HC Deb 24 April 1963 vol 676 cc201-3
14. Mr. W. Hamilton

asked the Secretary of State for War if he will make a statement on the recent absence of a number of Coldstream Guards from Chelsea Barracks.

Mr. Profumo

Some 400 men of the 2nd Battalion, the Coldstream Guards were given leave at Easter. At 8 a.m. on Easter Tuesday the roll call showed that 26 men were missing. During the course of the day most of these men returned from leave or else reported themselves sick at home, and by the evening only 10 were actually absent without leave. On Friday of last week only 5 men were absent, of whom 3 were missing before Easter. Those men who returned late without good reason have been dealt with by their commanding officer.

Mr. Hamilton

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether this is normal or abnormal at Easter compared with previous years? Would he not agree that there is increasing evidence that soldiers—in my view rightly—are objecting more and more strongly to the inordinate amount of "bull" insisted on by commanding officers? Will he set up an all-party committee from this House to go round asking private soldiers what they think about this—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—hon. Members are not willing because they know there will be no result from commanding officers—and ask the commanding officers to use a bit more common sense instead of asking the men to do these quite stupid things?

Mr. Speaker

Order. I must once again remind hon. Members of the un-desirability of long supplementary questions.

Mr. Profumo

And, Mr. Speaker, of the undesirability of wild supplementary questions. If I may answer the first part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question, the numbers involved in this case were not exceptional. They amounted to 2 per cent. of the whole battalion being absent after a block issue of leave. With regard to some other accusations made by the hon. Gentleman—

Mr. Manuel

Compared with other Easters?

Mr. Profumo

The House will forgive me, I have not the details of other Easters. But block leave given over a holiday period of this sort is what matters, and I hope that Easter itself had nothing to do with this.

I am certainly not prepared to institute the sort of inquiry which the hon. Gentleman has in mind. I do not believe that that is the way to deal with the matter. I would much prefer to allow commanding officers, formation commanders and commanders-in-chief to deal with this matter in the proper way. The action of a small number of trouble-makers in giving stories to the Press about their own units—not always accurate stories—can only bring discredit on the units as a whole, and I have no wish to add to it.

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