HC Deb 21 August 1945 vol 413 cc418-23
1. Mr. Quintin Hogg

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he has considered the rules at present governing the repatriation of men serving overseas whose parents are dying; and whether he will modify the restriction on those cases which are at present refused on the ground that there are other children available at home.

The Secretary of State for War (Mr. J. J. Lawson)

As the hon. Member is no doubt aware, the decision whether a soldier can be repatriated on compassionate grounds rests with the Commander-in-Chief of the Command in which he is serving. But the War Office, in forwarding cases for the Commander-in-Chief's consideration, groups them in categories according to the strength of the claims. Recently, modifications have been made in the rules, and certain cases of the type referred to by the hon. Member are now given a higher priority than hitherto. Whether anything more can be done in compassionate cases, it is not possible to say without examination of the general position arising from the end of the war with Japan, but I can assure the hon. Member that I have a lively personal interest in such cases.

Mr. Hogg

Having regard to the large number of cases involved in those categories, would the right hon. Gentleman consider making available to Members of this House the new categorisation to which he has referred, because most of us are familiar only with the old?

Mr. Lawson

Yes, Sir.

2. Mr. Driberg

asked the Secretary of State for War if he will, before the House rises for the summer Recess, make a general statement on repatriation, home leave for men serving in the various theatres and length of service overseas.

20 and 21. Mr. W. J. Brown

asked the Secretary of State for War (1) whether he is aware that there are many cases of soldiers serving abroad who have been away from home for periods in excess of three years without home leave; and what steps he con-templates taking to remedy this situation;

(2) what is the present maximum period of overseas service for soldiers; and when he expects to make effective a maximum of three years.

22. Mr. Lipson

asked the Secretary of State for War if he is now able to make a statement about the repatriation of men who have served in the Far East for three years or more.

78. Mr. Mallalieu

asked the Secretary of State for War whether it is his intention to honour the pledge of his predecessor that service overseas in the S.E.A.C. theatre should be reduced to three years four months; and will he take steps to see that men who have already exceeded that time are sent home immediately.

83. Mr. Sorensen

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he has any statement to make respecting home leave or repatriation for men serving in the Far East.

87. Squadron-Leader Sir Gifford Fox

asked the Secretary of State for War whether in the new circumstances he will make arrangements to reduce, at an early opportunity, the length of the Army overseas tour to the same level as the R.A.F., that is to say, three years for married men and four years for single men.

Mr. Lawson

Since I have been at the War Office I have been paying great attention to this question. But hon. Members will appreciate that the whole situation is affected by the Japanese surrender. Until our revised commitments are worked out and we know what general transportation facilities are likely to be available for the vast amount of movement now involved, I cannot say whether the tour of foreign service can be shortened or the quota of leave increased. I am afraid, therefore, that it would be impossible for me to make any statement in the very short time left before the Recess. Meanwhile, the existing plans for repatriation and leave continue in operation, and every endeavour is being made to maintain and increase their effectiveness. As far as transport will allow, men in the Far East are now repatriated under the Python Scheme after three years, four months' service. I may perhaps add that I propose to visit S.E.A.C. myself during the Recess. This will give me an opportunity to look into these and other points on the spot.

Mr. Driberg

While appreciating the difficulties of my right hon. Friend—and appreciating in particular the announcement of his intended visit to S.E.A.C.—may I ask him to bear in mind that this subject is second only to demobilisation itself in the volume of inquiries and complaints which hon. Members are increasingly receiving from their constituents in the Forces, and that this process will continue in the Recess? Will he take the earliest opportunity to make a clear and comprehensive statement?

Mr. Lawson

Yes, Sir. May I say that everyone realises the very great difficulty men are in on account of the long period that they have been away from home and that there is profound sympathy in the House with these men. That was one reason why I decided to go out to S.E.A.C. to see the British troops there.

Mr. Lipson

Would the right hon. Gentleman be more definite as to when he will be able to make some statement that will be reassuring to the men concerned, in view of the fact that some men have been out in the Far East for longer than three years and four months, and are not even repatriated, and feel that the promises made to them in the past in this connection have not been kept?

