§ Mr. ASHLEY
I wish to raise a few questions in connection with the administrative and financial sides of the War Office, and I hope before my remarks are at an end the right hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary for War will be in his place, because I informed him that I 2609 should raise certain questions in connection with his Department, and I am sure he would wish to be here to answer them if it is possible to do so. Until he arrives I will put a few questions more nearly connected with the Department of the Financial Secretary to the War Office. I should like some enlightenment on a question which has been much discussed in the Press lately and which has caused a great deal of distress up and down the country. It is with reference to the pensions given to wounded soldiers. I have seen it stated, in what seems to be a responsible journal, that the pension to a soldier who has lost a limb is reduced from the full rate to a lower rate within three months of the injury being received. Obviously if that is true it must reflect very injuriously on the War Office and on the generosity of the country, and I take this opportunity of asking my hon. Friend if he can reassure our minds upon that point, and if through the Press he will reassure the minds of these wounded soldiers and of their relatives.
I have been informed since I came into the House this afternoon by an hon. Member for one of the Cheshire Divisions that a captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps attached to the Territorial Force only receives 15s. per day, whereas a captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps attached to the Regular Army receives 25s. per day. I can understand the differentiation in time of peace, because the Regular Royal Army Medical Corps officer is a full-time officer who has to give the whole of his time to looking after recruits. He therefore receives a higher rate of pay than the Territorial R.A.M.C captain, who is only so employed part of his time and is able to make an income by private practice. But since the War broke out both of these officers are in exactly the same position, both do the same work, both give all their time to their military duties, and in justice the pay of the two should be the same. A case came under my notice only the other day of a medical gentleman attached to the Territorials who, prior to the outbreak of War, was making £1,000 per year by his private practice. He was called up and obliged to give the whole of his time to his military duties, and for this he received 15s. per day, and he has had to sacrifice the whole of the income he obtained from his private practice. I hope my hon. Friend will consider cases of this kind, which are not very numerous, and will do so sympathetically.
2610 I want, if I may, to speak on one or two questions to which I have before referred in this House, although I have not been fortunate in getting an answer from the Financial Secretary. I want to know why it is necessary to have taken that large building in Pall Mall for the Headquarters of the Eastern Command. It is an exceedingly expensive place. I think the headquarters might much better have been in Cambridge, or at some other place in the centre of the Command, where accommodation is plentiful and far less expensive. Why was it necessary to have it in London? And if it was necessary—which I do not admit—why should this enormous building in Pall Mall have been taken? It has been said that the offices must be near the War Office. But was that the only accommodation available; and has my hon. Friend no knowledge as to the uses of telephone? Why, he might easily have got two special wires from the War Office to any site for the accommodation of the staff. I am informed that the rent of this place will cost from £4,000 to £5,000 a year. Apart from that, a good deal of money has been spent in fitting up the premises. It would seem to have been left entirely to military officers to select the site, and they naturally have chosen one most convenient for their clubs in Pall Mall. This is a matter which requires explanation.
Then there is the case of the headquarters of the Northern Defence Force. I think I am not giving away any military secrets when I say they are situated in Norfolk. Under the Defence of the Realm Act the Government have requisitioned the largest country house in Norfolk, a building with from eighty to 100 bedrooms, in addition to enormous reception rooms, full of priceless furniture, which has had to be taken away, and surrounded by an enormous park, which has to be kept up. I submit that that cannot be justified in any way. There are any number of large manor houses or farmhouses which would have provided adequate accommodation for the headquarters of the General and his staff, consisting of about a dozen officers. To take a country house, which cannot cost much less than from £10,000 to £12,000 a year, is casting money away, and does not reflect very well of the control on the financial side of the War Office. Naturally, the generals, from their own 2611 point of view, requisition the most comfortable house that is available, and if the War Office allow them to do it, naturally they will all do it.
