asked the Secretary of State for War (1) whether he is aware that Mr. and Mrs. Winterbottom, Salem, Oldham, recently informed that their son, 22592235 Trooper Jack Winterbottom, had been killed on manoeuvres in Germany, have been told that to bring back his body for burial in Oldham will cost them £100, and that his Department can give no help by gift, grant or loan; and why this is the practice of his Department;
(2) why he has refused to bring back to England for burial the body of Trooper Jack Winterbottom, 3rd King's Own Hussars, recently killed while on manoeuvres in Germany.
On a point of order. I am not prepared to give permission in this case. These are two separate Questions. One raises the amount of the payment and the other raises an important general principle of interest to hon. Members on both sides. It is not a matter to be treated cavalierly, and I am not prepared to give permission.
As far as Question No. 6 is concerned, the cost of bringing back the body from Germany is considerably less than it would be were it a civilian. That is to say, we have cut rates for this purpose.
As far as Question No. 7 is concerned, those who are killed or die abroad are buried where they have died. However, in this case, or any other in overseas theatres except Korea, the body may be brought home if the relatives so wish. While my Department gives every help in this matter, it cannot undertake to bear the cost.
So far as Question No. 6 is concerned, why does the right hon. Gentleman say that the cost is cut when people are being charged much more than the air fare if an adult person goes to Germany and back? So far as Question No. 7 is concerned, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that last week in Oldham two young lads had military funerals who had been killed on manœuvres, and that in both cases parents were charged money for bringing back the bodies of their sons, whereas in the case of a high-ranking officer or an American pilot, the body would be brought back here without charge? In those circumstances, will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider the practice and meet what, I am sure, is the wish of this House?
As regards the first part of the question, it is true it is more expensive to bring back a body than the normal fare. To bring one back by air from the Middle East costs something like £600. It is the same in the case of Germany: it is more expensive. As regards the question of bringing back bodies, it has been the policy in all the Services for a very long time indeed, before the last war, that all those who died or were killed overseas were buried there, but we leave this option open, and I do not think that there is any question of changing this policy at the moment.
Can my right hon. Friend say if there is any possibility of reducing the high charge still further, because it does prevent many people from bringing their sons or other relatives home? Will he confirm again that there is no difference being made between those killed in war and those who meet their deaths accidentally during peace time? One of those young men to whom the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) referred, came from my constituency.
I can give the assurance that no difference is made in that way. As regards the cost, I have been into that, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), when the was in my position, also made a careful inquiry into this question of costs, and we have cut the rates to a very considerable degree.
Would the right hon. Gentleman consider the case before him of one of my constituents, whose son was run down in an accident four days before he was due to leave Egypt? The mother scrambled together with great hardship £120 to get her boy home, but actually required £180, and could not get the £60 more and had to abandon the project. Does the right hon. Gentleman not think in those circumstances, and as there was an accident, that that extra £60 might have been advanced to help that poor mother?
I assure the hon. Lady that I do appreciate that these are very distressing cases, and I know how strongly some people feel on this subject, but were we, all three Services, to embark on bringing home all those who died overseas, we should get into a very large commitment indeed.