HC Deb 28 October 1948 vol 457 cc237-9
The Secretary of State for War (Mr. Shinwell)

In the course of the Debate on Defence on 23rd September the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) stated that a large number, and he thought by far the greater number, of men in the Guards Brigade recently sent to Malaya had had only a few weeks' training and that he thought it would be true to say that a large number of them had not even completed their weapon training. In the same Debate I refuted this statement because it was incorrect. It was incorrect because of the 1,820 all ranks in the Guards Brigade sent to Malaya the majority were Regulars and 1,550 had had more than six months' service at the time of their embarkation. Of these 1,550 many had, of course, far more than six months' service.

Of the 270 who had not six months' service at the time of embarkation, only 67 had less than six months' service at the time of their arrival. Nevertheless, I myself was guilty of a mis-statement when I said that of the Brigade of Guards despatched to Malaya not a single man was sent without having at least six months' basic training. I based my statement on the information which I received, but I accept full responsibility for it. I regret that I misinformed the House, and I apologise for doing so.

Mr. Oliver Lyttelton

I am very much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for what he has just said, and in so far as my remarks in that Debate were subsequently proved to be inaccurate, or the implication arising from them was inaccurate, I withdraw them. I put them in a form which I hoped was at least partially interrogatory, but I must thank the right hon. Gentleman again for the very full manner in which he has brought this matter to light. There is one question I would like to ask him: would he consider giving the House further information as to the number of men sent to Malaya since 1st January, not only from the Guards Brigade but from other parts of the Army, who have had less than six months training?

Mr. Shinwell

I will certainly do all I can to furnish hon. Members with full information, consistent with security. It may be difficult to furnish all the details, but if Questions are put on the Order Paper I will do my best to answer them.

Brigadier Head

Is it not a fact that there was no regulation at the time this Brigade was sent to Malaya which stated that all men sent there should have more than six months' service?

Mr. Shinwell

The hon. and gallant Gentleman is quite correct. In the Guards regiments the routine is for men to undertake four months basic training. In the infantry of the line regiments it is only three months. There was no regulation which precluded men from being sent abroad without having served for six months, but ordinarily we do our best to prevent men going abroad unless they have done the requisite period of service. I have ascertained that all the men who were sent to Malaya were regarded by those responsible for the arrangements as being quite fit to be sent.

Mr. Scollan

Is not this a demonstration of the War Office keeping the Opposition better informed than the Government?

Mr. Shinwell

I should not be prepared to accept any such implication.

Brigadier Head

If there was no regulation that these men must have done more than six months' service, how did it come about that suddenly in the middle of a Debate information was available that all the men had more than six months' service, when no return was called for to say so?

Mr. Shinwell

I readily admit that a mistake occurred. I have made careful inquiries, and I believe it was due to a misunderstanding. The matter arose towards the end of the Debate, and I asked for information from the Official Box. Apparently, they misunderstood the purport of the question put to them, but I must accept full responsibility for what occurred.

General Sir George Jeffreys

Whether there is any regulation about six months' service or not, is it not very undesirable that very young soldiers should be sent on what is practically active service, in a climate like Malaya, with anything like so little service as six months? The right hon. Gentleman referred to basic training in the Brigade of Guards. Is it not invariably the custom there not to send men abroad for service if they have done less than a year's service?

Mr. Shinwell

No, that is not the custom. Men are sent abroad with less than six months' service. When the men who were sent to Malaya arrived there they had to undergo very severe training before they undertook active service.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Will the right hon. Gentleman give an undertaking that the men who have not had special training will be brought home?

Mr. Shinwell

No, Sir.