HC Deb 11 March 1940 vol 358 cc829-32
49. Mr. Thurtle

asked the Minister of Supply the reasons which caused him to terminate the employment at his Department of Mr. David Behar, Mr. Robert Behar and Captain C. P. Davis?

Mr. Burgin

I would refer to the answer which I gave to the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) on 4th March, to which I would only add that no allegation has been made against the conduct of these gentlemen while serving in the Ministry of Supply.

Mr. Thurtle

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that he is doing rather less than justice to these three persons in announcing their discharge publicly and refusing to disclose, either publicly or privately, the reasons for their discharge?

Mr. Burgin

The head of a Department in war must, in staffing his own Department, be allowed a very wide discretion. Temporary civil servants in a Department hold office at pleasure.

Sir P. Harris

As so much publicity and advertisement have been given to the dismissal of these gentlemen, is not the country entitled to know the reasons?

Mr. Burgin

No publicity was given by the Ministry concerned or by the Government to the dismissal of these gentlemen.

Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew

Are these gentlemen still wearing the King's uniform?

Mr. Burgin

That is not a Question which ought to be addressed to me.

52. Mr. David Adams

asked the Minister of Supply whether Mr. Robert Behar or Mr. David Behar, during their period of service in the Ministry, were regarded as soldiers or as civil servants, and, if the first, whether they were given an opportunity of court martial prior to dismissal, and, if the second, whether the Civil Service rule that an officer may not be dismissed without being given an opportunity of defending himself has been disregarded?

Mr. Burgin

The two gentlemen in question were regarded as soldiers during the period of their service in the Ministry of Supply. Their military status on the termination of their appointments at the Ministry of Supply is a matter for the Secretary of State for War.

Mr. Adams

Does the Minister contend that when they were in the service of the Ministry they were not civil servants?

Mr. Burgin

I was asked whether they were soldiers or not, and I said they were.

Brigadier-General Sir Henry Croft

Is it necessary for officers of this description in the Ministry of Supply to wear His Majesty's uniform?

Mr. Burgin

That raises a big question, to which consideration is being given. Hitherto in certain branches of munitions supply the Army, as the ultimate consumer, preferred that the work should be done by officers under Army control.

Mr. David Adams

May I have an answer to my question whether they had an opportunity of a court-martial before dismissal?

Mr. Burgin

I have pointed out that the two gentlemen in question were employed as soldiers during their period of service with the Ministry of Supply. They were employed by the Ministry, and immediately their contract of employment terminated their position as officers in the Army became a matter for the War Office.

Sir Archibald Sinclair

Have they no right to have an independent inquiry? Are we to be told by the Minister of Supply that it is a matter for the Secretary of State for War, and by the Secretary of State for War that they are not employed by him but by the Minister of Supply, so that they can get no inquiry from anybody?

Mr. Burgin

A civil servant or a temporary civil servant or an officer in the Army serves in a Government Department at pleasure. When their employment ends, if he is a civil servant from another branch, he is at the disposal of that branch. If he is an officer, he is at the disposal of the command or unit to which he belongs. When the contract of employment is determined by the Minister, notification is given to the War Office that his contract of employment is at an end.

Mr. Herbert Morrison

Were these gentlemen removed from their offices for something that happened during their employment under the right hon. Gentleman or for something that happened before their employment? If before, why were they employed? And will the right hon. Gentleman keep in mind that two of these gentlemen were prospective Conservative candidates for Parliament?

Captain Ramsay

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is a good deal of dirty linen at the Ministry of Supply that requires washing?

Mr. Burgin

I have already said, in reply to an earlier Question, that no allegation has been made against either of these gentlemen while serving in the Ministry of Supply.

Mr. H. Morrison

The right hon. Gentleman has not answered the essence of my question, which was: Is the House, therefore, to assume that they were dismissed for something which happened before their employment, and, if so, why did the Ministry employ them?

Mr. Burgin

I have tried to tell the House that the head of a Government Department must be allowed considerable discretion with regard to his staff, and if, for reasons which seem to him to be sufficient, he is of opinion that the national interest is best served by continuing their employment, he continues it, and if he thinks the national interest is best served by that employment coming to an end, it comes to an end.

57. Mr. McEntee

asked the Minister of Supply whether, before Messrs. Behar were dismissed from his Ministry, they were informed of any charges against them and given any opportunity of rebutting them; whether, during their period of service in the Ministry either of them was the subject of any adverse report or reports; and, if so, whether such reports were communicated to them in accordance with Civil Service practice?

Mr. Burgin

No charges were made against the Messrs. Behar in connection with the termination of their appointments. The answer to the second part of the Question is in the negative, and the third part does not, therefore, arise.

Mr. McEntee

In view of the fact that these two gentlemen were in fact working as civil servants in the right hon. Gentle- man's Department, were they not really under his control during the period they were working there, and, if so, are they not entitled under the ordinary regulations of the Civil Service to be informed why they were discharged?

Mr. Burgin

I have already told the House the position. The contract of employment came to an end, and I was not satisfied that it should be continued, and there the matter ends.

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