I am drawing attention to this matter in the hope that it may somewhat restrain the activities of what are called the Army "brass hats" in the future. Again, I should like to know why Lady Warwick's place at Dunmow was taken for headquarters, and why General Codrington lived there for many months. I know it was given up, not because it was expensive, but because the headquarters were moved from that district. I feel sure that when the hon. Gentleman answers he will not be able to say that they paid less than £100 a week for that particular place, because I understand they had to keep twenty gardeners, and it is a very large country house. Why could not a large farmhouse have been requisitioned for this general, or even one of the old manor houses in Dunmow itself? Unless the House of Commons tries to exert a little control over expenditure, we do not know where we are going. Yesterday the Chancellor of the Exchequer came down and proposed to take away all our American gilt-edged securities. If that is necessary, I do not complain, but when we are spending money at the present rate, we should endeavour to diminish our expenditure or keep some sort of control over the expenditure that is going on. There is another instance, of which, perhaps, the hon. Gentleman has never heard. I am informed on very good authority—I mention this to show the lack of control over expenditure that existed at the beginning of the War—that 1,000,000 ammunition boxes were ordered. The hon. Gentleman knows the wooden boxes with cord handles. I am told that they were ordered at 13s. 6d. each, and were delivered and used up. When the second order for another million was given, apparently whoever gave the order at the War Office had got to know the ropes somewhat better, because they placed the contract at 3s. each. It is a very large drop from 13s. 6d. to 3s. I hear from a right hon. Gentleman who was a Member of this House, and who has had big business experience, that these boxes ought to have been made for 1s. 2d. each. I will not vouch for that story, but I have it from a gentleman who is an ex-Member of this House and a big manufacturer. I would like the Financial Secretary to inquire into that. If my in- 2612 formation is incorrect. I am quite willing to accept a correction, but judging from the source from which I received it, it is a matter worthy of his attention.
I should like to say a few words about the contracts which have been given out and which, if my information is correct, are still being given out by the hon. Gentleman's Department of the War Office on the basis of a percentage of expenditure. The Admiralty have given up those contracts, and the Munitions Department have also given them up, although I am bound to say to their credit, so far as I know, they put out very few contracts on that basis. The hon. Gentleman, however, is incorrigible. When I ask him whether he is going to give up putting out contracts on this basis he replies, "No; I fully intend to go on giving out contracts on that basis." There are a good many Members who share my view that this is a pernicious practice. You tell the manufacturer to make a thing, and say, "Tell us how much it costs, and we will pay you a percentage on your expenditure." Everybody knows that that is a form of contract which should be avoided, if possible. It is only excusable under two conditions, either in a case of such tremendous haste such as existed at the beginning of the War, when it was unavoidable, or, secondly, under the Admiralty practice, where speed is absolutely essential in the repair of ships. Nobody would cavil at the Admiralty giving out contracts on that basis for repairs, but I understand they have given it up absolutely in regard to contracts for new construction. Will the Financial Secretary tell us why he persists in this pernicious custom? We all know from the answers he has given that the contracts now in existence are on a 9 per cent. basis. So far as I can make out, the contractor runs no risk at all. He makes certain things for the hon. Gentleman, and, at the end, he sends in a statement showing what he has spent, and the hon. Gentleman on the average gives him £9 for every £100 he has spent. I only wish I were on the War Office list of contractors, and were allowed to contract on a basis such as that.
There is another matter which I do not press because, perhaps, the hon. Gentleman is engaged in dealing with it, but I should like some information on the hutting contracts. If my information is correct, a series of contracts amounting to £7,000,000 or £8,000,000, have been carried 2613 out entirely on the percentage of cost basis. If the hon. Gentleman, with due regard to the public service, can give us some information on that subject I shall be obliged. Why do I, and many other hon. Members, so strenuously object to contracts put out on this basis? We object to them for two reasons: They increase the working cost and lead to and foster general inefficiency. That cannot be avoided. The manufacturer has not the slightest interest in keeping down expenses, because the more wages he pays, and the more he pays for his material, the more money he gets. It is obviously a bad principle. What is more serious, it is very apt to cause labour unrest. My right hon. Friend the Member for the Black friars Division (Mr. Barnes) will probably support me when I say that this was one of the main causes of the unrest on the Clyde last year. The men soon find out what the basis of the contract is, and they say, "Why should we not have increased wages? The Government or the taxpayer pays, and it does not come out of the pocket of the employer?" If the employer says to them, "It is not justifiable that you should have increased wages," they reply, "The more wages we get the more your profits will be." Therefore, everybody is banded together to fleece the taxpayer and to fleece the Government. That is a point that ought to be considered when the hon. Gentleman says he is going to continue giving out contracts on this basis. Is it not a premium on the expensive working of contracts? What inducement is there to the manufacturer to use time-saving appliances, or to cut down his expenses in any way? He will not push his brains to turning out the work at the lowest possible cost, but goes on in the old shipshod way, and will not try to make his output at the least possible cost. The more he goes on in that way the greater his percentage will be.
