HC Deb 31 January 1956 vol 548 cc748-9
35. Mr. Emrys Hughes

asked the Secretary of State for War how many National Service men are now in Cyprus.

Mr. Head

About 7,800.

Mr. Hughes

Could the Minister give an Estimate of how many of these National Service men would be in Cyprus if only volunteers were taken?

37. Mr. Emrys Hughes

asked the Secretary of State for War how many men of the Highland Light Infantry ordered to Cyprus are National Service men with less than six months' service.

Mr. Head

Seventy-four. None had less than eighteen weeks' service.

Mr. Hughes

Would the Minister tell us what action he has taken to prevent officers in various Scottish regiments from exercising what he has called "blackmail" of soldiers—that is, for soldiers to be lined up and told that if they sign on as Regulars they will not go to Cyprus? Is he aware that I have here a Scottish newspaper from which I see that troops in three different regiments have been told this? What steps is the right hon. Gentleman taking either to give a directive to the officers or to court-martial those who are abusing their powers?

Mr. Head

We have said in the past, I think twice since I have been in my present office, that that form of recruiting is wrong. If the hon. Member will give me particulars I will look into them, because I am against such methods.

Mr. Osborne

Will my right hon. Friend say whether there is any justification at all for the aspersions cast last week upon the regiments mentioned in the Question?

Mr. Beswick

Can the Secretary of State for War say whether there was any justification, either, for telling those men that there was no more danger in any operations going on in Cyprus than in crossing the Great West Road?

Mr. Head

I should like to say to the House that that remark was made in connection with non-operational boys, families and women. I see now that it could easily be interpreted as referring to soldiers, as indeed it has been interpreted by some. I think that if the hon. Member looks at HANSARD he will see my meaning, but in so far as it has been interpreted as referring to soldiers, which was neither meant nor said, I should like to emphasise that it would be far from me, sitting in the safety of Whitehall, to cast aspersions or to belittle the risks which the soldiers are taking.

Mr. Gaitskell

May I say how much we appreciate the right hon. Gentleman's remarks and the withdrawal of at any rate an implication of his statement the other day which I think would have done a great deal of harm?

Mr. Head

Although this is not normal in Question and Answer, may I say that I had not then read the HANSARD report of my remarks—that was not possible—and when I read it later I saw that there was the possibility of misinterpretation. I should also like to say that I think I was unduly heated with the right hon. Gentleman.