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British Army

Volume 466: debated on Tuesday 28 June 1949

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Field-Marshal Montgomery (Speech)

41.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether his attention has been drawn to the speech made by Field-Marshal Lord Montgomery at Whittington Barracks, near Lichfield, on 12th June in the course of reviewing troops, in which he made a political attack on Communism; whether this speech was made with his authority; and, in view of the series of such speeches which have been made by senior officers, what steps he proposes to take to ensure that these officers do not take advantage of their positions of authority to make political speeches.

I have not seen the text of the speech referred to, but only a brief report in the local Press. The contents of the speech were not submitted to me for prior approval, nor is there any reason why they should have been. Field-Marshal Lord Montgomery is now holding an international appointment and I am not responsible for his actions.

In view of the fact that Field-Marshal Lord Montgomery holds rank in the British Army and that, I believe, he draws a salary from His Majesty's Government, the Secretary of State must take some responsibility; and is my right hon. Friend aware that among other things the Field-Marshal on this occasion said that the Army is fighting Communism—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—and that the best way to fight Communism was to train young men to fight it? Therefore, may I ask the Secretary of State for War whether he approves of those statements and whether they are in accord with Government policy?

With Lord Montgomery's present capacity I have no responsibility. Besides, I find it very embarrassing to have to explain away speeches made by other people.

Does my right hon. Friend's first answer mean that the fact that Lord Montgomery holds an international appointment has the result that he is free from the restrictions on political speeches that bind all other officers serving in His Majesty's Forces?

I have already expressed myself in reply to other Questions on speeches made by high-ranking officers, and I hardly think it necessary to say more.

Could the right hon. Gentleman induce the hon. Member for Mile End (Mr. Piratin) to appeal to the Soviet generals to stop their inflammatory speeches?

Officers' Wives, Near East

43.

asked the Secretary of State for War, if he has considered details which have been sent to him concerning the conditions under which officers' wives live in the Near East; what immediate steps he is taking to rectify the position; and if he will make a statement.

I am having inquiries made into the various representations made in the correspondence forwarded to me by the hon. Member. I will write to him as soon as possible.

Is the Minister not ashamed that recruiting is so slack and will he in future cease to blame the wicked Tories?

I am certainly not ashamed of the recruiting position. The present position is not at all unsatisfactory, but in so far as there are difficulties they are due to factors which are unfavourable and over which we have no control.

Field-Marshal Manstein (Defence)

42.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware that lawyers defending Field-Marshal Manstein applied to him by letter of 10th June for documents now in the United States of America for use in the defence; and whether he can state the date by which all those documents will be made available and where.

As I have no control over the custodians of the documents if they are in the United States of America, I cannot say when they will be received, but, subject to their availability, no time will be lost in producing them for inspection by German counsel.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the counsel have asked for at least three weeks' margin between the time they receive the documents and the time the trial takes place, and in view of his assurance that full time will be allowed will he assure the House that that period at least will be given?

We place no obstacle in the way of German counsel obtaining these documents. On the whole, we have treated them very reasonably.

That does not answer by question. Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that if there is delay in supplying these documents, which are essential and at present are not very conveniently placed, the trial will be put off until a reasonable time has been allowed for their study?

Advantage might be taken of such delays, and we must bring this person to trial.

In view of the fact that my Question which was a perfectly simple one has not been answered I beg to give notice that I shall raise this matter on the Adjournment, as soon as possible.

Decorations And Medals

44.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he will arrange that medals for gallantry, especially those awarded to foreign nationals, shall not be sent to the recipients by post but be presented at some suitable function.

I would refer the hon. and gallant Member to an announcement which appeared in the Press on 18th December, 1945, on the subject of the presentation of decorations and medal, of which I am sending him a copy. With regard to foreign nationals every effort is made to ensure that the presentation of awards is carried out with appropriate ceremony.

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that in the Communist dominated countries of Eastern Europe one can do nothing worse than make a public presentation to anyone who backed the British during the war?

45.

asked the Prime Minister why the medals awarded to ex-Service men and women do not bear the name of the recipient and, as this has caused great disappointment, if he will recall them and make good the omission.

I would refer the hon. Member to the reply which I gave to the hon. Member for Streatham (Sir D. Robertson) on 23rd March, 1948. The reply to the second part of the Question is in the negative.

Why was it not practicable this time to follow the precedent of the 1914 war, when medals bore the name and number of the recipient, and as the medal is a personal matter will not the Prime Minister reconsider his attitude?

If the hon. Gentleman will study the previous reply which I gave he will find a very full answer. I am not aware of any great feeling on this matter; all the evidence is to the contrary. It has been pointed out that it is possible for a very small sum to have the name put on the medal, but if a demand had been made for the names to be put on all the medals it would have meant a long delay, which would have caused a great deal more dissatisfaction than the omission of the names.

After the previous war a large number of ex-Service men had to pawn their medals. Will not this idea facilitate it?

Would the right hon. Gentleman consider making a small financial grant to people who have medals engraved with their names, as that cannot be done by Government Departments?

Is the Prime Minister aware that a comrade of mine had three medals sent to him last week. Would I be in order in telling him to throw them in Montgomery's teeth?

On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. Is it in Order for the hon. Member to insult a senior officer of the British Army who is representing this country in an international organisation?

It is one of those offensive remarks to which I think we need pay no attention.

Further to that point of Order. If Lord Montgomery tells British lads in the Army that their job is to fight me—

Will the Prime Minister bear in mind that since he gave that answer in March the House has been informed that only 2 million out of 5 million who are eligible have claimed their medals? Will he consider whether or not the reason for that is the fact that the medals are not engraved?

That is not my information. My information is that complaints on this score are very few and that far more people would be glad to have a medal now than wait for the long time which will be necessary if all the medals are to be returned and stamped. I think that the hon. and gallant Member is wrong in this matter.

Is it not the case that the great majority of those who took part in the last war, some of whom took part in the previous war, do not want their medals simply because they want to forget all about wars?