HC Deb 09 July 1946 vol 425 cc209-12
13. Mr. Driberg

asked the Secretary of State for War if he is aware that, on 13th June or thereabouts, the operation of both Classes A and B release, as well as of the Python and L.I.A.P. schemes, was virtually suspended in 56 (London) Division Signals, C.M.F., and the departure of a number of leave parties cancelled at short notice; why this action was taken; if it is general in the Trieste area; and what steps have been taken urgently to provide replacements for those due for repatriation and release.

36. Mr. Callaghan

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware of the widespread opinion in C.M.F. that certain trades, especially signals, will be deferred, both as regards Python and repatriation; and it he will make a statement to clear up the position.

Mr. Lawson

When the Government planned the release scheme for this year, they hoped that the commitments in C.M.E. would have disappeared during the year. It is now apparent that owing to the delay in the negotiations for a Peace Treaty with Italy, these commitments are not likely to disappear as early as we hoped. It is, therefore, true that we are faced with a difficult situation, involving some modification of the planned run-down of various theatres, and adjustments between theatres. Reinforcements are being sent to C.M.F. from other theatres in such numbers as can be made available, but the normal operation of both release and Python is necessarily being interrupted to some extent. The effect of this interruption is likely to be felt mainly in the case of officers, senior N. C. Os. and those specialist trades, like Signals, where the position cannot be relieved by transfers from other arms. I can assure the House that I am doing all I can to remedy a situation which has been forced on us by political events, and that the numbers deferred and the periods of deferment are being kept to the minimum.

Mr. Driberg

Can my right hon. Friend say how long this very serious interruption is likely to last, and how soon sufficient reinforcements will be available to enable these men to be released On time?

Mr. Lawson

I did expect that we should be in a position to deal with this situation in Italy by now. I had warning of certain measures which would be necessary, and I can assure my hon. Friend that I have taken immediate steps to hurry up reinforcements to that particular command in order to make these deferments as brief as possible.

Major Guy Lloyd

Does the Minister realise that a very large number of Members will sympathise with any difficulties he is in with regard to Trieste and hope that he will not weaken our Forces out there because of previous commitments?

Mr. H. D. Hughes

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in all theatres facilities are being withdrawn from age and service groups considerably ahead of the announcement of their release programme dates, which causes a great deal of dissatisfaction, and can he arrange that announcements are not made to withdraw the facilities for certain age and service groups until the programme for their release is announced?

Mr. Lawson

I am not aware that release is being interfered with in all theatres, as my hon. Friend says, but if he has any particular cases in mind I shall be very pleased to look into them. In general, I cannot agree with his statement.

15. Major Legge-Bourke

asked the Secretary of State for War for how long A Group 32 is likely to be delayed for release owing to their departure from Gibraltar being held up on or about 26th June; why this delay is necessary; and what steps he is taking to prevent a recurrence of such delays.

Mr. Lawson

The ship earmarked to move personnel from Gibraltar On 18th-20th June developed generator trouble during her voyage, involving a delay of a week for repairs and the reduction of her speed. When it was found that men of Group 32 were among those due to embark, instructions were issued to send them on the first available home ward bound vessel, which is due to arrive about 10th July, or eight days later than their scheduled date of arrival.

Major Legge-Bourke

Would the right hon. Gentleman say whether any steps have been taken to utilise some of the aircraft which are being used to fly vegetables and soft fruits to this country?

Mr. Lawson

The Air Force was doing this work originally, but the use of aircraft for the purpose has diminished considerably. Taking everything into consideration, particularly the vast numbers who have been brought home, I feel that this is a little thing in comparison with that.

18. Brigadier Low

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware that there has been a rise in the number of R.A.S.C. officers deferred from 215 at 31st March, 1946, to 407 at 31st May last; and what steps he is taking to reduce the number of R.A.S.C. officers so deferred.

Mr. Lawson

I am aware that there has been an increase in the number of R.A.S.C. officers compulsorily deferred, though the figure of 407 quoted by the hon. and gallant Member relates to 15th June and not 31st May. The steps being taken to reduce the number of deferments include under-posting of units, attachments from other arms, and a levelling out of the distribution of R.A.S.C. officers in all Commands, but the fact remains that there is a serious overall shortage of R.A.S.C. officers.

Brigadier Low

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that when he gave the information on 31st March he assured the House that he would look into the matter further and that the only result seems to have been a rise of too per cent. since then?

Mr. Lawson

I can assure the hon. and gallant Member that there are few questions which cause me such concern as that of the deferment of officers and other ranks. I give a considerable part of my time to making the situation as easy as possible. I realise that the officers and other ranks have been very patient.

Mr. M. Lindsay

Why was not this shortage of R.A.S.C. officers foreseen nine months or ten months ago, and more promotions made from the ranks and more young men trained as officers?

Mr. Lawson

Quite a lot of things could not be foreseen nine or ten months ago. If there is one thing that we have done it is to mitigate deferment as far as possible. I must tell the hon. Gentleman that I think we have done a good job in the circumstances.

42. Mr. Lipson

asked the Secretary of State for War how many surveyors in groups 31–40 in the 3rd Survey Regiment have had their release deferred and, as these and other proposed deferments are causing great concern to the men affected, if he will arrange for this regiment to train its own surveyors, so as to make good the shortage and enable releases to be speeded up.

Mr. Bellenger

Twenty-eight surveyors of this unit in Groups 31 to 40 have been deferred; nine appeals against the deferment have been allowed and a further 18 are being considered. The search for personnel suitable for training as replacements for deferred surveyors, R.A., both in C.M.F. and elsewhere has been and is being given very high priority.

Mr. Lipson

May I ask how long these deferments are to be for? Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the men themselves are very angry at these deferments? Cannot something more be done to speed them up?

Mr. Bellenger

Yes, Sir. I sympathise with all those who are compulsorily deferred, and my right hon. Friend is taking every possible step to find replacements for the officers or men who are deferred. Generally speaking, an officer or a man is not deferred for a longer period than three months, at any rate, not without special application to the War Office.