HC Deb 08 November 1945 vol 415 cc1545-66

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Mathers.]

8.32 p.m.

Major Wyatt (Birmingham, Aston)

On 16th October, the Secretary of State for War announced in the House that all military officers in Group 21 would not finish their demobilisation until mid-February, although they would begin their demobilisation on 12th November. He went on to add that in consequence of this delay by three months, Groups 22, 23 and 24 would also be delayed. I am raising this matter tonight not so much because of the hardships that will becaused to officers by the delay in their demobilisation—although that aspect of the matter is very important—but because I am concerned at the inefficiency which it seems to indicate in the War Office and among Service chiefs in particular.

The Army, being by far the largest of the three Services, is the key to the whole demobilisation problem and if the speed of demobilisation from the Army has broken down, and in particular has broken down in the demobilisation of officers, it suggests thatthings may not be well in other spheres in the Army. The speed of demobilisation in the Army depends very largely on the energy and determination with which the Service chiefs scale down their requirements. Two days before the announcement was made in the House, 21 Army Group Routine Orders said that no officer in the Royal Armoured Corps would be retarded in his demobilisation before Group 23 and that no officer in the R.A.S.C. would be retarded before Group 24. What happened within two days, suddenly to make it necessary to retard officers of all arms from Group 21? From the very moment when the Bevin scheme was first announced, everyone in the War Office must have realised what was going to happen about the position of officers. The War Office have a better dossier on every officer in the Army than any Gestapo ever had. They know every single thing you do, your age, your civilian occupation, your age group; they register all the things you do wrong and sometimes all the things you do right. They knew from the very start, that seven out of eight officers were over the age of 25. Plans should have been made im- mediately to deal with the situation that would inevitably arise when officers in Group 21 became ready for demobilisation. Plans should have been made to deal with the situation of deferring officers if it was necessary to defer anyone.

In 1939 and 1940, many battalions had only 10 officers out of an Establishment of 35. I was in one of them myself. If we could do that then, when we were at war, surely we can fall back upon a similar scheme now, in the transitory period. We are not trying to win a war. We are only doing garrison duties. We can do that with at least as few officers as we had when this country was threatened with invasion. I do not think that any real attempt has been made to do this at all. I understand that the officer strength of units is being reduced at the moment to two-thirds. That is not really far enough. Many Members of this House continually receive letters from officers who have been retarded in their demobilisation. They seem to show that the officers concerned are doing nothing at all, or are not performing any useful function in the Army, although they are being retarded.

I would like to quote a typical letter, received from an officer in the R.E.M.E., where he is a technical officer. He is in Group 23 and is serving in the B.A.O.R. In civil life he is a development engineer of a large firm of concrete machinery manufacturers and he is particularly badly wanted by his firm to assist with reconstruction and building work. He writes: I am no longer acting as adjutant, and so I am out of a job. I spend my time hunting deer and buck three or four days a week and the rest of the time I spend felling trees with the boys. That does not seem to be a very vital reason for retaining him in the Army. There are many cases one hears about which show that the retardment of officers could to a large extent be avoided.

Again, no mention has been made of trying to meet the situation by giving increased responsibility to senior N.C.O.s and warrant officers Class 3. At the beginning of this war, we used warrant officers Class 3 as platoon commanders. It may not be a satisfactory thing in battle, but it is adequate for peacetime conditions. There is a great opportunity inherent in this situation for giving N.C.O.s of long service some reward in the shape of an immediate commission. It may be neces- sary when you do so to relax the conditions; for example, they need not be able to jump aditch in the same way as they had to do before when they wanted to obtain a commission. You do not need to jump a ditch now. Short O.C.T.U. courses could have been organised. The War Office have known all these things for a year and they could, by using a little intelligence, have organised something on the lines of a shortened O.C.T.U. course to meet the changed conditions.

Another serious feature of the situation is the presence of super-mammoth headquarters, which indicates to me that commanding generals are not really trying to economise in officers at all. There were more than 1,000 officers at the headquarters of 21 Army Group before the invasion of France, and there may well be more now. I should not be at all surprised. Colonel Fisher, who is a staff officer at S.E.A.C. Headquarters, recently wrote a letter to an Army newspaper in the Far East saying that headquarters were being run on Rolls-Royce luxury lines and that there was a tremendous wastage of officers in S.E.A.C. I myself was at one of these supermanned headquarters at G.H.Q. India. We were all falling over ourselves there, trying to find a job. I understand from my friends who are still there, that the situation is very much the same, although there is even less work to do now than there was before. It was a byword in Delhi that all the officers' bicycles and tongas left the headquarters at four o'clock every afternoon. I am sure that is still going on.

