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British Army

Volume 389: debated on Tuesday 25 May 1943

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Explosives (Accidents To Children)

13.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he can now give consideration to the question of the defence of contributory negligence against infants under the age of 16 who are injured in connection with explosives left by military personnel; whether, in view of the new type of danger now brought to children in this connection and the increased use of these explosives through intensified training, he will waive this defence in all cases where permanent injury is caused, so that in such cases compensation can always be paid for the benefit of the maimed victim?

My hon. Friend's proposal has been carefully and sympathetically considered. In questions of this kind I feel, however, that I must be guided by the general attitude of courts of law in similar cases. Children over 10 are usually regarded as capable of contributory negligence and I regret therefore that I do not feel justified in issuing a general direction as suggested by my hon. Friend. Every case is considered separately on its own merits and ex-gratia payments are often made and other assistance given notwithstanding contributory negligence. In conjunction with my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Education steps are being taken to bring these dangers to the notice of all concerned by means of posters and warnings issued to schools and on the wireless.

While thanking my right hon. Friend for his sympathetic reply, may I ask him to impress on the authorities the great importance of not leaving about dangerous explosives which are the cause of these accidents?

I will certainly do my best to do that, but in the more realistic military training a certain amount of that becomes inevitable.

Home Guard (Bicycles)

15.

asked the Secretary of State for War for what reason bicycles recently issued to Home Guard mobile platoons are being withdrawn?

I am not aware that any bicycles used by the Home Guard have been withdrawn, but if my hon. and gallant Friend will send me particulars of the cases he has in mind, they will be investigated.

Territorial Army Officers (Promotion)

19.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he will reintroduce substantive promotion in the Territorial Army that has been embodied?

I am not satisfied that there is sufficient case for changing the present policy under which Territorial Army officers receive promotion under war-time regulations only.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in some units Regular Army officers are receiving substantive promotion which has been denied to Territorial officers, and will he reconsider the matter?

Substantive promotion in the case of the Regular Army is based on the pre-war establishment.

Personnel, Prisoner Of War Camps

20.

asked the Secretary of State for War the number of soldiers passed A.I and fit far military service who are now employed at prisoner of war camps; if they are eligible for service overseas; and whether he will consider replacing these men soon by men who are older and are not A.I, or who have already seen some active service?

About 850 non-commissioned officers and men employed at prisoner of war camps are under 40 and in medical category A.I. The position is reviewed from time to time, and as many A.I men are released as possible, but my hon. Friend will appreciate that a nucleus of these men is necessary as stiffeners for the large majority who are of low medical category.

Does the right hon. Gentleman seriously consider that a nucleus of these men is necessary to guard what are mostly Italian prisoners? Surely it is fantastic.

Prisoners Of War

16.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he will make a further effort, through the Protecting Power, to obtain a full list of British prisoners in Japanese hands as a result of the fighting in the Malay Peninsula and the capitulation at Singapore?

The flow of notifications by the Japanese Government of the names of British prisoners of war in their hands has shown a distinct improvement lately, and I do not think that further representations through the Protecting Power at the present juncture would result in a speeding-up of the process.

In view of the fact that these lists were compiled over a year ago and have been deliberately withheld by the Japanese Government, will the British Government let it be known that the refusal of the Japanese Government to follow the practice of civilised countries will be borne in mind when the final reckoning is made?

There are a large number of other counts against the Japanese, and some of them much more serious than this. I have no doubt that all these things are being put down in the bill.

Is there a Protecting Power? I understood that the Swiss Government were unable to act in this respect.

There is a Protecting Power. My recollection is that they are not given the normal access which Protecting Powers in other cases are given.

17.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether it is his intention that before long the bulk of the German prisoners captured in Tunisia and elsewhere will be employed on the land and on reconstruction work in this country?

For a variety of reasons I do not think that my hon. and gallant Friend's suggestion is practicable.

18.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware that no communications have been received by some relatives of men held as prisoners of war in Campo P.G. 154 since October last; and can he say what action is being taken to trace the present location of these men?

As regards the first part of the Question, the answer is "Yes, Sir," and I regret to say that inquiries that have been made about individuals through the International Red Cross have failed to elicit any information about them. As regards the second part of the Question, urgent requests for information have been made to the Italian Government, but so far without result.

21.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether any Service or battle-dress, the property of officers who have been taken prisoner, is at present being held in the baggage depots in the Middle East; and whether, in such cases, he will arrange for the despatch of the Service or battle-dress to the relative prison camp?

The kit of officers who are taken prisoner is held in the Middle East for a short time and then as shipping permits is sent back to this country for storage. The kit cannot be disposed of in the Middle East without the officer's directions, and before these were received the kit would in many cases have left the Middle East. Even if it had not, it would be difficult to implement my hon. Friend's proposal as the only means of sending things directly from the Middle East to enemy prison camps is by it lb. postal parcel, and I do not think it would be desirable for special arrangements to be made in the Middle East for opening officers' kits and sending them individual items of clothing.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it is done frequently in many cases of individual officers, and has been done in the last six months?

22.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware that seven weeks ago Roman Catholics in Oflag IX A/ H were transferred to Oflag IX A /Z; that this camp, where there are also many seriously wounded, is overcrowded, 570 being housed in accommodation which used normally to hold 100 to 150 girls; that washing, cooking and sanitary arrangements are very bad; and whether he will make representations, through the Protecting Power, with a view to the improvement of these conditions?

