HC Deb 07 May 1964 vol 694 cc1456-7
Q6. Mr. Rankin

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a further statement on the mutilation of the bodies of British soldiers in the Yemen.

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. I have nothing to add to my statements of 4th and 5th May.

Mr. Rankin

Is the Prime Minister aware that since making his statement Major-General Cubbon has gone on record as saying that he is delighted that the Americans have found no evidence to confirm his story, and will he look at that point? Will he also tell me why it was that the names of the dead soldiers were published before the relatives were officially informed? Is not that a violation of accustomed practice?

The Prime Minister

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence has sent new instructions round all military commands, and I hope that none of these regrettable affairs will, therefore, happen again.

Mr. Shinwell

Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is somewhat premature to condemn the General Officer Commanding in this area before the whole of the facts have been investigated? Will he take into consideration the difficulties experienced in this terrain by both officers and men and endeavour to discover what were the actual difficulties which led to the somewhat premature announcement about the alleged mutilation of some of our troops? Will he bear in mind that it is customary—indeed, constitutional and a tradition of this House which has been upheld by all Governments we have known this century and probably before that—that if any action is taken by either an officer or civil servant in the employ of the Government, the responsibility rests with the Ministers concerned?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. I have never condemned this officer. As I said in the House the other day, in moments of great stress, emotion and anger things can be said which may be very unfortunate. But I think that there is a need in these days, when Press conferences have to be held, perhaps to clarify the instructions; and that I have done.