HC Deb 06 April 1949 vol 463 cc2045-8
49. Mr. Chetwynd

asked the Minister of Defence what would be the annual cost of providing Service men called up since 1st January, 1947, with a civilian clothing grant of £10.

50 Mr. Driberg

asked the Minister of Defence, (1) what would be the approximate annual cost of a cash grant of £15, in lieu of clothing, to each National Service man on demobilisation;

(2) What would be the approximate annual cost of issuing to each National Service man on demobilisation a clothing outfit consisting of one utility suit of reasonable quality, two shirts, and one pair of shoes;

(3) How many men or women it is estimated would have to be employed full time in the administration of a scheme for issuing an outfit of clothing to National Service men on demobilisation.

54. Lieut.-Colonel Lipton

asked the Minister of Defence how much it would cost to provide a suit of civilian clothing to demobilised National Service men.

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

The cost during the financial year 1949–50 of providing a cash grant of £15 to each National Service man on demobilisation would be approximately £3.4 million. For a cash grant of £10 the cost would be roughly £2.3 million. The organisation originally established to issue civilian outfits under the "age and service" release scheme has been to a very large extent wound up and it is difficult to assess the overall cost to the Services in money and manpower of reestablishing an organisation adequate to issue clothing on the scale mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg). The actual cost of purchasing the clothing mentioned by my hon. Friend would be about £1.6 million. If a suit only were issued the cost of the clothing itself would be about £1 million.

Mr. Chetwynd

In view of the growing feeling in the country on this matter will my right hon. Friend reconsider the decision he announced last week and agree in principle to a £10 grant, after which he can argue with his Service colleagues how to save £2 million from the vast sum of £760 million already passed for the Services?

Mr. Alexander

It would be wrong to mislead the House on this matter. It has been carefully considered. The Estimates for the Fighting Services, which have been submitted and passed by the House, have already been severely pruned and reduced. The decision of the Government is that they are unable to increase those Estimates this year.

Mr. Driberg

Is not the sum of £1 million to supply a suit to each of these men an infinitesimal amount in relation to the total defence expenditure, and has my right hon. Friend any doubt that Parliament would approve a small Supplementary Estimate for this specific purpose?

Mr. Alexander

It is a question whether the Executive Government would submit to the House an increase in the Estimates, and I have already dealt with that point. One million pounds is the bare cost of the wholesale contract for the suits alone and would not be the end of the cost.

Lieut.-Colonel Lipton

As that figure of £1 million given by my right hon. Friend represents the cheapest quotation received so far, will he in the quarter of an hour or 20 minutes still available to him ask his right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to put the appropriate entry in the appropriate petty cash column of the Budget?

Mr. Alexander

Today, of all days, is the last one on which I should like to commit my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Mr. McGovern

Is my right hon. Friend aware that nothing that the Government have done within recent months has merited such condemnation in the country as this mean and reprehensible action?

Mr. Alexander

That is because the people are not being properly informed of the position. The position of these men is very different indeed from that of those for whom the House provided very generous grants for clothing as a result of the age and service release scheme following war service.

Mr. Shurmer

Is the Minister aware that many of these young men have widowed mothers and when they come out of the Army they will have nothing but an ordinary Army suit in which to go to work?

Mr. Chetwynd

I beg to give notice that I shall do my best to raise this matter on the Adjournment.

57. Mr. Lipson

asked the Minister of Defence what facilities are provided by the Services to enable National Service men to save enough from their pay to buy civilian clothing on demobilisation; and how many have done this up to date.

Mr. Alexander

There are ample facilities to enable Service men to save and a considerable proportion of men take advantage of them. I cannot, however, say how many National Service men do so or how many have saved enough to buy clothing.

Mr. Lipson

In view of the answer which the right hon. Gentleman gave last week, I should like to ask him whether he himself has seen the budgets of any of these National Service men, many of whom give a weekly allowance to their parents, and if so, is he satisfied that they can save from their pay to buy these suits of clothes?

Mr. Alexander

We took a great number of factors into consideration when considering the matter, which we did at length and with the utmost sympathy. I have got particulars which show that a very large percentage of the Army personnel are using the Post Office Savings Bank for deposits, and I have a good many other figures to show that many soldiers are saving money.