HC Deb 13 March 1924 vol 170 cc2625-40

I now come to the question of the size and cost of the War Office staff. The comparison of cost is between £1,240,800, as now shown in the Vote, or £927,700, if the figures in the Vote were arranged as in 1914. The War Office then cost £457,000, or approximately one-half. The difference can be explained by reference, first to cost, secondly to numbers, and thirdly to the volume of work. The pay of the Civil Service and of the Army has been raised, and properly raised, by previous Governments. If the Anderson recommendations are accepted, there will be no change in Civil Service rates, and some not inappreciable savings on Army pay, provided corresponding reductions are made in Navy and Air Force rates. This report is under the consideration of the Government. The bonus is common to the whole Civil Service, and varies directly with the cost of living. Boy and girl labour is practically abolished, with consequential expense.

Every class of the Civil Service staff employed in the War Office has been reorganised in conjunction with the Treasury, and fresh establishments have been approved within the last three years. The senior civil staff is at its pre-War numbers. The more extended use of disabled ex-soldiers has inevitably led to the employment of more men. The lower grades of the military departments are being examined by a Committee under Major-General Sir Arnold Sillem, which is investigating the work of every branch and the work of each individual in the branch. This is a task of considerable magnitude, but good progress is being made.

The intake of correspondence is still 60 per cent. greater than in 1914; the staff is 50 per cent larger. The reduction or augmentation of the rank and file establishment of the Army does not involve precisely commensurate variations in the size of the administrative staff of the War Office. The character of the work remains the same; the problems to be considered do not change; whether a few thousand men, more or less, have to be administered makes relatively little difference. The Army is a much more complex machine since the War, and, because of its smaller size, greater attention has to be directed to securing its efficiency. New weapons (guns of higher calibre, Lewis guns, etc.), tanks, smoke, anti-gas defence, improved signalling communications, wireless telegraphy, the mechanicalisation of transport and artillery; hygiene and sanitation; a higher standard of education and vocational training; co-operation with the Air Force; improvement of barracks and married quarters on which work was necessarily suspended during the War; the creation of another training centre at Catterick to replace the Curragh; the reorganisation of the Territorial Army as a second line; the provision of ground troops for anti-aircraft defence—all these involve work which the War Office did not have in hand in 1914. The military problems in a reconstituted world need the most careful study. The League of Nations and other international agreements, and the fact that war is now in three dimensions, make greater demands on the General Staff. Above all, the fact that the War Office came into touch with almost every household during the War has led to a vast correspondence with individuals, who often approach the Department personally, and through organisations, as well as through their M.P.'s. Claims for compensation, alleged arrears of pay, effects, medals, rewards, lead to appeals of many kinds.

I thank the House for listening patiently to what must inevitably be a bare record of facts. The truth is that for the moment I am in the position of the chairman of the board of directors of a big business from whom the shareholders are entitled to hear the true history of the business during the past year. I have, therefore, not indulged in any nights of rhetoric, but, relying on the fact that a substantial saving has been effected without loss of efficiency, I confidently ask the House to vote the necessary Supply.


The whole House will join with me in congratulating the right hon. Gentleman on the report which he has made to-day as chairman of this very, very important company. It has been a business-like statement in explanation of the Memorandum which he kindly gave to Members in advance. It has been a business-like statement which has helped us to understand the present position. Moreover, as he said he is following the policy of his predecessors. I have the less difficulty in giving him those compliments which he has a right to expect from a former Secretary of State for War. There are a few things I would like to say to the right hon. Gentleman, and a few questions I would like to ask him. He claims in his speech that these Estimates show a saving of £7,000,000 on the current year's Estimates, and he compares in his paper the Estimates for the last three years, namely, this year, the previous year and the year before that. But that is not a very good comparison, if I may say so, because in the year 1922–3 he compares with an estimate of £62,300,000. He will remember that the expenditure of that year was about £12,000,000 lower than the Estimate, so that the real comparison is not with the Estimate of £62,000,000; it ought to be with the expenditure of about £50,000,000. That is not important for to-day's purposes, perhaps, except that it is somewhat misleading as it is put here.

