§ 11.10 a.m.
§ Mr. J. J. Lawson (Chester-le-Street)
As the Committee knows, it is not our intention to deal directly with the amount for which the right hon. Gentleman is asking, and I do not suppose either that hon. Members are expecting me to deal with any of the kindly instructions which the right hon. Gentleman attempted to give us last night. The Leader of the Opposition gave notice last week that on this occasion we would raise the question of the conditions of soldiers overseas, as well as the welfare arrangements affecting them. It is a long time since we had any set discussion upon these matters. We have had lots of Questions but there has not been any Debate on this subject, or particularly upon the Munster Report. Since the report was made there has been a great change in the European field. The destruction of Germany has altered things a good deal. It has left great problems of administration, but it has improved the opportunities for reconsideration of some of the conditions affecting those in the 1215 various areas of fighting, particularly in the Far East, and, of course, there is the great Mediterranean Force and the Middle East Force.
One remembers the wide variation of conditions under which our men have been fighting in the jungles of Burma, and in the swamps and marshes, and on the mountains, of Europe. When one considers the number of years that they have endured wide variations of heat and cold, it is a marvellous thing that the morale of our men has continued so high in view of the great strain upon them. This war has been rather different from the last war in one respect. It is always a great strain upon a man, morally, to be separated from his family for a long term, and during this war men have had to spend years away from their homes and their loved ones, and from their country. To remember that, is to appreciate not only the physical strain, but the moral and spiritual strain that has been laid upon great numbers of our men during these years of war.
Now, of course, we are called upon to do something which is almost without parallel in history. We have, after finishing one great war, which has needed all our energy and which has put not only a great strain upon our fighting men but upon our people, to divert our energies, and the men their fighting capacity, to another war which makes no less demands upon us than the one we have just ended. It is almost trite to say so, but I think one cannot repeat too often, that what ever the differences between us in this country in the domestic field, there is no difference between parties in this country when it comes to the determination to destroy the enemy in the Far East as completely as the one we have just destroyed in Europe. However, that lays upon the House of Commons and the Government, of course, the need for the most serious, sympathetic and continuous consideration of the grave human problem affecting the Armed Forces of the nation overseas, and among the most important is that which concerns the men who have been away from home for many years. In this respect I want to say a word to the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War about an answer he gave on 5th June to questions which were put to him about the large number of men who have been brought back from Italy—
§ Mr. Lawson
To this country, and they were given seven days' leave. At any rate, I have had letters to that effect and I understand the question dealt with that. The letters were from men who had been away from this country for years, in some cases three years, and when they were brought back here, all they got was seven days' leave. The right hon. Gentleman defended that. There may have been operations which appeared to make that necesary, but I think something must have slipped when men who have been away from this country for something like three years received only seven days' leave. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman has any explanation to give to the Committee other than that which he gave previously, but I hope that we shall not have a repetition of that kind of thing, particulary in view of the changed conditions in Europe.
The situation, of course, is altogether different in Italy. I think the right hon. Gentleman might tell us at some stage just what is the position—probably he cannot tell us how many men there are in Italy—in the C.M.F. generally, for they may be scattered outside Italy. I think some of them drove into Austria. How long are our Forces to remain in Italy? Just what is the position there now? This matter, I know, affects policy, and for that reason the question may not be easy to answer, but I believe that Italy was practically an Ally of ours in the later stages, and that we gave her all the help we could. Is it necessary to maintain any of our Forces there now? If so, to what extent have we to be called upon to supply troops for that area and for how long? At the very least we expect there will be a drastic reduction of Forces as far as that country is concerned.
Generally speaking, there are periods for leave and periods for repatriation—I think it is roughly three years, and four and a half years. I think the time has come, however—and we feel very strongly about this—when those periods should be drastically reduced. Long 1217 periods without leave and away from home, were understandable, when the enemy was facing our men there. It was very hard, but we had to accept the grim facts of the situation and the right hon. Gentleman was called upon to give answers under very difficult conditions from time to time, but the situation is altogether different now from what it was. My hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) and myself, with others, visited that area in January of this year and we had to answer as well as we could the demand of the men for reconsideration of the periods of service. Many of them had fought right through North Africa, landed in Sicily, driven through the whole length of Italy or at any rate to the North of Italy, and I can tell the right hon. Gentleman and the Committee that it was very difficult to answer some of the questions put by these men.
Now, however, that position is changed. I know there is a demand for Forces for the Far East, I know very well there is what is called the re-allocation—that is, the men who are to be discharged from the Forces—but even with those claims upon us for the increasing concentration upon the Japanese war, and the other matters I have mentioned, I think the House of Commons and the country will not be satisfied until those periods of leave and service for repatriation are considerably reduced. I do not know whether the argument for shipping will be used now, and I will not spend any time over it. Of course, the situation is nothing like so strict now, as it was a few months ago, but when one considers the changed position at sea, transport by sea at any rate must be much improved compared to what it was a few months ago.
Then there is the Middle East Force. I do not know whether it is fair to ask the right hon. Gentleman—because these matters involve questions of policy—what is happening in the Middle East. Syria, for instance, is a pointer. Those who know the situation realise that it is only a pointer, but the same problem of leave and repatriation faces the Middle East as the Mediterranean area, and there is the same need there for reduction of leave and repatriation periods. I do not expect the right hon. Gentleman to go deeply into these questions, but he may be able to give us some indication of what the position is in these two theatres.
1218 I would also like to know what is happening in the B.L.A. area. It is particularly necessary to pay strict attention to welfare in the British Liberation Army. The men in that Army are faced with the problem of non-fraternisation, with which I do not intend to deal fully to-day. It is a matter for those on the spot, but I think the Committee will agree that that policy lays a great strain upon those whose duty it is to administer Germany. If I read the signs aright, some decision will have to be taken upon this matter, We must pay strict attention to the mental and social needs of the men in that Army, and I would like the right hon. Gentleman to tell us what is being done in that respect. I would also like him to tell us what news and wireless services the men are getting. This applies to men in Europe generally. Although it may be excusable in war-time, the wireless services did not seem to be very good in Italy when I was there. Further, newspapers were almost unknown. Matters are worse this time because of the long periods men are away from home, and because they are thereby peculiarly subject to rumour. Firm and definite news, regular newspapers and good wireless services are needed. In particular, the wireless service to the forward troops in Italy was bad.
I do not know whether the Election has started now, or whether it is to start later, but I think the right hon. Gentleman should give us some information on how these men are being kept up to date with the news. I understand, for instance, that Sunday newspapers are flown to the S.E.A.C. Forces. I know that men do not want too much electioneering; that they want some contacts with ordinary human affairs and interests through the Press, as well as in other ways. But I remember what happened after the last war, when millions of men were called upon to vote without having proper contact with affairs at home. This had a bad effect upon them when they got back. Millions of men have played their part in this war, and have endured severe physical and spiritual strains, and I think they might have been given a longer time before the Election in which to understand the issues that are at stake in this critical moment in our history.
That is even more true of men in the South-East Asia Command, who are utterly detached from the world in a way 1219 which few of us can understand. These men have not only been soldiers fighting our battles, but in some ways probably they have been explorers. About two years ago I flew over the North of Burma, and I asked some of those who knew that part of the world whether the country had ever been properly explored and surveyed. As far as I could gather, it certainly has not. What we have asked the men to do has been to go into the remote jungles and find a way through where there was no way before. They have been doing that now for three, four, or five years. I understand that in that case the repatriation period is three years and eight months. The climate is bad enough, the remoteness of the land is almost beyond understanding. I remember that when, after flying over that part of the world, I got back to Calcutta, it seemed as if I had left another planet altogether, and I said to some friends at the time that when I got back to Calcutta I almost felt I was back in England. New forces are being sent out there. What is the age limit of the members of those forces? I have had letters from men between 40 and 43 years of age who say that, because of their Release Group number, they are likely to be sent to the S.E.A.C. area.
§ Sir J. Grigg
Will the right hon. Gentleman tell me whether it is merely a fear or whether the men are definitely under orders?
§ Mr. Lawson
It is rather a fear than a definite order. I put the question to the right hon. Gentleman because I think there is not only a fear in the men's minds, but a rather general fear. Recently, at Question Time, I asked the right hon. Gentleman what was the position of older men who are serving in the West; whether men of 40 years of age are to be sent to the Far East, and what is the maximum age of such men for service in that theatre of war. The right hon. Gentleman referred me to an answer which the Prime Minister had given to the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson):The policy we are pursuing is, naturally, to restrict overseas posting to the Far Eastern theatres as far as possible, to those members of the Forces who are not due for early release. This policy will automatically result in limiting the numbers of older men so posted but there is and can be no rigid upper age limit."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th April, 1945; Vol. 409, c. 1677.]1220 I was pleased to hear the right hon. Gentleman's intervention, because I take it as an indication that, although there is no age limit mentioned, the fear which the men of 40 years of age or thereabout have may be groundless. To men of that age it is a very great physical test to be in any theatre of war, but when it comes to the climatic conditions of the Far East, to say nothing of the separation which they share with the younger men, the strain is rather too much. I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he will make a statement on this matter, the importance of which has been emphasised by the announcement that men over 30 years of age are not to be called up in future. I think there was a good deal to be said for the explanation that was given on that matter, but though the reason given for not calling up men over 30 may be sound, it is certain nevertheless that men who are serving overseas have not understood it, because they are not satisfied with the explanation. Therefore, the fear is naturally all the greater among the men of 40 years of age.
Those who are serving in the S.E.A.C. have been out there for many years. They now have to serve three years and eight months in order to be repatriated. What difference will the new situation make to that period? Is there to be any reduction? I should be very pleased to hear that there is to be a reduction. While the men in Europe have had a very great strain placed upon them because of the separation from their homes, families and children, the men in the S.E.A.C. have perhaps had the greatest strain of all laid upon them because of the extreme distance and the climatic and other conditions to which they have been subjected. I do not think we can ever say enough in the House to make those men understand that we appreciate the task to which they have been called and the strain it has placed on them.
As I have said before, I think that no greater demand can be made upon men than that they should be taken away from their homes and separated from their children at the time when those children are born or are just beginning to waken to consciousness. It is one of the most satisfactory periods of married life when parents can watch the unfolding consciousness of their children, make friends with them, enjoy watching their smiles, and generally see the personality of the 1221 children developing. I think as one gets older one sees more in the child. They say that grandfathers and grandmothers are too soft and sentimental with the children. I think that is because we learn to see more in them. But the man who has children understands that instinctively, and perhaps one of the greatest penalties which men in this war have had to endure, is that denial of the company of their own children in the home. I hope there is going to be a reduction of this period for repatriation, and that, while some of the men there will be looking forward to release in their group, some will be given the satisfaction of knowing at least their period of repatriation will come sooner.
We have had the Minister Report, dealing with the welfare of the troops in India and Burma. It was a very grave Report. I think we know ourselves that in fact the actual conditions were much more bleak and grim than could actually be described in any report. For all that, the Noble Lord who wrote it was at any rate fairly courageous in what he put down on paper. We are going to watch the work that is to be done following that Report. We are going to watch very closely to see whether the Noble Lord's recommendations, limited though they are, will be put into operation. The Prime Minister made a statement the other day the marked thing about which was, that from it one could not expect some of the improvements to mature until the end of the year because of the lack of equipment and many things which were necessary to give effect to the proposals. There is great need for speed in dealing with this question. The men both in India and Burma are enduring much, and the Report shows a very serious state of things.
I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman to tell us, in view of the coming election, what percentage of the troops have enrolled for the vote, and what percentage have taken steps in relation to the proxy vote. I think he might tell us something about the arrangements that are to be made. I do not know anyone who ought to be more concerned in the Election than the soldiers. This war in the Far East is a long way from us but victory is as vital there as in the West. It seems to me that the Ministry of Information is as necessary as ever or even more necessary, to-day, in order to 1222 give the troops full and proper information. Our men there must feel that we are thinking of them, watching them, appreciating their trials and proud of their valour. Nothing but the best is good enough for them, whether in weapons or welfare, or that understanding and sympathy which ease their task so much.
§ 11.58 a.m.
§ Mr. Palmer (Winchester)
I am grateful for the privilege of being the first to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken, on the honour which has been conferred upon him. I am all the more pleased to be in the position because I had the good fortune to meet the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues in Italy, and in Athens, when they were travelling round a few months ago, and I should like to tell him how very welcome his visit was to the troops. We all know how much interest he has always taken in this question of Service welfare. I too am deeply interested in the subject because I was lucky enough to serve in Italy for some months last year with the Fifth Army, and I was very glad of the tribute which the right hon. Gentleman paid to the morale of the troops. It was undoubtedly a difficult season when the line became more or less static and the weather was far from good. But the morale of the troops remained extremely high despite all the difficulties. The same cannot be said about my regiment when they got disbanded this year. They were a really first-class body of men but, once they were removed from the front, lack of occupation, and uncertainty as to the future had a damaging effect very rapidly. I do not want to enter into the question of whether that was the right move. I would however urge my right hon. Friend to have in mind that disbandment has a very bad effect on men and that it must take some time for them to recover their morale when they get posted to new units.
That experience gave me a foretaste of the kind of problems which must be faced now. I left Italy before the liberation of the North, but it is quite certain that morale is maintained primarily by the certainty in a man's mind that he is doing a job which is really useful and worth while. As soon as that ceases to be the case, some substitute has to be found if his morale is to be maintained. As the right hon. Gentleman said several times in his speech, the first consideration all the 1223 time in the minds of everybody out there, when they are not occupied, is "When are we going home? Are we to be released permanently, or are we to get a period of leave?" That is always the main topic of conversation during a period of leisure. I do not want to make any comment on the release scheme. It has been largely accepted as fair, and I do not want to raise any points about it.
On the subject of home leave, however, I am really anxious that my right hon. Friend should do everything that he possibly can. I left Italy before the North was liberated, and at that time the pressure on shipping was well recognised to be extremely great. It is bound to be the case, however, now that there is less war demand in that area and land communication across France may be restored, that hopes will be raised that the Python scheme can be extended. I ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to consider whether he can make a definite statement indicating what are now the probabilities of an extension of home leave in that area. May I ask also whether he has in mind any scheme to allow wives to go to that area on a basis similar to that which is being discussed in relation to the B.L.A.? If privileges can be granted to the B.L.A. which it is not possible to grant to the C.M.F., they should not be refused in one area because they cannot be given in another. One wants to be sure, however, for the sake of the morale of the troops in C.M.F., that they are not denied any privileges which B.L.A. can get, if it is reasonably possible to extend them.
The main concern from the point of view of morale is to give people occupation of a useful kind, or, failing that, some good substitute. Obviously, the Army Education Scheme is the main substitute to rely on now. My right hon. Friend was good enough to answer at some length a Question that I put down to him a few weeks ago on the subject of the issue of books for the Education Scheme. It appears from the reply that a large number of books are being prepared on a wide variety of subjects. I have no doubt that, on paper, this scheme is a good one as far as books are concerned. I am very anxious, however, because these books are not, as far as I know, yet available in C.M.F. My right hon. Friend told me that it is expected that at least 75 1224 per cent. of the total will have been received by the end of June, and the remainder toy the end of September. I take that to mean printed in England and received here, but, as far as I know, no textbooks have yet reached C.M.F.
It would have been useful to send some advance copies, because a large number of instructors will be required to carry out the Education Scheme. The preparations have been going on for a long period now, but many instructors will be out of practice after four or five years, and if they cannot even see the books that they are to use as a basis of their instruction, in advance of starting the scheme, they will be greatly handicapped. I hope, therefore, that consideration will be given to the possibility of sending out at least enough of the books for the use of the instructors. I hope that consideration will also be given to the possibility of speeding up the sending of the books in general. Morale can drop a great deal in a few weeks, and the Army Education Scheme must be developed on full lines very quickly. It was a pity that some printing of these books was not done in Italy, where there is no paper shortage.
