HC Deb 19 February 1942 vol 377 cc1999-2033
Mr. Woodburn (Stirling and Clackmannan, Eastern)

I beg to move, to leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: in the opinion of this House, the avoidance of waste and a proper economy of resources in the Army are more than ever necessary for the successful conduct of the war. The Secretary of State for War to-day referred to his dissatisfaction with many things connected with the war. This House is anxious too that such dissatisfaction as he has, and as other hon. Members have, should be removed at the earliest possible moment. My Amendment deals with economy and the word "economy" has, perhaps, been subject to more misunderstanding than any other word in the vocabulary. In former times it was considered to be a term connected with money, and before the war economy took the form of trying to spend as little money as possible on Army services. To-day that economy of pre-war days has led to the most tragic waste in all history. We are paying in sweat, blood and tears because of false economy in pre-war days in regard to preparations for this war.

Saving is also a term that is misunderstood. To abstain from spending money on doing things that are necessary is not saving, but the greatest waste. From 1922 onwards, instead of saving being a benefit to this country, it was a great injury. In 1922, the engineers found themselves without work, and from that year to the beginning of this war a whole army of engineers disappeared into other forms of industry, and there has had to be sent out a search party to look for those lost engineers, because they are the first essential of a modern army. To call that economy was the greatest mistake this country has ever made, and I hope that in future, learning from that mistake, we shall not allow that form of economy to come back into the vocabulary.

The greatest waste that can take place is inefficiency. The Select Committee, of which I am a member, when it started to investigate the question of economy, was brought right up against a dilemma. There is no question that in the realm of money millions of pounds could have been saved if we had been prepared to wait for three months, or six months, or a year, in order to go into questions thoroughly, consider Estimates, check Estimates, and do things in the old ways of peace. But an economy achieved by such means might have meant the loss of millions of lives, it might have meant the defeat of this country. Questions of economy and waste cannot be considered in terms of money. They must be considered in terms of efficiency. If we can shorten the war by one day or one week, we shall save many more millions than are ever likely to be saved by the most rigorous investigation of accounts. Modern war is a war not only of soldiers, but of engineers, and it is impossible to separate engineering from the Army, and make it a question of a civilian occupation and an Army occupation. In the shortage of engineers resulting from the waste in pre-war days, there has naturally been competition between the Army, which requires engineers to use the weapons, and civilian occupations which require engineers to manufacture the weapons. In that scarcity of skilled engineers, there needs to be the utmost economy. That can be achieved only if every man who has engineering skill has his skill used to the utmost, and to use the labour of any engineer in some other occupation is waste of the worst kind in the middle of this war.

The next point we must face, however, is that the skill of an engineer is completely lost if the material on which he can exercise his skill is absent. If we send tanks and engineers to Libya and do not send the spare parts, neither the engineers nor the tanks there are of any use. It is waste of shipping, waste of skill, waste of money, and waste of life itself, unless all these things are organised in harmony. There must be the tanks, the spares and the men of skill to use them. It has been suggested that in Libya there has been some such waste, and that the Germans, because they foresaw the necessity of having skilled men to repair tanks immediately, had a certain advantage over us in that their tanks which were damaged were replaced in the line far more speedily than was the case with our Army because of a lack of trained men. If that is the case, it indicates one or two points. It takes thousands of man-hours to produce a tank, and if that tank is left out of a battle in Libya, or anywhere else, for the sake of a nut or bolt, it represents the loss of thousands of man-hours, not taking into account shipping and the dangers to that Service and so on. Therefore, I hope that the War Office are cognisant of the importance of the utmost use being made of skilled men. The subject has been dealt with very excellently in the Beveridge Report, and the Minister has said he is going to pay careful attention to it; therefore I shall not pursue the matter.

I should like to point out, however, that there is a hardship for engineers, because many of these men are capable and might rise to a high rank in the Army. It is because of their skill that they are condemned to act as engineers for the rest of the war, and I hope that their sacrifice will be recognised. The hon. and gallant Member for St. Marylebone (Captain Cunningham-Reid) made comparisons between the wages of workers and those in the Army. I hope the inference that engineers are all making high wages will not be accepted. The skilled engineers, as in the last war, are not receiving high wages. I have been in factories where machines could be erected only by those who had served a long time in engineering and they received half the pay of the men who were to work them. It is really the most skilled who suffer the greatest in the productive field.

I should like to refer to another piece of waste which is a traditional habit of the Army, that is, putting round pegs into square holes. It is generally accepted that some people in the Army have the idea that when a man has special qualifications he suffers from a swelled head, and that the first thing to do for his own good is to humiliate him. If someone says he is a professor, the person in charge tells him to go to the cookhouse. That may be quite good for the professor, but it is not making the best use of his skill. I hope the new arrangements will see that men are directed to their proper spheres, and that if there is anything psychological, psychologists will deal with it. Let me give an illustration. I had the case of a joiner who before he joined up to serve in the Royal Engineers was a man who had taken charge of War Office contracts in different parts of the country. He went into the Army expecting to do the same sort of work, but he found himself a despatch rider, and nothing he could do within his regiment could alter matters. At the same time there was a young clerk from a sanitary engineer's office who also went into the Royal Engineers. He was a very able boy, and was trained in the most modern forms of building emergency bridges. He had never handled a tool in his life, but Army time was spent in training him to do this work. He was then transferred to another branch of the Royal Engineers to locate mines on the coast. Unfortunately, he was blown to bits, and his life and skill were lost.

Here we have the case of a man with skill acting as a despatch rider, and a boy having no technical experience doing the other man's job. When I called the attention of the War Office to this case the matter was put right so far as the joiner was concerned, but it illustrates the feeling of frustration which is prevalent among so many skilled men who have to stand by and watch someone else do their job. I had another case of a man who was in a post office wireless reception station. He also, curiously enough, found himself a despatch rider, and he was compelled to go on despatch riding and was not allowed to help to repair wireless apparatus when anything went wrong. In spite of all his knowledge, he had to continue being a despatch rider seeing someone who knew nothing about it trying to mend the machinery.

Then there is the question of wasting training on unfit men. If a man goes into the Army and is unfit, it is tragic that the Army tries to make him fit and tries to make an expert soldier of a man who has neither the qualities nor the physical capacity required. I had a case of a boy without a thumb on his right hand and whose mother admitted that he was mentally deficient, yet someone classed him A.I. When he came to my notice, he was already in France, and it took me and two Secretaries of State to get him back again. Think of the wastage of Army effort in trying to train a boy of that kind. In another case a man suffered from abnormal feet and could not walk very well. How he got into the Army I do not know, but, once in, they were determined to make a soldier of him. When I left the case seven months ago he had been taken into hospital and they had operated on him, and he was still unable to walk. It is the lack of sense of proportion in regard to these things which causes perturbation among the soldiers and the general public, because they naturally think the Army must be inefficient when it wastes time and effort like that. The 22nd Report of the Select Committee gives examples of this kind of thing. In a sample analysis taken in one Command in December, 1940, of the men discharged for congenial mental defect more than half had over six months' service. The Government had spent six months in training and trying to make soldiers of people who were incapable of being soldiers. I welcome the announcement of the psychological tests and the other examinations that are being used to see that men are directed where their services will be of use, and that if necessary they will be kept out of the Army. There are men who would be a menace and not an assistance in the Army, and there is no advantage in adding to numbers unless the numbers have some qualities as well.

