HC Deb 27 February 1951 vol 484 cc1896-902
31. Mr. Keeling

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he will visit the British troops in Korea.

Mr. Strachey

This suggestion will be considered; but all three Services are involved in Korea. The matter will be kept under review in consultation with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.

Mr. Keeling

Does the Secretary of State agree that a visit from him would be more valuable and that his vote here would be no more indispensable than the vote of the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg)?

Mr. Braine

In view of the intense interest shown by hon. Members on all sides of the House in the welfare of our troops in Korea, would the right hon. Gentleman consider drawing a number of hon. Members from both sides of the House to accompany him when he goes there?

Mr. Speaker

This Question deals only with the Secretary of State.

Mr. Keenan

Can I ask the hon. Gentleman who raised the Question whether he is prepared to go with the Minister when the occasion arises?

32. Mr. Ellis Smith

asked the Secretary of State for War if he will arrange for a party of journalists and trade unionists out of industry to visit the 29th Brigade in Korea to ask the men questions and meet them away from any official sources, and issue a report on their visit.

Mr. Strachey

Experienced journalists accredited to the national newspapers are with our troops in Korea and, as the House knows, they send reports which are published in this country not only of the fighting, but also of the conditions faced by our troops. Unquestionably, these conditions have been exceedingly severe during the past winter and it would be to do less than justice to our men to seek to minimise in any way the hardships which they have inevitably undergone.

Nevertheless, all reports indicate that our troops are in good heart, that their morale is high and that their fighting reputation is outstanding. I make repeated and searching inquiries as to the availability of supplies of protective winter clothing, medical stores and other necessaries. I am completely satisfied that there are ample supplies in Korea but I can quite understand that in the rapid war of movement which is taking place it is most difficult to keep all units supplied with every one of the very large number of articles which they need at all times. I have called for a report on the distribution of winter clothing in Korea.

In these circumstances, I do not think that my hon. Friend's suggestion would serve a useful purpose.

Sir H. Williams

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is not an answer supposed to have some relation to the question?

Mr. Ellis Smith

Is my right hon. Friend aware that Members of this House, and particularly relatives of the men out there, are receiving letters which are causing a great deal of uneasiness? Would it not be better if a delegation of this character were sent out in order that they could interrogate the men and report?

Mr. Strachey

In reply to that supple-mentary question, for the reasons I have given I do not think so. If I may say so, these seem to me to be precisely the reasons why the suggestion of my hon. Friend, which otherwise might have been a good one, would not serve a useful purpose at this time.

Major Guy Lloyd

Whilst appreciating the fact that journalists might play a useful part in this matter, would the right hon. Gentleman say what on earth this has to do with trade unionists?

Mr. Strachey

I should have thought it concerned trade unionists very closely. Many of the men serving in Korea are trade unionists—[HON. MEMBERS: "Non-sense."] Certainly; and certainly this very much concerns their fellow trade unionists.

Mr. Ellis Smith

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the trade unionists of this country have proved their loyalty and worth to the country as well as any other section of the community and that thousands of them are now serving out there; and in view of that, does he not think that a constructive suggestion of this kind would tend to allay the public anxiety with regard to these men?

34. Mr. Vaughan-Morgan

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware that soldiers in the Middlesex Regiment are still experiencing considerable delays in the receipt of their mail on the Korean front; and what steps he is taking to remedy this state of affairs.

Mr. Strachey

Air and surface mail for the Middlesex Regiment is being des-patched by every available means. In active operations it may not always be possible to avoid some delay in delivery but all practicable steps are taken to keep transmission times to a minimum. If the hon. Member cares to let me have details of any particular case which he thinks calls for inquiry, I shall be pleased to look into the matter.

Mr. Vaughan-Morgan

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that that rather complacent reply is not an answer? These complaints continue although he gave an assurance on 12th December that the establishment of an A.P.O. would probably improve matters. Before the right hon. Gentleman considers paying a visit, will he do something to clear up the matter?

Mr. Strachey

It is useless to pretend that we can always eliminate delays in the delivery of mails in Korea, especially when a war of movement is going on, as it is today. We will certainly do our best to minimise these difficulties.

Major Lloyd

In view of the fact that some of these men are known to be members of the Co-operative Society, could not some members of that Society go out to Korea?

36. Mr. F. P. Crowder

asked the Secretary of State for War when boots of Finnish pattern designed for use in snow reached the 1st Battalion of the Middle-sex Regiment serving in Korea.

Mr. Strachey

I have called for this information and will write to the hon. Member.

Mr. Crowder

Is not the Secretary of State aware that it is his personal responsibility to know the details of these matters, and to see that the winter clothing concerned actually reaches the troops on the ground? Is he also aware that, according to my information, soldiers in this regiment have suffered very heavy casualties owing to frostbite and pneumonia because of the non-arrival of winter clothing?

