§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Drewe.]
§ Mr. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)
I wish to raise a question which, I think, is of considerable importance to a large number of the population of this country who at present are serving in uniform in India. It concerns their welfare. Many questions have been put in this House to the Secretary of State for India, who, in the main, is responsible for those troops, although they are members of the British Army. I do not think it would be exaggerating the position if I said that some of the answers have not been entirely satisfactory. That is the reason that has prompted me to bring the matter before the House to-day. I wish to show that, whatever has been done by the War Office for troops serving either at home 530 or in theatres of war nearer home, not sufficient has been done for those troops —and their numbers are considerable—who happen to be engaged either in operations in India, against Japan, or are situated in India—because not all the troops actually quartered in India are engaged in operations against the enemy. I do not know what proportion of the British Army serving in India is occupied in battling against the enemy, and, even if I did, it would obviously be against the public interest to say; but I have a suspicion that only a small proportion of the troops in India are engaged in actual warfare. But this always emerges: that troops, when they are engaged in actual warfare, somehow or other do not require the same welfare arrangements as those who are static or less actively occupied in the face of the enemy. I maintain that that is the position in India.
I am bound to pay this tribute to the War Office, although, as my hon. and learned Friend the Financial Secretary knows, I am a constant critic of the War Office. They have recognised from the early days, when they had a very scanty organisation as far as welfare was concerned, that welfare is an essential part of Army organisation and administration, if we are to maintain the highest possible morale amongst the troops, which is necessary if they are to achieve those victories about which we are always talking.
This strange fact emerges when considering the British Army in India. For a long time, dating back to the days of the East India Company, which was eventually incorporated in a more official and departmental organisation, the Army in India has been under the control of the Viceroy of India, with a separate Commander-in-Chief, and, of course, ultimately, under the control of the India Office. That is why to-day we have on the Government Bench the Secretary of State for India, who is to answer the case which will be put. The War Office have very little to say, if any say at all, in affairs relating to the Army serving in India. To-day we have the position that, although we have an Indian Army establishment, dating from the peace-time regime, we have injected into India large numbers of British troops—I suggest, hundreds of thousands—who are not part of the India establishment, and are not 531 the responsibility of the War Office. Once they leave these shores and get to India, they are the responsibility of the Government of India; and, therefore, the remarks —and I am afraid they will be critical remarks—that I shall make about the lack of suitable welfare arrangements in India must be directed to the Secretary of State for India, under whose authority they come as soon as they land in India.
There is divided control in what one might call the administrative part of these arrangements, although I note that there is not quite the same division of responsibility and control when it comes to operational matters. It is true that we have the South East Asia Command — now centralised, I believe, in Ceylon, but a little while ago in India—under Lord Louis Mountbatten, who are responsible for the operational side of the troops in that Command, fighting against the enemy; but I believe that when these troops come within the area of the Indian Government, for example, in Burma, fighting against the enemy, even in that respect they come under the Commander-in-Chief in India. When it comes to welfare, there is no doubt that the only authorities who can help these men—and I have said that there are hundreds of thousands of them—are the Government of India, and, eventually, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for India.
I do not believe that that is the most satisfactory arrangement. I do not know what better arrangement can be made; but when I have put Questions on these matters to the Secretary of State for War, and they have been transferred to the Secretary of State for India, I have got the impression, from my right hon. Friend's answers, that he merely acts, to use colloquial language, as a postbox; that he passes the matter on either to the military authorities here or to the military authorities in India, gets their reply, and then passes that on to us. It is not quite the same with the War Office. We have the Secretary of State for War in this House. Whenever we put Questions to him, or to his under Ministers, we know that those Questions will produce some sort of result, and quickly, if the Question happens to be a substantial one. We have the feeling that when we put these Questions to the Secretary of State for India he, not being 532 a Service Minister, has not, somehow or other, the same urgent interest in these matters as have the heads of the Service Departments, whom we have in this House, and who have to answer our questions and our criticisms.
I come to the main point of criticism, which is the lack of suitable welfare arrangements for these troops in India. First, let us take the question of canteen arrangements. There have been many criticisms to make against N.A.A.F.I., which is what I may term a co-operative organisation, supplying Service needs in this country and overseas, wherever they come under the control of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War. N.A.A.F.I., undoubtedly, is not a perfect and ideal organisation, but it supplies, in a rough and ready manner, the ordinary requirements of the Army and of the other Services. What is the situation in India? There is no N.A.A.F.I. at all in India; there is, I understand, a Canteen Board which is controlled by the Government of India, but which, I maintain, is not quite the same democratic organisation as N.A.A.F.I., which has its headquarters in this country, which we can constantly see at work, and which we can constantly press for improvements.
Now N.A.A.F.I. have, under the pressure of Parliament or the national Press, effected many improvements in the services they give in the form of supplies at reasonable prices or clubs such as are run by N.A.A.F.I. overseas and in this country. But as far as the Canteen Board in India is concerned, we know very little about their operations and we cannot get at them except through my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for India. I have had many letters myself, and I have no doubt that other hon. Members have also had letters about the excessive price or inferior quality of the goods supplied by the Canteen Board in India. Some improvements have been made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, but, to-day, I can say truthfully that the Canteen Board in India is not up to the same standard of N.A.A.F.I. even with all N.A.A.F.I.'s defects.