Possibly one reason for this is that in order to retain rank as a Brigadier at a Headquarters you have to have a fixed quota of colonels under you. Otherwise you lose your job. Brigadiers, like other people, are only human beings. [An Hon. Member: "Are they?"] They have a tendency to wish to retain their jobs, so they find it very easy to convince themselves of the necessity to retain Colonel so-and-so and Captain so-and-so, in order that their jobs shall not vanish.

Another factor in this situation, is that the proportion of officers to other ranks is now greater than before the war. That may be justified, to some extent, by the fact that one has to supply officers for military government, but in view of the fact that every anxiety must be felt by the Service Departments to get as many people demobilised as possible, it would seem an additional reason for not deferring these officers' demobilisation. It seems, from all this kind of thing, that no real attempt is being made to adjust the Army to a peacetime footing at all. In the present temporary phase, I think the Army should be treated rather more as one vast unit because it has only garrison duties to perform, and, very often, men are doing only sentry and local police duties. It does not require any intricate organisation in battalions and companies to do jobs of that kind. If you treated the Army as a block, you could switch officers to any arm of the Service, wherever the pressure was greatest. So, instead of the officer I mentioned earlier shooting game three or four days a week, and performing no particularly useful function, you could transfer him to a unit which had need of his services. But this is never going to be done at all in the Army until strong action is taken from the very top of the War Office.

Generals, I am afraid, tend to regard the Army as a kind of private show. They get to like commanding men, and they like to keep them together. They like as many officers as they can get because, naturally, they want to make their own particular show as efficient as possible. Field Marshal Montgomery was a great soldier—I should say, perhaps, is a great soldier—but I am afraid he is not a plaster saint. All of us who served under him during the war knew that he always refused to undertake any operation unless he had at his disposal an overwhelming preponderance of men and materials. My feeling is that he has continued this, possibly, very laudable wartime policy into peacetime, which is not so laudable. He feels, perhaps—and he is not alone in this—that he must have his full quota of officers to run the thing as smoothly and efficiently as he can, and does not want to be cut down. But there is a widespread feeling throughout the Army that nothing is being done to curb or reduce his demands; that there is no one saying, "I am very sorry, but you cannot have all you want. You must realise we have to get these officers out, and we are going to cut down your demands." Other generals—I do not want to single out one particular general—are equally guilty in this direction. Let us assume, for a moment, that perhaps it is necessary to defer the demobilisation of some officers—I am sure it must be in some cases. If it really is necessary, then I think some compensation in the way of increased pay should be offered to the officers who are being deferred to compensate for the extra time they are having to serve. There should also be a system whereby officers could be offered short-term commissions for additional periods, particularly beyond their normal period of service, at favourable remuneration. If you only want to retain a large number of officers for, say, four months, you could issue an announcement saying that an extended commission up to four months would be offered at such and such an increased salary, and I am sure there would be plenty of officers volunteering. Those who felt like staying would stay, and others, who wanted to get out, could get out.

On this point, I wonder how the recruiting of officers to regular commissions is getting on. Until recently it was almost impossible to get a regular commission. One officer whom I knew, applied for one. He was sufficiently good to become a major at the age of 22 years and he won the M.C. in France commanding an infantry company. But he was turned down as not being suitable for a permanent commission. Not unnaturally, everyone in the brigade wondered what kind of heroic deeds and capabilities were necessary to obtain a regular commission. Many people were discouraged from applying and I think this system wants bringing up to date and should be placed on a more balanced basis.

Up to the announcement made in the House by the Secretary of State for War on the deferment of the demobilisation of officers all over the world, there had been no mention of any special deferment of officers in the MiddleEast and Far East. I do not see why, if it is not really necessary to defer them—and we never heard anything about it before—these officers should be penalised as well. I think they have already undergone enough hardship, and separation from England, without extending this penalisation to them as well. On 16th October the Secretary of State for War also said: This arrangement will give officers a definite guarantee as to how long they are to be held."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th October, 1945; Vol. 414, c. 927.] Of course, it does nothing of the kind, as many officers are now beginning to realise. There is no indication yet of actually when officers of Groups 22, 23 and 24 will be demobilised, and it must necessarily follow that, with the retarding of the demobilisation of those three Groups, then, in a diminishing degree, Groups 25, 26 and 27 must also be retarded. They realise this, and no announcement has been made about it at all. I should like the Secretary of State to assure us that this is not going to happen although it seems to me to be inevitable. There is uncertainty now among all officers in the 20's as to when they are to be demobilised, and I think they are entitled to an announcement making their position clear.

