§ Mr. Stokes (Ipswich)
I am sure the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's promise that the question of suburban traffic and first-class travel will be looked into will give great satisfaction through out the country. I take it that when he speaks of facilities for London he means other great centres of population as well.
The subject that I have given notice to raise concerns the dismissal from the position of garrison engineer of Major Reid-Kellett, D.S.O., M.C., in October, 1939. I feel that I have to apologise for raising such an old issue, but the fact remains that neither has this officer had justice nor has the question of what I believe to be his victimisation been cleared up in such a way as to make other people throughout the country feel at liberty to give notice to Members of Parliament of extravagance and waste without the fear that in consequence they will be treated in the same way as the great publicity which has been given to this case has led them to suppose that they would be. I do not want to tell a long story because it is all contained in the OFFICIAL REPORT of 2nd May, 1940. Major Reid-Kellett served with distinction in the last war. He was a soldier from Australia and had command of a battalion on active service. He was first employed as a civilian by the War Department on 21st May, 1939, as a liaison officer at Devizes.
§ It being the hour appointed for the interruption of Business, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, with out Question put.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Major Dugdale.]
§ Mr. Stokes
On 27th June he wrote a report to the chief engineer of the district on waste and extravagance in the construction of camps. At the same time he gave notice to me about it, and on my assurance that he would not be victimised—I 1658 wrote to him and made it clear that disclosures of this kind to Members of Parliament were in the public interest—he gave me information, and I raised the matter in the House. Whether in consequence of my raising it or not, I have not been able to ascertain, but it had the effect of his being suspended from the job on which he was engaged. On 21st July, as the result of frequent references to the matter in this House, and with the concurrence of the Secretary of State for War, I attended a short inquiry at which the presence of Major Reid-Kellett was denied. In consequence, much of the inquiry was absolute waste, although a considerable number of expensive officers and contractors were there, all ready to explain what had happened. On 30th September, 1939, while still in suspension from the job of liaison officer, Major Reid-Kellett reported further to the C.R.E. of the district. On 9th October he was transferred from the job of liaison officer at Devizes and given the post of garrison engineer at Larkhill, which was quite a different kind of job. On 25th October he suddenly received notice terminating his employment at Larkhill on account of a report which he had written on his previous job. A letter which passed between the Chief Engineer of the Southern Command and the General Engineer of Salisbury Plain West contained this significant paragraph:In particular, in his memorandum to you, dated 30th September, 1939, he announces his intention of continuing to disobey one essential principle, namely, the unauthorised disclosure of official documents.I have a copy here of that letter, and in no place—presuming it is a true copy—is any mention made of continuing to disclose secret or official documents. Be that as it may, I submit that it is a comparatively minor point having regard to the fact that the only thing that Major Reid-Kellett did was to show me a copy of some official specifications, much out-of-date, as to the methods which should be employed in the construction of camps. He received in a letter dated 24th October, 1939, notice to quit on 8th November, 1939, and since then has been unable to get further work of that kind with any public Department. After some eight or nine months, out of regret lest I might have caused his dismissal, I gave him employment myself. I am glad to be able to say from my experience of him 1659 that I am entirely satisfied that not only is he a capable man but that he is a man who gets on with the people working under him. I am quite prepared to admit that it is not so easy for the people above him; that, unfortunately, is one of the difficulties which arose at Devizes. He is an honest-to-God sort of person, he will not stand for any nonsense or waste, and I know that he does not suffer fools gladly, which is not at all a bad attribute to have when dealing with problems of the kind with which he has been faced in the past.
I must cut this record short, because I know that my hon. Friend will want a little time in which to reply, but let me tell my hon. Friend that it is no use his saying that Major Reid-Kellett was un suitable for the job because the officer under whom he was serving told him at the time he engaged him that he was glad to have him and when he was told to dismiss him told him that he was sorry he was going. If my hon. and gallant Friend cares to look that up he can refer to the OFFICIAL REPORT of 2nd May, 1940, cols. 969 and 970. I want to emphasise that, as a result of the disclosures made and the efforts of Major Reid-Kellett to draw attention to the extravagance going on, the War Office specification was altered. The type of bricks used in camp construction was altered, with a saving of 26s. per 1,000, which would amount probably to a saving of £1,000 per camp. The specification of pipes was changed from earthenware pipes to concrete pipes, which are about 33⅓ per cent. cheaper, which meant a saving of approximately £1,000 per camp. It is significant, also, that about this time, and after this trouble, the Director of Fortifications and Works was given a "Dutchman's rise" and went to another job, and that the gentleman in charge of contracts in that Department was removed from his post. I cannot pretend to know the reasons why. I have not managed to extract from the War Office files the particular memos. which dealt with those subjects, but it was noted throughout the trade.
