you know, I have agreed, in view of the anxiety that may have been raised in the minds of some relatives of prisoners about the effect of recent changes in the management of the Prisoners of War Department of the British Red Cross Society, to look into the matter personally and advise the Secretary of State for War of my opinion upon it. I have decided that the most convenient way of conducting this inquiry will be that the two parties to the controversy, that is to say, yourself and the British Red Cross Society, should each prepare a statement; that these should be exchanged through me; and that I should then go into the whole matter personally with the two parties. I shall be pleased when we all meet to hear anything further that you or your witnesses care to say and to give both parties an opportunity of asking each other questions. This is not, in my view, and I am sure you will agree, a matter for legal representation."
"Thank you for your letter of 5th March. I fear there is a misunderstanding as to my position. I have no controversy with the British Red Cross Society. I have resigned and my resignation has been accepted, and I do not wish to ventilate any grievance. In fact I have none, and have no desire to extend the field of controversy. The British Red Cross Society at the suggestion of the War Office invited my assistance. I gave it. The British Red Cross later left me in no doubt that my services as Managing Director were regarded as superfluous. I resigned. I see in this no ground for recrimination. If the matter has assumed public importance it is only as a result of the action of the Prisoners of War Relatives Association and Next-of-Kin who may perhaps be regarded as a party to the controversy, which I am not. As you wish to have a statement from me, I am preparing one dealing with my activities for prisoners of war during my tenure of office, and I hope this will be available on Tuesday or Wednesday.
The point I want to emphasise is that Mr. Adams did not wish any public controversy. He agreed to the Lord Privy Seal's suggestion at my request and because he felt that, as he had been asked, it would only be friendly to do so to give his co-operation. When I saw the Lord Privy Seal, I asked whether he and the Prisoners of War Relatives Association might put in their memoranda dealing with the aspects of the case which they knew. The Lord Privy Seal replied that he was not going to extend the inquiry outside the British Red Cross Society and Mr. Adams, and that he would canalise any information which was relevant to the inquiry through the British Red Cross Society and Mr. Adams. I emphasise that because I want to make it plain to the House that there was no doubt in the minds of all of us as to what the inquiry was about. I shall not go into the merits of the case, which is past and done with; it is no good going back over past history; but it is relevant to the point I am trying to make that it was very well known what the subject of the inquiry was, and that everyone connected with it was expecting that when a statement was made as to the results of the findings, it would be made on the basis of the terms of reference agreed between the Lord Privy Seal and myself, namely, Mr. Adams' resignation. My complaint, if I may so put it, in a friendly way, to my right hon. Friend, is that when the announcement was made in the House, the terms of reference were altered, and that subsequently, I understand—and I have had to wait a very long time before being able to raise this issue in the House—although the inquiry, which was subsequently held by the Paymaster-General, was very intricate, very detailed, and lasted over a very long period, in fact no written report was presented to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War, because he would not accept one, and that in fact the draft report which was handed in by the Paymaster-General presumably went into the waste-paper basket, and probably no one outside official circles has any idea what in fact were the terms of the original findings by the Paymaster-General.
I want to be absolutely fair. I wonder whether the Treasury Bench realise how very difficult it is for a Back Bench Member, who has no information available except what it has been possible to find out over a period of months, to be perfectly fair and balanced in criticism. I do not want to make any unfair statements against any Minister. I want only to get the truth, which I have been prevented from getting. When I saw my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War, he made it perfectly plain to me that he had never seen the original correspondence. I ought to explain to the House that the Lord Privy Seal had to leave for India, and that he asked the Paymaster-General to undertake the inquiry, which the Paymaster-General did. I have no complaint to make about the way in which he conducted the inquiry, although he did slightly alter the method of carrying it out; but he went into the subject on the basis of the terms of reference originally agreed between the Lord Privy Seal and myself. I repeat that when I saw my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War, he made it perfectly clear to me that he had not seen the original correspondence, and, of course, I blame myself, when the Lord Privy Seal left for India, for not having forwarded a copy of my manuscript letter to the Secretary of State for War and to the Paymaster-General, but, obviously, it could not have occurred to me that the terms of reference had not been properly agreed to as between the Lord Privy Seal, the Secretary of State for War and the Paymaster-General. When I saw my
right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War, he stated that certain terms of reference which he had agreed had been announced in the House, and these I must read. The statement was, of course, made by the Financial Secretary to the War Office. It reads:
With the permission of the House, I should like to make a short statement. In view of the anxiety that may have been raised in the minds of some relatives of prisoners about the effect of recent changes in the management of the Prisoners of War Department of the British Red Cross Society, my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal has consented upon the suggestion of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War to look into the matter personally and to advise my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State of his opinion upon it. This course has the full approval of the British Red Cross Society."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th March, 1942; col. 806, Vol. 378.]