Officers in this war have very largely won their commissions on ability, rather than on birth or money. They do not belong to any particular class of society. Because of their ability they are more needed in civilian life to undertake the reconstruction work which we are trying to get down to, than many others, and I do not think they should be deferred for a moment longer than is absolutely necessary. If they are to be deferred at all, every attempt should have been made beforehand to solve the difficulty, and, if all attempts have not yet been made, they certainly should be made without any further delay. I feel that this question of the demobilisation of officers is symptomatic of the somewhat inefficient way in which the Service chiefs are handling, in the Army, the whole problem of demobilisation. It gives one considerable alarm as to the way in which they are tackling the over-all problem of reducing establishments, not only of officers, but of men, to speed up demobilisation to the maximum.

8.50 p.m.

Major Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston-upon-Thames)

I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State fully appreciates the deep feeling of resentment among the officers concerned which this deferment has caused. I do not doubt that most Members of this House have received a great many letters from constituents who are in those classes, and in many cases those letters do express very deep feeling on the subject, a feeling, almost, on the part of many of them of having been cheated, a feeling among officers who are in a class which was very close to demobilisation that the cup has been dashed from their lips and they do not know when a substitute will be put in its place. There are, I would suggest to the House with great respect, one or two considerations which do leap to mind on this matter.

The first is this. Why was this matter not foreseen? In the files of the Adjutant-General's Branch of the right hon. Gentleman's Department there is a duplicate of Army Form B. 199 (a) in respect of every officer in the British Army, and in that document there are set out all the particulars necessary to show what that officer's release group would be. I should be most grateful if the right hon. Gentleman, when he comes to reply, will deal with this question: Why, with that information already in the files of his Department, was this matter not foreseen, and why, if it was foreseen, were steps not taken in advance to prevent the necessity for deferring these officers arising? One very simple step has already beensuggested by the hon. and gallant Member for Aston (Major Wyatt). It would have been perfectly simple, if this matter had been foreseen, for instructions to be given to O.C.T.U. Boards to ensure that sufficient officers were passed for commissions to ease the officer situation of the Army.

It would have been perfectly possible to instruct O.C.T.U. boards, before the end of hostilities, to relax in some degree the very stiff medical standards for officers, because it would not have been necessary for officers of the Army of Occupation to have quite the high standard of physical fitness required in officers of combatant units in time of war. If I may quote from my own experience in the Central Mediterranean theatre, I myself put up for commissions a number of men of some age but, by reason of their late entry into the Army, of late release groups. These men were turned down for no other reason than that they were not able to climb ropes with great ease, and indulge in other feats of gymnastics. Had they been commissioned they would have been perfectly fitted for duty as officers with our Armies of Occupation, and would have been perfectly fitted to replace those officers who are now being held back. It surely is material to consider now, in order that thissituation may not repeat itself later, whether even at this hour steps are being taken by the War Office to ensure an adequate flow of new officers to replace those who are due to go but who are held back on the grounds of operational necessity.

There is one other matter which appears most forcibly, and sometimes in language which I could not repeat in this House, in the correspondence which I am receiving from some of the officers concerned, and that is this. It was understood, and officers were led to believe, that the operational necessity clause would not be invoked for whole classes of officers, but would be invoked only for officers who, for some special and personal reason, had to be retained. There is a very real feeling—and I say this with great respect to the Secretary of State for War—that the holding back of whole classes of officers does amount to something in the nature of a breach of faith.

There is a further matter: these officers are being held back on the grounds that they are necessary, but they have been given no undertaking that during the period for which they are held back they will be retained in their present acting or temporary rank. The situation has arisen in more than one case in which an officer has been told, at the same time, that he is so essential that he must remain in the Army, but owing to the fact that his old job has gone he will be given another one in another rank. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State, when he comes to reply, whether it is the intention of his Department that officers retained in the Army on the grounds of their necessity to the Army are or are not to be given the opportunity, at any rate, of being retained in their present acting or temporary rank. It is a question which, affecting as it does emoluments and prestige, does matter a good deal to these officers.

