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Detention Barracks (Conditions)

Volume 389: debated on Tuesday 18 May 1943

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15 and 17.

asked the Secretary of State for War (1) whether, in view of the widespread anxiety caused by allegations made in evidence at the inquest on Rifleman Clayton, he will make a statement on conditions and methods of discipline and inspection in detention barracks generally;

(2) whether he is aware that treatment, similar to that which led to the death of Rifleman Clayton, has been administered regularly to prisoners in detention barracks for at least 18 months past; and what steps he proposes to take, having due regard for disciplinary necessity, to introduce penal standards in greater conformity with normal civilised practice?


asked the Secretary of State for War whether he has now been able to review the evidence given at the coroner's inquest on the death of Rifleman William Clarence Clayton, caused while undergoing sentence of detention, and, in particular, the jury's expression of grave dissatisfaction with the camp medical supervision; and what action he proposes to take?


asked the Secretary of State for War whether he can give any information in connection with the charge against Regimental Sergeant-Major Culliney and Quartermaster-Sergeant Salter for the punishment inflicted on Rifleman Clayton, of Enfield Wash; and what action he intends taking against the officers?


asked the Secretary of State for War whether, in view of the findings at the inquest on the death of Rifleman William Clayton, he will cause a searching investigation to be made into the methods of discipline employed in detention camps?


asked the Secretary of State for War whether, in view of the recent revelations of ill-treatment in connection with the death of a soldier in delicate health, he will bring to an end in the British Army harsh treatment of any member of His Majesty's Forces as the present case has caused unrest among the parents and friends of serving soldiers?

In the first place, I should make it clear that I do not believe that the case of Rifleman Clayton is in any way usual or typical of the treatment received by men in detention barracks. A departmental investigation was made some 18 months ago as to whether the treatment, training, accommodation and feeding of soldiers under sentence in detention barracks were in accordance with modern standards and satisfy the requirements of a war-time Army. It was found that in general the conditions were good. Moreover, a number of improvements have been made since then. The life of the men in detention barracks must obviously be subject to certain restrictions, but their treatment is humane and in general they now lead a normal life. This includes military training outside barracks, exercise such as football and boxing, and the lectures and debates of Army Education and A.B.C.A. Every detention barracks is inspected weekly by an officer not below field rank, and the commander of the area or district often visits the detention barracks in his command. In addition, the Inspector of Military Prisons reports direct to the War Office on his frequent visits. Since this departmental investigation four cases only of striking or bodily ill-treatment have come to notice, and in only two of these were convictions obtained.

On this particular case, I cannot at present add anything to the findings of the inquest and to the reply I gave the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) on 4th May. Two men concerned have been charged with manslaughter and now await their trial by a civil court. The inquiry by the military authorities must therefore be suspended until the trial is over. I can assure my hon. Friends that when it is resumed it will deal fully with all the issues raised by this distressing case.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether it is not the case that the inspectors' "frequent visits," of which he spoke, are always notified in advance to the responsible authorities in each barracks?

I think that that has been the practice, but if the hon. Member is suggesting that the inspectors can have wool pulled over their eyes, I emphatically disagree with him.

I take it for granted that, if the man in question is found guilty of the offence against him, the right hon. Gentleman will consider as to the advisability of allowing such a man to remain under the War Department?

As I explained to my hon. Friends, the two men concerned are under trial by a civil court, and I think it is inadvisable to say anything while the case is sub judice.

Can my right hon. Friend say what is the usual rank of an officer in charge?

Not without notice. I imagine it is "lieutenant-colonel," but I will let my hon. Friend know.

The right hon. Gentleman has not answered that portion of my Question which I do not think need wait until the result of the criminal trial. I refer in particular to "the jury's expression of grave dissatisfaction with the camp medical supervision."

I am sorry, but there is another Question later on, and I will answer that in connection with it.

The right hon. Gentleman has, with my permission, answered or purported to answer my Question, and cannot he say whether we have to wait until this criminal trial finishes before we can get some improvement in the medical supervision?

There are various Questions on the medical aspect later on, and I think that it is convenient to deal with these together. I am sorry if it does not meet the convenience of the hon. Member.

In spite of the fact that the right hon. Gentleman talked about wool being pulled over the eyes of inspectors, does he not think it would be right to have impromptu inspections?

That raises a very large general question about the system of inspection in the Army, and I would not like to deal with it now on a particular case.


asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is satisfied that the two medical examinations of soldiers sent to detention barracks are carried out generally with sufficient care?

The regulations on this point are clear and explicit. The military court of inquiry which will be held as a result of the case of Rifleman Clayton will no doubt examine whether the regulations were observed in his case and whether they are generally observed at the Chatham detention barracks. The medical officer of this barracks has now been transferred elsewhere.

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether, in view of the considerable publicity that has been given to this case in the newspapers, he will disclose to this House and the country the results of the inquiry which he proposes to set up?

I will certainly make a statement in regard to the inquiry, and none of the issues will be burked. I hope that the hon. Member will be content to leave it at that for the time being.


asked the Secretary of State for War the medical category of the late Rifleman William Clarence Clayton on admission to detention camp; and whether there was any diagnosis of tuberculosis recorded on his medical history sheet?

Rifleman Clayton was in medical category C. The answer to the last part of the Question is, "No, Sir."

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether it is customary for men in medical category C to be sent to detention camps to undergo the rigours of these camps, of which he is aware?

I hoped that the long answer which I gave just now would have shown that, normally speaking, conditions at these camps are not unduly rigorous.