Next to a useful occupation, we have to consider entertainment. Whenever one mentions E.N.S.A., one gets a not very pleasant look. Although there have been some good E.N.S.A. shows in different places at different times, there have been some which the Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) calls vulgar, and they are not only that, but, what is worse in my mind, poor. I think that one of the reasons for that is that the Minister of Labour has never really grasped the nettle of directing enough personnel to E.N.S.A. The position has been that, if a person does six weeks' service with E.N.S.A., which includes possibly three or four weeks' rehearsals, he is then free for a whole year. On that basis we do not get enough good people. To-day, when the demand will be even greater, the position is a great deal worse, because even that condition has gone by the board, if I am correctly informed. I would ask my right hon. Friend to look at this matter, because I cannot believe that it will turn out satisfactorily.
I had a little time in-Greece. I do not know the situation there in any 1225 detail, but I had the opportunity of visiting a few groups in different parts, and there was one aspect which I am sure is even more important to-day than it was in January or February. That is the local range of prices. Inflation had already started then, and everything was an enormous price. You could find almost anything in the shops in Athens, but you could not hope to buy things because prices placed them completely out of reach. It may now be worse, and if that is the case, the troops who, incidentally, were getting an enormous lot of local popularity, will be practically unable to buy anything in the shops. Under these conditions, it is all the more important that our welfare services in Greece should be stepped up to the fullest extent.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) talked about the importance of a good news service, and I agree that it is of fundamental importance. I was a little surprised at his comment about the supply of newspapers in Italy. In fact I did not have the same experience. Perhaps on the 5th Army front conditions were better. We did get the "Union Jack" and the "Stars and Stripes," both of them good newspapers, and we had them in fair quantity.
§ Mr. J. J. Lawson
I was thinking rather of the supply of ordinary newspapers. They are now flying the Sunday newspapers to S.E.A.C., I understand.
§ Viscountess Astor (Plymouth, Sutton)
Not all the Sunday newspapers. Some of them would do the troops more harm than good.
§ Mr. Palmer
I think it would be a great pity if it went out that the service of newspapers like the "Stars and Stripes" and "Union Jack" was not a good one. It certainly is. There are difficulties about distribution but they are generally overcome and they do supply a good bit of news. I do not wish to under-estimate the importance of what my right hon. Friend said about the need for news, and particularly the need for being sure that 1226 rumours based on misinformation, misinterpretation or just on invention, should not be allowed to get round.
§ Viscountess Astor
Could I ask a question? No one has suffered more from rumours than I have. It is German propaganda. People who have not suffered have no idea of German propaganda. I wish something could be done about it.
§ Mr. Palmer
I was very glad to see the denial, which was given full publicity in the "Union Jack," that the Noble Lady had ever been responsible for inventing the "D-Day Dodger" phrase. Anyway, the denial did get very good publicity. I would like to give an instance of another rumour which has been current in the Middle East, namely, that the reduction of rations here is to facilitate the feeding of Germany. I am sure it is absolutely vital from the point of view of morale in the Middle East that that kind of thing should be scotched at once, by giving real publicity to an official statement of the exact facts. I do not know what is the system of newspapers in the Middle East, and I do not know how far the troops have to rely on the local Press, or to what extent the "Union Jack" is available. I would ask my right hon. Friend to give us some information on those points if he can in the course of his reply.
I would underline what was said about the House of Commons maintaining its interest in these problems in the future. I have been back only two months, but I know I am already out of touch with developments; which have taken place since I left. I do not know what people are talking about, or thinking about now, except from letters from members of my old unit. There is no means of keeping the atmosphere in our minds, unless Members of Parliament from time to time visit troops in different parts of the world. I am sure that is the case, particularly now when unite are doing more or less static jobs. With troops scattered about, it will be extremely important for hon. Members—and, after all, we shall have very few hon. Members still serving after the Election—to get about and visit troops in all parts of the world. I hope that after the Election we shall have a large number of fresh Members who have seen service during the war. They will 1227 be of great value in this House for dealing with questions of this kind but we should not depend only on them in that respect. I am sure it is necessary for hon. Members on all sides to maintain contact with the Services because, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chester-le-Street said, nothing but the best is good enough for those who have played their part in the war.
§ 12.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Leslie (Sedgefield)
One is sometimes at a loss to know whether questions affecting serving men in India should be put to the Secretary of State for India, or to the Secretary of State for War. That has become a grievance on the part of serving men in India. As a result of Questions and Debate in this House, Lord Munster was sent out to India to inquire into conditions, but unfortunately he did not visit places where grievances were most acute. Lord Munster's report is like the curate's egg—good in parts—but in certain places he omitted to deal with the grievances which have been voiced in this House. Take, for instance, the position of the junior officers. These men have had to pay Income Tax to the Indian Government, when they were free of Income Tax in this country, and while the Americans and the Canadians have not to pay Income Tax to the Indian Government. They have to pay a considerable price for their food because it is all under private contractors, and they feel aggrieved that they should have to pay the same amount, on junior officers' pay, as commanding officers of units have to pay. I know that many soldiers viewed Lord Munster's visit as a sort of camouflage, because he did not go to the places where the grievances were most acute. I saw a letter from one man who said they had had a visit from Lord Munster. Everything was made spick and span, on that occasion, he said, and they got the best dinner that they had had since they arrived in India, I hope we shall have a Debate some time on Lord Munster's report.
Another question I want to raise—I put it to the Secretary of State for India the other day—is why wounded men have had to sigh a document to the effect that they would pay their fares if called upon. He expressed no knowledge of that, but it is common knowledge that they all have 1228 to do that, whether they travel by air or by boat. A vessel, the "Strathaven," arrived at Liverpool the other day, and all the wounded men on that vessel had to sign that document. The only exception was an individual who had lost his right arm, and who refused to attempt to sign with his left hand. I hope this matter will be inquired into. During five weeks' delay, when these wounded men were kept at Karachi, they complained about the quality of the food in the hospital; they dined outside and that cost them four rupees a day. That also ought to be inquired into. Naturally these men feel aggrieved over these things, but it has been put to me that they do not know to whom they should apply—whether it should be the Secretary of State for War, or the Secretary of State for India. It is high time that this divided control was abolished.
§ 12.15 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Profumo (Kettering)
I would like to commence by offering my congratulations to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. J. J. Lawson) on his recent honour and to my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Palmer) with whom I had the privilege of serving in Italy. His speech was excellent; as a matter of fact he has taken most of what I wanted to say, so perhaps I might underline some of his points and develop one or two of them. I must emphasise that when in November we were discussing the release scheme, we were discussing the idea only. Now we are face to face with the working of that scheme. I am bound to admit that there is widespread and considerable dissatisfaction on the part of the troops—I only left Italy some 10 days ago—about the way in which it is actually going to work out. I do not think that scheme is wrong, but now that the war in Europe is over the troops have more time to think, and I believe they were expecting more than has been announced to them. What I ask is not that we should try to alter the release scheme in any way, but that there should be some definite concession in the Python repatriation scheme—not made at some future date, but that we should have a statement from the Secretary of State for War this afternoon. This small concession would show that the Government and the right hon. Gentleman were watching over the interests of 1229 the men who are still unhappily serving overseas. I have not risen in order to criticise the Secretary of State in any way, far from it, because, like many soldiers, I realise that he has had a very difficult and, at times, an extremely unpleasant task which we, in the Army, feel that he has carried through with distinction and understanding. On the other hand, he has had to make some very unpopular announcements, and by the time these get to the troops they may well be distorted.
My next point is that when discussions on release and leave and on the Python scheme are held in this House the Secretary of State should make certain that the Minister of Information does everything possible to see that the truth is got to the troops. I do not mean to insinuate that the newspapers do not do their best, but I do know from letters and from conversations with troops, and, indeed, with officers themselves, that on many occasions a completely distorted idea of what is happening has got into circulation. I am thinking particularly of the statement by the Secretary of State some time ago that he would do everything in his power to reduce the Python interval to three years. That was taken as a promise, and I have seen it in print and have seen it in the newspapers in this country, and have heard people discussing it on the platform and off the platform both in this country and outside the country.
§ Mr. Vernon Bartlett (Bridgwater)
May I ask whether in these Commands overseas there are not any officers whose job it is to take up these rumours as soon as they hear them and see that they get back to the War Office, so that they can be contradicted? The point which was raised by the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Palmer) and the hon. and gallant Member himself is a most important one and it should be taken up. There should be some procedure whereby these rumours can be brought to the attention of the Minister.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Profumo
I am glad of that interruption, but I am going to deal with rumours a little later and bring in rumours in this country as well. As to the point which the hon. Member has put to me, of course the commanding officer of every unit is responsible, whenever he hears a rumour which is disturbing 1230 to the men or to the unit, for reporting it to the next higher formation, but while it is going from the regiment to the division, then to the corps and then on to Allied Headquarters a waste paper basket on the way usually traps it. The point I was trying to make is whether we cannot make certain that when in the future any arrangements are made they are brought as clearly as possible to the notice of the troops, and particularly at the time of a General Election, when there is a good deal of bickering and argument.
My next point concerns leave. I entirely agree with my hon. and gallant Friend that the soldier cannot understand why what he calls the Secretary of State's old arguments against increasing leave have not in some way abated now that there is no longer any fighting in Europe. One of the main difficulties is transport and I have had it put to me on many occasions—and here I am trying to counter one of these rumours—that bomber aeroplanes are not used to overcome transport difficulties. I refer not only to British but to Allied bomber aeroplanes which have been battering the enemy but which now, apparently, are doing nothing. I say "apparently" because I understand that there is a re-employment scheme, and that the bombers are not just standing; on the airfields, but when the ordinary soldier who cannot get home, where he may have troubles and difficulties, and is not receiving his letters, passes an aerodrome and sees dozens of bombers standing there idle, and then hears from pilots in the canteen in the evening that they would willingly take the lads home in order to speed up leave—well, it is just the sort of thing that wants an explanation. I am going on the assumption that there is a good explanation. If there is not I would ask my right hon. Friend at once to go into the matter of trying to use more of these bombers for transport purposes.
The whole question of leave needs explaining and going into more carefully this afternoon. One other aspect of leave is the distinctions there are between the B.L.A. and the C.M.F. Though next door to each other there still appear to be different rulings respecting leave in the two theatres of operation. Many of my friends in the Central Mediterranean Forces have the idea that in B.L.A. there was special Victory Day leave. I cannot 1231 answer that myself, and I have not met anybody who was on Victory Day leave, but it was never granted in the C.M.F. and they feel very hurt about it. May we have a denial or a statement on that?
There is another aspect of leave which, because of a Question I put to the Secretary of State, I was asked to bring up this afternoon. There were forces and not inconsiderable forces, who, owing to the requirements of the war, were transferred from C.M.F. to B.L.A. They did not have their fair leave, some of them did not have leave in this country at all. The answer which my right hon. Friend gave to the Question I put to him was that nothing could be done while the battle still raged in Europe. We all understood that while the battle was raging in Europe the position could not be regulated, but is it too much to ask now that those who were transferred from C.M.F. to B.L.A. and have not had their fair leave should be granted leave as early as possible, in order to put a stop to some of the bad feeling which has been created?
My hon. Friend mentioned the difference in morale when troops are fighting and when they are not. That is very important. The very slightest thing affects them and they must be watched very carefully. A particular point of which I am thinking concerns the N.A.A.F.I. ration. I understand that since hostilities the N.A.A.F.I. ration, at any rate in C.M.F., has been reduced. Cigarettes, chocolates, soap and matches have been cut down. I understand that now only a half tablet of soap per man per week is allowed in that field of operations. I always thought that cleanliness was next to godliness. It may be that is not a military way of looking at things, but it seems to me that men in the great heat of Italy at this time of year should be allowed enough soap at least to keep their faces and hands and bodies clean, if only to avoid disease. It has been put to me that the ration has been decreased in order that we may help the Germans or distressed Europe. That answer does not go down with soldiers. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street will, I am sure, bear me out that if one had to go to the troops, as he did in Italy, and explain that the N.A.A.F.I. ration had been reduced in order to help Europe one would get rude military answers, and 1232 that is not to be wondered at. May that question be looked into?
Another apparently very small point but one which, affects men very much is the introduction of small, petty regulations for control of the men—something which they have been fighting to try to stop. What I am getting at is this sort of petty control—that a soldier who wants to send some money home is made to inform the officer in charge of pay to whom he is sending it. Surely the Secretary of State for War will agree that if a man wishes to send some money home it is a private matter, and why should he have to inform a pay officer? It is regulations of that sort that we must watch and cut down I am glad to hear hon. Members opposite saying "Hear, hear."
§ Sir J. Grigg
I can give an explanation about that immediately. There was, at the outset, both in Italy and B.L.A., a considerable black market in currency, and this regulation was intended to stop transactions on the part of our own troops in the black market.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Profumo
I am delighted with that answer and I hope it will be given every publicity, but I hope that this regulation will be stopped as soon as the black market is under control. I agree that the black market in Italy was very bad indeed.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall (Colne Valley)
The hon. and gallant Member's friends want controls more than anything.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Profumo
We do not want controls over these soldiers. Now I wish to say something about E.N.S.A. E.N.S.A. has always been something of a disgrace but it is not the fault of the artists. In many cases the artists have worked very gallantly and very bravely, particularly the small parties, and for the fact that in many cases shows have been tawdry the blame does not rest with them, but with the central organisation. I believe it is now high time for us to begin to inquire whether the central council of E.N.S.A., the directors, should not be reviewed and changed. They have held their positions longer than many Ministers. The Secretary of State for War should go into the matter and he would find that members of the theatrical profession would be prepared to co-operate and help as much as possible. The present position does affect the morale of the troops.
1233 I have one last point to make and that concerns the question of people being sent to the Far East. The Secretary of State may recollect that in the Debate on releases in November I asked that no women should be sent to the Far East unless they volunteered. I quite understand that I was unable then to gain my point, but I now find that nursing sisters who have been returned to this country under the Python scheme, after having served long periods in the Middle East, are, at the end of their leave, being sent abroad again, not to the European theatre or even to the Mediterranean but sometimes to Africa and the Far East. I do not understand that, particularly as regards the nursing profession, for which our esteem in this war probably stands higher than for any others. They have done gallant and magnificent work as a profession, quite up to the standard of Florence Nightingale, and now we are treating them in this way. I feel very strongly about it and shall be pleased if we can have an explanation on this point. Could not that sort of thing be stopped?
Finally, I would come again to the question of rumours. There are rumours in this country and I have heard one in particular which I want to use as an illustration. There is a rumour in a factory in a certain part of this country that if my hon. Friends opposite and their party are returned in the forthcoming General Election the troops will be brought home quicker from Italy and from the Far East. If I may do so I would counsel my hon. and right hon. Friends opposite to do everything in their power to stop this sort of thing, because if Labour supporters try to take the heartstrings of wives and mothers and put them into, the party bow and pluck it they will be doing nothing more than despicable and calculated devilry. We know perfectly well that this should be a non-party matter and I am sure that my hon. Friends opposite will agree. I am not suggesting that anybody in this House would do such a thing, but I am asking that all sides of the House should co-operate in endeavouring to see that the ideas and the ideals for the future of the troops abroad are not brought into this Election.
§ 12.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)
I should like to congratulate the hon. and gallant Gen- 1234 tleman on his return from the C.M.F., although I feel that perhaps he has been brought back rather suddenly, due to events over which he has no control—although he did try to control those events by writing to "The Times" suggesting that an early Election would be out of place, so far as the Army was concerned. However, he was unsuccessful, and he has now been brought back. He comes back full of rumours. The last rumour to which he gave currency ought to be quashed straight away. There is not the slightest foundation for what he has just half alleged, although he has placed the rumour on other shoulders and given currency to it himself, that the Labour Party, or any individual member of the Labour Party, has given the troops the slightest belief that they will bring the troops home more quickly on demobilisation if, as I expect, we are returned with a majority at the General Election. That does not mean to say that we shall not, on every conceivable occasion, place before the Government and before this House the urgency of this situation.
