HL Deb 10 June 1941 vol 119 cc363-75

LORD MOTTISTONE had the following Notice on the Paper: To ask His Majesty's Government whether they will now arrange that such sums as accrue to Other Ranks prisoners of war in respect of non-allotted pay shall be treated as savings and credited to them as such with the addition of interest at 2½ per cent., and whether in the case of officer prisoners, some of whom have been able to instruct their bankers or agents to invest their accrued pay in Government securities, they will now make arrangements through the appropriate channel to inform all officers that they can take advantage of this facility by communicating with their bankers or agents.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, since I last addressed your Lordships I understand that the noble Lord who is to reply has been consulting other authorities, and so I shall not delay you for more than a few moments; nor would I delay you at all but for the fact that there would appear to be a failure on the part of the Departments concerned to realise the strong feeling that there is in your Lordships' House, and I am sure outside it, that justice should be done in this matter. I have read in the Press that the Financial Secretary to the War Office has stated that the private soldier is in exactly the same position as the officer in this matter. Let me say at once, and quite bluntly, that that is the reverse of the truth. I base that upon the speech which the noble Lord himself made here and upon the letter, from which I quoted, which I have received from the Secretary of State for War.

We really must put this matter right. I have had a number of letters on the subject from your Lordships, including letters from noble Lords who cannot be here today and who wish to support me further, saying that it is intolerable that officers should have an advantage which is denied to the men. Those who hate that most of all are, of course, the officers; they did not know that it was so, but it is so, and it must be put right. I beg my noble friend to realise that this is not a matter which can be settled in the way referred to by the Financial Secretary. If I may say so in all good humour, the Financial Secretary cannot be a law unto himself. The Secretary of State says—I quote the exact words: The Pay Warrant clearly recognises that issues of pay during imprisonment "— this refers to private soldiers and other ranks— depends on circumstances, and further, that on rejoining the colours no further issues will be made until it has been decided whether a court of inquiry should be held. That is perfectly clear. In previous wars it did not matter much, because the issue did not arise on the particular points to which I draw attention in my question, but now it does matter and, since the question has been raised, it should be put right.

The officer draws his pay and can deal with it as he pleases, provided that he can communicate with the people here at home. The man does not draw his pay; it is a book entry, and so much so that he will not be entitled to any pay even after hostilities come to an end until it is decided whether his surrender was justified. The historical reasons for this I have been unable to trace, but the facts are not in dispute, and I would beg my noble friend not to follow the line taken by the Financial Secretary; he cannot do so, because his own Secretary of State says the exact opposite. It is desirable that this should be cleared up, and I know that I shall have your Lordships' support in seeing that this is done.

The issues are quite clear, and there are two of them. The first is, should not officers and men be treated alike? I know that your Lordships have no doubt as to that, and would go into the Division Lobby in support of it, but for the fact that, unfortunately, we have no Division Lobby here. I know that your Lordships feel acutely about it, because you expressed your views on the last occasion. Officers and men are not treated alike; the Secretary of State for War himself points out that the man does not in fact receive any pay, that it is only a book entry, and that he will not receive any pay until after a court of inquiry is held. He ought to be in receipt of pay pending the inquiry, in the same way that the officer is. The second point is whether he should be entitled to interest on the money so saved, just as the officer is if he can communicate with his home. That officers do do this is certainly the case. As I told your Lordships on the last occasion, the General Manager of the biggest bank dealing with the pay of officers, Cox and King's, Mr. Yelf—an excellent man, who is very keen on national savings and who approaches this subject from the war savings point of view—pointed out when I met him that every day he was investing money for officer prisoners. Other rank prisoners ought to have the same advantage.

I now come to what I can only call the very disingenuous statement made by the Financial Secretary. He said that the man is entitled to his pay. That is not true. The Financial Secretary thought so, or he would not have said it; but the Pay Warrant is quite explicit, and I think that it will be necessary—and I speak perhaps with more knowledge than he has—to take account of: the fact that a Royal Warrant cannot be amended except by another Royal Warrant. Therefore, if it is desired to make it possible for a man to be entitled to that portion of his un-alloted pay now and hereafter, subject to the provision as to future inquiry, the Pay Warrant must be amended by another Royal Warrant or by special legislation. I have made inquiries and I find that that is so. It has been said that all that a man has to do to put himself on an equality with the commissioned ranks is to tell the Regimental Paymaster to invest his money in the Post Office or in some other form of national savings. How can the man do that? It is trifling with Parliament to suggest it. I have made inquiries, and I think it is true to say that not one single prisoner has asked the Regimental Paymaster to invest his money in national savings—not one out of the forty or fifty thousand which I believe is the number given in the Press. We must not trifle with Parliament in this way. There is this real inequality.

