HC Deb 30 January 1945 vol 407 cc1352-61

Question again proposed, "That the House do now adjourn."

Mr. Ross Taylor

I have told the House of the report of the Commander-in-Chief on the officer in question and also the result of his appeal to the Army Council, which stated that he would be considered for employment in a command outside the 21st Army Group. Colonel Rose then appealed to the highest authority, under Section 42 of the Act, and that appeal also failed, I understand that my right hon. Friend was not able to propose or suggest any modification. Colonel Rose was then appointed to the 11th Army, and at the end of October left for the East as second in command of a battalion.

I submit that the reports that I have quoted are alone sufficient to nullify the brigadier's statement that Rose was unfit to command a battalion in the field on active service. The divisional commander recommended that he should be employed in his present rank of lieutenant-colonel, Field-Marshal Montgomery recommended that he should be given a battalion in East Asia and the Army Council said he would be considered for employment in command outside the 21st Army Group. Evidently none of these authorities, whose judgment is presumably riper and more experienced than that of the brigadier, was of the opinion that Rose was unfit to command a battalion, and it is difficult for those who are unversed in the subtleties of military practice to understand why they did not have the brigadier's mischievous and defamatory statement repudiated and removed from his record. It may have been thought necessary to save the brigadier's face. Field-Marshal Montgomery rather went out of his way to say that he had confidence in him, but the continued presence of that statement on the record has already been prejudicial to him and its removal is a matter of elementary justice.

In asking for an impartial inquiry into the whole affair—he has done that from the beginning—Rose does not need to rely only on the fact that the reports of his superior officers contradict that of the brigadier. He is in a position to bring direct evidence to prove that the action of the brigadier was irregular and that the charge of inefficiency was unfounded. He is also in a position to bring strong circumstantial evidence that the brigadier acted not as the result of faulty judgment but out of jealousy and spite. Rose accepted as true the brigadier's statement that he had received the divisional commander's approval of the order to him to hand over his command. That was untrue. To that irregularity is added the fact that, while Rose was still in command, the brigadier addressed some of the officers of the battalion regarding his dismissal, which was a very unfortunate thing to do. These are not the only irregularities, but I will not trouble the House with further details.

With regard to Rose's alleged inefficiency, there is ample evidence to show that the brigadier's view was not shared by many in the battalion. The second in command, who took over from Rose, told the latter that he had done his utmost to prevent the brigadier from replacing him in the command, which he considered most unwise. Later, when he assumed command and was addressing some of his company commanders, he informed them that Colonel Rose's orders and policy, would continue unchanged in letter and in spirit. Rose's senior company commander, a Regular officer of great experience, described the brigadier's action as an outrageous injustice, and so strongly did he feel about it that he wrote officially on the subject and asked to be posted to another battalion. Many other officers, N.C.O.'s and men of the battalion could give evidence to rebut the brigadier's allegation.

The charge that the brigadier was biased and that his report was the outcome of jealousy and spite seems to me manifest from its very wording. He appears, says the brigadier, to be obsessed with jungle warfare ideas to the exclusion of most other considerations. To anyone who knows the officer that statement is perfectly ridiculous and the sneer in it seems to me obvious. But that alone is not relied on to establish this charge against the brigadier. There are various incidents, including one in which the chaplain of the regiment was involved, which might be adduced in support of it. Rose however, though naturally indignant that he should have been maligned by an officer who has infinitely less experience than he has, is less concerned with bringing the brigadier to book than getting the unjustified stigma removed from his record. That is the main reason why he has pressed for an impartial inquiry all along. I feel very strongly that, if the request for an inquiry is not acceded to, the charge of inefficiency ought to be expunged from his record. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War points out in his answer to the Question to which I have referred that this officer has exhausted his right of appeal. That is to say, there is no machinery by which the case can be again reviewed. We therefore have the extraordinary position that though the judgment of the brigadier was in effect reversed by the Divisional and the Army Commanders and the Army Council, the stain cast by him on Rose's military reputation is to remain for all time.