I want to refer to one or two things in that connection. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. J. J. Lawson) referred to welfare and the theme has been taken up by other Members. What is welfare, when troops are at a standstill? That roughly is the situation in some of the theatres of war. The situation now is, perhaps, not quite similar to what it was at the end of the last war, although not entirely dissimilar. The troops want to get home. The war has lasted longer this time. Their relatives want them home. They are entitled to come home as soon as we can get them out. We want to know, and we insist that members of the Government give us precise information on the point, something about the size of the Forces that are required in certain of these theatres of war, where the information will not affect security. We know only too well about the needs of the Far East and of the armies of occupation. We know also that in regard to the armies of occupation in the C.M.F. and perhaps to a greater degree in the M.E.F., there are political factors operating which are inducing the Government to keep a very large body of British troops there, but, in the C.M.F., security reasons do not hold good to the same extent for withholding information 1235 to the House and to members of the Armed Forces.
So far, we have had information to the effect that Groups I to II in the Army will, generally speaking, be released by the end of August, and we have had an indication that the early 20 groups will be released by the end of this year. Let me diverge a moment from the Army to the R.A.F. I see on the Front Bench opposite, the Under-Secretary of State for Air. All that the R.A.F. know with any precision is that Groups 1 to 5 will be released fairly soon. Within those groups, certain tradesmen will be excluded. I say to the Government and to the Committee that the troops and their relations here at home have only accepted the age-plus-length-of-service scheme of release on the assumption that it was to be fairly operated between all classes and all individuals. In the R.A.F. at present, whether the Government will admit it or not, there is considerable dissatisfaction and discontent which may affect, as one or two hon. Members have said already, the morale of the troops, if they are not given further information. What could that information consist of? I have asked more than once in this House to be told, as we are entitled to be told, the size of our Armed Forces. There is no reason why we should not know. America, Canada, South Africa and other nations engaged in the war are giving this information publicly.
The next thing we want to know is the number in the Army, compared with the R.A.F. and the numbers in the groups that are to be released. It may be that if we received this information we should see that Groups 1 to 5 in the R.A.F. that are to be released are, proportionately to the size of the Army, reasonable but the R.A.F. do not know that at the moment, and considerable uneasiness is being caused among them. It is not the slightest use the Government fobbing us off with general statements. Letters are pouring in as other Members will no doubt agree and these will increase in their intensity the longer we delay general demobilisation. If they are not very careful the Government will have somewhat similar incidents to what took place at the end of the last war, when we had a paper plan which was not operated to the satisfaction of the troops and their relatives.
1236 Now let me come to a matter affecting the Army and to a certain extent the R.A.F. We have been told in the public Press, although I do not know whether the War Office have confirmed this—I have been away doing a little electioneering and have been out of touch with what the War Office have said—that, in the B.L.A., leave will be granted, at any rate to the Second Army, once every three months, for nine days. I do not be grudge any Army any leave that they can get, but there are considerable forces else where and the troops are drawing their comparisons in Italy and in the R.A.F. They are saying: "Why is it that the B.L.A. can get their leave and we can not?" That is not a rumour but a fact, and it ought to be answered. I know the general answer which will be given, that shipping—
§ Sir J. Grigg
The general answer I will give is that the newspaper story is untrue. I will give it later in the afternoon.
§ Mr. Bellenger
Very well. That is an outstanding example of the speed with which the right hon. Gentleman works. If the story is untrue, why did he not scotch it as soon as it was published?
§ Sir J. Grigg
The newspapers were asked not to publish it, and they refused to accept the advice given to them.
§ Viscountess Astor
Does the hon. Member know anybody who has worked with such speed in the War Office, as the right hon. Gentleman?
§ Mr. Bellenger
I am very glad that I did not give currency to that rumour but there must be something wrong with the Public Relations department of the War Office for which we pay a large sum, if the War Office was impotent in directing the Press to the truth. Generally speaking the Press do not want to circulate untruths. However, there it is. We know that the B.L.A. will get more regular leave than the C.M.F. and the M.E.F., and we have to have some indication, if we are to satisfy those troops in those distant 1237 theatres of war that they are being treated fairly in comparison with their comrade in the B.L.A.
Now I would refer to a statement made by the Secretary of State for War. I take it that the statements he makes are the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, and that there is no need for us to do anything but to refer to what he said. What does he say in relation to the period of overseas service of some of the troops in distant theatres? He stated early this year, I think it was on 13th March:Our re-deployment plans for this second stage of the war [against Japan] should be based on reducing the maximum tour of unrelieved oversells service to three years." [OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th March, 1945; Vol. 409, c. 52.]I quote now from a letter which I have just received. I think the right hon. Gentleman would be interested in the effect that his statement has had among the troops serving overseas. The letter, having referred to the statement just quoted, goes on to say:We have since been informed by the C.-in-C., M.E.F., that, the Python scheme which at present allows men who have served overseas to be repatriated after a tour of foreign service of four years seven months, cannot be reduced to even four years until the end of 1945, and that it is hoped to reduce the period to 3½ years by June, 1946.The writer goes on to say that that information ishardly compatible with the statement of the Secretary of State for War, which, in conjunction with a similar statement made by the Prime Minister, has led us to believe that the service would be reduced to three years shortly after the end of the European war.Those are not rumours. They are based on official statements made in this House. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman has not heard of this statement by the Commander-in-Chief, M.E.F. Nevertheless I am trying to underline the absence of really good and precise official information on all these points, and I urge the Government to give it to us to help, as we all want to help, the Service Departments in these matter, because we know the right hon. Gentleman's difficulties.
The troops now will not be content, as the hon. and Gallant Gentleman who spoke before me said, with routine parades and drills and nothing else. They have had enough of that. The troops who have been fighting in the war very 1238 arduously want something different from the ordinary stereotyped parades which most commanding officers give to their troops. I would urge that the A.B.C.A. discussions should be increased and the troops should be allowed to discuss many of the things that they have not been allowed to discuss while the war was going; on. As to the equity of the release scheme which, as I have said, is generally accepted, I am getting literally thousands of letters and I suspect that the War Office are getting many more. Sometimes they are signed by practically all the members of a whole unit. What are they asking?
The first matter is how the release scheme will operate in the groups. Then there is the question whether men over 30 will be prejudiced by civilians in industry over 30 not being called up. Ministers can say what they like in attempting to reassure the troops that the fact that those over 30 in civil life are not being called up will not prejudice the release of the over 30's in the Forces. It is firmly in the minds of the troops that it will have some effect upon them. The only answer that will reassure them is to tell us and to tell them the method of intake. What are the numbers going to be? What is the size of the Forces that the Government will want? If we know that, we can get a rough idea when the troops can come home, subject to the military considerations of the Far East. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street will endorse—and in fact he referred to the matter in his speech this morning—that when we were in Italy the feeling in the R.A.F. was, perhaps, not one of complete satisfaction, but of understanding, of the manner in which they would get home after they had served three years as married men or four years as single men. It was possible to get them home almost on the dot when their turn came round. Most dissatisfaction in the Army occurred because they got no definite consideration like that. It was a matter of four years, four years three months or four years seven months.
In the Royal Army Pay Corps—I know it is a non-combatant corps—there is trouble brewing for the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War. They have been told by the chief of the Corps—General Stanham, I think—that they will not be able to get back in the same 1239 way as other members of different arms and services in the Army. Many members of the R.A.P.C. are elderly because the Corps has been combed for young men for combatant service, and quite rightly. I have always thought that the R.A.P.C. need not necessarily be recruited on the same military basis as happens to-day and that it could be widely extended, even in war time, to make it more a civilian service. I know-that in home stations civilian pay clerks work side by side with military pay clerks. The fact remains that some assurance will have to be given to the elderly military members that they will not be retained, as they fear, until Group 20 comes round when, so they have been told they will, generally speaking, fall into line with the rest.
Finally, I would refer to S.E.A.C. The right hon. Member for Chester-le-Street has referred to that dual control of which mention has been made in this House on numerous occasions. It is entirely unsatisfactory in peace time, but of course we cannot alter that at the moment. I would urge on the Secretary of State for War, however, that he must take more responsibility for those troops whom he has despatched to the S.E.A.C. Command. It is not sufficient even to employ a Lieutenant-General who is liaison officer to the Prime Minister to keep a sort of general eye on welfare out there. It is not good enough. I am not at all sure that the Munster Report is being implemented as it ought to be. I have not been out to India, and I welcome the suggestion of the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Palmer) that Members should be given facilities to visit our troops. The only organised visit in this war has been of six M.Ps. to our Forces in Italy, who were deeply grateful for the fact that six M.Ps. had come in winter time to see them. Their constant assertion is that they are forgotten men. That cannot be got out of their minds except, I believe, by letting them see their own public representatives. I should very much like, at the appropriate time, to see what is happening in India and the S.E.A.C. Command. I am quite sure not nearly as much is being done for the welfare of these troops as even Lord Munster said ought to be done.
§ Mr. Palmer
My point was rather that it would be good for Members to get information rather than that the troops should see hon. Members.
§ Mr. Bellenger
There are two ways of getting information. There is the way I get it, by constant contact with troops and their relatives by letter. The other way which is not open to most hon. Members who have not the same Press facilities as I have—[Interruption.] I would welcome the columns of the "Observer."
§ Viscountess Astor
The "observer" tries to do not mischief but good. It has not got Members of Parliament writing—well, I will not say what. What worries me about this Debate is that the people who are speaking on the other side are people who write for the Press and try to make trouble for the War Office.
§ The Temporary Chairman (Dr. Haden Guest)
What the Noble Lady is saying is rather outside the scope of our Debate to-day.
§ Mr. Bellenger
I do not want to develop that point, but I am rather sorry to hear that the columns of the "Observer" are confined to those people—
§ Mr. Bellenger
I hope I am not out of Order in replying to what the Noble Lady said, but I am quite willing to bow to your suggestion, Dr. Guest, and leave the Noble Lady and the "Observer" in splendid isolation.
There should be greater facilities given for Members of Parliament to visit our troops in the S.E.A.C. Command, where so many of them are. We should see for ourselves what the welfare arrangements out there are like. We know from evidence that has come to us in our various capacities that their welfare is not all that it should be. I assert with knowledge of this matter that their welfare is not up to the same standard as that which the right hon. Gentleman and his Commander have been able to give to our troops in, Italy and the B.L.A.
§ Mr. Bellenger
The right hon. Gentleman says "That is undoubtedly true." Then let him take steps or, if it is not his function, let the Secretary of State for India take steps at once to see that reports like the Minister Report are not pieces of white paper for the wastepaper basket. I can conceive of nothing more likely to mislead the troops and to cause mischief out there than for statements to be made by the Prime Minister, or for White Papers to be issued by the Prime Minister, for which the troops will have a harsh word—and my hon. and gallant Friends know what that word is. I welcome this Debate—
§ Mr. Bellenger
I welcome this Debate, and I have attempted, until the Noble Lady intervened, to deal with this matter in all seriousness. She will hear from her own constituents much more blunt truth than she has heard to-day, and she will have to take notice of it. She is not standing again for Parliament, and possibly that is why she can deal with this matter in so flippant and frivolous a manner. We are much more serious, and we want a serious reply from the Secretary of State.
§ 12.51 p.m.
§ Major Nield (Chester City)
Following the remarks of the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) I think it right to express the hope that the Committee will feel that never have hon. Members on this side treated this great and important question of the welfare of the Forces flippantly, including the Noble Lady. In all quarters of the Committee we realise that here is a vital problem, the welfare of our Forces overseas. I have a few points to make, to some of which I hope my right hon. Friend will give a reply when he comes to wind up the Debate. They are not all new; many have been touched on by hon. Members who have already spoken. My first deals with the period of service overseas, the period of the tour of duty. The right hon. Gentleman who opened this Debate, and whose recent distinction has pleased us all, referred to the hardship which is caused by many years of separation from family 1242 and home. That is the greatest hardship which people have been called upon to bear during these war years. I ask for two things: first, that the period of service overseas shall be reduced as substantially and as rapidly as possible now that the war in Europe is finished; second, that the prevailing uncertainty, which I assure my right hon. Friend does exist, should be dispelled, and that there should be some immediate announcement as to the intentions of the Government in this direction.
My next point is in regard to leave. In S.E.A.C. I suppose that home leave is impossible, at any rate frequently, owing to distance and other difficulties, but I think the Committee would like to know something of the leave centres at Calcutta and other places in India for the Forces from that theatre. So far as the nearer theatre of war is concerned, that of the B.L.A., I would endorse a point which was made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kettering (Lieut.-Colonel Profumo) as to men drafted directly from the C.M.F. in Italy to North-West Europe. I put down a Question on this matter, and was asked to defer it until this Debate, but there have been cases of men drafted directly from the C.M.F. to North-West Europe without any interval who are now getting only the seven days leave, the same period as those who went straight to the B.L.A. Others have had their 28 days' leave before going to the new theatre. It sems inequitable that those who have come direct from the one Army to the other should miss that leave, and should get less than the others.
I wish to say a word on the really immensely important question of mail for the Forces. In the early days of this war there were long delays and difficulties and troubles, many of which were quite unavoidable. Certain of us did our best to impress upon the Service Departments the need for every efficiency possible in the mail services. I was once audacious enough to say that one mail-carrying aircraft was worth a squadron of bombers over enemy territory. I adhere to that view. Those of us who have served overseas know how essential it is that the men should have their news from home as quickly as possible. In this matter I would thank the Postmaster-General and his Department and the Service Departments for the great improvement which has taken place. I 1243 think people do realise that this matter is vital, and it must be kept constantly in mind.
Something has been said in this discussion about those who are no longer on active operations and whose time requires to be occupied. It will be generally agreed that the two matters paramount in the minds of our men overseas are, first, when they are to get home, and second, a job. It seems to me immensely important that the vocational training schemes evolved by the right hon. Gentleman the late Minister of Labour should, as quickly as possible, find their way to the theatres of war overseas. I have, in fact, a letter from Headquarters, Second Army, with which I had the honour to serve up to six weeks ago, from one of the senior education officers. He is most emphatic in his desire that this information as to vocational training should reach him as early as possible. He says that they will all be relieved when the documents get there, for their men are constantly seeking help about that. I think I heard my right hon. Friend say that that information has gone. If so I am delighted to hear it.
§ Sir J. Grigg
I am really astounded that an education officer can write that sort of stuff. Not only has the scheme been put into a booklet and sent out by the Ministry of Labour, and broadcast to every part of the Army, but lecturers have been sent out by the Ministry of Labour and the War Office to explain this to the troops. That an education officer should not know about it sounds quite frightful.
§ Major Nield
In the Debate on the question of resettlement on 16th May the then Minister of Labour agreed when I raised this point that particulars of the scheme must go out as soon as possible. It is quite clear that they had not gone out then. My correspondent sends me a copy of the "Army Education Scheme Organisation Handbook," but on 27th May he is asking for particulars of the scheme. I hope it will not be thought that this officer, whom I personally know, 1244 is not familiar with his job, because I can say quite positively that that is not the position. I think my right hon. Friend has misunderstood me, and that by that date the exact particulars had not arrived.
Finally, let me say a word about welfare generally. Something has been said about E.N.S.A. parties. I do not propose to pursue the criticisms that have been made; all I want to say is that I hope that concert parties and entertainments will reach the forward areas in South-East Asia Command. When I was in the Middle East, I remember the Opera House in Cairo, and other places, being taken for troops on leave, but there was a complaint that the forward areas did not receive entertainment. I would like to know whether my right hon. Friend is satisfied with the number of mobile cinemas in these forward areas?
§ Major Nield
Then can anything be done about it? The supply of books and periodicals is also a matter of real importance. My last words follow those of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. J. J. Lawson). We have reached success in many battles, and we are grateful to our leaders and our generals; but in truth it is in the end the private soldier and his opposite numbers in the other Services who win these battles, and if we can lighten their lot and improve conditions for them—let us do so.
