§ MR. LEA
To ask the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware that on the occasion of Sir Leslie Rundle's order to the Northern Command with regard to the Canteen and Mess Cooperative Society being revoked by the War Office authorities, travellers and servants of this society were acquainting officers in the command of the action the War Office had adopted two days before this was communicated to General Rundle; and what steps he proposes to take in the matter.
(Answered by Mr. Secretary Haldane.) The Army Council have expressed their regret to General Rundle that the notification of the action to be taken in reference to the order in question accidentally reached the Canteen and Mess Co-operative Society before the official letter to the Northern Command was actually dispatched.
§ MR. LEA
To ask the Secretary of State for War for what reason the War Office authorities made the General Commanding-in-Chief in the Northern Command withdraw an order, in accordance with regulations, which he gave in August last, as to units in his command not dealing with the Canteen and Mess Co-operative Society; whether he is aware that this society is not a co-operative society in the true sense of the word, that it has been formed by Army officers, amongst whom Sir Edward Ward, the present Permanent Under-Secretary of 40 State for War, took a prominent part, and that it is now being run by Army officers on full pay; and whether he will consider, having regard to the benefit of the soldier and the advantage of the taxpayer, the advisability of preventing Army officers from using their influence in competing in business with ordinary mercantile firms for the supplies to military canteens and coffee shops.
(Answered by Mr. Secretary Haldane.) The order of the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Northern Command, was issued on the assumption that the operations of the Canteen and Mess Co-operative Society were not carried on in accordance with the conditions under which the society professed to transact business. Though one legal opinion favoured that assumption, two others held a contrary view. It was consequently decided to refer the matter for further legal opinion. Meanwhile, pending the receipt of advice of counsel, the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief was directed to withdraw the order, as it was manifestly unjust to prejudge the case by prohibiting the troops from dealing with the society. Moreover, the order was not in agreement with the spirit of the regulations, which allows officers commanding units to conduct their canteens in the manner they consider most advantageous to the soldier. It appears from the rules of the society that it is a co-operative society, registered under the Industrial and Provident Societies Act, and is a member of the Co-operative Union. Sir Edward Ward was until 1899 on the committee of management, but neither now nor at any time has he had any pecuniary interest in this society. The committee of management consists of twenty-four members, of whom fifteen are on the active list, but they receive no remuneration for their work, and none of those on the active list holds any shares in the society. The constitution and operations of the society do not appear to be such as to be detrimental either to the soldier 41 or to the taxpayer. The settled policy is to leave the soldier free to derive the same benefits from co-operative methods as are enjoyed by civilians.