There is waste of other kinds. Men are taken into the Army and classed A1, and in due course it is discovered that they are incapable of being soldiers because something has gone wrong physically, and they are discharged on medical grounds. They then find that the War Office refuse all responsibility for their condition and say that their ailments are due to pre-war conditions. Nothing causes so much irritation among men discharged from the Army, and among the general public, than this idea that a man is passed A1 and is then put out, evidently as C3, gets no pension and is treated as if he had contracted some disease on his own responsibility and is thrown, so to speak, on his own resources. I would ask the Minister to bring this matter to the notice of the Government, because it really is agitating the minds of many Members. It fills their post-bags, and it causes no end of irritation.

I welcome also the announcement regarding educational work, but here again I think there is some wastage. In many cases men who hay been trained in civil life to lecture have sometimes to listen to officers who are poor lecturers. If an officer, who may be a good officer, and, in the words of General Wavell, talks very little, starts to talk very much, he may destroy the morale of his regiment by destroying its faith in his capacity to lead, for they might think that if he cannot lecture, he might not be a good officer. It would be far better if officers who were not good at that sort of thing handed the job over to somebody else in the regiment who had the capacity to do it. I would like to quote a letter I had on this subject: I have listened to three lectures given on current affairs by the O.C. from pamphlets supplied to him. Quite frankly they have not been any good. Two of them dealt with the campaign in Libya and the other was on oil. I do not know who is responsible for these pamphlets but I can assure you they do not cause any enthusiasm among the troops, and it is a pity that such a good opportunity is wasted in this way. … Cannot someone give the brass hats a kick in the pants? All they seem concerned about is saluting and blanco-ing. They do not seem to understand there is a war on. In regard to blanco-ing, I am informed by experts that it destroys the webbing. It certainly destroys good feeling in the regiment, and a good deal of it could be scrapped with advantage. I received today a letter on the point about sending people to the wrong places. It says that any number of people in the Observer Corps are skilled and that it is impossible for their skill to be used in that Corps. It states that a whole family of electrical engineers are utilised as observers.

I would like the Financial Secretary to deal with what is being done in the Army to stop waste of material, equipment and petrol. There is a great feeling that many wagons are running about the countryside wearing out the tyres. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will deal with this point, because economy in rubber and petrol is of the utmost importance. There is also a feeling that food is wasted. The waste of food is usually alleged to be caused by bad cooking. The Army has good food, but it is cooked in such a way that men cannot eat it. I am glad that the Army is proceeding with the problem of trying to get good cooks, but I do not see why the A.T.S. should not be used for a good deal of the cooking, because they would do it better than some of the men. Some time ago the Army appointed a Controller-General of economy. Perhaps we can hear whether he has been able to achieve any economies by the cutting down of waste.

In conclusion, let me pay a layman's tribute to what the Army has done. I happen to know, because of my work upon the Select Committee, some of the handicaps under which the Army has suffered. I do not think the British Army has ever in its history gone into battle with the equipment it ought to have had, and certainly in this war so far our soldiers have never been fighting on anything like an equality with the forces opposing them. We have been short of something—short of men, short of equipment or short of ammunition, or we have not had mechanised units in sufficient numbers compared with the German Army or with other armies, in Malaya or elsewhere. When we consider that in these circumstances our Army has actually won victories I think we have to stand in admiration of the work it has done. It is to be noted, too, that we hear little grumbling from them about it, that they seem to take it for granted that they should never have enough stuff, and that makes it all the more amazing. I hope that this country will not allow that to happen again. Whatever may be the circumstances under which we live after this war, if there is to be an Army I hope that the country will insist that it should be properly equipped and supplied with up-to-date weapons and not starved of any of the mechanical appliances which are necessary to get victory at the earliest possible moment.

Mr. NcNeil (Greenock)

I beg to second the Amendment.

I should like to preface what criticisms I have to make about the most efficient utilisation of the skilled man-power within the Army by saying that I have at all times found that the Secretary of State for War and his two colleagues have with courtesy and alertness examined any examples of misuse which I have been able to bring to their notice. I think I ought to say that, like every other Member of the House, I clearly realise that with a machine as extensive as it must be for the administration of the Army we cannot expect niceties of judgment and refinements of procedure. But even with these two prefaces I think most people are still pretty starkly uneasy about the utilisation of man-power in the Army. It was proper and just for the Secretary of State for War to pay a generous tribute to his senior officers. It was an extensive and pretty frank survey which he made, but if I may dare say so as a very junior Member, I thought he seemed just a trifle complacent, seeing that he was coming to this House two days after the issue of the Beveridge Report. I think, too, that other hon. Members besides myself were a trifle surprised by the gaps there were in his survey. For example, I wonder what connection there is between the Beveridge Report and the repeated reports we have had that, despite the gallantry and the equipment and the direction of our men in Libya, we did suffer defeat there—what connection there is between this Report and the explanation of that defeat which is being offered here, namely, that our enemies were able to put tanks back on their tracks three times faster than we were able to do it. I hope that the Financial Secretary will deal with that matter, and some of the other gaps that I see in the survey.

When the Minister of Labour introduced the Maximum Effort Bill two or three months ago he told the House that he was considering the possibility of a certain number of men being trained as dual-purpose soldiers. Since then we have heard nothing about this idea, which I think is of very great importance and very great application. In his very excellent reply the Joint Under-Secretary of State dealt with the Army Bureau of Current Affairs as a method of meeting and countering the browning-off that is felt in the Army. I should not dream of saying otherwise than that is a very important and healthy effort, but surely we might meet some of this boredom, and still have the great advantage of the byproducts of experiments in dual-purpose soldiering. I appreciate the difficulties, but they are not insurmountable. The Secretary of State for War has told us before, and he has told us to-day, of the necessity of maintaining huge Forces here. Here, in this country, is not only the bridge-head of our attack upon Europe, but the citadel of our production. Although I know nothing of military strategy, it must be plain that our Forces in this country will be concentrated in the industrial areas.

If we could withdraw from this infantry, which has been rightly and properly praised to-day, a certain proportion of the men to our workshops, we could free from our workshops men who could be taught the rudiments of soldiering and the ability to use a rifle. Such dual-purpose soldiers would have some reference to our tank problems that we have been discussing. Speaking recently in this House, the Prime Minister spoke of the saint who refused to accept a good example because it was handed to him by the devil. We cannot refuse to learn lessons which are demonstrated to us by our enemies. Our enemies have offered us several lessons in this matter of dual-purpose soldiery. Will the Joint Under-Secretary tell us whether it is true that the German motorised infantry are all semi-trained men and whether, in the Middle East, these men were used in tank repairs? It is clear that, if a tank is struck, some members of a crew are likely to be disabled for the time being. If there is this supplementary force of infantry who have handled tanks and motors in the workshops, and have had experience in repairing breakdowns and cannibalising parts, such a force assumes a very great value on a battlefield, or, really, after a battle, and before the counterstroke comes.

