HC Deb 23 June 1955 vol 542 cc1497-9
45. Mr. Dodds

asked the Prime Minister if he is aware of the growing dissatisfaction at the way the National Service scheme is being operated because of the anomalies which exist; and if he will therefore cause an investigation to be held designed to ensure that this compulsory scheme will give the maximum confidence to the public and a greater degree of satisfaction to those who are required to serve.

The Prime Minister (Sir Anthony Eden)

Sir, in the administration of a scheme of peace-time National Service affecting the whole youth of this country, it is unavoidable that anomalies of treatment should be alleged from time to time. Whenever the attention of the responsible Ministers is drawn to such cases, either in this House or elsewhere, they are thoroughly investigated and, if need be, rectified. I cannot, however, accept the implication in the hon. Member's Question that public confidence in the broadly equitable administration of the National Service scheme has been shaken.

Mr. Dodds

Does the Prime Minister appreciate that there is deep concern that so many of the most active young men in this country are finding it possible to evade National Service? In view of the importance of the matter, would he be prepared to give his personal attention to the substantial evidence which I have that this practice is widespread and that there is public concern about the matter?

The Prime Minister

I will always consider any evidence which any hon. Member cares to send to me. I have read very carefully the series of Questions and supplementaries which have been asked in this House in connection with this matter for some time past, and I think that the particular case about which so much has been said is one where the verdict was clearly the correct one, and where the continuation in service meant a deterioration of the man's condition. Since National Service was imposed that has always been one of the factors which are taken into account.

Mr. Strachey

Would not the Prime Minister agree that the greatest of these anomalies is the maintenance of the two-year period of National Service? Can he really explain how he can still work upon the basis that a two-year period is suitable purely for our defence effort today?

The Prime Minister

I have read through all these Questions very carefully, and I cannot see that they have anything to do with the two-year period of National Service.

Mr. Ian Harvey

Would not the Prime Minister agree that the assertion of the hon. Member and the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman are in no way justified by the results of the last General Election?

Mr. Shinwell

Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that a considerable amount of disquiet exists in the House and the country about many of these anomalies, and that, far from hon. Members merely making allegations, many of these anomalies have actually been proved? In view of the present situation—entirely apart from the question of the period of National Service—is there not a case for some inquiry, whether that inquiry is undertaken by a Department, by the Government in some other fashion, or by an independent body? Will not the Prime Minister turn his attention to that question?

The Prime Minister

It is very important that there should be national confidence about a matter of this kind and, as I have said, if hon. Members have further evidence, I should naturally consider it and look into it myself. I have been through all these Questions and supplementaries rather carefully, and I do not feel that the sum total adds up to anything which would justify action such as the right hon. Gentleman suggests.

Air Commodore Harvey

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that our difficulties are increased when hon. Members endeavour to secure the release of men who do not actually want to leave the Services?

Mr. Bellenger

In addition to looking at the Questions and supplementaries which have been put hitherto, will the Prime Minister pay attention to Questions Nos. 39, 41 and 43 today, together with the answers, which go to show that inroads are being made—not only in the case of individuals but in blocks of individuals—into the working of National Service?

The Prime Minister

That is an important question, but a wider and different one, I think, from that which has been referred to by the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Dodds).

Mr. Dodds

In view of the nature of the Answer, I beg to give notice that I shall raise the matter and provide the evidence on an Adjournment Motion.

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