HC Deb 22 November 1955 vol 546 cc1251-3
33 and 34. Mr. Hale

asked the Secretary of State for War (1) whether he is aware that the 9th Battalion, Manchester Regiment, served from 20th August to 3rd September at Windmill Hill Camp, Salisbury Plain, with inadequate food, unhealthy accommodation, and with insect-infested bedding; and what steps he proposes to take to prevent a recurrence of such conditions;

(2) if he will take disciplinary action against the officer or officers in charge of the conditions of camp, tents, bedding and catering arrangements at Windmill Camp, Salisbury, prior to the arrival of the 9th Battalion Manchester Regiment in view of the proved inadequacy of the arrangements.

Mr. Head

I am not satisfied about conditions in this camp. General Erskine has been carefully into the matter and is determined to see that they will not recur.

Mr. Hale

Is the Minister aware that he wrote to me and said that the complaints were exaggerated? I hope that I report him correctly, but it was certainly to that effect. Does he know that I have made inquiries of two other Oldham soldiers who served at that camp, and that they told me that the conditions were absolutely deplorable; that the blankets came out of earth and muck and straw, and that the men had only a blanket to sleep on on unprotected canvas as a result? One of them said that they were conditions in which he would not put a dog—[HON. MEMBERS: "Speech."] Mr. Speaker, on a point of order, may I call your attention to the fact that the Secretary of State for War sought leave of the House to answer two Questions together, and may I add that if I am to be barracked when I put a supplementary question to two Questions—

Mr. Speaker

Order. In listening to the hon. Member I took into consideration the fact that an Answer was given to two Questions. I thought the hon. Member had, perhaps, exceeded the limits of a supplementary question to one Question, and that he was just on the point of exceeding the limit to two. I do not think there is anything to complain about in the remarks from the rest of the House.

Mr. Hale

Is the right hon. Gentleman further aware that disciplinary action has been taken against one of the officers who told the Press that conditions were bad, and can he say what laws apply to that officer that do not apply to the ordinary soldier?

Mr. Head

This is absolutely the first I have heard of any disciplinary action. I hope that the hon. Member will let me have any names and particulars that he has. It is certainly against my principles that that sort of thing should be done in the Army. As far as the camp is concerned, there are two aspects. First, I have admitted that the camp was not all that we would have wished it to be but, given rations and canvas, the success of a camp to a large extent depends on the unit, the commanding officer and the company commanders. I do not say that my Department is blameless in this case, but I think that the situation was made worse by certain members of these units not being administered very competently.

Mr. Strachey

Would not the Minister agree that, in any circumstances, for blankets to be lousy—which is apparently admitted—is a disgraceful position to arise in an Army camp in peace-time?

Mr. Head

That matter was gone into by General Erskine. I am informed that in the blankets there were a lot of what are called May bugs and that the bites were attributable to them and not to lice. No one actually found a louse, or produced one.