HC Deb 10 February 1960 vol 617 cc431-2
1. Mrs. Castle

asked the Minister of Defence whether he will introduce a scheme to enable the near relatives of Services men killed on duty overseas to visit their graves at reduced rates.

The Minister of Defence (Mr. Harold Watkinson)

After very sympathetic consideration, I have reached the conclusion that it would not be possible to meet the cost of such a scheme from Defence Votes.

Mrs. Castle

Is it not a fact that facilities are given to men serving in certain overseas commands to get home on leave at reduced rates of fare? Should not the same facilities be extended to near relatives of men killed on duty overseas? A constituent of mine was killed in Aden recently and his father is deeply anxious to visit his son's grave. Cannot the Minister give him some help to do so? The number of these cases is not likely to be large.

Mr. Watkinson

If the hon. Lady will be kind enough to let me have details of the case she mentioned, I will see whether anything can be done to help. On the broader issue which I think she is raising, however, in certain circumstances there is a very large possible commitment. As I believe she knows, the British Legion already gives a great deal of help here, and private arrangements can be made at concessionary rates. I will always undertake to see whether the Services can do anything to help in a hard case, but I do not think that I ought to commit the Government to a widespread undertaking.

Mrs. Castle

Is not the Minister aware that this case has been taken by me and by an hon. Member opposite to the Secretary of State for War and that it has been taken to the British Legion and to other charitable organisations? This father is prepared to pay about £100 to visit his son's grave but he cannot afford the £200 or more involved. There cannot be many cases in which a parent would be willing to pay to that extent. The total expenditure for the Government would therefore not be large. Nothing has been done in this case, and that is why I tabled the Question asking for the rules to be changed.

Mr. Watkinson

The case which the hon. Lady mentions is not known to me but, as it is known to my right hon. Friend, I will look into it.

Mr. G. Brown

Not only we on this side of the House but I imagine the Minister feel a good deal of sympathy for the point which my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) is putting.

Mr. Watkinson

indicated assent.

Mr. Brown

The Question asks merely for a scheme to enable near relatives to visit these graves at reduced rates. It does not say "free". I am a little puzzled how the Minister can say that the cost would be too high, since "reduced" means anything between 100 per cent. and nothing. What has he assumed in saying that? Will he look again at the variety of possibilities?

Mr. Watkinson

I had assumed, perhaps wrongly, that this would mean that the Service would bear something like the total cost. I am quite willing to see whether some fairly marginal aid could be given, and I will undertake to do that.