asked the Under-Secretary of State for Air why batmen are still used in the Royal Air Force; whether he will take steps to prevent the use of service personnel in married quarters; and what action he has taken in respect of the details forwarded to him of the batmen at Halton Camp who were chiefly engaged in undertaking domestic chores for the wives and relatives of officers stationed at that camp.
We need batmen for various essential duties in messes, and to provide personal service for officers, particularly in looking after their kit. I am not prepared to deny batman service to officers living in married quarters, but Commands have been reminded that the service should not exceed that provided for single officers. I have also decided that no National Service batman is to be employed in an officer's married quarter unless he volunteers for this work.
Is the Minister not aware that there is a considerable difference of definition between what the Services regard as volunteering and what other people regard as volunteering? Is he not further aware that, of the nine detailed statements of batmen at Halton Camp, which I sent him—batmen who were being asked to fetch coal, make beds, press ladies' clothes and take children to school—not one has been refuted? Is it not scandalous that three National Service men and three full-time men out of these nine should so misuse their Service time? What steps will he take to end this system of having batmen for officers' wives—a costly system, which most of the rest of the country cannot afford, and our wives and others have to go without?
I am sure the hon. Gentleman would agree that there is no reason why a married officer should be penalised just because he is married. Therefore, it is fair and logical that married officers should have the batman service which single officers enjoy. What we have now done is to remind commanding officers that these services should be confined to those which single officers get in mess. There have, for a long time, been perfectly workable and agreeable arrangements whereby an officer may ask his batman to undertake special extra duties in his spare time and offer to remunerate him accordingly. If the batman agrees, there is no reason why we should interfere.
It is because such doubts have been raised that we have now said that National Service men must volunteer. I absolutely refute the allegation that these men will be forced to undertake this work. We are to get their agreement to volunteer in writing—and I think that we shall get plenty of volunteers.