Oral Answers to Questions — Prisoners of War and Civilian Internees, Far East

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 11th October 1944.

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Photo of Sir Edward Keeling Sir Edward Keeling , Twickenham 12:00 am, 11th October 1944

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether any arrangements are being made for prisoners of war and civilians in Japanese hands to receive and send telegrams.

Photo of Sir Douglas Hacking Sir Douglas Hacking , Chorley

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether arrangements can be made to enable our prisoners of war in the Far East to send telegrams to their next-of-kin in this country.

Photo of Mr Luke Teeling Mr Luke Teeling , Brighton

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he has yet received official information of the conclusion of an agreement between the United States Government and that of Japan, whereby telegrams may be sent home by American prisoners-of-war in Japanese hands and payment made by the United States Government, this to be effective in one month's time; and whether he envisages concluding a similar arrangement for our own prisoners in Japanese hands.

Photo of Mr Richard Law Mr Richard Law , Kingston upon Hull South West

An offer to allow prisoners of war and interned civilians to send cables home has been received from the Japanese Government through the International Red Cross Committee and has been accepted. The effect of this will be that all British prisoners of war and civilian internees in Japanese hands will be allowed to send one ten word cablegram exclusive of address and signature to their next-of-kin. This service will be free of charge to the senders and their next-of-kin, the cost being met in the case of prisoners of war and internees from the United Kingdom by the British Red Cross War Organisation. The cablegrams will be routed from Japan through Geneva.

We hope that this service will be started at once, but I feel bound to strike a note of caution. Having accepted the proposal we look to the Japanese Government to carry it out. As the large majority of our prisoners of war are not in Japan itself but in the Japanese occupied territories in the South everything depends on the messages being forwarded as rapidly as possible from that area to Japan. The Japanese authorities have undertaken to forward them wherever possible by air mail, and the success of the whole scheme will depend upon their willingness to implement this undertaking.

It is also proposed to allow next-of-kin to send a similar message to the prisoner of war or interned civilian. The details of this part of the scheme have still to be worked out but an announcement will be made in due course. This is less urgent since many relatives have so far had little or no information from the Far East and it is, therefore, more important that they should receive news from the prisoner of war or internee than the other way round.

Photo of Sir Edward Keeling Sir Edward Keeling , Twickenham

Has my right hon. Friend every reason to believe and hope that this system will be put into force for British prisoners as early as it will be for American prisoners?

Photo of Mr Richard Law Mr Richard Law , Kingston upon Hull South West

Yes, Sir, there is no reason to suppose we shall be at any disadvantage.

Photo of Sir Douglas Hacking Sir Douglas Hacking , Chorley

Has this system worked well between Japan and the other countries? I understand it has been in operation for Australia for some time.

Photo of Mr Richard Law Mr Richard Law , Kingston upon Hull South West

I am not sure whether that is so. I am afraid I shall have to have notice of that question.

Photo of Mr Reginald Sorensen Mr Reginald Sorensen , Leyton West

When were the negotiations for this magnificent scheme begun and completed?

Photo of Mr Richard Law Mr Richard Law , Kingston upon Hull South West

I am afraid I cannot give a precise answer, but they have been going on for some time.

Colonel Sir Arthur Evans:

Have His Majesty's Government a complete list of prisoners of war and civilian internees held by the Japanese Government?

Photo of Mr Richard Law Mr Richard Law , Kingston upon Hull South West

I shall require notice of that question.

Photo of Mr Maurice Petherick Mr Maurice Petherick , Penryn and Falmouth

Is it envisaged that those concerned will be allowed to send only one telegram? Does the agreement take into account the possibility of sending telegrams in the future, say once a month?

Photo of Mr Richard Law Mr Richard Law , Kingston upon Hull South West

No, Sir, I do not think the agreement envisages telegrams once a month. I think the important thing is to get the first telegrams off and received, and then we may hope that the service may be continued, but I would not like to hold out any hopes that it would be anything like as frequent as my hon. Friend suggests.