§ 1.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall (Colne Valley)
I am sure the Secretary of State must be a very happy man to-day, because this Debate will give him an opportunity of answering a large number of questions which, supposing the fortunes of war to go against his party, he may be unable to answer at any subsequent date. I agree with what hon. Members opposite have said about rumours, but I think they have stressed that matter too much. I have never known the Forces when there were not rumours going around, and to my certain knowledge it takes a great deal to make a soldier or a naval man—and now, I presume, a man in the R.A.F.—believe all the things he hears. Therefore, it is essential that they should be told the truth. The kind of information they want is of a different kind from that which has been mentioned this morning. We have 1245 to remember that we have in the Forces to-day an entirely different type of man from his predecessor of 40 or 50 years ago. In those days it was not considered worth while to inform the man in the Forces of what was going on, and what was going to happen to him. To-day you have an entirely different type of man in the Forces—and there are women also—and they are entitled to know what is going to happen in the months to come.
I believe also that, now that the war is over, the suggestion that we should be content with the knowledge that things are going to take a good long time to settle down is not enough. "Blood, toil, tears and sweat," can most emphatically be overdone. These men want information, but in addition they want to know that in the months ahead the demobilisation plan and the re-allocation of manpower will be carried through on a just and equitable basis. It is the uncertainty that kills the men, particularly those in the Far East, where they cannot see newspapers—or, if they do see them, it is a long time after they are published. It seems to me, and I think to other hon. Members, that the War Office would be doing a good service if they not only gave the relatives at home the information that they should have, but saw that it was conveyed to the men in various theatres of war. Never before has there been such a situation as we are facing to-day, with members of the British Forces spread all over the world, among them a very large number of married men, many in their middle years. Therefore, the regulations, which were possibly quite sufficient in days gone by, cease to apply.
I would ask the Secretary of State to answer several very simple questions. One or two I have put to him previously, without having very satisfactory replies. I know that at Question Time it is difficult to give a full answer, but there is an opportunity to-day, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will use it to the full. What is there to prevent the War Office giving the men in the Forces some very closely approximate date when they may hope to come home under the re-allocation of man-power scheme? We have been told by the Ministry of Labour that they hope to get 750,000 men and women out by Christmas, and that that is likely to cover all groups up to 25, 26 or 27. That is something, but it is not enough. If other men have to stay, as many will, 1246 for some months longer, they want to know whether it, will be until March or April or some date in 1947.
Men also want to know what is to happen to them when they begin to search for houses. The right hon. Gentleman may say that that has nothing to do with him, but it has everything to do with him. It is his job to look after the welfare of the Army. When these men return they will be searching for houses, and it is time that the Government Departments got together to see that houses are provided for—as the Prime Minister said on Monday nights—"the returned warrior." What are the Government doing to help these men to get furniture? I had a most pathetic letter from a man who has served overseas for three years. After a search of four months he has got a house, but he cannot obtain any bedding and furniture. He has married a W.A.A.F. Both of them have written to the Controller of Utility Furniture, at Southport, but they cannot get any reply. They have not even a couple of sheets for a bed, much less the bedstead and the furniture. What are the Government doing to help these men and women to get the essentials for starting life together? It is no use the Secretary of State saying that this has nothing to do with him. It is his job to see that other Departments co-ordinate their efforts with the Service Departments to help men and women who come back.
The other day I asked a Question, which he did not answer, but which he was good enough to say he would answer to-day. The 50th Division served through the North African campaign, were at the landings in Sicily, were sent to Normandy just after D-Day, and took part in the fighting in Holland. They have now definitely been warned for the Far East. Some are men not in their first youth. I think that both the men in the Forces and their relatives at home, as well as this House and the public at large, are entitled to know what limits are placed on the War Office and other Service Departments when they come to choose the men to fight the final battles against Japan. The Question I put on the Order Paper has been reported in the Press, and in the last few days I have had nine letters about it from various parts of the country. That shows that it is not merely an isolated constituent of mine who has been warned in this way, but that quite a number have been caught up. These may 1247 be isolated instances, but it is no good telling men who have to go that, although it is bad luck, it has happened only to them, and not to others. I am inclined to think that probably this kind of thing is fairly widespread. It is unfair to men, many of whom are in their thirties, who have borne the heat and burden of the day, to ask them to go to the Far East, although they may be in fairly early groups for release.
I would join with hon. Members, on both sides, who asked the Secretary of State to see that the men in the various theatres glean as much information as they can about the policies and programmes of all parties at this Election. In one sense it is immaterial which party is returned, so long as those who are serving have been given an opportunity to cast their votes with full knowledge of the issues. After the last war it caused an enormous amount of dissatisfaction, and may have helped materially in bringing about the troubles with authority, that the men who came back felt that they had not had a square deal, and that the Government had been elected without their having their full and proper share in the election, although they had done the fighting which brought about the victory. I think, from observations he has made in the past, that the Prime Minister shares my view. Although the Election is now being rushed, the men who are going to vote should have all the information which is possible, from all sides, to enable them to take an intelligent interest.
What is the position now about the women in the A.T.S.? I gather that up to now they could be sent abroad compulsorily, certainly to Europe and as far as the Middle East. Is it the policy of the Government to continue sending them there, or is there some expectation that, apart from volunteers, these girls can be sent to India, to Burma, and perhaps down the Continent of Africa?
We have been discussing welfare today, and the right hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate laid great stress on this side of the discussion. I would like to say that welfare does not stop at the provision of entertainments, of films, of news, of books and the rest of it. In my view, it extends over a wider field, and I hope that, if the right hon. Gentleman 1248 the Secretary of State is to come back after the Election, and some of us on this side are not, he will bear in mind what I am about to say.
We should do more to see that the ordinary man in the ranks gets a better kind of uniform and equipment than he has had up to now. It has always seemed wrong to me that the material of which his uniform is made should be so extremely rough and unattractive. I am told that, when the first invasion of Norway took place, and some of our men were taken prisoner in the very early days—when a modern British soldier in uniform was practically unknown on the Continent of Europe—Hitler had one of our men sent to Berlin in order to have a look at him. I am told—the man has since returned as a repatriated prisoner of war—that Hitler felt his uniform and did not think very much of it, or of the battle dress or of some of the equipment. Many of us would agree with Hitler so far as that is concerned. If we are to attract men into the Services—and there is no doubt that, after the war, some form of service will have to go on for many years—we have to make the life of the man in the Forces much more attractive than it is at present. We have got to give him a more attractive uniform, of better quality material and much better cut, and, if possible, we have also to get away from the little forage cap.
In this direction, we have already made a start with the beret. At the same time, we have to improve the other equipment which the service man has to carry about with him. Nothing could have been more absurd, in the last war, than the entrenching tool which every man had to carry on his hip. If he went out by night, it made a terrific clatter, and he could not move, even at walking pace, without the thing bumping his hip and making any sort of progress uncomfortable. We are beginning to get away from that. The War Office has improved in many directions, and one of them is that we are getting more up-to-date and comfortable equipment. I ask the Secretary of State now whether he means to continue that good work and see that additional reforms are introduced.
I would like to refer to another matter, which has nothing to do with the Secretary of State for War. I see the Under-Secretary of State for Air in his place and I am 1249 very much obliged to him for being here, to listen to any points we make with regard to the R.A.F. One thing that men in the Royal Air Force want to know is why a number of them have been transferred to the Army. I know that these transfers have temporarily ceased, but we have been given no assurance that they will not be resumed at an early date. I understand that about 10,000 men have been transferred from the R.A.F. to the Army, and I am sure the Committee would like to know why these transfers have taken place and what effect they will have on the fortunes of the men remaining. It is quite obvious that the men in the R.A.F. and the men in the Royal Navy are not going to get out quite as quickly as men in the Army, for obvious reasons, although many of the men do not yet know what those reasons are. I think they ought to be told. It is possible that, owing to the nature of the war in the Far East, personnel in the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy will not come out under the re-allocation of man-power scheme quite so quickly as those in the Army. When they see some of their number transferred to the Army, where the flow of release is much quicker, they wonder what is happening. It would be a great service if the Secretary of State for War would indicate to us to-day why he transfers these men; what is going to happen to them; what effect, if any, it is going to have on the men left in the Royal Air Force, and whether we can take it that these transfers will now stop.
Those are the main points that I wished to raise, but there is one other matter to which I would refer. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour and National Service, replying to a Debate the other evening, indicated that the rate of the flow of men coming out of the Services, certainly the Army, and, possibly, the Royal Air Force, depended largely on transport and the facilities at the disposal camps here in this country.
§ Mr. Hall
That is understood, but, speaking broadly, can we know how long it will take the Cabinet to decide what their commitments are, both in Europe for the Army of Occupation, and in the Far East, for winning the war against Japan at the earliest possible moment? It seems absurd to me, as a mere back 1250 bencher, that the Government should not know, fairly accurately, and quite soon, what their commitments are likely to be. Once they do know that, what is to prevent their telling us what the flow out of the Services is going to be? In addition, what is there to prevent them from speeding it up? If, as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour said the other night, the one thing—these other things being out of the way—which will prevent a speedier flow is the lack of transport, and facilities at the demobilisation centres here for passing the men and women through them quickly, I think this matter is so important that the Service Departments should see to it that other camps are provided. As an hon. and gallant Member on the other side said earlier in the Debate, bomber aircraft, which are now, fortunately, not being used for their normal purposes, should be used to bring these men home from the different theatres of war. It seems to me that there is nothing to prevent it, unless there is something of which we have not heard. If there are reasons why this cannot happen, we ought to be told, and the men ought to be told, as well as their relatives at home, who are anxious to get them back.
§ 1.24 p.m.
§ Sir Arnold Gridley (Stockport)
There is no subject I can think of, that it is more important to discuss at this time than the one before us to-day. Those of us old enough to remember the experiences we went through in this country in 1918 after the last war, and the intense anxieties that were caused at that time, which greatly disturbed both Ministers, Members of Parliament and the public, hope that they are not to be repeated when our troops are coming back for demobilisation. There were, no doubt, faults on both sides, faults of administration on the part of Government Departments—in one of which I was serving at the time—and faults of impatience on the part of the men, who thought that the demobilisation plan had too many defects. We made mistakes then from which, I hope, we all have profited.
I want to underline one or two of the many points referred to in the all-embracing speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. J. J. Lawson) concerning whom I am pleased to join with other 1251 hon. Members in the references made to the honour recently conferred on him. In the last few weeks, I have been receiving a number of letters from men serving in Italy and Austria. As a rule, I forward letters of complaint to the Department for individual attention, but, in these cases, I have been astonished, not at the strength of the criticism which is written, but at the deep bitterness which underlies it, and this applies to both officers and men. Therefore, I felt that I should take the opportunity of saying a few words on this matter to-day. I have no doubt that some of the bitterness which is expressed is due to misunderstandings. May I illustrate what I mean? Some have written to me to say: "We do not and cannot understand why those who are lucky enough to get leave, have to travel to Naples and, by ship, from there home. Is there any reason, and, if so, we would like to know it, why we cannot travel to Calais, or one of the Channel ports and be taken across the Channel, if shipping is short, in landing craft? If that were possible, we could get home much more quickly." There may be a complete answer; I do not know, but, if so, misunderstandings of that kind, which give rise to bitter feeling, should be removed by providing the necessary explanation. The men do not credit that shipping is so short or conditions so difficult as is made out, and, while I do not want to make any invidious comparisons between the arrangements granted to our United States friends, our troops are making this complaint. They feel that, if more generous treatment can be given to those fighting alongside them, who come from the United States and Canada, the same treatment should be provided for our own Forces. I would like the Secretary of State for War, when he makes his case to the Committee, to be good enough to deal with that matter.
I hear regularly from men who were formerly in my employment and who have been serving for years with the 14th Army in Burma, and I would confirm what has already been said that it does appear to be only too true that the recommendations of the Munster Report are by no means being fully implemented. What may be called the reasonable amenities of life—smokes and drinks—are still almost unobtainable, and, as these 1252 are complaints which date back many months, surely, it should have been possible by now to have sent across the seas adequate supplies so that no more complaints on this score can be made today.
If there is one other point which I may make, I think that now, as never before since the war broke out, is it desirable that the three Service Departments should deal with requests for compassionate leave with the utmost speed. The men serving understand that while fighting is raging it may be difficult for compassionate leave application to be dealt with as speedily as they would like, but now that the fighting in Europe is over, it is psychologically important that whatever Department—the War Office, the Admiralty or the R.A.F.—is concerned with these matters, should treat them as being of far greater urgency now than in past months. As I came to the House to-day I opened a letter which I am bound to say has saddened me. I wrote in the middle of May applying that consideration be given to an appeal for compassionate leave in the case of a Serviceman whose brother was dying from tuberculosis and whose mother, an old lady of 78, was in an extremely delicate state of health, I asked that he might be brought home as quickly as possible and enclosed with my letter urgent certificates of doctors, that the case should be dealt with as quickly as possible. No reply has yet been received and now this letter says:I regret to inform you that the brother passed away to-day and before he died he was constantly calling for his brother Harry. His aged mother, who is 78, is stunned and is in a very poor state of health.".That family at the moment feel not only that their application for compassionate leave has been scantily dealt with, but also that I have not dealt with the trouble as promptly as I might have done. I believe that it is a case which affects the Air Ministry. I have not the correspondence with me, because I have passed it on to the Department concerned, but as far as I can read the writing, I think it is the Air Ministry which is involved and if so the Air Minister will receive another communication from me.
Those are the points I wanted to raise, Nothing is more important to those whose services and sacrifices we have to thank for the fact that we are here to-day and 1253 not possibly in concentration camps, and who have discharged faithfully their duties in the Services, than that we should take such steps, particularly in the case of the Army—upon which we are mainly concentrating our attention at the moment—to remove the reproach that justifiably or un-jusifiably seems to attach to them in their being referred to as the "P.B.I."
§ 1.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Driberg (Maldon)
What the hon. Member for Stockport (Sir A. Gridley) has said about the need for dealing urgently with compassionate leave applications reminds me of a case which came within my own knowledge within the last few days, and I entirely support what the hon. Member has said. On Tuesday of last week one of my constituents serving in Germany applied to his superior officer for compassionate leave to come home. He had received notice that his mother was seriously ill at home in Essex, and was asking for him. On Saturday last the mother died. The son had still not arrived home and, of course, they did not know whether he was on his way or not, so they asked me to take it up with the War Office, which I did over the week-end, in order that he might, at least, perhaps be allowed to come home in time for the funeral. I cannot say off-hand whether he was granted that leave or not, but when we rang up the War Office about it yesterday, or the day before, one of the right hon. Gentleman's secretaries said, perfectly courteously, that of course the request would have been passed on to the commander in the field, but that they, the War Office, never knew whether such a request was granted or not. I cannot help feeling—it is perhaps only a small point—that surely the commanders in the field could inform the War Office whether a particular request brought to their attention by a Member of Parliament has been granted or not.
§ Sir J. Grigg
The answer is that, in good time, they do. As I have tried to explain in this House on dozens of occasions the number of cases that come forward of this kind amount to something like 20,000 a month, and the only possible way to deal with them quickly is for the War Office, to put on whatever comments are justified on the merits of the case, and send it to the Commander to deal with. Quite often—it is not the case now—until last month Commanders-in-Chief were 1254 engaged in active operations, and sometimes it was some time before the result of the application came back. A certain number of cases happen which I would regard as indefensible, but it is a very small percentage of the total number of cases, and, on the whole, cases are dealt with as quickly, sympathetically and expeditiously as circumstances permit.
§ Mr. Driberg
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I quite see the difficulties, and I entirely agree that, in the main, the War Office, within my own experience, has been extremely good in handling these cases. I can also, in passing, mention how greatly impressed I was last summer, when fighting was still going on, and I was flying back from Brussels to England, at finding that of the other nine or ten occupants of the aeroplane, all but one were "other ranks" proceeding home, mostly on compassionate leave. I think, in the main, a very good job has been done about this problem, but I should like to support what the hon. Member for Stockport said about the need for always giving it a very high priority.
