Orders of the Day — British Prisoners of War (Pay)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 14th May 1947.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. R. J. Taylor.]

12.1 a.m.

Photo of Major Geoffrey Bing Major Geoffrey Bing , Hornchurch

Very often we have an opportunity of considering the case of prisoners of war but so far as I know, we have never, on an Adjournment Debate, considered the case of prisoners of war who have suffered more than any other type of prisoner of war: I mean British prisoners of war in enemy hands. I do not think, therefore, late as the hour is, that the House will feel we have wasted time if, in half an hour, we are able to show that many British prisoners of war have been, through the wrong operation of the Royal Pay Warrant, deprived of large sums of money which are, in fact, due to them.

Let me take the case of a constituent of mine, not because I want to raise a personal case but because this particular case is, I think, typical of the case of hundreds of other N.C.Os. By what I think the House will agree is an inhumane operation of the regulations, these men are deprived of large sums of money which are, in fact, due to them. My constituent, a Mr. Headford, was just an ordinary regular soldier, a man who had served 13 years with the Colours and 10 years with the Reserve, and who, at the beginning of the war, thought he ought to volunteer again. He joined, up, and found himself in Singapore in February, 194I. On 13th February, 1941, he was appointed a lance-corporal, and a few days later, when the fortress surrendered, he found himself, like so many other people, a prisoner of war. As my right hon. Friend will *appreciate, all these units kept together, and this particular lance-corporal performed duties as an N.C.O. far above the work of an ordinary lance-corporal. He was a mess sergeant for an officers' mess of no less than 375 officers, seven of whom were colonels—a task, on the small rations then available, which would have stretched the tact and patience of any very senior N.C.O.

My right hon. Friend will realise that had that man been a regular officer, under Article 116 of the Pay Code he would have been entitled to promotion during the period when he was a prisoner of war. But, of course, he was just an ordinary regular soldier. I am not even asking that he should be paid for the rank he occupied. I am not even asking that he should be paid for the job that he did—though, if I might make this comment to my right hon. Friend, there is something to be said for the principle of the rate for the job, even in the Army. I am only asking my right hon. Friend that he should pay this Mr. Headford, and hundreds of other N.C.Os. like him, in accordance with the provisions of the Royal Warrant. Let me make this point quite clear. Hon. Members who have served in the Army during the war will know that there were two types of N.C.Os. There was the N.C.O. who was outside the establishment, for example, the so-called unpaid lance-corporal, who, however long he was a lance-corporal never received any pay and never got any higher. There were also appointments made within the establishment. The appointments which were made within the establishment were made in accordance with the regulations laid down in the Royal Warrant for Pay, Appointments and Promotions.

If my right hon. Friend has a copy of the Royal Warrant and cares to turn it up he will find that the relevant Articles are Articles 794, 795 and 796. Let me just quote them to him, so that the point will be perfectly plain. Article 794 of the Royal Warrant says: All vacancies"— this is during wartime— … shall be filled, in the first instance, by the grant of acting rank or appointment … Article 795 provides that; A soldier granted acting rank or appointment … shall not be eligible for the pay of the higher rank or appointment until it has been held for 21 consecutive days. … Thus, my right hon. Friend will see there is only one type of appointment within the establishment. The only difference is if a man loses the appointment in the first period of 21 days he is not entitled to his pay for it. That leaves vague what the position of the prisoner of war ought to be. But the Royal Warrant goes on specifically to provide for this and sets out an Army Council Instruction which lays down specifically the position; and it says: An acting N.C.O. who is taken prisoner of war will be automatically struck off the strength of his unit but will be allowed to retain the acting rank or appointment held at the time of capture, together with entitlement to the corresponding rates of pay. Nothing could be plainer or more obvious than that that refers to acting rank, and not to paid acting rank; but if the right hon. Gentleman should be in any doubt about it, let me refer him to the sub-paragraph which follows, and which differentiates between "paid acting rank" and "acting rank."