Why it should not have had the approval of myself, as representing Mr. Stanley Adams, I really do not know. My right hon. Friend says that he agreed to these terms of reference, which were different from the terms of reference agreed to between the Lord Privy Seal and myself. In my original manuscript letter the Lord Privy Seal made it perfectly clear that he had made the approach to the Secretary of State for War, but in the statement made in the House by the Financial Secretary it is perfectly clear that the approach came from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War; it is quite a puzzle to me to say in this matter who is Wellington and who is Blücher. It is outside my province.
I must tell my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War why I let that particular announcement pass; I shall never do it again, because it does not pay to be co-operative and helpful, believe me. When I saw the Lord Privy Seal and asked for a statement to be made in the House that he was going to undertake the inquiry, he said his difficulty was that he did not want to be regarded as an arbitrator available to Government Departments when a dispute occurred. I quite understand his position. Therefore, when these terms of reference were announced in the House, and it was pointed out that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War made the approach to my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Privy Seal, I very naturally assumed that that was a protection for the Lord Privy Seal. As I have said, I do not know what the answer is. It is quite clear to me, from the letter which the Lord Privy Seal wrote to me and from the statement which he subsequently embodied in a letter to Mr. Adams, that he had very generously—I know the relatives of prisoners of war were profoundly grateful to him—undertaken to carry out this inquiry, and that when the statement on the inquiry was made in the House, the original terms of reference had been changed. I cannot, without going into the merits of the case, argue that point, but I do say that the only way to settle what were the agreed terms of reference is to find out the interpretation put upon them by the interested parties—the British Red Cross Society and Mr. Adams. This can only be done by publishing the original memoranda prepared by both sides. I have seen both memoranda, and I know that I am putting forward a perfectly sound case. That is the only way to solve this muddle; I call it a muddle, although I am prepared to believe that it arose out of a genuine misunderstanding. The only way to straighten it out is to publish the original documents in a White Paper, or send the papers to a High Court Judge.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War must bear in mind that when the Paymaster-General widened the scope of the inquiry, he saw witnesses, not with Mr. Adams but on their own. A large number of relatives really know what the Paymaster-General inquired into, and what was said to them at the inquiry, and, therefore the House will realise that they were surprised, in fact, were staggered, when he announced the findings which had no relationship to matters on which they had given evidence. If you are to carry out an inquiry on the future organisation of the British Red Cross Society, or on the appointment of a successor to Mr. Adams, it would be inappropriate to send for Mr. Adams and ask him to give the Paymaster-General, and subsequently my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War, his opinion as to whether his successor is sufficiently well equipped to care for the future welfare of the prisoners. It would be highly improper. That is why I say that I am quite certain about my original terms of reference. You might as well ask the late Secretary of State for War to submit a memorandum to the Prime Minister as to whether he thinks my right hon. Friend will make a better or worse Secretary of State for War than himself. The whole thing is absolutely wrong.
I am perfectly prepared to believe that the whole thing was a genuine muddle, but I wish members of the Treasury Bench—I do not want to lecture them—if there was a difficulty, had come to me or to Mr. Adams and asked us what they were to do about it, and, to use what has become a favourite phrase in the War Office, "come clean in the matter," because they would have found us very ready to co-operate. Although I know I can sometimes be extraordinarily tiresome—I should not mind on certain occasions if my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War tore me limb from limb, because I would deserve it—over this I am as innocent as a babe unborn, and yet not one Minister has said a word of regret to me. I asked a man who had nothing to do with our Parliamentary machine to co-operate for the benefit of the Government in an inquiry; I told him it was perfectly all right, and this is what happens—the terms of reference are altered and no one even says to me, "We regret there has been a muddle."