When the Secretary of State for War comes to reply, I gather that he will deal in the course of his statement with various Questions that were lumped together on Tuesday last and postponed to be dealt with to-day—Questions concerned with leave, repatriation and overseas service—and with some, at any rate, of the many points which have been made in this Debate. I think that both the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Palmer) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) were correct on the subject of visits to troops. I do not think that they really meant to contradict each other about it at all. It is extremely useful for Members of Parliament to get first-hand knowledge in that way, and it is also useful and encouraging to troops when Members of Parliament visit them, either to give lectures or to answer their questions, or whatever it may be. I do not say all, but most of the grievances and criticisms that have been voiced in the course of this Debate have really boiled down to the suggestion that, while justice may have been done, it has not been understood to have been done by those most intimately concerned—the troops themselves. Therefore, I support all those hon. Members who have stressed 1255 the need for giving the troops as full, as accurate, and as prompt information as possible about all these schemes and matters concerning their welfare, their leave and everything else.
I was shocked to hear the right hon. Gentleman's statement that some newspapers have recently been guilty of publishing inaccurate information, which they had been asked in advance not to publish because it was inaccurate. I really feel that he should, if he. could, tell the Committee what these deplorable newspapers were. I have not the faintest idea myself in which newspapers those statements appeared, hut for the honour of the profession of journalism as a whole, I feel that the right hon. Gentleman should pillory those particular newspapers publicly. I do not think that it is a thing that any reputable newspaper would do, and if he can tell us which they were, either now or in his speech later, I shall be grateful.
There is one point upon which I do not think an absolutely firm and clear statement has yet been made on behalf of the Government. I am not quite sure, because so many statements have been made by different Departments about demobilisation. Has any definite statement yet been made about which of the early groups are not to be sent to the Far East?
§ Mr. Driberg
Then I can pass at once to my next point, which is that this business of the misunderstanding by many men overseas of the fact that men over 30 are no longer to be called-up, is only another illustration of the point that I have just made, and which so many hon. Members have made, that it is important to get the full information and explanation out to the troops. The former Minister of Labour on several occasions in this House gave quite a satisfactory explanation of the true position on that matter, and on one occasion when he did so, I asked him if he would communicate with the Service Departments and see that they did particularly convey that 1256 explanation as thoroughly as possible to the troops. But I find that we are still getting a fair number of letters from overseas on that point, and I wonder whether the former Minister of Labour did have time to talk about that matter with the Service Departments, or to pass any memorandum to them about it? That is one of the minor misunderstandings which could perfectly well be cleared up if the troops were given the full explanation.
The hon. Member for Bassetlaw quoted the so-called promise made by the Secretary of State for War on 13th March last. The Secretary of State's actual words, referring to the war against Japan after the defeat of Germany, were:And I am bound to say that I think that our re-deployment plans for this second stage of the war should be based on reducing the maximum tour of unrelieved overseas service to three years."—[Official Report, 13th March, 1945; Vol. 409, c. 52.]No doubt he will be able to tell us to-day how far he is able to put that suggestion into practice. I do not think it would be fair to describe it as a hard-and-fast promise, and, of course, the word "un relieved" is a little disturbing if the leave were only to be the seven days' leave which has been referred to several times in the course of this Debate, and which I have raised at Question Time on several occasions. This seven days' leave for men transferred from the C.M.F. or the M.E.F. to the B.L.A. is still causing a great deal of concern, and I understand that the explanation that has been given at Question Time by the right hon. Gentleman—although on the second occasion he did, to some extent, modify the position that he had taken on the first occasion—is not yet understood by the troops and they feel very sore about it. I have a Question down for next Tuesday about one particular aspect of this seven days' leave grievance and if it were possible for the right hon. Gentleman to deal with it in passing, if he is referring to that subject this after noon, I would be able to save the House a little time by withdrawing my Question next Tuesday. At first the men were apparently given to understand that their rights under the Python scheme would not be affected by having had this seven days, but later they were told that this was not so—
§ Sir J. Grigg
If he has not already done so, could the hon. Member give me the specific case? There is no warrant for the statement that this seven days' leave would interfere with the Python scheme.
§ Mr. Driberg
The actual unit, of which I have sent particulars to the right hon. Gentleman's office, is the 51st Company of the R.A.S.C. It was they who were first told that Python would not be affected by the seven days, but now they have been told that, although they would normally be starting their Python leave on 4th July, having completed over four and a half years' overseas service, this will not take effect and they will have to complete five years' service overseas before becoming due for the Python scheme.
§ Mr. Driberg
That is naturally, extremely disappointing to these men who have been overseas for four and a half years, and who have only had seven days' leave, when they were expecting to have their 28 days under Python starting on 4th July and are now told that they must wait another six months before they start their Python.
Since the end of the war in Europe letetrs have been coming in increasingly, I think most hon. Members will agree, from men serving overseas. Their anxieties about demobilisation, about repatriation, and so on, have been very much intensified. One letter which I received yesterday raised the particular point that some of the troops who had to be diverted hurriedly to Greece, when the trouble started there towards the end of last year, feel that they have been rather neglected because some of them would normally have been due for repatriation, or some sort of home leave, before this, and they feel that they have sacrificed the privileges which other troops serving in the same theatre have now had. I shall be very grateful if the right hon. Gentleman could at least look into that point.
There is also the apparent anomaly that arises, again, when men with long and continuous service overseas are unable to get home for their normal release under the reallocation scheme, until some time after men who have only been overseas for a very few months. Although nobody is 1258 suggesting that those men who have been overseas for only a few months should not have their release when they are entitled to it under the reallocation scheme, if they are lucky enough to be in early release groups, it does seem a little anomalous to some of those who are serving with them, and who have been overseas for three or four years.
My final word is that I think the right, hon. Gentleman—though I pay him tribute for the tremendously detailed attention which he gives to all these points—sometimes has too great a faith in the actual operation, at all levels, of the instructions which he issues and the assurances that he gives the House. He seems to assume—indeed he said the other day that he had to assume—that when he gives an order, or the War Office issues an instruction, it is carried out. I am afraid that does not happen in every case, and it is when those orders and instructions are not carried out, that we get these difficulties and anomalies arising. If only it were possible to make more fully clear to the troops all the time, through A.B.C.A., through the Army Education Scheme, through every channel of information including the welfare officers, exactly what their rights were, I am sure we should be troubled far less in this House, and would have to trouble the Government far less, about the various points raised in Debates like this.
§ 1.50 p.m.
§ Miss Ward (Wallsend)
First I would like to add my congratulations to those already offered to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. J. J. Lawson) who opened this Debate. I had the privilege of first standing as a Member for his part of the world, and I would like to emphasise what great pleasure the honour conferred upon him has given to the whole of the North Country. I would also like, if I may, rather unusually for me, to open my remarks to the Secretary of State for War by paying him a very warm tribute for the first-class arrangements which appear to have been made for the repatriated prisoners of war. We have had very many arguments on these subjects and I am glad to have this chance to say how much all the arrangements made in this country and, indeed, on the Continent were appreciated by our prisoners. I am only sorry that sometimes we seem to get at cross- 1259 purposes over rather small details which, if they were carried out perhaps a little earlier, would ease the path. I can remember, for instance, having my head bitten off from the Treasury Bench—
§ Miss Ward
—by my right hon. Friend twice when I suggested that the Army would welcome the right to wear collars and ties. I received that impression very clearly on my travels abroad, but my right hon. Friend snapped out in reply that it was quite impossible. He took the same attitude when I said that the A.T.S. would like to wear berets but, shortly afterwards, instructions were given for both those recommendations.
§ Sir J. Grigg
Could I interrupt the hon. Lady? There is no inconsistency between what has happened and my remarks. There are times when these things are quite impossible, for production reasons; later on they become possible. Berets will not be introduced all at once, but only as the stock disappears. There is to be no scrapping of a huge amount of stock and the introduction of berets immediately; it is a very gradual process. If I may say so, there is no inconsistency between saying in the year 1942, for example, that a thing is impossible but in 1944 that it is possible. Two years are a long time in war.
§ Miss Ward
I quite understand. My right hon. Friend has given a most reasonable explanation to which I could take no exception but we have had many comments made—and this is a very good illustration—by members of the Services that they like to know what is in the mind of the Secretary of State for War. If my right hon. Friend had said, when I put my question about the collars and ties, that he quite understood the desire of the troops and if it had not been for production reasons he most certainly would have given instructions for that, they would have understood and it would have been a most reasonable and sympathetic reply; instead of which—I think perhaps because he rather enjoys scoring off me—he said in effect that it was a most ridiculous suggestion at this late stage of the war. All I am suggesting is that although it is quite a good interchange of repartee between himself and myself, it is not really good from the point of view of the troops.
1260 I had the great good fortune to go out to the Far East. I very much wanted to interrupt the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) when he was pressing my right hon. Friend on the subject of welfare in India and comparing it with conditions in the Middle East. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War, of course, was quite right. I thought, when I saw the hospital arrangements in the Middle East at Cairo, that they were simply magnificent and could not have been better, and one felt a great sense of pride in what we had been able to achieve and the arrangements that had been made. When I arrived in India and went to some of the hospitals there, I found a very different story. On this occasion I shall not blame my right hon. Friend; I blame the present and past Members of the House of Commons. I would like to pay a tribute here to the magnificent work which is being done by the medical officers, the nurses and the personnel in the hospitals who try to make the conditions of the troops as comfortable as possible, but, in fact, if the House of Commons had insisted—I know I am getting up against a rather constitutional difficulty here—if the House of Commons had been sufficiently interested in the conditions of the troops serving in India in past years and had taken a greater pride in our Army we should not have the kind of hospital conditions to which the Services in India have to make do. Quite rightly, as I pursued my way through our Colonial Empire and through India, people said, "What does the House of Commons care about us?" I was obliged to defend the House of Commons by saying that a great many of us feel that we cannot make contributions about matters on which we are not informed and that I myself would hesitate to speak about the Colonial Empire or about India when I knew that I had no knowledge of it at all. I agree with all my hon. Friends who have said that it is most important for Members of Parliament to travel, because then one at least can speak—with different Party biases perhaps—with real and effective knowledge. I was horrified at the old, inadequate buildings in India that had to be used for our troops.
If I am lucky enough to return to the House of Commons after the great battle which so soon starts in the political world, I hope I shall have the pleasure of assisting my right hon. Friend. He 1261 does not always realise when he is getting assistance; sometimes he thinks he is getting criticism when he is really getting assistance. He is not such a good politician as he is an official administrator in the Department—I have heard from a great many people that he has done more for the Services than any other Secretary of State for War, but one would not know that from the way he sometimes treats my questions. Therefore, I want to emphasise that if both he and I come back, and he adorns that Bench, and I sit on my little back Bench, I want to help him to get first-class conditions for our Services in the future. I take my full share of responsibility for the fact that the organisation of welfare has been so difficult in India.
I come now to another point. When I was in India I found three things which were agitating the Services. One was the question of leave, the other was how they were to be placed in relation to demobilisation, because the plans were not then public, and the third was the question of welfare. On matters of big policy I can understand the delays, because they have to be looked at from many important angles, but I think the machine could be speeded up in matters which affect the comfort of the individual. For instance, I was staggered to find that men going into hospital in India were not allowed a personal ration of soap. It took me some time—and I am glad to say that I had the support of the Secretary of State for India—before I was assured that instructions would be given that every man going into hospital there would be supplied with a soap ration. But with what maddening slowness do these little things get put right? I think we could do a great deal more to let the troops know what we have in our minds for their benefit and their welfare.
One of my hon. Friends raised an important point about E.N.S.A., and the release of suitable personnel to take part in shows for our troops. I do not know whether I ought to say this, though I think it may be useful, but for a long time I have been a member of the Consultative Committee which was set up by the Ministry of Labour to advise them on problems relating to the call-up of women. If there is any difficulty in getting suitable girls to take their part in such shows I think this Committee would be able to give advice. At any 1262 rate it is a matter which the late Minister of Labour might have put to us, so that we could have considered it. More could be done by co-ordination and co-operation. Reference has been made to the problem of rumours. Surely it would have been possible to have a spokesman, trusted by our troops, who could have broadcast regularly to the Forces. Such a spokesman could have interpreted to the men all the details and difficulties that arose after information had been released to the general public by the various Service Departments. I was asked to broadcast in various countries and was told that if I could talk about things that were happening at home it would give great pleasure to the men. We have taken up the time of the B.B.C. in other directions in connection with this matter. For instance, Mary Ferguson and others are dealing with detailed questions which come up at home. Some information should be put out regularly, by a trusted spokesman, to our Services abroad. If that were done half their anxieties would be eliminated.
The Secretary of State for War has said that he was anxious that we here should pay a generous tribute to the magnificent work of the Forces. I am sure everybody would wish to do that. But what a long time it took before an authoritative statement was put out about the brilliant campaign in Burma, which included the capture of Mandalay and Rangoon and the crossing of the Irrawaddy. I think it would be desirable if the present Prime Minister, or any future Prime Minister, after a great event of this kind has taken place, would broadcast to the troops on their magnificent achievement, and if the people here at home could be told as soon as possible the story of what had been done by our fighting men far away. My final observation, which may not be popular with my Labour friends is this: All parties have done their best, during the difficult years of the war, to help the Services so far as it has been within our capacity to do so. The late Minister of Labour has said, rightly, that this has not been a one-man war, that the War Cabinet was responsible for the policy of the Government. That being so, I wish members of the Opposition would make more representations to the leading members of their own party sometimes, because I believe that would have a great influence on Cabinet 1263 decisions. Whatever Government comes into office in the new Parliament we must see that conditions in the Services are the best possible, because no men have contributed more to the prestige of Great Britain wherever they have gone than members of our Fighting Forces.
§ 2.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Vernon Bartlett (Bridgwater)
I am sorry that the hon. Lady the Member for Wallsend (Miss Ward) has just spoken, because she took one point which I wanted to make, namely, to congratulate the Secretary of State for War on the admirable way in which the arrangements were made for the return of our prisoners of war. I have not heard one complaint from these men, and the imaginative way in which men in a difficult psychological situation were treated deserves the very highest praise. I want to make one or two minor points, and to. ask one or two questions. I can hardly hope that the Minister, because of the large number of questions he has already been asked, will answer mine but, nevertheless, I hope he will keep them in mind. Correspondence from men and women in the Forces is increasing, as is only natural now that the European war is over, and the question before us is: How are we to prevent discontent from endangering their morale? There is one point which the Minister should bear in mind. I have had several letters claiming that demobilisation will be much slower than mobilisation. I have not worked out the actual figures, but there are good reasons why demobilisation should be carefully controlled. One does not want a lot of men coming out of the Forces without jobs to await them. That is a point which might be brought out in the information that goes to our men in the Forces.
I do not want to go deeply into the question of the decision not to call up men over 30, because others have dealt with it, but it does seem particularly hard on men who were themselves over 30 when they were called up, and I wonder whether the Government would give an assurance that such men will not any longer be sent overseas. Then there is the case of the one-man business, where the man, quite rightly, was deferred in order to try and keep his business on its feet. It was necessary in the national interest that that should be so, but the 1264 temporary arrangements which many of them were able to make cannot possibly last much longer. These men are now a long way down the list for demobilisation, and although none of us wants to try and alter the plans for demobilisation which were agreed upon, I hope the Government will bear in mind the fact that some of these one-man businesses will crash through no fault of their own.
Next, there is the case of the regular soldier who wants to take up civilian employment on release. I came across a case the other day of a man who was in the regular Army, who had already served nearly one year over his time, and had applied for the employment exchange pamphlet "Further Education and Training Scheme," as he wanted to become a draughtsman. In Paragraph 6 of that pamphlet he found that because he was a regular soldier he is not eligible for assistance under this scheme. This small body of regular soldiers, who turned our civilians into fighting men, and deserve our greatest gratitude for doing so, are to be compelled, more or less, to remain in the Services because they are not eligible for help under this training scheme. As many of these men went into the Army in the 1930's, because of unemployment, it seems bad luck on them, and I think this is a point which should be considered. Further, there is great fear among men now going overseas that they will not be demobilised when their turn comes. There is a body about which I confess I know little, the Royal Marine Engineers—
§ Mr. Bartlett
That gives all the more emphasis to the point I am making. I am told that men in that Service, who have completed 5½ years' service, and who are over 30, have, within the last week or two, been sent to the Far East. I cannot believe that men with such service, and who are that age, should be sent to the Far East. My next point is that I very much hope that the Minister is doing everything he can to prepare for the very difficult time which will face the British Liberation Army, especally this winter, in Germany. It is quite clear that for major political reasons those men will find themselves in a very inhospitable country with very few ordinary contact?. I hope the Minister will tell us something of the arrangements to be made for 1265 immensely extending A.B.C.A. and E.N.S.A., and for making propaganda to those men to show them how vitally necessary their task is, that unless they stay on to do that job with calm and dignity, the effort of winning the European war will not be concluded. They have as big a job in their way as any men had during the period of fighting, and it is important that the Government should give very great attention to the maintenance of their morale.
