§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Grimston.]
§ 5.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Stokes (Ipswich)
I wish to raise a subject which I have brought to the notice of the House on more than one occasion since about this time last year. I regret that owing to the fact that the last Debate has ended a little sooner than was expected, it has not been possible for the Financial Secretary to the War Office to be here. I have taken the trouble to advise the Treasury, because their Department is concerned and also the Ministry of Supply. I hope that somebody will turn up to reply to what I have to say. The matter concerns the waste in the construction of Militia camps and of factories, and more particularly I want to deal with the dismissal of Major Reid-Kellett, which I originally raised in the House in July, 1939. I propose, first, to show that Major Reid-Kellett has been unfairly treated and that there has been no real and proper inquiry into his complaint; second, to show that his complaints as to waste, inefficiency and irregularities on the camps are justified; third, to give evidence which was not produced by Major Reid-Kellett himself, but other evidence from the camps with which he was connected and from camps in other parts of the country; and, fourth, to prove to the House that money has been poured down the drain in the construction of these camps and of factories, and that the whole situation is so unsatisfactory that it wants a thorough-going public investigation.
First, with regard to Major Reid-Kellett. He was an officer, now retired, and in all his employment since last year he has been serving as a civilian and not as a soldier. He served with great distinction during the last war, and gained the Distinguished Service Order and the Military Cross while serving with the South Wales Borderers. It seems to me outrageous, and I hope the House will agree when they hear the story, that he should have been meted out the treatment that he has received in the past six or eight months. His history in regard to camps is this. He was first employed at Devizes on 21st May, 1939, in a civilian capacity as liaison officer. On 27th June he wrote a long report to the C.R.E. of 967 the district under whom he was working complaining about the waste, extravagance, irregularities and almost bribery and corruption which were going on in the camps with which he was connected. At that time he communicated with me, and he said he did so with some diffidence, for he was not sure that he would not be victimised if he wrote to me and I raised the matter in the House. I wrote to him that the matter seemed to be of some importance and ought to be ventilated, and I told him I was sure that the House would not stand for any victimisation of a man who was doing his duty and reporting in the public interest. That was towards the end of the second week in July.
As the result of that, he was suspended. He was not sacked; he was merely told that he was not to go to his work any more, but that he would continue to receive pay. He reported further to the C.R.E. of the district on 29th or 30th September last year while still under suspension. On 9th October he was re-engaged as garrison engineer at Larkhill. The C.R.E. at Larkhill had specially asked for his services and particularly wanted him on his staff. It was, therefore, with great surprise that a fortnight later, when he had been serving with satisfaction on this job, he suddenly received notice to quit. He was told that his services were not satisfactory and that he would not be wanted any further on the job. It will be observed that this man was suspended, that he was then put on another job, and, having been there for a short time, he was sacked. The same sort of thing is going on in other camps, and I should like the Financial Secretary to the War Office or whoever replies to tell me whether he has knowledge of the number of men who, for instance, have occupied what I call a sub-agent position at camps like that at Cove, near Reading, and because they got to know too much were transferred to other towns in the North of England, and after having been there for a few weeks were treated in exactly the same way as this man and turned off the job because it was felt to be easier to turn them off the new job than to dismiss them for knowing too much on the old job.
Then I want to remark,that it is no use for the Financial Secretary to the 968 War Office to say, as I think will be said, that this man is unsuitable for his work, for the simple reason that when he was sacked the D.C.R.E. said to him, "I am sorry, because I thought we were going to be very happy and work well together and your staff seems to be very happy too." I would remind the House that when he was put on this job it was because the C.R.E. of the district had specially applied for his services. There is another extraordinary thing about his dismissal which is worth pointing out. When he was told by the C.R.E. at Larkhill that he was to go he said that he had been ready to keep him on in his post as garrison engineer and that he had advised him to drop the case about waste. The C.R.E. went so far as to admit that the report on waste, etc., at the camps had led to less waste, but when Major Reid-Kellett said that he was not prepared to drop the matter without an inquiry the C.R.E. said that he had been instructed to remove him from the job. He added that he had nothing against Major Reid-Kellett except the report he had made on the 27thJune, 1939.
I would also refer to what seems another serious matter in connection with this case. There appears to be a letter a copy of which I have not been able to get, which was read to Major Reid-Kellett, in which the chief engineer of the district, in a communication to the C.R.E., said that the actual dismissal of Major Reid-Kellett was on account of the fact that he had disclosed this information to me and the consequent row there had been about it in the House of Commons. If that is so, I submit that it is about time this House asserted itself and insisted that his case should be fully and properly inquired into, and that he should be reinstated and compensated for loss of office. It is absolutely outrageous that a man of this kind should be victimised. We all have our faults and I do not suppose that Major Reid-Kellett has yet started to grow wings, but I do know that he is a perfectly honest person, perfectly sincere in what he has been trying to do, and I am sure that his dismissal has had the worst possible effect on other people who might have come forward and complained about things of this kind. I should like to quote one letter received only two or three weeks ago which emphasises this point: 969If we do not write, it is because a secret verbal warning was given all not to communicate with you on pain of dismissal. It's dirty, but we have to live. We wish you well and hope you win; you are fighting for your country but you are up against rottenness as bad as Hitler ever was. Good luck, God Speed.That letter is signed with various initials which I cannot give in public, because no doubt the same treatment would be meted out to those people as has been meted out to Major Reid-Kellett.
Ever since last July I have pressed to have this matter thoroughly inquired into. On 12th December the late Secretary of State for War, the right hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha), said that he had received the report which had been made on this matter and he was quite satisfied that none of the allegations of Major Reid-Kellett was substantiated. On 21st March I pressed the matter again upon the then Financial Secretary to the War Office, who, I think, is now with the Admiralty, and who really is the only person who knows anything about the matter. It is unfortunate that he does not occupy the same position now, because he would have been able to check up on me rather more quickly than possibly the unfortunate people who have to check up now will be able to do. I pressed him on this matter, and he insisted at Question Time that there had been a full and proper inquiry. Despite my frequent contradictions, he insisted that that was the case. Finally, on 9th April, I raised the matter again and the Secretary of State himself replied and added this remark:It would clearly not be in the interests of good working that Major Reid-Kellett should be again employed in a Department against which he has made allegations which he has failed to substantiate."—[OFFICIAL REPORT,9th April, 1940; col. 451, Vol. 359.]From all that, one would gather that there had been a proper inquiry. Of course, it is absolute humbug. I attended both inquiries, and Major Reid-Kellett attended one, and as far as I know he has never been allowed properly to submit his evidence or prove his case. The first inquiry took place about 21st July at Devizes. It was the result of a question put by me in this House, and the then Secretary of State for War agreed that I should go to the camp myself and see what was going on, but I was told that on no account would Major Reid-Kellett be allowed to attend the camp with me. 970 I imagined that I was going down to a perfectly innocent investigation, and have an hour's chat with the local surveyor when I arrived there. Not a bit of it. There were deputations from the War Office, all the contractors were there, all the surveyors were there, and the only person not there was the one who had made the complaint. Of course, it reduced the thing to a complete farce. I spent some time there and had an interesting chat with a lot of people, and I came away with the conclusion that there was something funny, certainly that excessive expenditure had been incurred and that unnecessarily expensive materials were being used.
So much for one of the inquiries. Following further pressure in this House, the Secretary of State for War invited the hon. and learned Gentleman who is the senior Member for Bolton (Sir C. Entwistle) to make an inquiry, and I was invited to go. I am not sure whether I was invited or whether I pushed myself in, but at any rate I attended the inquiry, which was conducted by him. That also was an interesting two or three hours' conversation. Despite the fact that I had recommended that Major Reid-Kellett should be invited to produce his witnesses, the hon. and learned Member for Bolton pointed out, quite rightly I suppose, that we were only going down for one afternoon and that there could be nothing more than a very preliminary examination. I was there, two of the surveyors turned up, and after lunch time or just before the luncheon interval one of the contractors also came into the conference. The only conclusion I came away with as a result of that investigation was that with regard to the bricks and pipes used on the job the resident surveyor had not exercised due diligence in obtaining cheaper materials; but as for Reid-Kellett, he had not the ghost of a chance. All that it was possible for the hon. and learned Member for Bolton to say was that this was a preliminary inquiry. I wish he were here now.
§ Mr. Stokes
I did not see the hon. and learned Gentleman sitting there. His statement does not alter my contention at all, because if "preliminary" is not the right word, will he tell the House this: Does he consider that Reid-Kellett really 971 had a fair chance of producing his witnesses and stating his case? Was it not a case of one man's word against the others—of three on the other side against Reid-Kellett? There was no opportunity for proper investigation.
§ Sir C. Entwistle
If the hon. Member asks me, there was no question of Major Reid-Kellett calling any witnesses. He had every opportunity to say anything he liked and ask any questions, and so had the hon. Member.
§ Mr. Stokes
The House must judge, but surely that is not satisfactory. I shall have to produce my evidence and the correspondence I had with the hon. and learned Member. The allegations which were made, and which I am going to read out presently, it was quite impossible for the hon. and learned Member to judge at that inquiry. And then we had this perfectly absurd position. After a good deal of trouble and a good deal of pressure, a report was made, and I asked the Secretary of State whether I might have a copy. I am told, "No, but you may come and see the report in the Financial Secretary's room at the War Office." It seemed to me "a bit off" that neither I nor Reid-Kellett should have a copy of the hon. and learned Member's report. However, there was nothing else to be done but go, and I went, and took pencil and paper with me. I said to the Financial Secretary, "You need not wait. I can look at it myself and take notes." He replied, "Oh no. The Secretary of State has left strict instructions that you are not to take any notes whatever." So I read the report through, and it merely confirmed the conclusion I had formed after the investigation at Salisbury—that it was entirely inconclusive. It only proved, as far as I could see, that there was unnecessary extravagance and not due diligence on the part of the resident surveyor.