I will now deal more specifically with the Departments in the War Office which put out these contracts. The hon. Gentleman will correct me if I am wrong, but I understand there are two Departments in the War Office which deal with the financial side—the Transport and Supplies Department, which is under a very clever General, General Cowans, and the Contracts Department, which is under a gentleman named Mr. Winter. I have nothing but praise for the Quartermaster-General's Department under General Cowans. Unless my recollection is at fault the Under- 2614 Secretary of State for War, a month or six weeks ago, publicly, in the House of Commons, gave great praise to the Quartermaster-General's Department now under General Cowans—it was under General Long, but he has now left—and Colonel Holden has also done good work during the War. It has efficiently served our troops with food and supplies, and done it very economically. I believe that Department has never put out a contract on a percentage of cost basis. They have always fixed the price, and said to the, manufacturer, "We will give you so much; that is the price for which you have to make the article," and they have got an extremely good article for their money on that basis. If my information is correct, that is not the habit of the Contracts Department.
§ The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the WAR OFFICE (Mr. Forster)
It is not the business of the Quartermaster-General's branch to place contracts. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will tell me what contracts he means.
§ Mr. ASHLEY
It may not be the business of the branch, but the hon. Gentleman must know that since the War began they have placed hundreds of contracts practically without any reference to the Contracts Department at all. I am referring to the Supplies and Transport Department.
§ Mr. ASHLEY
Let us, at any rate, deal with the policy of the War Office. In certain cases they are continuing to put out their contracts on a percentage basis. It is difficult for a private Member to find out the truth. He hears a good many stories, and it is very difficult to sift the truth from fiction. I ask, is it not a fact that the Contracts Department of the War Office, in the last two months, did put out two contracts on a percentage basis, one for motor wagons with the Napier Company for £25,000 to £50,000, on which the profit is going to be 10 per cent., and another with the Clement-Talbot Company, also for motor wagons, on which the profit is going to be 10 per cent.? I assume from the answer of the hon. Gentleman that he would not give up those contracts. I hope the hon. Gentleman will see his way to give up contracts on this basis, which, in my opinion and in that of a good many of my hon. Friend is a most pernicious one.
I should like to say a few words with reference to the London General Omnibus 2615 Company, with which the Financial Secretary dealt with last Thursday in answer to a speech of mine on the previous Tuesday. He took me severely to task for my ignorance of the proposal of the bus company and said that what I had stated in Debate on Tuesday was quite inaccurate and unfounded, and that in every way my statement was not in accordance with the facts. As far as my information goes what I said was perfectly true. I stated that the bus company at the beginning of the War made certain proposals to the Transport and Supply Department of the War Office at the latter end of 1914. This is the gist of their proposal which the hon. Gentleman says is not true, but I stick to my guns. He has access, naturally, to documents which I have not, but I think my information is pretty correct. What they said was, "Treat us like the rest. Take us over and guarantee our dividends, and when you have done with us at the end of the War return us to the status quo ante and give us back our buses in good working order." The hon. Gentleman denied last Thursday that that was so. My information is that this was refused by the Finance Department of the War Office, though it was backed by the Quarter-master-General's Department. It was absolutely turned down and blocked by the civilian element simply because it was an innovation. It was not in accordance with their usual form of red tape, and they would not take the slightest risk. I would ask the hon. Gentleman if the Quartermaster-General's Department did not ask for an inquiry into the practicability of the scheme, which inquiry was refused. I want to put before the House what I consider would have been the result of the proposals made by the London General Omnibus Company, as far as the nation is concerned, and what has now been the result of refusing those proposals. The London General Omnibus Company would not now accept such terms as they proposed then. They did not know what was going to happen. They were on their beam ends and would have taken almost any terms proposed by the War Office. I know the hon. Gentleman was not at the War Office at the time, but I suppose he is able to find out the facts. I cannot understand why, if one Department of the War Office asked for an inquiry and for the adjudication of an impartial man, it should be refused and no investigation should take place. When 2616 the hon. Gentleman is considering the figures in regard to this, it is not only the War Office that is concerned but the Admiralty also. The Admiralty took over a large number of motor omnibuses and used them for the Antwerp expedition.