I want to go one step further. I want to be perfectly frank with the House. It it very difficult to obtain one's evidence, because Members of the Front Bench are like closed oysters when they get together to try and whitewash themselves. [An HON. MEMBER: "HOW does the oyster get out"?] The oyster nearly came out, but changed its mind and went back again. I have to throw myself on the good will of the House. I am trying to get to the bottom of a very real difficulty. I understand that when the Paymaster-General had concluded his evidence, he prepared a draft report—my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Privy Seal used the phrase "to report my findings." I understand that in legal parlance when you report findings, you report them in a legal manner, and it is incredible on a matter of this kind that there is no written record of the inquiry available at the War Office. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War has not read the evidence, although he may have done so when he knew I was going to raise the matter to-day. I understand that the Paymaster-General prepared a draft report, which was circulated to the British Red Cross Society and to Mr. Adams. I have not seen a copy of it.
Naturally the relatives, whom we are all anxious to do everything we can to help, have been very perturbed about the whole question. I think the right hon. Gentleman has had a copy of the resolution passed by the Council of the British Prisoners of War Relatives Association. This is a very powerful body. It has branches all over the country, and the ordinary rank and file of relatives belong to it. They passed this resolution on 22nd July:
This Association urges the Government to take action for the better safeguarding of the interests and welfare of British prisoners of war by setting up an inter-departmental committee under the Foreign Office similar to the one set up in the last war, having a Minister as chairman and an independent umpire, with power to overrule dissentient departments. It also urges that the business control of the British Red Cross Prisoners of War Department should be vested in the hands of one man having practical knowledge of and experience in dealing with European traffic problems and that, whilst appreciating and admiring the excellent work of the British Red Cross, the Association affirms its agreement with the view expressed by Sir William Jowitt that the existing officers of the Department (Prisoners of War Department of the British Red Cross) have not the necessary flexibility and reserve of strength to enable it to surmount future difficulties which might arise and holds that the extension of the war and the large increase in the number of British prisoners of war make it imperative that the Government take more responsibility for their welfare.
Greater co-ordination between Government Departments is certainly necessary. I discovered during my investigations that in the period when the Ministry of Food was negotiating with America for a change-over from the supply of food parcels from America to our prisoners, before America came into the war, which would have been a saving to us, the Ministry of Food, which had taken the initiative, never filed their information with the War Office, which is the Department that answers for prisoners of war. I should like to pay a very warm tribute to the work of the Post Office in connection with the despatch of parcels, because I understand from all sides that they have done their work admirably. I understand that they do not file the War Office records of their work. It seems to me that there is some lack of co-ordination between the Government Departments which are also concerned in Prisoners of
War matters and the War Office which is unbusinesslike.
The past is over. I have no wish, neither has anyone else with whom I am connected, to resurrect it. The right hon. Gentleman has a reputation for strength and ruthlessness, two qualities which are very good in a Minister of the Crown. I think he ought to add another quality, which I have no doubt he also possesses, even if he does not exercise it, and that is judgment. I say in all sincerity, as a friend and not as a critic, that we ought to forget all the unfortunate happenings that have occurred. The right hon. Gentleman can do that so easily if he would agree to the setting-up of this inter-departmental committee, which would give confidence to many people who have been bewildered, as I have been bewildered, by these unsatisfactory happenings. I ask him to be a practical man. He has dealt with me, and he will probably deal with me now, very effectively, but I do not blame him. I do not mind how hard he hits, but let us after to-day forget this controversy and re-establish confidence. The country knows the contribution that the Red Cross has made. We do wish to re-establish confidence in the handling of this question by the House of Commons. I believe that the only way we can get it is to give the relatives what they want, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to announce that he agrees to the setting-up of that inter-departmental committee.
I should like to pay a tribute to my hon. Friend for the bulldog tenacity with which she has held on to this question. I first gave notice to raise the question of the resignation of Mr. Stanley Adams on 24th February, but for private reasons I had to hand the matter over to my hon. Friend, and I am convinced, from what we have just heard, that I could not have put the matter into better hands. She has carried on a real fight against the whole influence of the Treasury Bench with true feminine determination.