The Minister did not fairly meet the point of the Beveridge Report when he spoke about the Royal Engineers. If I might recapitulate the tasks which he said were the job of the Royal Engineers, he mentioned the construction of advanced landing fields for aircraft, restoring water pipes, and making roads. These, quite clearly, are all of one type of engineering, and that type is civil engineering. I am sure he did not mean to take any unfair advantage, but I thought it was not a just way of dealing with the conclusions of the Beveridge Report. Ordnance deals with servicing, but there seems to be no place in our organisation to which the mechanical engineer is automatically directed and from which he is automatically deployed as needed.

I am not going to argue from the particular to the general, but may I draw the attention of the House to what is probably the most deplorable case in the Beveridge Report, case Number 140? I will summarise it. The case is that of an electrician, a man of experience and initiative, who has taken courses in his subject. He is the sort of man who, in business, would get promotion because clearly he has ability, initiative and application. In a workshop he would become a foreman, and probably an official in his union. After two and a-half years this man, despite efforts by himself, becomes—what? The reply is a music-hall joke. A cook. I should be wrong if I tried to take that as a general picture, and I should be wrong if I tolerated for a moment the impression that the Army always puts square pegs into round holes. It does not; it has made tremendous advances and, as has been said to-day, it is still making advances. There does, however, seem to be a lag in dealing with these men of skill on the mechanical side, and I should like the Joint Under-Secretary of State to tell us how they propose in future to use and to deploy this kind of skill.

I was very pleased indeed, as the rest of the House must have been, to hear from the Joint Under-Secretary the account of the intelligence testing that is going on. I am sorry he is not here just now, because for a moment I want to digress and deal with his figures. I am always a little chary about statistics if they are not clearly displayed, but I thought it rather ludicrous when he told the House, with glee, that from a recent O.C.T.U. sample 24 per cent. came from the public schools and 76 per cent. from the other schools. I am speaking from memory, but I think my memory is fairly good in these things, and my impression is that about 7 per cent. of the total secondary school population is found in the public schools, so that if this is a fair and representative sample, three times more public school men find their way into the Officer Cadet Training Units than men from the secondary schools. I, therefore, think there was something a little strange about the sampling, or about the result. The hon. Gentleman went on to make further comparisons about average, below average, and above average. The figures lost their significance completely because, with this unequal distribution, we should have had to weight the other classes to get at true figures.

I would like the Parliamentary Secretary to tell us a little more about this testing. I have seen some of the testing which is done when the man goes for his medical examination. When he has had that examination, he is interviewed in the building by a representative of the Army, and is given something that approximates to an intelligence test. I think it is a good method but it has the disadvantage that the man is posted soon afterwards and undertakes his ordinary infantry training. He may prove to be a fairly good infantryman, and by the time the assessment of his test comes through the officer in command of the infantry unit naturally does not wish to lose this good infantryman, although he may be particularly fitted for a special corps.

This is not a new point. It was argued with great cogency in the Report to which the hon. Member for Clackmannan and Stirling (Mr. Woodburn) referred. It now has a particular application because henceforth we are to deal, in the new intakes, with three particular types of men. With the older groups will be men who, because of specialist skill, have up to now been reserved. There will also be the young men who become of age to be taken into the Forces. We must take great care that these tests are of a type which will make sure in the first place that unsuitable men, the mental defectives and feeble-minded, are excluded immediately. The Mover of the Amendment referred to the figures. I need not go over the point again or emphasise it. We all know that the training for the first three or six months is the most expensive part and to take in such men is criminal. I know the Minister would wish to avoid that kind of extravagance.

I have a case from my own constituency of a man who had been discharged from the Army. When I wrote to the Minister it was pointed out that the man had been discharged as a mental defective. I wrote to my constituent explaining that his illness was of a type which it would be difficult to prove was due to his service. The alleged mental defective wrote back and said that the Minister of Pensions had made a public statement that anyone who had entered the Army graded A.1 would have his case reviewed, and that he was now rejected as a mental defective although he had been graded A.1. That is a line of argument that is accepted by all except the Ministry of Pensions. We must see that the intelligence test—applied, I suggest, before the medical examination—excludes these men.

Secondly, there is the case of those middle-aged men who can bring to Army tasks a great deal of resource and experience but who, naturally, cannot change their ways quickly or radically. If there are no light tasks for these men within the Army I suggest that very careful thought should be given to leaving them in civil life. On the other hand, the same type of test will bring out ability to assimilate quickly new information and methods. Sometimes I think we are a little careless about the recognition of the value of that type of man. I have been having a discussion with the Department about a man—I do not suggest at all that he is a superman—who is a graduate and who has been a schoolmaster. The secretary, with a courtesy and directness to which I have paid tribute, has gone into the case. He says: We have had this man interviewed for the purpose of employment in the personnel selection staff, but he is not considered suitable. He says: It is impossible to employ all the school masters in the Army on the comparatively limited amount of educational work which is going on. I suggest that that is typical of this narrow, rather canalised thinking which is still very obvious in the Army. The point is not that this man, being a graduate and having been a schoolmaster, must be given educational work, but that he is badly wasting his time. The secretary says that he is not. He says: In this case, the man's time is certainly not being wasted from the Army's point of view, as he is being employed in very necessary clerical work. He goes on to say that there is a general shortage of clerks. I suggest that that is inaccurate. If there is one commodity in abundance in this country if is clerks; and there are plenty of them in the Army. Finally, the tests must mark out the potential officers. I do not say that every intelligent man makes a good officer. The Under-Secretary, very properly, pointed out the additional requirements. But I say, firmly, that no stupid man is ever a good officer. Therefore, we can shed those same people as the first step. Despite the generous and skilful tribute which the Minister paid to the absence of brass fittings in the Army, I still think there must be many dull, if not stupid and insensitive, men in command in the Army. Otherwise, we could not have had the Beveridge Report or the type of man to whom I have referred being treated as he has been treated. We have not only to ensure that intelligence is recognised in the Army; we have to demonstrate to the public at large that that is so. We have to make it plain that the Army does not believe that blue blood is any substitute for grey brains.

May I ask the Under-Secretary to consider another point which was raised in that Report? It relates to the middle-age type of men of whom we are to have more and more in the Army. Some of these men may seem to be physically fit, but a sudden change of occupation, the rigours of Army life, may cause them to break up. It has been suggested—and I cannot see any great administrative difficulty in the way—that wastage, both from the point of view of the Army and of the country, because a partially disabled man is rejected for the Army, is not what it previously was, but that wastage can in some measure be guarded against by ensuring that the man's National Health Insurance record is brought forward on the occasion of his medical examination. In conclusion, may I add my plea to that of the Mover of the Amendment for the generous treatment of these middle-aged men, often men with responsibilities in the State, in the event of their being discharged from the Army as unfit?