Subsequently there was a good deal of argument in this House, and the Select Committee on National Expenditure investigated the question of militia camps and reported. Major Reid-Kellett did not 1660 appear before that Committee. He gave no evidence face to face with the Committee. Whether he was asked to give evidence or not I am not clear, but certainly others were asked. I think I am right in saying that he was given the opportunity to do so, but owing to the fact that he was not allowed to produce his own witnesses in support of what he was saying there was no use in his doing so, having regard to the fact that his was a case of victimisation, and waste and extravagance were already admitted. In fact, I do not mind admitting that I advised him that I did not think there was any use, having regard to the cirumstances in which he was placed, in his appearing before the Select Committee. I did not think it would help in this particular case. In consequence of chasing the Prime Minister and raising Questions in this House I got a statement from the Prime Minister eventually that Mr. Justice Simonds had stated in a covering letter to his Report that he had examined the question of the victimisation of the persons making the charge, although it did not appear to him that it was within his terms of reference; and that he went on to say:But as this is a question upon which there has been some public anxiety I necessarily had to consider it as an incident of the charges made and am quite satisfied that there is no ground for the suggestion that there has been any victimisation whatever.I have been trying to discover since then what evidence was given to Mr. Justice Simonds. He cannot have had Major Reid-Kellett's evidence, because none was taken, and therefore it must have been evidence given before the Select Committee by other people who reported on the extravagance and waste. On the same day—it is curious that it happens to be so near the anniversary of the Debate last year—I pointed out to the Prime Minister that I had a paper in my hand which made it clear that there had been victimisation and asked whether he could have the paper examined. He promised to do so, and I wrote him a letter en closing a copy of that particular letter to the Chief Engineer, Salisbury Plain West. I received a reply from the Secretary of State for War saying that he really felt the Government had done all they could be expected to do in the matter and that it should be regarded as closed by the Prime Minister's answer to me. But that 1661 answer was that if I sent the document to him he would see that the matter was properly investigated—which has not been done. I sent it to the Prime Minister, who apparently then shot it over to the Secretary of State for War, who then reported to me in this light-hearted way on what I think is a matter of the greatest public importance.
It is no use the Financial Secretary saying that this case was examined in October, 1939, by the hon. and learned Member for Bolton (Sir C. Entwistle) to discover whether or not the Major was victimised. That matter did not arise, because he was still in suspension and he had not been dismissed from his job as garrison engineer. Nor can it be shown that the learned judge dealt with this case. I wish to get a full reply from the Financial Secretary to the War Office. The effect of the case has been most marked. This is shown by the nature of the com plaints which I have had occasion to raise in this House from time to time and by the fact that I have received an abundance of letters complaining about waste and extravagance. Occasionally, complaints are about irregularities, but not so often. I am absolutely baulked in most of these cases, because the correspondents say, "You can use this information, but for Heaven's sake do not mention my name, or I shall be served the same as Reid Kellett!" What is one to do? The case has been given so much publicity—I think the Financial Secretary will admit this point, although he has not been long in his present office—that it is acting as a deterrent to people coming forward with confidence and without any fear of victimisation to report about waste and extravagance on very important cases to Members of Parliament.
That is the major issue. The minor issue is of no less intrinsic importance. It is that this man, two years ago, in June, 1939, reported on a case, in all honesty and sincerity, and with the full assurance that he would get a square deal. The case was completely proved, so far as waste and extravagance were concerned, because there was a change in the specifications, by the report of a Select Committee. It is common knowledge through out the contracting trade and the Director of Fortifications and Works knows of it as well. Nevertheless, the man has not had justice done to him. I do not want 1662 the Financial Secretary to answer that he has completely satisfied himself, as the result of a short talk I have had with him at the War Office, that my claims are not proven; but I would like him to promise to scrutinise the matter and to assure the House that it will be given the closest examination and a fair settlement at the earliest possible date.
