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British Army

Volume 389: debated on Tuesday 4 May 1943

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Home Guard


asked the Secretary of State for War whether he can furnish an estimate of the value of clothing and equipment issued to the Home Guard which has been written off as unaccounted for?

Do we understand that £600,000 of stores and equipment have been lost?

It is not a very large figure in relation to the total value of the equipment of the Home Guard. In any case, the bulk of it was alluded to in the Comptroller and Auditor-General's Report and presumably it will come under the scrutiny of the Public Accounts Committee.

Is it not correct to say that a good deal was destroyed during the bombardment of London by enemy action?

British Association For International Understanding


asked the Secretary of State for War whether the British Association for International Understanding renders direct services to the Armed Forces; and, if so, whether any payment is made for those services?

Yes, Sir. First the Association supply a large number of copies of "British Survey" to the Forces, a few of them free but most of them at a price approximating to the bare cost of production. Secondly, they run an information service, providing information, including some fairly lengthy memoranda, on request by Army Educational Corps and other service personnel in connection with Service education and A.B.C.A. Thirdly, they have hitherto done a good deal of administrative work in connection with the supply of lecturers to the Forces, but the War Office have recently agreed with them that this work should in future be undertaken by the Regional Committees for Adult Education in His Majesty's Forces. The War Office paid them £1,000 in the last financial year in respect of the Information Service and lecturers and intends to pay them £650 a year in future in respect of the Information Service. These payments are for specific services performed for and at the request of the Service Departments and are based on the estimated cost to the Association, including an appropriate proportion of the salaries of their staff, of the work referred to.

Political Meetings (Military Police Action)


asked the Secretary of State for War whether he will investigate the case in which military police in Daventry, on Sunday, 18th April, prevented soldiers in uniform from listening to a Communist speaker who was speaking in support of the Government candidate; and whether he will take steps to prevent any repetition of this incident?


asked the Secretary of State for War whether his attention has been drawn to the incident that took place on 18th April on the market square in Northampton, when the military police prevented soldiers in uniform from listening to speeches at a public meeting; and whether he has any statement to make?

The case has been investigated. The action taken by the military police was the result of an error of judgment, and steps are being taken to ensure, as far as possible, that such an error does not recur.

As so much confusion seems to exist as to the political rights of soldiers, will the right hon. Gentleman clarify the whole position at some time in the future by allowing soldiers on leave in mufti publicly to discuss what they are fighting for?

I do not think that confusion exists anywhere but in the hon. and gallant Gentleman's mind.

Women's Auxiliary, Home Guard


asked the Secretary of State for War whether women auxiliaries of the Home Guard are subject to military law in connection with their Home Guard duties?

Women auxiliaries of the Home Guard are only subject to military law in connection with their Home Guard duties to the extent that other civilians in the service of or accompanying His Majesty's troops are subject to military law under Sub-sections (9) or (10) of Section 176 of the Army Act.

Accused Officers (Procedure)


asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware that there is often an interval of between six weeks and three months between the time an officer is charged with an offence under the Army Act and the time when he is brought to trial by a court-martial, and that a further considerable interval may elapse before the finding of the court is promulgated; and will he do something to expedite this procedure?

Convening officers are aware of the need for reducing time spent in arrest as far as possible and cases in which there seems to have been undue delay are investigated.In many cases, particularly those involving financial irregularities, considerable investigations and correspondence are usually necessary before the accused can be brought to trial. New offences may come to light in course of these investigations and these take up more time. Even so, an examination of 50 recent cases of courts-martial shows the average interval between arrest and trial to have been less than six weeks. It has been impossible to devise a change in the present procedure which would shorten the interval without prejudicing the efficient administration of justice. Army commanders have to consider every court-martial of an officer before confirming it, and in view of the heavy demands on their time I do not consider that the interval between the trial and the promulgation of its findings can be greatly expedited.

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider an alteration in the practice whereby an officer awaiting trial must always be accompanied by a brother officer during every hour of the day and night, taking up the time of officers who might be engaged on very much more important duties?

I will consider that, without, however, holding out a promise of any kind.

Officers (Re-Employment)


asked the Secretary of State for War whether, having regard to the new decision in respect of officers over 55 years of age, consideration will be given to applications for re-employment by those who were retired under the Order of February, 1942?

Rules for the procedure in regard to the submission, of reports on officers have recently been issued which emphasise the fact that the age of the officer is not of itself a deciding factor in determining whether he shall be retired. But incapacity due to age still provides grounds for a report. The cases of officers retired under the Instruction of February, 1942, have already been carefully considered and it is not thought that fresh application by them will serve any useful purpose.