There is one other matter which I want to quote in support of Reid-Kellett's contention. Subsequent to that inquiry Reid-Kellett received this letter from a man who had been a contractor's chief surveyor at Devizes. Having left that job he wrote:At last I can speak out and support you. Mr. X"—he mentions a man's name—knows I am coming to see you. Your report is waste and the profiteering was true. That 972 it has been allowed to continue after your report was received reflects no credit on those in authority.He went on to say that in his estimation 25 per cent. of the money spent at Devizes was waste and that the job had cost double what the War Office had estimated, as I hope I shall be able to show in the course of the further remarks I propose to make.
So much for Reid-Kellett and what has happened to him. Now I want to produce evidence in support of his contention that there were waste, extravagance and every other sort of wrong-doing on this job, without using any evidence which he has given to me. I am perfectly certain that Reid-Kellett's evidence is reliable, but it would be a waste of time to quote it, because I should be told that somebody has investigated it and found it wrong. At Devizes there were five camps, and they had actually cost—up to the date of my figures, towards the end of last year—£1,300,000, against an estimate of £600,000. That is equal to £300 per head for temporary housing for militiamen. The reason is not far to seek. Here are some of the things which happened. Those camps were composed of wooden huts. A reputable firm in Bournemouth had been supplying those huts at £100 apiece. There was a meeting between the Timber Development Association, the Government auditors, the resident surveyor and the contractors, and it was decided that the fair price was not £100, but £136 13s. 6d. I am referring to the hut which is known as T.864. Instructions were given by the resident surveyor to his underlings to alter the invoice of this firm in Bournemouth from £100 to £136 13s. 6d. It is the old, old, shell story again, but this was actually done, and I can give the date of it. The date of the surveyor's instructions was 5th December, 1939. That is case No. 1.
Case No. 2 relates to gravel. The agent of one of these camps is stated to have drawn a secret commission. We have the evidence of the people who know about it and who can be called to prove it. The actual order was sent by the man who gave me this information, and the number of the order was 358. It was dated 21st July, 1939, and was for gravel. The normal price for the gravel is 8s. per cubic yard, but the price which was 973 paid was 13s. per cubic yard. Then as to pumps. There was to be an order for ordinary small pumps, and firms were invited to tender. All the firms are well-known. A firm called Tangye's quoted £420, and were to get the order, but another firm, who were friends of the contractors and who had been shown the order, under-quoted to the tune of £10, and the order was given to them for £410. I know that this sort of thing happens sometimes, but the nigger in the woodpile is that another very reputable firm, named Blackstone, had quoted £344. That tender was kept under the blotter, and not produced at all until the order was safely placed away with firm B.
The fourth case relates to the resident surveyor who acquired for himself a motor car for which he did not want to pay. He devised the ingenious plan of obtaining hire money from the contractors, which money, of course, came out of the Government, at the rate of £11 a week, until the cost of the car had been paid for. That was a very ingenious way of doing it, and it is not surprising that these camps cost a lot of money. I have the names of witnesses who knew all about the invoices concerned, and who were actually told to destroy the invoices when, as a result of the fuss I made about it, certain investigations were started. That is one complaint from my informant; another of his complaints I am sure hon. Members will have heard before. It is that the supervision was totally incompetent and inadequate. One has heard the same from other camps in the country.
We come to Devizes again, in regard to this complaint. The chief surveyor was a quantity surveyor. Those who know anything about this trade will be aware that quantity surveyors are not competent to take on this kind of work at all. That is quite certain. A quantity surveyor is perfectly capable of adding up the amount of material required, but putting him in charge of supervising the erection of a camp in a hurry like this would be bound to lead to disaster. He employed at these five camps five assistants, which is very natural, as they are spread about and he could not be in all these places at the same time; here is some detail about the five assistants: No. I had no qualifications whatever. No. 974 2 was aged 76, and had no qualifications. He had been chief drain tester to the Ilford Borough Council, and was so blind that he could not see a teapot on the table. He was chief technical assistant of this job, and in charge. No. 3 was chief technical assistant and had no qualifications. His neglect of duty and drunkenness were a by-word in the camp. I have evidence on that count.
§ Mr. Stokes
At the fourth camp, the assistant had no particular qualification. He had at one time run an unsuccessful flat-letting agency in the Brompton Road. He was a Fellow of the Surveyors' Institute and evidently knew nothing about the job at all. At the fifth camp the man had no qualifications, by which I mean that he was a member of no institute or qualified body. He had recently been in trouble for not paying for certain repairs and petrol at the camp. I cannot understand how the Secretary of State can get up and tell me that the claims we made have not been substantiated. They seem to me to be proved beyond a shadow of doubt, but if half of what was said is true of all these details in my possession, they ought to be properly investigated.
Now we come to the question of concrete pipes and bricks. I am not going to bother the House about this matter, because it is all in the Official Report already. These camps were put up as though they were to last until the crack of doom. Bricks were used at 70s. a thousand when perfectly good bricks for the job could have been purchased at 44s., or 51s. locally. Cheaper bricks could have been bought, but those which were used were hard wire cut bricks at 70s. This is a point I shall want to refer to in a moment. The contractors insisted also upon using hardware pipes which cost 9s. a yard, compared with concrete spun pipes which cost only 6s. a yard. Of course, at the investigation attended by the hon. and learned Member for Bolton the contractor sheltered behind the clause in the specification which said that they might do anything they thought fit in order to get the camps along quickly. He contended—I thought unsuccessfully—that while they were entitled to charge more there was no question of their 975 charging less. In other words, they could use more expensive material, but on no account were they to use less expensive material. The contention about the unnecessary use of these extravagant materials is proved and absolutely justified by the fact that the War Office have now altered their specification. Concrete spun pipes are allowed and so are the cheaper forms of bricks. It is a very material benefit to the country that that change has been made, and a terrible pity that it was not done at once when first we raised the issue.
We have another astonishing story. I hope I am not boring the House. This is a story of cement. The contractors at Devizes were buying cement at 51s. a ton. On the face of it, that does not seem unnecessarily high. I am not a cement king. I do not know enough about cement to know what is right or what is wrong; but everyone engaged at these camps has had one of these buff slips showing what the contract price of cement should be. It was possible for cement to be bought through the War Office at a price of 42s. 9d. a ton delivered.
These three cases together form a very considerable item, and the explanation is this: While not wishing to cast any direct aspersions as to the dishonesty of the contractors, it is, to say the least of it, unfortunate that the contractors are closely associated with the people who supply the bricks and the pipes. The firm through which they bought the hardware pipes were situated, not, as one would expect, near Devizes, but in North Wales. The brother of the contractor was the managing director of the firm which produced the pipes. It is much better for them to do business in hardware than in concrete stock pipes. I personally blame, not the contractors, but the resident surveyor for being such a damned fool. [Interruption.] I beg your pardon, Mr. Deputy-Speaker; but he was, all the same, for allowing this excessive expenditure, when cheaper materials would do. This covers all I have to say about the camp in question, and I want to support it by a certain amount of evidence from other camps.
I will now refer to the camp known as Hadrian's Camp, Carlisle, and I have the evidence on very reliable and authori- 976 tative information, which the Minister can have at any time. The definite complaint from Hadrian's camp was that there had been bad work and that, instead of getting the bad work redone for nothing, the Government were allowing the contractors to be paid twice over. Of course, that is unheard of—I mean that it ought to be unheard of. It is unheard of in my kind of trade, and if I did that sort of thing, I should become a multi-millionaire very speedily. It is absurd that supervision should be so bad that work had to be redone and repaid for. There were two places at Hadrian's, and the cost was to be about £350,000 between the two camps. At the time of this report, made to me early this month, the camps had cost just over £700,000 between them.
Now I come to what is probably one of the most sensational cases of all, and it is what I may perhaps call the Cove versus Arborfield camps. There were five camps, three at Cove and two at Arborfield. They were let to two different contractors, who started at about the same time. I do not know whether they have entirely finished either of them, but the places were more or less ready for habitation at about the same date. Arborfield cost £320,000 for the two camps, and the number employed during the period of construction was 962. Cove, which was alongside during exactly the same period, should not therefore have cost more than £500,000 for the three and should not have had more than 1,500 people working there at any one time. There were certainly physical difficulties, but not to any great amount, according to my informant; but these three camps cost £1,300,000, or about £450,000 each, com-pared with the Arborfield job, which cost £160,000 apiece. The maximum number of people employed at any one time on the three camps was 7,000. You could hardly get them on to the job. The most astonishing thing is that 4,000 men were sent down daily to Cove from London. How could you expect men to get down from London, do a day's work and then go back? It seems that something was seriously wrong with the organisation. It would have been much better to keep the men at home, because they could not have done much work at Cove.
In passing, I would remark that I have heard it said not very far from this 977 House that the Cove affair is to be hushed up. I hope that this House will see to it that it is not hushed up. The cost of the camps works out at something over £400 per head. For the information of people who do not understand how much these things should cost, I would point out that the White City buildings constructed by the London County Council as permanent buildings, with all the necessary et ceteras, cost only £160 a head. It is not surprising that everybody all over the country realises that money is being simply poured down the drain on these jobs. I would ask another question in passing. At Arborfield, the jobs were very efficiently done, but the contractors got no more work. On the other hand, the contractors at Cove, on the evidence, seem not to have known their job, although I cannot believe it, as they were a very reputable firm; but there was something very funny. I am told that they now have over £28,000,000 worth of Government contracts, and that they have actually been let another contract of £5,000,000 by the War Office or the Ministry of Supply—I am never quite sure which Ministry, but it is one or the other—at a time when it was known that the police were making investigations at Cove. I think that point should be very seriously looked into.