Mr. Lawson

I am sorry that I cannot make any definite promise as to date, Sir, but I should say it will not be made until after I return.

Mr. Sorensen

If possible, will my right hon. Friend make a statement before we meet again in October? Will he also pay particular attention to releases on compassionate grounds?

Mr. Lawson

I shall make a statement as soon as possible after I return.

11. Major Nield

asked the Secretary of State for War why many soldiers overseas who have qualified for repatriation under the Python Scheme are not coming home; and what steps are being taken to remedy this.

15. Mr. Hogg

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he has any statement to make on the delay in the Python Scheme in S.E.A.C.

Mr. Lawson

When the qualifying periods under the Python Scheme were reduced in June last my predecessor made it clear that the reduction would take effect as quickly as shipping and other transportation facilities permitted. The decision to reduce the tour naturally created an immediate load, too big to be handled at once. Despite this, men in the Central Mediterranean and Middle East theatres who are entitled to repatriation under the new rules should be away by the end of September, while in India and the Far East generally men are being repatriated as quickly as the available sea, rail and air facilities can bring them home. Such delay as may occur in the future in these theatres will be due solely to the physical difficulty of movement, not only on account of shiping, but also of the limited internal transportation facilities in India and Burma.

Mr. Hogg

With a view to allaying misgivings, will the right hon. Gentle- man consider the publication of periodical progress reports so long as there is a back-lag in repatriation?

Mr. Lawson

I have already promised that as soon as I return from S.E.A.C. I will make a public statement.

Mr. Turton

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in Italy the position is extremely serious as the L.A.A.M.I. Camp is congested, and troops are pouring in but none are getting away? The same thing is happening in all the transit camps in Italy.

Mr. Lawson

I was not aware of that fact and I will make inquiries.

14. Major Wyatt

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware of the dissatisfaction among personnel transferred from C.M.F. to B.L.A. under operation Goldflake, who are due for repatriation under Python, because they have not been repatriated, although personnel in similar circumstances remaining in C.M.F. are still being repatriated; that there is anxiety among such personnel lest their release group may be called forward before they receive the leave to which they are entitled under Python; and whether in cases where a large proportion of a unit is due for repatriation he will now give instructions for the waiving of the rule which permits only a small percentage to be repatriated at one time.

Mr. Lawson

I am aware that these men were originally at a disadvantage as regards repatriation, but the matter was adjusted in June last, when the qualifying period in both theatres was reduced to four years. Their entitlement is now the same as of they had remained in C.M.F. In either case the repatriation leave is admissible only if the soldier remains in the Army. It is normal disembarkation leave, granted to enable a man to resume home contacts after a long absence and before further service; if he leaves the Army as soon as he returns from overseas his release leave becomes due immediately. As regards the last part of the Question, it would clearly be impossible, in either theatre, to repatriate a whole unit at once if it is still required in an occupational role; the extent to which it can be reduced pending replacements must be left to the discretion of the Theatre Commander.

Major Wyatt

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in one small unit of the type mentioned in the Question, there are 186 men who have now been abroad for 4½years and have not received their leave under the Python scheme?

Mr. Lawson

I am not aware of it.

36. Mr. Turton

asked the Secretary of State for War how many British officers and men who were prisoners of war in Germany have not yet been repatriated; and how many of these are in territory now controlled by the U.S.S.R. awaiting repatriation.

Mr. Lawson

The number of British Commonwealth (excluding India) officers and men who were recorded as prisoners of war in Germany and who have not been recovered or accounted for by the Allied Forces on 11th August, 1945,is 690. All prisoners of war notified by the Soviet authorities as having been released by them have been repatriated with the exception of one officer and nine other ranks who are in hospital at Kharkov.

Mr. Turton

Will the right hon. Gentleman communicate with the relatives of the men involved giving the latest whereabouts of the men?

Mr. Lawson

I will take note of that suggestion.