HC Deb 20 November 1946 vol 430 cc846-7
45. Mr. Hector Hughes

asked the Minister without Portfolio how many members of His Majesty's forces were, on 31st December, 1945, and on 31st October, 1946, respectively, absent from their units; how many of these, though not proved to be dead, were then and are now unaccounted for; and how many have and how many have not been traced to civil life.

The Secretary of State for War (Mr. Bellenger)

I have been asked to reply. Some of the figures asked for are not available or could only be obtained by the expenditure of an inordinate effort. I can, however, give the following information:

In the Navy the number of deserters and absentees on 31st October, 1946, was about 1,500, but I have no figures for 31st December, 1945.

In the Army there were 19,792 unaccounted for on 31st December, 1945, and 19,267 on 31st October, 1946.

In the R.A.F, there were 3,214 unaccounted for on 31st December, 1945, and 3,579 on 31st October, 1946.

Mr. Hughes

Is the Minister aware that the mystery surrounding these men, who are reported missing though not proved to be dead, is causing great suffering to their families and great domestic complications, and will he take steps to relieve these complications?

Mr. Bellenger

I am afraid that it is not within my power. It is mainly within the power of the missing to relieve the anxiety of their own relatives.

Mr. Godfrey Nicholson

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there are many cases in which there is an element of doubt as to whether men are genuine deserters and that in those cases the wives or widows, as the case may be, are suffering great hardship and have to have recourse to public assistance; and that, in answer to inquiries to his Department, one is merely referred to the findings of the original court of inquiry which have been lost, and wide hardship is caused?

Mr. Bellenger

I would not agree with the hon. Gentleman that there are many cases; there may be a few; but as I have informed the House before, where there is any reasonable doubt on the part of an individual Member of this House or of the relatives, I am willing to reopen the case.

Mr. Nicholson

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in cases which I have taken up with his Department and with the Prime Minister, I was merely told that as the original evidence had been lost, nothing further could be done, and is not that profoundly unsatisfactory?

Mr. Bellenger

ft is not as simple and as precise as that. Certainly, the evidence before courts of inquiry may have been destroyed, but as I have said, if there is any doubt at all, I am prepared to examine those individual cases—and only individual cases—and to give the benefit of the doubt where I am convinced it is right to do so.

Mr. Nicholson

May I send a case to the right hon. Gentleman?

Mr. Bellenger


Mr. Martin Lindsay

What explanation is there for the fact that the figures which the right hon. Gentleman has given us in the case of the Army are about twelve times those for the Navy and six times those for the Air Force? Is it due to some different system in dealing with these cases of missing men?

Mr. Bellenger

I should have thought the hon. Gentleman would have known the answer to his supplementary question Mr. Lindsay: I do not, and that is why I asked it.

Mr. Bellenger

First, the Army was much larger than the Navy,- and secondly, the Army was on the land and not on the sea.