There remains the point of whether it is reasonable that this 2½ per cent. which I suggest—the usual rate of interest in the Post Office Savings Bank—should be added to the savings of the man when in due course, after the inquiry has been held—and until the Pay Warrant is amended this has to be done—the money is paid over. I think there can be no doubt in your minds that it is reasonable that that should be so. It is not reasonable to say to the man: "We will give you the £15 10s. which has accrued to you during the period that you were a prisoner, but you are very lucky to get that, although it is true that you have not been at fault. If you wanted to get the interest, you ought to have told the Regimental Paymaster." I should like my noble friend to consider the case of the men who have been left in Crete, and who have been compelled to surrender through no fault of their own. They will be told that they cannot have this little sum—it seems very small to us, but it means a good deal to them—because they did not communicate with the Regimental Paymaster. There are two answers which can be given. The first is that under the Royal Warrant the Paymaster could not have agreed. That can be put right. The second is that the men cannot in fact communicate, because no man has. There is no doubt about the fact that they cannot.

What ought to be done? What ought your Lordships to insist on being done? I know that you will be at one with me in saying that this equality should prevail. It is high time that Parliament asserted itself in this matter; some mysterious influence is preventing obvious justice from being done. It should be laid down that if any money is paid over to the man, it should be paid over with accrued interest. Here, after we have been all these months and years begging people to lend everything they have got to the Government, these men are unable to do so, partly because the money has not accrued to them and partly because they cannot communicate for the reason that they are prisoners of war. The simple solution—as the Adjutant-General said, the only possible solution—is to say that the money, when it is paid, shall be paid over with accrued interest. It would be wise to add, as I have suggested on the Paper, that if you can communicate with the officers, which is very difficult, they should also be told that if they wish it they can send messages to their bankers.

In the case of the men it would be ridiculous to communicate with them and say "Do you wish to have accrued interest?" when it is quite obvious that they do. The number of men in the Army who would say, "I prefer to leave this money as an interest-free loan" must be so small as to be absolutely negligible. We do not want to finish up this war with any sense of grievance on the part of prisoners. Here is a case where, if we so decree, we can sweep away a source of friction and anger. I am perfectly certain that if the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Ex chequer were here, they would agree that we cannot allow this source of grievance to continue now that the matter has been ventilated, as I have ventilated it, at the request of the important Committee on which I serve.

I must apologise to my noble friends for having interrupted the interesting speech by Lord Arnold in trying to come to an agreement to save time. I know I embarrassed some of your Lordships who could not hear what was said, and I apologise. I make this suggestion to my noble friend. If he appointed a small Committee of the three Services, which are all equally interested, and said, "We must have equality of treatment as between officers and men," and, secondly, that there must be proper interest paid to the men, and then left the Committee to carry out what I am sure are your Lordships' wishes, I should be satisfied and I think the House would be satisfied. I beg to move for Papers.


I beg the noble Lord's pardon, but there is no notice of any Motion on the Paper.


I apologise to your Lordships. It is the fact that the words "and to move for Papers" have been omitted. I beg formally to add these words. The Clerks at the Table will remember that, in consultation with Lord Moyne, I put this Notice down for this day, and they said to me, "Would you like it in the same words?" I said, "Exactly the same words, but with the addition of the word 'now'. "The error is not mine, but no doubt these things often happen. In point of fact, I said, "Put down the exact words as before." When I first put it down I thought it was agreed. I added "to move for Papers" later, as the officials of the House will remember, and they took the earlier Notice and not the last one.


I have no authority in this matter to decide. I think, perhaps, it would be well to learn from some other member whether, in his opinion, it would be proper to put that Question from the Woolsack. I am willing to do so if that is the view of the House.


My Lords, the noble Lord can hardly modify the Notice on the Paper. We were interested to hear from him the reason why he did not have the Motion on the Paper, but I am afraid that is so, and it must remain so. I do not think the noble Lord will suffer very much as he will get an answer to his question.


My Lords, I do not like to give in when I know that I am right technically. What Lord Moyne said to the Clerk at the Table was "Well, then, we shall put it down for this day in the same words." Of course we cannot appeal to the Clerk.


Order! Order! We are not accustomed to hear about private conversations that pass between the Clerk and the Leader of the House. These are private matters.


I do not agree at all. I have been told I cannot move the Motion, of which I gave due notice in legal form, and I think it is perfectly proper that we should find out why. The Leader of the House accepted that it should be moved in that form on this day, and the fact that it is not in that form is not any fault of mine. Having said that—and I state it emphatically—I am prepared to accept the position because probably we are all of one mind in the matter. I do not wish it to be thought for a moment that we are not entitled to hear what the Leader of the House said.


