HC Deb 10 December 1946 vol 431 cc952-7
10. Air-Commodore Harvey

asked the Secretary of State for War if consideration will be given to Army personnel of demobilisation group 50 completing the remainder of their service in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Bellenger

It is already difficult for us to meet our inescapable commitments abroad, and the bulk of trained men in the later age and service groups are already serving overseas. Men of group 50 are not due to start release until possibly some date in June, to bring them home early would increase further the gaps in our overseas establishment which cannot be filled.

Air-Commodore Harvey

In view of the very long delay in the demobilisation of these men, will the right hon. Gentleman consider trying to get men home even one or two months earlier, to enable them to make the necessary arrangements for their entry back into civilian life?

Mr. Bellenger

I can assure the hon. and gallant Member that demobilisation is a constant preoccupation in my mind. But I cannot add anything to the answer I have given to his Question.

17. Mr. Lipson

asked the Secretary of State for War if men who volunteered for service in the R.N. or R.A.F., and were afterwards compulsorily transferred to the Army, will be released with the R.N. or R.A.F. groups to which they originally belonged.

Mr. Bellenger

No, Sir. I would refer the hon. Member to the replies given by my predecessor on 23rd October, 1945, to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Wing-Commander Millington) and on 17th December, 1945, to the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd).

Mr. Lipson

Is my right hon. Friend aware that nothing produces a greater sense of grievance than unequal treatment between man and man; and when two men have joined the Forces at the same time why should not they be released at the same time, when the circumstances are as stated in the Question?

Mr. Bellenger

I do not think that purpose would be met entirely in the way the hon. Gentleman suggested.

Mr. Lipson

Will the Minister not look at this matter again in the light of what I have said?

Lieut.-Commander Gurney Braithwaite

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, so far as the Navy is concerned, large numbers of ratings were transferred to the Army during the last eight weeks of hostilities, many of whom had three, and in some cases four, years' service behind them; and will he look at it again in view of the obvious unfairness?

Mr. Bellenger

This matter has been looked at before, but I will certainly give it another look to refresh my memory.

19 Mr. Collins

asked the Secretary of State for War if he is aware that Appendix A to Part I Orders, M.E.L.F., dated r8th November, 1946, included guarantees by General Miles Dempsey, Commander-in-Chief, M.E.L.F., that by 31st December. 1947, every man in the Army with more than three years' service would be released, that by 31st December, 1948, every man called up before 1st January, 1947, would be released, and that the balance of rate of release would be 17,200 per month from January to March, 1947, and 25,800 per month from April to June, 1947; and whether these undertakings were given with his knowledge and sanction.

Mr. Bellenger

I have not seen the document referred to, but I am aware that a misstatement was made. The fault lay in a passage in a telegram, which was sent by my Department to all commands, which was misleading, and, in fact, misled the Middle East Command. A correction, unfortunately, arrived only after the Commander-in-Chief had issued a statement based upon the misleading telegram A fresh statement has now been made. I must express my regret for this mistake, but the facts governing release are as stated by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in this House on 26th November, and in a broadcast the same evening.

Mr. Collins

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this statement was made in order to relieve the anxiety of men in this command, and that it did, in fact, create far greater confusion and dismay than existed before? What steps will he take to prevent a recurrence of such a happening in the future?

Mr. Bellenger

I have already taken as careful steps as I can take to prevent mistakes like this occurring again. All I can say is that I most deeply regret that it happened.

Major Legge-Bourke

Did the right hon. Gentleman see the telegram before it went off? If not, will he make sure that when announcements are going to be made to the troops he will check them before the things go out?

Mr. Bellenger

I am afraid I did see the telegram, but I did not recognise the mistake. It was recognised only in the Middle East Command. All the other commands got it aright. It was not an absolute mistake; it was a partial mistake.

Hon. Members

A near miss.

Mr. Stephen

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it has always been the custom, when a Government Department has made a mistake in that way, that the people concerned have always had the advantage of the mistake?

Mr. Bellenger

I should like to agree to that assertion, but it would mean that something like 100,000 men would have to be released out of their turn.

Mr. Wyatt

Will the right hon. Gentleman make arrangements for any announcements about the speeding up of demobilisation to be made by the Government, and not by serving officers? It only adds to the confusion.

22. Mr. David Jones

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he will now give the date on which the men previously stationed in Greece, in release Groups 42 and 43, due to be released before 18th November, were in fact released; and what explanation there is for the delay in providing shipping to bring these men from Greece earlier.

Mr. Bellenger

I regret that I am unable to give the exact dates of release of men stationed in Greece in Groups 42 and 43. Men in Group 42 sailed, however, from Greece on 16th October, and were obviously in plenty of time for release by 18th November. Men in Group 43 were due to sail on 9th/10th November, but owing to a breakdown of shipping then-departure was delayed until 13th November. In spite of this unforeseen occurrence, the release of none of these men should have been delayed more than four days.

Mr. Jones

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that on 5th November I raised this question with him, about a ship coming out of Piraeus without these men, and that he explained that these men had until 18th November before they were due for release? Is he aware that they were not, in fact, released for several days after 18th November?.

Mr. Bellenger

I think I said no more than four days after their release date.

28. Mr. Driberg

asked the Secretary of State for War if he is aware that, despite repeated assurances of impending improvement, troops serving in East Africa Command are still not being repatriated in time to receive disembarkation leave before demobilisation; and what steps he is taking to meet this grievance.

Mr. Bellenger

No assurances have been given that men overseas who are due for release would be returned in time to receive disembarkation leave before release. As I stated last week in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Randall) the situation is as described by my predecessor in a reply on 16th October, 1945, of which I am sending my hon. Friend a copy.

34. Mr. Heathcoat Amory

asked the Secretary of State for War whether, in view of the retarded rates of release for 1947, he will ensure that the lower limit of groups eligible for United Kingdom leave from the Middle East and India is proportionately lowered

Mr. Bellenger

As and when the War Office announces details regarding retarded dates of release, overseas commands concerned automatically take action to ensure that if necessary, groups previously ineligible become eligible again.

35. Mr. Collins

asked the Secretary of State for War on what date it is expected that Group 46 men now in Singapore will embark for home.

Mr. Bellenger

Actual sailing dates of men embarking overseas for release are a matter for the command concerned, but I have no reason to think that men in Singapore will not arrive in time to be released in the period allotted to their groups. Group 46 is due to be released in this country between 23rd December and the end of January.