HC Deb 12 March 1947 vol 434 cc1327-8
50. Mr. Piratin

asked the Minister of Defence how many men in the three Services are serving sentences for desertion; how many of these convictions date from before June, 1945; and, in view of the new policy of the Government towards deserters who have not been traced, if he will take steps to revise these sentences of deserters, in order to bring the policy towards them in line with that towards those who are now surrendering.

Mr. Alexander

The number of men serving sentences for desertion is: Royal Navy, 260; Army, 458; and Royal Air Force, 30. As regards the second part of the Question, precise information is not immediately available, but very few, if any, of these sentences date from before June, 1945. The answer to the last part of the Question is that, as I informed my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd), on 19th February, deserters who surrendered before 22nd January this year are eligible for the same treatment as those who surrendered after that date.

Mr. Piratin

In view of the fact that almost all these sentences were imposed after the war was concluded, would the Minister not give consideration to reducing the sentences in order to bring them into line with action being taken in relation to those offering to return to the Forces after having deserted?

Mr. Alexander

I think that Service Ministers have already indicated that those who are sentenced in the ordinary way after apprehension automatically have their sentences reviewed from time to time.

Mrs. Paton

Is my right hon. Friend aware that although these men were promised open arrest there are still cases of close arrest and that there are sentences which are very harsh and excessive? How can we expect men to surrender when they know these facts?

Mr. Alexander

From my own knowledge of the sentences I should think they could hardly be considered severe. In many cases where they are fairly heavy they have actually been suspended on immediate review. I think that the deserters still outstanding would do very well to take advantage of the offer before the end of the month.

Mr. McGovern

Could the right hon. Gentleman not induce the Government to adopt a more humane policy on this question of deserters, which is a running sore and a continuation of Nazi ideas—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—I know how hon. Members all sympathise with it—to bring all these men back into decent life? Could the right hon. Gentleman not decide to eliminate all sentences imposed after the end of the war on men who deserted previously?

Mr. Alexander

There are very strong views held by men still in the Services who have been loyal all the way through, and who are of the opinion that some of these sentences are too lenient.