HC Deb 30 March 1949 vol 463 cc1214-8
48. Mr. Lipson

asked the Minister of Defence if he has given further consideration to the question of granting a clothing allowance to personnel on demobilisation; and if he is now able to agree to do this.

49. Mr. Chetwynd

asked the Minister of Defence whether he has now reviewed the question of a clothing allowance for demobilised persons and if he has any statement to make.

50. Mr. Driberg

asked the Minister of Defence if he has any further statement to make on the possibility of issuing outfits of clothing to National Service men on demobilisation.

51. Sir John Mellor

asked the Minister of Defence if he will now make a statement with regard to the issue of clothing to National Service men on demobilisation.

52. Lieut.-Colonel Lipton

asked the Minister of Defence whether he will now issue civilian suits of clothing to demobilised National Service men.

53. Mr. Mathers

asked the Minister of Defence whether he is now in a position to announce better cash clothing allowances for men on demobilisation after serving their period of compulsory military service, in view of the fact that these men develop during service so that the clothing they had prior to their call-up is too small for them to wear, and the present cash allowance given is inadequate to cover the cost of replacement.

54. Lady Tweedsmuir

asked the Minister of Defence if he will make a further statement on the provision of civilian clothing for National Service men on release from the Services.

55. Mr. Edward Evans

asked the Minister of Defence if he will now make a further statement on the issue of civilian clothing to men demobilised from National Service.

56. Mrs. Jean Mann

asked the Minister of Defence if he will now make a statement on what he proposes to substitute for the 60 coupons concession on demobilisation for National Service men.

57. Mrs. Florence Paton

asked the Minister of Defence what decision has been taken with regard to the provision of clothing to National Service men on the completion of their service.

Mr. Alexander

His Majesty's Government have given careful consideration to the proposal that a clothing allowance should be granted on release to National Service men called up since January, 1947. As hon. Members are aware, the issue of a civilian outfit was one of the main features of the benefits for men released under the "age and service" scheme, the main body of whom had served their country for long periods. The Service Ministers and I have considered carefully and sympathetically the representations which have been made by hon. Members on this question. But we have to bear in mind that the supply and issue of such clothing imposes a heavy burden of administration on the Services which, in view of the need for economy of manpower, they cannot agree to continue, and that a cash equivalent of the previous scheme would probably cost in the next financial year between £3 million or £4 million.

We have, therefore, reluctantly concluded that it would not be possible to modify the decision taken by the Government over two years ago and announced in this House by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour and National Service in January, 1947, that this benefit should be discontinued for men called up for the much shorter periods and under the quite different conditions which obtain today.

Mr. Lipson

Does the right hon. Gentleman's answer mean that it is the view of His Majesty's Government that the National Service men should not have their share of such clothing as is available to the country at large, and before coming to that lamentable decision did he take into account the widespread feeling both in this House and in the country on this matter? Is it of no concern to him that these men will leave the Services with a sense of grievance at having to wear ill-fitting and shabby clothing?

Mr. Alexander

In reply to the first part of the Question, certainly there is no restriction on National Service men having their share of the available clothing in the same way as any other citizens. I may say that many National Service men already purchase civilian clothing while they are still in the Forces, and actually wear their civilian clothing when they are on leave. As to the last part of the hon. Member's Question, it is always a matter of concern to His Majesty's Ministers to do the very best they can for every section of the population. Having regard to the resources available and to the heavy defence expenditure which this country still has to bear, we were bound to come to the conclusion which I have already announced.

Mr. Mathers

When the right hon. Gentleman talks about the heavy public burden which would be involved in meeting the expense of providing proper clothing for these men, does he not recognise the individual burden which is laid upon the homes of these men who are taken at an age when they are developing and who, because of the time which they spend in the Services, grow out of their clothes? This heavy individual burden should be borne collectively.

Mr. Alexander

One would imagine from my hon. Friend's Question that the country does not pay anything at all to the National Service man while he is in the Services. I do not agree with that. The whole of his emoluments amount to considerably more than what many hon. Members have previously advocated. There has been a great deal of pressure in the House for paying a lower rate than is actually paid today. Taking into account what they receive, I suggest that it is possible for these men to make some little saving towards their civilian outfits.

Mrs. Cullen

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the hardship caused to widowed mothers when boys, who are their only means of support, are taken away and on their return, have no clothing and no money with which to buy it?

Lieut.-Colonel Lipton

In order to obviate these administrative difficulties, will the right hon. Gentleman consider making a cash grant? It would simplify matters considerably. Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that even if the expenditure involved is in the neighbourhood of £3 million or £4 million a year, it is a small price to pay to ensure that men leave the Services in a satisfied frame of mind.

Mr. Alexander

The cumulative demands that we get constantly from different parts of the House and the additional sum of £3 million or £4 million which this allowance would cost, do not make it possible to contemplate such an expenditure, particularly in view of the fact that the Treasury have approved our submission to the House and the House have approved a budget of £760 million.

Mrs. Mann

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the tremendous amount of money spent on recruiting and enticing men into the Services? Is he aware that we might as well throw it all down the drain if he is going to treat the men in this manner when they return from the Services?

Mr. Alexander

The subject of recruitment does not apply to National Service men at all. There are, of course, reasons for endeavouring to expand recruitment of Regulars to Services and for making their conditions as attractive as possible and keeping such men in the Services.

Brigadier Prior-Palmer

In regard to the cost of £3 to £4 million which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned, would he say what is the actual cost of providing these men with clothes at the moment; and, from the point of view of Service commitments in administering such an arrangement, is there no possibility of it being done by civilians?

Mr. Alexander

That would not make any difference to the ultimate cost in (a) the finance of the Service Department and (b) the manpower pool in the country's need for economic recovery. For both reasons, we wish to reject that suggestion. With regard to the present cost of clothing, I should require notice before I could give the exact amount, but I am quite certain that we should not wish to set up again the system of which we have now got rid. We could not provide a cash equivalent for less than the sum I have stated.

Mr. Driberg

If it was not officially realised that a man going out of the Service would have to buy a lot of clothes, why was an allowance of 60 clothing coupons given? Will not my right hon. Friend reconsider this? Would he also tell the House how much money he estimates the average National Service man can save out of his Army pay?

Mr. Alexander

It would depend a great deal upon his individual habits as to how much he saves out of his pay and emoluments. So far as clothing coupons are concerned, of course there would be a wide range, according to the man's ideas and those of his family as to what he required in clothing and, therefore, with clothing rationed, we gave him what we considered to be an adequate number.

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