I should like to say a word or two about how Mr. Adams came to be appointed. I do not think its greatest admirer could say, in 1940, that all was well with the Red Cross. There were very great difficulties. The situation was very different from that in the last war. There was a great number of prisoners and there was no common frontier with the enemy. The fact remains that until, I believe, November, 1940, the Red Cross did not send anyone to Lisbon to find out how parcels sent there had been getting through to Geneva to be distributed to the prisoners. I believe that no fewer than 400,000 parcels were stolen or disappeared. There came a demand from the relatives of prisoners for a change. The first idea that a man with a business experience and European contacts should be appointed to the Prisoners of War Department came from the mother of a prisoner, who wrote to the then chairman of the Prisoners of War Department on 3rd October, 1940. However, things moved slowly and nothing happened till, I think, February, 1941. Then, by a stroke of genius, perhaps from the chairman of the Red Cross, but I am inclined to think from the War Office, Mr. Adams was appointed managing director of the Prisoners of War Parcels Department of the Red Cross.
He was admirably suited to this work, I saw him constantly in the year in which he was working, because, rightly or wrongly, many relatives of prisoners of war have written to me that the prisoners were not getting their parcels, and instead of asking Questions in the House, I often wrote to Mr. Adams. I invariably got a prompt reply which went into all the details and difficulties and the hopes there were for an improvement. I will not say how often I saw him, but I always found him with all the facts at his command. I was horrified in February, 1942, to learn from a private letter that he was tendering his resignation. I immediately went to St. James's Palace and asked to see him. He refused to reconsider his resignation, because his position had been made impossible. He had hoped to have complete control of the Prisoners of War Parcels Department, and it had not been given to him. Immediately after his appointment as managing director, the then chairman, Lord Clarendon, was moved to another position, and I thought the obvious thing would have been for Mr. Stanley Adams to have been made chairman of the Prisoners of War Parcels Department and given complete control as he was the foremost business man in the whole organisation. Instead, a distinguished general was brought in as chairman. The position of chairman was absolutely redundant, and Mr. Adams, too, considered that to be so. That worked for a time, and Mr. Adams held on until he was finally forced to retire.
Then this inquiry came. The Lord Privy Seal volunteered to conduct it, but he was sent to India, and he handed it over to the Paymaster-General. We do not know what his report was. Apparently, it was a verbal report given to the Secretary of State for War. Whether that report was discussed with the chairman of the Red Cross or even with Mr. Stanley Adams, I do not know. On 16th March the Secretary of State for War made a statement to the House of Commons which I can only characterise as churlish. It did not contain a single word of reference to the splendid work which Mr. Adams had given for 12 months. He is a man whose business experience is worth thousands a year in the City; he had given his time and his all for nothing and he was forced, to retire. He says that he does not want this question brought up again, but it is our duty, on behalf of the prisoners of war, to bring the question forward so that we can get some real reply from the Treasury Bench.
I rise because I am a member—I think the only one in this House—of the Red Cross Committee for Prisoners of War. Perhaps I may also mention that I was a prisoner of war for 15 months in the last war and learned something about prisoners' needs. I got back to this country a year before the Armistice, and then had a good deal to do with ministering to those needs. I do not propose to deal with the complaint of my hon. Friend the Member for Wallsend (Miss Ward) about the way the Paymaster-General's inquiry was handled. I propose instead to deal with the resolution, which she read, of the Prisoners of War Relatives Association. They urge that the interest of prisoners of war would best be safeguarded by an inter-departmental committee under the Foreign Office such as existed in the last war. I saw something of that administration in the last war, and I thought it was anything but ideal. I well remember that the head of that organisation, Lord Newton, suggested in another place that you could not expect the War Office to take any enthusiastic interest in prisoners of war any more than butchers took an interest in meatless days. I am not suggesting that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State does not take an interest in prisoners of war, but nobody is more helpless than a prisoner, and I believe that his needs are far better handled by a flexible and sympathetic organisation like the Red Cross than by the War Office or by an inter-departmental committee such as my hon. Friend the Member for Wallsend suggests.
There is another important reason for not weakening the Red Cross control. The British Red Cross depends on the International Red Cross for getting its parcels all the way from Lisbon to the prisoners' camps, and it depends on the International Red Cross in a hundred other ways. The International Red Cross will not listen to the British Government; they will only listen to the British Red Cross, and the more the British Red Cross control is reduced the more the authority of the Red Cross emblem is weakened. I agree that it is no good the British Red Cross being sympathetic if it is not efficient, but the Paymaster-General in his report found definitely that the Red Cross administration was efficient. That finding is omitted from the resolution of the Prisoners of War Relatives Association. I, myself, who have been at close quarters with the Red Cross administration, am strongly of opinion that it is efficient.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wallsend has also advocated, as do the Prisoners of War Relatives Association, that the business control of the Red Cross should be in the hands of somebody with experience of European traffic. Those words are presumably intended to refer to Mr. Adams, and he is no longer available.
