To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will investigate allegations made in a letter passed to him by the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South that men under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Macmillan have been fined excessively for trivial offences; and how many applications to leave his unit have been made in recent months.
The anonymous letter passed to me by the right hon. Member relates to summary disciplinary action taken by Lieutenant Colonel Macmillan as commanding officer of 4th Armoured Division Field Ambulance. In dealing summarily with disciplinary cases, a commanding officer has the widest possible evidence available to him, and it has long been our practice to regard matters of this sort as confidential between the CO and the individual soldiers concerned.The punishments awarded in each of the cases mentioned in the letter were well within the commanding officer's powers and were correctly entered into unit disciplinary records — which are subject to regular inspection by higher military authority. None of the three cases of alleged excessive fining noted in the letter is as simple as the right hon. Member's correspondent has suggested. In the case of the fine imposed for "an untidy room", the NCO concerned was charged as a result of his room being found, on a six-monthly accommodation check, in an indescribably filthy and unhygenic condition: the fine imposed was the equivalent of 18 days' pay. In another of the cases cited, the charge was not only that the NCO concerned failed to stop on a bicycle when ordered, but that he was riding at night without lights, and behaving in a disorderly manner in front of foreign visitors to the unit: the soldier concerned was fined the equivalent of 19 days' pay. In the third case cited, the NCO concerned was a persistent offender in the late settlement of mess bills, and had been specifically reminded of the due date of the bill in question: he was fined the equivalent of six days' pay. Each of the soldiers concerned had the option of electing to be tried by court martial on the same charges, and none of them has made any complaint or appeal about the summary punishment awarded.The letter alleges that there has been an undue number of NCOs or soldiers seeking premature transfer from the unit. This is simply not the case. Since the CO took command in January this year, two officers and 10 soldiers have applied for early release or premature posting, for a variety of reasons ranging from family circumstances, to offers of civilian employment, to their volunteering for the airborne or commando forces. The applications for PVR represent some 3·4 per cent. of the unit establishment. Some 70 other soldiers who were eligible to transfer under a trickle posting system have chosen to remain within the unit.