What is the reason? The reason is—and it dates back to the traditional days of the British Army in India, when they were a comparatively small Army paid by the Government of India—that our troops 533 in India to-day are not paid by the War Office but by the Government of India. This dates back to those days when officers were a different set, or class, from what they are now; when officers who served in the Indian Army were in a much more affluent position than they are to-day, and when because of that position, with the polo ponies and all the rest of it, which officers had to keep up in those days—and I believe they still enjoy those amenities—they created a feeling among the native contractors in India that they could well afford the prices charged by the native contractors. And so that position has gone on until to-day. These native contractors, although they are controlled and limited in their charges to a certain extent by the Canteen Board and by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for India, still feel that the British Army in India—a much bigger army than it used to be—is well able to pay the prices, in some cases almost black market prices, for those articles which are in scarce supply.
Therefore, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for India will have to improve the canteen arrangements for both officers and other ranks in India if he is to get somewhat similar conditions as those which are enjoyed to-day by British troops serving in other theatres of war, which come under the Department of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War. These men in India—and I have very good evidence of this, and I have a suspicion that so also has my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State—have a feeling that they are forgotten men. They say that—and I can bring evidence to bear on that. Why do they say that? They are far away from this country——
§ Mr. Bellenger
—and they believe that, after the war with Germany is over, they will be left there to fight the war against Japan. I am not suggesting for a moment that these men are more lacking in patriotism than other troops in any other theatres of war more immediately engaged in the fight against Germany. They believe somehow or other, either because they cannot get quick reports through our Press or the Indian Press, or through the radio and the other methods that are 534 open to our troops at home or near home, that they have been pushed out there, and that they have very little opportunity of coming back to their homes in this country for many years to come. What will be the effect of the suspicion in their minds that, as soon as the war with Germany is over, the decision will be that they will have to carry on the war, perhaps for another year, or another two years? It is not a very pleasant feeling.
I would like to read to the House, in support of that statement, what has appeared in an official Service newspaper in India—not wild statements by un-authorised or irresponsible Members of Parliament or irresponsible journalists but statements made in Service newspapers in India. Here is one that has been brought to my attention on this particular point of the feeling that they are going to be out there for a very long time, which they cannot foresee, and have not the same opportunities of coming home to this country at the end of the war with Germany as the large Armies now engaged in direct contact with the German Army or any subsidiary operations of war. A considerable correspondence has occurred in this Service newspaper, and it started with a lieutenant who wrote to the editor about some correspondence that had appeared in the "Forum" on the subject of repatriation and the announcement which was made by the B.B.C. May I say in passing that some of the statements that are made on the B.B.C., to try to soothe our troops in India, are remote from the facts, as we elicit them in this House sometimes? Therefore, in response to something which has gone out from the B.B.C. from this country to India this letter appeared:On the subject of repatriation stating that men with five years service in this country"—India—are to be repatriated this year"—that is the year 1944—I would be grateful if you would inform me whether it is applicable to British officers in the Indian Army.If he had been in the establishment of the British Army normally he would have been entitled to a fairly substantial period of leave in this country if the war had 535 not occurred. This is the reply which the editor put in his newspaper:British officers of the Indian Army are not eligible for repatriation home on account of long service abroad as India is to be considered their home.One can imagine the effect of that statement not only on the personnel belonging to the Indian Army but on hundreds of thousands of men belonging to the British Army who are attached to the Indian Army establishment at the moment. They all get the feeling that, although they may get leave in India, they will not get leave to come home. Many questions have been put to the Secretary of State for War. He has been asked what facilities will be available for our troops serving overseas for periods of three, four and five years to get them back to this country, and the Secretary of 'State for War has stated that he has now brought down the period of service overseas to 4½ years in order to make these men or officers eligible for a period of leave at home.
The feeling is—at least that is my impression—from the statements of the Secretary of State for War, and more particularly the Secretary of State for Air, who says that it is going to be a shorter period than that, that this personnel will be able to get home to this country for a break after 4½ or five years, or perhaps more quickly than that, as soon as shipping arrangements can be provided. But the British personnel under the control of the Government of India have the feeling, rightly or wrongly, that they will not get home and will not have the facilities provided for them that are to be provided for men in the Middle East Forces and Central Mediterranean Forces, and probably shortly for troops serving in Normandy. I could go on quoting from numerous letters, this one unfortunate statement of the editor of this Service newspaper that, if they are in India, India is to be considered their home. Their home in this country is something they can look forward to in the dim and distant future. Frankly, that is going to have a very bad moral effect among the troops serving in India, because many of these men are there because we in this House passed the National Service Act. They did not volunteer; they were conscripted. They did not even volunteer for 536 India—although some may have done so —they were sent there to fight the enemy. Only a small proportion are fighting the enemy, but perhaps it will be a larger proportion later on. But they want to get on with the war and finish it quickly and to get home, just as the troops serving in Normandy or other theatres of war are looking forward to that time.
I would say to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for India that, if for operational reasons the time is going to be delayed when these men can be brought home, he must of necessity do something to improve the welfare arrangements in regard to radio, newspapers, lecturers, mail, concert artists and all the whole paraphernalia that is utilised by the Director-General of Welfare in this country and the War Office to keep up the morale of our troops serving in this country or in the other theatres of war. Whatever his answer is to-day, I hope he can give an assurance that he will improve radio reception facilities in India by the provision of sets and otherwise for the news which is going out from this country and the special programmes which, I understand, are being arranged for the troops in India.
I know the difficulties of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for India. I do not want to minimise them. India is a very large country. Hundreds of thousands of British troops are scattered all over India and it is not as easy to provide for them as it is in the concentrated zones in this country or the Central Mediterranean or the Middle East. I know the difficulties. I suggest that my right hon. Friend is not yet quite cognisant of the demand to overcome these difficulties. I think the reason is because he is not a Service Minister. For instance, there is the question of club arrangements in India. All sorts of efforts are being made in Italy, Egypt and North Africa to provide club facilities for our troops. A good deal has been done by the War Office, but not enough. My hon. and learned Friend the Financial Secretary to the War Office can be sure that I shall never be satisfied that the War Office will provide all that I want, but if they will go some distance to meet what I have outlined, they will be doing something.