The hon. and gallant Member for Aston touched upon another matter in regard to which I should like, if I may, to support him, and that is the question of compensation for these officers. They are being held back because, it is stated, they are needed for the public service. In many cases they are being held back from opportunities in civil life; they are all of them being held back from making their way in civil life, and would it not be right and proper to lay it down that during the period for which they are so held back against their will and for the sake of the public they should be paid at double the rates of pay otherwise appropriate to their rank? That would not only amount to some compensation, inadequate though I think it to be—[Interruption]—quite inadequate, as hon. Members opposite who are aware of the real rates of Army pay will I am sure agree—it would also have this further advantage, which any hon. Member who knows the working of the finance branch of the War Office will confirm: if it were known that officers so retained were being paid at double rate, it would be the strongest possible guarantee that their deferment would be for the shortest possible time. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to say whether he is prepared to introduce some such concession in favour of a class of men who are admittedly being penalised for the sake of the public interest, and who believe that they are being penalised for no other reason than that the right hon. Gentleman's Department has failed to foresee an obvious necessity.

8.57 p.m.

Colonel Oliver Poole (Oswestry)

I want very briefly to support the very able plea put forward by the hon. and gallant Member for Aston (Major Wyatt) that the Secretary of State should make a pronouncement on this very serious problem. Before I make my three brief points there are two matters to which I would call the attention of the House. First, I would ask hon. Members on both sides of the House to remember when they get letters from officers saying they are doing virtually nothing in theatres abroad that if an Army of Occupation is doing its job properly the officers are not all the time fully employed. If regimental officers were constantly employed in an Army of Occupation that Army would, in fact, be failing in its duty. Secondly, I would ask hon. Members to remember, when considering the question of compensation, that in the case of officers who have served abroad for very long periods there is nothing which can be offered to them which will compensate for the long separation from their families, which is, in fact, the most disastrous thing in this war. I should like to emphasise that with all the seriousness at my command, because that is the real point. No financial compensation can make up for that.

I come now to the three points I should like to make for the consideration of the right hon. Gentleman. One of the reasons why it has been necessary to retard the release of these officers is that officers have not come forward for short service periods, and what is holding that up is the fact that the size and conditions of service of the post-war Army have not yet been decided upon. Until they are, obviously new commissions cannot be created, and officers cannot be offered short service commissions. I believe, in fact, I am sure, that not only in North-West Europe but in the Far East there are many officers who would be prepared to serve for two or three years if the conditions were announced. I have made this point before but I would ask the indulgence of the House to make it again. There are many officers who despair of these conditions ever being published. The best type of officer is the type most easily able to get civilian employment and when he sees that these conditions are not being announced he looks about to get employment in civilian life and, therefore, is lost to the Army. Therefore, the delay in publishing these conditions tends to lower the standard of officers who will ultimately remain in the Army.

My next point, and it is a really serious one, is that these officers were retarded at short notice. This situation was foreseen as long ago as the Spring, and it is a fact that a request from the military authorities to retard whole age-and-service groups was refused by the Government, and I think we are entitled to ask what were the circumstances that became known in September and October of this year that were not, apparently, known in the Spring.Very strong representations were made by the military authorities to hold up the releases of officers and it was refused, but the delay of four or five months has caused very great hardship.

That brings me to my last point. It is very difficult for employers in this country to plan the size of their staffs and the organisation of their businesses when they do not know who is coming back or when, because whereas employers have an obligation to reinstate officers and, indeed, other ranks who come out of the Forces there is no obligation on the officers themselves to say whether they are coming or not. It is a fact that employers are co-operating, but I know from personal experience since I have been back on this side that it is hard for employers to plan their staffs, and that it does hold up industry if they do not know when people are coming out of the Forces.

From the point of view of the officer, too, it is no good saying to him, "You will be released in a month, or two months, or three months." In view of the difficulty of finding houses and of moving one's family from one part of the country to another officers need at least six months' notice of the date when they will be able to return to civilian employment. I, therefore, urge the right hon. Gentleman, if he can, to give us the information for the next eight or nine months and not for the next three or four months, in order to clear up the uncertainty that exists in the minds of many officers about when they will be released. I know that there aremany special considerations in this matter. I ask that these things should be taken into account because I believe it would assist in clearing up uncertainties and doubts which exist in the minds of many men who are waiting to be demobilised.

9.5 p.m.

