HC Deb 29 June 1944 vol 401 cc794-7
46. Mr. John Dugdale

asked the Prime Minister whether he has now any statement to make on the question of leave for men serving overseas.

48. Major-General Sir Alfred Knox

asked the Prime Minister if he has now considered the possibility of assimilating the period of service abroad of men of the Army and R.A.F. in order to qualify for leave.

Mr. Eden

I would ask my hon. Friends to be good enough to await a statement which I propose to make at the end of Questions.


Mr. Eden

As promised, my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council has looked very thoroughly into this matter, and owing to his unavoidable absence to-day has asked me to report the result of his inquiry. In the Army there is no fixed rule or regulation about the period of service overseas which, in time of war, must, in the last analysis, depend on operational requirements. It is, however, obviously in the interests of the efficiency of the Army that the period should not be unduly long, and my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for War, has consistently aimed at keeping it as low as possible. It will be understood that, during the period of gravest shipping shortage when the Mediterranean was closed, little could be done. Since then, however, considerable progress has been made. First, all those who had been abroad for six years or more were brought home. More recently, it has been possible to start bringing home those who had served abroad for between five and six years; the bulk of these have already returned. My right hon. Friend would naturally wish to improve on this. Indeed, a start has already been made with bringing home men with between four and a half and five years' service abroad. Much will, however, depend on the progress of the war. The process of bringing men home and sending out replacements inevitably immobilises large numbers of men and reduces the impact of our army on the enemy; and there is a limit beyond which this reduction cannot be accepted without endangering the vast and critical operations now in progress. It is now essentially a question of manpower rather than of shipping.

The Army has greater difficulties than the R.A.F., in connection with return to the Home establishment because a larger proportion of the Army is serving overseas. Further-Abe proportion of older and less fit men is larger in the Army and the bulk of these men must, of necessity, be retained at home and cannot be utilised as replacements overseas. Moreover, the R.A.F. are able to carry out offensives from this country. The Army, to carry out an offensive, must be located within the theatre of operations. In the case of the Royal Navy, the return of personnel from foreign stations is governed principally by the necessity for bringing ships home for re-fit. In view of the different conditions obtaining in the three Services, comparisons on this question are impossible. No alteration in the arrangements regarding the period of service overseas in the Navy or the Royal Air Force would make any real contribution to the solution of the very serious problem with which my right hon. Friend is faced.

Mr. Dugdale

While fully appreciating the difficulties involved, might I ask the right hon. Gentleman if he will give special consideration to the case of married men, many of whom have been out for a very long period, as both they and their wives at home are feeling the strain considerably?

Mr. Eden

I know that my hon. Friend himself feels that that question itself raises certain other questions at once. We have been into this very carefully, with a desire to meet the situation, and, within the limits imposed upon us by military operations, I really think we are doing all we can.

Sir A. Knox

Is it not the case that there is a so-called qualifying period for the R.A.F. at the present time, and would it not be better to do away with this so-called qualifying period, and to give leave to all hard cases?

Mr. Eden

I understand that the Royal Air Force position is not so difficult.

Mr. Bellenger

While appreciating the operational reasons which underlie the difficulty of effecting reliefs, I would ask whether my right hon. Friend will bear in mind that the longer the war goes on the more necessary it will be to effect these reliefs, in order to get the highest morale among the troops? Is my right hon. Friend aware that there are considerable troop movements going on; and would it not be possible to bring home some men on those empty troopships?

Mr. Eden

I think that the Government understand that the longer the war lasts the more urgent will this problem become. I would invite the House to pay particular attention to one sentence in my statement, where I said that the problem is not one of shipping, but of man-power.

Major C. S. Taylor

Is there any guaranteed period of home service for the man who has been brought back after five years' overseas service?

Mr. Eden

I should like notice of that Question.

Mr. Mathers

Have the investigations which have resulted in the right hon. Gentleman's reply made it clear that the five years' maximum will be capable of realisation?

Mr. Eden

I can assure my hon. Friend that in some respects the position is better than that already. We do all we can.

Mr. Astor

Is my right hon. Friend aware that when Army personnel are ready to go home they sometimes get less favoured means of transport than do quite junior naval and Air Force officers? Often, quite a senior Army officer is sent home round the Cape, while a naval or Air Force junior officer gets air transport. Will my right hon. Friend see that there is no such discrimination in this matter?

Mr. Eden

I do not know about that, but generally, in my experience, the three Services get on very well together.

Mr. Buchanan

Will the right hon. Gentleman see that in this matter men are not dealt with as individual cases, but rather by categories of years of service abroad, because if we start the process of singling out one man against another, we may get into trouble? Also, will he see that men are not merely brought home and sent abroad again, but are given a reasonable time at home when they arrive?

Mr. Eden

As regards the first part of my hon. Friend's question, I am in entire agreement. We must stick to years rather than go by special cases. As regards the second part of his question, that is the general practice, and men do stay at home unless there is some emergency reason.

Mr. Hogg

While recognising the very full consideration which has been given to this matter, might I ask my right hon. Friend whether he will bear in mind the hardship which has been caused to the Army as a result of these operational considerations, and whether, when the manpower situation alters, he will try to make up for that hardship in some other way?

Mr. Driberg

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that men who have been serving in Africa and Italy and are now at home wounded are wondering anxiously whether they are going to be sent to fight against Japan when the war against Germany ends? Will he consider giving them some assurance that they will be given some priority in demobilisation or at least home service?

Mr. Eden

No, Sir, I could not give that assurance. I think we are getting a little wide of the original questions.

Captain Plugge

Will my right hon. Friend consider allowing men to receive money which they have put aside when serving overseas? I have had cases, which I have brought to his notice, of men who have put aside money, and have not received it.

Mr. Speaker

That is another question.

Mr. Molson

In view of the importance of my right hon. Friend's sympathetic reply, will he arrange to make it known to the Fourteenth Army, who are particularly affected?

Mr. Eden

It will be given wide publicity.