HC Deb 10 April 1963 vol 675 cc1275-8
47. Mr. Driberg

asked the Secretary of State for War if he will now make a detailed statement on the recent discontent in the 1st Battalion, Scots Guards, at Pirbright; what were the guardsmen's grievances; and what action has been taken.

55. Mr. Paget

asked the Secretary of State for War if he will make a statement with regard to the investigation ordered by him of the Pirbright mutiny.

Mr. Profumo

A very thorough examination has been made into the circumstances leading to this incident.

The complaints made by the men, though numerous. were for the most part individually trivial. They concerned the internal affairs of the unit, and whilst I do not propose to give details, they have been very carefully considered and action is being taken on any which have proved justified.

As I have already said, the battalion is at low strength and the examination has shown that, apart from guard duties, it was trying to do too much. The local amenities are not entirely satisfactory and the normal channels for dealing with complaints were not always being used.

Nevertheless, the incident should never have occurred but for a loss of contact between some of the officers and their men, and I am afraid that there can be no doubt that there were failures in administration and man management in the unit. In addition to other necessary measures, certain changes in the personnel of the battalion have been made.

Mr. Driberg

While thanking the right hon. Gentleman for that very candid reply, may I ask him whether, when he says that the usual channels for complaints were "not being used", he means that they were being blocked at some point and, if so, where? Secondly, when he says that the complaints were "individually trivial", does he not realise that a very large number of individually trivial complaints can accumulate into something quite big? Is it, therefore, broadly his conclusion that there is, or was, too much "bull" in this battalion and that there ought to be less of it?

Mr. Profumo

There are channels for complaints to officers in every unit and, of course, there were in this, and officers are bound to deal with these complaints. In some cases these channels were fiat being used properly and in some cases protests were not being properly investigated. But I do not think that there is any need for me to add anything further to the rather full Answer I have given, which shows the failure in man management.

Mr. Paget

Is there not some method of finding out trouble of this sort before a mutiny takes place? A mutiny is not a very good precedent as a method of drawing attention to grievances and getting them remedied.

Mr. Profumo

I must challenge the hon. and learned Member's use of the word "mutiny". This was not a mutiny. Nobody was charged with mutiny, or with attempted mutiny, or with incitement to mutiny. There were grievances and a number of guardsmen went absent without leave, some for less than twenty-four hours, but then came back of their own accord. There is no question of there having been a mutiny.

Mr. A. Royle

Will my right hon. Friend reconsider the burden of public duties carried out by the Household Brigade in London? Does he feel that this burden was in any way responsible for some of the troubles with this battalion of Scots Guards at Pirbright?

Mr. Profumo

I do not think that that was one of the problems which was responsible, because the battalion, as I have said earlier, was capable, although at low strength, of carrying out public duties if not pushed too far in other directions. It could have called on London District for assistance if the commanding officer or the lieut.-colonel had felt that necessary. There is a later Question about public duties.

Mr. Paget

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us when collective refusal of duty ceased to be a mutiny?

Mr. Profumo

The hon. and learned Gentleman is perhaps more versed in the law than I and I can only tell him that there was no question of mutiny or incitement to mutiny. The commanding officer, or lieut.-colonel, when speaking to the men pointed out that there was a narrow line between what might develop into some form of mutiny as compared with what happened in this case.

Mr. Hastings

Would not my right hon. Friend agree that the record of this regiment is without peer in the British Army and that the best thing that can be done now is to leave it alone to put its affairs straight?

Mr. Profumo

I agree, and I think that everybody would wish to do the same. It is our job to see that the commanding officer is given every sort of help and that the battalion builds up its strength.