HC Deb 08 June 1920 vol 130 cc193-9
6 and 7. Mr. C. PALMER

asked the Secretary of State for War (1) whether, in deciding to reclothe the Army in uniform of pre-War style and colour, he has considered the cost to officers; and whether, in view of the necessity of making commissioned rank possible to young men of families of moderate means, he will reconsider his decision;

(2) whether, before committing the country to an initial expenditure of £3,000,000 in reclothing the Army in pre-War uniforms, he will give orders for pattern uniforms of khaki to be made with regimental colour and cuff facings and collar badges of one line regiment, one rifle, and one cavalry regiment, and cause these to be displayed in the Tea Room, together with the comparative cost of uniforms so adorned and made at the Pimlico factory compared with the price of pre-War uniforms?

14. Mr. BRIANT

asked the Secretary of State for War what is the number of khaki uniforms now in store, the number of yards of khaki cloth in store, and the number of yards of khaki cloth for which tenders are accepted?


asked the Secretary of State for War what is the estimated average initial cost and annual cost of maintenance to each Life Guards officer of the proposed new uniforms, including the horse furniture?


asked the Secretary of State for War if he has any official reports showing that the esprit de corps of the Army suffered during the War owing to the wearing of khaki; and, if not, if he will explain why it is proposed to expend £3,000,000 in obtaining uniforms of a more expensive type?

23. Mr. HINDS

asked the Secretary of State for War if his attention has been called to the representations of the families of officers who, in view of the high cost of living, already experience great difficulty in living on the Army rates of pay, and who fear that they will be unable to retain their commissions if they are put to the expense of buying and maintaining pre-War uniforms; and will he take these representations into consideration?


asked the Secretary of State for War whether tenders have yet been invited for re-clothing the Army; and what will be the average cost of providing each soldier with the pre-War uniforms?


asked the Secretary of State for War (1) whether the views of the rank and file in the Army on the proposal to re-introduce pre-War uniforms have been ascertained;

(2) whether, in view of the public feeling which has been aroused by the proposal to spend £3,000, on new uniforms for the Army, he will reconsider the decision to revert to pre-War uniforms?


asked the Secretary of State for War what is the estimated cost of the fur required for re-clothing the Army in pre-War uniforms?


asked the Secretary of State for War what will be the average cost to each officer of providing himself with the pre-War uniforms; and what proportion of this expense will be contributed by the State?


asked the Secretary of State for War if he will give details showing how the estimated expenditure of £3,000,000 on re-clothing the Army is arrived at?


asked the Secretary of State for War on what grounds it is considered that the wearing of khaki with regimental buttons and badges is inimical to esprit de corps?

32. Brigadier - General Sir OWEN THOMAS

asked the Secretary of State for War whether recruiting for the Regular Army is at present satisfactory; and, if so, why it is necessary to provide a new uniform as an advertisement for recruits at a cost of £3,000,000?


asked the Secretary of State for War if his attention has been called to the smartly-fitting khaki uniforms of His Majesty's Life Guards now in London; whether, if similar results were produced by regimental tailors in other regiments, all the smartness required for maintaining the efficiency of the Army would be attained; and whether he will reconsider the decision to expend £3,000,000 on new uniforms?


asked the Secretary of State for War how much khaki cloth is now in stock?

41 and 42. Mr. HURD

asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the War Office (1) if he will state the detailed items of the estimate of £3,000,000 for the re-clothing of the British Army; what is the cost per yard of scarlet cloth for officers and men respectively; how does this compare with the cost in 1914;

(2) what was the approximate amount of khaki cloth in the hands of the Army authorities at the time of the Armistice and at the opening of the year 1920; what amount of khaki has been handed over to the Disposal Board or otherwise disposed of during the present year; and what is the stock now in hand?

The SECRETARY of STATE for WAR (Mr. Churchill)

I propose to deal with the general aspect of this matter in a general statement. Although it may not completely answer all the points raised, I think it will be better if hon. Members have the opportunity of having this statement in their minds, and then they can see whether it is necessary to put down further questions next week.

The only expenditure which will fall upon this year's Estimates in regard to full dress for the Army is that in respect of the Foot Guards, which are to be immediately supplied with full dress during the current year. The Household Cavalry have had full dress throughout the War, and it is only a question of maintaining this. The troops, of course, have a free issue.

As regards the officers, new entrants will receive a grant of £150 towards the cost of uniform, and those who joined during the War will get £150, less the amount of outfit grant already received, which in most cases is £42 10s. The re-issue to the Guards and Household Cavalry troops of full dress stands in a special position on account of the ceremonial duties which these troops discharge in the capital of the Empire.

The extension of full dress to the other branches and units of the Service, which my military advisers also consider desirable, will be spread over the next four or five years, unless it should be decided, when the Estimates are reviewed next year, that this programme should be abandoned. Ample notice will be given to all units, and no existing stock, either of khaki or khaki uniforms, will be wasted. Khaki with the cap or steel helmet will remain permanently the working service dress of the whole Army. There is not, nor ever has been, any question of its abolition.

