HC Deb 06 May 1970 vol 801 cc398-9
23. Mr. Frank Allaun

asked the Secretary of State for Defence pproximately how many Service men went absent without obtaining leave or deserted in the last 12 months to a convenient date; and how many of these were boys aged 15 to 18 years or men who had enlisted between these ages.

Mr. Hattersley

Service statistics are not such as to enable me to give all the information my hon. Friend asked for. I will write to him.

Mr. Allaun

Is it not the fact that there are very many cases of young soldiers going absent without leave in order to be with young wives who are on the verge of nervous breakdown, and who often have young babies, some small indication of the widespread unhappiness caused by the obnoxious system of holding boy recruits for 12 years in the forces, often against their will?

Mr. Hattersley

My hon. Friend knows that I share his concern. He asks me every month Questions that show his concern, and I assure him every month that a committee of inquiry is now inquiring into the conditions to which he refers. As to young men who absent themselves from or desert the Army for the reasons he gives, they may have been recruited as boy soldiers or they may have been recruited rather later. These are circumstances which face a disciplined Service and the members of a disciplined Service.