I could go on with a whole series of cases, but it would tire the House if I did. I could mention similar cases at Lydd, in Sussex; Farnham, in Surrey; North Wales and Oswestry. I would like to read a quotation from a letter which I received in respect of one of the Northern jobs at Risley. When the senior member of the firm undertaking that job went up to start the work he was greeted somewhat surprisingly with this remark by the resident engineer on the job: "Good gracious, old chap, I thought you would be behind the bars by now." That is a very responsible job, and it seems to me to be an utter shame and very significant that that should be the sort of sentiment prevailing among the people engaged in this kind of construction.
I would like to read a letter which I received from a very reliable firm of solicitors in North Wales who wrote with some concern to me in this matter. This particular solicitor's experience has been similar to mine, and he wanted to get 978 something done by the Treasury, the War Office, or the Ministry of Supply. He says:I have taken this matter up with the Commissioner for North Wales, and he communicated with the Ministry of Supplies, only to be told by Victor Warrender, Esq., M.P., that all the allegations were baseless. I see that the Director of Fortifications of Works at the War Office resented the report of Major Reid-Kellett and asked the contractors and resident surveyors if there were any truth in it, and that they had denied it.This gentleman, who is not known to me, goes on:Did the Director of Fortifications of Works expect the contractors to admit that they were either guilty, careless, incompetent, or extravagant? If so, then he must have been living in a Conservatory all his life. Is it likely that the contractors and resident surveyors who are responsible for these evils are going to admit what they have done wrong?Of course, it is not likely. I understand that a Select Committee of the House are awaiting a report from the War Office. It is no use having a report from the War Office. There should be a full and public inquiry. The general complaint about the supervision of these camps is, of course, that the wrong people have been put on to supervise them. Quantity surveyors are not suitable for the job. Some people have criticised the method of letting. I am sure that where you have a competent supervisor and an honest contractor there is no reason why the method should not work out properly. Unfortunately, we are not all saints, and it does not work out properly unless you have competent people on the job to see that the contractor avoids any unnecessary expenditure.
There are good and bad contractors, and I want to quote a case where waste in supervision is being permitted by the Ministry of Supply. I am speaking of a factory of which the hon. Member who is going to reply has had notification, and it is better that it should not be referred to in public, for military reasons. The contractors on the job are a very reliable firm whom I have known for many years. The Ministry appointed a consulting engineer in London to supervise the contractors. There is a staff of 10, and they are resident on the job. They think that they have such a lot of work to do that they have appointed another set of engineers to supervise the concrete work of roads and roadways, and they are 979 employing a staff of 76. Then they appointed another firm of consulting engineers to supervise the drainage, who have a staff of 32. Another set of engineers are employed to supervise the architectural work, and have 32 men on the job. The annual cost in wages alone is £56,000 to see that the contractor is capable of doing the job with proper supervision. I do not wish to be called out as having contradicted myself. I recognise that there must be supervision, but not that sort of nonsense. It is fantastic. Any ordinary firm who conducted their affairs in that manner would go out of business over night.
§ Mr. Stokes
It is a big contract, a £5,000,000 contract, I think. I hope that the House will agree that I have made a case for Reid-Kellett. He has not had a proper inquiry, and he has not had a fair deal. He served his country with distinction in the last war, and he is now penniless. He has even sold his medals to keep himself. There has been no inquiry by the War Office at which Reid-Kellett can present his case. There are reliable witnesses, whose names I possess; there are Army officers, some of them senior officers, who can come forward and give evidence. Of course, some of them cannot come now. There should be a full and proper inquiry into all the complaints that have been made in regard to the expenditure all over the country. It is no use saying that these things are all over now. A few days ago I received a letter complaining about the same camps at Devizes. It said:This will give you an idea…on what public money was wasted If an investigator was sent even at this stage"—this was on 29th March—to Devizes there are scores of people that could bear out these statements made by me, and give you many others. If a foreman interfered in any way he was told he was a nuisance. The whole camp was a mismanagement from start to finish.Nothing has been done. I can get no satisfactory reply, except the complacent statement from the Secretary of State for War that it would not be in the public interest to reinstate Reid-Kellett. I am convinced that he has done a good public 980 service, and he deserves great credit. I can only liken the situation to something which Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote:The sad fact is that Officialdom in England stands solid together, and that when you are forced to attack it you need not expect justice but rather that you are up against an avowed trade union, the members of which are not going to act the blackleg to each other, and which subordinates the public interest to a false idea of loyalty. What confronts you is a determination to admit nothing which inculpates another official, and as to the idea of punishing another official for offences which have caused misery to helpless victims, it never comes within their horizon.It is hopeless for the Government to ask people to save money, to invest in War Loans, and to economise when this public waste is going on without let or hindrance, and I hope that the House will insist that the matter be taken up, that Reid-Kellett be reinstated and compensated, and that the whole matter be properly investigated.
§ 6.38 p.m.
§ Major Braithwaite (Yorks, East Riding, Buckrose)
I should not have risen in this Debate—and I want to make my position clear to the House—had the hon. Member opposite not raised the question of Cove Camp. I happen to be a director of the company which has constructed Cove Camp, so that I know something about the situation there. I must say that I would have preferred the hon. Gentleman to have been a little more accurate in the statements he has made to the House because many of them are very misleading and quite inaccurate. We have had the whole of the question of the Cove contract under close examination by Government authorities, by Government accountants and, indeed, we were privileged to have an inquiry by Scotland Yard itself on the statements that were contained in an anonymous letter sent to many Members of this House and to members of the public. As for the firm, those inquiries were all open because we have absolutely nothing to conceal in any way as to the conduct of that work. But I want to make it clear that none of the firms contracting for the original militia camps were aware of what they would be called upon to do when it took these contracts. Our original contracts for six militia camps amounted to a minimum of £1,600,000 and a maximum of £1,900,000.
§ Major Braithwaite
I want to give some general line on it. The materials alone for these six camps, the contracts for which were placed after the submission by the contractors to the War Department of three estimates for each article, and which were bought pre-war—(if they were bought now they would be certainly 30 per cent. higher)—amounted to £2,600,000. Some idea of the magnitude of these contracts when they were fully developed can be seen now, but it was not clear to start with.
§ Mr. Stokes
May I interrupt the hon. and gallant Gentleman for a moment? My whole contention dealt with a comparison between Arborfield and Cove.
§ Major Braithwaite
I am coming to that. I want to say frankly that on the personnel side it was extremely difficult to judge the amount of labour that was necessary. In the case of the Cove camp it was not proceeding fast enough and an inquiry was held. On the recommendation of the Ministry of Labour, in consultation with the War Office, it was decided to bring 4,000 men each day from London to this camp to enable the work to be completed.
§ Mr. Garro Jones
May I ask a question? Would the hon. and gallant Gentleman tell the House on what basis his company were remunerated for the contract? Was it a case of the more the company spent the more profits it would obtain?
§ Mr. Garro Jones
Let us be perfectly frank. The more your company spent, the more profits came in to the exchequer of your company?
§ Major Braithwaite
Quite so, but we prepared these contracts on the basis of the original estimate of the maximum figure. I have stated the Arborfield position from the point of view of the hon. Gentleman's questions. If he will take the opportunity of going to both camps 982 he will see that the two camps cannot be compared. The Cove camp is built on an entirely different scale. There is a vast deal of difference. The Arborfield Camp is built directly on to the roads and covers a very confined space. The other camp covers a very vast area and has all kinds of ancillary buildings which are not to be found at Arborfield at all.
§ Mr. Stokes
Will the hon. and gallant Gentleman say why they were built to different specifications? My information, which came from the engineers on the camp, is that there is no difference between the specifications. I know the physical conditions were different and I have allowed in my estimation about £70,000 between the camps as an extra to Cove on account of the physical differences. Cove camp was off the road and not on it. The camps were of equal size. A large number of people were in them.
§ Major Braithwaite
Speaking from memory, I think the Cove camps accommodated from 5,000 to 6,000 in all.
§ Major Braithwaite
No, only one camp. The Cove camp is one of the largest in the country. I wanted to make this explanation because I feel that there is some misunderstanding. There was a suggestion that there had been a waste of public money. I frankly admit, and I think everybody in the country admits, that the labour output on the camp was not as it should have been, due to difficulties over which the firm had no control. As a result, men were brought in who, if time had been available, would not have been engaged for this sort of work. When you have a vast organisation like that, with, as the hon. Gentleman said, 7,000 men to control, all new, coming to a job as casual labour, you are bound to encounter difficulties that do not appear in the ordinary running of a business in normal times. With the pressure to deliver to date something which is required for urgent Government needs, when you have to keep up to a delivery date, then, again, the whole difficulty becomes accentuated. I can tell the House frankly that overtime, night work, 983 and Sunday work were carried on at all these camps, in order to get delivery at a particular date. In these circumstances, there was bound to be extravagance. The amount that had to be done in a particular time was quite abnormal.
I want hon. Members to realise these figures. Work which was estimated to cost £1,600,000 actually cost somewhere near £5,000,000, through the work having to be carried out in a certain time. Of course, there is bound to be extravagance; but, so far as the firm about which I am now talking is concerned, we gladly welcome any inquiry into the whole of the facts. We have asked for such an inquiry all the time. I, and everybody else concerned in it, have been sick to death of the innuendoes that have been flung about, without any basis. In the face of very great difficulties, this firm delivered Militia camps, in a period which was a record for the amount of work that was done, to accommodate nearly 30,000 soldiers. They did it at a time of very great difficulty, and, I believe, served a very useful national purpose. I want to challenge the statement made by my hon. Friend about the cost per man of the camp at Cove. I think he said that it cost nearly £400 to house each man at that camp. That is very much an over-estimate. The figure does not reach £300. I have, of course, told him that at any time I shall be glad to supply him with any information I have, and that applies to any other Member of this House as well. I do not like having to stand here defending an organisation of which I happen to be a member but I felt it to be my duty to explain as many of these things as I could, so that the House might be in possession of fuller information than would otherwise be the case.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ Sir Richard Acland (Barnstaple)
I should like to support my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes). Although I have not anything like the same amount of information as he has, a great many things have convinced me that what is wanted, in order to be fair to all, is a thoroughgoing inquiry by people independent of the contractors, of the Ministries, and of everybody else concerned. To a large extent, it is illusory to say that we must excuse every fault 984 because we were in a hurry. Some difficulties were bound to arise because of hurry, but not quite so many as have arisen. For two years past we have known that there was a high probability of war. We knew that if there were to be war we should need camps, and need them quickly. We could not, on that account, build the camps—at any rate, two years before the war—because that might be waste of money; but the sites could have been chosen, standard designs got out, and the builders shown the standard designs. It would also have been possible to estimate what the timber position would be.