Almost the last point to which I wish to refer is one on which I put down a Question the other day and which the Minister said he would be likely to answer to-day. Will the men who have been serving in the Far East find that their normal leave is delayed because of the fact that transport will be occupied by other men coming back for demobilisation? We are told that the question of transport is vital. If some of the men who have been waiting a long time for their leave now find that it is to be postponed, it is important, if they are not to be very disgruntled about it, that the Government should give them a full explanation and tell them that the lack of transport is due to the fact that some of their colleagues are being brought home for demobilisation.
The correspondence of Members of Parliament aboutmilitary matters has increased very much during the last few weeks, and is likely to go on increasing. The right hon. Gentleman has a very difficult job and we wish to help him as much as we can. When we get these letters from men in the Forces, and send particular points to the War Office for reply or for advice, there is very often a long delay. My hon. Friend the Financial Secretary, who with our best wishes has just taken on the job of dealing with correspondence problems, needs our best wishes because it is a very difficult job. I understand that his predecessor had thousands of letters every month. I hope the Secretary of State for War will do everything he can to see that the Financial Secretary has all the secretarial and other help possible, because if we send letters to the War Office it is very important that we should get replies as quickly as possible. Very often those replies have to be disappointing to the recipients, but they are not quite so disappointing if there is a rapid answer. I 1266 do hope, therefore, that the Secretary of State will do his best to see that in the months ahead those of us who come back to the House will get replies to letters very quickly.
§ 2.20 p.m.
§ Captain Gammans (Hornsey)
I wish to reinforce what has been said by the hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Bartlett) about the small shopkeepers in the Forces. I do not suggest that the Government should depart from the main principles that demobilisation shall be on the basis of age plus length of service, but there is Category B, and I hope that as demobilisation proceeds it will be possible to extend the classes under that head to include not only the building trade and miners, but eventually small shopkeepers. There is no section of the community who have suffered greater economic casualties than the one-man businesses, and there is nobody to look after their interests except Members of Parliament.
I want specifically to raise three points. I am not sure whether I quite understand all the implications of the first point, but I am receiving a number of letters from men in the Forces who were transferred to the B.L.A., direct from the Mediterranean. They tell me they are getting the worst of both worlds. They did not fully complete their period of service in the Mediterranean. If they had done so they would have been entitled to Mediterranean terms of leave. Now that they have been transferred to the B.L.A., they tell me that they come straight on to the B.L.A. nine days' leave. They feel a sense of grievance. I hope the Secretary of State will be able to. tell me what is behind all that, and whether in fact the grievance is genuine.
The two other points have reference to demobilisation. Almost every hon. Member who has spoken has reminded us that our postbags are greater than ever before on the question of demobilisation. There is no doubt that people are beginning to feel the strain of a long war and long periods of separation. It must be remembered that, in comparison with other major Allies, we have been longer at war than any other country. It must be remembered that we have called up more classes and older classes of men. The people on the home front have gone through bombing, food privations, and 1267 so on. There is no doubt that now the German war is over people are feeling that something rather unspecified ought to be done about it. I hope that the Secretary of State, when looking at leave regulations and demobilisation plans, will be able to look at them, not as he had to do a few months ago, but through entirely different spectacles. We know that the rate of demobilisation will be determined by two factors; first, the speed with which the war in Japan is finished, and secondly, whether or not Europe settles down. Any events like the trouble in Syria or Marshal Tito in Austria cannot fail to retard the progress of demobilisation. We realise that only in so far as we get agreement between the Western Allies and our Eastern Ally shall we be able to regard Europe as having settled down in a reasonable way and thereby speedup demobilisation.
I wonder whether my right hon. Friend can tell us what arrangements the War Office are making to investigate the size of garrisons which are marooned all over the world. Throughout the Mediterranean there are men—in Gibraltar, North Africa, Syria, and in fact almost everywhere—and the size of those garrisons, I imagine, was determined on the supposition that active operations either had taken place or might still take place, I should have thought that the obvious thing to do now would be to send out some sort of commission to comb out those garrisons with the smallest of tooth combs; otherwise they may be marooned there, as many were after the last war, when some men were left in the most inaccessible places merely because there had been a certain establishment, and, human nature being what it is, one can hardly expect the man on the spot deliberately to cut down his own establishment.
The Armed Forces in Europe are now being called upon to take an entirely different rôle. We have been told, for reasons which I think are quite good, that men over 30 are not to be called up, but it is no good my right hon. Friend imagining that that regulation gives satisfaction to men over 30 who are in the Forces. I believe that the argument which my right hon. Friend puts forward is this. If we called up men over 30 we should have to train them, and that would be a waste of energy and time; but surely, while that argument might apply to the war in the 1268 Far East, it cannot apply to anything like the same extent to conditions in Europe. I am sure there must be thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of jobs in the Army of Occupation which could be done by men over 30, who would not need training, or could be done by men who do not come from this country. I am wondering whether we could not ask our Continental Allies to help in this direction. I am told that in France, Belgium, Holland and Italy, there are large numbers of young men, who have either come back from Germany or never been there, who are out of work and would be prepared, if sufficiently attractive terms were offered, to come into some sort of labour corps either in their own Army, co-operating with ours, or temporarily in the British Army. I do not see why such men should not be used throughout the whole of the Mediterranean, as well as in Germany, as cooks, batmen and in many other non-combatant jobs where training is not absolutely necessary. I hope my right hon. Friend will be prepared to explore every chance of relieving from service those of our people who have been abroad for four or five years, especially the older men with families, and also those men in low medical categories who cannot be of much use to the Army.
Almost every hon. Member who has spoken has paid a tribute to the courtesy and consideration of, and the efforts made by, my right hon. Friend to deal with cases of hardship and personal inquiries from hon. Members. I wish to pay a similar tribute not only to him, but also to his private secretary and to his Parliamentary Private Secretary. When I compare what the War Office have done in this war in the way of personal relationships with what they did in the last war, I think that all credit is due to my right hon. Friend and to the War Office.
§ 2.28 p.m.
§ Mr. McEntee (Walthamstow, West)
I want to talk about welfare. I happen to be the president of the National Association of Welfare Officers, which deals with civilian welfare work. They have undertaken to train their welfare officers, and it has occurred to me that in welfare in the Services there is in some cases a lack of training. I wish to pay a tribute to the very high degree of success of welfare officers generally in all the Services, so far as I have been able to assess what they have done; but like other hon. Members, 1269 I have come across cases which have led me to believe that some of the welfare officers in the Services have not a wide enough knowledge of the kind of things that Service men like to know. I do not think they have had sufficient training to enable them to be as efficient as they might be. I have no desire to criticise them on that ground. The conditions of war were such that no doubt it was very difficult to provide highly trained and specialised welfare officers in the numbers required for the work to be done, but now that welfare has become a really established fact in the Services and in civilian life, I think that in the Services, as in civil life, there ought to be a real system of training and that all those officers concerned with the welfare of troops, whether on sea, on the land or in the air, should have the highest qualifications and very wide experience. I hope the question of training of welfare officers will be considered and that welfare work generally will be extended.
In addition to that, if I were asked what is in the mind of the ex-Servicemen generally I should say it is their desire to know what is happening at home and, of course, their desire to get home. I was rather disappointed yesterday in an answer that I got to a Question in regard to the slowness of demobilisation. It appeared to be admitted from the answer that those responsible have done a very good job indeed, and the preparation is very effective and, as far as one can judge, there ought not to be any snags in the actual working out of the scheme. I do not find any fault with the general outlay of the plan but I ask Ministers concerned to consider whether it is not possible—I think it is—to increase the rate. There is a considerable amount of feeling in the Services that the small number of groups which will be allowed to come back into civil life this year is disappointing, and many have written to me asking if it is not possible to speed up demobilisation. When I come to ask myself if it is possible, I think the only evidence is the statement of those who are becoming responsible for demobilisation that the arrangements appear to be so perfect that they could deal with very much larger numbers.
Then I ask myself, What is the snag? Why cannot it be speeded up? The reply that I should get is "Transport", but the fact that we have won the war, and con- 1270 sequently have come into possession of a very large number of ships, ought to enable us to deal with transport in a more generous way than we should have been able to do a little while ago. I hold the view very strongly that, if the terms were made sufficiently attractive, it would be possible to induce men to volunteer for service in Germany to enable a greatly increased number of men to come home. There is a very strong and, it appears to me, a very strongly growing feeling that when men have been three years away and find themselves doing nothing at all, just lounging about, cleaning things that do not need to be cleaned, and eating their heads off, it is not good for the men themselves and there does not appear to them to be any very great need for it. I do not think you need so highly equipped a fighting force for the Army of Occupation as you did in fighting the enemy you have just defeated. Why cannot we get a transfer from the fighting service into the occupation service? That does not need the same equipment which would be needed for a Service that is fighting all the time. I submit, as a matter worthy of consideration, that an attractive scheme of voluntary service would meet the requirements of an Occupation Army and I hope it will get some consideration.
My own experience in correspondence with Servicemen suggests that the one desire they all have is to get home, even if only for a short leave. There is a good deal of feeling in regard to the men who were sent from the Far East to the Occupation Army in Europe, having served not the full four and a half years but somewhere near it, that, if they cannot get the longer leave that they would have been entitled to had they stayed where they were, they should at least get something between the nine days that they are offered now and the longer leave. I think the Secretary of State might consider whether it is not possible to give them some happy medium between the nine days and the four weeks that they would have been entitled to. I should like to pay my tribute to all those in the War Office who deal with these matters and to the Parliamentary Private Secretaries. I think their service has been very good and efficient.
§ 2.36 p.m.
§ Captain McEwen (Berwick and Haddington)
I should like to join with the 1271 hon. Member in the tribute that he has paid to the Secretary of State and his subordinates in the War Office, for the attention and speed with which they deal with the cases we have put before them. In view of the very great interest in this Debate, I think it is regrettable that we have been deprived throughout of the presence of the Liberal Party, not one Member of which, so far as I know, has put in an appearance since it began.
The first point to which I should like to draw attention was referred to by the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr.Bellenger) when he said it would be a good thing if more visits of Members took place to the various Armies overseas. On general lines, no one would disagree with that point of view, but it struck me when he said it that he was overlooking the fact that a considerable number of Members of Parliament have been serving with the Forces overseas since the beginning of the war. I know that it is the object, or half-avowed object, of hon. Members opposite, now that the fighting in Europe is over, to turn the attention of the troops more to political than to fighting matters. I cannot think that that would recommend itself with any great force to the troops. As a young man in the last war, if I had been asked the name of the Secretary of State for War I doubt very much whether I should have been able to say who it was, but I do not suppose that because of that, I was any less efficient as a soldier.
There is a question that I should like to ask my right hon. Friend. I understand that boys who have taken university scholarships are being allowed to take them up, on the understanding that they do their military training at a later stage. That is all to the good, but I would ask my right hon. Friend to remember that there are a number of young men and boys who took their university scholarships during the war and to whom that privilege was not allowed. They are training in the Armed Forces and have not been able to proceed with their scholarships. Every month's delay makes the ultimate result more difficult, and, as the numbers of these young men is very small, and the importance for the intellectual future of the country is undoubtedly great, I would ask him to look into the matter and see if some release for the purpose of taking up 1272 university scholarships could not be engineered.
I gather from listening to the Debate, that still all is not well in S.E.A.C. We have heard a great deal about the "forgotten men" of the 14th Army—a phrase which was applied to them, I think, by themselves, and not altogether fairly, because I think we all agree that the thoughts of people in this country, and of the House, have been very frequently with those gallant men and we have all followed their exploits with admiration from the beginning. At the same time, the feeling undoubtedly exists, in many cases in a very unreasonable form. For example, I heard one complaint which was passed on to me that the men out there feel aggrieved that the Prime Minister has never paid a visit to that front. No one in his senses would attempt to attach blame or censure to the Prime Minister, probably the hardest worked man in the United Kingdom, for not including in his peregrinations a visit to that far-away theatre of war, but it is symptomatic that that should be a ground of grievance at all. The fact is, of course, that we have to deal with a symptom which is apparent not only in that particular theatre of war but throughout the people of this country, and it applies particularly to politics, that is, an attitude of cynical suspicion, and a very dangerous one, which we should do our best to dissipate. It has been stated that the recommendations of the Munster Report have not been sufficiently fully carried out and, if that is a fact—a matter of which I am not capable of judging—I would implore my right hon. Friend to do his utmost in the interest of dissipating this suspicious attitude, to see that it is fully implemented in the near future.
§ 2.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Mathers (Linlithgow)
The hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Bartlett) cited the case of people who had had their calling up deferred because of the demands of their businesses, and later these demands were set aside and they were called up. Now their restoration to their businesses is being held back because their category for release is not as high as it would have been if they had been taken at the beginning. I know of cases like that, and in certain instances wives have been left in charge of the businesses. Some of them to my knowledge have suffered severely from the mental 1273 and physical strain, and they are now physical and nervous wrecks. Another point that has been repeatedly made in the Debate is about the men of 30 and the feeling of grievance that the troops have about that. We have an increasing correspondence from men in all theatres on the question of release, and my feeling is that if we could reply to them more quickly in a definite way it would be helpful.
I have hesitated in a number of cases to send letters to the Secretary of State asking for replies which I could send to my correspondents because of the inevitable delay. I am not complaining unduly about this, although I think that, with better organisation, some reduction in the time taken to reply to letters might be secured. I am still waiting for replies to letters which I wrote to the Secretary of State as far back as 3rd March. I think that some speeding up of the process of replying could take place. In regard to the many cases that come to us of men who want to get back to civil life and who have urgent needs that seem to them to justify their release, I think that by this time it should have been possible for the War Office to have been presented with fair samples of all kinds of queries of that sort. It is better for each case to have an individual reply, but if it is delayed it is of less value than a reply on more general lines that comes quickly, and is based on circumstances that have been dealt with already. The question, for instance, of what are the circumstances which weigh with the War Office in granting compassionate leave has often been dealt with, and it should be possible for the War Office to compile a leaflet setting out the circumstances which weigh with the Department when giving consideration to the various pleas that are made by men in the Army.
The men for whom we are speaking and for whom the Secretary of State is responsible, should be looked upon by us as very worthy of consideration. I have found them very intelligent when coming into contact with them when giving lectures about this House and its work—given, I should say, on strictly non-party lines—through the Army Educational Corps and other organisations for the education of the Forces. I find that a keen intelligence resides in those who have been participating in the discussion groups. 1274 The questions that have been put to me compare very favourably with the questions which are put to the "brains trust" and answered on the radio. I have had the privilege of participating in Forces "brains trusts," and I have been one of the "brains trust" itself, which is quite a new role for me, and I say that the questions and also the answers that are given rank far above the quality of those which we hear in the organisation that has made the name "brains trust" so familiar to us.
§ 2.53 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for War (Sir James Grigg)
Perhaps I might start by repeating what so many hon. Members have said this afternoon, a word of congratulation to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. J. Lawson). Nobody knows better than I do how warm his feeling for the Army is, and how lively a memory he has left behind him at the War Office. All his former colleagues there have been delighted at the honour which has been bestowed upon him. I am grateful to the right hon. Member for his tribute to the soldiers. It is entirely in keeping with his record, and, coming from him, it will be much valued. I would also like to say a word of thanks to him for what is somewhat rare nowadays, a recognition of the magnitude of the task of unwinding one war and winding up another one. As he said, it is a task which has no parallel in history, and I think that by the time I have finished it will be found to be not an inapt statement.
