HL Deb 03 July 1951 vol 172 cc570-2

6.13 p.m.

Debate resumed.


My Lords, before the House adjourned during pleasure we were dealing with the second Question asked by my noble friend, Lord Saltoun, and I thought your Lordships were aware, seeing that my noble friend, Lord Onslow, had risen in his place, that we on this side of the House had something more to say on the matter. I am sorry to find that the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander, cannot have seen that my noble friend rose in his place, otherwise I am certain he would have remained. As it is, I hope that some noble Lord opposite will be able to report to the noble Viscount the remarks which my noble friend and I are going to make, and that he will give his attention to them.

My Lords, if I understand this matter at all, the reply which was given to my noble friend by the noble Viscount did, so to speak, represent the technical position, and I am sure that we are all glad to hear that commanders in the Korean theatre of war have been given proper discretion for immediate awards. With such knowledge as I have, I think that the trouble to which the noble Lord referred, and which I know exists, lies much more in the handling of immediate awards than the consideration of more important honours which have to he referred to London. There is no doubt that in the last war a good deal of trouble and of hard feeling arose because, shall we say, of careless methods of administering immediate awards. The point which my noble friend, made was a perfectly good one, and I think it all the more important because we must never forget that this question of honours and awards concerns the Royal prerogative which is not a matter we should discuss in this House except, perhaps, to say this. When an officer, particularly a young officer, is told in good faith by his superior officer to put up the ribbon of a decoration which everyone believes he has earned, it is a matter of serious moral damage to him—damage which may last his whole life as well as affecting his career in his regiment—if he is told subsequently to take the ribbon down. Those of us who have been Regular soldiers—as, your Lordships know, I have been—perhaps feel that sort of thing a great deal more acutely than those who have not served in the Forces. The point I make is that where there has been a genuine mistake, and the ribbon of a medal has been put up in good faith—and it means so much to the career in the Army of the young man who has put up the medal ribbon—arrangements should be made for advising His Majesty, on the proper occasion, to make good the damage and avoid sacrificing the self-respect of the officer or man concerned.

6.17 p.m.


My Lords, what I was going to ask the noble Viscount opposite (who is no longer opposite) was this: would he make inquiries concerning the way medals were given in the last war? I know for a fact that for the sake of simplicity of administration in quarters behind the line, it was advisable that you should write out your citation for a decoration in a certain form of words. I discovered that personally, from a brother commanding officer who had been in the Military Secretary's Office shortly before he took over command of his regiment. He, I discovered, was getting his decorations through with more facility than I was. I do not say that my soldiers were better than his, but they were at least as good, and we were not getting what we considered our fair quota of decorations. Talking to him one day I mentioned this, and he said: "Oh, I can explain that. I was in the Military Secretary's Department, and I learned there that there is a form of words which you should use for getting such and such decorations." He told me the form of words, and although I do not say that after that we received everything we wanted, we certainly got a good many more decorations than we had had in the past. I think this is a matter which should be looked into. These decorations should be given for the deeds in respect of which they were recommended, not simply on the authority of someone in an office, who has no personal knowledge of the true drama of the situations in which the decorations were earned. I hope that the noble Viscount will feel that that is a matter which should be looked into.

6.19 p.m.


My Lords, I regret that my noble friend found it necessary to retire as he did, but the reason for his action was solely that he had to go to a Cabinet Committee meeting which the Prime Minister is attending. I, myself, as your Lordships will remember, was rather anxious to break into the debate at a quarter-to-six. That would have meant that the whole of this Question would have been dealt with after the Royal Commission. But there seemed to be a desire that we should try to get through the business on the Order Paper before six o'clock, and the difficulty, I think, has arisen from that fact. I am sorry for what has happened, and I will undertake to bring fully to the notice of my noble friend the views which have been expressed by the noble Lords opposite. I can assure them that he will look at them very sympathetically indeed.