The answer to the first part of the Question is, "Yes, Sir." I understand that this move was made because there is a Roman Catholic chaplain at the new camp. I believe Oflag IX A /Z was formerly a boarding school for boys, but I do not know how many pupils it accommodated. The report of a visit carried out by the Protecting Power at the end of November, 1942, states that the washing and sanitary arrangements were adequate and that there were no complaints about the cooking arrangements. The camp was visited by a representative of the International Red Cross at the end of March. The telegraphic report on the visit states that the accommodation was then overcrowded and the sanitary installations inadequate. The full report is expected soon, and the attention of the Protecting Power will certainly be drawn to any unsatisfactory features it may disclose.

Has the right hon. Gentleman any idea why it is that the reports of the Protecting Power are so invariably optimistic and do not tally with the letters which we get from prisoners?

I could not give any general explanation about that, because it would be an admission of a general statement which I am not prepared to accept without a good deal of further investigation, but in this particular case there is an interval of four months between the two reports, and it is clear that the circumstances have altered materially.

In view of the distress that will be caused to relatives by a Question like this, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that certain officers, including myself, have received better reports from that camp than the Question of my hon. and gallant Friend implies? Also, I believe that not only the Red Cross but representatives of the Protecting Power visited the camp at the end of March or the beginning of April, and will the right hon. Gentleman get a special report?

One of the awkward features about conditions in prisoner-of-war camps is that we do get contradictory and conflicting testimony from prisoners in the same camp about conditions there.

Will the right hon. Gentleman get a special report from the Swiss Government? I understand that representatives of the Swiss Government visited the camp.

Bitumen

25.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power whether he is aware that the supplies of bitumen are now so restricted that various manufacturing processes are being seriously handicapped; and whether any considerable quantity of bitumen is being used on road and runway construction although available fluxed pitch could equally well be used for such purposes at a price much lower than bitumen?

In order to reduce the consumption of imported oil, it is the policy of my Ministry, with the co-opera tion of other Ministries, and of the industries concerned, to secure the fullest possible use of coal tar products in place of bitumen for manufacturing processes and for roads and runways. The quantity of bitumen used for road and runway construction is relatively small as compared with fluxed pitch, and I am advised by my right hon. and Noble Friend the Minister of War Transport that care is taken to ensure that bitumen is not used for such work if fluxed pitch could be used with satisfactory results.

Communist Party Organ, South Africa

26.

asked the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs on what grounds "Inkululeko," official organ of the Communist Party of South Africa, is prohibited from entering the Protectorates of Basutoland, Bechuanaland and Swaziland; on what grounds the request by the Communist Party of South Africa for an interview with the High Commissioner for the Protectorates, in order to appeal against the ban, was refused; and whether, in view of the fact that "Inkululeko" is not restricted anywhere in the Union of South Africa, he will take steps to see that this prohibition is removed?

I am informed that the entry of this paper into the territories mentioned was originally prohibited by the Resident Commissioners, with the approval of the then High Commissioner, because of articles which had appeared in 1940 calculated to hamper the war effort. Though the views expressed in the paper have in some respects altered since the entry of Russia into the war, the High Commissioner feels that certain of the policies which it advocates are likely to be misunderstood by rural natives and cause unrest during the war. The High Commissioner thought it unnecessary to grant an interview to the Communist Party in South Africa in order to discuss the matter since it could suitably be dealt with by correspondence.

Is the hon. Gentleman not aware that in general the natives will be more capable of understanding the message in this paper than is the High Commissioner, and will he not use his influence to get the paper into the hands of the natives?

Does the hon. Gentleman make that statement on the ground that the natives cannot read the paper?

House Of Commons' Members Fund

29.

asked the right hon. and gallant Member for Rye, as representing the Trustees, whether he is aware that the income of the House of Commons Members' Fund, derived from the statutory contributions of hon. Members, is proving to be 10 times as great as the calls on the fund; and whether, in these circumstances, he will obtain an early report from the Government Actuary, as provided under Section 3 of the House of Commons Members' Fund Act?

I apologise for my absence last week when this Question first appeared on the Paper. An interim report from the Government Actuary was obtained in January, 1943. The actuarial status of the Fund is that the accumulated reserve is not yet sufficient to meet all estimated demands which may be expected in the near future.

In view of the fact that this is a domestic issue of some interest at the moment to Members of this House, will my right hon. and gallant Friend consult with the Patronage Secretary with a view to our having an occasional discussion about it, say once every two years? We have not had any opportunity of discussing the management of the Fund or the position since the Act was passed.

Will my right hon. and gallant Friend consider raising the minimum limit for giving pensions to people?

The limits are laid down by the Act under which we are working, and the Fund has not yet been in operation over a General Election. I think it is likely that we may get a great deal of fresh experience after the next General Election.

Fire Guard Duties (Women)

30.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department the date on which it is expected that the new Order respecting the liability of women for fire-watching duties will be issued?

The recent establishment of close working arrangements between the Fire Guard Service and the National Fire Service has made it necessary to introduce certain changes in the draft Orders. My right hon. Friend hopes, however, that he will be able to sign the Orders next month.