What has the Secretary of State come here to tell us? That the soldier would be a fool to believe what is in the Royal Warrant? That it does not mean what it says? My submission to the House is that it is absolutely, perfectly clear and plain what the Royal Warrant means. It means that once Mr. Headford became an acting lance corporal in the establishment he was an acting N.C.O.; on being taken prisoner he was entitled to retain his rank; if he retained his rank for more than 21 days he was entitled to be paid for it. Nothing, to my mind, could be clearer. What is the answer of the War Office? As I understand it from the somewhat confused correspondence sent to me on their behalf, there is some new regulation; that the Army Council got together at some time long after my unfortunate constituent, Mr. Headford, was taken prisoner; that they have tried in some hole and corner way to make a regulation which sets aside the Royal Warrant. That seems to be the argument. Perhaps, the Secretary of State will tell me on what page of the Royal Warrant we can find anything that sets aside its provisions. I have been careful to provide myself with a copy of the Royal Warrant of 1915; and, so far as my right hon. Friend has seen that the House has had them, I have studied every amendment made since that Warrant was issued. I have searched the Royal Warrant very carefully. I shall be very glad indeed to know where we can find this new provision which is to set aside the Royal Warrant. Is it the case that there is a regulation, unprinted, unknown, never communicated to the people affected by it—very humble people, soldiers broken in health through captivity—by which they have been denied the pay provided by the Royal Warrant for the jobs they did? I hope I am not right: I hope that that is not the case my right hon. Friend is going to make. If it is, I think I shall not be alone on this side of the house—if this is the way the War Office is being administered—in seeking another occasion when it is possible to divide the House so that on a matter of administration of this sort we can test the feeling of the House by a vote.

12.10 a.m.

Photo of Mr Frederick Bellenger Mr Frederick Bellenger , Bassetlaw

My hon. Friend has tonight brought forward an individual case of one of his own constituents in order to illustrate a principle. Perhaps it may be more convenient if I explain what the principle of promotion has been during this last war. During the first world war, when promotion was not so indirect, it was found that quite frequently N.C.Os. and, indeed, officers, having taken the rank which they held, ought not to be deprived of it during the war, whatever happened. If they became casualties, if they were sick or if they were prisoners of war, but particularly if they became casualties or non-effectives, they held that rank, and thereby blocked promotion for many others who were doing the job. They would not be doing the job because they were non-effectives, and in war time there is a war establishment, which fixes the number of particular appointments or ranks that can be held.

In the last war the War Office devised a system whereby the man doing the job, or holding the appointment, received the pay and the rank of that appointment, but with lance appointments, which were made by the commanding officer and not by the records officer, it was decided that there should be a probationary period of 21 days during, which it could be seen whether the man was really fit to hold that particular appointment or rank. If the individual held that appointment—in this particular case the appointment of lance-corporal—for 21 days, he was then confirmed in that rank, and was paid for that rank from the date when he was first appointed lance-corporal. In the case of the constituent of my hon. Friend the man might not have held that appointment for 21 days, even if he had not been taken prisoner. He might have become a non-effective for various reasons such as sickness, and this would have prevented him from holding that particular job for the 21 days, after which his acting rank would have been converted into temporary rank. After that temporary rank, there was the war substantive rank, and this was a more permanent rank.

Photo of Major Geoffrey Bing Major Geoffrey Bing , Hornchurch

Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves that point, would he direct his attention to the very clear instruction on page 250 of the Royal Pay Warrant? The point I was trying to make was that there is a distinction made in the Royal Warrant between "paid acting rank," and "acting rank" which is an appointment without pay. Paragraph (b) states that an acting N.C.O. who is taken prisoner will be automatically struck off the strength of the unit or formation, but will be allowed to retain acting rank or appointment at the time of capture, together with the corresponding rates of pay. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us why he is suggesting the man is not entitled to hold that rank?

Photo of Mr Frederick Bellenger Mr Frederick Bellenger , Bassetlaw

I am going on to explain why he could hold the rank, but not the pay of the rank. Acting rank is unpaid for the first 21 days, and it would only be after the 21 days had expired, that the unpaid acting rank would be converted into paid acting rank; antedated to the date on which he was appointed In his case what happened was that the man was appointed acting lance-corporal, and, of course, unpaid. Two days afterwards—not several days as my hon. Friend says—he was captured. Therefore, he could never have completed the 21 days after which he would have been entitled to temporary rank on which he would have drawn his pay.