As far as clubs in India are concerned, even in the bigger towns, I hear some 537 good reports of certain clubs set up by the Viceroy and the advantages he has inaugurated there—I still hear that when it comes to a comparison between the clubs that the American forces have in India and those of our own forces, there is really no comparison. The Americans somehow or other seem to be able to get in British India, which is a part of the British Empire and not of the United States of America, what our own troops cannot get. It is a condemnation of our own authorities if at least we cannot do as well as the Americans can do for their troops out there, and they have less there than we have.
I would like to give my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for India, in case he has not heard of it, some information from a most reputable source. It is from none other than the Director-General of Welfare of the War Office, Sir Colin Jardine. Earlier this year, for some reason or other—I do not know why because, as I have said, welfare is under the Government of India and not under the War Office—Sir Colin Jardine made a tour of India, amongst other places, and he then gave an interview to a correspondent of an evening newspaper in this country—a most unusual thing, because even in these days when certain generals seem to want to talk a lot, it is a recognised thing in the Army that, although generals should perhaps not be quite as silent as the senior Service, the Navy, at any rate, they should not give interviews to national journals. However the Director-General of the War Office did, and this is what he said about the welfare arrangements in India. I am surprised he said this but I must take it that what he said was true. He was reported as saying that the British women in India, especially the younger ones, were not doing nearly enough for the troops and they could do a great deal more. Now if the Director-General of Welfare at the War Office has been correctly reported, I say that my right hon. Friend has failed, through the Viceroy of India, in organising the women of India. I do not know what the Director-General had in mind, but we will assume he meant that the younger women in India could do more in the way of welfare. That confirms what I am saying to the Secretary of State for India to-day. Some of the letters I have received bear out what I said in my 538 earlier remarks. For instance, one correspondent wrote:My husband says that the general feeling is that they are forgotten men in India.My hon. Friend the Member for Sedge-field (Mr. Leslie) has brought up in this House more than once matters connected with Income Tax, which is a burning question. As he is here, he may want to put that special point to the Secretary of State himself. I may say in passing that he has a son serving out in India and I understand it would not be a breach of confidence to say that he hears many of the things to which I have referred. I think that is the best way—to hear from our own people serving abroad what is actually happening. I do not want to quote more from the Director-General of Welfare at the War Office, otherwise he might get into trouble for having said too much, but what I have quoted bears out what I am saying to-day.
I think I have made a case in certain respects to show that an investigation should be made into welfare arrangements in India. I do not know whether it is possible for the War Office to have any hand in these matters, but I do not think they can wash their hands entirely of the many thousands of troops they are sending overseas. As a matter of fact I believe there is some sort of liaison because I understand the Adjutant-General has made a tour of India to see for himself what is happening there. However, I am not quite sure how far the Army Council's writ runs in India. I believe it does not run very far. But the Army Council, which is responsible for the Army, is to a large extent ignored in India because I believe I am right in saying that the Commander-in-Chief in India is on the Indian establishment and not subject to the War Office. My right hon. Friend can correct me if I am wrong. I think the House will agree that I have put my points in moderation, and that it is the duty of this House to interest themselves in these matters. Although these troops are far away, they are our kith and kin, and they want to get back to this country as soon as they have finished the job for which they were sent to India. I hope the Secretary of State will tell us the arrangements he is making for improving welfare arrangements.
With regard to the Air Force in India, I think there is a certain number of Air 539 Force personnel stationed there, but there is no representative of the Air Ministry here to-day. Rightly so, because I have had a talk with the Under-Secretary of State and I told him that I did not want to raise particular points concerned with the Air Force. I would ask the Financial Secretary however to bear in mind that somehow or other the Air Force are able to get better facilities than the Army, and many of their clubs are better than the Army clubs. In India, I think it would be true to say that the welfare arrangements they have are better than the Army arrangements but it would also be true to say that the Air Ministry are subject to the same limiting factors as is the Army in India, namely, that they have to go through the bottleneck of the Government of India. However, my case is mainly based on the Army which is, far and away, the largest military force serving in that country.
I should have thought that the Government could have arranged for a special Minister to be appointed to co-ordinate welfare arrangements between the three Service Ministries. I should have thought that would have been the best way of dealing with this subject, because there are inter-departmental conferences between the officials of the War Office, the Admiralty and the Air Ministry constantly taking place. However, when it comes to those on the higher levels, with whom we are concerned in this House and to whom alone we can make our representations, we have either to go to the Financial Secretary, to the Secretary of State for War, to the Secretary of State for Air or to the First Lord of the Admiralty. As far as India is concerned, we have to go to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for India who, I maintain, because of his lack of—I will not say Service background because he has an eminent record in that respect, but because he is so removed from the Service Ministries—is not so fully informed on these matters as would be possible, if we had one Minister, in whom we could link up all the threads of these matters as they affect all the Services, wherever they may be. Whatever arrangements the Government make in this matter—I can see, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that you do not want me to develop the point of a special Minister too extensively—the Indian situation must be improved. 540 Otherwise, when the war with Germany ends and the war with Japan intensifies, I am afraid there will be outspoken dissatisfaction. There is considerable discontent at the present moment—I will not put it higher than that—about the conditions among our troops serving in India.
