HC Deb 24 November 1953 vol 521 cc182-3
38. Lieut.-Colonel Hyde

asked the Secretary of State for War in what circumstances 56 bags of Army mail, containing 250,000 letters, came to be delayed at Singapore; what was the earliest date of posting of these letters; and what steps he is taking to deal with those responsible for this delay and to prevent a similar occurrence in future.

Mr. Head

I should like to say how very much I regret the anxiety and inconvenience which must have been caused. A full and immediate inquiry into the circumstances is being made and I do not wish to make a statement until I have all the facts.

Lieut.-Colonel Hyde

Does my right hon. Friend not agree that the holding up of a quarter of a million letters in this way is a very serious matter, and in view of the importance which Service men and women serving overseas attach to receiving their mail, will he see that, if the inquiry should reflect upon any individual, the gravity of the matter is brought home to him?

Mr. Head

From information I have had so far, I do not think it is as many as a quarter of a million, though it may well be a very large number. That does not alter the fact that I realise fully the grief, inconvenience and disappointment caused by an accident of this kind, which is the last thing I should wish to happen.

Mr. H. Morrison

Can the right hon. Gentleman say why this Government is so expert—whether it is the War Office or the Post Office—in losing mails or getting things stolen and one thing and another? Why is it that we are subject to this persistent incompetence?

Mr. Snow

On the rather important matter of the subject of this Question, may I ask the Minister whether his attention has been drawn to a newspaper report in which it was stated that a sergeant had been arrested in this connection? Is there no officer who has direct responsibility who could take the charge concerned? Why should it be left to a sergeant to take the rap?

Mr. Head

I should prefer not to go into the details until I have the full report. The matter is the responsibility of the Army Postal Services in conjunction with the civil authorities. The inquiry is now going on and it will be much more satisfactory if I make a full statement at a later stage.