Mr. Evelyn Walkden (Doncaster)

When my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War made his statement about the deferment of officers, I put a supplementary question to him concerning a matter which I want again to bring to his notice. It is a rather important issue affecting those officers who were trained at our universities, got their honours degree, and then passed straight into the Army, without having had a chance in industry, and became officers straight away because my right hon. Friend's predecessor in office said that they were needed badly. Undoubtedly these men are of vital importance to the wellbeing of industry in this country. When a local authority, or a building contractor engaged on a housing contract of any kind, needs young surveyors orconstructional engineers, the men in those particular groups are in the main officers, and they are officers because they had a good training. They have served in the Royal Engineers, in R.E.M.E. and in every technical branch of the Armed Forces. It is not their fault if they are requested to do certain jobs, but they have to do cer- tain jobs which, to my way of thinking, do not fit into the picture of the needs of Britain today.

A few weeks ago I went to Holland, Belgium and France, and I was astonished to find young engineers, who ought now to be doing jobs here in Britain, in charge of rehabilitation and reconstruction work in Holland. I put it to my right hon. Friend quite bluntly that we are not the Military Government in Holland at the present time. The Military Government is the Dutch Government, and the Military Governor is the Dutch Governor-General. Why are we keeping 40,000 or 50,000 men in Holland? Why are they there? Why are we keeping from 10,000 to 20,000 men in Belgium? Why are they repairing roads and bridges and doing other jobs there when we have plenty of work of the same kind to be done here?

I do not want to give any encouragement to the argument of the hon. and gallant Member for Kingston-on-Thames (Major Boyd-Carpenter) that there should be double pay for these officers. Double pay would not in any way compensate them for all that they are missing in the way of home and family life with their own kith and kin. The men in Arakan and Chittagong and the Malay Peninsula are living indisease-ridden countries. In the four months before the collapse of Japan, tens of thousands of our men went out there because of their knowledge of engineering. They are some of the best trained men who are urgently needed in this country at the present time. They are needed by local authorities and by contractors to get on with the job of building homes in Britain. I say to my right hon. Friend, who, I know, wants to get men from the Far East and out of S.E.A.C., that those lads are not interested in double pay, but are interested in making their contribution to the well-being, rehabilitation and restoration of Britain. They are anxious to be told why they are being kept there and why they must remain there one day longer than is absolutely necessary. As an old soldier of the last war who was kept waiting for five or six months in the Balkans, I know there were lots of jobs we were doing then that were absolutely unnecessary. I have not been much further a field than Amsterdam but, from what I have seen myself, this sort of thing can be multiplied many times over in every country in which we have men today, either west or east of Suez, and I am asking my right hon. Friend to tell us why these men are being kept in countries where we have no real responsibility and are not needed? Why are our officers being kept deferred, rendering services in a country where really we should not be holding anything or anybody down at all? I beseech him to give us a frank statement. It is difficult in a short Adjournment Debate to cover all the points, but I beseech him to tell this House, the country, the wives, and the mothers of these lads the reasons why these officers cannot be released.


Mr. Renton (Huntingdon)

I associate myself with the plea made in its general terms by the hon. and gallant Member for Aston (Major Wyatt), and by Members on both sides of the House, but I entirely dissociate myself from the suggestion that officers want either compensation or double pay. It is not a question of money but of plain justice and fairness. I trust that I shall not be ruled out of Order if I mention the point I mentioned in the Debate on Demobilisation, when on that occasion I asked if the spokesman from the War Office would give it his attention in due course. I rejoice to see the Secretary of State for War himself here this evening and I look forward to having an answer.

There is a mystery about this question of deferment of officers and it appears to be that we do not know what has happened to the Officer Training Units. During the war they had a large output. They existed in all theatres of war and did a very fine job of work indeed. They had extremely high standards and for the most part they kept pace very nearly with the very high casualty rate which was then occurring. But now that the casualty rate is presumably non-existent we have a right to know what has happened to the Officer Training Units. Are they still in existence? What is their output and what is their policy? With regard to the selection of officers for Officer Training Units, it is perhaps material to relate that, during the war, it was practically impossible for an N.C.O. to be nominated for an O.T.U. for infantry or R.A.C., or, if he was over 35, for any other arm. Surely those standards couldnow be ruled out, bearing in mind the different role that the Army has. So much for this point and, as I say, I greatly look forward to having an answer from the Secretary of State for War on that, having failed once before.

This problem of ensuring justice for the officers concerned is greatly increased when we bear in mind that superimposed on the question of deferment of release is the question of long service overseas. As the Secretary of State for War has already pointed out in the statement which he made after returning from his tour in S.E.A.C. there are officers as well as men—perhaps more officers than men—who have been overseas for four and five years. I know that some of these officers are being kept overseas, not only beyond the date when they should be returning to this country, but beyond the date of their release. I know personally several officers who are in that position, and it does create for those officers an exceptional hardship. It means, in the first place, that they will have spent longer than the normal three hot seasons in a trying climate—

It being a Quarter past Nine o'Clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Mathers.]