My hon. Friend is probably a little confused as to that Article of the Royal Warrant which, as he read it, says that the acting rank could be held while the soldier was a prisoner of war. As I shall show in a moment by reading the appropriate Army Order, it could be held not only while he was a prisoner of war, but up to a period of 61 days after being repatriated to this country on release from captivity. My hon. Friend made great play with the point that the Army Council Instruction would be unknown to the simple soldier, and that he would not get it. If I may say so, it is probable that the Royal Warrant would be unknown to the simple soldier. My hon. Friend knows that soldiers, except a few, do not study King's Regulations or the Royal Warrant. I admit that there has been a good deal of misunderstanding about the acting unpaid ranks and the temporary ranks, and the war substantive ranks. In relation to a prisoner of war the Army Order was 155 of 1944. The Army Order defined this, but did not alter the situation which was prevailing in 1942. I may say that Army Orders were purchasable even in war time by members of the public. [An. HON. MEMBER: "By prisoners of war?"] A prisoner of war could not get them, but those at home who were interested in his affairs could have obtained them.

Photo of Mr Reginald Paget Mr Reginald Paget , Northampton

Have the Army Council authority to vary the Pay Warrant?

Photo of Mr Frederick Bellenger Mr Frederick Bellenger , Bassetlaw

Yes, they have authority to vary it from time to time. The Army Order did not alter the position, even under the Pay Warrant which was prevailing in 1942, at the time when my hon. Friend's constituent was taken into captivity. Perhaps the House will permit me to read the passage in that Order which explains that it does not vary the Royal Warrant for Pay. I think the House will see that this Army Order shows clearly that this particular lance-corporal, and indeed all others and not only those in captivity, are affected in a similar manner, because they become non-effective, and are prevented from fulfilling the essential condition laid down in the Royal Warrant, namely that they must hold acting unpaid rank for 21 days before they can be confirmed into temporary paid rank. The Order reads: An officer or soldier holding temporary or acting rank"— and acting rank was the one held by this lance-corporal— at the time of his captivity by the enemy, or he becomes missing, shall continue to hold that rank"— that is where the hon. Member has perhaps misunderstood the situation— shall continue to hold that rank so long as he is a prisoner of war or missing. This lance-corporal held that rank all the time that he was a prisoner of war. The Order further states: No part of the period during which an officer or soldier is a prisoner of war or missing shall count towards any period of service necessary to qualify for the pay of an acting rank, for conversion of acting rank into temporary rank, or for the conversion of either into war substantive rank. It is clear from the passage I have read that an individual can hold his rank. The purpose of this provision was to freeze the pay of a prisoner of war at the time he was captured. This man's rank was not that of lance-corporal, but that of private with appointment to lance-corporal. Therefore what happened was that his pay was frozen at the rate which he was receiving when captured, but his rank was held during the whole of the period of captivity.

Photo of Mr Robert Mellish Mr Robert Mellish , Bermondsey Rotherhithe

Let us get this clear. He was not given the rank he was entitled to after serving the 21 days, because he spent these 21 days in captivity through no fault of his own?

Photo of Mr Frederick Bellenger Mr Frederick Bellenger , Bassetlaw

He may not have been entitled. If he had not been captured he might not have fulfilled that qualifica- tion of serving 21 days of this probationary period. If nothing had happened, and he had served his probationary period he would no doubt have been confirmed in his acting rank and been given the pay of that rank dated back to the time of the appointment. Perhaps the House will allow me to read a little further: Any part of the period during which any person covered by paragraph I is a prisoner of war or missing shall reckon towards any period of the service necessary to qualify for pay of acting rank for conversion of acting rank into temporary rank or conversion of either into war substantive rank. The whole purpose of war establishment is to provide a means by which "the Army can fulfil its duty. Its duty in war is to fight. Thus we require to have different ranks within different units as provided for in the war establishment. This soldier, like all others in similar cases, has not been able to fulfil the qualifications which would have entitled him to fill a particular part of the war establishment to which he was appointed and therefore he, was not paid for it. But many others not prisoners of war who did not fulfil that essential qualification of completing a 21 days' probationary period were not confirmed in pay.