The only question which is now before us is the issue of full dress uniform to the Guards, and the retention of full dress uniform by the Household Cavalry. This involves an expenditure, not of £3,000,000, as one would suppose by reading a certain class of public criticism, but of £140,000 for other ranks and £20,000 for officers. This expenditure has been included in the Estimates of the present year. If we had decided against re-clothing the Guards in full dress and maintaining the full dress of the Household Cavalry, we should have to supply them with another complete new outfit of khaki at a cost of £30,000.

The total avoidable expense is, therefore, not £160,000 but £130,000, and £130,000 and not £3,000,000 is the figure to which the Government is at present committed.

The abolition of full dress for the Household Cavalry and the Guards would mean that the Household Cavalry uniforms and the uniforms of the Household Cavalry and Guards bands, and approximately 7,000 bearskins now in stock, would become useless, and this would involve a waste of fully £80,000. The total net expense involved in re-clothing the Guards and retaining the Household Cavalry in scarlet is thus £130,000, while the total waste involved in discarding the existing stocks of full dress would be approximately £80,000. The transaction would therefore appear to be not unjustified, even from a purely financial standpoint.


Does the right hon. Gentleman regard an avoidable expenditure of £130,000 as a matter of no consideration at a time of this kind, and does he share the view that it is necessary to buy esprit de corps at the expense of the British taxpayer?


I need not say that I shall be very ready to debate this matter in the House, if there be a general desire to do so, and an occasion presents itself. I certainly do not take the view that it is necessary to buy recruits with uniforms, but I consider that the historic uniforms of the British Army carry with them a sense of continuity and of regimental tradition, which is valuable not only for recruiting, but for the discipline, conduct and high reputation of British units; and if this can be done thriftily and frugally over a long series of years, using up every scrap of existing material, I believe it is well worth while.


May I ask the Secretary of State what he means when he speaks of an expenditure on the uniform for the Guards to which the War Office and this House are "committed"? Have we no control over that, or has it passed out of the cognisance of this House?


This sum was included in the Estimates. I am proceeding in the general course of the year in accordance with those Estimates, and I have given orders for the looms to be set in motion, and for the uniforms to be made.


As the right hon. Gentleman knows, those Estimates have not yet been discussed by this House in Committee. Are we to understand that, when these Estimates come before us in Committee, this expenditure will already have been incurred, and that we shall be in the particularly foolish position of attempting a reduction of expenditure which has already been incurred?


No, Sir, Considering that the financial year begins on the 1st April, and the discussion of Estimates, block by block, proceeds at varying intervals throughout the year, it is certainly nothing new for the right hon. Gentleman to discover that a large portion of the expenditure has necessarily been incurred before the Estimates are available for discussion in this House. As a matter of fact, the Army Estimates have been debated repeatedly during the course of the present year, and I referred specifically to this subject when they were last debated. The House will be committed in the sense that orders are continuously being given in regard to expenditure, and at any stage it is only possible for the House to reverse a decision which the Government is carrying on in their name by facing the loss involved in a change of Ministry.


In view of the impossibility of debating the matter by question and answer, I beg to give notice that I shall raise it on the Army Estimates.


Is it not the case that the preponderating opinion amongst regimental officers is in favour of a return to the pre-War uniform, and, further, will the right hon. Gentleman be prepared to consider some extension of the grant in the case of poorer officers?

Lieut. - Colonel Sir J. NORTON-GRIFFITHS

Is it not the case that the majority of the rank and file are in favour of the change?


Is it part of the policy of stimulating esprit de corps to merge the Welsh and Irish Guards in the other regiments?


That is quite irrelevant and quite untrue.


That is another matter altogether.


In view of the statement that £50 is to be granted to officers to buy new uniforms, is there any modification in the uniform to make it less expensive?


There are certain modifications in the Guards uniform, and other modifications are being considered and will be devised during the year before there is any necessity to extend it to the rest of the Army. But it is not only in the character of the uniform that modifications can be made which will avoid expense. It is in the occasions on which the uniform is worn. Those can be greatly reduced so as to make khaki the customary working and service dress, and keep the ceremonial dresses for the occasions for which they are required.

Brigadier-General Sir OWEN THOMAS

Are the Irish and Welsh Guards included in the Estimates the right hon. Gentleman has given the House?


Yes, they certainly are included. There never has been any intention of abolishing the Irish Guards. With regard to the Welsh Guards the condition of recruiting in that regiment has raised the question of its continuing as a regiment, but I certainly have expressed no opinion on the subject one way or the other. I have allowed the discussion to proceed with the various authorities concerned, and the Army Council and the Secretary of State have reserved their judgment and will be perfectly free to take it at any time.

4. Colonel YATE

asked the Secretary of State for War whether in re-clothing the Army in full-dress uniform he will abolish the former stand-up collar buttoning tightly to the throat which was so irksome to the wearer?


It is not proposed to abolish the stand-up military collar, which should be no more irksome to wear than the stand-up collar worn in civilian dress.

Major NALL

Is it not a fact that the civilian collar has no wire?


asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer on what grounds the Treasury sanctioned the proposal to end £3,000,000 on reclothing the Army?

The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Mr. Chamberlain)

I understand that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War has to-day made a statement showing the grounds on which this decision was reached by His Majesty's Government.