A large number of detailed points on welfare have been made in the Debate and a series of points concerned with leave and the reduction of the period of service overseas. I will deal with a number of the welfare points, but I wish to spend the main part of my speech on the question of leave and repatriation, which looms largest in the minds of the soldiers overseas. If I leave out some of the detailed points on welfare which have been brought up, it is not because they have not or will not have attention; it is because I think that the major question should be dealt with at greater length and the other points dealt with rather more summarily. It is quite right that the Committee should take stock of the position of our Armies at the present moment when our European enemies have been crushed; 1275 when the forces we have on the Continent are facing what may be a prolonged term of duty as Armies of Occupation, in which it is not always easy for them to see what exactly they are doing; when our troops in the Middle East have not only to be prepared to keep order in the Middle East, but have to turn themselves into a staging centre for troops who have to be sent to finish off the Far Eastern War; and when the troops in the Far East, having triumphantly brought one campaign to a conclusion, must be looking further in order to contribute with our American Allies to the task of smashing the last remaining one of the three Axis tyrannies.
Although a large number of individual points have been raised in the Debate, I think I am entitled to take comfort from the fact that except on the major question of leave and repatriation, none of them are fundamental. It is fair to say that all of them are points of detail which do not show any major fault in the organisation of our Armies in the field. Having had a good deal of experience of administration, I would have said that they are largely the inevitable consequence of carrying on war in a large number of different places with a large number of people in very different circumstances, who not many months ago were civilians. The welfare complaints and suggestions have not been incompatible with this citizen army having won a considerable victory over the best organised military power the world has ever seen. The provision of amenities for troops is, and must be, uneven in the various theatres. Obviously, although Hamburg may have had a good deal of attention from the Air Force, it is a much better place for the soldier than Rangoon. But in most places which I myself have visited the standard of welfare reached by the military authorities and others concerned, including voluntary workers, is very high. This is not only my own aspect; it is the aspect of the troops themselves. You get an occasional grouse, but that is the nature certainly of the British Army. Subject to what I may say later about the South East Asia Command, there is no doubt that the standard of welfare in the various theatres is and has been extremely high. I do not mean to say that all that should be done, or all that we should wish to see done has been done. Nobody, certainly not I, would dream of 1276 saying that he is satisfied with the conditions, however good they are, because, as the right hon. Gentleman has pointed out, nothing is good enough for the troops, particularly the Infantry, who, after all, have won this war, however much other people may have contributed to it.
Perhaps the best thing I can do is to give a brief survey of the welfare position under those heads under which the soldier is rather apt to group his needs. One of the things which has puzzled me to-day is that nobody has mentioned the subject which loomed so largely in the last series of Debates on welfare—beer. Therefore, I do not propose to say very much about it. I gather there is a shortage of beer in this country, but arrangements are being made to produce as much beer as possible abroad, and despite what was said by the Prime Minister in his statement on the Munster Report about the standard not being reached, a great deal of progress has been made towards it, and there has been a remarkable absence of complaints on this subject in recent months. As regards S.E.A.C., the Prime Minister in his statement on 18th April, to which I have referred, set out the improvements which were being effected in S.E.A.C. in relation to the particular items of the Munster Report. I think I am right in saying that, either in the statement or in the Munster Report, it was clearly laid down that the standard of amenities in South East Asia and India could never, because of the nature of the countries concerned, reach the standards it was possible to reach in the West. I think hon. Members should bear that in mind.
Then again let us take Burma. You have a campaign which consists in the main of a very rapid thrust down a long river, or down valleys parallel with the river, at a speed unprecedented in warfare in that kind of country. The land routes feeding that campaign—I think I am right in the figure—were capable of supporting only a few hundred tons a day over the mountains and a great part of the supply had to be carried out by air. Air transport has done a great service in that matter. There is no disguising the fact that the troops themselves not only had very little amenities during that rapid thrust down the Irawaddy, but some of them had to be on short rations for quite a considerable time. It is remarkable that one has never seen a single grumble about that, which backs up the view which I 1277 am absolutely certain is the right one, that the soldier only grumbles about the things about which he does not feel deeply or, in the main, things which are not of prime importance to him.
§ Mr. Mathers
Is there not another explanation? Is it not that the right hon. Gentleman is paying a tribute to the common sense of the troops? They grumble, not about things which are inevitable, but about things which they think can be remedied, and rightly so.
§ Sir J. Grigg
But if you are in a state where you cannot even guarantee them full rations, because of rapid progress through untracked jungles, then the complaints that some of the welfare arrangements are not top-notch do really become quite ludicrous, in comparison with those things which are not grumbled about. Two of the main problems in providing welfare in South East Asia were leave camps and the conditions on the railways in India. The Prime Minister set out the progress which has been made in regard to leave camps, and the large transit camp at Deolali to which he referred will be completed early in September. As regards railways, and the improvement of the rolling stock out there, it is largely a matter of getting rolling stock from the United States, and that has been a matter of some difficulty because of the great demands on the production there. It is impossible for us, with our limited production in this country, to satisfy the demand.
An hon. Member raised the question of wireless receivers. I think it was either the Prime Minister or I who on an earlier occasion said that the number of men to each receiver had been reduced, and the leeway which existed in reaching that standard is being rapidly made up. As regards mobile cinemas, there have been difficulties owing to inability to get sufficient projectors. Everything we have been able to get we have got, but we still cannot get enough and in the same way there has been difficulty over the supply and processing of films. Nevertheless, some six months ago we bought a whole cinema circuit in Egypt, and that has improved the standard of entertainment in the Middle East.
As regards E.N.S.A., it is very easy to complain about the job which they have done. I think the answer to all that is 1278 that E.N.S.A. cannot ever provide the full weight of entertainment for the troops. In the last war, the entertainment we enjoyed most was that which we ourselves provided out of our own resources. I have not the slightest doubt that that is still true, and, so far as my information goes, there is no doubt that skill and aptitude for entertaining themselves is still very strongly developed in the troops. We have taken special steps to see that E.N.S.A. does not at any rate reduce the number of artistes working in the Far East as their contracts run out.
Then may I say a word or two about canteens? Generally speaking, the canteen organisation has served the soldier pretty well. In Western Europe and in the Middle East the canteen services have been provided by N.A.A.F.I. In India and S.E.A.C. up to now they have been provided by the Indian Canteen Board. N.A.A.F.I. all along made it quite clear that until they could get into Burma by sea, which meant the capture of Rangoon, they could not set up a N.A.A.F.I. service there. As static conditions have come in Europe and in the Middle East, N.A.A.F.I. has extended its service and its clubs, and wherever one goes or wherever one sees a soldier returning from the Middle East, the Mediterranean or the Western Europe theatres there is great praise for what N.A.A.F.I. has done in this way. India is run and will continue to be run under the Indian Canteen Board, but now that Rangoon is open N.A.A.F.I. will set up its own canteens there, because it can supply itself by sea. I do not pretend that it is going fully now. Stocks have to be built up and it will take some time, but that is the intention, and N.A.A.F.I. will now run the Burma canteen organisation. One of the main items in the Munster Report mentioned the extreme desirability of getting out to the Far East more women as welfare workers in the base camps and in the clubs. The appeal which was made for this purpose had some effect, and a larger number of women are going out. I have not the slightest doubt that they will make a great difference to the lives of the troops in the Far East.
Another hon. Member mentioned mail. Perhaps India can be taken as the most typical case. Mail to India takes only three days to arrive—that is, air mail. 1279 Parcels have to go by sea and, of course, take much longer. First-class mail, as I believe it is called, only takes about three days to arrive in India, and even allowing a certain amount of time for distribution it should be in the hands of the soldiers easily in about a week. I mentioned in this House some time ago that General Nye, when he paid a visit to Burma, was with the troops at the front in contact with the enemy, and was amazed to find the units he visited actually received while he was there mail which had been posted in England seven days earlier. I have not the slightest expectation or hope of being able to better that, as I said at the time.
Nwspapers were mentioned by another hon. Member. This is a matter on which I am not entirely happy. The B.L.A get an extremely good supply of newspapers by air, either on the same day or on the next day. I have never heard any single grumble about that. Newspapers are flown there by air. To Italy, as hon. Members have pointed out, and elsewhere at present only a supply of Sunday newspapers can be flown out. For the rest, the troops have to rely on newspapers produced by themselves. We have a very suitable organisation in the War Office for supplying them with material from the London newspapers and other items of interest. I have from time to time taken some interest in this matter myself, not from the point of view of regulating the political complexion of the articles sent out but to assure myself that they were representative. There is, of course, a special military service, Reuter's Service, which sends out to the newspapers in the Middle East and the Near East items of interest from this country.
Perhaps this is a suitable time to take up the question of how, in view of this inability to get a large volume of the London newspapers out to Italy and theatres further a field, we are going to cope with the Election. I daresay the troops will get a certain amount of news in the Reuter's messages, and in the articles which are sent out from this country by clippings from newspapers to the Army newspapers in those theatres. Special arrangements have been made for the Forces to listen to the series of broadcasts which have been arranged with the B.B.C., and I have also arranged that those broadcasts shall, each one of them, 1280 be printed textually in the Army newspapers in the Mediterranean Theatre and further afield.
Some of my hon. Friends have referred to the Army Education Scheme and the vital importance of it from the point of view of keeping the troops interested in this period when, as I may perhaps describe it, they are not quite sure why they are being kept abroad. The late Financial Secretary to the War Office, in the Debate on 13th March, described this scheme in full. The booklet to which I referred in an interruption early in the Debate, "Release and Resettlement," is not only being issued to education officers but issued to every man and woman in the three Services. As my hon. Friends have pointed out, however, it is one thing to issue a booklet and another thing to get it read. So far, three A.B.C.A. numbers have been issued on the main aspects of the release and resettlement plans of the Government. It is up to the regimental officer to get it across to his men through the A.B.C.A. machinery. Copies of the booklets are in the library of the House.
Let me make one thing clear in order to avoid misunderstanding. It is not the province of the Army to do many things in spite of what some hon. Members opposite seem to suppose, including giving the soldier coupons when he is released. It is not in the Army's province to tell the soldier exactly what job he can expect to get, or to train him for it, or to place him in it when he is released. Vocational training is the business of the Ministry of Labour and the business of placing him is part of the Ministry of Labour's scheme. Our business is to see while he is kept in the Army that he has pre-vocational training or some form of non-vocational work which will refresh him or rub him up, after he has been in the Army for so many years, so a to fit him to graft himself on to the scheme for which the Ministry of Labour are responsible. We can and do provide general courses to fit on to the Ministry of Labour scheme. The main object is for us to make the final stages of a man's career in the Army what I might call a constructive experience to prepare him for the responsibilities and opportunities of civil life.
The war-time education scheme of the Army is aimed not only at the more 1281 utilitarian education of the soldier or the preliminary stages of it, but more to satisfy what has proved to be the widespread demand of the Army to learn more about music, drama, art and, most of all, citizenship. One hon. Member referred to the delay in getting books out to the Mediterranean theatre. It is not as far forward as we would have liked, but the job of printing millions of textbooks and distributing them round the Army all over the world is not a small one. It is beginning, and I will certainly do whatever can be done to speed up the process. After all, some of us are apt to forget that the war has been over only one month, and that in that month a great many other things have had to be done.
I think this is about as much as it is possible for me to say about welfare in the time at my disposal. Whatever may be said about welfare, the main interests and the really burning problems in the Army cluster round repatriation and leave, and so for the rest of my time I will devote myself to those problems. This congeries of problems is one of the most intractable with which I have ever had to deal. In fact, I do not think that for a great many years I remember any other thing which has succeeded in keeping me awake at night. If therefore, I go into the matter at length, and even go into retrospect, I hope that hon. Members will bear with me.
Before the Eighth and First Armies carried their successful advance from North Africa and Italy to the Po Valley and opened the Mediterranean to the free passage of our ships, the strain upon our lines of communication through having to go round the Cape prevented any use of shipping for other than the vitally essential operational and supply movements. But when the Mediterranean was opened last year, though there was a great relief to shipping it happened that that period coincided with an increasing stringency of man-power. I know there has been a great deal of comment on my having changed my tune, but if circumstances change it is natural and sensible to change one's tune. This stringency was very largely inevitable after nearly five years of all-out war, in which we had mobilised our resources much more fully than any other belligerent country. It came at a time when we had to build up our whole effort for the maximum impact which we 1282 delivered upon the German Army in France a year ago this very week.
The needs of General Montgomery's Army Group then, and for many months afterwards, were the first call upon our man-power, and most fully has the result justified the efforts which wore then made. When I answered a Question in this House on 19th December last year about the possibility of reducing the overseas tour in the Army, I said that reduction of that tour to three years then would, by its demands on our man-power for replacements, have reduced the effective strength of our Army deployed against the enemy by 125,000 men. That was a prospect to one could have faced on the eve of D-Day, and I do not think I need apologise now for refusing to face it. Had we failed to put first things first, and to give Field-Marshal Montgomery everything we could to fill up to the full the formations which he has known so well how to lead to final victory in Germany, who can say how long that victory might have been postponed, and how many more families there might have been in this country whose hope of seeing their relatives again would have been not postponed, but destroyed for ever? Also, we should bear in mind the disclosures which have been made about the nature of the installations in Northern France directed against this country, some of which at any rate were, in spite of all the efforts of the Royal Air Force, very near to readiness. If our Armies had not pressed forward and cut them off when they did there might have been quite another story to tell. Therefore, until very recent weeks the first and foremost problem facing the War Office has been to sustain our Armies in Western Europe.
We have been criticised from time to time on the ground that the numbers of the Army at home were far in excess of our real needs. May I remind hon. Members that the invasion of North-West Europe required the building up of vast base and rearward installations and establishments in this country? In this respect the position was very different from that of the last war, when all the base organisations were actually in France with our Armies. The secrets of our preparations for D-Day have been partially revealed in the past few weeks through the lifting of the ban of secrecy, and have given some idea of the far-reaching character of the organisation which was 1283 required in this country to support the invasion. Of course, we tried to put in these units and installations at home, engaged in what I might call the Imperial base, as many men as possible who were unfit for active service abroad. Even outside those units were a great many men not fit for the fighting line—tens of thousands, I might say hundreds of thousands. But apart from the physically unfit, who included those recovering from wounds and sickness in this country, were those who had already been brought back to this country after a long tour of service abroad, and also, of course, the large numbers of young men undergoing their early training after their call-up from civil life.
Our difficulties could in great part have been avoided had unlimited man-power been available, but even so it takes at least six months to train a soldier to take his part efficiently in the battle line. The demands for men for the Army which I have put forward in the last three years have invariably been far in excess of the numbers allocated. I do not grumble at that, because it was not for me alone to decide how the nation's manpower should be allocated—how many had to be allotted to the Army, to the Navy and the R.A.F. and to producing equipment at home. Another reason for the apparently large number of men at home is that in this process of building up the Imperial base we had to keep at home a large number of men of special skill, so that they could produce and condition the equipment which was sent overseas. As I have said before, I do not claim that every single man in our 3,000,000 has invariably been used in the best way. Anyone who could say that among 3,000,000 men there was no misdirection of energy would be not only untruthful, but extremely foolish. I have not the slightest doubt that we have made mistakes, but I am absolutely clear that these mistakes, at any rate in recent times, have been relatively few.
When presenting the Army Estimates to the House last March, I said that our aim was to reduce the Army tour in all overseas theatres to one of three years. By that statement I stand, but I have several times pointed out that it is not a position which can be reached at one stroke, and hon. Members in their remarks 1284 this afternoon have been good enough to recognise that. The limitations of man-power and shipping, to which I have referred, stand in the way of any immediate reduction of that size, however much we should all like to bring it about. When I spoke on this subject in the House on 26th September last year, I said that I should be very disappointed if, by the following January, the maximum tour in India and Burma had not been reduced to four years, and the tour elsewhere was not down to four and three quarter years. I have been better than my word in that respect. Indeed, I should always hope to be better rather than worse than my word. I said that an unknown factor in this problem was the date of the termination of the German war. Now the German war is over, and I will try to give hon. Members some indication of the background against which any further reduction of the overseas tour has to be decided. Certain hon. Members have said that it ought to be perfectly easy for the War Office to produce a perfect blue print of all the complicated processes which are going on, and foe able to tell every man in a minute or so exactly when 'he will be released. When I have finished what I have to say I do not think that hon. Members will still think that.
