HC Deb 05 June 1956 vol 553 cc851-3
9. Mr. Allaun

asked the Secretary of State for War if he is aware that the only work given to three National Service men during their 15 days' reserve training at the Headquarters, A.E.R., Royal Army Service Corps, Grange Camp, Kempston, in May was to make five cardboard costermonger barrows for an officers' mess cocktail party and that 50 others were given no training but were employed as waiters, batmen, cleaners and gardeners; and what steps he proposes to take to prevent a repetition of such a state of affairs.

14. Mr. Boardman

asked the Secretary of State for War if he has investigated the case, details of which have been sent to him, concerning the Royal Army Service Corps Camp, Kempston, at which three Reservists there for 15 days' military training were employed for 7 days making five cardboard costermonger barrows for use at an officers' mess cocktail party; if he is aware that in at least one case there was no other duty or training of any kind; how many men were similarly employed; and what action he is taking to prevent a repetition of such waste of manpower.

Mr. Head

I assume that these Questions are based on an article in the Manchester Press. Three National Service men, including the writer of the article, volunteered to make these barrows in their spare time. The writer of the article was employed on clerical duties during his training in camp.

The 50 men described as having been given no training were all men who had failed to reach the necessary standard for trades training in their specialist units. Many of them had had their camp dates altered at their own request. They were therefore employed as general duties men for the administration of the whole camp. General duties men are essential for the running of the camp and if these men had not done this duty then qualified specialists would have spent part of their time doing general duties.

Mr. Allaun

Is the Secretary of State aware that most of these men's time was spent making cardboard wheels for the barrows and attaching to them gold painted leaves and writing "chez" followed by the name of the cook who was to serve lobsters and sucking pig? Is it surprising, in view of these kinds of incidents, that the fifteen days' training is becoming increasingly to be regarded by the men as a bad joke?

Mr. Head

What the hon. Member has described sounds very funny and highly ridiculous, but what he omitted to say, and what the writer also omitted to say, was that the men volunteered to do this in their spare time. The individual who wrote the article had the date of his camp changed because he wanted to be married. We let him change, but if he had been to the camp he otherwise would have gone to he would have been doing proper duties.

Mr. Boardman

As there is some obvious dispute about the facts of this case, will the right hon. Gentleman hold an inquiry, when all the interested parties can give their evidence? Surely the right hon. Gentleman appreciates that this is not an isolated case? It is grossly unfair to these young fellows and to their employers that they should be uprooted from their civil jobs to waste time in this stupid fashion. For how long can the country afford to indulge in this kind of comic opera?

Mr. Head

I do not think this is a disputed question. I have not heard it contradicted that the men did this in their spare time after volunteering to do it.

Mr. W. R. Williams

As there is a great deal of concern in the Manchester district since the disclosure in the Manchester Evening News, would the right hon. Gentleman like to make a comment on three observations in that paper? The first is that one man had to water the R.S.M.'s mackintosh to get the creases out. The second is that another man was given a bucket and told to go round picking up stones and that, having picked up five, he gave it up as a bad job. The third is that a draughtsman was asked to write out party invitations—

Mr. Speaker

I think that is enough for one supplementary question.

Hon. Members


Mr. Head

Those allegations were all in the article written by this journalist. I have been into them and will answer in detail. On the R.S.M. question, this was not a National Service man. Ten invitations were written by a copperplate writer, who volunteered to do it. I can see no vice in that.

Mr. Boardman

On a point of order. The right hon. Gentleman has not answered part of my question—

Mr. Speaker

That is not a point of order.