I can assure the House that my only object in raising this issue is to remedy these grievances, which I do not want to exaggerate or magnify. The Service Ministries know about them and I suspect that my right hon. Friend, if he has followed Questions in the House very closely, must be aware in part of some of the discontent which exists in India at the present moment. I am looking forward, as are all hon. Members, to an early termination of the war against Germany, and I am sure, if the words of my hon. and learned Friend the Financial Secretary to the War Office mean anything, that should be at no distant date. Whether that is so or not, the time will arrive when the war with Germany is concluded. What shall we do then with those hundreds of thousands of troops in India, who may be engaged for a longer or a shorter time in overcoming Japan? I say that unless we can take time by the forelock and provide some of the welfare arrangements given to our Armies fighting against Germany, a situation may arise in India that will be none too pleasant for the Minister to deal with, whoever he may be. That is why I have brought this matter before the House to-day. I hope my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will take it not entirely as a criticism of his Department, but a plea that, in so far as his Department is responsible, he will improve the present unsatisfactory conditions.
§ Mr. Bartle Bull (Enfield)
As this is a Debate on the well-being of the troops in India I would like to ask the Secretary of State very briefly about the supply of "V" cigarettes to our troops. I had some evidence, which I think was good, that these cigarettes were still being supplied to our troops in India, or to those based on India. As my right hon. Friend appreciates what cigarettes mean to troops in the forward areas, I would ask him if it is true or not true, that what are commonly known as "V" cigarettes are still being supplied to them?
§ Mr. Leslie (Sedgefield)
I hope that both the Secretary of State for India and the War Office will pay strict attention to what is being said by the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) to-day and that these grievances will be removed at an early date. I have put several Questions to the Secretary of State for India with regard to the position of the junior officers, and these were based, not on information from my son alone, because these questions have appeared in the Indian Press. I have also had letters from other junior officers, from their wives and mothers stating that, despite the assurance given by the Secretary of State for India, they still feel aggrieved over this question of Income Tax. I know it is true that an allowance was given as a set-off to Income Tax but, strangely enough to the men there, they found that the allowance is now being taxed so that they are not so well off as they believed they would be.
Then there is the question of food over which they still feel aggrieved. They believe there should be N.A.A.F.Is. instead of the canteens where it costs them double the amount that it costs in this country. I hope that the Secretary of State for India will inquire very carefully into that matter. Another question I am asked is this, "Why should we British soldiers have to pay an Income Tax to the Indian Government while the American soldiers appear to be free?" Now if it is the case that because soldiers are situated in India the Indian Government can impose a tax upon them, why should that apply to British soldiers any more than to American or any others who happen to be stationed in India?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Marlowe (Brighton)
I would like to take this opportunity of endorsing what has been said by the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) with regard to the period of service spent by soldiers in the Far East, though what I have to say applies equally, of course, to the Middle East and nearer home, but, as we are dealing at the moment with the Far East I will limit my remarks to that part of the world. My hon. Friend referred to the advantages or disadvantages of these matters being dealt with by a Service Minister. I am not quite certain that he had a proper conception when he referred to that, because my grievance in this matter is that it is dealt with too 542 much from a Service point of view. I think part of the trouble arises because in peace-time the War Office are used to dealing with soldiers who make the Army their career, and are quite content and, indeed, expect to be sent overseas for periods of perhaps seven years or so. Nowadays, however, we are not dealing with soldiers in that category, but with amateur soldiers, men who have careers and lives of their own in this country outside the Army, with domestic ties here which are very dear to them. Five years is too long for these men to spend so far from home, and they find a particular grievance, of course, in the differentiation between the soldiers and those serving in the Navy and in the Royal Air Force. I know there are good reasons for this differentiation but, if it has to be maintained, I think the War Office will have to be at great pains to make those reasons plain to the soldiers. Part of the trouble arises from the fact that they do not understand what those reasons are. There may be, as I said, good reasons, but when they all see their friends the aircraftmen and the naval ratings going home while they are left behind they have the uncomfortable feeling of being, as the hon. Gentleman opposite said, forgotten men.
It is one of the commendations of this House that we are able to judge, in a rough and ready way, from the correspondence we get, what people are thinking. I would like to tell my hon. and learned Friend the Financial Secretary to the War Office that I find, more and more, that my correspondence is taken up by men writing: "What are Members of Parliament doing about getting us home?" They know, as we know, that the war in Europe is drawing to an end, and they feel that this five years is putting them off for a short period, until such time as they will be so enveloped by the Far East war, that they will not even come home at the end of the five years. That is what is worrying them, and I hope the Government will bear that attitude in mind. The men are worried about what is happening to their wives and children in this country, about their future when they get back, and because they know that others will get home before them, which, in the great race which is coming afterwards, may leave them at a disadvantage. These are human considerations which are worrying these 543 men, and it is no good the War Office taking the standpoint of saying that they are engaged for five years and must serve that time over there. These men must be given more consideration, and it is for that reason that I am putting in my plea that this period should be reduced, and that so far as it is necessary to differentiate between the Services, the reasons for the differentiation shall be made clear. I hope it will be made clear, at the same time, why American soldiers are able to get home from the Middle East sooner than British soldiers are able to get to this country. It is a good deal nearer to England from the Middle East than it is to America. I hope my hon. and gallant Friend will not continue to allow these men to regard themselves as forgotten men.
§ Mr. A. Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
I think the House ought to be grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) for raising this matter to-day. I would feel that I was not doing my public duty if I did not reinforce what has been said by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Brighton (Lieut.-Colonel Marlowe). I get a very large number of letters nowadays from men in the Middle East and India and they have a number of criticisms to make. One of the chief grounds of criticism is their anxiety to know how long they are to be there. The other concerns their welfare. It would have a most disastrous influence upon the psychology of the men in India if they thought that, having been sent from our sight they had also gone from our hearts and minds. No better service can be done to the maintenance of morale in the Indian Forces—and there is no reason to believe that it is not high —than for this House continually to exercise a vigilant watch over their welfare and try to redress their grievances. That is why I hope the discussion we are having to-day will be widely reported in the Service newspapers of India, so that our men there will know that the House of Commons has spent some hours in considering their welfare.
