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British Army

Volume 463: debated on Tuesday 5 April 1949

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Officers (Service Dress)

7.

asked the Secretary of State for War on what occasions his regulations prescribe that service dress is to be worn by officers.

Service dress is obsolescent except for officers of the rank of colonel and above, and officers of horsed units. For the latter, service dress is the normal dress for mounted parades. Colonels and above are allowed to wear service dress on occasions when not on parade with troops wearing other types of uniform. No other officers are now allowed to buy service dress, but those who still have it may wear it on various occasions.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether there are any exceptions to these regulations covering dress in the Army?

Officers' War Service, Burma

8.

asked the Secretary of State for War if he will state the number of British officers serving in Burma at the outbreak of the Japanese War; and how many of these officers were accompanied by their wives and families.

Approximately 320 officers of the British Army were serving in Burma at the end of 1941. Information is not available as to how many were accompanied by their wives and families.

Does this include officers seconded for service under the Burmese Government, and if it does will the right hon. Gentleman use his influence with the Foreign Office to see that they get compensation for their property which was destroyed?

I think that that is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary.

Can the right hon. Gentleman explain why only 75 out of the 300 have made application for compensation for the loss of personal effects?

There is nothing in the Question about compensation, but if a Question is put down on that subject I will try to answer it.

Troopships (Medical Officers)

10.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether medical officers are carried on all troopships, including those from the Continent to Harwich.

No medical officer is provided, in peace-time, on cross-Channel voyages. A nursing orderly travels on cross-Channel ships to render first-aid only. On all other troopships a senior medical officer is provided.

16.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether there was a medical officer on the staff of the s.s. "Vienna" on 8th February, 1949.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the very distressing case of the 16-year-old band boy who was coming home on leave from Austria and died within a few hours of reaching his home, who in his dying statement said that he had reported to the medical officer on this ship and been told to wait till he got home; would my right hon. Friend appeal to anybody, officer or other rank, who saw this boy on this vessel to come forward so that the matter can be investigated further?

I regret this incident, but in fact the band boy did not report sick before leaving his unit; neither did he report to the medical orderly on the troopship or at Harwich. In fact, there was no medical man on the ship, so far as I am aware—certainly not officially.

The Question only asks whether there was a medical officer on board, and has nothing to do with the boy.

Staff Officers (Visits To Usa)

12.

asked the Secretary of State for War how many General Staff officers made official visits to the United States of America during 1948; and how many of these officers were of the rank of brigadier and above.

During 1948, 13 general staff officers from the War Office made official visits to the United States of America. Seven were of the rank of brigadier or above.

Can my right hon. Friend give an assurance that this rather expensive traffic will cease now that we are officially a satellite of the United States of America?

The Question refers to how many visits were made and not to any consequences of those visits.

On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. Is it in Order to refer to other countries in Eastern Europe as being satellites? If that is in Order, why is it not in Order to refer to this country as being a satellite?

As I understand your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, there was no objection to the form or content of my supplementary question, except as against the background of the first Question. If that were your Ruling is it not permissible for me to ask something that naturally follows from the Question?

In supplementary questions one must not make imputations or inferences; that is laid down. The hon. Gentleman made a distinct inference in his supplementary question.

Although hon. Gentlemen opposite wriggle with vexation when one challenges the betrayal of our country, am I to understand, with great respect to your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, that when I point out what everyone in the country can see, that there is the most abject surrender of Britain—

Rations

13.

asked the Secretary of State for War how many complaints he has received stating that the men serving in the Army do not get enough nutritious food; and whether he is satisfied with the quality and quantity of food supplies.

Although it is not possible to give the exact number of complaints received, they do not, for both Home and Overseas Commands, amount to more than two or three a week. In any case the majority of complaints refer to deficiencies in catering arrangements in particular units, rather than to any inadequacy of the Army ration, and are of a minor character. I am satisfied that the food provided for the troops is of good quality.

As regards quantity, my Department, together with the other Service Departments, is in constant touch with the Ministry of Food. During the present difficult food situation the object is to ensure that the ration scales provide a diet for the soldier equivalent to that available to civilians who are engaged in comparable work.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the resolution passed recently at a women's conference and given great publicity in the Press declaring that the insufficiency of the food supply is endangering the health and stamina of our men, especially those doing outdoor work? Will he give an assurance that he will take up any specific case where evidence is brought of this so that he can take action?