Mr. Strachey

I very much resent the suggestion of the hon. Member, which is completely unfounded. The responsibility of the War Office is to see that these supplies are in Korea, and that responsibility is being fulfilled. The authorities on the spot have the very difficult task of seeing to the distribution of the supplies within Korea. I have every reason to suppose they are fulfilling those functions properly.

Mr. Mott-Radclyffe

Could the right hon. Gentleman explain to the House why the supplies of winter clothing for the 27th Brigade, and for this battalion in particular, which arrived on 3rd and 8th November, as he informed the House, contained no boots of Finnish pattern for cold weather clothing?

Mr. Strachey

That is entirely contrary to the facts. The boots which arrived on those dates included the Finnish ski boots in question. As a matter of fact it was reported in the newspapers. The correspondent of the "Daily Express" with the 27th Brigade, writing on 20th November said: The boots they have issued are the best in Korea; they are ski-ing boots.

Mr. Crowder

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the most unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to give notice that I shall raise this matter on the Adjournment at the earliest opportunity.

38. Mr. Ormsby-Gore

asked the Secretary of State for War how many Regular Army reservists volunteered for service in Korea; and how many of these are now serving in that country.

Mr. Strachey

I regret that this information is not readily available. I can say, however, that 1,125 ex-soldiers, of whom 1,054 are still serving, enlisted on a special engagement for service in Korea. These may include some Regular reservists.

Mr. Ormsby-Gore

Are not these figures very disappointing, and would the right hon. Gentleman consider making another appeal for volunteers, to be put across with a great deal more imagination and drive than on the last occasion, so as to reduce the need for using very young National Service men?

Mr. Strachey

The 29th Brigade which was raised for Korea does not contain National Service men.

39. Mr. Ormsby-Gore

asked the Secretary of State for War how the prices for necessities sold by the Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes to our troops in Korea compare with prices for similar articles in this country.

Mr. Strachey

The price policy in Korea is similar to that throughout the Far East. Korea prices generally are the same or lower than those prevailing in Hong Kong. I will, with permission, circulate in the OFFICIAL REPORT a table showing the prices of a representative list of commodities in the United Kingdom, Hong Kong and Korea.

Mr. Ormsby-Gore

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that a cake of soap which costs 5d. in this country is being sold for 9d. in the N.A.A.F.I. in Korea, and does he think that this is a reasonable surcharge?

Mr. Strachey

It is not a surcharge. Certainly prices in both Hong Kong and Korea are inevitably more expensive than in this country. That is not true in all cases, but it is true in some.

Mr. Turton

Is the Minister aware that the cheapest handkerchief obtainable by troops in Korea costs 1s. 8d., and will he bear in mind the amount of pay of troops in Korea and see that N.A.A.F.I. bring down their prices so that they are more in line with the soldiers' pay?

Mr. Strachey

The hon. Member will see the price list in the OFFICIAL REPORT. I think it would be wrong to force N.A.A.F.I., who already are operating at anything but a profit in Korea, to sell at prices which are below a sane and reasonable level, considering the very much greater expenses and costs of selling the items in Korea.

United Kingdom price Hong Kong price Korean price
s. d. s. d. s. d.
Cigarettes: packets of 20 3 6 1 11
United Kingdom beer:
Imperial pint, 20 oz. 1 4
1 6
Reputed quart, 24 oz.-26 oz. 2 1 9
Writing pads, airmail
Envelopes, airmail 5 6 6
Chocolate: 2 oz. bars 5 6
to to
Razor blades:
Pal 2 1
Gillette Blue 3 3
Toilet soap:
3 oz. tablet
3½ oz. tablet 9
Levers Easy Shaving Sticks * 10½ 9
Hair preparations:
Brylcreem, size A.45 2 3* 2 1 10
Vaseline Hair Tonic 2 * 2 1 10
Kolynos 1 6 1 6 1 3
Macleans 1 6* 1 3 1 4
Chewing gum 1
Matches 2 1
Boot polish:
Cherry Blossom No. 3
Tea: per lb 3 0 5 5 9
Sauce, H.P.: per bottle 1 3 1 6 1 7
Fruit: 26-oz. cans 2 0 1 10½ 2 0
* Including Purchase Tax.
Brigadier Clarke

If the Minister admits that prices in Korea are high, why does he not give active service pay to compensate the men?

Mr. Strachey

There is no such thing as active service pay. Perhaps the hon. and gallant Member is thinking of local overseas allowance. If prices in Korea are shown to be high, or higher than in Hong Kong, then a case for that would arise.

Mr. Joynson-Hicks

Can the Minister assure the House that the prices in question do not include, either to other ranks or to officers, any element of Purchase Tax?

Mr. Strachey

That is another question.

Mr. Frederick Elwyn Jones

Is it really such a tragedy if the N.A.A.F.I. make a loss in one theatre of operations when we know that they make such enormous profits elsewhere?

Mr. Strachey

That is precisely what is done.

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