I especially want to raise the necessity of making clear to the troops in India the actual meaning of what my hon. and learned Friend the Financial Secretary to the War Office recently said about leave. There is great confusion about the matter. 544 I have received during the last four or five days letters from wives of men serving in India who say, "Is it true that my husband has to stay there for five years?" It is absolutely essential that that misapprehension should be removed; I know it is wrong but, nevertheless, the idea is there. Everyone of us will appreciate what a terrible thing it must be for a young father, who may never have seen his child, to know that that child will be five or six years of age before he can see it. The association with and bringing up of young children at home is one of the most precious relationships between parent and child. For a child to go from babyhood almost into puberty without its father having seen it involves a very cruel deprivation, which should be limited as much as possible. This is one of the commonest sources of almost unbearable nostalgia that men have when they are far away from their own country. We are not able to get our hands easily upon the levers of administration in India, as we are able to do at home, and it is for that reason that people suffer. You cannot allow people's welfare to remain in the hands of bureaucratic administration. Such administration always has to be kicked into action by public representation, and if we cannot do a bit of effective kicking to-day, we shall have to think of some other way.
As has been said, there is great resentment about the lack of welfare facilities. May I make a suggestion? I am against Members of Parliament being sent to all parts of the world, away from their duties here, but our views on that, as on other subjects, have had little influence with the Government. Since then, Members of Parliament have been dispersed to the Antipodes, Africa and all over the world. Who picks them I do not know but, nevertheless, by some mysterious agency, they are collected and sent off on their journeys. The other day I saw photographs of some Members enjoying themselves in Australia—I do not envy them, I hope they have a good time. But why not send a deputation to India? We have had deputations to Sierra Leone, Jamaica, Trinidad, Africa and New Zealand. Would it not be an excellent thing to choose a Parliamentary delegation of safe Members, and send them to India? They must of course be safe Members; we must not send Members of Parliament to India 545 who would get into the political boiling pot, and who might stir up trouble. There is such a vast censorship in India that we are entirely unaware of what is happening there. So I say, we should send out safe people, including some paternally-minded Members of Parliament, who might visit our troops, see them for themselves and hear what they have to say. What more excellent contribution could we have to the morale of our soldiers than if Members of Parliament went out there and talked to them, found out their grievances, told them what the situation is in Great Britain and thereby established a human link between the Forces there and Parliament here, which would be advantageous to all concerned?
I make that serious suggestion. It is much more important for us to send representatives where the troops are, than to send them to places where we have no definite responsibility at the moment. The American Congress sends many representatives over here. Apparently, America has no difficulty in finding facilities for Senators, Congressmen and large numbers of other visitors to come here to vist American camps, talk to their men and then go back home to report. As part of the maintenance of a link between us and the troops in India and the Middle East, I invite the Government to send out representatives from the back benchers. [HON. MEMBERS: "Who?"] Well, I know a lot of safe people on the back benches. I know men who have given years of silent docility to the Government, and who might do this job very well.
§ Mr. Driberg (Maldon)
I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State—I am not sure whether he can give me an answer straight away, because I did not give him notice of it—a question concerning conditions of service in India. Occasionally, when I have raised with his Department cases of men who have served for a considerable period of time in rather unhealthy parts of India, the Department have replied that it was only fair to point out that there are parts of that country which are much healthier in climate than others, and that every effort is made to send troops to those parts for a change whenever possible. That is perfectly proper, and I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman can give any indication of the approximate 546 percentage of troops in India who have enjoyed breathing spells in the pleasanter climates of those parts of India.
This Debate, which has been so usefully initiated by the hon. Member for Basset-law (Mr. Bellenger), has touched on pretty well all the points which figure in the correspondence we get from our friends and constituents in India. Length of service overseas, Income Tax, "V" cigarettes, welfare generally, canteens—all these points are the ones which come up most often. On one point, particularly, which was raised by the hon. Member for Enfield (Mr. Bull), I should be grateful if the right hon. Gentleman could clear up the rather confusing situation with regard to "V" cigarettes. Originally, I believe after a considerable fuss was kicked up in this House, it was announced that no more "V" cigarettes would be made or distributed to troops. Then, some time later, some hon. Members discovered that they were being issued, at any rate to the troops in India, if not in the Middle East. Several of us asked Questions about it and I gathered then that the right hon. Gentleman was rather going back on the previous statement that they were not to be made any more, and was implying that they would still have to be distributed, to some extent, in India itself. I wish he would clear up, once and for all, the exact position.
§ Mr. Driberg
Yes, and I also asked questions about it, and so did other hon. Members. There seemed to be some contradiction between the two different answers given over a period of time by two Ministerial spokesmen, and that is why I am asking for that apparent contradiction to be cleared up.
Of course, the most important question that always crops up in these letters is, What is going to happen to us out here after the war in Europe is over? It is most important that particular attention should be paid not only to the conditions of welfare for that interim period—the second phase of the world war, or whatever you like to call it—but also to the possibility of a considerable increase in pay for troops serving in those far regions, who may feel that they are missing the chance of establishing themselves in civil 547 life again after the end of the war in Europe. Moreover, not only should we be looking forward to improving their conditions of service, of welfare and of pay during that period, but it is even more essential for the Forces in the Far East than for those nearer home that the Government's scheme of demobilisation, when it is announced, should be explained to them fully in advance, through A.B.C.A. and in every other possible way. However carefully thought out and planned that scheme may be, it will not work properly, unless pretty well everyone in the Forces understands it and sees that it is as fair a scheme as can be devised. A statesman has been defined as a politician who is kept upright by equal pressure from all sides. The pressure to-day has, undoubtedly, been applied quite equally from all sides of the House to the right hon. Gentleman. I hope he will show himself a statesman.
