HC Deb 24 October 1944 vol 404 cc23-5
46. Mr. Astor

asked the Prime Minister the exact division of responsibility between the Secretary of State for India and the Secretary of State for War as regards the welfare of British troops in India.

The Prime Minister

It is impossible to define such matters exactly, because the political boundaries of India do not coincide with those of the India Command. The Secretary of State for India is primarily responsible for the provision of welfare and amenities for British troops when serving in India. He is assisted by the Secretary of State for War in the provision of such welfare, personnel, and stores as are beyond the capacity of India to provide locally. The Secretary of State for War has a direct concern in the welfare of British troops, wherever they are and lays down the scales of amenities which he considers appropriate for those in India. Welfare and amenities for British troops in the South East Asia Command, but serving elsewhere than in India, are a responsibility of the Secretary of State for War. Here the Secretary of State for India assists him, because it is necessary now to rely largely on resources from India.

Mr. Astor

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the present system has not produced satisfactory results, from the point of view of the troops; and will he, therefore, consider whether there is any way in which it can be improved?

The Prime Minister

I am aware that it has not produced satisfactory results—at least, that the results have not been entirely satisfactory. Whether those results arise out of the inevitable overlap between the functions of the two Secretaries of State is not a matter which can be pronounced upon, but we have already taken steps to send a member of the Government —the Under-Secretary of State for India—out; and he is going round all the canteens and N.A.A.F.I.'s, and generally moving about among the troops.

Mr. Bellenger

There is no N.A.A.F.I. in India.

The Prime Minister

Whatever is the substitute for it. The Under-Secretary of State is going round to make sure that these men have the services of which they are particularly in need, and we are doing the very best we can do. He also has particular authority to communicate directly with me; so that if there is anything which wants a helping hand from the War Cabinet, it can be promptly given. I can assure the House that I am much concerned that this matter has not reached a higher level up to the present time.

Mr. A. Bevan

The House, I am sure, will be delighted that the right hon. Gentleman is giving his personal attention to the matter. Is he aware that Members are receiving letters from those men who transferred from the British Army to the Indian Army, who are entirely bewildered as to their status? They do not know whether this House is their protector, or whether the Indian Government is their protector. Will the right hon. Gentleman make it quite clear that we still protect those men who have transferred to the Indian Army?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir, we do protect those men; and that also applies in connection with votes and so on, about which the utmost care has been taken.

Mr. Quintin Hogg

Will my right hon. Friend consider giving an actual priority in the matter of welfare to troops who have given longer periods of service?

The Prime Minister

It would be very difficult to go about the Army and find out which of the troops have had the longest service, to give them priority. We have to work by theatres. We have every determination that the men in India and in the South East Asia Command, where there is so much disease, malaria and so on, shall not be neglected in any way.