Photo of Major Geoffrey Bing Major Geoffrey Bing , Hornchurch

I think it would save argument if I might put the main point. The Secretary of State does not seem to be very familiar with Army Council Instructions. The right hon. Gentleman should address himself to the Pay Warrant and explain why there should be in one case a reference to acting rank in which a soldier could continue and draw the pay appropriate and in another case there should be a reference to a paid acting rank.

Photo of Mr Stephen Swingler Mr Stephen Swingler , Stafford

Will the Minister say why this Army Order was issued in 1944, if the Royal Pay Warrant is clear on the point?

Photo of Mr Frederick Bellenger Mr Frederick Bellenger , Bassetlaw

Frequently Army Orders are issued to explain parts of the Pay Warrant. There is no discrepancy between the two. One is part of the other.

Photo of Mr Reginald Paget Mr Reginald Paget , Northampton

They are totally opposed

Photo of Mr Frederick Bellenger Mr Frederick Bellenger , Bassetlaw

I am stating what the Army Order says, and, in effect, it says what the Pay Warrant says. [Interruption.]

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

I think we ought to let the Minister continue his speech

Photo of Mr Frederick Bellenger Mr Frederick Bellenger , Bassetlaw

My hon. Friend is endeavouring to show that unpaid acting rank is the same as paid acting rank.

Photo of Mr Reginald Paget Mr Reginald Paget , Northampton

Do let us get this clear. A soldier granted acting rank or appointment under Article 794 will not be eligible for pay of higher rank or appointment, until he has held it for 21 consecutive days. That is "acting rank." Now, we turn to the Army Order and it says that an acting warrant officer or N.C.O. who is taken prisoner of war will be automatically struck off the strength of his unit or formation, but will be allowed to retain his acting rank or appointment at the time of capture, together with entitlement to corresponding rates of pay. Therefore, the acting rank shall be retained if the man is taken prisoner of war. There are different provisions if the man is wounded, and it is a great illustration of how wrong it is for a man to be forced to suffer this injustice without being able to appeal to a court.

Photo of Mr Frederick Bellenger Mr Frederick Bellenger , Bassetlaw

That is an entirely different matter. A prisoner of war captured before he completes the 21 days' probationary period is not entitled to the pay of the rank. Whatever the merits or demerits of the case may be, my hon. Friend is asking me to reverse the whole procedure which I have endeavoured to explain, and which dates back, not to 1944, but to the beginning of the war. Millions of men have served under these conditions, and it would be wrong for me, in my interpretation of the Pay Warrant, to reverse this whole procedure at this late stage and give this man the pay of a rank for which he did not fulfil the obligations laid down in the Pay Warrant and the Army Order concerned. I hope that whatever happens, at any rate, it will be agreed that it is too late to reverse the whole procedure.

12.29 a.m.

Photo of Mr George Wigg Mr George Wigg , Dudley

May I suggest to my right hon. Friend that he should read King's Regulations to find whether it is not the case that the Regulations do not cover every case, and that there are some cases which should be met in the spirit if not in the letter? The Royal Warrant takes the case of a man in captivity, but this soldier is not in the same position.

Photo of Mr Frederick Bellenger Mr Frederick Bellenger , Bassetlaw

Barbed wire does not define a prisoner of war. A prisoner of war is one who is captured by the enemy, and who ceases to be responsible to his commanding officer, and becomes responsible to those who have captured him and who give him orders.

Photo of Mr George Wigg Mr George Wigg , Dudley

But this man was in a unit doing a specific job. I ask the Minister to remember the pleas which he has made in the past on behalf of soldiers. If he would give this N.C.O. the elementary justice, which the Army always gives when it understands the case, this man would be helped. The Secretary of State has demonstrated that he does not understand the case, and that he is hiding behind the barbed wire of the Regulations to deny this man his rights.

Photo of Mr Luke Teeling Mr Luke Teeling , Brighton

Can the Secretary of State tell us the number of cases likely to be affected in this way? There are probably very few.

Photo of Mr Frederick Bellenger Mr Frederick Bellenger , Bassetlaw

I think there may be a considerable number, not prisoners only, but others in a similar position.

The Question having been proposed after Ten o'clock and the Debate having continued for half an hour,Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Order made upon 13th November.

Adjourned at Twenty-nine Minutes to One o'Clock.