§ Major Braithwaite
When these contracts were originally started there was not a plan of any sort available.
§ Sir R. Acland
That is what I am complaining about. The Government, knowing two years in advance that there might have to be camps, got out no plans, had no consultations with builders, engineers or architects, and did not choose the sites. I did a two years course in a school of architecture, and at the very first lecture that I attended the lecturer said, "Take out your note books, and put down these words: 'Architect, job, site'—underline that, and under that put 'floods.' "Yet in Sussex, or was it Surrey, I am told that in September camps were started which in December were found to be flooded, because no one had done that elementary job for an architect of finding out whether they would be flooded. In another case, they put a camp above a laundry or a brewery—I am not sure which—and enormous sums had to be paid in order to provide that the pure water needed for whichever of these enterprises it was, should not be polluted.
When the architects tried to help, they had a most extraordinary reception. A group of architects—the top architects of the country—went to the War Office to ask whether they could help. The first answer from, I think, a general, was that they would not be needed because, "nobody was much interested in pretty elevations." Then, they found that the Government were short of timber, and they asked whether they could help in finding substitutes for timber. Their first difficulty was in getting a specification for huts. This committee of architects asked the War Office whether they could have a specification. They were told that 985 they could not, as this was a military secret. So, eventually, these architects had to go to a contractor and say, "Could you pinch one of the plans, and send it to us?" They photographed the plan, and have been working on that ever since. Now they never think of going to the War Office if they want to help. They have found that that procedure is entirely useless. They know that they must wangle one of the drawings from somebody. They did eventually work out a design for making walls without timber, which I think the War Office turned down, on the ground that they had something better, but the Office of Works, which is accustomed to dealing with architects, and knows the value of them, welcomed the design.
Most of the information I have about camps relates to a company called the Western Engineering Company which was incorporated some time last year, has a paid-up capital of £11,000, and until last year had never undertaken a building contract at all. We have heard that the reason the Government cannot employ local firms on these jobs is that the work must be given to firms with previous experience and large resources. I think this firm has now in hand contracts to the value of between £500,000 and £700,000. That is a complete contradiction of the Government's story. If anything were to go wrong—suppose that during the period for which the builder was responsible for maintenance, it was found that something were left out, and this company were sued for damages—there would be literally nothing there to which the Government could have recourse. The Government, with their eyes wide open, have chosen to give contracts to such an amount to a purely mushroom company, with no resources and no experience whatever. That is an astounding thing. I cannot understand it at all.
§ The Financial Secretary to the War Office (Sir Edward Grigg)
Is the hon. Member referring to any contract placed by the War Office?
§ Sir E. Grigg
I hope the hon. Member will not make allegations without giving details. I fail to recognise any firm of the description which he has given.
§ Sir R. Acland
It is the Cleave Camp. This is relevant as an instance of the kind of thing that goes on. Perhaps I might mention some of the things reported to me by a foreman working on that job, who is a constituent of mine. This is the kind of thing:Four buildings were roofed with asbestos sheets—then it was found that the roofs should have had ventilators, and the sheets were torn down. Nine-inch ventilators, which should have been erected horizontally were put in vertically, and had to be taken out and replaced. Cement block partitions in conveniences which, to specification, should have been nine inches, were put in at 14 inches, and had to be pulled down and replaced. In one building a man had to erect six trusses. Someone else removed these. Later it was discovered that they should be there, so they were re-erected. Wooden frameworks of buildings which should have been bolted together were joined by wood screws.This is the most extraordinary part. I suppose the Government are going to disclaim responsibility for it, because it is a N.A.A.F.I. matter:In the construction of the N.A.A.F.I., the Ministry's specification was that the steel stanchions (about 40 altogether) should be sunk 3 feet 9 inches in a bed of concrete. As the attached plan shows, they were sunk only 1 foot 3 inches. The remaining 2 feet 6 inches in each case was cut off and buried.I am not saying that these things are true, but if a man who is going to get into very serious trouble if he says what is not true takes the trouble to inform his Member of Parliament about it, some inquiry ought to be made. He says that in December there wasa party working on the R.E. sergeants' mess, the beer parlour, and men's mess. Two hundred and twenty-four hours were put in at this job, made up as follows: 24 hours labourers, at 1s. 2½d. an hour; 32 hours lad, at 9d. an hour; 168 hours skilled, at 1s. 7d. an hour….In the charge sheet two extra days have been included…for 11 men, i.e., 176 hours, and it has been entered as 1s. 7d. for all the time charged….More material has been entered on the charge sheet than was used.I have not seen all those things myself, but, in view of the fact that an honest job foreman will inform his Member of Parliament that that is the position, hon. Members are surely convinced that the Government should not merely tell us that the War Office are quite satisfied that such things do not happen. The local builders in the district have not a good word to say for these contractors. I am afraid to give the correct expression as 987 they gave it to me, as I would be out of order, but they are messed about by these people in a most extraordinary way. When they ask for the delivery of say, 200,000 concrete blocks to be delivered at the rate of 20,000 a week for 10 weeks, the firm say that the price will be so-and-so. Such an order might involve the getting in of extra material and perhaps engaging more workmen. They get a contract form, on the back of which are the words, "The purchaser reserves the right to terminate the contract at any moment on making payment for the blocks delivered." One cannot do business on those lines. You cannot arrange to deliver 20,000 concrete blocks a week for 10 weeks calculated on the basis of an order for 200,000, if, after two weeks, when you have delivered only 20 per cent. of the total, the contract is cut. off. I asked one of the Ministers whether this was the normal practice and likely to produce raw materials for the nation at the lowest possible price, and he told me that he was entirely satisfied that it was an absolutely normal and usual practice. I pressed him on this, and he said that he was satisfied that this was proper. The Secretary of the Building Industries Industrial Council, the most authoritative body, I should have thought, on this matter, said:I have made some informal inquiries of many building material manufacturers, who inform me it is not the normal practice of manufacturers on any contract of that type.I doubt whether any responsible manufacturer would intentionally sign such a form of contract, and the Minister is perfectly satisfied that this is the normal practice.
I would like to draw attention to another question which I asked—and I regret that I did not follow it up—on the camp which is being built at Yeovil. It related to a sub-contract for plumbing, and cost-plus was to be paid. The Minister said that if I had a specific complaint to make he would gladly look into it. I would ask him to look into this specific point, and, if he finds that it is accurate, will he have an inquiry made into the whole thing? If it is inaccurate, I will apologise. I may be wrong. I am merely informed, and that is all that a Member of Parliament can go on. If men who seem to be responsible take the trouble to put themselves in a position in 988 which they will get into trouble if they misinform us, all we can do is to offer the information to the Government and ask them whether they will investigate it. At the Yeovil camp there are, in a bungalow type of building, a row of basins provided for the purpose of enabling the troops to wash their hands. The proper practice would be to have a lead pipe which comes out of the bottom of the basins and makes a bit of a twist and ends over a concrete open gulley which runs the length of the whole of the 18 basins. I think it will be found on investigation that there are here chromium plated anti-vac traps which have been put in at cost-plus profit. Would someone go down and see whether that information is accurate or not, and, if it be accurate, will the Government have the plumbingsub-contract on that job investigated and gone through from top to toe and find out all about it?
Now I come to the reason for all this, which is that given by the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes). It is, that there is no proper supervision. It is no use saying that you cannot get supervision, because architects as a profession are absolutely on their beam ends looking for jobs. Supervision is like any other commodity; you buy it. Just as you cannot get 1,000 yards of calico at the price that is normally paid for 100 yards, you cannot get £1,000 worth of supervision by paying £100 for it. The building trade, architects and lay clients between them, have worked out a system for supervision which is reasonable to all parties. When the architect does the complete job he is paid 6 per cent. If it is a repetition job like a camp, he gets less than the 6 per cent., but the supervision of a repetition job, I think any architect would agree, is just as important as the supervision of a job which is not a repetition job. It is easy to find out how much of the 6 per cent. the trade and industry has allowed for supervision. Sometimes the architect does all the plans and quantities and gets out the contract, and somebody else does the supervision. In that case, the man who does the plans, quantities, and gets the contract signed receives 4 per cent., and the other man gets 2 per cent. Therefore, it is the custom in this industry, which is recognised by builders, architects and lay clients, that 2 per 989 cent. is reasonable to pay for supervision. If you do not pay that much you are liable to be swindled, and if you pay more you will be paying for something for which you ought not to pay.
These are the supervision prices of the different camps. At Cleave, where Lieut. R. G. Williams is responsible for supervision, the job is estimated to cost £140,000. Therefore it would have been reasonable for the Government, in accordance with the practice, which builders, architects and lay clients have worked out in the interests of lay clients—that is to say, in the Government's interest in this case—to have spent on supervision £2,800, at 2 per cent. Lieut. Williams earns £400 per annum, of which £150 may fairly be allocated to the job at Cleave, and he may have some assistants with him, who may be earning altogether three times as much as he is earning. That will bring up the total supervision cost to £600 where you should have spent £2,800, if you had wanted to get the job done in the way it is done by the trade for lay clients.