§ The Financial Secretary to the War Office (Mr. Sandys)
This topic has already engaged the attention of the House on a number of previous occasions, and the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) has once again given the House his version of it. The story which he tells us is of a patriotic officer who was summarily dismissed by the War Office, because, out of his anxiety for the national interest, he disclosed to a Member of Parliament certain official information.
§ Mr. Sandys
I was going on to say that if that were a complete and accurate account of what occurred, the case would necessarily raise a number of delicate constitutional issues upon which I should hesitate to comment. In point of fact, the story which the hon. Member has told us is not the complete story; nor is it, in certain important respects, entirely accurate. In the circumstances, I think the best thing I can do is to give the House the facts of this case and leave hon. Members to judge it for themselves. In May, 1939, as the hon. Member told us, Major Reid-Kellett was engaged in a civilian capacity by the Southern Command as a resident engineer at the Militia camps under construction at Netheravon and Winterbourne Gunner in Wiltshire. His duties consisted principally of liaison work, that is to say, of ensuring smooth co-operation between the Royal Engineers and the surveyors and contractors engaged in the construction of these camps. How ever, within a bare month of his engagement he wrote a memorandum which was sent to the War Office in which he made a number of specific charges of serious malpractice and dishonesty against the surveyors and contractors with whom he was working.
§ Mr. Sandys
It was within about a month of the time he was engaged. He was engaged in May, and this occurred in June. On receipt of this memorandum, the War Office immediately and thoroughly examined the allegations which it contained, and called for very full explanations from the firms concerned. These inquiries proved, to the complete satisfaction of the Department, that there was no evidence to justify the very grave charges which Major Reid-Kellett had made.
§ Mr. Sandys
am talking about the charges of dishonesty. These were specific charges involving the honesty, reputation and integrity of the firms. In view of the suggestions made by the hon. Member for Ipswich and by Major Reid-Kellett that the War Department, either through slack ness or out of a desire to whitewash the contractors, did not properly examine the charges made, I would like to draw the attention of the House to the very definite statement on this point which has been made by Mr. Justice Simonds in his recent report. This is what the Judge said:I was impressed, as I think no one who read all the departmental files could fail to be impressed, by the way in which, even in the exacting conditions of 1939 and 1940, allegations reflecting on the honesty of con tractors or officials were taken up and probed. My second conclusion is that the Department were well justified in determining that no further action should be taken in regard to the charges in question.
§ Mr. Stokes
I am sorry to be such a nuisance, but the facts are important. Will the Financial Secretary explain why, in these inquiries, the evidence of Major Reid-Kellett himself was never sought?
§ Mr. Sandys
I have very little time, but the whole of this matter was placed before the Judge, and he came to the conclusion that the inquiries made by the Department were adequate, and, as I have just said, he said that his second conclusion was that the Department were well justified in determining that no further action 1664 should be taken in regard to the charge in question. I think that is a very definite statement by somebody who is in a position to make a statement on that subject.
§ Mr. Sandys
Major Reid-Kellett refused absolutely to accept the conclusions of this inquiry and continued to reiterate his accusations. In view of his attitude—and this is the answer to the point the hon. Member has made—it became impossible for him to continue to perform his duties, which required tact and good will on both sides, with firms against whom he had made and continued to make allegations of a very serious kind He was consequently transferred to Lark hill, and given some other work of a different kind to do. However, he did not settle down there either. Late in September, he sent to the Chief Engineer Southern Command, a further memorandum.