My hon. Friend is putting an entirely different interpretation on what was intended because in the evidence put forward by the Prisoners of War Relatives Association to the inquiry they suggest the name of Sir William Currie. None of the evidence put to the inquiry asked for the reinstatement of Mr. Adams because Mr. Adams did not want to be involved at all. If Sir William Currie was appointed as director in an executive capacity, the association would get what they wanted.
I have hardly any knowledge of Mr. Adams because he suppressed the committee of which I was a member, both before and after his régime, so I never met him. Sir William Currie is now in the Red Cross-organisation in an advisory capacity. The executive head of the parcels organisation is now Mr. Eddy, who has a life-long experience of railway traffic in this country and abroad. It is true that it does not extend to the Continent, but the conditions under which parcels are forwarded now have no relation to prewar continental traffic.
I suggest that the present agitation against the Red Cross is harmful. It undermines the confidence of the relatives and causes anxiety. It is also likely to dam the flow of funds into the Red Cross and therefore to injure the interests of the prisoners themselves. If the agitation were well-founded that would not matter but, as I have said, my experience is that the administration is good and the agitation is not well-founded. I do not doubt the bona fides of those who are conducting this agitation but I think it is based on wrong information. For that I think the Red Cross are partly responsible. They have been rather inclined to hide their light under a bushel. I make the practical suggestion that after the Recess the Red Cross should be invited to submit their administration to the informal examination of an all-party meeting upstairs. I think that would do a good deal to reassure hon. Members of this House, and through them, to reassure the relatives of prisoners.
It is only with the leave of the House that I can speak again. I realise that the War Office has occupied an undue amount of the time of to-day's Sitting, and I will try to make my remarks as brief as possible, and in any case considerably briefer than I had intended. It is quite obvious that the hon. Member for Wallsend (Miss Ward) has, for some time, cherished a great grievance, and her grievance is that the inquiry conducted by the Paymaster-General was not what she thought it was going to be. Perhaps the House will allow me to explain the circumstances which led up to this inquiry: I will cut down the narrative as much as I possibly can. The House will remember that on 17th February my predecessor stated that he had received information from the chairman of the War Organisation of the Red Cross Society which foreboded some diminution
in the delivery of parcels to our prisoners of war in prison camps in Germany and Italy. This diminution was due to the steady dwindling during the preceding months of the reserve of parcels which had been built up at Geneva, and also to the interruption of the shipping services caused by damage to one of the vessels. He indicated that steps had been taken to remedy the situation and concluded:
This unfortunate diminution in the reserve of prisoners' parcels at Geneva has evidently been a gradual process extending over a number of months and is, of course, in no way attributable to the change in the management of the Red Cross Prisoners of War Department, which occurred only last week.
This shortage in the despatch of parcels from Geneva to the camps was, very naturally, a matter of concern to the House and also to the relatives of prisoners of war, and, perhaps the House will allow me to say, very naturally a matter of concern to the Government also. Accordingly on 5th March the Financial Secretary to the War Office made an announcement, which the hon. Lady has read and which I need not therefore repeat. It referred to the inquiry to be made by the Lord Privy Seal, the results of which were to be communicated to me. As the hon. Member for Wallsend has said, on account of the Lord Privy Seal's visit to India the Paymaster-General was good enough to undertake the inquiry instead. The anxiety which had been expressed, and not only expressed but felt, was whether the services rendered to our prisoners would continue to be carried out efficiently. The terms of reference show clearly that the essence of the inquiry was to assure ourselves and the public that the British Red Cross Society was still, after the resignation of Mr. Stanley Adams, adequately equipped to discharge its responsibilities towards the prisoners, and that is the only thing that matters in this business. There was no suggestion in the Financial Secretary's announcement that the inquiry was concerned with the circumstances which had led Mr. Adams to resign. It was concerned solely with the possible results of that resignation on the interests of our prisoners of war. Here I may, perhaps, say that the War Office has always sought to maintain a clear distinction between its own general responsibility for the welfare of British prisoners and the particular responsibility of the Red Cross, who are making the actual arrangements for pack-
ing and despatching parcels, included in those arrangements being; naturally, the staffing and the administration of their own offices. It is not for the War Office to interfere in the domestic affairs of the Red Cross, and we should certainly not have been a party to any inquiry which sought to do so, and clearly the Red Cross would not have expressed their approval of the inquiry if it had been one to investigate their private administrative arrangements.
