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War Office Correspondence

Volume 414: debated on Tuesday 16 October 1945

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asked the Secretary of State for War whether he will take steps to bring to an end the delay in his Department in answering letters from hon. Members.

The ending of hostilities and the coming into operation of the Release Scheme have resulted in a great public interest and anxiety as regards every aspect of release from the Army. This interest and anxiety are reflected in the volume of correspondence to the War Office in regard to these matters, both from Members of Parliament and from the general public. I have had certain figures taken out which indicate the vastly increasing volume of correspondence, and I am hoping to be able to carry into effect appropriate measures to ensure that correspondence is dealt with more promptly. I wish to say, however, that, though there may be some delay in the actual answering of letters, it is not therefore to be assumed that there is any lack of reasonable promptitude in taking action upon the various cases where action is required. The tendency is for correspondence to lag behind action.

The figures to which I have referred are these:—

Letters addressed personally by Members of Parliament to the Secretary of State, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State and the Financial Secretary were:—

In June, 1944–2,243.

In June, 1945–2,378. That is, practically the same number.

In September, 1945–6,739. Or as nearly as possible, three times as many.

As regards letters on compassionate releases alone:—

In May, 1945–24,366 letters, of which 1,134 were from Members of Parliament.

In July, 1945–33,788. (None from Members of Parliament. House dissolved.)

In August, 1945–33,930. Of which 768 were from Members of Parliament.

In September, 1945–36,565. Of which 3,382 were from Members of Parliament.

In the first 14 days of the present month of October, there were 20,832 letters, of which 1,985 were from Members of Parliament, so that, if the present rate be continued for the rest of this month, there will have been upwards of 40,000 letters from members of the public in that one Branch alone of one Department of the War Office, of which some 4,000 would be from Members of Parliament.

In this one Branch dealing with compassionate releases, there are between 250 and 300 personal interviews a day given to callers, and the whole time of five officers is occupied in answering telephone calls, irrespective of the unceasing telephone calls dealt with by the remaining officers of this Branch in the ordinary course of their daily work.

From the figures I have given, it will be clear that the question of dealing with the enormous mass of correspondence is not merely one of additional officers or clerks; if the present abnormal flow continues, a radical reorganisation will have to be considered.