The same thing occurs at St. Anges Head and Penhalt where £4,600 would be the proper supervision cost. You are spending £440 per annum on Mr. Peddar, the civilian garrison engineer, of which £220, instead of £4,600, is allocated to him for supervision. At Westbury the total was £125,000, and £2,500 was the proper sum to be spent on supervision to have the job done decently, and to be sure of not being swindled. A total of £140 was allocated for the supervision of this job. Meanwhile there are architects, who would save the Government money if they would employ them, sitting on their beam ends and doing nothing. I would like to point out that in another Department—I think it is the drafting office of Woolwich Arsenal where building expansion is being planned—it has been thought good business to employ young architects for 12 hours a day, seven days a week, which is killing them. They are being paid overtime, but account is not taken of the fact that they are being killed. If you enlarge the office so as to make it possible to take a double staff instead of having one dead architect working overtime at £7 a week, you would have two live architects working eight hours a day, six days a week, at £4 a week each. By paying £1 a week more you would get more than double the 990 work done. Somebody in authority is saying, "See how efficient I am. I keep my office working 12 hours a day for seven days a week," yet all the time some Unemployment Assistance Board is paying benefit to unemployed architects. I would ask the Government to take a more sensible view of architects and put sufficient to work so that the job in hand can be done easily.
§ 7.13 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply (Colonel Llewellin)
I will intervene in this Debate for only a short time by dealing with the point which the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) raised concerning the Ministry of Supply, and leaving my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the War Office to reply to the part of the Debate connected with his Department. The House should understand that housing accommodation, personnel, or anything of that sort, is a matter for the War Office. When it comes to the building of factories and, to a certain extent, stores for munitions, it is a matter for the Ministry of Supply, and that is why I rise to deal with the cost of the factory to which the hon. Member called attention and which I was glad to note he did not name. The hon. Member's point was with regard to the number of supervising staff that we employ at this particular factory. He said we had 154 and paid them £56,000 per annum. But you have to look at that in respect of the job. I made a careful calculation while the hon. Member for Barn-staple (Sir R. Acland) was speaking, and I found that if we paid for supervision at this factory at the rate of 2 per cent., we should be spending £100,000 instead of the £56,000 we are now spending.
§ Mr. Stokes
I hope the hon. and gallant Gentleman does not think I agree with the figures given by the hon. Member for Barnstaple (Sir R. Acland), because I do not.
§ Sir R. Acland
My figures may be wrong to this extent, that on these big jobs there might be some case for paying only half as much as is usually paid in trade practice, but what you are paying is one-tenth of those I quoted.
§ Colonel Llewellin
I was only doing a simple matter of arithmetic, which was not taking 6 per cent. on a job which 991 runs to millions of pounds, but reducing that percentage to a meagre 2 per cent., which any architect is normally paid on any job. Be that as it may, I have made my point by getting the two hon. Members who have been the protagonists in this matter to get up and disown each other.
§ Colonel Llewellin
I am afraid the hon. Member did not listen to my opening remarks. I was dealing with the case of the Ministry of Supply's part of this problem. However, perhaps I may, quite seriously, tell the House what is the extent of this work. When you talk about this factory, you must realise that this site covers over 2,000 acres, that there are miles of roads and railways and a number of boiler houses, and that every single building, because of the processes to be carried on there, has to be heated. So there are heating arrangements to cover the whole of the site and, in addition, a large amount of electrical and drainage work. I went over this site not long ago, and I must say how impressed I was, both by the way the contractors were getting on with the work—and the hon. Member for Ipswich commented favourably on the contractors—and by the way the work was being supervised. In these factories time is the most important factor, and although I agree that due economy must be made in war-time, the essence of the whole business is time.
We are not remunerating the contractors any more if the cost of the work goes up unless we have a substantial addition to the factory. The contractor and surveyor agree on a price for the work shown on the plan, and no more money is paid if the job varies either way whether it is 20 per cent. less or 20 per cent. more. He gets a fixed fee. Of course, we want to see that the materials used on the site are properly checked, and there is also a check on the wage bill on the site. We are spending something like £5,000,000 on this job, and we hope it will be finished in 10 months. We are employing an immense number of people there, and truck loads of material are coming to this and other sites of that sort. It is unbelievable until anybody looks at them. In the face of that, I believe that 154 people as a supervisory staff is slightly on the low side.
992 In reply to another point mentioned by the hon. Member for Ipswich, I can say that in addition to the large firm doing supervisory work at this factory, we have taken on other firms in the neighbourhood. We have taken on specialist firms for each part of this work and have done so rather than break up the organisation of the firm. I believe that supervision on this site is extremely good; the work is progressing extraordinarily well. I believe that we have acted correctly there, and I say that if you are to spend something like £5,000,000 in a year, £56,000 is not too large a sum to pay for that supervision.
§ Mr. Stokes
The hon. and gallant Member has misunderstood my figures. I did not mean to say that the total cost of supervision was £56,000. I was talking about the average cost of these 154 people. I was talking about the fees to engineers. Is the hon. and gallant Member aware that a competent engineer left this particular job because he was fed up with the amount of overlapping that was going on?
§ Colonel Llewellin
I am not in the least aware of that, and if the hon. Member will give us such information, it will be looked into. Really, anyone would believe that we were either recklessly extravagant with the nation's finances or just foolish, instead of being just as much concerned as anybody with seeing that these works shall be built as economically as possible.
§ Mr. Stokes
It is all very well for the hon. and gallant Member to say that, but I have already given information which has not been investigated. I agree it is not to his Department. The Government can have any information that I have.
§ Colonel Llewellin
I can assure the hon. Member that the War Office, the Air Ministry and the Admiralty, as well as the Ministry of Supply, are concerned to build these camps and factories as economically as possible. One must remember that we have to get them up as quickly as possible, otherwise there would be no munitions, and we should send out our Armies ill-equipped to the Front. In some cases, therefore, you have to go forward with speed rather than be looking always at small financial considerations. At any rate, we are determined to get these factories built as speedily as possible. The sole point which I have to answer is that 993 there is too much supervision. When we remember the amount of money which is being spent on this particular site, the great amount of roads and railway lines and sidings, a passenger station as well for the workers—these are colossal works and much more than is usually covered by the word "factory"—and that we are spending the whole amount of this money within the year, I think I have justified a staff of 154 supervisors.
§ 7.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Quibell (Brigg)
Hon. Members will be grateful to the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) for the presentation of his case, the amount of information he has collected, and for raising the matter to-day. I am pleased to hear from the representative of the Ministry of Supply that they are giving every consideration to economy. That is something new and recent. For instance, will he tell me why they are making ammunition boxes out of hard wood, Burma Teak, instead of red wood and white wood? That is a matter upon which some information is necessary. I think the Ministry of Supply should continue their investigations further, because, in my opinion, they are not complete in regard to the economies which might be effected.
§ Colonel Llewellin
Perhaps the hon. Member is not aware that we have a far better supply of hard woods than of soft woods.
§ Mr. Quibell
It is a matter of how you are using it. I think the whole point of the matter has been missed. In regard to supervision, I know that there have been scandals; nothing worse in the history of camp building has ever happened. There has been the wrong kind of supervision. If I want a man to judge a piece of wood, it is not necessary to go to an architect or a quantity surveyor. I should go to a joiner, who knows the difference between a dead knot in wood and a live knot, one who knows the difference between the various woods that are put into a building. The most efficient man to have employed for supervising work of this character is a joiner for the wood work and, for the constructional work, a bricklayer. The hon. Member for Barnstaple (Sir R. Acland) may have spent two years as an architect but he can take it from me that the most competent man to supervise such work is not 994 an architect, but a practical man at his trade. A member of the hon. Member's profession once visited me, and in the specifications it stated that the wood must be free of knots. Later on he said, "There is a knot in this wood." I said, "My dear Sir; we shall be able to grow timber without knots as soon as a farmer can produce a bullock without bone." The fact was that it was a live knot, not a dead knot, but the architect, who was in the profession of the hon. Member, did not appreciate the difference between a live knot and a dead knot. I think it is supervision that largely counts.
It is the rotten system of what are called extras and profit on cost which leads to abuses; and to the suspicion that so far as the contractors are concerned he is indulging in a kind of expenditure with the idea that the more men you employ the more profit you make. I am certain that in the case of big companies this practice does prevail. I have seen it at work on the same job in which I have been concerned myself, where there has been a big contractor doing part of the work. Men who have never struck a nail from morning till night have been sent out on Sundays. I can give the Financial Secretary to the War Office case after case. That is what has happened in most of these camps; and on the question of speed I doubt very much whether the speeding-up of their construction has been accelerated to any great extent because there have been too many men on the job. When you have too many men on a job, they only get in each other's way, and the output is lessened as a consequence. The War Office ought to have paid some attention to that sort of thing.
This matter has been raised on the Adjournment because of the fact that somebody tried to render a service to the country. This man's services were dispensed with. If there is the slightest ground for believing—and on the evidence that has been produced, I think there is—that this man's services have been dispensed with because he drew attention to the fact that money was being wasted, then I say that, instead of his services being dispensed with, he ought to have been promoted and complimented on his efficiency. I hope that as a consequence of the matter being raised to-day, the least that will happen will be that a proper inquiry will be held. If the abuses to which he drew attention do exist, then he 995 is vindicated; if they do not exist, then the Department have vindicated themselves by dispensing with his services. But this man is entitled to have a proper inquiry held.
The question of materials has been mentioned. I have never understood Government Departments, and indeed, I do not understand the Government, although I have tried my best to do so. I cannot understand a Department building huts of wood when brick buildings would be cheaper. For the most part, the timber has to be brought to this country in ships. At the present time, the brickyards are so full of bricks that most of them will not work during the coming summer. Bricklayers are on the dole, in the Army, on the land. We have the brickyards, the raw materials, the brickyard workers, the bricks, and yet the Government continue to build timber huts when brick buildings could be put up more cheaply.
§ Sir E. Grigg
Will the hon. Member give a case in which wooden huts are being built at the present time?
§ Sir E. Grigg
Those have been built. The hon. Member said that this is going on at the present time. Will he give an example?
