§ 14. Mr. Skeffington-Lodge
asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he will now reconsider the decision made which obliges prisoners of war on repatriation to change their accumulated savings into marks at the rate of 15 to the £, since the continuance of the present arrangement, in the absence of currency reforms in Germany, means that the bulk of the men have been working in this country for next to nothing.
§ Mr. Skeffington-Lodge
Is not my right hon. Friend aware that the continuance of the present arrangement is grossly unfair to these men and discourages them from putting their best into their work here; and will not he use his influence to see that they may be granted a little more in British currency now, if the arrangement which I have suggested in the Question cannot be adopted?
I think that the second part of the supplementary question might be more appropriately directed to another Minister. As to the first part, I regret that I cannot concede the point, because this conversion rate must be related to any general conversion scheme.
§ Mr. Driberg
Is my right hon. Friend aware that whereas conditions in most respects have greatly improved for prisoners of war, there is this one continuing grievance about which they feel a real injustice? Will he not re-examine the whole matter to see if it cannot be put on a more reasonable basis in relation to the cost of living in Germany? Fifteen marks is absolutely trifling.
§ Squadron-Leader Fleming
Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether 15 marks to the pound is the official rate of exchange?
There is, as the hon. and gallant Member knows, no official rate in the normal sense of that word. It is an agreed rate.
§ Mr. Leslie Hale
Will my right hon. Friend make it clear to the House whether his original monosyllabic reply approves of this course, or whether anything prevents him from taking the course he would 1584 like to take? Does he realise that this is really depriving these people of the fruits of their efforts, and that it involves the good faith of His Majesty's Government?
The good faith of His Majesty's Government is not in question. My reply did not indicate whether I favoured it or not. My reply was in relation to fact, and it was bisyllabic and not monosyllabic.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman
If it is suggested that the original answer was in relation to fact, is it not a fact that there is a great discrepancy between the rate of exchange allowed to these men and the rate allowed to other men; and ought not that discrepancy to be put right to prevent the British Government from making an illegitimate profit out of a false rate of exchange?
I cannot see where the false rate of profit comes in. As I have already explained in a previous reply, there are no sterling balances which they can hold. The comparison made with other rates of exchange is, I think, the comparison with the rate paid to British troops in Germany, which is a different matter. That was a rate fixed by the military powers before the occupation took place.
§ Mr. Bramall
Can my right hon. Friend say what is the basis of this rate, which appears to bear no relation to reality; and with whom an agreement has been reached? He said that this was an agreement. Can he say with whom this has been agreed?
§ Air-Commodore Harvey
As the war has been over for nearly three years, will the right hon. Gentleman review this matter, and try to pay a rate nearer to the rate for the job?
This is a diminishing problem, although, I agree, that does not make it any the less severe for the people affected; but I have already given a reason why it would be unsuitable to review it alone. If it in any way prejudiced the general rate that must eventually be agreed upon, that must be undesirable, and for that reason, while I will promise that my right hon. Friend will look at the matter again, I do not like to be dishonest by holding out any great hopes.
§ Mr. John Hynd
In view of the fact that the 15 mark rate is purely arbitrary and provisional within Germany, and bears no relation whatever to the conditions under which these prisoners were paid in this country, will he give serious consideration to adjusting the rate of exchange, so that it will bear some relation to the conditions in which they were paid here?
§ Mr. Skeffington-Lodge
In view of the very unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to give notice that I will raise the matter on the Adjournment at the earliest possible moment.