My Lords, my noble friend in raising his question again, as by the agreement of everyone he suggested he would, has asked me to give him assurances on certain lines. If your Lordships will kindly follow what I have to say, you will see that on the three main points of my noble friend his case is met. But I do want to suggest to him—and I am sure your Lordships will agree—that although it helps a case sometimes to give the impression that representatives of the Services are supporting a proposal, any private conversation with the Adjutant-General must not be taken as an official expression of opinion any more than the suggestion that if the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer were here they would immediately consent. It seems to me we must manage our own affairs without expressing the opinion of permanent officials, members of the Staff of the War Office, or other authorities who are not present. As I promised the noble Lord on May 20, steps are being taken as to the best means of reminding officer prisoners that they can invest any savings in Government stock. We think that officers are probably aware of this fact, and that it can be done by an instruction to their bankers. We are considering whether any further steps can be taken to make this matter better known amongst them.

The noble Lord in the debate on May 20 and again to-day raised a subject of far wider implication than that contained actually in the question which is repeated on the Order Paper—namely, the question of interest on pay for other ranks which on the previous occasion he described as a most absurd discrimination between the officer and the man. Now I have had time to look more fully into all the facts in connection with this subject, and I find I was right in informing the noble Lord that there is in fact no intention of discrimination in favour of the officer prisoners as against other ranks in this matter. As a matter of fact the officer's pay is paid into his banking account to be dealt with by the bank at the order of the officer, and the pay of other ranks is credited to their account with the Regimental Paymaster to be dealt with at the order of the soldier, except that family or dependants' allowance with the appropriate allotment in issue is not credited but is paid direct to the beneficiary.

Just as an officer can give specific instructions to his bankers as to the disposal of amounts standing to his credit, so, similarly, if a soldier prisoner of war gives instructions to the Regimental Paymaster to dispose of a portion of his pay as an allotment to his family or dependants within the limit provided for other soldiers, or to invest a portion of his daily rate of pay in the Army Savings Scheme, or to deal with the balance standing at the time to the credit of his account by way of remittances, his instructions will be honoured. In neither case is the bank or the Regimental Paymaster entitled to act without definite instructions from the officer or the soldier concerned. The pay of prisoners of war cannot automatically be treated as savings for the purpose of earning interest, but Paymasters have been instructed to comply with requests from other rank prisoners of war to dispose of their credit balances in the Army Savings Scheme. As in the case of officers, we are now considering whether any steps can be taken to ensure that this is generally known, but we must be perfectly sure that there is no risk in any measures we may take that would defeat the object which we all seek to attain. I am very glad, my Lords, to be able thus further, I hope, to clarify this matter.

I must remind the noble Lord that when his previous question was down for May 20, he honoured me with a visit on the day before, the 19th and on that occasion I asked him if he could postpone his question for one week because, for reasons which I am sure were quite adequate, I was unable to go as fully into the subject then as I would desire owing to the very short notice. Now, apparently, my noble friend, if he will permit me still to call him so after my transgressions, unlike most of us, had the full facts before him for twenty-seven years, since he was himself Secretary of State for War. During all this time he has had this skeleton in his cupboard. As he stated in the debate: I did not alter it, but I agree that it was a very wrong thing. Why, then, did he not alter it? Because, as with astonishing candour he told us, he thought no one "knew that this shocking law existed." But I must remind him that there were also war savings in the last war, and exactly the same question would have arisen then had he chosen to bring the facts to light; but the skeleton remained locked up in his cupboard.

I want, how ever, to reassure my noble friend that he really should not allow this administrative omission, if I may so describe it, to weigh too heavily on his conscience because what he now describes as a very wrong and cruel thing has, in fact, as far as I know—and I have tried to make very widespread inquiries into this matter—never been found to be a grievance either during the Boer War, the War of 1914–18 or in the present war. The lurid description of my noble friend that "soldiers were regarded as guilty until found to be innocent "may, I think, be described as having little relation to the facts. It was rhetorical licence. The King's Regulations lay down that the senior officer or senior soldier at the time of surrender is treated alike. The paragraph is paragraph 775. Further it is not a fact that the pay of prisoners of war is withheld until a court of inquiry has established their innocence. The Manual of Military Law states: Absence as a prisoner of war, however, does not cause forfeiture of pay unless a court of inquiry decides that the soldier was taken prisoner through neglect or misconduct on his part. That will be found in the Manual of Military Law, page 549, Clause 7.

But I think my noble friend bases his case on this subject chiefly on the Pay Warrant. I would ask my noble friend 10 turn to page 285 and there he will find the article in question which reads: A soldier shall not forfeit his rate of pay during the period of his absence as a prisoner of war unless it shall have been proved, before a court of inquiry convened by order of the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, that he was taken prisoner through neglect or misconduct on his part. In that case he shall forfeit any balance of pay unissued to him during the period of imprisonment.