What is more important, is to ascertain from the right hon. Gentleman, if we can, how much he expects of the current year's Estimate to be actually spent. He claims a saving of £7,000,000 on the Estimate, and that is true, but I think there was, so far as I can see, a very considerable sum under-spent in the current year, and although he has hot got the final figures for the year, he may be able to say presently whether it is expected to be £3,000,000 or £4,000,000 under the Estimate. With regard to the £7,000,000, he has explained that £2,500,000 of that is terminal charges. We know these terminal charges. No Secretary of State has much control over them; they are a horrible legacy of the War which swells the Estimates without his design. That leaves £4,500,000. How is that made up? He has stated that there are 2,800 men fewer now on the Strength than previously, and I shall have a word to say about that in a moment. Then he said, £1,000,000 has been saved on transport, as I understand. That is, of course, because the troops are no longer in Constantinople. That is lucky, but it must not be treated as a necessarily permanent reduction of the Army Estimates, because so long as men are from time to time sent overseas the transport falls to be charged on the Estimates.

5.0 P.M.

It must not be considered to be necessarily a permanent reduction, and the same applies to another million he has saved in food and forage, which is due to the reduction in the prices of food and forage. With regard to the men, the right hon. Gentleman says that there are 2,000—his memorandum said 2,800—less upon the Strength now, that they have saved in the ancillary services, and not a single fighting unit has been reduced in strength. I remember when I was in the position which he now occupies it fell to my lot to reduce a large number of battalions, but in order to minimise as far as I could the loss in fighting strength, we added 64 bayonets per battalion, and that really added to the fighting strength of each battalion without any additional overhead charges, because the establishment charges were the same with the 64 extra men as they were without the 64 men. Have these men been lost? Are they still there?

The actual strength is 5,500 below establishment, and the right hon. Gentleman explained that we had had some difficulty in recruiting If these difficulties arise because there may have been a misunderstanding in the minds of those who normally come into the Army that their pay was to be cut down after they had joined, surely it ought to be very easy to remove such a misapprehension, because it must be quite clear that the War Office has not now and never has had any intention of altering existing contracts. If a man joins the Army at a given rate of pay, that contract will be kept with him during the whole of his enlisted service, or for the time for which he has enlisted. It should be quite easy to make that clear. Is that the only reason? It seems odd that, at a time when unemployment is so bad, we should be short of the numbers which the right hon. Gentleman has to deplore. I think we were recruiting at the rate of 40,000 a year, which compares with something like 30,000 a year pre-War. If the right hon. Gentleman can do so, he might give us the figures, and let us know why the deficiency exists, because it is a quite important matter. The right hon. Gentleman said that the position to-day with regard to the Expeditionary Force was a great deal better than two years ago. I am glad that it is so. It is natural that it should be so, because one of the chief reasons of the Expeditionary Force being small in number and slow in mobilization was that we had not got either the necessary reserve to fill up the ranks or the technical reserves, and the whole of our efforts were being bent towards supplying those two deficiencies.

The Reserve to-day is 92,000. That is a great deal better than it was in the time with which he was making the comparison. The right hon. Gentleman is starting a Supplementary Reserve. He might reconsider the name. Of all the horrible names I think I ever heard of, the Supplementary Reserve is the worst. You cannot expect to get men to join what is called a Supplementary Reserve. I do not know whether he has already begun to recruit for the Supplementary Reserve, or whether that still remains to be done. I think it is wise to make it into two classes. He is more likely to get the technical men who are required if he does not have to put all of them through the ranks. Some of them, as he pointed out, are not there for their military knowledge, but for their technical and trained knowledge, and I think it is wise to have one class of Reserves which does not require to go through a military training. In order to fill vacancies for technical men, the right hon. Gentleman is continuing the technical schools for boys. I hope he will find that he succeeds. I do not know if he has looked into the cost of it. I do not know if he realises what it will cost the State for each technically trained man he puts into the Army. When I looked into the cost, it staggered me, and I did not feel justified in starting boys' technical training. I was never satisfied that that was the cheapest method of getting the technical men required.