There seems to be something wrong with the machinery for dealing with this class of case. It is not unique, for there have been many similar cases in this war, and I know of one in the last war the victim of which is a Member of this House. The Army Council might have put the matter right, but that was hardly to be expected because, as a court of appeal in cases of this kind, they cannot be regarded as an ideal tribunal. In theory, they may enjoy the complete independence possessed by a judicial body, but circumstances may well make it inadvisable to exercise that independence. In this case they could hardly be said to have had a free hand, for General Montgomery, an officer senior to any of the officers who dealt with the matter and, of course, much more experienced, had already made a pronouncement, and if the Army Council had proceeded to order the cancellation of the words complained of in the report, they might have been regarded as cutting across the Commander-in-Chief's expression of confidence in the brigadier. The Council are also—no doubt quite properly—imbued with the necessity of upholding authority in the Army, but that doctrine can be pressed too far, and I maintain that in this case it has been pressed too far and has resulted in a failure to do justice.

I would like to say a word about my intervention in this case. I have been assured by my right hon. Friend that my intervention did not prejudice Rose in any way, but, in point of fact, it was indicated to him unofficially that he had blotted his copy-book by approaching his M.P. on the subject, and it was intimated to him officially that the fact that he had done so had delayed consideration of his case. The facts of the matter are these. Rose happens to be a friend of mine as well as a constituent. His home is near the town in which I live. I have known his mother for many years and I know other members of his family. What is more natural, when I saw him just after he had been relieved of his command in the circumstances I have described, than that he should have spoken to me about a matter, regarding which he was burning with indignation? Indeed at that time he told me that if he did not get redress he would ask me to take the case up as his Member of Parliament. He was talking of resigning and going into the ranks, and I felt it would be a pity if all that ability were to he lost. I therefore ventured on my own responsibility to write confidentially to my right hon. Friend suggesting a compromise. Nothing came of it, and the case took the course which I have described.

Together with one or two unofficial conversations I had with my right hon. Friend's Parliamentary Private Secretary, that was the extent of my intervention until I put down the Question to which I have referred. I very much resent the suggestion that that should in any way have prejudiced Major Rose. In any event, it is surely the right of every man in the Army, whether he be officer or private, if he considers he has been unjustly treated, in the last resort to ask his Member of Parliament to take up his case for him. It is in fulfilment of that obligation that I have brought what seems to me to be a grave injustice to the notice of the House, and, in doing so, to the notice of others outside, who will thus learn what an inquiry, which has been denied to Rose so far, would undoubtedly reveal. It is not too late yet to vindicate this officer, and I hope that my hon. and learned Friend the Financial Secretary will be able to say something of that kind, because I feel that a serious injustice has been done and ought to be remedied.

2.37 p.m.

The Financial Secretary to the War Office (Mr. Arthur Henderson)

I would like, first, to assure my hon. Friend and the House that there is not a word of truth in any suggestion that might be made, as regards this or any other officer or other rank in the British Army, that, so far as it can be prevented by the War Office, such an individual would be prejudiced by reason of his writing to his Member of Parliament on any matter in which he feels he has a grievance. The chronological order of events in this case are sufficient to justify my saying that the fact that Major Rose brought his case to the notice of his Member has not prejudiced him in any way. I must confess that, after listening to my hon. Friend, I feel very dubious as to whether Major Rose was wise in asking him to raise the matter to-day. Additionally, I feel that the line my hon. Friend has followed has not really helped his own case. It is an old saying that if you have a bad case abuse the plaintiff's attorney, and I cannot help thinking that my hon. Friend has gone out of his way to besmirch the reputation of the brigadier in question without adducing one scrap of evidence to justify his charge that the brigadier was guilty of personal bias against Major Rose. My hon. Friend quoted the report of the brigadier in which he fairly referred to the good service which Major Rose had done in the campaign that took place in Malaya. But any brigadier has not only a right, but a duty, to take action if he comes to the conclusion that an officer under his command is not qualified in his opinion to serve under him in a position of responsibility. It would be the duty of a brigadier, and it would have been the duty of Colonel Rose himself at that time, to take action if he thought that one of his company commanders, preparing for D-Day and all that it involved and with the lives of 400 or 500 men in his charge, should not be entrusted with certain responsibility in certain events. That would have been his duty if, rightly or wrongly, he came to that conclusion.