Sir Richard Acland (Barnstaple)

I would like to say something about waste food in the Army, and I think I can make a constructive suggestion to the Secretary of State about the best way of tackling the problem. We are fighting for democracy, and although I agree that the Army operational command has to be authoritative, wherever you can get any little scrap of democracy into the Army it will pay you a very high dividend indeed. If I were inspecting troops, one of the first things I would do would be to get hold of a private soldier and say to him, "What do you know about your messing committee?" If he answered, as I am sure he would in many units today, "I do not know very much about it," or "I do not know anything about it," I would see that his commanding officer was given something to think about. I am sure that units are not inspected with the object of seeing what has been happening in this way. You ought to make a tremendous thing of messing committees, if you want to save. You should have a grant action to get representatives selected, to see that the scale of food allowances is explained to the men, to prove that a certain amount of food is coming into the unit week by week, and to show that the best use is being made of it. A large notice should be put up in the dining hall, designed and drawn up, if you like, by the men themselves, on which notices of messing meetings could be put up. If you will do that and be proud of the fact that you really are getting a little democracy within your Army, I am absolutely convinced that you will get co-operation towards saving food in a way that is better than any other way.

Compare that picture with what happens to-day. Somebody says, "By the rules we must have a mess meeting tonight. Get the sergeant to detail two men to come to the meeting." So there is waste of food. I was at one time the N.C.O. in charge distributing publications to officers and sergeants. Believe me, we could save tons of paper on publications without the loss of any vital information to any officer or sergeant if we were to use the peace-time practice which requires each set of ranks to have a library in its possession until they are moved. I submit it is not necessary for each officer to have all these leaflets in his possession, and that all that is needed is that those who need to refer to the leaflets should have ready access to them. For example, I had to distribute 52 copies of a leaflet entitled "The Inspection, Care and Maintenance of Army Vehicles, Wheeled" to officers, sergeants and bombardiers in the battery. There was one copy for the officer who was in charge of transport, and 51 copies for other officers, sergeants and bombardiers who had nothing to do with transport; there were none whatever for the men who actually had to look after the vehicles. If the Secretary of State feels interested in this matter, and I could have an assurance that somebody really would take the matter up with the idea that it might be necessary to "bust" through the peace-time practice and save paper, I believe I could turn in for the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's consideration a detailed report which would effect a great saving.

To give another instance, it is not necessary to send round one copy per officer of the A.B.C.A. leaflets. It is not necessary to put five copies on the mess table, one for each officer; one copy for the officers' mess would be enough. There is a great deal of waste in the A.B.C.A. scheme at present. By this scheme we are trying to arouse the interest of the men, and whether we succeed or not will depend very largely upon the personality of those who give the lectures. We are not allowed to send out A.B.C.A. leaflets on the one subject which the men want to discuss—what is this country going to be like after the war, what will be its structure, what will be its economic shape? Would the Secretary of State like to co-operate with one or two people I could mention—including some Conservatives, of course—in drawing up a series of A.B.C.A. leaflets on what I think this country will be like after the war, what somebody else thinks—a variety of views? Let the men discuss that. [An HON. MEMBER: "Who would read the leaflets?"] From my experience when lecturers have come down to the unit, that is the subject the men want to discuss. I have seen this happen at lectures. There is a lecture on the Pacific Islands, for instance. At the end, the audience is asked, "Are there any questions?" There is a dead silence, and then, it may be, there is one question; but if somebody asks a question which relates that subject back to something which is happening in our own country, and what it is going to be like after the war, there is a discussion, and it is difficult to stop it.

With regard to the wastage of skill, I do not know how other hon. Members feel, but on reading the War Office's commentary on the Beveridge Report, I could not bring myself to believe that the Army would take such steps that if the Beveridge Committee investigate the matter in 12 months' time, they will not still find scores and scores of skilled men whose skill is not being used. I cannot but feel that this account, even when you make allowance for some of the things which the War Office added to the report, reveals a really alarming situation which needs something in the nature of a charge of dynamite to put right. How are you to get sufficient dynamic force to get these skilled men out of the jobs in which their skill is not being used? Of course, I understand the case of a man having to stand by in the event of his skill being made use of. I should pass the case where a commanding officer has a man in his unit standing by, providing he could show that the man knew he was standing by for the purpose and was being given some training for it, and that there were some tools in the unit which would enable him to use his skill in a situation which was reasonably liable to arise. In order to get the necessary drive to get these men out of jobs where their skill is useless, it will be necessary to put the onus on the commanding officer to push out of his unit all men whose skill he is unable to use. I consider that something like a Beveridge Committee investigation should take place every month, and that month by month examples should be considered, so that we could know how the matter was progressing. It should be known in the Army that if some committee found that a skilled man was not being used, it would be a very very bad day for the commanding officer.

I now wish to turn to an even bigger question, concerning the wastage of manpower. As yet I have not heard anyone make this point, which seems to me to be fundamental. In a recent Debate the Government's case was that, excluding our aid to Russia, which is only small in proportion to the total output of this country during the last two years, we were unable to maintain a fully-equipped Army in the field over and above our Forces in Libya. This was due to shipping and to production difficulties. If that is so, why are we taking any men out of industry in order to stand by in an unarmed Army? As I understand it, the decision as to the size of our Army, and our policy to call up our man-power, became operative in June last year. In June we did not know whether Russia would remain in the war, we had no Alliance with China, and we had no reason to suppose that America would come in. Therefore, it was probably a sound decision that we must have a vast Army, even if that meant that our output was going down, in order to get as many men as possible into the ranks, and that we must rely on the arsenal on the other side of the Atlantic for production. That may have been a perfectly sound decision then, but since then Russia has shown that it is not going to fade out of the war, we have become an Ally of China, and America has come in on our side with a promise of 3,500,000 men. Therefore, if that position was right in July, it must automatically be wrong now.

Has there been any change in regard to the size of the total Army, because it is absurd that the decision to-day is the same as the decision in July? If it really is the fact that it is because of shipping space and production problems that you cannot get more effective fighting units into the parts of the world where you want them, for goodness sake let the Army stop harrying and chivvying industry and agriculture to get more men into an Army which you cannot send anywhere because you have not production and shipping enough. It seems fantastic to be harrying and chivvying agriculture at a time when you have to put up the defence that because of shipping and production difficulties you cannot put any Army anywhere in the world except the one in Libya. The question is too big to be discussed on an Amendment, but I hope this big subject will be considered by the War Cabinet which we hope to have.

Mr. Richards (Wrexham)

I feel that I ought to apologise for detaining the House, because I realise that it is not at the end of a long day of this kind that we ought to be discussing in any detail, and with any effectiveness, a large question like waste in the Army. Waste and the Army seem to be always going together. The traditional Army way of doing things has been from time immemorial a wasteful way, and waste to-day is certainly not less than in former days. We all realise that the modern Army has always to be backed up by a very considerable body of people who are supplying it with munitions of war. I think it was stated by the Lord Chancellor, when Chancellor of the Exchequer, that it was estimated towards the end of the last war that behind every fighting man you must have, in munitions and industries of various kinds, between three and four men, and it is estimated that that number has doubled by this time. It seems to me then that that is the fundamental problem that is facing the country. We have only a limited personnel. The question that the War Cabinet has to settle is, What Army can they afford to have in view, of the fact that they must have behind every man in the Army, let us say six or eight to support him? We have proceeded on the other assumption. Let us get all the men we can into the Army, and even jeopardise certain industries in order to put men into khaki. It is the wrong way about entirely. We ought to be quite clear in our minds, not merely how many men we can have—we can have great numbers—but how many we can have to train and equip adequately. That is the fundamental fact about our position as an industrial nation that is attempting to wage a war of this magnitude.