§ Mr. Sandys
I have not got the date here. It is quite immaterial where he was when he wrote a further memorandum reiterating his previous charges This memorandum was sent under a covering letter, the tone and language of which were, to say the least, crude and impertinent. In his letter he made it clear that if the attitude of the War Office did no alter, he would not hesitate to circulate copies of his allegations to the House of Commons, to the public and to the Press
§ Mr. Sandys
He said that if the hostility of the Director of Fortifications and Works persisted, it was his intention to reproduce his document in large number: to be circulated to the Press, the House of Commons, and the public. The military authorities of the Southern Command had shown, I think, remarkable patience and toleration towards his earlier outbursts but they felt, as I think was natural, that the line must be drawn somewhere. After carefully reviewing all the circumstances 1665 of the case, they came to the inevitable, and, I feel, only possible, conclusion. Major Reid-Kellett's contempt for Regulations—and I think my hon. Friend sup ported that contention to some extent by what he has said—
§ Mr. Sandys
The hon. Member said that Major Reid-Kellett did not get on so well with the people above him. His attitude of continual suspicion, his practice of spying on those with whom he worked—the hon. Member knows that we have papers in which he tells of the way in which he obtained much of his information—his habit of making, and continuing to make, unsubstantiated accusations against those with whom he worked, in short, his complete instability of character and temperament, clearly made it no longer possible or desirable to retain his services. It was accordingly decided by the Southern Command on 23rd October to give him the necessary notice to terminate his engagement. These are the circumstances in which Major Reid-Kellett left the service of the War Department. Was that victimisation? The hon. Member says it was. I say it was not. I am supported in my contention by the conclusions of both the independent inquiries into the charges made by Major Reid-Kellett. The first was the inquiry by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bolton (Sir C. Entwistle), at the request of the then Secretary for War.
§ Mr. Sandys
The inquiry took place after notice was given to Major Reid-Kellett to terminate his engagement, and not before. I have a letter which makes it perfectly clear when that occurred, and I am prepared to show it to the hon. Member.
§ Mr. Sandys
I will deal with that point. In his report, the hon. and learned Member for Bolton declared specifically that he was satisfied that there was no 1666 foundation for these allegations of victimisation. He considered, on the contrary, that the authorities had treated Major Reid-Kellett with great toleration. The hon. Member for Ipswich lightly brushes aside this careful and impartial investigation. He considers that it was inconclusive. The hon. Member is entitled to his opinion, but I must point out that in his recent report, published as a White Paper, Mr. Justice Simonds expresses a very different view. He says:I have carefully considered these reports"—that is the report of the hon. and learned Member for Bolton and the report of the Treasury Solicitor—and in my judgment they form a convincing exposure of the baselessness of the charges under review.
§ Mr. Sandys
I am concerned with the value of the report made by the hon. and learned Member for Bolton. Mr. Justice Simonds could hardly have said anything stronger than that. I leave it to the House to choose between the opinion of the hon. Member for Ipswich and that of the Judge. The Judge's report was concerned specifically with charges of mal practice. However, having had in the course of his inquiry to study all the related aspects of the case, he felt it his duty, in his report to the Prime Minister, to refer to the allegation of victimisation. I would like to read this again to the House. It has already been given in an answer by the Prime Minister to the hon. Member for Ipswich:The question of 'victimisation' of the persons making the charges did not appear to me to lie within my terms of reference; there fore, I did not deal with it in my report.But it is a question upon which there has, I believe, been some public anxiety. I necessarily had to consider it as an incident of the charges that were made and am quite satisfied that there is no ground for the suggestion that there has been any victimisation whatever.
§ Mr. Sandys
My hon. Friend refuse's to accept the Judge's findings. He maintains that Mr. Justice Simonds had insufficient evidence to enable him to reach a balanced opinion, and that the War Office may have withheld from the 1667 Judge certain vital facts. I submit that the learned Judge could be left to decide for himself whether he had sufficient evidence. The War Office placed before him all the papers available in the case, with out exception, and he was able to form his opinion upon them. The Government have no wish to cover up dishonest practice. In fact, as experience in the courts has shown recently, where there is sufficient evidence every effort is made to bring offenders to justice. But when sifted by a succession of inquiries, including an inquiry by a High Court Judge, I think we are fairly entitled to ask that those who bring these charges should now be content to accept the findings.
§ Mr. Stokes
May I ask the hon. and learned Member for Bolton whether he considers that the inquiry which he and I attended really substantiated that there was no question whatever that Major Reid-Kellett had been victimised?
§ Sir Cyril Entwistle (Bolton)
I was asked to examine certain specific charges of malpractice, and I had no doubts what ever in making the report that I did. I was completely satisfied on the evidence, and I heard Major Reid-Kellett.
§ It being the hour appointed for the Adjournment of the House, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.