§ The Secretary of State for India (Mr. Amery)
At any rate, I respond to that pressure. I certainly welcome, and I think the House will have welcomed, the initiative of the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) in raising this matter and the good fortune of the early termination of the earlier Debate which has enabled us to deal more fully with it. I entirely agree with him that to deal with a question of this sort merely by question and answer is unsatisfactory, and I hope it is to that fact and not to the actual character of my answers that his dissatisfaction has been due. I also entirely agree with him that the welfare of the Services is an essential part of their efficiency and only what they are entitled to expect for all they do for us in a struggle of this character. I also agree that, the further away they are, and the longer the inevitable consequence of operations protracts their service, the more we are, in duty to them and to all who depend on them, bound to do the best we can for them.
The hon. Member drew attention to the constitutional issue and to the fact that, constitutionally, in this House, matters that affect the troops in India are within the responsibility of the Secretary of State for India. India, of course, is a country—perhaps I ought to say a continent—with a complete legislative, administrative and financial system of its own. While it is true that in the last 548 resort the influence of the views of Parliament and of the Cabinet can be directed through the Secretary of State to the Viceroy, and through him to the machinery of government in India, it is impossible for any Secretary of State to cover the whole field of administration—finance, agriculture, transport, supply, Army, Navy and Air Force—with the same closeness of detail as is given by Ministers to matters in this country—directly under their control or to make every suggestion of his have the force of law, as it might if matters of vital safety of India were concerned. Yet, of course he can exercise influence and do the best he can to draw the attention of the Government of India to defects which he thinks should be remedied.
Naturally also where you come to specific technical issues like those of the Indian Army, or the Royal Indian Navy or the Air Force, there is an obvious advantage in a close liaison between the Services of India and the corresponding Services under the direct jurisdiction of the Parliament of this country. Therefore, a great deal quite naturally takes place in the way of communication, consultation and inspection between the Royal Navy here and the Royal Indian Navy, the Royal Air Force and the Indian Air Force, and between the Army here and the Indian Army. Indeed, it would involve intolerable delays if I had to find specialists in my Department to look into all these questions, or if every matter in which the War Office deals with India had to be submitted to me beforehand for my consent, though there is naturally the closest relation and consultation. The position differentiates the responsibility of this House and the Secretary of State towards the Services in India from its responsibility and authority for the Services directly under its own control. At the same time, the Secretary of State for India is able to exercise a very considerable measure of influence and authority, which he certainly intends to exercise in the direction that hon. Members wish on this important issue.
§ Mr. A. Bevan
It is necessary that there should be no misunderstanding. I fully appreciate what the right hon. Gentleman has said, but surely there is no doubt whatever that the House has not handed over the persons conscripted 549 by it to any other Government and that there is a direct responsibility to this House, through the right hon. Gentleman, for the welfare and safety of our people in India.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Charles Williams)
Perhaps it would be wise if I reminded the House that I have been watching this Debate very carefully and I think I am right in assuming that the control of military affairs has not been handed over to the Indian Government. I, therefore, assume that His Majesty's Ministers in this country are responsible. That is why I assumed that all the points which have been raised, all connected with military affairs, were in Order. I say so to make it quite clear that there is this separation.
§ Mr. Amery
Undoubtedly, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and I was not endeavouring to minimise my ultimate constitutional responsibility but only pointing out that, in the administration of the affairs of a continent, covering all its branches, and more particularly the military service, it is not possible to exercise, directly, the same contact and influence as the heads of Departments directly under this country, and that from that point of view there is a great advantage in the corresponding Service Departments in this country being in close contact with the Service Departments in India.
To come to that aspect of welfare concerned with the Services, the hon. Member suggested that there was widespread dissatisfaction with the existing prices and the inferior quality of the goods and services supplied by the Indian Canteen Board and that they compared very unfavourably with those of N.A.A.F.I. The hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Leslie) suggested that the prices were double. Under the old Indian Army, with its limited numbers, the canteen arrangements were carried out by contractors under the general control of a central contractors' syndicate, whose prices were fixed in consultation with the Government of India. When the great expansion of the Services took place, and the ordinary methods of importation largely came to a standstill, that situation could not work. The contractors were not able to buy what they wanted so far as imported goods were concerned.
550 Consequently, just over two years ago that system came to an end and the Indian Canteen Board was instituted, under the chairmanship of the Quartermaster-General of India. The whole matter of canteen supplies is a directly Governmental one and the price is fixed the same for all ordinary purchasable stores, in all parts of India, and there is no possibility of profit-making for anyone concerned. In the operational regions of the Indian front, and the more outlying stations this service is actually carried on by low officers and other ranks of the Indian canteen service. In some of the older stations, contractors are employed, but only as agents for the Board and not to make profits for themselves. I have made very close inquiries, and I find no substantiation for the charge of excessive prices, let alone the charge, for which there is no foundation whatever, that the troops are the victims of profiteering contractors. There is no room for profiteering.
§ Mr. Bellenger
Will the right hon. Gentleman explain the position about officers' messes? Are they in direct relation with the contractors and not with the Canteen Board?
§ Mr. Amery
As regards most purchasable articles, they go through the Canteen Board. As regards things that have to be bought on the spot—vegetables, perishable goods, and fresh meat—the prices are fixed by the local Command. For the men's messes meals are served by the Canteen Board. I am not quite sure whether regimental units do not employ contractors to serve them in their messes.