What has been the result to the taxpayer of the refusal, as far as I can make out, of that proposal of the omnibus company, which was backed with the whole weight of the Quartermaster-General's Department? The hon. Gentleman did not deny that already £430,000 out of the Vote of Credit has been paid over to the company, and that a large sum is still owing. I presume, therefore, that it is correct. I did not mention that the country is still paying and has been paying ever since September or October, 1914, for the buildings and garages belonging to the company. We are paying also heavy costs for training the men, which the company are now doing for the War Office, and, if my information is correct, we are paying £5,200 a year for the call which the War Office has for the use of omnibuses, which are now running in the streets, in case of emergency—a very sensible arrangement, but you must take it into consideration when you are estimating the value of the two schemes. Probably this is very difficult to estimate, but I should think anything from £200,000 to £250,000 has been paid by the Admiralty to the company for the buses they requisitioned from them. It is very difficult to estimate what the whole sum amounts to, but, in one way or another, £700,000 or £800,000 is being paid over to the company. Under the scheme of General Cowan's Department, which was put forward by the omnibus company when they were on their beam ends at the beginning of the War, you would have paid nothing in 1914, in 1915 you would have paid some £30,000, and this year you would have paid very little more—perhaps £40,000—and, if my information is correct, the whole transaction with the company could be and will be properly closed next month. The War Office very cleverly tried only to requisition parts of the omnibuses. They said they would only requisition the chassis, and not the bodies. That was found to be illegal, and they had to requisition the entire buses. We only wanted a very few of the motor bodies in France and Flanders. What we wanted were the chassis on which to put bodies for carrying stores about, so that nearly all the bodies which belonged to the omnibuses and which were requisitioned have 2617 never left London. They are still stored here, and are in just as good condition as at the outbreak of the War. The only money that the War Office, under the scheme which they turned down, would have had to find would have been for the fifty or so motor chassis which have been smashed in France, and for the putting in good order of the other motor chassis which have never been replaced by more efficient and more up-to-date chassis, which would not amount at the most to more than £100,000. A chassis belonging to a motor omnibus is a standardised chassis. You can rebuild it very easily. If one part goes wrong you can substitute a new part, and very often chassis are running which have been entirely renovated. The whole bill which the nation would have paid for replacing these chassis would have been about £100,000, which, added to the £30,000 or £40,000 guaranteeing the dividend, would have amounted perhaps to £170,000—let us say, for the sake of argument, £200,000. That is what you would have had to pay under the scheme which the financial side of the War Office turned down, whereas you have already paid from £600,000 to £750,000 because the hon. Gentleman's predecessor refused an impartial inquiry and supported the financial people.
I should like to bring before the attention of the Under-Secretary a question about which I have written to him, and into which I believe he has had time to make some investigation. It is not very pleasant to have to say, but I am afraid the condition of things in the Southern Command is not very satisfactory. I do not know whose fault it is. It may be at the top of the tree, or it may be half-way down, but the administration there is not sympathetic and is not common sense. I do not much mind its not being sympathetic, because in these times sympathy perhaps cannot be expected from overworked men, but commonsense we must have or things will go wrong, and I am afraid things may go wrong in the Southern Command shortly unless matters are investigated and put on a more sensible footing. Take the question of inoculation. Inoculation is voluntary on the part of the soldier. He can be inoculated or not as he wishes. Naturally, as the vast majority are sensible men, they are inoculated, because though they know that in a few cases inoculation makes the individual very ill, in the vast majority of cases it has proved a great safeguard against typhoid and has enabled our troops in 2618 France and in other places to be kept up to a very high state of efficiency by diminishing the number of hospital cases. Anything which would tend to prevent men being inoculated ought to be deprecated. Quite recently in the Southern Command an order has been issued that no man should be allowed his forty-eight hours' leave to go home after he has been inoculated. He is not obliged to go on parade, but he is obliged to remain in his rather cheerless barrack room, with thirty or forty other people. If you take inoculation badly, with a temperature of 102 or 103, you would much rather be in a comfortable home than in a barrack room, with people making a noise all round, and there is always the danger of getting a chill, or getting pneumonia and dying. I therefore ask the right hon. Gentleman on what ground of common sense the order has been issued that after inoculation no man shall be allowed to go home for his forty-eight hours. When I commanded a battalion it was left to the commanding officers. I always gave three days, because I found that though the vast majority of men did not take it badly, the few who did required at least two days to recover from the inoculation, which in the end did them very great good. The only result of this will be that you will develop a conscientious objection to inoculation. Men will simply refuse to be inoculated, and you will send abroad men who are not immune to typhoid, or you will diminish the number of men who can be sent abroad and the number available for our Army.
There is another point. It is not very important, except that I think it is bad for discipline. Quite recently an order has come out in the Southern Command that in no circumstances is a commanding officer to give leave to an officer before twelve midnight on Saturday, and that it is not to extend over midnight on Sunday. If officers have been working very hard for five days, commencing at six o'clock on Monday morning, I should think some of them might be allowed to go away on Friday night, but that is, after all, a matter for military opinion. What I want to put before the right hon. Gentleman is this: Commanding officers have a great deal of responsibility. Except for the company officer there is no more important man in the British Army than the colonel, who trains a unit and enables the general to fight a successful battle, but if you cannot trust the commanding officer 2619 to decide whether one of his officers shall go away for twenty-four hours' leave or not, you will not get the best men to take these jobs, and you will not get the best out of the men. Men in that position ought to be trusted to carry out their duties without peddling interference.