Mr. Renton

From the point of view of those officers kept overseas beyond the normal period, they suffer because they have to stay in a trying climate beyond what is the normal period of three years. Then there is the question of the domestic upheaval caused by this long absence, which, in many cases, we know to be tragic. Then there is the question of resettlement in civil life, and perhaps that is the most difficult thing of all, especially for the professional man. He has not only lost a good deal of whatever professional business he may have had, but he has lost touch, and so many of them, when the war was nearing its end, were looking forward to picking up the threads again and will now be disappointed.

A possible remedy for this hardship would be to make a firm offer to some of these officers, even at this late stage, of reasonably good terms on which they might remain in the Services, and such an offer would be particularly appropriate to those officers who form part of the British military administration which we find in so many parts of the world now. After the last war, the Colonial Service was reinforced and vacancies were filled very largely and successfully from officers who had entered the territories concerned by means of the military administration, and there must be many officers now filling such administrative posts in Civil Affairs who, if given a firm offer for the future, could go straight into the Colonial Service.

That offer has been made during the past two years, but frankly, though I have not got the Middle East General Order which contains the offer with me at the moment, I know that the feeling amongst the officers concerned at the time was that the offer did not provide anything like sufficient security for the future. Something like 10 years'tenure was as much as could be guaranteed, and that, to officers of round about 35 to 40, is not sufficient to make them feel that their future is secure. In conclusion, may I just put forward this very simple proposition to the House?—that, just as in the same way that prevention is better than cure, surely, one solution to this problem of deferment of officers is to speed up demobilisation generally in the manner which has been suggested by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition?

9.19 p.m.

Colonel Thornton-Kemsley(Aberdeen and Kincardine, Western)

I had not anticipated the pleasure of catching your eye this evening, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and what I have to say can be said in very few words. I was impressed by what the hon. and gallant Member for Oswestry (Colonel Poole) said, when, with the inside knowledge which he possesses of the working of the British Army, he told the House that this situation was foreseen as long ago as last spring. I think it must have occurred to anyone who thought about this problem at all that there would come a time when more officers would be required in the Army, because the officers are, on the whole, older men, who have served longer than the men. This situation was bound to arise, and the hon. and gallant Member has told us that it was foreseen by the military authorities as long ago as last spring. What many of us have hoped was that these men would not have had to face the situation they are facing today, when suddenly, as the hon. and gallant Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Major Boyd-Carpenter) said so picturesquely, the cup was dashed from their lips.

There are two particular cases which we must all have read about from the correspondence we are receiving upon this subject. The first case is that of the man who takes steps to reinstate himself in employment as soon as his release from the Army comes about. I had a letter only yesterday typifying that kind of case. It was from an officer with whom I served in this war who had his arm shot away and who will be in receipt of a 70 per cent. disability pension. This officer took steps to find employment for himself as soon as he is released. His release group was due to come out almost at once. He had great difficulty in finding a job; he is a professional man, but it is not easy for anyone to find a job if he has lost one arm. At last, after going from firm to firm, he was able to find exactly the kind of employment for which he is suited and in whichhe will be able to find some means of supporting his young and growing family. Now he has suddenly learned that his release will be deferred until well into the New Year, and it may be longer than that. I believe it is open to a man in that position to apply for his compassionate release under what I think is known as Class C, but if he does that, he loses his 56 days' paid leave, and that seems to me to be an unwarranted hardship. The second case which has come to the notice of every one of us, I am quite certain, is the case which is typified again in a letter which I have had only within the last day or two from the wife of an officer serving in the Middle East, in C.M.F., who was due to come back. His wife, after the most anxious search, had been able to find a small flat and after getting it ready for her husband, she writes: I was expecting my husband to be released this month in group 20. I was horrified to learn however that releases of C.M.F. officers are to be delayed indefinitely. I am quite prepared to believe that this is necessary but it is a little hard to get this news so soon after our own V-day. That is not an uncommon case. Here is a young couple, hoping to be together again and, after great difficulty, securing some place in which to live, finding their hopes are dashed and that this promised release is deferred indefinitely. I want to ask the Secretary of State for War that if he finds it necessary to hold these officers, he should give as long notice as possible. It was a plea that was made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Oswestry. Let him tell the House, let him tell the country, how long he will require to keep these men so that they will be able to plan ahead. Let him be quite bold about it. Let him not fear. Let him tell the country that he needs to keep these men, and for how long, and then I believe the men and their families will understand.

