asked the Prime Minister if he will instruct the three Service Departments that, although Servicemen and women desiring to put forward re quests or grievances should in the first instance do so through the usual Service channels, it is to be understood clearly by all ranks that all Servicemen and women retain the normal citizen right of communicating with their Members of Parliament about any subject whatsoever, provided that there is no disclosure of military secrets.
I am satisfied that Servicemen and women already understand that if they write to a Member of Parliament disciplinary action will not be taken against them for that reason, and all three Service Departments accept that view; but the proper channel for com- plaints as provided in the King s Regulations is the commanding officer, and I would emphasise the importance of men and women taking up their problems through the channels specifically provided, at any rate in the first instance. Before a complaint can be disposed of by higher authority, it is generally necessary for the commanding officer himself to inquire at first hand, and to report upon, the facts. I think, therefore, that the House will agree with me that individual complaints and grievances will be more expeditiously dealt with, and the practical interests of individuals be better safeguarded, if complaints, not already investigated, are first made through the proper channels rather than referred directly by Members to Ministers. It would be of great assistance to the Service Departments if hon. Members bring this point of view to their correspondents.
While certainly not wishing to urge anything that will increase the correspondence of any hon. Member, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman to bear in mind that these matters are not always expeditiously dealt with when raised only through the usual channels; and that there is some misapprehension about this, especially, perhaps, in the Navy among senior officers? Will he cause a clear statement of the facts to be circulated through Service channels?
Will the right hon. Gentleman see that the answer given to this Question is published in orders in all three Services so that the people concerned will understand what the position is?
I would not like to give an answer straight off, but I will bring the suggestions of both hon. Members to the notice of the Service Departments.
:Is it not the case that there are less grievances in the Royal Navy than in any other Service?