HL Deb 26 February 1946 vol 139 cc909-11

4.30 p.m.

VISCOUNT LONG asked His Majesty's Government whether they can now state by classes how many officers who should have, by now, been released from the Services are still serving, and how far the officers are behind the other ranks in this respect. The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I rise to ask His Majesty's Government the question which stands in my name. May I crave your Lordships' indulgence? I have a very heavy cold and-my voice is very bad. I hope His Majesty's Government can give us some hope, first, that these officers who were detained last October under an order issued by Viscount Montgomery of Alamein have now been released or are in process of being released; secondly, that the gap that was then caused by their retention has been reduced to a minimum; and, thirdly, that there has been in no way any discrimination as between officers and other ranks. I say this because those serving in Palestine and the Middle East especially have got their noses right down to the grindstone. They are not living under very comfortable circumstances and from correspondence I have received it seems that they feel they have been rather left in the cold and kept in the Army whilst other ranks have been allowed to come back. After all, all these officers started -from the ranks and by their efficiency and prowess they became officers. I do hope that His Majesty's Government will be able to give them a hopeful answer this afternoon.

4.32 p.m.


My Lords the release of officers and men from the Forces is governed primarily by their age and service groups. I have assumed, therefore, that these groups are the "classes" referred to by the noble Viscount, Lord Long, and I am giving the figures on that basis. I should mention at the outset that the Government release scheme was never intended as a rigid plan, giving identical treatment to all members of the three Services. The need for a degree of fluidity in its application was assumed and provided for from the outset. It was made clear in the White Paper on the Reallocation of Man-power, issued in September, 1944, that owing to military considerations release would necessarily proceed at different rates in the different Services, and that it would be necessary in some Services to deal separately with the several branches, and possibly with trades and ranks (or ratings) in those branches. In fact the method and progress of release varies to some extent in the three different Services, and for that reason I will deal with each Service separately. In all cases the information I give relates to male officers only.

In the Army it will be convenient to consider the position on February 4, 1946, which was the closing day for the release of other ranks in group 25. At that date some 24,000 officers in groups 25 or earlier were still retained in the Army because of the slower rate of officer releases. The release of officers up to and including group 25 is due to be completed on April 9, 1946. It follows, therefore, that officer releases are rather more than two months behind those of other ranks at this time. There are, of course, exceptions to the normal rule, both in the case of officers and other ranks, but that is the general position. As noble Lords will no doubt have seen from the provisional programme of releases up to June, 1946, published on February 4, 1946, the release of officers and other ranks will be at approximately the same level by June of this year.

In the Royal Air Force, the general level of release in February, both of officers and other ranks, is group 27. But it is necessary, as foreshadowed in the White Paper, to deal separately with the different branches and trades, and 3,304 Royal Air Force officers are still retained because they belong to branches in which the rate of release is below the general level. The period of delay necessarily varies in the different branches. At present it ranges between one and four months, but I understand that every endeavour is made to keep the period to a minimum.

In the Royal Navy the situation is more complicated, and I regret it is impossible to give the actual numbers. At present, on the average, the release of naval officers is 12 groups behind the average of naval ratings, and in some cases particularly in the Supply Branch, release is still further delayed. Notwithstanding this, the average group for the release of officers at present is group 27. It is expected that by June of this year the officers will be only nine groups behind the ratings, excluding the Supply Branch. I trust the noble Viscount will feel that in this reply I have given him the figures for which his question asked.