9.24 p.m.

Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South)

Something has been said from the soldiers' point of view, but I have had occasion to find out the views of the women on this subject, and they are as deeply concerned as are the men, as my right hon. Friend knows. It is very pathetic to hear what they say and to learn what they think. One of my constituents has put a practical suggestion to me which I pass on to the Minister. She is a knowledgable woman of affairs, and voted for the right hon. Gentleman's party during the Election. [Laughter.] Yes, it is possible for a constituent of mine to vote against me. This woman applied her mind to this matter, and she has put forward some suggestions which I offer to the House. The important thing is to release these men who want to come back to their normal civil occupations. This woman says that there are a large number of police officers who are suitable for the occupation work which is required, and who are probably available if called upon in suitable numbers. We were told, only the other day, that there is a good deal of overlapping in our police administration, and so there would seem to be a not undisciplined source of possible manpower. This lady reminded me that in 1919, when a similar situation arose, the Government of the day were able to enlist 5,000 to 6,000 men for the occupation of Ireland through her troublous times.

This lady further suggested that in this matter the Government had inherited a plan from the late Government, and that their passion for plans will not allow them to abandon that plan, even if it is a bad one. The late Government's plan was formed to meet the needs of a war situation. This Government is carrying on a plan which they should be men enough and bold enough to discard. It is the plan of the Administration which this Government so handsomely defeated, and the country expects something better than slavish devotion to other people's projects. The people of this country did not return right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite for this purpose; they returned them to do something vastly different from their predecessors. Therefore, I think it would be advisable to take a fresh look at this problem. When I remember how the luxury trades were ruthlessly, and properly, stripped of their man and woman power for the war I remember that we are now in reverse. We have the new luxury of men idling in uniform, who should be stripped as ruthlessly from what they are doing for the purpose of setting up this country again in peacetime. I do not see, in the Secretary of State for War, the quality of ruthlessness which the situation requires. He was once a fighting man, but I believe he has been enfeebled by his association, in later days, with men in uniform. I hope I am mistaken, and that he will abandon the plan of the Coalition Government. I hope he will face this new problem in a new way, and release these men for the essential tasks of civil life.

9.30 p.m.

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

I am obliged to the hon. and gallant Member (Major Wyatt) for giving me an opportunity of answering some of the questions which he and other hon. Members have put upon this important matter. I was interested in some of the descriptions which he gave of the occupations of some of his old friends. I do not know much about these things. My aspirations did not reach so high, so I am not familiar with them, but I should investigate to see if this is the way some officers conduct themselves.

No one was more sorry than I, that I had to make the statement which I did on 16th October, dealing with the retention and deferment of officers. I had just come back from a journey which had taught me to understand what many men have endured who have been for years away from home. It was with very great reluctance, indeed, that I took this step. I had been receiving from officers letters, and I had been receiving also representationsfrom Members of this House concerning officers who had been retained under the Military Necessity Section of the White Paper. I do not think the hon. Gentleman who made the point that it was originally meant that only individuals should be retained could find anything very definite in proof of that statement. It may have been that was in the minds of people generally, and that it was not contemplated that whole classes would be I retained; but the fact is that the situation compelled those in command ultimately to take this step, and it was being done for a considerable time before I made my announcement on 16th October.

I was asked by these officers, in letters which I received, and by hon. Members who made representations to me, why special classes of people should be penalised. I was asked, "Could I not level this out, so as to make all share in this matter of being held"; and the first I heard of it was from the officers themselves. I think an hon. Member opposite raised the question of compensation, and someone once well said: "You cannot give compensation for retention in this way." I am surprised that the question was raised at all, for I can tell the House that I heard men in the Far East speak with considerable anger about this suggestion that they should be compensated for being held longer than their time for Python release.

Major Boyd-Carpenter

Do I understand the right hon. Gentleman's argument to be that because no compensation can be fully adequate, no compensation of any sort should even be attempted?