My Lords, as I have no right of reply, perhaps my noble friend will permit me to intervene in order to clear up this point. I have studied the Pay Warrant carefully, and the section in the Pay Warrant in question shows that the soldier does not receive any pay until after the court of inquiry has come to a decision. That is the real point.


I think my noble friend and I have the same purpose in our minds. May I point out that I think he was influenced by the footnote on that subject, and I should like my noble friend to allow me to read it: The issue of pay to a soldier while a prisoner of war must depend on circumstances. On his rejoining no further issues will be made until it has been decided whether a court of inquiry should be held. If such a court should be held and the court is satisfied that the soldier was taken prisoner through his own neglect or misconduct he shall forfeit any balance of pay unissued at the date of origin. In all other cases the unissued balances will be paid to him. But it is the clause which governs the footnote, and our decisions are invariably governed by that clause. There may be cases where the soldier is proceeded against, but, thank heaven, they are very rare in the British Army. It is almost inconceivable that we should hear of such cases, but there may be cases where it is necessary to inquire into the conduct of the soldier, and, equally, there may be cases where it is necessary to inquire into the conduct of an officer.

I am sure my noble and gallant friend as an ex-Secretary of State for War is anxious, as I am anxious, that it should not be imagined that this is a class issue. Believe me, such an issue has never been raised. My noble friend has undoubtedly raised it from the highest motives because he really thinks there is substance in the point, but I can assure him there is no such issue. I would just like to give your Lordships this interesting fact. I have had a search made, and I found what your Lordships would, I think, really desire to know upon the matter of procedure. In the Great War of 1914–18 on his return each officer prisoner of war was required to make a statement of his capture. This statement was examined by a committee presided over by a very distinguished officer, and the committee, if satisfied, issued a certificate exonerating the officer from blame. These certificates were entered into special files and kept with the officers' personal papers. In a number of cases the committee called on the officer for further explanation than that given in the statement. I believe that there was only one case in which a certificate was not issued and that even then the evidence was not sufficient to take further action.

In regard to other ranks—I would ask your Lordships to note particularly this fact, because it docs seem to me important, if we are deciding whether officers are treated better than the men, that we should look at both sides—there was no system of examining each case. The number of cases subject to investigation were those in which there had come into existence at the time the man fell into enemy hands evidence which tended to establish that it was a case of desertion. Such cases were very rare. Your Lordships will see that in dealing with this question there has not been discrimination as between officers and men. Your Lordships, I am sure, would not suggest that the power of the Army Council to inquire into the conduct of either officer or man should be eliminated from our Regulations. That would be the last thing your Lordships would suggest.

My noble friend, I know, raised this question because of his great love and affection for the Army and because he is very anxious that these matters should be completely cleared up. He may rest assured that there is no discrimination. There may be difficulties as to how to get information to a man, whether officer or soldier, whether in Crete or in Germany, but we are taking every step to see how we can give the information to them that they can, if they so desire, invest their money through the Army Savings Scheme. My noble friend may rest assured that, if they have balances available and so desire, facilities will be given to them. Though this subject has aroused very great interest in your Lordships' House, I think none of us, except perhaps my noble friend, has made a very profound study of it, but now that I have stated the facts I think it will be seen that there has not been a grievance. Officers and men are in an equal position if they can invest and desire to invest money in the way suggested, and consultations are now going on to see how we can best bring information both to the officers and soldiers concerned.


My Lords, may I, with your Lordships' permission, say one word on this matter? The noble Lord's speech was satisfactory to me except in one particular and that was on the question of family allowances. In the case of those men in whom I am most interested, those who come from the Norman Islands, it is not possible to pay to the wives and children family allowances at the present moment. Whether they are prisoners or not prisoners they are practically in the same position; it is not possible for the Government at this moment to pay those allowances. Am I to understand that these allowances will be kept until the end of the war and have 2½ per cent. interest added when they are ultimately paid to the people to whom, under the Warrant, they are due?


If my noble friend would kindly address a question to me on that particular subject I should be very glad to look into it. I cannot give an answer offhand with regard to men from the Channel Islands.


Why not? They are serving His Majesty.


Yes, but men from the Channel Islands are on a somewhat different basis. I shall be pleased to look into the matter and give a complete answer.


My Lords, I have no right of reply, but perhaps your Lordships will permit me to conclude this business by saying that so far as I am concerned I am satisfied that my noble friend is determined to see complete equality between officer and man in this highly complicated business. Your Lord-ships may have apprehended that it is the footnote to the Pay Warrant that has been the cause of the trouble. If that footnote is not to be acted upon the thing is done. I thank my noble friend for his courtesy.