I now come to the last point—a most important one—which I want to bring to the attention of the right hon. Gentleman. About a month ago an order was issued in the Southern Command that in no circumstances could more than 5 per cent. of the men be allowed away on week-end leave. I understand that this matter was brought to the notice of the right hon. Gentleman by one hon Member, and the answer which the right hon. Gentleman was instructed to give seemed to convey the idea that he was misinformed. The answer he gave did not give a very correct impression of what is the real state of things. The order providing that not more than 5 per cent. of the men should be allowed to go away on week-end leave means that only once in twenty weeks can a man get away. The answer which was given by the right hon. Gentleman was:Provided the exigencies of the Service permit, a private soldier of good character can easily obtain leave from Saturday to Sunday night.That means, I presume, Saturday mid-day to Sunday night. From the expression "may obtain leave from Saturday to Sunday night," one could hardly imagine that under no circumstances could a man get away more than once in twenty weeks.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for WAR (Mr. Tennant)
Once in twenty weeks?
§ Mr. ASHLEY
Yes. Only 5 per cent. of the men being allowed away at the same time means that a man can only get away once in twenty weeks, or once in five and a half months. I think those who gave that answer to the right hon. Gentleman have placed a gloss upon the situation, if I may put it in a friendly way. This is a very important matter. The vast majority of the men in the Southern Command do not belong to what I call active service units. They do not belong to units which could be called upon or could take any part in quelling any civil disturbance, or could be called upon or could take any part in defending this country in case of a German raid. The battalions mainly consist of what I call training schools—batta- 2620 lions where men are sent for a certain time before they are sent out in drafts overseas. They consist mainly of men between the ages of twenty-five and thirty, married men who have been called up and who probably have got wives, children, and businesses. These men are mostly unarmed. Most of these battalions have got only a very few rifles. They are not supposed to have rifles. They are only training battalions, and they are not trained troops. Directly a man is trained he is sent abroad. Is it to be contended that it can be for the good of the Service, or for the good of anybody, that a man should only be able to get away once in twenty weeks. I cannot conceive that the right hon. Gentleman can defend that. It is extremely hard on these men, because the recruit is sent abroad after twelve or fourteen weeks' training. You call these married men up between the ages of thirty and forty. They leave their businesses and their wives and children, quite rightly, to defend their country, and you work them very hard all the week, and yet not more than one-half of these men will be able to get week-end leave at all. The only leave they will be able to get is the four days' leave before they are sent abroad. Why cannot you allow 25 per cent. to go away on leave together? What is there against it? They are worked very hard from Monday morning until Saturday mid-day, and surely they ought to have a chance of getting weekend leave. The military authorities concerned are generals brought up in the old school. When they were young the recruits were boys of seventeen, eighteen, or nineteen, who, if they were allowed week-end leave, would get into trouble, probably get drunk and disgrace themselves and their regiments. We must remember that we have passed that stage now. The Army consists mainly of solid men, men of a mature age, mostly married men, and what they want is to get away to see their wives and children, and to see how their business is getting on. Let them go away for their week-end leave and they will come back on the Monday morning feeling all the better for it, and they will work all the better. The only objection there can be to it is that the railway companies cannot carry them.
§ Mr. ASHLEY
I do ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider the point, because it means that it is creating crime. The 2621 only result is that the men are beginning to take French leave. They get letters from their wives saying there is trouble at home, and they are beginning to take French leave. By that means you are creating crime amongst these men, and it is really the last thing they want to do. I do urge that these men should be given reasonable facilities for week-end leave.
§ Mr. FORSTER
My hon. and gallant Friend (Mr. Ashley) has asked me a considerable number of questions, and I think it is the most convenient course that I should reply to him now. I hope to be able to remove a good many of the misconceptions which appear to exist in his mind. First of all, he asked me a question of very general interest in reference to the treatment of men who have lost their limbs. He called my attention to a statement which seems to have appeared in the Press on this subject.
§ Mr. ASHLEY
What I said was that the pension of the soldier who has lost a limb is reduced from the full rate to a lower rate within three months of the injury.