In that very illuminating review that we had from the Secretary of State, I rather felt that he did less than justice to the Beveridge Report. It is symptomatic, and that is why people are so much concerned about it. I think the country very largely shares, without, of course, the detailed experience of the Beveridge Committee, the apprehensions that it put forward. It is a very common practice with statisticians and others to have what they call a fair sample. I think the Minister of Labour gave us good information occasionally when unemployment was very severe by testing periodically in various parts of the country who were really the men who were unemployed, for what period they were unemployed, and so on. It is a sample test. This is, as far as I can see, a rigidly carried out, scientific sample test of that kind, and it is clear to anyone who has read the Report that the Army does not come out of this well at all, and they are apprehensive as to the future conduct of the Army in this respect. They are not talking about the Army alone. They are concerned with the other Services. While they admit that it is rather easier to make use of technical skill in the other Services, they point out that the Army is far behind them in this respect. While we are struggling hard to equip our people, and taking skilled people from industry, it is most disquieting to feel that they are drafted into the Army and that their special skill is made no use of at all. I think that is a symptom of something that is fundamentally wrong with the Army, and people argue from indications of this kind, "Cannot there be some misfits at the other end of the Army?" I do not know what test we can apply to our generals, but, if the test of victory and success on the battlefield is the right one to apply, the Secretary of State himself admitted that we had nothing very much at present to boast of. We really must cut out all this waste. These men would be far better employed in supplying the Army than in attempting to become soldiers when they have none of the qualities to qualify them for becoming soldiers.

Mr. J. J. Davidson (Glasgow, Maryhill)

I cannot apologise for interposing at this late stage, because I feel that the Amendment is really worthy of much greater consideration than the House has seen fit to give it. I have taken part in the Army Estimates almost every year since I came here, having once upon a time served in a regiment to which the Prime Minister himself belonged, the only difference being that I was a full-time soldier and they did not let me go home whenever I wanted to. There is a point which I would like the Financial Secretary to bring before the Minister for his serious consideration. During the Debate to-day I asked the Minister, when he was giving a statement with regard to British troops who had been in action and the proportion of British casualties to Dominion casualties and other Services, to see that it received the greatest publicity in other countries. One or two Members, particularly the right hon. Baronet who sits below the Gangway, intervened and said, that of course that would be done. He must have had experience of the Government being alert about these particular things. The prestige of the British Army has been materially affected in other parts of the world by rumours, particularly in America, that our men were not taking their fair share in the war. Therefore, I trust that the figures which were submitted to-day will be handed over by the War Office to the Ministry of Information and published in every possible way, particularly in America. I want to have an assurance that that will be done, and that the participation of Great Britain and British troops in the war will be broadcast in every way. This is not a Debate on the general strategy of the Army—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Dennis Herbert)

I must remind the hon. Member that we are now on the Amendment, and he must keep to the terms of it.

Mr. Davidson

I was about to say that the Amendment deals with economy and waste, and I want to give one or two instances where I feel that economy could be made, waste eliminated, and a more contented feeling made to exist among the average soldiers. Can the Financial Secretary give us any real reason for the retention of brass buttons, numerals and cap badges in the British Army? What strategic value have brass buttons, which the soldier has to polish with his tooth brush with the help of "soldier's friend," paid for by the soldier? Would he not agree that the abolition of brass buttons, numerals and badges and the substitution of a cloth or dull button would save the Army much money, save the soldier a lot of irritation, and save the officers spending time on small trials when a man is brought up for being unclean on duty? It would eliminate a great amount of irritation in the Army. As one who has experienced parades for guard duty and even parades for confinement to barracks, I would ask the right hon. Gentleman or whatever Committee deals with it to get down to the question of clearing out the brass and giving the Army something reasonable in the way of a service uniform.

Captain McEwen (Berwick and Haddington)

Would not the abolition of all parades not remove a source of considerable irritation?

Mr. Davidson

Certainly not. As one who has served in the Army, I do not agree with that. There are many enjoyable parades, and I am only sorry that my hon. and gallant Friend who is in uniform does not share my enthusiasm. There is the pay parade; that is an enjoyable parade, and there is cookhouse parade. There are many parades in the Army which are enjoyable. I am not talking flippantly on this point, and I do not want it to go out that I believe that soldiers object to every little parade or to every restriction placed upon them, but they certainly do object to having continually to polish brass buttons, because that is a waste of time which could be more profitably employed.

Then I would ask the Financial Secretary to consider the question of officers' servants. Can he indicate even approximately the amount of labour that is being used in the Army through having men serving as batmen or officers' servants? Do those officers' servants receive a full training, or are they selected by the officer as being appropriate for himself and merely kept to the job of looking after one particular person? To-day, in a time of total warfare, when every man is needed, when output is restricted because of the lack of labour, the British Army should eliminate every wasteful element within it. I believe that the Financial Secretary, who was an officer in the Army, my hon. and gallant Friend opposite and most of the other officers I have seen in this House are perfectly capable of brushing their own boots, cleaning their own belts and uniforms and looking after themselves generally, and it would be better training for them if they did for themselves here, because then, when they went on active service, they would feel very much more self-reliant.

Next I wish to ask a question about the motor vehicles which are parked all over the country. My hon. Friend the Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn) referred to motor vehicles driven about by Army drivers, very often at excessive speeds. From the point of view of economy, I should like to know what steps are taken to inspect the huge numbers of motor cars and motor vehicles which are kept stationary for many months at a time, parked for use at some future date. Is there any system of inspecting these cars and their engines at regular times, or are they left there day after day and month after month in the hope that everything will be all right if they have to be used? A very great saving could be made by adequate inspection of those stationary motor-cars.

Reference has been made to square pegs in round holes. I do not want to go very deeply into that question but, while intelligence tests and tests for general alertness are very welcome indeed, I trust that we are not to have what I might call an intelligentsia Army. I hope we are to have an Army of fighting men whose time will not be wasted—and the nation's money be wasted—in giving them tests that will not make any difference to them in actual warfare. I trust that the tests will be successful but will not waste time and money in selection for Army posts. We can go rather too far in taking up time and wasting money in deciding whether a Man is fit for the Army or not. I had the case of a man who had been in a mental institution for 20 years. He had only been released for three months when he was called up, medically examined, passed Grade I, and taken into the Army. His case was sent to me, and when I asked for his release it was pointed out to me that he was very suitable and that he had already been promoted to the rank of corporal. Therefore, I say, we can go rather too far in trying to determine ability and fitness for the Army.

