Militia Camps.

Oral Answers to Questions — British Army. – in the House of Commons on 1st August 1939.

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Photo of Mr William Gallacher Mr William Gallacher , Fife Western

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware that the militiamen in camp at Norton Manor have been given a lecture by the commanding officer in which they were told that one of their main tasks was to combat Communism; and whether political propaganda of this character has the sanction of His Majesty's Government?

Photo of Mr Leslie Hore-Belisha Mr Leslie Hore-Belisha , Plymouth, Devonport

I am informed that the commanding officer at this camp made no such statement.

Photo of Mr William Gallacher Mr William Gallacher , Fife Western

In view of the fact of the wide publicity which has been given to the character of the lecture delivered by the commanding officer, will the right hon. Gentleman not make further and more effective inquiries?

Photo of Mr Leslie Hore-Belisha Mr Leslie Hore-Belisha , Plymouth, Devonport

I have made the most effective inquiries that I could, and I have had a telegram saying that the commanding officer makes an absolute denial of the allegations in the question.

Photo of Mr Somerset De Chair Mr Somerset De Chair , Norfolk South Western

Are not the allegations in these questions doing a great deal of harm?

Photo of Mr William Gallacher Mr William Gallacher , Fife Western

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware that at many reading tents attached to Militia camps all the national newspapers are to be found with the exception of the "Daily Herald," "News Chronicle," and the "Daily Worker"; and will he give instructions that no newspaper shall be banned for political reasons?

Photo of Mr Leslie Hore-Belisha Mr Leslie Hore-Belisha , Plymouth, Devonport

Newspapers are not provided out of public funds, and they should be provided in accordance with the wishes of the men.

Photo of Mr William Gallacher Mr William Gallacher , Fife Western

Would it be in order if the men expressed a wish for the "Daily Worker" to be in the camp, for the "Daily Worker" to be in the camp?

Photo of Mr Leslie Hore-Belisha Mr Leslie Hore-Belisha , Plymouth, Devonport

Yes, Sir. All tastes, however exceptional, can be provided for.

Photo of Mr Hubert Beaumont Mr Hubert Beaumont , Batley and Morley

asked the Secretary of State for War what complaints he has received of the conditions prevailing at Blandford camp; and will he have steps taken to remove the causes there of?

Photo of Mr Leslie Hore-Belisha Mr Leslie Hore-Belisha , Plymouth, Devonport

Exceptionally bad weather has interfered with the amenities of this camp, but I am informed that there is no lack of food or hot water, and that everything possible has been done to overcome the difficulties that have arisen. The camp is constantly being inspected, and I have received a recent assurance that there is now general satisfaction.

Photo of Mr Tom Smith Mr Tom Smith , Normanton

asked the Secretary of State for War what complaints he has received regarding the conditions prevailing at the militiamen's camp at Oswestry; whether he is aware that the boys are sleeping eight in a tent, resulting in overcrowding; that the huts being prepared will not be ready for three months; that, owing to the recent weather the whole place is a bog; that there are 50 already in hospital and that one has died of pneumonia; that the food is poor and scarce, the menu being one small sausage and a small piece of bacon for breakfast, a spoonful of hard peas and possibly two potatoes for dinner, and two slices of bread and jam for tea; and whether he will have immediate inquiries made into these complaints with a view to their rectification?

Photo of Mr Leslie Hore-Belisha Mr Leslie Hore-Belisha , Plymouth, Devonport

The amenities of this camp have suffered owing to the abnormally bad weather. The militiamen are not sleeping eight in a tent, but six. It is hoped that, with reasonably fine weather, the huts will be ready in two months, and not in three. There are not 50 men in hospital, but three men have been sent to a civil hospital at Shrewsbury, one suffering from pneumonia, one from tonsilitis, and one from bronchitis, and all are doing well. There are five men in the camp hospital suffering from trivial complaints, and there are 15 vacant beds. No militiaman has died of pneumonia or any other cause. The diet is not as described in the question, and there is no evidence of a shortage of food.

Photo of Mr Tom Smith Mr Tom Smith , Normanton

Are we to take it then that the scores of letters and numerous telegrams that I have had from parents and men in these Militia camps are untrue? Will the right hon. Gentleman also say why there is this delay in the building of these huts, especially when certain firms say that they can be put up very rapidly? Thirdly, in view of the fact that a telegram has just come which states that there is a foot of liquid mud, which is beginning to smell, would it not be advisable either to let these lads return home or to remove them to another place in which reasonable conditions can be provided?

Photo of Mr Leslie Hore-Belisha Mr Leslie Hore-Belisha , Plymouth, Devonport

As soon as this question was put on the Order Paper and was given wide publicity, I asked the Quartermaster-General to go in person to inspect this camp, and he has refuted every one of the allegations. I have had a letter from the Lord Lieutenant of the County this morning, who has also personally inspected the camp and who gives an account quite the reverse of that contained in this question. I do not wish to pretend that in the conditions which have prevailed the life is ideal—it never is in soldiering—but everything possible has been done, and there has been no delay in building the huts, which are not due for completion until 1st October.

Mr. Smiths:

Will the right hon. Gentleman permit me after Question Time to submit to him the information that has been supplied to me in this connection by men of standing and men whose words can be relied upon?

Photo of Mr Leslie Hore-Belisha Mr Leslie Hore-Belisha , Plymouth, Devonport

Yes, I shall be most obliged. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman has seen some accounts in the newspapers, notably in the "Times," which speak very highly of the conditions in this camp. Nevertheless, I shall be most obliged if the hon. Gentleman will give me that information, but I would ask him to believe that to put questions down at this time which suggest that men are seriously ill and dying does cause widespread alarm, and if he could manage to let me have such particulars so that I could verify them before publicity is given to them, I should be much obliged.

Photo of Mr Tom Smith Mr Tom Smith , Normanton

I will let the right hon. Gentleman see some of the information that has been supplied to me.

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Seaham

In view of the disquiet that prevails in many quarters in regard to these allegations, could the right hon. Gentleman afford facilities to hon. Members to visit some of these camps?

Photo of Mr Leslie Hore-Belisha Mr Leslie Hore-Belisha , Plymouth, Devonport

Yes, Sir, I have already said that I should welcome very highly visits by hon. Members. All these camps have been thrown open—at least, such has been the intention—and I think the opportunity has been taken by journalists to walk freely about the camps, to ask any questions they like, and to see anything they like, and I think most of them are extremely favourable, although, of course, the weather conditions are exceptionally bad.

Photo of Mr Tom Smith Mr Tom Smith , Normanton

I do not want to pursue the question, but it is so important that I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he is aware that some parents complain that they were refused permission to see the camp?

Photo of Mr Leslie Hore-Belisha Mr Leslie Hore-Belisha , Plymouth, Devonport

If that be the case, it was very wrong, and I will see that it is rectified. It is not our intention to close these camps at suitable opportunities to parents or to the Press, and we should very much welcome visits from Members of this House.

Photo of Major Frank Heilgers Major Frank Heilgers , Bury St Edmunds

While appreciating all that my right hon. Friend has done to make inquiries, may I ask him whether, in view of the fact that I too have heard complaints about this camp, and only this camp, as regards catering, he will send one of his catering advisers to make inquiries?

Photo of Mr Leslie Hore-Belisha Mr Leslie Hore-Belisha , Plymouth, Devonport

That has already been done, and the principal catering adviser has been there. If my hon. and gallant Friend has anything further in mind, perhaps he will speak to me about it.