I listened very carefully for any evidence that might have substantiated the charge that this particular brigadier was guilty of prejudice against Major Rose—personal bias, I think it was called. My hon. Friend also tried to justify his claims by referring to the fact that the matter was made worse by reason of the brigadier having had less experience than Major Rose. Is the House to understand that only Regular officers can be considered to have sufficient military experience? Is it to be suggested after nearly six years of war that the fact that this brigadier happens to have been a Territorial is a matter for suspicion, that there was some ill-feeling between the brigadier, because he was a Territorial and Major Rose was a Regular officer? It may interest the House to know that this particular brigadier has served in the Army during the whole of this war. He had some years' service as a Territorial officer before the war. He commanded a battalion of the Black Watch throughout the North African Campaign, was awarded the D.S.O., was wounded, and is to-day, as we know, commanding a brigade in the British Liberation Army, and is considered by all superior officers, from Field-Marshal Montgomery downwards, to be a very experienced and first-class brigadier. I hope the House will not be influenced by any suggestion that merely because Major Rose—with a very good record of service himself in Malaya, where he had great experience in jungle fighting—is a Regular officer, there is some reason why we should distrust the opinion of a Territorial brigadier.

Even if we were a little dubious about this Territorial brigadier, we have the fact that, as is the system in the Army, someone has to initiate a report on an officer if he is considered to be in a position he cannot fill. But we have this double, treble, and quadruple checking by the superior officers, right up the line. My hon. Friend has quoted from the views of the divi- sional commander and Field-Marshal Montgomery, who, incidentally, while they take the view that Major Rose should have a second chance in another theatre of operations, and in fact should be given command of a battalion in another theatre of operations, at the same time express their acceptance of and confidence in the report of the brigadier. My hon. Friend might also have mentioned that two other commanders, the corps commander and the Army commander, General Dempsey, not only accepted the report of the brigadier and indicated their confidence in him, but they did not go so far as to recommend that Major Rose should be given command of a battalion in another theatre of operations.

The fact that there were two who did and two who did not make that recommendation, and that the Army Council, when it came to investigate this case, as the final court of appeal, accepted the adverse report, but also said that Major Rose should be given a command in South-East Asia Command, where he will have an opportunity of making use of his experience in that type of warfare—I should have thought all that indicated that so far from a serious injustice having been done to this officer, he had been treated with the greatest degree of justice and impartiality. I would therefore suggest to the House that my hon. Friend has put his case far too high, and has made what I think are wild and reckless charges against this brigadier, who has a duty to do, if he takes the view that an officer is not qualified to hold a command under him. All Members of this House who have served in the Army on active service know perfectly well that it is an impossible situation to place responsibility on any senior officer—colonel or brigadier as the case may be—and expect him to have under his command officers in whom he does not have confidence.

I agree that if a brigadier, because he does not like the colour of the eyes of a colonel, or a colonel because he does not like the political views or religious persuasion of one of his junior officers, said he had no confidence in him, there would be evidence of prejudice and personal bias. But if a brigadier, as I submit on the basis of this report, takes the view that he has no longer confidence in a particular unit commander, and this is prior to the launching of this great operation which started on D-Day, then under the system we must have in the British Army, or any other army, in the absence of conclusive evidence that there has been personal bias, we must accept the report of the brigadier, backed as it is, as my hon. Friend has told the House, by the views of officers higher than the brigadier in question. I very much regret that my hon. Friend has felt it necessary, in making his case, to make this personal attack on this gallant officer, who, as I say, has a first-class record of service in this war, and I cannot agree that his statements were mischevious or defamatory. I very much doubt whether one can justify the statement that he has charged Major Rose with being an inefficient officer. He has said he was not fitting into that particular battalion, and as that battalion was part of his brigade, he wanted him transferred away from his brigade.

