HC Deb 28 March 1944 vol 398 cc1240-2
42. Mr. Bellenger

asked the Prime Minister whether, in view of the criticism of Army commanders contained in the official publication, "The Eighth Army," he will now publish the despatches of the Commanders-in-chief.

43. Sir R. Glyn

asked the Prime Minister whether, as a correction to adverse comments on officers holding high positions in the Services contained in some publications of the Ministry of Information, he will consider the need to modify the reply he gave to the hon. and gallant Baronet the Member for Abingdon, on 9th December, 1942, and publish the despatches both in regard to those campaigns and later operations, if they form the subject of criticism of individuals who have no other means of stating officially their point of view.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Churchill)

No, Sir. I have nothing to add to the reply given to the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) by my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister on 2nd November last.

Mr. Bellenger

Is not the position changed somewhat, in view of the publication of "The Eighth Army," under official auspices? Does not the Prime Minister think it highly improper that generals should be criticised in this manner by the War Office, while the public have had no opportunity of reading their despatches?

Mr. Keeling

Especially while they are still serving.

The Prime Minister

This particular publication is one of a series which gives accounts, which I believe are of great interest to the public, of the different campaigns. The passages referring to particular changes of command were not written in any controversial style and do not, in my opinion, in any way alter the answer I gave against publication of despatches in time of war. They do not reflect upon the officers concerned in any manner which would require any further official statement. Of course, if I were pressed to make a further statement, I should be ready to state the reasons why I made certain changes, but I should deprecate it, in the interests of all concerned.

Sir R. Glyn

Could the Prime Minister say, for the information of the House, whether it is the case that, although despatches are not being published now, despatches are being received and considered by the appropriate authority, appointed by the right hon. Gentleman himself within the Cabinet, for subsequent publication?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir, certainly, Despatches are referred to the Defence Committee and are otherwise examined, but we are not making a practice of publishing them at the present time. As to this booklet, which was written by the War Office, I had not myself seen it until attention was drawn to it by this Question, but, as I say, it is one of a series of an informative character. I do not consider that it reflects upon the officers concerned in any manner which would require a special departure from the practice we have adopted.

Earl Winterton

Would the Prime Minister make it clear that his decision not to publish the despatches now in no way involves a departure from the custom which has always existed, of publishing such despatches after the war, provided they can be published without damage to the public interest?

The Prime Minister

Certainly; of course they will be published. I have not actually re-read them but I have looked through them, since this Question was put on the Paper. They are extremely lengthy, and I am not sure that they do throw very much light upon the position of these particular officers.

Mr. Boothby

Would the Prime Minister take this opportunity of making it clearer to the public than it now is that these publications are not, in fact, official publications, and that the Government do not accept official responsibility?

The Prime Minister

I do not think the Government are responsible for anything in these particular publications.