HC Deb 23 October 1956 vol 558 cc481-4
47. Mr. Swingler

asked the Prime Minister why he considered it necessary to request all Departments concerned to draw the attention of reservists recalled to the Armed Forces to their entitlement to National Service grants on certain conditions ; and what action has been taken on his request.

48. Mr. Dodds

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement in respect of improvements that have resulted from his instruction to speed up the payment of Service grants to needy families.

The Prime Minister

It was because of reports that some reservists' families might not have received National Service grants that I arranged for an examination of the procedure to be made. As a result, I am satisfied that the Departments concerned are dealing with these applications expeditiously. As an example of one administrative improvement which we have made, we have arranged for provisional grants in cases in which the exact amount of the grant is likely to take time to establish.

Mr. Swingler

In view of the shocking pay muddle which occurred in many cases, as well as the failure to provide useful employment for many reservists, is the Prime Minister aware that many reservists and their families are very grateful to him for his intervention? But was this not a grave reflection on the administration of the Service Departments, and is it not a curious thing, to say the least, that the head of the Department principally responsible for the confusion should now be selected for promotion to preside over all the Services?

The Prime Minister

We have had about 5,000 applications—[Laughter]—for reservist pay. Out of those 5,000 applications, just under 300 were outstanding at the beginning of this week. Of the 300 applications, roughly half reached the Ministry within the last three days.

Mr. Dodds

But could the right hon. Gentleman explain why much earlier careful preparations were not made to avoid undue hardships to the families of recalled reservists, and does he not appreciate that this aspect and other aspects of the recall of reservists reveal the worst series of bureaucratic blunders of modern times, with insult added to injury by the promotion of the Minister who bears a heavy responsibility for what took place?

The Prime Minister

I do not think that is either fair or just. These are administrative arrangements which have been in existence for at least eight years and have been employed before. It was because I wanted to satisfy myself that they were working rapidly that I made this inquiry. I think the results—out of 5,000 applications only 300 not yet dealt with and, of those, 150 only three days old—show that the machinery is working.

Dame Irene Ward

As an old member of the War Service Grants Committee and with some knowledge of the machinery, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he thinks that the present scale is adequate to meet the need of older reservists, having regard to the fact that the present machine really operates in respect of people called up for National Service? It is an important issue.

The Prime Minister

I agree that it is a very important issue, and perhaps my hon. Friend would put down a Question, because I should prefer to give a detailed answer rather than a supplementary one.

49. Mr. Lewis

asked the Prime Minister whether he is aware of the concern felt by the public at the recent events connected with the recall of reservists and other matters concerning the actions taken by the Government during the recent Suez Canal crisis; and whether he will move to appoint a Select Committee to examine all matters pertaining to the Government's action during this period.

The Prime Minister

My previous answer indicates that I had been aware of the problems concerning reservists and that action has been and is being taken. The reply to the second part of the Question is "No, Sir."

Mr. Lewis

In view of the fact that the Prime Minister himself knows that there was difficulty at the commencement, because he said so—[HON. MEMBERS : "No."] Well, the right hon. Gentleman said that he gave further instructions to have the matter looked at and, arising from that, improvements were made; in view of that, and the fact that hon. Members on both sides of the House have been receiving letters of complaint from their constituents—[HON. MEMBERS : "No."] Well then, only Labour Members have been receiving letters of complaint from reservists ; in order to put the mind of the public at rest, surely nothing could be lost by adopting the suggestion in the latter part of the Question?

The Prime Minister

I am profoundly conscious that this is a very difficult human problem. That is why we have tried to deal with it, and I think we have now dealt with it, in a manner which is fair and just. The hon. Gentleman asked at the end of his Question if we would appoint a Select Committee to look into our policy over Suez. To that I say, "No, Sir." If the hon. Gentleman wants a Select Committee, perhaps we could have one to inquire into the contradictory convulsions of Her Majesty's Opposition.

Mr. Stokes

As one of the main anxieties is the length of the call-up, will the Prime Minister say when he will be able to make a statement as to the likely length of the call-up? Will he also say why it is impossible to return home the men serving in this country, who number about 14,000, since there is no real military reason for detaining them at the present time?

The Prime Minister

I think that the right hon. Gentleman is perfectly justified in his first question, and at the earliest possible moment I will make a statement in reply to it. As regards the second part, that is wrapped up with whatever decisions may have to be taken and with the precautions which have been taken. As regards the first question, I will undertake to give the earliest reply in my power.