Billeting Allowances


asked the Secretary of State for War whether a decision has been made to amend the present schedule of billeting allowances to civilian householders?

Certain increases in the present billeting rates are in contemplation, and the details will be issued shortly.

In view of the undertaking that was given by the Financial Secretary before the Recess, can my right hon. Friend give an indication when these new rates will be issued?

I have only in the last few hours had a decision on this matter, so that I can give no further information other than that it will be shortly.

Pay Corps (Subalterns, Promotion)


asked the Secretary of State for War the rules governing promotion of subalterns to captains in the Royal Army Pay Corps?

A Regular subaltern paymaster is promoted to the rank of captain on the satisfactory completion of 12 months' probation. A subaltern assistant paymaster (quartermaster), whether holding a Regular or an emergency commission, is as a war-time measure promoted to the war substantive rank of captain after three years' commissioned service on full pay during the present war. In addition all subalterns in the Royal Army Pay Corps may be selected on the recommendation of their officer commanding to fill certain appointments carrying the rank of captain.

North Africa (Wireless Sets And Reading Matter)


asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is satisfied that there is a reasonably adequate supply of wireless sets in the First and Eighth Armies for the entertainment and information of the troops?

While the Eighth Army was in the Middle East it was on the whole adequately provided with wireless sets. Its present deficiencies are being made good. Sufficient shipping space could not be allocated to transport wireless sets to North Africa until the military stores and equipment vitally needed there had been despatched. But a number of sets has been sent, and I hope that an adequate supply will reach the troops before long.

What is the organisation through which the public can send wireless sets to the Forces in the Middle East?

I will let my hon. Friend know. I do not remember it at this moment, but there is some means through the Army Welfare Organisation.

Is there a First Army daily news sheet on the lines of that printed in the Eighth Army?

There is certainly a newspaper, but I cannot say offhand whether it is daily or weekly. In fact, both the First Army and Eighth Army publish their own newspapers.


asked the Secretary of State for War whether, in view of the lack of recreation facilities for the Eighth and First Armies during periods of inactivity and the desire of the men for books, he will arrange for immediate despatch to these armies direct an ample supply of literature as an issue?

I am fully alive to the need for supplying as much reading matter as possible to the troops in North Africa. I gave some details of what is being done in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) on 6th April, of which I will send the hon. Lady a copy.

May I ask my right hon. Friend whether whatever he is doing is being done direct for the First Army? That is the main point.

I do not quite understand what the hon. Lady means by "direct." It is being done in the way most likely to ensure that reading matter goes to the troops who need it.

Sentenced Soldiers (Middle East)


asked the Secretary of State for War how many soldiers convicted by court-martial in the Middle East and sent to the United Kingdom to serve their sentences have had such sentences suspended and been returned to the Middle East?

If I give particulars of certain cases, will my right hon. Friend investigate them and disapprove of a course of conduct which, I suggest, causes a waste of shipping space and an embarrassment to the disciplinary authorities in the Middle East?

I am ready to look at any cases which my hon. and gallant Friend sends me, but I think he will find that the legal requirements of the cases make this necessary.

They are serious crimes and usually relate to those involving sentences of penal servitude.

Leave Camps, North Africa


asked the Secretary of State for War whether leave camps or centres have been established in North Africa where troops from the forward areas may spend their leave instead of being sent to the towns and left to find their own entertainment?

I doubt whether the military situation in North Africa has as yet enabled leave to be granted on any wide scale. Any recommendation from the Commander-in-Chief as to the necessity for erecting leave camps would of course receive sympathetic consideration.

Illiterates (Instruction)


asked the Secretary of State for War whether he will consider making arrangements whereby soldiers who can neither read nor write may receive instruction?

There are few illiterates in the Army, and they are scattered among various units. Where qualified instructors are available classes are now held to teach them to read and write. A special book is now being prepared which will enable instruction to be given in all units by regimental non-commissioned officers.

In view of the fact that they are so scattered, will my right hon. Friend consider collecting some of them together into groups, so that they may receive this instruction, which is necessary from a military standpoint?

Anti-Mine Devices


asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware that on many occasions in recent operations in Tunisia the advance of British troops has been held up for lack of adequate minesweeping tanks; and why, when a suitable mine-sweeper was offered to his Department some two years ago, the development was not proceeding with?

For the answer to the first part of the hon. Member's Question, I would refer him to the answer I gave to the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) on 13th April. I am not aware that any device was rejected by the Army unless extensive trials showed that it did not meet requirements.

As the reply given to my hon. Friend was totally unsatisfactory, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he is aware that officers who have been in these battles have told me of the inadequacy of the mine-sweeping equipment and that equipment much better was offered to the Department two years ago? Why has it not been proceeded with?

