Middle East Forces (Political Discussions)

Oral Answers to Questions — British Army – in the House of Commons on 25th April 1944.

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Photo of Mr Denis Pritt Mr Denis Pritt , Hammersmith North

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware that at the meeting of the "Forces Parliament," M.E.F., held on 5th April, an official decision on which the committee of the parliament had not even been consulted, was read out, ordering that the name of parliament must not be used; that there must be no publicity of any kind, even war correspondents being excluded and that the proceedings must be supervised and directed by an Army education officer; that the troops present protested with a vote of approximately 600 to one; whether he will immediately reverse this treatment and, in particular, will direct that the threats to post the leaders of the protest be not carried out.

Photo of Mr George Mathers Mr George Mathers , Linlithgowshire

asked the Secretary of State for War, on whose instructions the Forces in Cairo have been deprived of the opportunity of running discussions in the form of a mock parliament; for what reason this educational activity was stopped; and will he give instructions that the ban on this feature shall be lifted.

Photo of Mr Edgar Granville Mr Edgar Granville , Eye

asked the Secretary of State for War on what grounds the Army amateur parliament or discussion group in Cairo has been banned; if any of those who protested have been threatened with posting; and if he will reinstate it to its former status and so give members of the fighting Forces freedom of expression on subjects of interest in a war to save democracy.

Photo of Sir James Grigg Sir James Grigg , Cardiff East

I am expecting a report on this. If the Commander-in-Chief has intervened, as suggested, it was no doubt in the interests of discipline and of maintaining the non-political character of the Army.

Photo of Mr Denis Pritt Mr Denis Pritt , Hammersmith North

Would the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that if he is waiting for a report, he could not do the House and the country a much worse service than to assume, in advance, that the people reporting will report in their own favour, and to tell them so?

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Seaham

Does the right hon. Gentleman suggest that the general officer in command exercised his authority on the ground of discipline? How does he know? Has he had any communication to that effect, or is he expressing his own opinion?

Photo of Sir James Grigg Sir James Grigg , Cardiff East

I am expressing my own opinion, from my knowledge of the general officer commanding.

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Seaham

If that is so, will the right hon. Gentleman afford this House an opportunity of debating whether his opinion is right or wrong?

Photo of Sir James Grigg Sir James Grigg , Cardiff East

I think the House had better wait until I have had a report on the matter.

Photo of Mr John Loverseed Mr John Loverseed , Eddisbury

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I have this morning received a report from Cairo, which states that the action was taken in view of the unfortunate German propaganda concerning the parliament? Will he state whether, in fact, the excuse which was given holds water, and whether it would not be as well to close down this Parliament also?

Photo of Mr George Mathers Mr George Mathers , Linlithgowshire

Is the right hon. Gentleman's expression of opinion intended by him to give a clue to the kind of report that will be welcome?

Photo of Sir James Grigg Sir James Grigg , Cardiff East

On the contrary. The report was asked for before this Question was put down.

Photo of Mr William Gallacher Mr William Gallacher , Fife Western

Is it not the case that the Secretary of State for War and the High Command are concerned not so much that the troops are discussing politics, as that they are discussing the wrong kind of politics?

Photo of Mr Edgar Granville Mr Edgar Granville , Eye

While the right hon. Gentleman is awaiting the report, will the full activities of this amateur parliament be allowed to continue under the new Regulations?

Photo of Sir James Grigg Sir James Grigg , Cardiff East

That is a matter, in the first instance, for the Commander-in-Chief. I prefer to say nothing further until I get his report—

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Seaham

But the right hon. Gentleman has said something.

Photo of Sir James Grigg Sir James Grigg , Cardiff East

—except that I have the utmost confidence in the Commander-in-Chief.

Photo of Mr Denis Pritt Mr Denis Pritt , Hammersmith North

Would the right hon. Gentleman, since he is waiting for a report, stop the public relations officer of his Department from putting round all sorts of friendly descriptions of this matter in the prass?

Photo of Sir James Grigg Sir James Grigg , Cardiff East

I do not know to what reports the hon. and learned Member refers. Perhaps he would bring to my notice the suggested or planted articles to which he refers.

Photo of Mr Denis Pritt Mr Denis Pritt , Hammersmith North

Might I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman should communicate with a Press cuttings agency?