asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware that troops on active service in Korea are having to pay from 1½d. to 4½d. per tablet more for washing soap than at home; 7d. to 9½d. per quarter pound more for tea; 6d. more for fruit and cordials; from 4d. to 9d. a tin more for milk and on almost all types of goods purchased for personal use are having to pay at high rates; and, in view of the unrest caused to the troops and their relatives at home, what action he proposes to take with a view to reducing the prices of these commodities.
Prices charged by N.A.A.F.I. in Korea are naturally in line with other Far Eastern prices. In some cases they are higher than prices in the United Kingdom, but in other cases they are lower, for instance cigarettes are 11d. for 20 in Korea as against 3s. 6d. in the United Kingdom, matches 1d. in Korea as against 2d. in the United Kingdom, toothpaste 1s. 4d. in Korea as against 1s. 6d. in the United Kingdom.
Whilst it is nice to hear that some of the prices are lower, does not the Secretary of State feel that all these prices should be at least on the level charged here, or lower? Will he ask N.A.A.F.I. to subsidise the higher prices out of the huge reserves they have accumulated?
I have a table of all the principal items before me, and I should have thought that if a statistician compiled a cost of living index figure it would show that certainly Korean prices were not higher than in the United Kingdom. N.A.A.F.I. only accumulates surpluses which are used either in the units or as N.A.A.F.I.'s contribution centrally to Army charities, and the like. I should have thought it very difficult to ask them to subsidise these prices.
But is the right hon. Gentleman aware that N.A.A.F.I. themselves admit that for certain articles their prices are high, but their excuse for that is that they have been instructed in Korea to charge Hong Kong prices and the troops in Korea do not have Hong Kong allowances and this anomaly has continued for some months?
Although my right hon. Friend points out that there is another Question, could he say now what reasons the commander on the spot, when he communicated with him about this matter, gave for his view that these N.A.A.F.I. prices did not justify a local overseas allowance?
I cannot give the commanding officer's answer in detail, of course, but he pointed out for one thing that N.A.A.F.I. prices are only one part and not the principal part of the soldier's expenditure.
The Secretary of State said that the troops are paying higher prices for some of their goods, does he not think it wrong that the troops in Korea should have to pay any higher price for any goods at all? Is it not about time something was done to see that the troops get all these goods at least at the price their relatives pay here?
It is perfectly true, as my hon. Friend says, that they are paying slightly more for soap, for example, but they are paying very much less for cigarettes, and I should not have thought that that shows any hardship on the troops. It would be possible to bring up the price of cigarettes to the United Kingdom and to bring the price of soap down, but I should not have thought that an advantage.
asked the Secretary of State for War if he has considered the representations, a copy of which has been sent to him by the hon. Member for Coventry, South, from soldiers in Korea on the subject of his decision not to issue a local overseas allowance to troops in that theatre; and, in view of these representations and of the strong feeling aroused both in this country and Korea, if he will reconsider that decision.
I have considered these representations, but I must emphasise that local overseas allowance is designed to meet any overall extra expenses of living in an overseas station above similar expenses in the United Kingdom. Careful and sympathetic investigations have revealed that there is no case for such an allowance in Korea.
While assuring my right hon. Friend that both I and the men who have written to me from Korea realise that no one is more anxious than he that justice should be done in this matter—[Laughter.] I have obviously had more letters than Members opposite on this subject. Would not my right hon. Friend agree that the most important thing is that the men in Korea should themselves believe this decision to be fair, and would he therefore consider publishing in the OFFICIAL REPORT a list of prices obtaining both in Hong Kong and in Korea so that the men may themselves see on what basis it is not justifiable that an additional allowance should be made to them?
In view of the number of complaints that we have continually about Korea—the loss of allowances, high prices and so on—would not the right hon. Gentleman start to err on the side of generosity where our troops in action are concerned and make economies in other directions?
The hon. and gallant Member knows that what we have done is to ask the local commander whether he can give us a case for a local overseas allowance, and he says that he cannot do so.
Since my right hon. Friend has agreed to publish in HANSARD the comparative list of N.A.A.F.I. prices, would he also publish a list of what he regards as the other main items of expenditure, outside the N.A.A.F.I., that the troops have in Korea?
I called attention during Scottish Questions when about five Members were rising to ask supplementaries, but England, I am sorry to say, is just as bad. If we have lots of supplementaries, we have very few Questions and that is what we are having today.