I am glad the right hon. Gentleman said he approved of the Report of the Haldane Committee. I understand, therefore, that he will put that Report into operation. I gather that that was what was intended. I understand that, notwithstanding that, there is some fear that the cadets will not be forthcoming, and I suggest he should look over something of which I was guilty and see whether it has affected young men joining as cadets. On the recommendation of the Geddes Committee, we put up the fees to be paid at Sandhurst and Woolwich, and I was never certain what the effect of that would be. It may well be that the cadets are not coming forward because you are charging an extra £50 or £100 a year. If that be so, it is dear money. It would be far better to reduce the fees and get the cadets. I am glad the right hon. Gentleman said that the vocational training for men about to leave the Army was being developed, and I hope he will continue to develop it. He said it was started in April, 1923. I think he has got his date wrong, because I was conscious of it being in force while I was at the War Office. It is important that we should not go on turning men out of the Army on to the labour market as unskilled men. We ought, while they are in the Service, to furnish them with a training. I have not the slightest doubt that that is the least we can do for the men we ask to join the Army. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will arrange with the trade unions that the training these men receive while in the Army shall count. If these men are to be trained only to find out afterwards that they cannot join trade unions, it would not be fair to the men. I hope the right hon. Gentleman, as he has special means of doing so, will take steps to get trade union recognition for these men.

In regard to the Lawrence Committee Report, I confess I was not quite satisfied with what the right hon. Gentleman said. He seemed to be a little timid about it. That was a Committee which was set up by me. I will tell the House why I set it up, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will pursue this work. When I was at the War Office, the accounting and finance services, namely, the Finance Department, the Army Pay Corps, and the Corps of Military Accountants were costing—I speak from memory—£1,900,000 a year. That was an enormous sum, and I felt certain that if it was looked into a large reduction could be made. I succeeded in making a reduction of £100,000 a year by amalgamating the work of the Record Office with the Pay Office. I got that Committee set up, and the result of that Committee is now the subject of a While Paper. The present expenditure compared to the £1,900,000, as far as I can make out, is estimated to be £828,000, so already there is a saving of about £1,100,000 in the finance services, using that term in the broad sense, of the War Office. That is the cost of four battalions. This Report suggests that certain further steps should be taken, and it says that £240,000 could be saved if these steps are taken. Let me remind the right hon. Gentleman that this is the cost of an infantry battalion, and it is up to him to see that that saving is made in order that there shall not be any pressure to cut off any infantry battalion. The right hon. Gentleman says that that will take time. It has taken time to get this Report, and it has taken time to get these reductions, and he will find that it will require a good deal of energy on his part to get this carried through, but he ought to get it carried through. This Report was the report of one of the strongest Committees ever set up. It was a combination of military, military administrative, financial and accounting experts.


Perhaps my right hon. Friend will allow me to explain. The right hon Gentleman knows that the Report was published only on the 23rd October last year, and I would like to show the House that there has been no delay of any kind on my part. I need not say to Members of this House that a very considerable unheaval took place between October and January. As soon as I got to the Department and knew this matter was rousing a good deal of very proper attention, the Army Council got together, and on the very first occasion they agreed to its application. The one point on which I do feel a little doubt is, as to whether the result of the Committee's finding could be applied to the command of a unit in the same way as it can be applied, and successfully applied, to stated establishments. That is a point I will go into. That is, perhaps, one of the reasons why I have not been quite so direct in my references as I would otherwise have been.


I did not wish to suggest for a moment that there was any delay on the part of the right hon. Gentleman; I was only a little afraid that he was going to be timid as to the future. What I want him to do in the future, whenever he can—I do not want it rushed; it must be very carefully considered. It is no use his trying to do it as Secretary of State and finding that his Department or his military officers are lagging behind; they must all go along together on the same front—what I want him to do is to get them along with him and see that it is done, because I believe there is quite a considerable amount of money in it. At present the system is a dual one. There is a system of Vote Heads and of so-called cost accounting. There are two sets of people doing that, each being paid, and, when it is done, the two systems do not agree, and a third set of people is employed in reconciling the work of the two first. That is going on at this moment, and the sooner it is corrected the better, because it is a sheer waste of money. I find myself in the very happy position of being in agreement with all the rest of the right hon. Gentleman's speech, and, therefore, I need not detain the House any longer, but I hope that these reforms, the time for which is now ripe, will fall to his credit in the course of this year.


