HC Deb 12 April 1967 vol 744 cc1195-7
38 and 39. Mr. Fisher

asked the Secretary of State for Defence (1) whether, in future, he will allow under-age recruits to the Services to opt for a discharge a year after enlistment instead of only three months after enlistment as at present;

(2) whether he will allow under-age recruits to the Services to opt for a discharge when they reach the age of 21 years.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

As the hon. Member knows, my right hon. Friend is at present looking into these and related matters. I cannot anticipate the result of his investigations.

Mr. Fisher

There are two separate Questions, of course. On the first, would the hon. Gentleman agree that three months is rather a short period—in the Navy boys would not even have been to sea—in which to expect a young boy to Army of the Rhine, the number of married men and the number of married men whose families live with them; and if he will state the equivalent numbers in the Far East.

Mr. Boyden

As the Answer consists of a table of figures I will, with permission, circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Mr. Allaun

Is it not a fact that, if there were a big rundown through demobilisation or curtailing recruitment, most of the single men would return to their family homes and there would be relatively little need for new housing in Britain?

Mr. Boyden

I do not accept that.

Mr. Onslow

Has the hon. Gentleman any proposals to reduce the time before families can join married soldiers in Germany, which we found a cause for great concern over there?

Mr. Boyden

The percentage is not very high but we are naturally anxious to cut down the time whenever we can.

Following is the information:

make a long-term decision covering the next 10 or 12 years of his life? On the second Question, surely, especially if a boy has not received any special training, he should be allowed the option of discharge at the age of 21, when he has gone into the Service without really knowing what was involved in the first place.

Mr. Rees

I assure the hon. Gentleman that all these points are receiving urgent investigation.

Mr. J. T. Price

Is my hon. Friend aware that there is a good deal of public disquiet about this matter of juniors who enlist in the Armed Forces not being allowed to opt out? How do the Government continue to justify the discrimination in this matter, when under the ordinary civil law of this country, no minor under 21 can make a contract which is not for his own personal benefit?

Mr. Rees

I fully accept that there is great concern. This is not a new matter. It has gone on for a long time, but we are looking at it with urgency.

Mr. Bishop

Has my hon. Friend seen the publicity given to the case of Airman David Arnold, who was sentenced to 56 days detention following disobedience of orders while seeking his release from the R.A.F.?

Mr. Rees

This illustrates the difficulty of the matter. I am sorry that this happened to this young man, who fits into the category about which the country is concerned, but if he had applied for his discharge at one point, he would have had it. He applied only when he was down for an overseas posting, and this immediately altered the case. If he had applied at the earlier point, it would have been possible for him to be discharged, because it is not the case in every instance that a young man has to serve out his time.

Mr. Kenneth Lewis

Would not the hon. Gentleman at least agree that, when a boy has gone into the Service at 15 and has done a long term of service, he should come out within a year or 18 months of his normal discharge if he so requests?

Mr. Rees

I can only promise that this and all allied subjects, in the light of changes in apprenticeships and so on in recent years, are being investigated closely by my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Speaker

Mr. Kenneth Lewis, Question No. 46.

Mr. Gilbert Longden

On a point of order. May I have the opportunity to ask Question No. 45?

Mr. Speaker

I am sorry, I thought that that Question was answered with No. 28—

Mr. Longden

My hon. Friend was not here, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

My apologies. The hon. Gentleman was not called. Mr. Longden, Question No. 45.