§ 56. General CROFT
asked whether, in the event of further brutality against British prisoners, the Government will take instant measures of reprisals and not wait for the expiration of one month's notice?
61. Sir F. HALL
asked if the arrangements made by the Government's representatives on behalf of British prisoners of war are such as make it necessary for four weeks' notice to be given before steps can be taken to prevent their ill-treatment, will the Government, having regard to the need for action, supplement their last Note by intimating that, unless the abuses complained of are immediately redressed, that fact will be taken into consideration at the expiration of the period of grace?
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Sir George Cave)
The communication sent to the German Government requires them to redress the grievances complained of forthwith, and if after the receipt of this communication the German Government should sanction further brutalities to British prisoners their action would (I think) amount to a deliberate rejection of our demand, and His Majesty's Government would be entitled to take action on the notice at once.
I take this opportunity of saying that the stipulation requiring four weeks' notice before any reprisals are taken is contained, not (as assumed in some quarters) in the Hague Convention of 1899, which has been frequently violated by Germany, but in the Agreement of 1917, to which the same observation does not apply. I am informed that the stipulation was originally intended as a safeguard against sudden reprisals on British 430 prisoners, and has in several instances served as a protection to them against such reprisals; and His Majesty's Government did not feel that it would be justifiable in itself or in the interest of our prisoners in Germany to depart from their signed agreement in this respect.
§ General CROFT
May the House take it that if a single further case comes to the notice of the Government of the ill-treatment of these prisoners punitive measures will be taken immediately, notwithstanding any notice of the period such as was given?
§ Sir G. CAVE
I cannot answer a universal question of that kind. Certainly if we find evidence of the nature which I have described in my answer, I should at once ask my colleagues to consider the matter, and take proper action.
Sir F. HALL
Is this four weeks' business once and for all, or is this feeble farce to be gone through on subsequent occasions?
§ Sir G. CAVE
I do not know what the hon. and gallant Member means. There is no farce at all. Notice to that effect has been fully stated, and if the German Government do not take certain steps within this time, we will take such reprisals as we think fit. There is no need to give any further notice of any kind.