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

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

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Photo of Major Geoffrey Bing Major Geoffrey Bing , Hornchurch 12:00 am, 14th May 1947

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.