I feel, as did one of my hon. Friends, that the Secretary of State for War glossed over the Beveridge Report rather lightly and that his word of thanks for that report was rather insincere. The Beveridge Committee, as the Minister of Labour pointed out, carried out exhaustive inquiries. It had very great powers. It was not a committee that merely met a few commanding officers of certain units, but it carried out an exhaustive inquiry because there was deep dissatisfaction in the country. Therefore, the report which is the result of that committee's labours cannot be glossed over. Without specifically mentioning any of the recommendations, I trust that the War Office will be big enough and broad-minded enough to consider the report fully. The report is intended to assist the efficient building-up of a successful British Army, and I hope that the War Office will give it the consideration which it deserves.

Mr. Mathers (Linlithgow)

The process which we started earlier to-day of moving Mr. Speaker out of the Chair in order to go into Committee of Suppy has proved more difficult than moving hon. Members from some of these benches. We are now dealing with the Amendment, which must be disposed of before that process can be carried out. I am glad the Amendment is still before the House, because I would like to raise two very simple points that can be dealt with by the Financial Secretary to the War Office, who will be replying to this part of our discussion.

When the Joint Under-Secretary of State was speaking about methods of ensuring that suitable men were given an opportunity to become officers and obtain commissions in the Army, he caused me to realise that there was a certain position arising before the point at which he commenced to deal with the matter, namely, at the point where a recommendation is made by the officers of the man concerned, as to his suitability and as to the desirability of allowing him to be trained for a commission. I know that an actual wastage of resources is caused in the Army by the reluctance of certain officers to denude their particular unit of exceptionally good men, believing that thereby they would be reducing its general efficiency. In discussing this matter with a retired general, I have been assured that these officers, in trying in that way to maintain the efficiency of the units they command, are really standing in their own light, and are not serving their own best interests. They think they are, but they fail to do so because what gets an officer and a regiment commended for efficiency is the rapid outflow of capable, trained men, who prove themselves efficient and who prove that the training they have had in that particular unit has fitted them to become officers.

What I want to ask the Financial Secretary is whether there is any method of enabling a man who wishes to become an officer to have that opportunity, notwithstanding the reluctance of his commanding officer to recommend him for a commission because of the considerations I have mentioned. The Joint Under-Secretary did mention the fact that any man who has any grievance at all has the opportunity of appealing beyond his immediate superior to someone of higher rank, but I am sure that the War Office spokesmen here to-day will recognise how difficult a position of that kind might be in the particular circumstances I have cited, where an officer is reluctant to part with a man and thereby denies the Army the benefit of the full use of the human resources referred to in the Amendment we are discussing I would therefore like a few words from the Financial Secretary on that particular point.

The other point I wish to put concerns the waste of resources which arises by retaining men in the Army who could be much better employed in a civilian occupation. I am thinking more particularly of the quite considerable number of coal-miners in my constituency who, after being drafted into the Army, find themselves, because of their low category position, carrying on work that they consider to be of very little value indeed. I have taken up quite a number of these cases, and it has been more recently made quite clear to me that nothing is being done in connection with releasing such men for work in coalmines, notwithstanding the very strong pressure that has been put upon the mining community to produce as much coal as possible for the use of domestic and industrial consumers. May I ask whether it is still possible for the Secretary of State for War to deal with applications for release of that kind? I know I may be told that such an application requires to be backed by a Government Department. The Department closely concerned in this case is the Mines Department. It looks as if there has been such a bar laid down by the Army authorities regarding the release of men that the Secretary for Mines does not take it upon himself to make any recommendation of that kind. I would like to know for the information of my constituents what the position is in that regard.

Those are the two points I want to put. As I believe I am the last speaker on this side, I may be allowed to say that the Secretary of State may congratulate himself to-day upon the remarkable unanimity he finds in this House, and for the manner of acceptance of what I think is the very fine statement he made. I include the Joint Under-Secretary in my commendation. He certainly gave us an illuminating speech, and a very fair reply to the points which had been made up to the time he spoke. I am not saying that merely for the sake of complimenting and flattering the War Office spokesmen. I say it because here to-day we have discussed, in conditions of peace, and with a very large degree of harmony, the Service which, to a very great extent, is responsible for the fact that we are able, here in this country, to meet under these favourable conditions. I am sure it is the wish of everyone of us that we should, in this Debate, pay tribute to those who have stood between us and the danger that might have made our Debate absolutely impossible to-day.

The Financial Secretary to the War Office (Mr. Sandys)

This Debate, on what appeared in the first place to be a somewhat restricted Amendment, has ranged over an extremely wide field, hardly less wide than that of the main Debate. I shall not be able, I am afraid, to deal with all the points that have been raised. I can, however, assure hon. Members that they will all be fully considered either by the War Office or by the other Departments concerned.

Mr. Mathers

Does that mean that the Financial Secretary intends that we shall have a reply by letter if not by speech now?

Mr. Sandys

So far as the War Office is concerned, I will see that that is done. I will deal with the two points raised by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Mathers). He first of all mentioned the difficulty of getting commanding officers to yield up good candidates for commissions. I do not think that that is a very widespread complaint, but to some extent it is one that is always likely to exist. It is human nature not to like to part with a good man. I know myself how reluctant one is to part with a good N.C.O., a good instrument number, or some key soldier. You feel that the efficiency of your unit will suffer. It is easy to understand that commanding officers sometimes think first of that part of the Army for which they are personally responsible, before thinking of the needs of the Army as a whole. The War Office have this problem well in mind, and steps have been taken to deal with it. We have liaison officers attached to each command, whose responsibility it is to go round impressing on commanding officers their responsibility in this matter.

As regards the release of men from the Army for the mining industry, the military authorities are prepared to consider cases of release of this kind on receipt of an application backed by the Government Department concerned with the particular industry. There is no reason to suppose that if an application is so endorsed, it will not receive entirely sympathetic consideration from the War Office. The release of miners from the Army for mining work is a question of Cabinet policy, relating to man-power in the country as a whole. It is not considered that at present large-scale releases for this industry are required. The hon. Member for Maryhill (Mr. Davidson) raised the a question of batmen. The Regulations lay down that batmen shall be fully trained as soldiers before they are employed as batmen. A detailed statement on this subject was made quite recently, in answer to a Parliamentary Question; and I will send a copy of it to the hon. Member.

I would like to deal with a point which was raised by the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. E. Walkden) earlier in the Debate. He talked about "toy soldiers." He said that a very large number of soldiers are being released from military duties and granted prolonged periods of leave, to enable them to perform in music-halls or dance bands, for the entertainment of civilians. If that is so, it is a very serious matter; but I would like some substantiation from the hon. Member. The position is that a man on leave may in general do what he likes. Very often units have their own dance bands and entertainers. These may give performances near their stations in their spare time, provided that that does not interfere with their military duties. But the grant of special leave for musicians and actors—

Mr. E. Walkden

And comedians.

Mr. Sandys

—and comedians is entirely contrary to the Regulations. If the hon. Member will bring to my notice such cases, they will be gone into; and if the facts are proved, the question of disciplinary action against the officers who granted that leave will have to be considered.