§ Mr. Amery
All the goods sold in the canteens are bought directly by the Canteen Board and are bought wholesale, largely from this country. There is no question, therefore, of profiteerìng. As regards excessive prices, I have made special inquiries and the Government of India's statement is that the ordinary monthly requirements in various articles 551 like soap, pens and ink, paper, razor blades, stationery, tobacco and cigarettes, the average monthly requirements of the ordinary serving soldier, from the Canteen Board are cheaper than in any of the N.A.A.F.I. services in this country, the Mediterranean, Persia, Egypt, or anywhere except Ceylon. Ceylon is the only other canteen which is cheaper than the Indian one. The prices of Indian-made cigarettes are less than for corresponding brands in this country. I will come to the question of quality in a moment. Beer is similarly considerably cheaper.
§ Mr. Leslie
If I send the right hon. Gentleman a cutting from a newspaper, showing the prices of the various things that the soldiers have to purchase in India, will he see how they compare with the prices he has mentioned?
§ Mr. Amery
I will inquire into any facts any hon. Member gives me, to see whether they are correct, and if they are what the cause is. On the subject of prices generally, it is correct to state that the prices charged by the Indian Canteen Board of the things that are bought from the same sources here compare very favourably with those of N.A.A.F.I. or any other canteens anywhere. There is, of course, the question of the cost of meals, such as tea and supper. Here we are up against the fact that when you deal with fresh vegetables, eggs, meat and so on, they have to be bought locally. In some of the outlying places in India these things are difficult to procure, and, therefore, prices vary considerably as between one station and another. I have made an inquiry, and the answer I have received by telegram does not suggest a situation quite as bad as has been conveyed by some of the speeches. The reply states that the prices vary in different circumstances according to the state of the local markets. A meal comprising fried steak, fried onions, chips, bread, butter, cake and tea costs in the canteens, a minimum of 7½ annas, that is, 8¼d., up to a maximum of one rupee and four pies, or 1s. 6½d. I do not think that even that is an extortionate price. Nothing can prevent the fact that if there are aged oxen in certain districts the beef may be tough.
§ Mr. Amery
I can assure the House that the Indian Canteen Board make every effort, and I think make the effort successfully, to meet the requirements of the soldiers in this respect.
There is the particular point that was raised by the hon. Member for Sedgefield, the hon. Member for Enfield (Mr. Bull), and by the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg), about the "V" cigarettes. These cigarettes ceased to be manufactured in August last year. As far as my information goes, stocks in the Middle East and in India were worked off by the end of the year.
§ Mr. Amery
What has caused some misunderstanding is that the cigarettes even now sold in India contain a high proportion of Indian tobacco. When the shipping situation was much easier, it was possible to supply cigarettes with 30 per cent. Indian and 70 per cent. American tobacco. When the shipping situation became serious, it was found impossible by the Government of India to import that quantity of American tobacco, whether for civilian or Army use.
§ Mr. Amery
I will come to that in a moment. The cigarettes, therefore, for all except the American Army in India, were on the basis of 70 per cent. Indian and 30 per cent. American tobacco. I am not a smoker, and I am, therefore, not prepared to say how far the soldiers' dislike of these cigarettes is due to any inferiority of Indian tobacco, or because the soldiers are accustomed to different types. What one is accustomed to, makes an enormous difference. When I was at the Admiralty many years ago, I tried to encourage the smoking of Empire tobacco as against American tobacco, and I was advised that there would be no difficulty about doing that on a considerable scale provided the change was not made to the extent of more than 5 per cent. in a year. In still earlier days, when I occasionally smoked cigarettes as an undergraduate, one was hardly allowed to smoke an American cigarette, or what was then known as a "stinker" in the same room as people who smoked Turkish or Egyptian cigarettes. I will not venture to decide on the abstract 553 intrinsic merits of Indian versus American tobacco, but I do realise, and the Government of India realise, that the high proportion of Indian tobacco in the cigarettes is not popular with the British troops. They have been laying themselves out to try and see whether arrangements cannot be made to revert to a much higher proportion of American tobacco. We are in consultation with the Board of Trade and the War Office to see whether a somewhat larger volume of American tobacco can be imported and whether arrangements can be made so that India may be able to manufacture cigarettes which will be more palatable to our troops.
§ Mr. Driberg
Is it absolutely essential that the cigarettes should be manufactured in India? Is it not possible to export the troops' favourite brands to India in the same way as it is done for the American troops?
§ Mr. Amery
I might take this opportunity of dealing with the interesting suggestion which the hon. Member made about a "paternal" delegation. No doubt if such a delegation went, the Kitchen Committee could supply some of its members. I speak for the moment as a supporter, and not as a critic of the Kitchen Committee. I would say in that connection that those Parliamentary delegations which have gone to other parts of the Empire in recent months, have gone at the invitation of Parliamentary bodies 554 to discuss, not administrative questions, but matters of interest to Parliament as a whole—broad matters of Empire and international policy with the object of strengthening Parliamentary contacts. It becomes a different matter to invite small bodies of Members of Parliament, however paternally—or indeed maternally—minded, to look into actual problems of administration and all the difficulties involved. I should not like off-hand to commit myself to launching such a precedent.
§ Mr. Bevan
I am not suggesting a committee of inquiry. It seems to me that, as our boys are to be out there for some time, it might be a good thing to send out a small body of Members of Parliament who could visit the troops, who could go to the forward lines and camps and see the men and hear what they have to say. The right hon. Gentleman could see by their evidence whether his satisfaction with the canteen arrangements is confirmed.
