HC Deb 06 February 1945 vol 407 cc1882-6
34. Mr. Hugh Lawson

asked the Secretary of State for War if he is aware that in a unit of the B.L.A., of which he has been informed, leave vacancies are being allotted in accordance with the length of service of the individual soldier with the B.L.A. and not chosen by ballot from those eligible for leave; and if he will stop this practice.

38 and 39. Captain Prescott

asked the Secretary of State for War (1) whether, in calculating the leave quota to the United Kingdom for men with long service overseas, account is taken of men granted compassionate leave;

(2) whether he is aware that in many units the quota of men sent on leave periodically to the United Kingdom is minute as compared to those entitled; and whether the allocations per unit can be increased.

70. Mr. Evelyn Walkden

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he can now make any statement as to how and by what ratio the allocation of leave places in S.E.A.C., C.M.F., and India has been increased during the past three months; and if for security reasons he cannot supply actual figures similar to the Air Ministry, will he by any other method show what are the actual increased chances of men getting home leave.

76. Mr. Keeling

asked the Secretary of State for War whether men serving overseas are selected for home leave according to rules made by commanders-in-chief or by unit commanders; and whether he will publish the rules in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

84 and 85. Mr. Driberg

asked the Secretary of State for War (1) if, in order to assist Members of Parliament in clearing up misunderstandings on the question of home leave from overseas, he will circulate in HANSARD a summary of the methods by which the ballot is conducted in the various theatres;

(2) if he is aware that some hardship has been caused to men who have been serving overseas for a considerable period but miss their chance of inclusion in a home leave ballot through being transferred from one unit to another; and if he will consider recommending to commanding officers the practice, which has been followed successfully in some units, of including in each ballot a few blank cards to cover such cases.

87. Major Mott-Radclyffe

asked the Secretary of State for War whether, in view of the apparent widespread misunderstanding and anxiety among British troops in Italy regarding the leave scheme now in force, he will take the necessary steps to ensure that the scope and application of the scheme is fully explained by unit commanders to all personnel concerned

The Secretary of State for War (Sir James Grigg)

As the Prime Minister said in his original statement on 17th November, the total leave quota which it was practicable to allot for theatres, other than B.L.A., is 6,000 a month. Prior to this announcement there was no leave scheme for these theatres. It should have been clear, therefore, that from these theatres only a small proportion of men would get leave in any one month. It is unlikely that for the time being it will be possible to increase this number. I am very sorry if a contrary impression has got abroad. This was certainly not the intention of the Prime Minister or of myself. In all theatres, subject to the most general guidance, the nature of which was set out in the Prime Minister's statement, the responsibility for the allotment of vacancies within the quota has been left to commanders-in-chief and I am sure that this is wise because they must know the different local conditions better than I do. These alter from time to time as a result of operational and other circumstances and may lead to changes in the leave arrangements. In view of this I do not think an attempt to publish in this country the details of the application of the scheme in the various commands would help. I will, however, suggest to commanders-in-chief that they should take steps to make sure that officers and men have had the scheme explained to them and that they know what their local arrangements are.

There is no special allotment for cases of compassionate leave from the more distant Commands overseas, but I understand that in a few Commands compassionate circumstances are taken into account in selecting men to make up the ordinary leave quota. It is the case of course that, in extreme cases of compassion, commanders-in-chief overseas can and do post men to the United Kingdom, as distinct from giving them leave. There is no fixed quota to cover such compassionate postings but as these men have to be replaced in the overseas theatre, the number who can be so posted to the United Kingdom is necessarily limited by man-power considerations. I am not aware that men are in fact losing their chances of leave by being transferred from one unit to another, but if the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg) will send me particulars of what he has in mind I will certainly look into it further. As regards the Question asked by the hon. Member for Skipton (Mr. H. Lawson) this is as I have said a matter for the commander-in-chief concerned. I cannot, however, see that there is anything unfair in the practice to which he refers.

As regards repatriation to the home establishment on long service grounds, though we shall lose no possible opportunity of reducing the tour of service abroad it is clear that no dramatic change is at present possible and so I am not able to add to what I said on 26th September. I hope that hon. Members in all parts of the House will assist me in dealing with these matters. If unfounded expectations are created disappointments are inevitable and these we must all wish to avoid. There is, I assure hon. Members, every desire to shorten the tour of service overseas but at this climax of the war the right policy is surely to put our utmost effort into securing victory at the earliest date. Moreover, early victory is the best means of accelerating the return home of those who have been abroad for long periods.

Mr. Hugh Lawson

Is not my right hon. Friend aware that in the 21st Army Group an order was issued stating that leave was not to be by ballot of those eligible? Is that not likely to cause very great dissatisfaction when a matter like the ballot is departed from by individual units?

Sir J. Grigg

I actually looked up this instruction of 21st Army Group. There was a provision for varying the allotment in accordance with operational and other circumstances.

Captain Prescott

One fully appreciates the difficulties of my right hon. Friend, but may I ask how it happens that an allocation is sometimes made to a unit, and the men are informed of the number who will be sent on leave; subsequently men return to the United Kingdom on compassionate grounds and thereby prevent other men going on ordinary leave under the scheme? Does he think that is fair?

Sir J. Grigg

I do not know to which theatre of war my hon. and gallant Friend is referring

Captain Prescott

The C.M.F.

Sir J. Grigg

I do not think that in the C.M.F. compassionate leave interferes in the least with the allotment of people for ordinary leave.

Mr. E. Walkden

Is the Minister aware that men serving abroad believed, when they heard the Prime Minister's statement, that the chances of leave would be stepped up very considerably? Will he tell us the reason for not informing the House of the ratio of opportunity, and could this not be done without, in any way, giving information to the enemy?

Sir J. Grigg

In the Prime Minister's original announcement he gave the total allotment of leave vacancies per month, which was 6,000. If you make an analysis of that, either generally or for particular theatres, it would be quite easy to calculate the strength of our Forces.

Mr. J. J. Lawson

Is the Minister aware that there is a well-established belief among soldiers that by the present kind of selection for leave men actually get leave after two years' service? Has he any explanation of that state of affairs?

Sir J. Grigg

I am not seeking for a moment to deny that there are possibilities, in some theatres, of getting leave after two years. I know, for example, that there is, in at least one theatre, a great desire for a leave scheme that will encourage people who have seen long periods of fighting. If my hon. Friend is referring to the theatre from which he has just come, that is particularly the case in that theatre.