I feel that, as one who introduced probably the greatest War Estimate the world has ever known, I may be forgiven if I address a few remarks to the House on this occasion. First of all, I desire to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the excellence of his speech. It seemed to me to be solid and comprehensive, and, if there was no great vein of pacifism passing through it, there was certainly no vein of defiance. The whole gist of it went to show that there is a strong and ardent attempt at the present moment, under his administration at the War Office, to secure an efficient Army, a strong Army, and a capable Army. The right hon. Gentleman himself, at the beginning of his remarks, rather deplored the fact that recruiting for that Army was not as good as it might be. I am in many ways not surprised, and I will merely give one reason. In a word, people in this country seem at times to forget that we are entirely dependent upon a voluntary Army. If you have a conscripted Army you can dress it in sackcloth and ashes, but if you are appealing to the young men of the country to come forward and join this ancient profession of arms, you have to appeal to them through sentiment and tradition, and not altogether through their pockets. I have, on more than one occasion, with my colleagues from Scotland, appealed to the War Office once again to refurnish the old Highland regiments with the full regimental equipment. I am glad to see that something has already been done in that direction, but not only does it apply to the Highlands of Scotland, but to Wales, and in the old days it would have applied to Ireland. I am convinced that, for a voluntary Army, the War Office cannot afford to despise what are very often regarded as small things, but which, really, are the great things in many minds in this country.

My right hon. Friend, who has just sat down, has referred to the Haldane Report, and I would reinforce the plea he has put forward that the Secretary of State should put that Report in its entirety into force. During the time I was at the War Office I took a great interest in the education of cadets at Sandhurst, and in the entrance of those cadets to Sandhurst. I am convinced that the reason for the paucity in the number of cadets going to Sandhurst at present is twofold. Firstly, there has been a remarkable uncertainty as to the Army as a career, and, secondly, there is the increase in the fees of young cadets going to Sandhurst. I believe that the clever young cadet, not only from the public school but from the secondary school, should be given every available facility to enter Sandhurst and the other military colleges, and I was much pleased to see that the other day there was a question by an old Eton master, who is a most respected Member of this Houses—the hon. Member for Windsor (Mr. A. Somerville)—asking that not only should the claims of public schoolboys from Eton, Winchester, Rugby and other schools be considered but also the claims of able and competent young men from the secondary schools of this country. I am convinced that, if the Secretary of State would develop that line of entrance into Sandhurst, he would not only be adding to the competence and ability of the Army but he would be taking away from the minds of many men the idea that Sandhurst is limited to a certain class of men.

I was very glad to hear my right hon. Friend pay a great tribute to General Harington. I am sure that the whole House will agree with that tribute, in connection with which he made it perfectly clear that the Army, as he understands it, is not out for defiance, but for defence, not only of these shores, but of the whole of our Empire. He gave us some very interesting new information about the mechanicalisation of the Army. I am sure it is an axiom, after the results of the last War has been considered, that we should have a maximum of firing power with a minimum exposure of human life—a doctrine which I remember my right hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Wight (Major-General Seely) advocating in this House. But, if we have had a higher degree of mechanicalisation in the Army, I am glad to think that the other side of the Army, the human side, is not neglected. One of the great curses of the Army of the old days was that one would often find, in the villages of this country, old soldiers who had had a long career in the Army, who were strong, able-bodied men, but who had had to leave the Army without knowing any trade or occupation to which they could apply themselves after they had ceased to serve in the Army. We are whole-heartedly in support of the new system of vocational training. It is an excellent thing, and doubly excellent when you begin by attracting nice young lads into the technical schools. Not only is that a great benefit to the Army itself, but it is a great benefit to the industry of the country when these men have served their time and their country.

