HC Deb 02 November 1954 vol 532 cc191-2
21. Mr. Bence

asked the Secretary of State for War whether, in the case of a retired Army officer who contracted a debt with a textile company, details of which have been sent to him, he will give instructions that the address of the officer should be supplied to the company so that it may recover the debt.

Mr. Head

No, Sir. But, as the hon. Member knows, the War Office has forwarded a letter to the last recorded address of this officer.

Mr. Bence

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this retired Army captain, while working at Clydebank, got his landlady, who was an old-age pensioner, to sign a form, and he then made purchases from a firm in Lancashire and left Clydebank? The firm in Lancashire is pressing this old-age pensioner to pay this debt, which she cannot pay. Is it not too bad that a retired Army captain should do that sort of thing, with the result that the firm wishes to serve him with a notice or summons to pay this debt?

Mr. Head

It is up to the lady concerned if she wishes to bring legal proceedings. We have had the rule in the Army for a very long time that if a firm wishes to have an officer's address we will always forward a letter; but we have never in the past—and I believe it to be right—acted as suppliers of addresses of officers to firms.

Mr. Bellenger

While I appreciate the last point of the right hon. Gentleman's reply, is it not the case that the War Office is merely acting, as it were, as a post box and does not take steps to remind officers, whom it thinks are evading their civil debts, of their responsibilities, Which brings officers generally into disrepute? It used to be the case that commanding officers took some action.

Mr. Head

We have never acted as collectors of debts. In these matters, if an officer continues in that way, it is up to his unit and the discipline of his corps. The War Office has never acted, and can never act, as a debt collector.

Mr. Wigg

I think that anyone who has studied this problem would come to the conclusion that it would be most improper and unwise to turn the Army into a debt collecting agency, either for serving officers or for those who have left the Army.