§ Mr. FORSTER
That is not correct. Perhaps I had better state rather fully how these limbless soldiers are treated. A soldier who has had the misfortune to lose a limb as the result of active service is treated in a military hospital until the wound is healed. So long as he is treated as a soldier his full pay and allowances are continued. When the surgeons pronounce him to be ready for the fitting of an artificial limb, which is generally four or five months after the amputation, he is admitted to the Queen Mary's Convalescent Auxiliary Hospital at Roehampton, and remains there until the limb has been passed as satisfactory by the expert consulting surgeon. While he is at Roehampton the artificial limb is fitted, and he is kept there until he has had some opportunity of learning how to use it. He usually remains at Roehampton for a period of about three weeks, but in cases presenting special difficulties the stay would be longer, according to the circumstances. What I want the House to realise is that he is not sent to Roehampton until his stump is completely healed and is in a proper condition for the use of an artificial appliance. He is then discharged from the Army as permanently unfit for further service. Up to this point his pay and allowances as a soldier, including the separation allowance, have 2622 been continued undiminished. On discharge he is awarded a pension by the Commissioners of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea. When his pension is awarded, and his case comes before the Commissioners, he has been fitted with a limb and taught how to use it. Arrangements are being made for limbless soldiers domiciled in Scotland and Ireland, to be taken into hospitals like the hospital at Roehampton, where they will be treated on the same lines. When the man's case comes to Chelsea, which the House will see is four or five months after the amputation, his limb is in a state which the medical authorities pronounce fit for use He is usually given a pension at the full rate for two months. At the end of two months the full rate, 25s., is reduced to a permanent life pension of 10s. 6d. a week. Higher rates are given according to the severity of the disablement, and in the case of soldiers with over fourteen years' service a further addition is made for rank to warrant and non-commissioned officers. Although the final pension has been given for life at the rate of 10s. 6d. it is always open to the pensioner to claim a reassessment of his pension on the ground that his disability has increased, or that it has been wrongly assessed. In that event his case will be reconsidered. I have been asked, either in this House or by letter, a few days ago, whether the State provide artificial limbs for these soldiers. Yes, it does. Artificial limbs are provided. They are supplied to invalided soldiers, and they are repaired and renewed at the public expense, as necessary from time to time, at the discretion of the Commissioners.
§ Mr. FORSTER
No. I will not commit myself, however. I am dealing now especially with non-commissioned officers and men whose cases are dealt with at Chelsea Hospital. I think that this statement satisfactorily disposes of the statements which have appeared in the Press to which my hon. and gallant Friend has referred.
My hon. and gallant Friend also called attention to the grievance which certain Royal Army Medical Corps medical officers feel in regard to their rate of pay. He contrasted the rate of 15s. a day with the rate of 24s. a day—it is not 25s., as he stated—which is paid not to Regular officers of the Royal Army Medical Corps, but to certain civilian practitioners who have been given temporary commissions 2623 in the Royal Army Medical Corps for the period of the War. It is an old story, although it may have only come to the attention of my hon. and gallant Friend lately. The 15s. a day rate is not a true comparison with the 24s. a day rate given to the civilian practitioners who have been granted temporary commissions, because the 24s. a day rate is consolidated pay, while the lower rate of pay which is given to a Regular officer of the Royal Army Medical Corps and to an officer of the Territorial Royal Army Medical Corps is the rate of pay only and does not include the appropriate allowances. When the allowances are added to the rate of pay there is very little difference between the rate of pay of the civilian doctor with a temporary commission and the Regular or Territorial officer of the Royal Army Medical Corps.
My hon. and gallant Friend also invited me to offer some explanation of the reason why expensive premises have been taken in Pall Mall and other places for the Headquarters Staffs. The history of the taking of the Pall Mall premises is very simple. It was not left to the military officers to go where they liked—the nearer their clubs the better—and to give any price they chose. When Lord French was appointed to the Home Command, it was necessary to remove the Staff, which was then at the Horse Guards, in order to make room for the Field-Marshal coming in. It was considered absolutely essential by the military authorities that they should be in the closest possible touch—my hon. and gallant Friend shakes his head, but he is not the responsible military authority which is concerned — with the Field-Marshal Commanding-in-Chief at home. My hon. and gallant Friend says: "Why could not you have moved the Headquarters further out? Why should they not have been moved to Cambridge, for instance, which would be cheaper, and by installing a private telephone there conduct the whole business by means of telephone?" If my hon. and gallant Friend had ever been a member of the Headquarters Staff he would have known that it was absolutely necessary that you should have frequent conference by word of mouth, and that you cannot make proper co-ordinated arrangements merely by scattered conversation with different individual officers by means of the telephone.