§ Mr. Quibell
At Scawby, the building was finished only three or four months ago. If this sort of thing has been stopped, so much the better. It ought never to have been started. The London Brick Company and the Peterborough yards have millions of bricks for which there is no market. Moreover, if the price of76s. a 1,000, which has been mentioned, is the correct one, then the Department deserves to be indicted for that. A price of 50s. is a good price. That is the price I pay and I shall not pay more; but then, I have not as big a pocket as the War Office. They have their hands in my pocket, and it is because they draw on my resources that they can pay 76s. a 1,000. The hon. Baronet the Member for Barnstaple referred to plumbing. In my opinion, the War Office score full marks in this matter. The War Office have very wisely made arrangements with big firms which produce sanitary goods, and I believe that in 996 most cases these things have been bought direct. I am sure that the War Office have bought them more cheaply than many of the contractors would have done. In that matter the War Office are rather to be complimented than condemned. Perhaps somebody who does not know the circumstances has been talking to the hon. Baronet. Every foreman does not know everything about a job, and the boss does not let him know. I hope that the War Office have given up building these camps in the way in which they have been doing, and that they are now conserving, not only the cargo space, but the timber which is so essential for some of our major industries, especially building.
The hon. Baronet the Member for Barnstaple said that some local firms had expressed to him in rather strong language what they thought about big contracting firms getting jobs in their localities. I am not in disagreement with him. London firms come to Lincolnshire to do all the work for the Royal Air Force. The Lincolnshire contractors have not been able to get the work. At a place within five miles from where I live, a firm has come down to do the job, and yet the four or five firms in my town, which are capable of doing the job, have no work on hand. Their men are on the dole. As far as labour and supervision are concerned, this scandalous way of getting these jobs done must be costing an enormous amount of money, and in my opinion it is the worst sort of waste there could be. I hope that in future the Department will remember that not all the big firms are the soundest firms, and that some of the small firms are more sound. We have had an example of this in Lincolnshire. Winn's came to Lincolnshire and went out of it, and many people would like to know their whereabouts. They let everybody in. They can get the work, but some of the small, sound firms are not looked at. They let down the Department, and almost every firm from which they bought materials in that area.
§ 7.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Garro Jones (Aberdeen, North)
One of the recognised disadvantages of having a Government for a long time in office is that they tend to develop a complacency which becomes impervious to all criticism, but I venture to think that if the Financial Secretary has been 997 listening to the whole of this Debate, he must feel that the speeches that have been made involve a serious reflection upon the administration of the War Office in this matter. However, in order to put the matter into plain words, let us be quite frank with the hon. Gentleman. There is no suggestion that he has knowingly condoned corruption, secret commissions and waste, but what he is suffering from—I ask him to endeavour to adjust himself to a better frame of mind than this—is that he comes here charged only with the desire to protect his administration, right or wrong. If I may say so respectfully, that is the greatest fault of the Government. Both Cabinet Ministers and Under-Secretaries at the present time, when they are criticised and interrogated, confront us with complacent answers and assurances that everything is satisfactory. Here is a case from which even the hon. Gentleman with his long experience will not be able to escape with the assurance that all is well, because the facts have been incontrovertibly proved, in general, that there have been corruption and maladministration.
§ Mr. Garro Jones
The hon. Gentleman must be aware that the Crown itself has taken legal proceedings in certain cases and has secured convictions.
§ Mr. Garro Jones
I think I shall be able to provide the hon. Gentleman with cases in that direction, where there were charges of over-payments of wages and where convictions were secured. Moreover the hon. Gentleman, surely, is not prepared to stand up in this House and say that in the case of camps some of which cost more than three times per head of the number to be accommodated, the cost of other camps—the basic costs being precisely similar—there has not been, at least, gross extravagance, if not corruption and dishonesty.
§ Sir E. Grigg
I do not wish to interrupt the hon. Gentleman again, but I must point out that there is all the difference in the world between extravagance on the one hand and corruption and dishonesty on the other. He must differentiate 998 between the two things. It is this loose talking, as if extravagance were the same thing as dishonesty, which is creating much of the difficulty.
§ Mr. Garro Jones
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman feels anxious about this matter. If he feels so concerned to rebut charges of corruption and dishonesty, why does he not assent here and now to an independent commission of inquiry to investigate the charges? What is the use of appointing one of his hon. and learned Friends to report to the Minister upon these charges? That is a travesty of aninquiry. If the hon. Gentleman feels so concerned to protect the reputation of these contractors against these charges, he has an easy way out, and I invite him to take it in the interest of his own reputation and of proper administration. What is the main object of this discussion? Here we are dealing with charges and with offences which are not susceptible of proof except by a most fortunate accumulation of circumstances. The desire to disclose maladministration and corruption is up against a tremendous" hushing up" power. The hon. Gentleman knows that as well as I do.
This is the case of an ex-officer of His Majesty's Forces who was awarded the Distinguished Service Order in the last war, and is a fellow member of that Order with the hon. Gentleman. He was also awarded the Military Cross. He held His Majesty's commission up to the rank of major. He is supported by fellow ex-officers—men who have also held His Majesty's commission. He has inter-viewed hon. Members of this House. My hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) has seen him, and I have seen him, and I am convinced, not, perhaps, of his 100 per cent. discretion—I admit that he may be a tactless individual—but I am convinced that he is a man of sincerity and courage. He has offered to produce witnesses to substantiate his charges. He has not been given an opportunity to produce those witnesses in court—not even to the hon. and learned Member deputed to conduct this inquiry. This House surely has some sort of reputation to maintain, and the hon. Gentleman will do himself small justice if he takes up the attitude that his sole duty is to protect the Department against a conviction of maladministration. I hope that, whatever happens, this ex-officer, who has 999 rendered a definite service to the country and has done something which requires a tremendous amount of courage, will not be kicked out on to the streets as though he were a criminal.
I propose to read to the House the answer which was given to him when he produced these charges. I think the House ought to hear it, and I hope the House will support us in our demand that he should be reinstated, or at any rate that there should be an inquiry, and that if these charges are found to have some foundation, that he should be re-employed. It would certainly be to the advantage of the Government to re-employ him. What was his offence? His offence was that he put these matters in rather crude language. This is the letter which constituted his dismissal. It was written by the chief engineer of the Southern Command, referring to the complaint preferred by Major Reid-Kellett:It must be abundantly obvious that I am quite unable to forward Mr. Reid-Kellett's memorandum as written. While I am willing to believe that the writer is sincerely convinced that serious irregularities have occurred involving loss to the Exchequer, his method of presentation is so crude and unbalanced as to defeat its own object. Furthermore, it contains adverse criticism of his superior officers and is, in general, couched in terms wholly inadmissible in official correspondence. If Mr. Reid-Kellett desires to continue this correspondence, he must understand that his letters must conform to the standard of moderation and courtesy expected of Government employees.Moderation and courtesy are qualities which we all admire—but not when they are accompanied by failure to criticise maladministration and corruption. I do not hesitate to use that word, because on the facts which Major Reid-Kellett has put forward, I am satisfied that there has been gross corruption in the building of these camps, and if it is desired to rebut the charge, the obvious course is open. What are these technical regulations of the Civil Service? What do they avail against a man who is prepared to come forward and say, "I can show you how hundreds of thousands of pounds have been misspent."? As I say, I have seen Major Reid-Kellett. He has had painful experiences since the last war. He has been through a prolonged period of suffering, anxiety, and insecurity. Whose personality can stand against 20 years of terrible worry? Is it proposed to 1000 apply the same standard of courtesy and politeness to a man in that case? Under strain, men tend to become a little unbalanced, and a man of the world can make allowances for one whose conscience is, obviously, operating as this man's is, in the public interest. I do not propose to detain the House. I make an appeal to the hon. Gentleman opposite. Give this ex-officer a chance to substantiate his charges. If he is able to do so even in part, he will have done a service to the State, and he should be reinstated in employment under the War Office.
§ 7.48 p.m.
§ The Financial Secretary to the War Office (Sir Edward Grigg)
I must congratulate the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) on having, at last, got the opportunity of raising this question. He has been shouting challenges at me, like Puck in the "Midsummer Night's Dream," through the thickets of Parliamentary business for a long time past but has failed to get at me until to-night. I have been quite ready to meet him and it is no fault of mine that this Debate has not taken place a long time ago. I must apologise for not having been here when he was speaking, but he knows what my difficulty was. I had an engagement in the country and I came straight to this House from the railway station. I am sorry that the Debate began at an hour which prevented me from enjoying the hon. Member's speech.
Let me say, in the first place, that I make absolutely no complaint about the hon. Gentleman's desire to see that due economy is exercised in Government expenditure. If any Member of this House thinks that any form of expenditure used by the Government does not adequately safeguard the interests of the State, it is his duty to raise the question in this House. Certainly I make no complaint against the officer named in this case for stating his suspicions to his superior officer. No one has ever said that there was any impropriety in raising questions of this kind where genuine doubts and suspicions exist either in the Commands themselves or in this House. As far as the appeal which the hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro Jones) has addressed to me, let me tell him that I consider Ministers, like other Members of the House, should be very 1001 jealous guardians of the taxpayer's money. That is what we are here for; we are not here to screen off or excuse extravagance, much less corruption or dishonesty. It is our business to track these things down and find out if they can be proved. I repudiate altogether his suggestion that it is the object of the Front Bench to be complacent, to say that nothing needs investigation, and that no fault can be found with anything the Government have done in the past. I have never heard of such an attitude being taken up—although perhaps it might be useful to state that such an attitude has been taken up because it makes an effective contribution to the Debate. But it is not true to say that such an attitude has been taken up during my experience.
