HL Deb 16 December 1929 vol 75 cc1270-3

My Lords, I beg to ask his Majesty's Government for comparative figures of the staff of the War Office in 1914 and 1929.


My Lords, I am glad to have this opportunity of correcting the figures which were given by the noble Earl, Lord Midleton, on a recent occasion when the staff of the War Office was under discussion in your Lordships' House. I had assumed that the noble Earl would take as the basis of his figures for 1014 those which were, I believe, supplied to him a year or so ago, and which have been given in answer to Questions in another place on more than one occasion, and that if he was in doubt as to the latest figures, or did not wish to use those for 1928, which were given in another place on February 11, 1929, he would have asked to be supplied by the War Office with the information. Unfortunately, he did not do so, and, speaking as I was immediately after him, I was unable to challenge his figures at the time. These figures were given considerable publicity by the Press, with the result that the public were misled, and the War Office staff which, as your Lordships know, is not in a position to defend itself, was unfairly criticised and attacked. In fairness to the War Office I trust the correct figures I am now about to give may receive equally wide publicity.

Lord Midleton stated that the Military Departments had increased from 660 to 903 and the Civil Department from 611 to 1,013—an increase in total from 1,271 to 1,916, or practically 50 per cent. If, as I gather, he has reckoned the Secretary of State and his staff and the typists and messengers who are common to the whole office as part of the Civil Department, the correct figures are as follow:—the Military Department, 741 in 1914, now 907; the Civil Department, 1,137 in 1914, now 1,391; and the present total staff of the War Office is thus 2,298 as compared with 1,878 in 1914; that is an increase of 22 per cent. and not 50 per cent. as the noble Earl said. Lord Midleton gave percentages of increase in the Secretariat, the Finance Department, the Contracts Department and the Local Audit Staff, varying from 65 per cent. to 72 per cent. The correct figures of increase are:—in the Secretariat, from 151 to 208, or 38 per cent.; in the Finance Department, from 243 to 303, or 25 per cent., and in the Contracts Department, from 56 to 78, or 39 per cent.; the Local Audit Staff is practically at pre-War strength.

Lord Midleton further stated that the figures of the War Office staff which he gave justified him in saying that the War Office came under the strictures of Sir Alan Anderson's Committee, an extract from whose Report he read in such a way as to convey the impression that the Report was an attack on the Civil Service, but the following two paragraphs, which I may perhaps be permitted to quote, put the matter in a very different light:— The increase in staff since 1914 is fully accounted for by the extra work which has been thrown on to the Civil Service since 1914, and the average individual output is certainly not less than in 1914. The immense increase in the Civil Service pay roll has been imposed on the taxpayer for reasons which commended themselves to various Parliaments before and since 1914, and the conclusion we reach is that no power except Parliament can materially reduce the load. As regards the War Office staff, as I mentioned in reply to Lord Midleton's Motion, the size of the staff at the War Office is not only subjected to constant Departmental scrutiny but, since the War, has been examined by seven different Committees of Inquiry, in addition to annual examination by the Public Accounts Committee and two investigations by the House of Commons Select Committee on Estimates. In conclusion, may I repeat the assurance that my right hon. friend the Secretary of State for War is making every effort to secure yet further economy, but his efforts are, if I may be allowed to say so, not in any way assisted by attacks, based on inaccurate data, which cast aspersions on a body of hard-working and conscientious public servants.


May I ask the noble Earl if the figures he has given are the figure of the actual staff to-day or the figures which were in the 1929 Estimates?


The 1929 Estimates.


My Lords, I do not propose to take up the time of your Lordships at this moment by rebutting any of the observations of the noble Earl the Under-Secretary of State for War, but I should like to be allowed to say that the figures which he has quoted do not in any way square with the figures which were published in the Estimates, and I would venture to say that after a whole month's incubation I think the War Office might have explained a little more clearly why it is that the figures to-day are not those which appeared in the Estimates. In one single matter I would like to refer to an observation made by the noble Earl. He said that the Committee who examined the War Department were satisfied that the average individual output was not less now than it was before the War. Well, I will give your Lordships one example which was brought up in another place last year, and has never been refuted, of the sort of individual output you may expect, and I would ask my noble friend to make a little inquiry into this point. In the Medals Department, which, of course, was enormously swollen by work after the War, there were, according to the Estimates last year, two officers and thirty-three other ranks at a cost of £5,000 a year. The number of medals issued was 28,500 and therefore each member of the staff was responsible for issuing three medals in the course of his day's work. I came to the conclusion that he must have had a tolerable adjournment for lunch in order to enable him to get through the day. I think if my noble friend would go into the individual output he would find the result much nearer my estimate than his.


My Lords, it is only with your permission that I can add anything to what I have already said, but if the noble Earl would like to have explained to him why his calculations went wrong I should certainly be glad to send him any information he would like. Generally speaking, it was in regard to copyists, surveyors, messengers and so on that he was wrong in his calculation.