2624 I take full responsibility for the taking of these premises. In a case of this kind the two Headquarters Staffs must be within conversational distance, and the choice which was submitted to me was so narrow, and this appeared to toe the only suitable building which was available at the moment to which the Headquarters Staff could be moved in the short space of time that was available, that I sanctioned the taking of them. If my hon. and gallant Friend wishes to attack anyone, he must attack me and not the military officers, who have not the final decision.
My hon. and gallant Friend referred to the Headquarters of the Northern Defence Army. He asked why these premises were taken, and why should not some manor house have sufficed, and he said that we must be paying something like £10,000 a year for the vast accommodation which was taken. It was represented to me that this was the only house in the district which was suitable for the purposes of a Headquarters Staff, and again I call the attention of my hon. and gallant Friend to the fact that it is essential for the proper conduct of business that you should accommodate your Staff under one roof wherever it is possible. My hon. and gallant Friend says that this was an expensive place to have taken, and, on what ground I do not know, he assessed the value of it at £10,000 a year. We do not assess value on the same lines apparently as my hon. and gallant Friend. The matter was referred to the Commission presided over by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Duke), who valued the premises for something less than one-fifth of the amount that has been mentioned.
§ Mr. ASHLEY
Is that one-fifth only the rent, or does it include all the expenses of moving the furniture and making good afterwards?
§ Mr. FORSTER
I gather that what my right hon. Friend's Commission fixed is the annual value in lieu of rent, which was something less than one-fifth of the figure mentioned by my hon. and gallant Friend. It is much the same story in connection with the taking of Easton Lodge. There again I am asked, "Why should you have taken this great house, why this large and ample accommodation, at £100 a week?" I think my hon. and gallant Friend put it at that.
§ Mr. FORSTER
Easton Lodge was taken long before I had anything to do with the War Office. Therefore I am not quite so familiar with the details in this case as in some of the others, but, as far as my recollection goes, Easton Lodge was used to accommodate a great deal more than the Headquarters Staff at that time. So far from our paying £100 a week, we are now paying something less than half of that, but I am now speaking from memory, and I should not like to be positive about that figure.
I was next asked about ammunition boxes. The House realises that it is quite impossible for me to carry in my memory details of contracts. This took place before I had anything to do with it. I do not know what occurred, but I take due note of what my hon. and gallant Friend says, and hope that I shall find as little substance in the imputation which he has made against the Contract Department in that case as I think there is in some of the other accusations which he has made.
I come now to what I really think is the backbone of my hon. and gallant Friend's case against me and my Department. He expressed dislike of the system of arranging contracts on a basis of cost plus percentage. I assure him that I dislike it very much. My hon. and gallant Friend said that I was incorrigible and that I declared to him my intention of going on with contracts of that kind. I did nothing of the kind. What my hon. and gallant Friend asked was that I should give an undertaking that I would never place another contract on that basis. I said, "No, I cannot tie my hands. I cannot give an undertaking of that kind because undoubtedly it would tie my hands." But I had not then, as I have not now, any intention of placing contracts on that basis if it is possible to place them on any other. I think that I have made that clear before. My hon. and gallant Friend went on to comment upon the number of contracts which had been placed on this basis and the very high rate of percentage which was payable on these contracts. The question which my hon. and gallant Friend asked was, what was the number of the contracts placed on this basis and what was the average percentage paid to the contractor under it? As far as I recollect—I have not refreshed my memory—I said that there were something like ten contracts still in existence and that the average rate of percentage was nine. The 2626 form in which my hon. and gallant Friend put his question made it impossible to give an answer that was of any real value to the House. You may have ten different contracts—one of them in respect of a very large sum of money under which you may be paying a very low rate of percentage, and the others may be for trifling amounts such as £150 or £250, of which a percentage of anything less than from 5 to 9 or 10 would practically represent little or no profit at all.
§ Mr. FORSTER
It was on the number of contracts and not upon the amount involved. That is why the answer which I was compelled to give was of no value. In the provision of hutments we have had to rely very largely on this system which I dislike of assessing the contractor's profit on the amount which he spends. Outside of hutting we have had very few other contracts on the same basis. I think that I am right in saying there are very few. When I remind the House of the circumstances in which we were placed they will see that we have not resorted to any undue extent, apart from hut building, to this system. We were suddenly called upon to provide a large number of anti-gas helmets. No one knew much about what an anti-gas helmet was. Chemists, scientists, and manufacturers of material were at work. No one could possibly tell what the anti-gas helmet might develop into, and therefore nobody knew the cost, and the only way in which we could get this work undertaken was to take the basis of cost and allow a percentage of 2⅓ per cent. by way of profit. In respect of another contract for anti-gas equipment, we allowed a percentage of 5 per cent. on the cost, with a limit of £8,000, so that if the percentage exceeded £8,000 the contractor had to do without the excess amount. The other subject of contract on which we have adopted this system, apart from hut building, was as regards the provision of certain surgical dressings. There again we were face to face with the situation in which it was really impossible to make contracts on any other basis. As far as I remember, we submitted this particular arrangement to a Committee which sits at the Treasury. It met with their approval, and accordingly we placed the contract on that basis.