Let me try to give the House a picture of the problem with which the Government, and particularly my predecessor, were confronted when all this building began. The hon. Member for Barnstaple (Sir R. Acland) said that we ought to have foreseen that great expenditure was lying ahead. Of course we foresaw that, but the rate at which it has multiplied certainly went far beyond the previsions of the great majority of Members of this House. Personally, I can say that I was not one of that majority. The great majority did not foresee the expenditure, although I think the hon. Member for Barnstaple was one of that majority; on the other hand, more foresight was shown by the people he is now criticising than by the people with whom he is now associated. Let us see what the problem was. In the early Thirties the building programme with which we had to deal consisted only of about £2,500,000 to £3,500,000 a year. It began to grow very rapidly in the late Thirties when the pressure of the economic crisis began to pass, and in 1939 the expenditure had risen to £19,000,000. That was before we reached the beginning of the financial year and it represented a very heavy burden on the peace-time machine. The normal peace-time contracting was already becoming difficult and at that point this House, advised by the Government, took three rapid decisions which enormously multiplied the strain.
The first decision, to call up all Army Reservists, added to the strain on the existing accommodation. The next step was to increase our air defences and man 1002 them permanently, and, finally, the House passed the Compulsory Military Service Act, adding still further to the strain on the accommodation which existed or which had to be supplied. In the case of Militiamen alone the duty which this House laid on the War Office was to find new accommodation for 20,000 men by July—I think the Bill was passed in May, leaving us two months to provide the accommodation after the decision had been taken. I am talking now only of peace-time. Then we had to find new accommodation for a further 100,000 men by December. Somehow or other we had to build 30 Militia camps within a period of 2½ to 4½ months, in addition to hutted accommodation to hundreds of barracks. Naturally that was a tremendous strain on our building system, and owing to the speed at which the work had to be done it was quite impossible to employ the established form of fixed lump-sum contracts, which I agree is a much better way for work of this kind. We should always employ that system if we could, but it is impossible without having inevitable delays to work out the quantities and details required by that system. Great demands were made by this House in regard to the character of these camps, and I shall return to this point later. I remember very well that throughout those Debates Members were urging us to look after these boys and to see that the accommodation provided was good, that everything which could assist their welfare was provided, and that there would be no undue strain placed on their health. Demands were made for provisions which can be regarded as entirely new for the Army. These were the demands made by the House when the Bill was passed. I think it was quite right, but it greatly increased the problem of finding the accommodation in time.
It was impossible to adopt the proper—the right procedure where time is available, that is, the lump-sum contract. The only course to carry the work out in time was to proceed on the basis of prime costs plus a fixed fee, a system which I greatly dislike and which should never be employed except when circumstances make everything else imossible. It was employed most unwillingly by all the Government Departments which had to 1003 use it, and it will never be used except when war necessity absolutely compels.
On that basis only 18 reputable firms were invited to tender, and out of those 18, 11 were accepted. There has been a good deal of talk about supervision, but the steps taken by the War Office seem to have been correct. The War Office went to the Surveyors' Institute and asked them to nominate leading firms of surveyors to supervise the execution of the work, and that was how the supervision was provided. I am not sure that the supervision was adequate, but I agree with the hon. Member for Brigg (Mr. Quibell) in what he said about this form of contract making supervision difficult. At any rate, the work was done, and that, after all, was the main point. I have looked at some of these camps, and only to-day I saw one and was immensely impressed with it. Certainly it cannot be said to be anything but luxurious in character. Everything has been done for the comfort of the men.
If any hon. Member would like to see one of the camps, I shall be glad to make arrangements. The House has taken a great interest in them, and I wish hon. Members would go and look round one or two of them now that they are in operation. The standard of comfort of these camps is something that was unknown to the Army before. I went, in order to refresh my memory, to look at some of the older quarters which the Army has hitherto thought good enough. I began with a Militia camp and then went to the non-commissioned officers' married quarters of the type put up just before the war. All I can say is that the Militia camp is infinitely more comfortable, with a higher standard of comfort all through. At one of these camps I had the opportunity of hearing a comparison from an officer who had trained on the very site in the last war with the Naval Division. On this site now is a Militia camp complete with barrack room, gymnasia, mess rooms, recreation halls, properly prepared playgrounds, covered drill halls, complete roads and central heating. This officer said that on that site they lived in tents through the winter of 1914–15 and right into 1916, and that they only issued from their tents buried in mud or covered with chalk.
1004 I think that the House, while quite rightly insisting that there should be no waste, must recognise that the scale and character of these camps were demanded from the House itself. In fact, the demand of the House for the highest possible standard of comfort has been carried out. I feel glad that these camps are now available. They are making an immense difference to the training of the Army which is now going on. So luxurious is the scale on which in some respects they are planned that it is possible to accommodate more men than was originally planned. That will represent a new value for the money which is being spent. A further point which struck me is this: It may be said that too much was spent on the camps, and I am inclined to think that the scale was very high. I have seen parade grounds, recreation grounds, gymnasia, covered drill halls, canteens, garrison theatres, all of them extremely well constructed, which cost a great deal of money, but although I think the scale was very high, I have no doubt whatever that we got value for the money, in getting such excellent and magnificently equipped camps. So much for the general picture.
I come to the allegations of dishonesty and malpractice on the part of contractors and surveyors. I will, first, take the allegations with regard to camps at Devizes and Larkhill which were made by Major Reid-Kellett. I did not hear the speech of the hon. Member for Ipswich. It has been asked why a full, independent inquiry has not been held. My answer to that is that an independent inquiry has been held. It was an inquiry to consider whether a prima facie case could be established for the wider inquiry which Major Reid-Kellett and others wanted. It would be agreed that it is the duty of the Government, before the time of soldiers and civil servants is taken up in the course of the war, to be satisfied, at any rate, that a prima facie case exists. That is common sense procedure. Major Reid-Kellett's allegations were referred to the hon. and learned Member for Bolton (Sir C. Entwistle), and Major Reid-Kellett had every opportunity of producing evidence.
§ Mr. Stokes
I am sorry it was not possible for the hon. Gentleman to hear my opening remarks. Probably he would have spoken differently if he had. I endeavoured to make it clear that the inquiry 1005 conducted by the hon. and learned Member for Bolton (Sir C. Entwistle) was utterly useless as far as Major Reid-Kellett was concerned. There has been no opportunity to produce witnesses, and it was only a cursory preliminary inquiry. The hon. and learned Gentleman would admit himself that Major Reid-Kellett had no opportunity to produce his witnesses and to substantiate his case.
§ Sir C. Entwistle
This was a confidential investigation. I was asked, first, to examine into documents, which I did. I suggested also that it would be best if I saw Major Reid-Kellett. There was no question of having a judicial inquiry with witnesses. The complaints of Major Reid-Kellett were in his report, and he made a great many other allegations in private correspondence which the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) showed me. These complaints referred to a lot of minor matters which it was not possible to inquire into then. In my report I dealt with the question of whether, in view of what I was able to ascertain on the original complaints of Major Reid-Kellett, it was worth while having a long inquiry into the further allegations he made in his private correspondence with the hon. Member for Ipswich.
§ Mr. Garro Jones
May I ask through what channels of inquiry the hon. and learned Member satisfied himself, if he did satisfy himself, that there was no prima facie case for investigation into Major Reid-Kellett's charges if he did not allow him to produce his witnesses?
§ Sir C. Entwistle
It is not true to say I did not allow him. I gave him every opportunity to say what he liked. He had no witness there, and if he had had, I would have listened to him. There was no question of calling witnesses, and the hon. Member for Ipswich knows that there has been the fullest opportunity for Major Reid-Kellett to say what he liked.
§ Mr. Stokes
May I put another question? Surely it is within the memory of the hon. and learned Member that I wrote him a private letter in which I suggested that certain people should be called, and none of them were called. It was said to me, "Really, we have not got time to go into details such as that." It was said that surveyors and contractors could turn up, but that the idea of examining witnesses was out of the question, and there were no witnesses called. 1006 It was a case of Reid-Kellett's word against that of the surveyors and the contractors, and it was impossible for him to substantiate his case, and I said so at the time.
§ Sir C. Entwistle
The hon. Member himself had made an investigation of which I had the shorthand note. Furthermore, the whole of the documents dealing with these matters and all the invoices were before me, and so far as I was able to deal with the facts I dealt with them and gave my reasons fully in my report.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Dennis Herbert)
I must remind hon. Members that we are not in Committee, and I cannot permit the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) to make a number of speeches.
§ Sir E. Grigg
It is not for me to go in detail into the manner in which the hon. and learned Gentleman conducted his inquiry, but it certainly occupied many hours, documents were laid before him, and it covered the question whether there was a prima facie case for a more detailed inquiry. He came to the conclusion that there was no basis for charges reflecting on the honesty or competence of contractors and surveyors.
So much for the first inquiry. That inquiry could hardly have been completed when a new series of allegations was received—not all new, because, as a matter of fact, some allegations were the same, but they came from a new quarter entirely. The War Office said, "Here is another series. Let us have these investigated. Let us put all these matters before the best authority we can find, the Treasury Solicitor." The whole of those new charges were then submitted for investigation by the Treasury Solicitor, who was asked to advise whether a prima facie case for a detailed inquiry could be found. The Treasury Solicitor spent a very long time over those allegations and advised that there was no case for a detailed inquiry. I will deal with some of the allegations which were made, but the report of the hon. and learned Member for Bolton and the advice of the Treasury Solicitor have been sent to the Select Committee appointed by this House. They have those documents, and if they 1007 are not satisfied and think that a case for further inquiry exists, they can conduct an inquiry on behalf of this House. Hon. Members opposite say, "Why not have an inquiry; why not set up an independent body?" An independent body has been set up by this House, a Select Committee of this House. All the documents have been sent to them after that preliminary investigation on which we are satisfied that no prima facie case exists. If the Select Committee is not satisfied, then that Committee, which is representative of all quarters in this House, can do what it pleases. It can conduct any inquiry which it considers necessary in the circumstances. I do not know what better authority Members of this House can ask for than a Select Committee set up by itself. Why should we go outside to get some other body? Would it be more independent, would it be more authoritative?
