HC Deb 16 June 1953 vol 516 cc738-9
Mr. Shinwell

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for War whether he will make a statement on the inaccurate message sent to next-of-kin of soldiers who were wounded in Korea.

The Secretary of State for War(Mr. Antony Head)

Between 25th and 29th May the next-of-kin of 11 men in The King's Regiment were informed officially by telegram that these men had been wounded; this was correct. But on 12th June a release was given to the Press erroneously stating that these men had been killed.

I have personally made a detailed examination of how this mistake came about. It was due to a clerical error combined with a subsequent failure when the list was rechecked. Although I can trace no similar mistake in the official lists during or since the second World War, it has undoubtedly been shown that the existing system is not completely proof against human error. I have therefore instituted a new system whereby the names of killed and wounded are shown on cards with highly distinctive marking and a different system of cross checking will also be employed. I believe that this will go as far as it is possible to go in making the system proof against any error.

I should like to express to the next-of-kin concerned my deep regret for the unnecessary distress and suffering which must have been caused by this exceptional but inexcusable mistake.

Mr. Shinwell

While I am sure every hon. Member appreciates that the right hon. Gentleman would not deliberately commit such an error, nor indeed would any member of his staff, nevertheless he will agree that the incident was most distressing to the people concerned. Can we have a definite assurance that the whole matter will be checked and crosschecked? [HON. MEMBERS: "It has been."] Perhaps hon. Members opposite are not interested in this matter. I cannot understand the reason for the interruptions from hon. Members opposite, Mr. Speaker. This is a perfectly legitimate supplementary question. If it were not, Mr. Speaker would rule me out of order. While we entirely acquit the War Office of any negligence in the matter, I am seeking to ensure that the matter will be checked and cross-checked so that no further mistakes will be made.

Mr. L. M. Lever

While expressing appreciation to the Minister for the speedy and manly way in which he has tackled the matter—[Interruption.] I do not understand why there should be jeers from my hon. Friends. In the circumstances, in order to alleviate the anxiety felt by the parents and the suffering that they have undergone, would the Minister arrange for the wounded men to be transported home so that their parents might see them as soon as possible?

Mr. Head

It would be difficult for me to give a reply to that until I knew the actual circumstances. At least one man is on the dangerously ill list. I believe that one is on his way home now. This covers a very wide field, and I cannot give a categorical answer.

Mr. Lever

Will the right hon. Gentleman keep it under consideration?

Mrs. Braddock

As the result of the very unfortunate incident, a family in Liverpool has been put to grave upset and the boy's mother had to go to hospital as a result of it. Will the Minister send a personal letter to each of the people apologising for the error? They are not asking for anything very extraordinary, but they have had a terrible shock and I am certain that a letter from the Department and the Minister would do some good in that sense.

Mr. Head

I will certainly do that.

Mr. A. J. Irvine

Constituents of mine have been affected. As the right hon. Gentleman will agree that it is an extremely serious matter, will he consider giving an account of the new system which has been devised in a little more detail?

Mr. Head

I will certainly send it to the hon. Member in detail.