I heartily endorse the appeal my right hon. Friend has made to employers of labour in connection with the recruitment of the Territorial Force. It is not necessary in this House to pay any compliments to that great voluntary Force, which came forward at the beginning of the War with such tremendous credit to itself, to the country, and to the voluntary spirit. But, if there is to be good recruitment for the Territorial Force, everything possible must be done to make the burden of service in that Force as easy as possible—I do not mean easy in the sense of depriving them of adequate training, but that, when bounties are applied for, and they are expected, they should be promptly paid. I had a case of that kind in my own constituency, but I am glad to think that the moment I applied to the War Office to have these bounties paid, my letter was courteously acknowledged, and the bounties were actually paid. It should not, however, be left to a Member of Parliament to apply for an inducement of that kind which is put forward in order to attract men into the Territorial Force.

With regard to the question of the discipline and health of the Army, I remember what a tremendous fight we had during the War to improve the health of the Army, and I am glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman say to-day that the health of the Army was never better than it is now. I understand that that is equally true of the discipline of the Army. During the War we had many Debates here upon the harshness of the discipline, and at that time, instead of the old prison system, with great chains for men who had committed offences against Army law, we established a system of detention barracks. I am glad now to recognise the efficacy of that step, because my right hon. Friend has told us to-day that, owing to the excellent discipline of the Army, it has been possible for two of those barracks to be set aside. I desire to say a word also on the question of the graves of soldiers in the various theatres of war. I am sure it was a very great satisfaction to us to see the other day the report of the right hon. Gentleman who is Prime Minister of Australia, and whose visit here we were all delighted to have. He went to visit the graves in Gallipoli, and his report was a highly satisfactory one from the point of view of the reverent attention paid to those graves. I do, however, receive, and I know that many other Members of this House receive, a great many complaints that adequate tombstones are not put at the head of the graves, and I would like my right hon. Friend to assure himself that everything that is humanly possible is being done in this connection.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Sir L. Worthington-Evans) mentioned the matter of Army pay. I am one of those who believe that in the old days the Army was too badly paid. It was nothing less than a crime to ask men, at the beginning of the War, to endure, on a miserable pittance, all the dangers and all the discomforts of a terrible war, and I feel proud that I had a little to do in increasing the pay of those gallant men. If economies are to be effected, I am sure they ought to be effected upon ancillary services, and in other directions, but not upon the pay of the soldier. If a man in civil life contracts to enter any employment for a fixed wage, every trade union in the country would be down upon his employers if they attempted to deprive him of that wage, and the same thing applies to the British Army. If men have been enlisted for a certain period at a certain rate of pay, then, in my judgment, they are entitled to receive that pay and to have that contract fulfilled. I understand that in the course of the Debate other questions may be raised, and particularly from this corner of the House, but I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to reassure us upon the few points I have now raised.

Lieut.-Colonel CAMPION

May I also, very humbly pay my tribute to the very clear, straightforward statement we have had from the right hon. Gentleman? Reference has been made in the three speeches we have heard to the shortage of officers and to the Report of the Haldane Committee, of which I was a member. I should like very strongly to endorse the plea which has been put up for a reduction of the fees at Sandhurst and Woolwich. I believe that is distinctly important. But what I believe is still more important is that boys contemplating joining the Army, and their parents, should be reasonably satisfied that there is a certainty of a career open to them when they get into the Army. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman can too often reassure us by making the statement that, as far as one can reasonably foresee matters, a boy joining the Army now and taking a commission has a reasonable certainty of a continued career. The Haldane Committee had to consider two things principally, first of all in what way they could widen the area from which they can draw candidates for commissions, and, secondly, whether they could secure a proportion, at any rate, of the best brains for the Army, because it is unquestioned that though one wants a number of individuals with the quality of leadership and perhaps not brilliance of brains, still one wants in the Army as brilliant and as good brains as in any other profession. In that connection I was very much impressed with the immense and cordial co-operation which we got from the Commandants of Woolwich, Sandhurst, and Chatham, from the heads of the colleges at the big universities and from the headmasters of public schools. One and all, they were out to help and to make suggestions to try to make our task easy.

