HC Deb 18 March 1941 vol 370 cc20-2
40. Sir W. Smithers

asked the Prime Minister whether, in view of the Fifth Report from the Select Committee on National Expenditure, he will immediately set up a judicial court of inquiry, at which witnesses can give evidence on oath, be cross-examined, and parties be represented by counsel, and with powers to inflict punishment on persons found guilty of waste, extravagance and dishonesty, in the carrying-out of Government contracts?

The Lord Privy Seal (Mr. Attlee)

The Report of the Select Committee relates to matters which arose in the main before the outbreak of the war. The Government, in view of the danger of interrupting the war effort, would not lightly embark upon an extended inquiry of the kind asked for by my hon. Friend, which would necessarily occupy the time and attention of many officers and others now engaged on different work or serving overseas. On the other hand, the Government are very much concerned to see that no person who has been guilty of a serious offence should escape punishment. The Report of the Select Committee does not, of course, establish the fact that there is any such person. It is proposed, therefore, in the first instance to refer the papers to a Judge of the High Court in order to ascertain if, in his opinion, there is a prima facie case against any particular officers or persons which would justify further action. It is not the fact that the Select Committee found Major Reid-Kellett's charges to be fully justified. With the completion of the Militia camps his original appointment would in any case have lapsed, and the question of his further employment would only arise in the event of a suitable post being vacant when his qualifications would necessarily have to be considered in relation to those of other candidates.

Sir W. Smithers

Is the Lord Privy Seal aware that the very terms of reference of the Select Committee prevented them from giving the necessary decision on this matter, and will he ask the Prime Minister to give the necessary instruction that the first cases to be considered before the Judge of the High Court should be the cases of Major Evans, Major Reid-Kellett, and Mr. Carr?

Mr. Attlee

I think my Answer shows that the Judge of the High Court would have complete discretion. It is not for the Government to dictate in this matter.

Sir W. Smithers

Could not the Judge be asked to consider these cases first, as they were the three cases which gave rise to the whole of this matter?

Mr. Stokes

Is the Lord Privy Seal not aware that Major Reid-Kellett was not dismissed from his position as a superintendent of a militia camp, but that he was transferred to the job of garrison engineer and was subsequently sacked on account of action that he took when engaged on the construction of a militia camp?

Mr. Mander

Can the Lord Privy Seal say why this unusual procedure has been adopted and why the matter has not been referred to the Law Officers of the Crown or to the Public Prosecutor, as would seem to be the more usual practice?

Mr. Granville

If the Lord Privy Seal is unable to take action at the present time, will he give an assurance that rigid economy and the closest supervision will be taken now and in the future in reference to all Government contracts?