§ Mr. Garro Jones
While it is far from my intention to depreciate the immense authority of a Select Committee, the hon. Gentleman must know, first, that their field of inquiry extends over the whole range of public expenditure, and it surely is a little unfair to refer to them an ad hoc inquiry on some particular point such as this. Secondly, the hon. Gentleman knows that a Select Committee comprises a majority of Members of Parliament supporting the Government, and while I do not suggest that that will entirely paralyse the independence of Members, it does at any rate invest them with a little bias in favour of suppressing charges.
§ Sir E. Grigg
The hon. Member does not seen to be aware that there is a subcommittee of the Select Committee which is dealing with expenditure by the Service Departments, including the War Office, and that that sub-committee has been givinga great deal of time to this work. I really cannot accept the reflection which he makes upon the Select Committee. He must be driven far for arguments if he has to rest his case on a reflection upon Select Committees of this House. If a minority of the Select Committee thought there was a prima facie case for an inquiry, is he going to tell me that the majority would resist? I do not believe it for a moment. The quality of the Select Committees 1008 appointed by this House is very different from what he would suggest, and I am sorry that he has made any such reflection upon Members of this House. If a prima facie case for inquiry exists and the Select Committee feel unable to undertake that inquiry themselves, then they can ask that it should be held by some other body. We have never tried to withhold anything from them. All the documents, all the papers have beer set before them, and that Committee, representing this House, can take any action in this matter which they think right. I do not know that it is worth while going into the detailed examination of Mr. Carr's charges, but they have all been exhaustively examined, and I should like to give the results. It takes an enormous time to examine all these cases exhaustively, and one cannot go on examining them ad infinitum when nothing comes of the examination and in every case the allegation is proved to be inaccurate or exaggerated and not to convey any idea which it was supposed to convey. Here are some of the points we have investigated. There was Mr. Carr's allegation that Mr. Langdon authorised the payment to Messrs. Hawkins of a higher price for huts supplied than the quoted price. That has been exhaustively examined and our conclusion is, "No case." But the Select Committee have the papers and if they do not agree they can say so. Then there was an allegation as regards the supply of sewerage material at Bulford. In that case the allegation was that a tender had been overlooked. Exhaustive inquiry was made and what was true was that a tender had not actually arrived, so that the people who considered the tenders had not that tender before them. That allegation also fell to the ground.
I do not know whether I need occupy the House with any more of these cases, I have a lot of them, but there was one allegation of improper charges in the prime cost account in respect of the cost of messing of certain employés of Mr. Langdon. That is the kind of point which, as a matter of fact, our auditors take up in any case when the bills come in, the kind of point which is debatable and open to question whether it was a proper charge or not. Our auditors deleted the item and it has not been paid. That is the only case in which anything was 1009 found which we could agree was an excessive or an improper charge.
§ Mr. Stokes
Will the hon. Gentleman tell the House whether Mr. Carr was examined when this inquiry was made, or whether he was merely cross-examined at the Treasury and, as a result of the cross-examination, further inquiry was made, without confronting him with the people against whom he was making the allegation?
§ Sir E. Grigg
I do not actually know those details, but I know that Mr. Carr has had every opportunity of stating his case. Really, these suggestions that all the authorities that are to be found, the Treasury Solicitor and everybody else, are not to be trusted, is going a little far. Whenever an authority is set up, whether it be the Senior Member for Bolton, the Treasury Solicitor or the Select Committee itself, that authority is not good enough for the hon. Member. Apparently the hon. Member opposite is going on until, somewhere, not in this world, but in another world, he finds an authority whose credulity will match his own.
§ Sir E. Grigg
If he despairs, let him go to the Select Committee, who are more powerful. If hon. Members are not satisfied with the exhaustive inquiries which have been made, let them realise that all the papers have been sent to the Select Committee, who are free to take any action they think right on behalf of this House.
§ Sir E. Grigg
Call for anything they like. I hope that we shall not have in this House or outside a flow of allegations which take an enormous time to investigate in detail. The hon. Member for Barnstaple made some this evening, and they will take an enormous time. They will be taken to the authority which this House has set up. At the War Office, we have done our utmost to get to the bottom of the allegations regarding malpractice. We are satisfied that, on the allegations that we have had, no prima facie case for inquiry can be established. Being satisfied on that point, we have sent all the 1010 papers to the Select Committee to do what they wish in the matter.
I would like to say a word about the camps. We are very deeply concerned to get on with their construction because they are an enormously important part of our war effort. I have myself been going very closely into the question of contracts, and so has my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I do not believe that, in war conditions—and under the tremendous pressure of time which rules us, it is possible to go to the full lump-sum contract. But we are very satisfied with a new form of contract, which makes it as difficult as possible to indulge in excessive expenditure and waste. We shall provide also for supervision as close as it can be made in the circumstances. I hope that the House will support us in getting on with this work in those conditions. I have been speaking to some of the people involved in this matter, and they have pointed out that, while these contracts are going on, the summer is passing, with those months in which building is good and cheap. It takes seven months to build a camp, and if construction is not started now the camps will have to be finished at much greater expense, after the early black-out is with us again. This becomes a very serious matter, because it is constantly interrupting the work. From the point of view of economy itself, and of protecting the taxpayers' money it is of enormous importance to get on with this work, and I hope that the House will support us.
§ Mr. Quibell
Will the hon. Gentleman influence the Department to use the services of some of the small builders in various parts of the country? There is an enormous number of joiners and bricklayers who have been small builders in their own way, but they have gone out of business entirely. Their services can be utilised in the localities to supplement the labour which is available for the camps.
§ Sir E. Grigg
I thank the hon. Member for reminding me of that matter, which I had in mind. But I do not know why, in the cases he has mentioned, these people do not tender.
§ Mr. Quibell
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that in my own town, and within a few miles of some of this work which is being done, people have written and asked to be allowed to tender. I do not think that one has been allowed to tender for a single job.
§ Major Milner (Leeds, South-East)
This is a very serious matter indeed. Apparently these contracts have been largely restricted to specified firms. In my city of Leeds, there are extremely efficient contractors in every direction who have never had an opportunity, and there are many others in this country who have written and interviewed every Department of Government, every Department of the War Office and every commander at the War Office, but they have never had a contract.
§ Sir E. Grigg
It is difficult for a large contractor to give sub-contracts to very small firms, but we are doing our best to see that sub-contracts are given in such a way that the smaller firms get their share.
§ Sir E. Grigg
I shall be glad if hon. Gentlemen will send us the names. We are anxious that this work should be as completely spread as possible, because that is in the interests of the work itself. I want to say a word on the other point which was made, about wood versus brick in the construction of these camps. The camp to which the hon. Member referred was started before the war. Since the war broke out, timber has no longer been used in War Office camps and, in any case, the struggle to get materials is very great. I hope hon. Members will not have the impression that we have any desire whatever to cover up extravagance and wasteful expenditure. I have frankly said that the expenditure on the early camps was on a very lavish scale, but 1012 that was the wish of the House, and the value is there. It was done on that scale because it was the wish of the House that those camps should be the best of that type which could be built, and that has been done. They are most admirable camps.
Now we have to get on, and since there has been this opportunity to ventilate allegations in the House I hope that in future they may be taken to the body which the House itself has appointed, the Select Committee. Unless the Select Committee can find that there is a prima facie case for further inquiry, we shall be allowed to get on with this enormously important work.
§ Mr. Garro Jones
The hon. Gentleman has left out one important aspect of the matter, namely, the personal factor. I understand that the Select Committee have adjudged themselves incompetent to investigate that personal matter. Major Reid-Kellett remains discharged in respect of his offence of bringing to the attention of the War Office charges which he thoroughly believes to be correct and his further offence of interviewing two Members of Parliament in respect of the matter. I would like the hon. Gentleman to say that he will at any rate take into further consideration for inquiry the personal position of this officer.
§ Sir E. Grigg
I am glad that I have been reminded of that. It was an oversight that I did not refer to the personal case of Major Reid-Kellett. The hon. Gentleman is mistaken in saying that Major Reid-Kellett was discharged. He was not re-employed, as his contract had lapsed. He was working on contract; there was no reason for re-employing him and no compulsion to employ him further.
§ Mr. Garro Jones
The facts are that he was informed that he would not be re-employed. If the hon. Gentleman will permit me, I would like to read a few words from a letter from the Chief Engineer, Southern Command, who was corresponding with the C.R.E. He said:You will, therefore, inform Mr. Reid-Kellett that I shall be unable to recommend the continuance of his services in any other capacity after the termination of his present agreement.Therefore, although technically his existing agreement came to an end, in practice that agreement would have been 1013 renewed as it would all along the line in the expanding services. But Major Reid-Kellett was selected to have his agreement terminated. I only ask that that matter should be taken into further consideration.
§ Sir E. Grigg
The hon. Gentleman has kindly proved my case. I said that Major Reid-Kellett had not been discharged and that he had not been re-employed or continued, as his contract had lapsed. That is the fact. As to whether he is to be re-employed, I am prepared to go into the matter. I may say this, that I know the officer in the Southern Command who has been mentioned; I know that no officer is more competent and none more anxious that every allegation of waste should be investigated. I think the hon. Gentleman may take it from me that no officer would complain of a man simply on the ground that he called attention to the fact that there was wasteful expenditure.
§ Mr. Stokes
May I ask whether he was employed as a civilian and not as an 1014 officer, and whether he was in fact given notice on the second job on account of activities concerning the previous job? Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will read my speech to-morrow in the OFFICIAL REPORT.
§ Sir E. Grigg
Yes, Sir. On the facts with regard to Major Reid-Kellett, I do not think I am wrong. He was employed as a liaison officer, and his duty as such was to see that the military requirements were carried out in the camps. He was transferred to some other liaison work, and when the time of his contract lapsed he was not re-employed. Whether he is fit for re-employment is another matter into which I am prepared to inquire, but I will not suggest that I am at all likely to find that he is.
§ Question, "That this House do now Adjourn," put, and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-five Minutes before Nine o'Clock, till Tuesday next, pursuant to the Resolution of the House this day.