Mr. Walkden

The evidence I have exhibited to-day accounts for at least 100 soldiers. There must be in this country at least a battalion doing this job every day of the week. Does the hon. Member mean that I must produce all this evidence? Cannot it be obtained by the Army Council forthwith?

Mr. Sandys

The hon. Member has made an allegation. If he knows of 100 men, it is reasonable to ask him to give me some means of tracing those cases.

Mr. Walkden

I will do it right away.

Mr. Sandys

Then we can perhaps trace other cases. We will go into the matter very thoroughly.

In the main, the Debate on the Amendment has divided itself into two parts: the question of the avoidance of waste of man-power, and the question of the avoidance of waste of material. Many speakers have stressed the importance of avoiding waste of skilled manpower, and of preventing square pegs being put into round holes. The Debate on the man-power aspect has centred very largely, as might have been expected, on the Beveridge Report. I propose, therefore, to say a few words on that subject. At the time that the Beveridge Committee was appointed last summer, the Army was in the middle of carrying out an extensive comb-out of skilled men, and this process was by no means complete when the Committee began its investigations. The results of this comb-out and of earlier efforts of the same kind have been by no means inconsiderable. Hundreds of thousands of men have been allotted to various types of skilled work within the Army. About 100,000 men who have shown some aptitude for skilled work have been trained at Army training establishments for work for which they were considered to be suitable. In addition to that, some 60,000 men, who possessed skill which could not be fully utilised within the framework of the Army, have been released for civilian industry. These results are by no means negligible, but the War Office would nevertheless be the first to recognise that there is still plenty of scope for effort and initiative in this direction. Much has been achieved, but a great deal more still remains to be done.

My hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) asked about the delay in the publication of the Report, and the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Horabin) suggested that this showed a lack of a sense of urgency on the part of the Government. The reason why this Report has not been published sooner is that it was felt that it would be more useful if it could be presented to the House with the considered views of the War Office on the issues raised. The Committee has recommended a number of important improvements in the machinery of the Army for finding and placing soldiers possessing civilian engineering skill. All these proposals, with the exception of two major changes, to which I will refer in a moment, have already been accepted and are in process of being put into effect.

The steps suggested by the Committee include improvements in trade testing, in technical training and in posting arrangements, the reviewing of Army establishments and the setting-up of Tradesmen's Interview Boards in each command. The Tradesmen's Interview Boards are already functioning and are doing well. A representative of the Beveridge Committee has been attending these boards recently and has reported extremely favourably upon them. In addition to that, as the House knows, the Committee made two recommendations for major changes in the structure of Army organisation. The first of these was the formation of a corps of mechanical engineers, that is to say, the concentrating into one organisation of all the skilled engineering resources of the Army. I think it is only fair—and I am not saying it in any petty sense—to the military authorities concerned to point out that this proposal originated with the War Office, who brought it to the notice of the Beveridge Committee. It is an attractive proposal and the reason why it was not adopted earlier is the numerous difficulties which so great a change in the middle of a war inevitably creates. However, I would say quite frankly that the attention paid to this question by the Beveridge Committee has undoubtedly stimulated the investigation which was already in progress on this matter, and the fact that the Beveridge Committee endorse this proposal will certainly carry weight in the deliberations of the Army Council on this problem. The reason why the consideration of this question has taken some time is because the commanders-in-chief overseas, including theatres where operations are proceeding at this moment, have necessarily had to be consulted before a balanced decision could be reached. There would be nothing easier than to form a corps of mechanical engineers in the United Kingdom only, but that would create confusion as soon as reinforcements were sent from this country overseas. Therefore, any such change would have to be introduced into the Army as a whole, in all theatres of war—

Mr. McNeil

I am looking for information on this subject. Would it not be possible to have a mechanised pool here and from it post specialist units overseas as required? There may be a perfectly good reply to this point, but if there is, I do not know it.

Mr. Sandys

I do not think that would help us very much. The problem in this country is not nearly so great. It would be extremely confusing if we were to have one organisation here at home and an entirely different organisation overseas. Reinforcements have to be sent from this country to individual units overseas. If it is a sound proposal, it is sound for all theatres, and if it is not, it is not sound for any theatre. There is very little doubt that if this proposal could be carried through, it would have great advantages. All we are concerned about at the moment is to see whether we can get round the difficulties. There are difficulties, and it is no good shirking them.

Mr. Davidson

Surely the hon. Gentleman recognises that you cannot possibly pool your mechanised forces in one theatre of war. You have to pool them in the centre, which would be this country, and from the centre draft them to the various theatres where they are required.

Dr. Morgan

Cannot you bring them into line with the R.A.M.C.?

Mr. Sandys

Hon. Members need not think that we are not aware of the advantages which would be gained from this change or that we are not trying to find a way round the difficulties.

Mr. E. Walkden

It is not very convincing.

Mr. Sandys

The second proposal is enlistment into the Army as opposed to enlistment direct in a corps. This also is a proposal which was brought to the notice of the Beveridge Committee by the War Office. Undoubtedly, this change would greatly assist in finding skilled men and allocating them to appropriate employment before they get allocated to any particular arm of the Service. Our difficulty here is largely one of accommodation and overheads. Since the scheme would involve greatly increased demands for accommodation, it was decided, before adopting it for the Army as a whole, to carry out an experiment on a large scale with the existing accommodation available. This scheme is in fact being carried out in some seven training centres in this country. The results have been extremely encouraging, and I think I can say that it should be possible to reach a decision on this whole matter in the very near future.

The hon. Member for Greenock (Mr. McNeil) spoke about the Royal Engineer units, which are dealt with at some length in the Beveridge Report. The problem is whether these skilled men in the Royal Engineer units could be more fully employed. It is not possible to apply to soldiers in field units the standards which one would apply to engineers and skilled workers in industrial factories. I ask the House to realise that the Royal Engineers are essentially an emergency service, much like a fire brigade. One does not consider that, if firemen are not putting out fires all day long and every day, they are not being usefully employed. The same is true with the Royal Engineers. They are an emergency service which has to be ready to perform strenuous work of extremely varied kinds during the period of the battle. What is more, it must not be forgotten that they are soldiers as well as mechanics. We cannot afford to have any passengers in the Army; nor can we afford to have men who need other men to look after them. Royal Engineers may have to be working right in the forefront of the battle, repairing a bridge which has been demolished by the retreating enemy, or demolishing a bridge after the rearguard of our own troops has passed over. They are essentially soldiers as well as mechanics. That means that they have to do military training, and while they are doing that, obviously they cannot be employed at their trade.

