HC Deb 08 November 1967 vol 753 cc999-1001
4. Mr. Frank Allaun

asked the Secretary of State for Defence why the statement, promised earlier this year, regarding young Servicemen who have been recruited at 15 years of age and who wish to change their minds, will not now be made.

29. Mr. Lubbock

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if, in the light of the report of the Latey Committee and the consequent study by his Department of the implications for long-service engagements by young persons, he will now make a statement on recruitment of teenagers and the position of existing servicemen who were engaged as minors.

40. Mr. Hale

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he is now in a position to make a statement promised on 13th March last on the position of men who enlisted under the age of 18 years.

65. Miss Lestor

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will now announce the changes in Government policy regarding recruitment and discharge of young men in the Armed Forces.

Mr. Reynolds

The Report of the Committee on the Age of Majority raises complex questions for us. I shall make a statement as soon as I can, but it will not be easy to satisfy everyone.

Mr. Allaun

Is not this a breach of faith? Why should there be a need for still further examination of this inhumanity, particularly as the Forces are being reduced? The Minister has given three promises about this during the last eight months.

Mr. Reynolds

There is no breach o faith. We have to face the position of the school-leaving age going up in due course as announced, the Latey Report issued a few weeks ago, and the manning position of the Services, as well as the moral point with which my hon. Friend is concerned. I shall make a statement as soon as I possibly can.

Mr. Lubbock

Did not the Minister give an assurance to a deputation of hon. Members to him last May, which he subsequently repeated in a letter of 5th May, that within six weeks of the publication of the Latey Report he would announce the Government's conclusions on the question of the recruiting of young Servicemen? Why has the Minister broken his promise, and when can we expect the statement which he gave an undertaking to make to the House months ago?

Mr. Reynolds

The statement to which the hon. Gentleman refers was discussed when a deputation consisting of himself and a number of others came to see me. They pressed me to give an idea of when I hoped to be able to make the statement. I said that it would be a few weeks, or six or seven weeks, after the Latey Report. We were then thinking of the Report coming out in November, but in fact it came out in July. His Lordship worked faster than anyone expected at the time.

Mr. Hale

Surely a definite undertaking was given to the House during an Adjournment debate on 13th March? Since then there have been examples to which I have called the attention of the Ministry of Defence of exceptional lack of care for men who had enlisted and had arranged and saved for their discharge.

Mr. Reynolds

I think that my hon. Friend is on a different point from the one affecting boy entrants, which is the matter I am looking into at the moment. I cannot accept that there are cases in which no care is taken in these matters. A great deal of care is taken with compassionate releases of one kind or another.

Miss Lestor

Will the Minister give some indication of the advice which we should give to many young Servicemen who have been in touch with us and whom we have advised we are waiting for his report? How do we tell them what their position is, particularly the number of cases in the hands of the National Council for Civil Liberties, which was part of the deputation to the Minister? We all understood that we would get a report from him within six weeks of the Latey Committee's Report coming out.

Mr. Reynolds

I think that my hon. Friend can get the reply from her question, namely, that we are waiting for the Report. I draw attention to the fact that in May of this year I said I would be pleased to receive representations and ideas from any hon. Member. I have not received any, but if anyone has any particular case or views on the matter I shall be only too pleased to receive them.