HC Deb 07 December 1950 vol 482 cc535-8
65. Mr. Driberg

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will take steps to enable troops serving in Malaya to send gift parcels home for Christmas or the New Year duty free.

Mr. J. Edwards

With the exception only of tobacco, scent and liquor, presents to the total value of 10s. can be sent home by the Forces abroad free of Customs charges at any season of the year. This concession is in addition to gift parcels of foodstuffs weighing not more than 22lb. gross which are admitted free. My right hon. Friend does not think any further concession is called for.

Mr. Mott-Radclyffe

(by Private Notice) asked the Postmaster-General whether he will arrange for the concessions announced yesterday in respect of one postage-free Christmas parcel for each member of His Majesty's Forces serving in Korea to be similarly extended to members of His Majesty's Forces serving in Malaya.

The Postmaster-General (Mr. Ness Edwards)

After consultation with the Departments concerned I desire to make the following statement.

In deciding upon the concession relating to one postage-free 3 lb. Christmas parcel to be sent exceptionally by air to members of the Forces in Korea, which I announced to the House last evening, consideration was given to the extraordinary measures that were felt to be warranted because the majority of the troops concerned embarked from this country too late in regard to the latest date of posting of surface-route parcels, and relatives would not have had full opportunity to send Christmas parcels by the normal route. The vast majority of the troops now in Malaya were there in time to allow members of the public in this country to post parcels by the surface route before the latest date of posting. The postage rates on these parcels embody quite generous concessions. Some troops have left this country for Malaya since the latest date of posting and 3 lb. Xmas parcels for them will be accepted under the same conditions as those which will be accepted for Korea.

Mr. Mott-Radclyffe

Does the right hon. Gentleman really consider that the explanation he has just given, showing discrimination between British Forces serving in one theatre of war and British Forces serving in another theatre of war, when both are equally unpleasant, is at all adequate?

Mr. Ness Edwards

The point was that all the troops engaged in Malaya and Korea should have parcels at concessionary rates. In the case of Korea we could not do that because they had left before the last date of posting. In the case of Malaya the vast majority are in process of having the advantage of these concessionary rates, but there were a number of these men who left this country too late for that purpose and we have decided to allow them to have free parcels.

Mr. Churchill

What is the financial saving involved in this somewhat refined discrimination?

Mr. Ness Edwards

There is no saving at all because, normally, all the traffic goes by surface mail. What we are doing is lifting all this by air and transporting it to the Far East.

Mr. Driberg

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there were two omissions from his public announcement last night as reported this morning—the Far East Flying Boat Wing and the Royal Marine Commando which is now engaged in fighting its way out of encirclement in Korea? Will he make it clear that the concession applies to both?

Mr. Ness Edwards

All the Forces employed in Korean operations are included.

Brigadier Head

Does the right hon. Gentleman consider that it is administratively possible for the Post Office to know who went to this area and when? Is it not a futile suggestion?

Mr. Ness Edwards

There are difficulties about this, but to do it at all, it is necessary to take some risk of abuse. I would rather take the risk of abuse and do it than not to do it.

Mr. Anthony Nutting

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the answer he has given, showing the discrimination in this matter, is one of the meanest answers ever given in this House? Will he please reconsider his attitude?

Mr. Ness Edwards

That is one of the meanest supplementary questions I have heard.

Mr. Harold Macmillan

What would be the additional cost if the concession which is now being made to certain troops in Malaya were extended to all the troops?

Mr. Ness Edwards

I am afraid that I have not made the position clear. A substantial concession has been given to all the troops that were in Malaya in time for the receipt of parcels. They have already had the advantage of the concession. In regard to those who are now to get the special concession, they have not had an opportunity because they left this country after the date for the posting of Christmas parcels.

Mr. Churchill

If there is no serious financial cost involved, would it not be better to simplify the matter and treat all the same, having regard to the action extorted from the right hon. Gentleman yesterday?

Mr. Ness Edwards

I thought I was extending to all the troops the same type of treatment and giving the same type of concession to everybody engaged in both these theatres. I do not think I ought to be pressed to give any more.

Mr. W. Fletcher

Does the concession we have heard of—a complicated and illusory concession—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—get over the fact raised in a Question by me recently that civilians can use the registered parcel post, whereas parcels to military personnel cannot be carried by that means?

Mr. Ness Edwards

That is covered. These men can get their parcels by airmail; there is no difficulty about that.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Would it not be more simple to bring the troops home so that they can collect their Christmas parcels?

Mr. Joynson-Hicks

Is there any practical difficulty about getting parcels out to troops in Malaya, or is the real objection of the right hon. Gentleman that they might get two parcels at concessionary rates?

Mr. Ness Edwards

No, what I have tried to do is what is fair and equitable to all the troops who are involved. In this concession to the troops in Malaya, I have merely repeated the concession given in the case of Korea.

Mr. Hamilton

Had the Minister any indication that the matter was to be raised by the Opposition before it was raised from this side of the House yesterday?

Mr. Mott-Radclyffe

In view of the very unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to give notice that I will raise the matter again on the Adjournment.