HC Deb 19 February 1947 vol 433 cc1174-6
49. Mr. Driberg

asked the Minister of Defence, approximately, how many of the 20,000 deserters, then at large in the United Kingdom, have responded to his recommendation of 22nd January that they should surrender voluntarily.

53. Mr. Chetwynd

asked the Minister of Defence the number of deserters who have surrendered voluntarily in response to his appeal made on 22nd January, how many have been sentenced; and what was the average sentence.

The Minister of Defence (Mr. A. V. Alexander)

The number of deserters who surrendered voluntarily between 23rd January and the latest date for which figures are available is: Army, 294; Navy, 58; Air Force, 40. One hundred and twenty-six of these men have already been sentenced. Sentences vary from one day's to two years' detention, and the confirming officer has power to suspend the sentence in whole or in part if there are strong mitigating circumstances. Substantial use is being made of this power. I would also remind my hon. Friends that machinery exists fur the periodic review of these sentences. In the majority of cases, therefore, the sentence actually served will he much shorter than that imposed.

Mr. Driberg

In view of this rather disappointing total response, could my right hon. Friend say whether the number has tended to increase or decrease as the weeks have gone by, and also whether he is satisfied that his original offer was presented to the public in sufficiently detailed and definite form?

Mr. Alexander

I think last week's figures are much the best of the weeks which have intervened since the original statement. I hope, therefore, the figures will very much improve in the future, especially as the actual experience of those who have surrendered will become more widely known. It may have been, perhaps, that the statement as broadcast to the public through the Press might have been in rather more detail, but I think the supplementary information which has since been given is now widely known.

Mr. Chetwynd

Can my right hon. Friend make it clear that family allowances are paid to the dependants of the men while in detention, because that may act as an incentive to deserters to give themselves up?

Mr. Alexander

That statement has been widely broadcast quite separately from the others.

Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite

Could that information be exhibited on public notice boards, for instance, at town halls?

Captain Marsden

Is it wise to say in advance that whatever sentences are imposed by those who constitute the personnel of courts martial will be automatically reduced?

Mr. Alexander

I have not actually said that at all.

Mr. Stephen

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider the. cases of men who gave themselves up before this statement was made, and draw the attention of the people who review the sentences to the fact that the sentences of these men should be brought into line with the more recent cases?

Mr. Alexander

That Question is already on the Paper, and I shall be answering it in due course.

Mr. Rankin

In view of the apparent failure of this offer, will my right hon. Friend reconsider the question of a general amnesty for these offenders?

Mr. Alexander

It must not be taken by the House that all opinion on this matter is by any means on one side. I get very many representations from men who are still serving and who feel they are being held in the Forces because of deserters, and also that they have served well while the others have not.

54. Mr. Chetwynd

asked the Minister of Defence whether deserters who surrendered voluntarily before his statement on 22nd January will be eligible for the same concessions as those who surrender after that date.

Mr. Alexander

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Chetwynd

Would my right hon. Friend consider, where applicable, suspending sentences immediately, which would allow less staff to be used at detention camps and would release men for more useful military service?

Mr. Alexander

I am sure my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and each of the Departments concerned will do this as rapidly as possible, but I think hon. Members will agree that all cases must be dealt with on their individual merits.