I am not prepared to accept as accurate, to put it mildly, the hon. Member's facts.

In regard to the reply which my right hon. Friend gave me the other day can he assure the House, in view of the extensive use which the Germans are making of minefields, that an improvement is being made in the method of overcoming them?

I can certainly give the assurance that a great deal of attention is being paid to it and that a special organisation has been set up inside the Army to conduct research, experiments and trials in anti-mine devices.

Have any representations been received from the headquarters staff in North Africa on this subject? Is my right hon. Friend aware that officers who are on leave in this country have made statements to the effect that proper devices are not obtainable and that that has entailed a great loss of life?

As regards representations from the Middle East, certain devices which were under trial in the Middle East have been sent home and are under active development here. As regards the second part of the question, I am not aware that there have been any general complaints, certainly not official complaints, from the Middle East of any unwillingness on our part to conduct research in this very important matter.

Is it not true that by far the majority of the losses in killed at El Alamein were on account of the absence of adequate mine-sweeping facilities? It is nonsense to pretend that they were not.

I should require notice of that question, but I beg leave to doubt it very much.

May I refer my right hon. Friend to the Prime Minister, who made a statement to that effect in this House? It is absolutely true, and he knows it is true.

Leave, Middle East (Meals And Accommodation)


asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware of the complaints of exorbitant charges for tea, cakes and lodgings, to men in the Middle East Forces, while on leave in Tripolitania and Egypt; and will he take the necessary steps to secure that serving soldiers are able to afford their leave?

I have received no such complaints, and I do not consider that they would be justified in Egypt, where the Army, philanthropic organisations and generous local inhabitants have made extensive arrangements to provide meals and accommodation for sleep and recreation for troops on leave. Special camps have been built, and clubs and canteens have been set up. For example, Army Welfare last autumn controlled 150 beds for officers and 6,000 beds for other ranks in Cairo and 100 beds for officers and 3,000 for other ranks in Alexandria. More have doubtless been provided in these towns since then. It is not long since Tripolitania was a battle area, and most of the supplies sent there are for military purposes. But those concerned are doing what they can to provide canteens and clubs which, as in Egypt, should make it unnecessary for soldiers to pay exorbitant prices.

Will the right hon. Gentleman look at some correspondence which has been sent to me on this matter, and will he realise that the rate of exchange of currency is making it very awkward for the soldiers?

Will my right hon. Friend take note that many soldiers write back and say how remarkable are the efforts of the War Office to help the soldiers?

Will my right hon. Friend appoint a successor to General Willans, who was accidentally killed, and as soon as he is appointed will my right hon. Friend send him to North Africa to make inquiries into the situation?

General Willans' notes did not survive the accident in which he was killed. A successor has been appointed, but in the meantime another high officer has been sent out to pick up the threads of the investigation which General Willans had been conducting.

Pension Terms (Enlistment Form)


asked the Secretary of State for War for what purpose a volunteer is made to sign an undertaking as to his pension rights; does this alter in any way his ultimate claims in case of disability; and whether there is any difference in regard to pensions between a soldier who volunteers and one who is called up in the ordinary way?

The pension terms are the same for all, whether volunteers or not. The clause in the enlistment form to which my hon. Friend refers dates from the time when all were volunteers, and was intended to call the recruit's attention to the limitation of pension entitlement to disabilities attributable to service. The clause was omitted from the enlistment form for the non-volunteer because he would have no say in the terms of his service. In view of the misunderstanding which has arisen, I am considering the withdrawal of the clause altogether.

Coroner's Inquest, Chatham

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for War whether the War Office are legally represented at the Coroner's inquest at Chatham on the death of Rifleman William Clarence Clayton, who died while undergoing sentence of detention?

Yes, Sir. A representative of the Judge Advocate General is watching the proceedings of the Coroner's inquest, which has been adjourned until to-morrow.

Will the War Office be in possession of the whole of the evidence at the proceedings?

In so far as the War Office is represented at the inquest, certainly; but my hon. Friend can rest assured that there is no question of the War Office seeking to burke any issues which are raised by this incident.

Discharged Service Personnel (Rehabilitation)


asked the Prime Minister whether he will make a statement on the development of the scheme by which personnel discharged from the Services on grounds of neurosis or temporary instability can receive appropriate rehabilitative treatment; whether any residential centres have been established; and which Government Department will be responsible for its working?