I believe the adoption of the suggestions made by this Committee will go a long way to remedy the existing shortage in the supply of officers. Frankly it does away with the crammer and with the Army class in our public schools. Some people may think that is a pity. I am inclined to think it is an advantage. Not only do you do away with the Army class in the public schools, but it results in the boys staying at school till the age of 18 or getting the real advantage of public school life which is only got by getting to the head of the school and being in a position of responsibility. In the present time and in the old days a boy has had to make up his mind in the early days of his public school life, or his father has, as to whether he will go into the Army or not. If he decides to go in for the Army he has to go in for a special form of education, and the result has been that a great many fathers and sons have hesitated to make up their minds at so early an age. But under this scheme a boy will not have to make up his mind until later on, until he has passed a qualifying test, namely, getting a certificate under the Joint Board of the Oxford and Cambridge University or something equivalent to that. I am sure that qualifying test, a simple one as it is now, will result in opening the area for the supply of these boys as candidates for commissions, not only so that they may be drawn from the great public schools, but they will come from council schools and so on.

I was impressed by a question which was asked by heads of colleges at a visit we made to Oxford. We were asking what could be done in order to get applications for commissions from first and second-class men in our universities. One or two of the heads asked, "Do you want first-class men at examinations or do you want first-class men?" The answer is an obvious one. What the Army wants is first-class men, and I think there is a proviso in our suggestions which is a very valuable one, that in the qualifying examination for Sandhurst or Woolwich, or in the examination for the competition from the universities, one of the tests shall be the school or university record of the individual and that a fairly large percentage of marks should be given for the record. In that way, while you open the commissioned ranks of the Army to a larger number of schools and over a wider area, you are also safeguarding yourselves that you may secure the right sort of man, the first-class man, and not merely the man who is first class at examinations. I understand our suggestions are to be taken practically in their entirety. Does that include the granting of commissions through the Territorial Army, because that is one of the suggestions? I very much hope it does, because I am sure if commissions are granted through the Territorial Army it will go a long way to solve one of the principal difficulties of the Territorial Army at present, which is the supply of young officers.

The right hon. Gentleman has alluded to the fact that the Territorial Army is still considerably under establishment and that establishment is a somewhat low figure. May I make one or two suggestions with regard to what may help towards increasing the strength of the Territorial Army and bringing it more nearly up to establishment? The first is to draw his attention to the permanent staff. I have nothing but praise for the permanent staff. It is very first class, but the allotment is considerably smaller than it was before the War. Those men have a great deal more work to do. They have a great deal of administrative work which they have to undertake, and it really wants a very first-class man. A year or so before the War the old plan of drawing sergeant-instructors from the colour-sergeants in the Army was done away with and permanent sergeant-instructors in the Territorial Army were supplied from the ordinary sergeant rank of the Regular Army. I am sure it would go a long way to help the Territorial Army—indeed there are a great many other arguments which may be used about this—if we could return to that system of not alloting sergeant-instructors to the Territorial Army under the rank of second-class warrant officers.

Also I should very much like to see some attention paid to the Territorial county associations. They exist primarily, I think, for two reasons. The first is in order that they may be the means of dealing with expansion in time of mobilisation—in time of war—and for that their preservation is absolutely essential. The second is in order that you may bring the county in closer touch with Territorial units. As far as that is concerned I am afraid the system has very largely failed. Associations vary in different counties. In some cases they are very good, but in too many cases membership of a Territorial County Association is apparently thought to consist in going to meetings of the association or of the general purposes committee and passing or refusing applications sent up from different units. Every commanding officer of every unit in the Territorial Army would undoubtedly find it much simpler from his own point of view if he did not have to serve two masters. It entails a certain amount of duplication and there is no question that the administration could be carried on without the Territorial Association, but if only we can persuade these associations that their duty consists in taking individually a greater interest in their different units and if we can, through those associations, establish local recruiting committees—civilian committees—in the different districts, I am sure we can go a very long way to do away with the present shortage in establishment. Of course, the officers do their best, but, after all, they are rather suspect of selling their own goods, and what they want is the assistance and the closer touch of members of the county association, if that can be carried out. I only wanted to make these few observations, which I hope may be of some assistance.