§ Mr. Amery
Even such a visit would to a certain extent amount to an inquiry. It could hardly go without looking into administrative problems. If they did not, the visit might not be very valuable. Anyhow, the matter could be considered.
On the question of Income Tax raised by the hon. Member for Sedgefield, I come back to the point that the Indian Army is an army paid for by India and administered under Indian law. It is a part of the governmental system of India and paid on entirely different scales to the pay in this country. It is not unnatural that the Army of India, whether its personnel is Indian or British, should pay the Income Tax of the country in which they are and which pays them. That Income Tax in some respects is appreciably lower than that in this country, but in other respects, for example, remissions for family, and other purposes, are not like those enjoyed in this country. I have drawn the attention of the Government of India to this matter, and they have made appreciable concessions involving a certain loss of revenue. I do not think it possible under the constitutional relations that exist to insist that in every detail, whenever it tells in favour of our people, Indian laws should be similar to ours regardless of Indian conditions at large. 555 That brings me to another big and important issue that was raised by more than one Member, namely, the question of leave home. My hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw quoted what he described as an unfortunate statement in a Service newspaper to the effect that there could be no leave home because India was supposed to be the home of the Indian Army. It is not only an unfortunate, but a totally incorrect statement. The conditions in the Indian Army are so different that identical arrangements which the War Office have arranged for British troops in India, cannot very well be applied to that British personnel of the Indian Army, but the Indian authorities have arranged a leave system which I hope will afford a great deal of alleviation. One hon. Member pointed out that the situation is entirely different in so far as even the Indian Army to-day contains officers who were originally conscripted in this war, a proportion of whom were at one time attached to the Indian Army compulsorily. In the main, however, they are all volunteers who joined the Indian Army. I would only observe that the element in the Indian Army that has only come into it since the war began, has not yet had five years' service in India. The real need is for those who have had five years and more in India to be brought home, and naturally, I am as anxious as anybody else can be to bring them home, especially if, as is quite likely, some have then to continue on in service against Japan, after the German war is finished.
There are, however, very real and practical difficulties which limit the numbers who can be brought home at any particular time, and the greatest of these difficulties is the fact that the operational value of the British officer in an Indian unit depends entirely upon his intimate knowledge of the men, and above all, on his capacity to speak their language. New comers, to a very considerable extent, do not fulfil that necessary qualification. It is therefore, in many units, very difficult to bring away senior officers, until some of the juniors are sufficiently trained to know how to handle the men. Meanwhile, there is a system of leave within India, and though I could not give any exact proportion of the extent to which that leave is made use of yet——
§ Mr. Bevan
I understand that if a British officer goes from this country he becomes subject to these conditions which now apply to the Indian Army—if he volunteers. That is the issue. If he is transferred, we have sent him out, and therefore we have conscripted him. He has gone to India. Is he then transferred from what might be called the British Forces in India to the Indian Army, without asking his consent at all, and does he then become subject to a different set of conditions?
§ Mr. Amery
I am glad to be able to make that point clear. British officers and men who go out to India with units of the British Army go under the general control of G.H.Q. India, and enjoy those advantages in respect to leave of which my hon. Friend has spoken. Those who join the Indian Army or, strictly speaking are British officers in Indian units——
§ Mr. Amery
Yes. Naturally they were all volunteers before the War. At an earlier period of the war they were also volunteers, but there was a short period of some months during which the War Office took the view that it was better to post officers compulsorily to serve with the Indian Army rather than to invite volunteers. The India Office subsequently persuaded the War Office that it was far better to invite volunteers. Therefore, the great majority of the young officers now attached to Indian units have gone out because they wished to join the Indian Army.
§ Mr. Bevan
This is a very important point, because we have now two categories of men. One is subject to the conditions which are laid down generally for the British Army. The other consists of men who were transferred without their consent to the Indian Army and now become subject to a different set of conditions. That transfer system was subsequently found to be inadvisable and the voluntary system was resumed. What about the unfortunate category in between? Are they to be given an opportunity of transferring back to the British Forces or of volunteering to continue with the Indian Army?
§ Mr. Amery
While some were transferred, they were transferred to the higher rates of pay and other conditions 557 of the Indian Army. No doubt if they wished to leave the Indian Army they will have eventually an opportunity. In that connection it is true that the troops in India are far away; they are far away in a wider sense than troops in the Middle East or in Italy. Troops in the Middle East cover a limited front whose utmost extension is a line of 1,500 miles from Damascus to Tunis. It is relatively easily visited and administered. In India we are dealing with a continent which is over 2,000 miles each way. The Burma front is as long as the whole Russian front in the present war. The outlying stations in the jungle are by no means easy to approach, and the great expansion of the Army in India in the last year or so has naturally involved a certain amount of difficulty for the men in getting everything they want, such as lectures and clubs, but all that is being pressed forward.
An inquiry about radio sets was made by the hon. Member for Bassetlaw. It is true that the Forces in the Middle East secured radio sets earlier, and that there are limitations of manufacture, but I may mention that 8,000 of these sets are now on order for the troops in India and I hope that they will be got out as rapidly as they can be manufactured.
§ Mr. Amery
I think the troops have a priority over the British consumer in this country. We are genuinely endeavouring to do everything that can be done. The expansion of British personnel in India has taken place at a later date than the great expansions in the Middle East, and in some respects there has been delay. I can assure hon. Members who have raised this subject in Debate that there is no lack of understanding of the fact that welfare is an essential part in operational efficiency and that both the Government of India and the War Office will do their very best in the matter.
§ Mr. Driberg
As this Debate is apparently drawing to an end, may I ask if there is any chance that we shall be having the statement on the progress of events in Germany which was half-promised for about this time?
§ Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly till Tuesday next, pursuant to the Resolution of the House this day.