2627 Speaking still more or less from memory, I think that the only outstanding contract or arrangement of that kind where the remuneration of the contractor grows with the amount which he spends is in the provision of hutments. We had to build so vast a city of huts that it is difficult to grasp what it means. I think that I am right in saying that we had in the first year of the War to build huts which would have taken in the whole population of Manchester and Leeds, and the ordinary arrangement of tender and fixed contract was absolutely impossible, because you had to deal with the provision of accommodation on so enormous a scale. Therefore we called in to our aid the assistance of the biggest building contractors of the country.
§ Mr. ASHLEY
Why could not the War Office have built under the Territorial Associations, who employ local people, as in Lancashire, who would have done the work at a rate 25 per cent. cheaper than the War Office rate?
§ Mr. FORSTER
Of course, here again I have the disadvantage of not having had to deal with this question myself in the first instance. But from all that I have been able to gather that was the situation in which the War Office found itself in the early days of the War. It was impossible to make contracts for work of this kind. The contractors were unable to cover their requirements with regard to timber, and it seemed the quickest and best, and as far as we could see, and I am not sure it was not justified, the cheapest way to call in aid the great contracting firms of the country. That is the way the question of hut building was dealt with at that time. A large number of these arrangements have been completed, and there are only a few of them remaining. My hon. and gallant Friend asked for some particulars. He quoted the sum of £7,000,000 or £8,000,000 as the cost of these hutted camps, and I think he wanted that I should tell him what was the rate of profit which had been paid to contractors under this arrangement. I would rather not do that at the moment, if the House will forgive me for withholding it, for the very simple reason that I am in negotiation now with great contracting firms who have been doing this work, and engaged in revising the rate of percentage. Therefore, until these negotiations have come to a close, I should be glad if the House will not press 2628 me further upon this question. I am ready to give the fullest information in private, but I would rather not give it in public for the moment. I have not the least desire to withhold the information indefinitely after these arrangements have been completed.
§ Mr. ASHLEY
There is the question of the two contracts on this percentage system, and I wish to know whether I am correct in saying that two new contracts have been entered into recently.
§ Mr FORSTER
That is not the case. What we are doing now is to proceed to apply to the motor industry a system which we have applied with very considerable success to other industries. We are inviting the manufacturers to submit their costings. Under the Defence of the Realm Act we can call upon a manufacturer to produce his costings, and we can then settle what is a fair rate of profit, and make an agreement. Failing an agreement, we can take the matter to the High Court to be settled for us. That is the system which we are applying to the motor industry for the moment, and that is the basis on which the contract, to which, I think, my right hon. and gallant Friend referred, is being arranged.
The only outstanding question of the hon. and gallant Gentleman is with reference to the London General Omnibus Company. I dealt with that the other day, and I must say again that my hon. and gallant Friend has not been supplied with reliable information. I think I can dispose of his case against the Financial Branch of the War Office in a sentence. The Quartermaster-General, with others, recommended the taking over of the London General Omnibus Company just in the same way as the railway companies were taken over. The London General Omnibus Company were willing to be taken over on those terms, and it was thought that if that were done it would be a very good arrangement for the country, and save a great deal of money that we now have to pay. I have had the advantage, of course, of seeing the proposals that were made by the London General Omnibus Company. They differ from those which were made in respect of the railway companies very materially, and when I tell my hon. and gallant Friend that those who recommended this course contemplated that it would cost us between a million and a million and a half, 2629 I think he will see that at any rate there was some justification for considering whether or not it would be better to take some other course which would involve less expenditure and which would be an expenditure that we might be able to control more easily. I think I can finally dispose of my hon. and gallant Friend's question when I say that the matter was thoroughly considered by the Quartermaster-General, and by the then Financial Secretary to the War Office, and by other persons concerned, and they unanimously came to the conclusion to reject the course which my hon. and gallant Friend feels would have been so much wiser to adopt, and to accept the course which has since been acted upon. I do not think I can carry the matter further than that. I explained the financial bearings of this question when speaking the other day, and I hope I have answered frankly all the questions of my hon. and gallant Friend. I make no complaint whatever of his having asked those questions.