§ Mr. John Fraser
asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he has concluded the study into deductions of pay from British officer prisoners of war; and if he will make a statement.
§ Mr. Pattie
Following representations received from Flight Lieutenant Roth regarding the deductions from pay of officers held prisoner in the Second World War, which were made public in an article inThe Daily Telegraph at the end of August 1980, a study was launched under my chairmanship. Extensive searches were made into the records of all three Services, the Public Record Office and the Treasury. Unfortunately, documentary evidence is far from complete.
The Navy Department still hold some officer pay records from the Second World War in ledger form but no comparable individual pay records exist for the Army or the RAF. Pay records are normally relating to the Army and the RAF is 391W consequently more circumstantial, but it is clear that the policy of all three Services with regard to POWs throughout the war was co-ordinated by a tri-Service committee and that a common policy on pay matters was followed.
I have discussed the matter at some length with a number of ex-POWs and representatives of ex-officer associations.
The study has examined initially the basis of the then Government's policy in relation to POW pay and looked for evidence of promulgation of this policy throughout the Services. It has then sought evidence of arrangements for handling returning POWs with particular emphasis on their pay. A key question has been to discover the existence of evidence to indicate that any payments were made, thereby giving prima facie proof that machinery was not only established but functioned. Evidence was also sought on the disposal of the camp communal funds.
Some former POWs have maintained that they were unaware that any deductions from their pay were being made. Although there is no reason to doubt the genuineness of this contention we have established that the policy of making convention-related deductions was promulgated in 1940 in the usual manner and that further efforts were made later in the war to remind camp leaders that deductions were taking place.
The central complaint is that money was deducted in the United Kingdom on account of pay they were supposed to have received from the detaining authorities when, for prolonged periods, they either received nothing or were paid in worthless camp currency. They contend that they were not given an opportunity to reclaim these moneys on repatriation.
The study group is satisfied on the evidence that from quite early in the war the authorities here were aware of the somewhat variable standards in relation to camp pay and arrangements were made for adjustments to be made to officers' accounts after the war. We can never know for certain how effective this procedure was but we do know that over half a million pounds was paid out to ex-RAF POWs which does indicate a system that was working tolerably well. For Army officers there is evidence of the payment of claims for adjustment. The Navy Department ledgers provide irrefutable 392W evidence that credits were paid by the Navy to returning officer POWs. It would be impossible to prove that every returning POW had his account adjusted as planned but all the indications are that the vast majority did receive some money.
No evidence has been found to support or refute Flight Lieutenant Roth's allegations that he was threatened with prosecution under the Official Secrets Act if he pursued his claim. The allegation must be regarded as unproven. However, the group was greatly impressed by the meticulous care shown by the reception procedures and the desire to bend over backwards to help returning prisoners.
On the question of communal funds, although in general individuals were not reimbursed for contributions, clear evidence exists that substantial sums were redeemed at the end of the war by the British Government and donated to charity.
There remains the complaint that prisoners should not have had any money deducted from their pay or alternatively that it should have been repaid in full after repatriation, in accordance with the practice of some Commonwealth Governments. Her Majesty's Government decided in September 1945 to refund in full all deductions from the accounts of Japanese POWs. This decision was taken in the light of the appalling experiences that these men had endured. It was open to them at the same time to reverse their policy in relation to former prisoners of the Germans and Italians.
Her Majesty's Government with their contemporary knowledge of the situation and with all the records available decided not to do so and there would seem to be no reason why a British Government 35 years later without the advantage of contemporary insights should seek to vary this policy. The study group is satisfied that, despite the fact that many important records are missing, the above conclusions are soundly based. The full report has been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
On the basis of the evidence before it the study group had little alternative but to reach the conclusions it did. That is not to say, however, that the Government are in any way unsympathetic to the problems of former POWs. The Government feel therefore that rather than continue to rake 393W over the remaining evidence from 1945 a more constructive response would be to consider whether additional assistance could be made available. These possibilities are now being studied and will be the subject of a further statement.