The hon. Member for Greenock also asked whether the setback which we have suffered in Libya was due to a faulty use of our skilled engineers in that theatre. The Beveridge Committee tended to recommend that our skilled engineers should as far as possible be kept in workshops in the rear. It is too early yet to judge the lessons which are to be learned from the campaign in Libya, but one thing, I think, is certain, and that is that such successes as General Rommel's army has had in that theatre have been due in very large measure to the excellence and rapidity of his repair organisation. The efficiency of that organisation has, in turn, been due principally to the fact that the mobile repair units have been brought right up to the very forefront of the battle. Therefore, I feel that we cannot, at any rate in the light of present experience, contemplate withdrawing our skilled mechanics any further to the rear. The tendency must be to consider whether we cannot push them further forward. Tanks, guns and other equipment, if they are to be of value, must be kept in action during the battle, by repairs on the spot. It will therefore be seen that, with certain reservations on the question of the interviews which are dealt with in the War Office statement attached to the report, we are in general agreement with the recommendations and the general conclusions of the Beveridge Committee. Most of these recommendations, as I have explained, have already been put into effect. We are grateful to the Committee, as my right hon. and gallant Friend made quite clear, for their work. It has been useful to us, and it has undoubtedly stimulated thought and has directed attention to these important problems. It has certainly had a beneficial effect. We are therefore indebted to them for the work they have done, and look forward to further fruitful co-operation with them in the future.

I have spoken about man-power, and now I wish to turn to the other side of the picture, that is to say, the question of the conservation of our material resources. The hon. Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn) asked what the Controller-General of Economy had been doing, and whether he had achieved any success. The function of the Controller is to ensure the fullest measure of economy throughout the Army consistent with military efficiency, and I hope that I may show to the House that the results achieved have fully justified the setting-up of this new branch, which was announced by my right hon. and gallant Friend in his speech on the Army Estimates a year ago. There is no doubt that the most fruitful field for economy is to be found in the direct method of cutting down requirements. Persistent efforts are being made by the War Office to reduce the quantity and quality of our demands upon the nation's resources. A special committee continuously reviews the scales of unit equipment, and, wherever possible, effects reductions in the authorised scales. Very considerable savings have, in fact, been secured by this method. The soldier has, I think, learned that the output of industry is not unlimited. He knows from experience what it means to be short of equipment in battle, and he realises that any unessential article which he asks for can only be obtained at the cost of something else of which the Army may be in far greater need. In this spirit the War Office has been persistently scrutinising its demands upon industry with the object of eliminating all unessentials. While we recognise that there is scope for further efforts in this direction, substantial economies have undoubtedly been achieved.

I have spoken of the saving of industrial effort effected by this process of reviewing and cutting down our requirements. The other half of the picture is the avoidance of waste, that is to say, the squeezing of every ounce of value out of the materials and equipment that we use. In many fields it is possible to achieve action just by issuing orders. To induce economy is unfortunately a more difficult matter. You cannot secure economy or the avoidance of waste, merely by the publication of an Army Council instruction or by a brisk word of command on parade. In the Army, as with the civilian population, economy and the avoidance of waste can only be achieved by the good will and the keen co-operation of the individual soldier. The War Office has, therefore, taken the view, I think rightly, that the most important thing in this matter is to create and foster a proper attitude of mind throughout the Army towards economy. The Controller-General and his staff have been preaching the gospel of economy by every means available, by inspections, lectures, broadcasts, films, posters, pamphlets and in many other ways. Nor have their efforts been confined to the United Kingdom. The Controller-General is at this moment on tour in the Middle East. The best way I can indicate the extent to which this campaign of economy has prospered is by giving some examples of the results achieved. Apart from the direct method of rationing, a reduction in the consumption of petrol has been achieved through a number of indirect means. Perhaps the most important is the introduction of the M.T. Maintenance day. This measure has not only reduced the consumption of petrol; it has also, by ensuring thorough and regular overhaul, greatly lengthened the life of the vehicles. In spite of the fact that during the second half of last year the number of Army vehicles increased by 17 per cent., the consumption of petrol during the same period actually fell by nearly 20 per cent.

I was asked what the War Office was doing to economise in rubber, in view of developments in the Far East. There is a War Office Standing Committee whose exclusive function it is to deal with this problem. A variety of measures have been taken. A very large proportion of the rubber requirements of the Army is in motor tyres, and a number of steps have been taken to effect economies in that field. Regulations have been issued to ensure that before tyres become too worn they are to be removed and sent away to be retreaded or remoulded. If through negligence the tyres wear out, disciplinary action is taken. Restrictions have also been imposed on long-distance deliveries of stores by road. In addition, the speed limit of all Army vehicles is now under review. Other steps have also been taken to cut down military requirements of rubber. For instance, the rubber content of the standard ground sheet has been reduced by one-third. Since every soldier in the Army has to be issued with a ground sheet, this will effect a considerable saving.

Economies have also been effected as a result of simplifications in the design of clothing. The hon. Member for Maryhill said there were too many buttons in the Army. I am glad to be able to tell him that it has been possible, without any loss of comfort or propriety, to reduce by six the number of buttons on the battle dress. The hon. Member for East Stirling complained that the cleaning of the respirator haversack had a deleterious effect. He said he had consulted experts, but I have also consulted experts on this subject. My experts give me a different answer from his. They tell me that cleaning does no harm to the respirator haversack, provided the proper cleaning material is used. In fact, cleaning is necessary in order to maintain and preserve the waterproof qualities of the material. The question of the saving of paper has been referred to by the hon. Member for Barnstaple (Sir R. Acland) who gave instances of alleged waste of publications. I will certainly go into those allegations and see whether any reduction can be effected in the direction he indicated. Continuous efforts are being made to reduce the amount of clerical work in the Army, and so indirectly to save paper. I will give one example. A simplified accounting system has been introduced into the Royal Army Service Corps Motor Transport Depots. This simplification has resulted in an economy of 20 per cent. in personnel, and the amount of paper saved each month, I am told, would be sufficient to cover six acres.

The hon. Member for Barnstaple spoke also about messing committees. He seems to have had unfortunate experience. It is laid down that every unit shall have its messing committee and that every man in the unit shall be free to send through representatives suggestions for consideration by that committee. In units in which I have served during this war we had lively, energetic and democratic messing committees, and many good suggestions were put forward and carried into effect. During the early part of the war we heard many shameful stories about the waste of food. The best indication of the improvement that has taken place is the fact that such complaints are now extremely rare.

I would like to mention in passing the achievements of the Army Agricultural Scheme. During 1941 units have themselves grown no less than 25,000,000 vegetable rations. This has resulted in the under-drawing of a corresponding number of Army rations from the N.A.A.F.I. But perhaps the greatest single factor in the saving of food is the general improvement in cooking and catering, and the better understanding of their duties by regimental messing officers. In this connection I should like to take the opportunity to acknowledge the debt which we owe to our late colleague, Sir Isidore Salmon, who as honorary adviser on catering, did so much to improve the standard of food management in the Army. The hon. Member for East Stirling said that the greatest waste is inefficiency. I have shown the House, I hope, that there has been economy, and economy on a steadily increasing scale. Much valuable material, much time, much labour, much factory capacity, much shipping space have been saved. The results achieved represent a considerable saving of the nation's resources. These results also, I think, provide encouraging evidence of a rising standard of discipline and efficiency throughout the Army.

Mr. Woodburn

In other times we should probably have been having a battle royal over these issues, but in these unhappy times, internationally, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Supply accordingly considered in Committee.

[Colonel CLIFTON BROWN in the Chair.]