Mr. Lawson

I was saying that it is rather an amazing thing that the other ranks repudiated, with considerable anger, this suggestion of compensation for being retained, as they had been retained, for many months. I have been asked why it is that the War Office did not make plans before. Of course I am answering for the War Office, but I have been in the War Office for only some three months. But I have investigated, and I said definitely in the statement that I made, that seven out of every eight officers are over the age of 25, and that this was leading to a surplus of men—undoing the old balance—so that there was a real shortage of officers. It was always foreseen that there would be difficulty as the result of this, but it was expected that the resulting shortage of officers in the early period of the release scheme would be met in two ways; by inviting officers to defer their release voluntarily, and by reducing officer establishments. Both steps have been taken and have gone far to meet the difficulty caused by the uneven run-out of officers as contrasted with that of other ranks. But the shortage had not been wholly overcome, I said, and during the next three months the proportion of officers and other ranks would fall below the efficiency level. I pointed out that the War Office had tried to meet this in advance by inviting officers to defer their release voluntarily, and by reducing office establishments.

I am glad to say that we got a considerable response to these requests, but it did not by any means meet the need, as was shown by the fact that classes had to be retained. Why were no arrangements made for special short term commissions on attractive terms, I am asked? Arrangements were made for voluntary deferment of release for one year, two years or until the end of the emergency, and many officers have voluntarily so deferred their release. Short term commissions for those compulsorily retained, rather more financially attractive than those to which officers are entitled, would have been unfair to those who have remained.

I have been asked why officers in the Far East and Middle East should be penalised, just because officers were short in the C.M.F. and the B.A.O.R. It is not a question of penalisation. There were serious shortages in the B.A O.R. and the C.M.F., and local retentions, as originally announced by the commanders, would have produced inequality of treatment between theatres. It was only fair, if there had to be retentions at all, that the men who were held indefinitely, who did not know their position, should be put into the position of other officers in other theatres, sharing the penalty to which they had to submit. I am asked whether increased responsibility is given to senior N.C.O.s and warrant officers to make up for the shortage of officers. Senior N.C.O.s and warrant officers are in short supply, but where a commanding officer considers that any individual is suitable for a commission, and the individual is willing—I can assure the House we are doing all we can in this matter—he can be recommended for an immediate commission, or for one after brief training. Commanding officers are being continually impressed with the necessity for impressing this upon their men, with a view to getting officers from the ranks.

It has been said that the officers hardly know where they are as the result of this retention, that there is nothing definite about it. As a matter of fact the new arrangements did give a definite guarantee for a specific period that had not been given before to officers retained. Let me make this quite clear: In fact, groups 22, 23 and 24 were told, and know, when they will be released. Moreover, it is said, if those groups are retarded, obviously later groups will also have to be retarded, though perhaps to a lesser extent. This point was largely covered in my statement of 16th October. I pointed out that officers in groups 22 to 24, at any rate, are certain of remaining in the Army until the middle of February. I pointed out in my statement also that the provisional dates of release already announced for subsequent groups would be very little affected, if at all. So what it means is that, generally, the holding up of officers in every theatre is having the result of levelling out the releases in group 24 by about the end of March, and after that there will be the regular run just as there was before the deferment. I hope that is clear. It is as clear as I can make it, at any rate. Groups 25, 26 and 27, which were particularly mentioned by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Aston (Major Wyatt) then take their place in the ordinary release groups. I hope that is pretty clear.

Many questions were put to one which I would like to have answered. All I can say about the suggestion that officers who have deferred their release are idle, is that large numbers of officers who were in this country have been sent to B.A.O.R. and, I believe, to C.M.F., and they are actively employed there. If there are any particular and definite instances—my hon. and gallant Friend gave me numerous instances—I would very much like to be informed of them and I will take what steps I can to deal with them. The hon. Gentleman who wound up the Debate on the opposite side of the House referred to policemen who were being held and were doing nothing, or something on those lines.

Sir W. Darling

I am sorry I did not make myself clear. I suggested there was admittedly a very large civilian police force in this country, and that it might be possible to supplement the manpower shortage in the Army of Occupation by transferring some of the men from the police force as volunteers.

Mr. Lawson

All I can say is that there is in this country a very special demand for police officers, and so special that they have been given a very high priority in Class B. Consequently, quite a large number of police officers are being sent home to carry on their duties here. I repeat, it did not give me any pleasure to make this announcement to the House. It does not need any emphasis cither by letters from officers or by Members of this House. I am very pleased that the matter has been raised tonight in order that I have had an opportunity of clarifying the position as far as I can, but I was profoundly sorry, particularly with regard to those who were in the Middle East and the Far East, who do not get home so regularly as other—

It being a Quarter to Ten o'Clock, Mr. Deputy Speaker adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.