The hon. Member for Wallsend has said that she has had no satisfactory explanation from me of the change of the terms of reference. If she thought they would contain something else, may I say in return that I have had no satisfactory explanation from her of why, if she was discontented, she did not raise the question on 5th March when the announcement was made. The announcement having been made of the terms of reference, which were agreed with the Lord Privy Seal and seemed to me quite clear then, and seem to me to be quite clear now, surely if she were dissatisfied she should have raised the point then and not have left it until after the result of the inquiry had been announced. The hon. Member for Wallsend has a second grievance and that is that she had expected the advice to be tendered in the form of a written report which could be published. Surely it is an extraordinary idea that the advice given by one Minister to another should form the subject of a formal and published report. One has only to examine the suggestion to see that on the face of it it is not reasonable. I can only say that there was no suggestion in the announcement of the inquiry that there was to be a formal and public report, and there is no such report. When he had completed his inquiries the Paymaster-General discussed with me the conclusions he had come to and offered certain advice, and both his conclusions and his advice were embodied in an agreed statement which I made to the House on 16th April. On this question of misunderstanding that is all I have to say.
The question of Mr. Adams' position has been raised, and I agree with the hon. Member that it is about time this controversy was put to rest. The hon. Member complained that the Government have not made a formal expression of thanks to Mr. Adams. Rightly or wrongly, and I take full responsibility, I have all along taken the view that the War Office relations are with the Red Cross Society and not with any individual member of the Society. The gratitude of the Government and the War Office for what has been done by the Red Cross is not to individuals but to the Society as a whole. In the same way, if mistakes are made nobody wants to blame any individual—at least I do not and the War Office do not. We deal with the Society and that is all there is to it, and we have every reason to be abundantly grateful to the Red Cross Society. If I had not already taken so much of the time of the House I should like to have elaborated that theme a little but I cannot do it now, and perhaps the House will therefore allow me merely to give one or two reassuring figures about the parcel situation now. Since February of this year, when a rather alarming situation disclosed itself and it became necessary to rebuild the reserve at Geneva and also to supply an increased number of our prisoners after the operations in Libya, the Red Cross Society have increased their packings in this country from 75,000 parcels to 105,000 a week, and that number will very shortly become 120,000. The supply from Canada has been stepped up from 40,000 to 60,000, and will very shortly, we hope, become 70,000. Adequate supplies of clothing for the new prisoners of war are on the way, quite apart from the current supplies for the prisoners who have been there a longer time.
I will come to the despatches from Geneva in a minute. The permanent fleet of ships has been increased, and has been supplemented by other ships taken on short charter, in cases where they could not be got on long charter. The despatches of food parcels alone from Geneva were 370,000 in May, 550,000 in June and 280,000 for the first part of July. I do not know how long it takes from Geneva to the actual prisoners of war camps in Germany, but obviously that is probably the quickest part of the journey.
Having said, on behalf not only of the War Office but of the Government as a whole, that we have every reason to be grateful to the Red Cross, I would like to repeat a note of warning which was contained in the statement I made, on I think 16th April, that the difficulties of getting parcels to Geneva and on to Germany are bound to increase. To those difficulties we, partly, contribute, in that we are doing our best to bomb communications in Germany. I am satisfied that the Red Cross is now equipped to deal with this matter as well as anybody can, and we certainly have no cause for dissatisfaction with their performance by and large, up to date—in fact, quite the contrary. There is close and continuous liaison between the societies, and the War Office and other Government Departments concerned with prisoners of war, and there are arrangements inside the War Office for co-ordinating the interests of Government Departments other than the War Office and of prisoners other than soldiers. There is, under the Financial Secretary to the War Office, an Imperial Prisoners of War Committee, which brings in the Dominion Government representatives as well. In fact, I have seen no sign whatever of any particularist activities in this matter, or any sign of lack of co-ordination between the various Government Departments and the Empire Governments concerned. As I said just now, the work of the Red Cross Society in getting the parcels to the prisoners of war increases in magnitude and difficulty. I believe that the Red Cross have done everything possible and are doing everything possible to cope with this work. I can assure the House that the War Office and all Government Departments concerned will afford the Society every assistance it may seek in order to be able to carry out this work.