HC Deb 18 March 1941 vol 370 cc6-8

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper in the name of Sir T. Moore:

"21.—To ask the Secretary of State for War whether his attention has been drawn to the fact that his Department is powerless to control financial waste on a large scale as revealed by the Reports of the Select Committee on National Expenditure, but tends to obstruct the efficient conduct of the war by restricting the powers of senior officers to expend trifling sums in the promotion of military efficiency; and what does he propose to do to rectify this state of affairs?"

Sir T. Moore

I am afraid that I must raise a point of Order before this Question is answered. Alterations which have been made in the Question have—quite unintentionally, no doubt—cast a rather serious reflection on a most admirable, hard-working and efficient body of men. In my Question as submitted, instead of "Department" in the second line, I had written "the financial authorities in the War Office." My reason for putting it in that way was that the word "Department" takes in the military staff of the War Office, for whom I have, naturally, a high regard and respect. My intention was to criticise the financial authorities, and I should like to know how I can make this clear and remedy this misconception in the minds of the military staff?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

It seems that the hon. and gallant Member's explanation has achieved its object.

Mr. Law

I am grateful for my hon. and gallant Friend's explanation, but I must warn him that it does not materially affect the terms of the reply which I propose to give him. I am unable to accept as facts the generalisations in the first part of my hon. and gallant Friend's Question. The second part does not, therefore, arise.

Sir T. Moore

Does my hon. Friend realise that I do not accept his statement on either side as an answer? Will he consider not restricting the powers of senior officers with regard to money when they are actually entrusted with far more important business, namely, the question of men's lives? This is a very, very grave challenge that I make.

Mr. Law

I think that my hon. and gallant Friend's supplementary Question is a little bit out of date, because as long ago as November last considerable powers were given to senior officers for dealing with financial matters.

Colonel Arthur Evans

Can my hon. Friend say exactly how much a divisional commander or a corps commander is allowed to authorise in the way of expenditure without reference to higher authorities?

Mr. Law

I should like to have notice of that question.

Mr. Garro Jones

Can the hon. Member assure the House that his conventional reassurance by no means prejudges the consideration by the War Office of the very serious allegations made by the Select Committee, which this House has not yet had an opportunity to debate?

Mr. Law

Certainly, it does not prejudge any such consideration. We had in fact been considering all the points made by the Select Committee for some months before they reported.