As regards Singapore, a relatively short official list of names of prisoners of war has been received within the last few days from Tokyo through the agency of the International Red Cross Committee. The next-of-kin have in many cases been informed, and the notifications are being completed as quickly as possible. As regards Hong Kong, the majority of names of British Army personnel have been reported by the Japanese authorities. As regards the care and welfare of prisoners of war, a certain amount of information has been collected from various sources, and I will circulate a statement on the subject in the OFFICIAL REPORT.
The House will wish to know that, in view of the delays which are taking place in the receipt of complete lists of prisoners from the enemy Powers, it has been decided that the normal period, for which Army family and dependants' allowances and soldiers allotments continue to be paid in respect of officers and soldiers reported as missing, shall be extended in future from the existing 17 weeks to 26 weeks from the date the relatives are notified that the officer or soldier is missing.
The position of the relatives of the comparatively small numbers who are still regarded as missing after the surrenders in Hong Kong has also been considered, and it has been decided in their case that the allowances already specially extended shall be further extended to 31st January next.
The position in relation to those reported missing in other Far Eastern theatres of operations is being kept under constant review. The special extension of the allowances in these cases will not generally begin to expire until the end of the year, and I am not in a position to announce any further extension at the moment; but the House can rest assured that a further extension will be made in their case if we do not receive from the Japanese Government in the near future anything like a full list of names of those who are prisoners.
The same arrangements will apply to the allowances payable in respect of Naval and Air Force missing personnel.
Will my right hon. Friend consider continuing the dependants' allowances indefinitely? And has he any information with regard to the food position there? Also, could he say something about the return of mails addressed to prisoners at Singapore?
The food position is dealt with in the statement that I propose to circulate; but, if the hon. Member likes, I will just read that bit of it:
Little information as to living conditions is available. It is believed that they are receiving similar rations to those issued to Japanese troops; these consist principally of rice, vegetables and fish. European food is probably not available.
In view of the great number of people who are still absent, have the good offices of the Vatican been sought, in order to get a more comprehensive list out of the Japanese?
It depends upon what is meant by "substantial." I should have said that, on the whole, the list of those notified as prisoners of war is rather small in relation to the total number.
In view of the fact that many of us are getting very anxious letters from dependants with regard to mails from Singapore, has my right hon. Friend any information about those mails?
In view of the lack of information about individuals, has the right hon. Gentleman taken into consideration the possibility of giving information to relatives about the fate of units to which such individuals belonged?
May I ask a question on a cognate matter? Is it not the case that correspondence from certain camps in Germany has recently been interrupted by the German Government, and that no letters from those camps are reaching this country? Has my right hon. Friend any information?
So far the Japanese Government have continued to refuse permission for visits by the Red Cross and Protecting Power representatives to prisoners of war camps, except in Shanghai and Hong Kong, where Red Cross visits have been allowed. The information available on prisoners of war conditions in other Japanese occupied territories is therefore scanty and unofficial in character.
It is understood that a large number of the prisoners of war, who were captured in Hong Kong and Singapore, are being moved Northward to camps which are being established in Japan, Korea and Formosa. Other prisoners of war captured in Burma and Singapore have been moved to various places in Siam, Indo-China, South Burma and Malaya. Prisoners of war captured in the East Indies were imprisoned in Batavia and other parts of Java.
Little information as to living conditions is available. It is believed that they are receiving similar rations to those issued to Japanese troops; these consist principally of rice, vegetables and fish. European food is probably not available. The prisoners of war are being made to work hard; in some cases the work is connected with aerodromes and fortifications and is thus of a kind not allowed by the 1929 Convention. Morale is good, in spite of the hardships of the life. Treatment probably varies considerably in different places, as a wide discretion is left to local commandants. An assurance of good treatment was recently given by the Japanese Commander-in-Chief in Singapore. Officers are usually confined in the same camps as their men.
Limited quantities of medicines, food and clothing have been sent on ships returning to Japan with Japanese Diplomatic Staffs and others, and they are known to have arrived at Singapore and Hong Kong. Owing, however, to the refusal of the Japanese authorities to allow distribution of these supplies under independent supervision, their distribution is in the hands of the Japanese military authorities who have undertaken to use them for the prisoners. In the event of any further exchanges every effort will be made to send relief supplies by the returning Japanese ships to the limit of their capacity available for this purpose. The Japanese Government still will not allow the passage of ships carrying relief supplies under the auspices of the International Red Cross.