I think it is common ground, and I think it is because we take the view that Major Rose is an efficient officer who has rendered good service, and will no doubt render further good service in the type of warfare taking place in the South-East Asia Command, that the Army Council, when it finally decided this case, recommended he should at the first available opportunity be given a battalion in that part of the world. In any event he only arrived in India two or three weeks ago, and up to the present time there has not been a vacancy, but it is quite evident that Major Rose stands a very good chance of being given command of a battalion when a vacancy arises, provided he does not carry on this campaign against other officers in the Army, but accepts the view, which I put to the House, that he has been treated with every consideration and with fairness and justice, and does his best to retrieve the position by good service in the campaign to which he has been sent.

2.49 p.m.

Mr. J. J. Davidson (Glasgow, Maryhill)

Quite frankly, I do not think my hon. and learned Friend has answered the case. I listened very attentively to the hon. Member who brought up this subject on the Adjournment, and there were one or two points which struck me very much indeed. First I would ask whether, after Rose was removed from his command, there was a radical change in the training. It has been definitely stated that officers of the battalion had said that the methods of training adopted by Rose were still in operation, and, as far as I can see, the whole case hinges on the fact that the brigadier believed that Rose was obsessed with methods of jungle warfare. Secondly, I would say that the Financial Secretary rather exaggerated the attack that was made on this brigadier. I do not think the hon. Gentleman made any very vitriolic or specific attack on him. He certainly accused him of not seeing eye to eye with Rose, and meeting other officers of the battalion and discussing Rose's case with them which, I think, all Members will agree, is something that ought not to be done. I would ask the Financial Secretary, therefore, whether the question of Rose's dismissal was discussed by the brigadier with junior officers in the battalion. I would be grateful if he would give me an answer to my two questions, which I will repeat: Was the method of training radically changed after Rose's departure; and did the brigadier discuss Rose's dismissal with junior officers of the battalion?

Mr. Henderson

As regards the second question, I very much doubt whether the brigadier discussed the framing of an adverse report, for which he is responsible, with junior officers of the battalion. As regards the other point, I do not think it has very much practical bearing, as a result of the adverse report, on the training of the battalion, because the report was not sent in until some time in May and, of course, D-Day was on 6th June. By the time they had been moved to their concentration areas, I very much doubt whether any great amount of training took place following the removal of this particular officer.

Mr. J. J. Davidson

Can the Financial Secretary say whether since D-Day this battalion has carried out its duties in an exemplary form, and distinguished itself equally with other battalions using different methods?

Mr. Henderson

As far as I know, every single battalion in the British Army which has been in action has done what was expected of it.

Mr. Mack (Newcastle-under-Lyme)

I would like to ask the Financial Secretary whether a junior officer who for some reason or other finds himself adversely reported upon by a superior officer, receives a report of the allegation made against him, or is the report lodged in confidence? What redress has a junior officer at present if, as the consequence of some alleged misdemeanour, or general misconduct, he is dismissed from the Army, reduced in rank, or penalised in some way? Would he have an opportunity of putting his case before the Army Council and answering any charges?

Mr. Henderson

I can assure my hon. Friend that such action is not taken behind a man's back. The initiating officer has to show the adverse report to the officer reported on, and that officer must initial the report. The case of a lieutenant who is reported on by his commanding officer has to be considered by the brigadier, who must see the officer himself. If he knows the officer in question he is in a better position to assess the value of the report. It is also possible for the officer concerned to go before the Divisional Commander, because the report must also be commented on by the Divisional Commander and, officially, by the Army Commander. Of course, every officer has the right to appeal under Section 42 to the Army Council. [Interruption.] In the case of non-commissioned ranks Section 43 is the appropriate one.

Mr. Mack

I take it that every officer has the right to make representations to the Army Council, but can an officer be assured of being heard by the Council?

Mr. Henderson

He is not heard in person, but all the relevant documents in the case are submitted to the Army Council and their decision is arrived at upon that documentary evidence.