All cases of personnel who are being discharged from the Services on the grounds stated in the Question are considered by the Ministry of Pensions and, where appropriate, medical treatment, including rehabilitation treatment, is provided for them either at Ministry of Pensions hospitals or at neurosis centres under the Emergency Hospital Scheme. These centres, 11 in number in England and Wales, and two in Scotland, are residential and are under the supervision of the Ministry of Health and the Department of Health for Scotland. For those not requiring, or no longer requiring, in-patient treatment, out-patient facilities and social help are available at clinics and through other mental health agencies conducted by local authorities or voluntary bodies. These latter services are not at present complete or fully co-ordinated, but are being developed under the auspices of the Board of Control as far as war conditions allow.

If an hon. Member wishes to pursue this matter with a particular Minister, which Minister will be the appropriate one to approach?

Is the Prime Minister aware that in a number of cases the men concerned are unable to take advantage of the facilities provided, because of the fact that the maintenance allowance for their homes while they are in hospital is insufficient to keep the homes going?

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is no power to compel a man suffering from neurosis to take treatment, and that there have been many cases where men suffering in this way have been sent to prison?

I am not aware of that. I should have thought the point would have been raised in the course of any proceedings in court, and brought out fully, and the case would then come up. As to compulsion, that would raise a much wider question than I could deal with by an answer to a Question.

Service Pay And Allowances (Co-Ordination)


asked the Prime Minister what permanent machinery exists for the purpose of co-ordinating rates of pay and allowances between the three Services; and is he aware that so far as the Navy is concerned there has been no advance in the pay of senior officers since 1938 and that each of the three Services appears to act in this matter with little or no consideration for what the others are doing?

Co-ordination in this sphere of Government as in others rests ultimately on the existence of a united Government collectively responsible for its acts. It is maintained in practice by the normal machinery of constant Ministerial and inter-departmental consultation, and I cannot accept my hon. and gallant Friend's suggestion that the Services or the Ministers responsible for them fail to co-operate to the fullest extent in matters of common concern. As regards the pay of senior naval officers, no general advances have been made since 1938 in the pay of senior members of any Crown Service, and none is at present contemplated.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is a tendency to isolated discussions with the Treasury, which, unless they are coordinated, do certainly lead to anomalies? There was a case in the House only last week concerning a rise of pay for commissioned officers in the Army, which is a case in point.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that quite frequently suggested improvements are put up by the Service Departments and are not accepted by the finance branches of those Service Departments, and that it is only when the House forces a Debate that we can get any improvement? Is there no better way?

War Casualties


asked the Prime Minister whether he is now in a position to give particulars of the casualties among our Fighting Services since the outbreak of war to the last available date?

No, Sir, but hope I to be in a position to publish the figures shortly.

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that nearly all the belligerents do issue these statistics and that the United States of America issue them very regularly?

I do not know about the regularity with which the United Nations issue these statistics, but a statement has been collected from all the Forces of the Commonwealth and the Empire up to the close of last year. I am not sure whether a later statement could be made beyond that. Such statements should certainly not be too much up to date.

Gas Warfare (Retaliatory Measures)


asked the Prime Minister whether he will give an assurance that before any decision is taken by His Majesty's Government to embark upon gas war steps will be taken to certify beyond doubt that gas has been used by the enemy, and that such certification will be from a neutral observer?


the Prime Minister whether he will assure the House that before His Majesty's Government decide to employ poison gas a neutral commission shall be requested to ascertain the facts as to the use of that weapon by the enemy against the Russians in the first instance?

Retaliatory action will not be taken until His Majesty's Government are convinced that gas has been used by the enemy, but we have no intention of inviting neutrals to assist us in this matter.

May I ask my right hon. Friend whether he recollects, as every fighting soldier will testify, how often during the last war misstatements about the use of gas were made; and before this added horror is let loose on the world, will he take all precautions to make sure?

I have very good confidence that we shall receive true information from our Russian Allies.

Beveridge Report (Implementation)


asked the Minister without Portfolio whether he has any further statement to make on the Government's attitude to the Beveridge plan; and whether he will state the probable date of the introduction of the promised scheme of children's allowances?

As regards the first part of the Question, I would refer my hon. Friend to the statement which I made on 22nd April, in the course of the Debate on the Adjournment. As regards the second part, I would refer to the reply which I gave to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Wing-Commander James) on the same day.

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman not aware that his statement on the Beveridge plan did not meet with very much approval, and can he not be a little more explicit as to the probable date when the Government will implement the plan and begin to put it into operation?

No, Sir; I cannot be any more specific than I was in my speech. I am sorry that it did not meet with approval.

Does not the right hon. and learned Gentleman think that the present state of the birthrate does not justify further delay in doing what is possible to remove the economic objections to parenthood?

Will opportunity be given to the House to discuss the establishment of a Ministry of Social Security?

That matter was fully discussed in the speech to which I have referred, on the Adjournment, the week before last.