I saw the resolution referred to by my hon. Friend, and it is quite inconsistent with the facts. As regards specific complaints, I shall, of course, deal with them when they come along.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many of the complaints refer not so much to the quantity of the food as to the manner in which it is cooked, and will he consider appointing some suitable staff officer with a knowledge of this matter who will pay surprise visits to units to see that the catering arrangements are properly carried out?

I do not think that surprise visits are required. Generally speaking, the cooking arrangements are excellent. There are occasional units where perhaps it is not as good as it might be. We are having all these matters attended to.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is a serious glut of oatmeal in Scotland and would it not be an excellent and nutritious dish for these soldiers?

As the hon. and gallant Gentleman is aware, oatmeal is not everybody's cup of tea.

18.

asked the Secretary of State for War if he is satisfied that an adequate supper is now provided each evening for all young soldiers serving in basic training units.

The soldier is entitled to all his meals at public expense, including supper every night if he wants it. An instruction has recently been issued reminding unit commanders of their responsibility in this matter. So far as I am aware, units, including training units, are serving supper every night to those who require it.

Could the Minister say what is the substance of the adequate supper that is now provided for these boys in basic training units?

Well, I could hardly be expected to recite the menu unless I got notice of the question.

South Downs (Requisitioned Areas)

19.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware of the anxiety of those who live in the area of the South Downs, due to the fact that barbed wire, much of it concealed, slit trenches, many of them overgrown, and unexploded shells are still interfering with public amenities and right of access to the South Downs area; how many men are employed on restoring the Downs to their pre-war condition; and by when such work will be fully completed.

If there is any anxiety among those who live in the district I am not aware of it, and I would point out that the public has no access to the areas which have not been derequisitioned. Fifty civilians are employed under military supervision on clearing unexploded missiles; restoration is primarily a matter for my right hon. Friends the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Works.

Does not the Secretary of State for War appreciate that the fact I have put this Question down and written to his Department on numerous occasions, as have all other Sussex Members, is the answer to what he has just said; is he aware that there is grave anxiety in Sussex, and that the fact that the public are not allowed into derequisitioned areas is one of their chief causes of complaint?

The right hon. Gentleman having said that the local inhabitants were not saying anything about it, might I ask if he is aware that the tourists and people who come down to that part of the country are in a particularly difficult position because they know nothing about the problem?

On the other hand, the public have no access to these areas, which have not yet been derequisitioned.

Why have these areas not been derequisitioned, if they are not wanted?

For the reason that we have been unable to clear away these unexploded missiles and barbed wire entanglements, because there has been great difficulty as regards available labour for this purpose. We shall remove these encumbrances as rapidly as circumstances permit.

Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that, while of course the public have never had legal access to these areas they have had actual access to places in which people may walk; and that as long as the present situation continues it does much to create bad feeling, which does harm to the whole cause of the War Office?

As the noble Lord is well aware, it was necessary to requisition this and other land during the war. We are anxious to derequisition as rapidly as possible, but when we do derequisition the question of restoration is not a matter for my Department.

Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm that there are only a dozen or two men in the whole South Downs area employed on this work of restoring the Downs to their normal condition; and cannot he take much more active steps to do something more about it?

I am receiving the same demands from all over the country, and I simply have not the labour available. I will expedite this matter as much as I can.

20.

asked the Secretary of State for War what acreage of the South Downs is still requisitioned for military purposes; by when the whole area will have been derequisitioned; and what acreage of the South Downs has been made available to the East or West Sussex Agricultural Committees, respectively, for restoration pending derequisitioning.

Of 32,313 acres originally requisitioned in the South Downs Training Area, only 11,918 are now under requisition. The whole of this area has been made available for restoration, 5,323 acres to the East Sussex Agricultural Committee and 6,595 to the West Sussex Agricultural Committee. Derequisitioning depends on the rate of progress of restoration, and areas are derequisitioned as and when they are restored.

Vehicles, Malaya

22.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is satisfied that the vehicles used by the Forces in Malaya are suitable for the type of work which the Forces are called upon to carry out.

The vehicles in use by the Army in Malaya have been chosen as the most suitable for the work.

In view of the ambush which took place recently involving what seemed like an unsuitable vehicle, and in view of the general disquiet on the matter of equipment and training throughout the country, will the right hon. Gentleman make a statement at the earliest opportunity?

There is no need for any disquiet about either equipment or the training of troops in Malaya. That is all right. There are other difficulties that are encountered and have to be overcome. As regards the armoured cars which were sent to Malaya, so far as I am aware there has been no complaint whatever from the people on the spot.