HC Deb 21 May 1946 vol 423 cc169-71
17. Mr. Martin Lindsay

asked the Secretary of State for War how many officers have recently had their release deferred in Middle East Command; for how long and in what arms of the Service.

Mr. Lawson

I will, with permission, circulate the latest figures in the OFFICIAL REPORT. But I think I ought to tell the hon. Member that the total number affected is 519.

Mr. Lindsay

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that at times like this it does cause real worry and anxiety to these officers when they are held back?

Mr. Lawson

Yes, Sir. I can assure my hon. Friend that I share their worry on this matter. I think I ought to say that when the attack upon Japan was developing most of the later group men were sent over there. Consequently, there has been an abnormal number of these earlier groups in the Middle East.

Lieutenant Herbert Hughes

Would the right hon. Gentleman make sure that when deferments do become necessary the maximum possible notice is given to the men concerned as otherwise their arrangements are very much disorganised?

Mr. Lawson

I am extremely sorry for all these deferments. I can assure the House I have taken very strong steps about it. The longest date for which any are deferred—it is no excuse and no real explanation—but I ought to say that three months is the longest deferment.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is widespread apprehension, especially among troops serving overseas, that this whole policy of deferment is going to vitiate the principle of age and length of service? Can the Minister make any statement on that to reassure them?

Mr. Lawson

I should share that disturbance of mind if I was overseas myself As I say, I am taking steps about it

Mr. Eden

Would the right hon. Gentleman underline the assurance he gave just now and see that it has the maximum publicity? I think I heard him aright and that he said that in no circumstances would the deferment be for more than three months.

Mr. Lawson

Yes, Sir.

Following are the figures:

The numbers of officers serving in M.E.F., who were due for release by the end of May and whose release had been compulsorily deferred on operational grounds at the beginning of this month, are as follows:

Staff 26
Royal Engineers 35
Royal Signals 107
Infantry 5
R.A.S.C. 286
R.A.M.C. 8
R.A.O.C. 48
R.A.P.C. 2
A.C.C. 2
Total 519

The period of deferment varies greatly according to the arm of the Service and the particular appointment held by an individual. I hope that it will not be necessary to retain any individual officer more than three months beyond his release date and in the great majority of cases it may be considerably less.

Every effort is being made to reduce the number of deferments in the M.E.F. to a minimum by such measures as the transfer of officers from other theatres and from the arms least affected to those where the shortage is greatest. I also hope that the response to the Short Service Commission Scheme will be such as to ease the position before long.