In the first place we decided that our plans for the release of men from the Services must start to operate as soon as hostilities with Germany ended, and, as has already been announced on more than one occasion, the first groups will begin to leave the Forces on 18th June. But for us in the Army there are still far-reaching commitments. We have to maintain and reinforce our Armies in the Far East so that Japan can be knocked out as quickly as possible; we have to provide large forces for the occupation of our zone in Germany, where conditions call for infinitely larger numbers of men and officers than did the occupation of the much smaller British zone in 1919.
§ Sir J. Grigg
No. Perhaps the hon. Member will let me finish my statement. The hon. Member has made his speech. I hope he will let me make mine. I have said it is quite impossible to have a blueprint which will vary from day to day over the next year. If the hon. Member thinks he can produce a blueprint, he 1285 is more optimistic than he thinks he is. This time we have to carry out in detail the military government of Germany, because there is no functioning Government in Germany at present; and this time we have the commitment in Austria. Also we have to keep substantial numbers in the Mediterranean and in the Middle East. Not only is the Middle East one of the main staging points for the deployment of the Far East, but it is also a hub of vital British interests; and the presence of British troops in appreciable force there is an essential factor which very recent events have thrown up into high relief. So we had two streams of men flowing in opposite directions. One way, the men and equipment, with all the shipping they require, are going Eastwards to fight the battle against Japan. The other way, men are coming home, due for leaving the Service under the progressive operation of the Age and Service Scheme. And the man-power upon which we can draw for sustaining the war against Japan is restricted by a number of factors. It is clearly foolish to send anyone from this country to the Mediterranean or the Far East if he is due for release in an early group.
Let me here say, in passing, that in general, and for the time being, we are not sending to the Far East soldiers in the first 26 groups. There may be exceptions in certain arms and trades, where a few key men in earlier groups may be required, but, broadly speaking, we shall not call upon groups 1 to 26. Equally, the men already overseas for many years and due to come home under the Python scheme within a few months, cannot be used to reinforce the Armies in the Far East. Again, no man who has fought in Western Europe or the Mediterranean theatre will be sent for a further spell of duty in the Far East unless and until he has had 28 days' leave in the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
Does that mean that man who have fought in North Africa, in Italy and in Holland, if they have 28 days' leave, may still be sent to the Far East?
§ Sir J. Grigg
Subject to their not being in the first 26 groups. The right hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate said that we should not send men over 40 to the Far East. Let us examine that a little. First, the men now aged 40 and 1286 over who have more than two and a half years' service will automatically come into the first 26 groups for release. Apart from that, there are a considerable number of men over 40 already serving in the Far East, but they are almost entirely senior N.C.O.s, officers, those on the staff, and people who have acquired a great deal of technical skill and experience. If you are to send no further over-40's to the Fax East, it would be logical to withdraw all those already there; but it would be quite impossible, because it would draw away such a disproportionate amount of experience and skill. As it is quite impossible to withdraw those who are over 40 from the Far East, I cannot give any clear and categorical guarantee, as my right hon. Friend asked, that people over 40 will not be sent to the Far East. But I have said that they must be limited in classes. They must be outside the first 26 groups, and also they must be in a very high degree of medical fitness. If a man is sent, I can assure my right hon. Friend that he will not in the slightest degree lose his place in what is known, I believe, in Army circles as "The Race Card."
§ Mr. Driberg
Did the right hon. Gentleman imply, when he said that we cannot bring those highly-skilled senior N.C.O.s over 40 back, that they will lose their place in the Race Card?
§ Sir J. Grigg
No, but you cannot bring them back out of their turn merely because they are over 40. I am grateful for the opportunity of being able to make that clear, because there was another chance of misapprehension. I have been asked whether the late Minister of Labour's decision to limit the call-up to under 30's in future does not mean that the over 40's are being sent unnecessarily to the Far East. I do not think so. Most of the men are either key men, senior N.C.O.s, or officers. To call up a number of extra new people would mean that you would require replacements for the more mature men. The number of people abstracted from restoring our civil and economic life would be increased, and to my mind it would make no difference to the comparatively small number of forces, who are sent or kept overseas.
After that digression, I may come back to the task of the sorting out of men in the-different categories which is going on as an essential part of the release and deployment process now. These demands 1287 have all to be sorted out inside the individual units. One lot has to be earmarked for release, others in the later age groups for retention; and among those in the later age groups to be retained are those who have to be sent on 28 days' leave before they can go abroad again. Then you have all the inescapable demands upon shipping which all this re-sorting demands, and fitting that in with all the other demands on shipping. Some hon. Members have talked lightly about the extreme relief we have had in the calls on shipping by the ending of the war. I wonder how many listened to the talk on the European News the other night, in which the state of British shipping was described. I think we started the war with 21,000,000 or 22,000,000 gross tons.
§ Sir J. Grigg
Certainly. We have built, I think, 5,000,000 tons since the war started, and 12,000,000 tons of our shipping has been sunk. Although more shipping is available with the defeat of Germany, the liberated countries are also asking for their shipping back, to attend to their own needs; so it is no good thinking that the shipping problem is very much easier. I do not know whether hon. Members have also heard that the Americans are proposing to re-deploy to the Far East until they have built up their Forces there to 7,000,000, which, to the best of my recollection, is about double anything they have had in the whole of Europe. On top of that we have to send back to Canada considerable Canadian Forces, a great number of whom have been hereabout six years without relief, and at least 3,000 miles away from their homes.
Having, to the best of my ability, described the elements of the problem, let me tell the House what I think can be done here and now. First, as regards the reduction of the overseas tour, the present prescribed qualifying periods for Python are three years eight months in the Far East, and four years nine months elsewhere, except for a slight, and, I hope, disappearing, addition of three months for those transferred for operational reasons from the Mediterranean to the British Liberation Army. If orders were given to-day to reduce these periods to three years it is quite clear, and I have already said so, that, even apart from all the complicated re-sortings which I have de- 1288 scribed, the numbers involved are so large that it would be a very considerable time before the orders could become fully operative. Nevertheless, I think it is essential to give some earnest of our intention to work towards this objective. Orders have therefore been given to reduce the qualifying period to three years and four months in the Far East and four years elsewhere, including the B.L.A. Men in these ranges of service will be sent home as shipping and other means of transport offer, without waiting for their replacements, even in those areas where forces are being built up rather than reduced. It may be necessary, in some individual cases, particularly of officers and specialists, to keep men back until their replacement arrives, but I hope these cases will not be very frequent.
There is one further reservation. At present, soldiers repatriated under Python are given 28 days' leave and retained for a further two months on the home establishment, after which they are liable to be sent abroad again, but only to North-West Europe. In future, the home establishment will fall very rapidly, and there will be very few home vacancies for repatriated soldiers. In order, therefore, not to interfere with the maximum flow of men homewards, it will be necessary to suspend the existing arrangements under which men can rely on three months at home before being sent to the B.L.A., so that returned soldiers will be liable to be sent to the B.L.A. after their leave is over. But they will still be eligible for embarkation leave, and so, in practice, no man returned under Python will have less than six weeks at home, and, if the period is no longer than six weeks, it will all be spent on leave. Moreover, it must be borne in mind that there is no longer any fighting in B.L.A., though there is a great deal to be done there, and that, from the very nature of things, facilities for short leave are always likely to be better from this theatre than from theatres further a field.
I said just now that this accelerated Python movement would take place "as shipping and transportation facilities offer." This phrase, of course, carries this qualification, and I say it because it is so easy to be misunderstood in this matter, "subject to the planned programme of releases under the Age and 1289 Service Scheme." Of course, it is necessary to bear in mind—Iam sorry to make all these qualifications, but, having had to deal with this problem and live with it now for some years, I think it is much more important not to mislead the men than to make rash promises—that this, apart from urgent operational requirements, is to be our Priority No. 1.
Hon. Members may be disappointed that I have not gone the whole hog at once. But now, as always, I am more concerned to tell the truth than to make unwarranted promises. However, I have issued stringent instructions that every effort must be made to reach this target at the earliest possible date; and I can assure the Committee that I shall watch the progress of these plans most carefully. What I really do believe is that we shall never again have the long periods of stagnation that we have had to impose in the past.
Now let me come to leave, as opposed to repatriation. From B.L.A. a pretty-good short leave scheme has been in operation since 1st January last. Elsewhere leave has had to be confined to a smallish number of compassionate cases and to a trickle of ordinary leave on a 28-day basis under what is known as the L.I.A.P. scheme. In case hon. Members want to know what it means, it means "in addition to Python." For C.M.F., for example, the figure was no more than 3,000 a month. When this scheme was introduced, I was afraid lest unfounded expectations should be aroused, and my fears were certainly justified. The published summaries of the scheme, and the headlines attached to them, led the troops, and even more their families, to expect more than could possibly be performed. Moreover, as it would have been silly to send on leave from, say, Persia, men who, on return, would only have a few months to serve before qualifying for repatriation under Python, what looked like inequalities of treatment were bound to occur. Consequently, the soldiers and their wives thought, or appeared to think, that ramps were being perpetrated, and wives even began to accuse their husbands of deliberately prolonging their absence abroad. But there were no ramps, and the wives were rather less than fair to their husbands. The simple fact is that, when you have running side by side a scheme for leave and a scheme for repatriation, you are 1290 bound to get a number of what appear to be glaring inconsistencies, and those responsible for running the schemes are likely, in consequence, to be very much belaboured, or, perhaps, in order to create no misapprehension in present circumstances, I will say "beaten up." But the only alternative is to have either repatriation or leave, but not both.
So far as theatres in the Mediterranean are concerned, the real key to the introduction of a short-leave scheme on a large scale is the opening of a regular route by land across France from the Mediterranean to the Channel and the provision of adequate shipping by the short sea route from the Continent. At present this route is in difficulties, because of unrepaired bomb damage to bridges, etc., and shortage of rolling stock. In reply to one hon. Member, who said, "What on earth is the difficulty about the railways across France?" I might say that, if he only cast his mind back three or four months, he would remember that the R.A.F. communiqués day by day gave the number of engines, trains, and bridges destroyed, so that I do not think it is so far-fetched to imagine the difficulties of that route. There is another consideration which adds to the difficulty, and that is the fact that it is being very heavily used by the U.S. authorities for the re-deployment of their Forces to the Far East. However, discussions are going on, and I hope that, by the early Autumn, we shall be using such routes for a regular and substantial scheme of short leave for those who are still serving in the Mediterranean theatre.
In the meantime, we propose, all being well, to make a beginning by using road transport this month and heavy bombers next month. The arrangements will not be easy, and it is always as well to bear in mind, too, that the R.A.F. has its problems of re-deployment for the war against Japan and release under the Age and Service Scheme. We hope, by a combination of these methods, to bring home troops on short leave at a rate which, by the end of July, should reach some thousands a week—that is, instead of 3,000 a month. When we got all the facilities going to the fullest extent the figures will be higher still. We must do anything we can to graft the Middle East on to the scheme, even though we know that, for every man included from the Middle East, two from Italy must drop 1291 out. This increase in traffic should, incidentally, permit an increase in the number of soldiers who can be given compassionate leave to deal with urgent domestic affairs. For the Far East, I am bound to say that I do not yet see the possibility of any large increase in short leave, and our main efforts there must, in consequence, be spent, at any rate for the time being, in shortening Python.
Perhaps I should make a reference to the very unfortunate announcements which have appeared in the last few days about increased leave from B.L.A. Already, 7,500 men a day are coming on leave from this theatre, which compares with a mere trickle from the Mediterranean. It may be that, in course of time, these figures may be increased, but I am sure that the Committee will agree that our first objective should be to bring up the Mediterranean to something nearer B.L.A. standards. Incidentally, Field Marshal Montgomery tells me that he does not regard as practicable the suggestion that wives should go out to visit—still less to settle down with—their husbands in Germany. Anyone who has seen the devastation in the British Zone would, I am quite sure, agree with this view. Hon. Members no doubt would be interested to know how these very circumstantial but untrue stories came to be put about. So would I and I am making inquiries, but I have not yet discovered any reasonable explanation.
That is as much as I or indeed anyone else could say on this very important Debate to-day. I do not for one moment pretend that it is the final solution. But I am anxious to show the soldiers that something is happening and to give them hope that more will happen in the not very distant future. Perhaps I can make one final remark as regards the suggestion made by the hon. and gallant Member for Kettering (Lieut.-Col. Profumo). I have taken what seem to me to be all steps to secure that what I have said to-day is adequately communicated to the theatres concerned and, at any rate, in its accurate terms.
§ Mr. J. J. Lawson
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that men who have served four years in Burma and have been repatriated are, after three months' leave, being sent to the B.L.A.?
§ Sir J. Grigg
That has always been an element of the Python scheme and I have tried at any rate to make it clear in this House over and over again. What I have said is that we have tried hitherto and, I think, have succeeded. We do not send them further than the B.L.A. As I pointed out in my remarks to-day that will continue. On the other hand, as I also said, B.L.A. are always bound in the very nature of things to have better facilities for leave than any other theatre.
§ 3.53 p.m.
§ Major Beech (Woolwich, West)
I will be very brief indeed. I apologise for the fact that I have not been able to be present during the whole of the Debate but curious as it may seem, I would like as a serving officer to join in the congratulations which hon. Members of the Committee have extended to the right hon. Gentleman for his services during this war. I know that, at times, in the House he has not pleased us all, but, at the end of a long war with Germany, he has satisfied us with the efforts he has put forward.
I would direct the attention of the Committee to the question of the re-allocation of man-power. There is one thing in which this House and the country must not fail, and that is, to see that, as the men are released in their respective groups, they are promptly settled up with the amounts due to them. Unless the Committee responsible for re-allocating the man-power of this country sees to this, I am afraid a calamity will happen. The right hon. Gentleman will know the branch of the Service to which I am referring. It is to be treated the same as any other in that it is to release its personnel in age and service groups. It is, therefore, of primary importance that this branch of the Service should be augmented without any delay. In case I have not made it clear to hon. Members to which branch I am referring, I would say that I am referring to the Royal Army Pay Corps. That Corps must be supplemented without any delay by people who can be trained in the short time left to us before these men leave under their various age and service groups.
I am sure the point has not escaped the right hon. Gentleman but I make an appeal to him to augment at once the staff in the various regimental pay offices and the officers' pay office at Manchester, so that we may be sure that when the 1293 men go away, they will receive that of which this honourable House has thought them to be worthy. It has been represented to me that within 25 miles of this House there are depots and gun sites with personnel on their strength at present, doing absolutely nothing, and it is about time that the people responsible saw to it that men and women are properly treated. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to give the matter his early attention so that the men who are entitled to be settled-up shall be properly paid.
§ 3.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Evelyn Walkden (Doncaster)
I do not want to continue the Debate but I had hoped to catch the right hon. Gentleman's attention before he sat down when he gave an explanation concerning men repatriated from the Far East and the reason why they were sent to France. Would he tell the Committee, the wives of these soldiers, the soldiers themselves, and the country that, in the matter of combing-out those who are actually eligible, as far as the War Office is concerned every man eligible to serve overseas in this country is at least examined, checked up and sent abroad, before a man from the Far East is sent on a second tour of duty?
§ Sir J. Grigg
I do not think there is any question of a man being sent on a second tour of duty to the Far East.
§ Question put, and agreed to.1294
That a Supplementary Sum not exceeding £1,750,000,000, be granted to His Majesty, towards defraying the expenses which may be incurred during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1946, for general Navy, Army and Air services and supplies in so far as specific provision is not made there for by Parliament; for securing the public safety, the defence of the realm, the maintenance of public order and the efficient prosecution of the war; for maintaining supplies and services essential to the life of the community; for relief and rehabilitation in areas brought under the control of any of the United Nations; and generally for all expenses, beyond those provided for in the ordinary grants of Parliament, arising out of the existence of a state of war.
§ Resolution to be reported upon Monday next; Committee to sit again upon Monday next.