HC Deb 13 March 1924 vol 170 cc2622-4

It would take too long to explain to the House the various developments and economies that have taken place within the administrative services of the War Office, and Members will find some reference to changes and reorganisation of the Ordnance Services on page 12 of the memorandum that I have circulated. I desire, however, to indicate some savings that the Quartermaster-General has been able, amongst others, to effect. On the conveyance of troops and stores by land we have saved some £220,000. There is a reduction of nearly £1,000,000 on sea transport on account of the withdrawal from Constantinople and certain other non-recurring commitments. On provisions, forage and petrol, under Vote 7, there is a reduction approximately of over £1,000,000, so that I can assure the House that every member of Council has been most careful to reduce administrative expenses to the last penny consistently with the proper carrying out of the duties with which he is charged. There are, in particular, however, three areas of administration in which the House naturally rightly takes great interest and to which I would like to refer in greater detail. The first is the question of Army pay; the second the size of staffs, both in the War Office and elsewhere; and the third is the question of the system of accounts and administration of the Army.

Apart from any question of the future rates of pay of the Army, an automatic reduction in the pay of existing officers, based on cost of living, takes place on 1st July, 1924. When the new scales of pay, half-pay and retired pay were introduced in 1919 for officers of the Navy, Army and Air Force, it was laid down that 80 per cent. of the new rates was given as basic and 20 per cent. as a variable element subject to revision according to the rise or fall in the cost of living. The first revision is due in 1924, with subsequent revisions at intervals of three years. A comparison of the cost of living in 1919 and at the present time indicates that the reduction will be between 5 per cent. and 6 per cent. The exact percentage will be announced in a few days. The reduction represents the proportionate fall in the cost of living applied to 20 per cent. only of the pay, and the same applies to half-pay and retired pay. The whole 20 per cent. would only disappear if the cost of living fell to the pre-War figure. I repeat—as it is a matter on which some misunderstanding seems to exist—that this reduction in the rates for officers (not men), which takes place automatically under the Regulations issued in 1919, is quite independent of any decision that may be taken as to new rates of pay of officers under the recommendations of the Anderson Committee.

The House is aware that a Committee under Lord Weir some time ago reported to the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the question of possible administrative economies. The House has expressed interest in this report, but so far it has not been possible to present the report to Parliament, because it deals, amongst other things, with secret subjects, such as the size of the Reserves in the event of war which the House would not wish to be made public. Very careful consideration has been given to the recommendations of the Weir Committee. Broadly speaking, the Weir Committee recognises that the increase of staff is due to the work still connected with the War, increased correspondence from the general public, enhanced importance of mechanical factors in war and the dispersion of the Army on the Rhine and elsewhere. They came to the broad conclusion that any detailed recommendation for reduction in staff under existing organisation would be of little value. Their opinion was that economy and efficiency could only be achieved by changes in organisation of a far-reaching nature.

As a result, however, of the Weir Committee certain definite reductions have been made. £57,000 has been saved on the reduction in existing Schools of Instruction, including the abolition of the School of Military Administration, and the amalgamation of the Cavalry and Artillery Wings of the School of Equitation. Reduction in travelling expenses has been effected by regulating the meetings of the Selection Board to which all General Officers Commanding-in-Chief are called at certain intervals. In the Medical Service, reductions of over £100,000 have been made, and the regimental establishment of the R.A.M.C. is again being reviewed.

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