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Orders of the Day — Government Contracts (Major Reid-Kellett).

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons on 2nd May 1940.

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Photo of Mr George Garro-Jones Mr George Garro-Jones , Aberdeen North

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman feels anxious about this matter. If he feels so concerned to rebut charges of corruption and dishonesty, why does he not assent here and now to an independent commission of inquiry to investigate the charges? What is the use of appointing one of his hon. and learned Friends to report to the Minister upon these charges? That is a travesty of aninquiry. If the hon. Gentleman feels so concerned to protect the reputation of these contractors against these charges, he has an easy way out, and I invite him to take it in the interest of his own reputation and of proper administration. What is the main object of this discussion? Here we are dealing with charges and with offences which are not susceptible of proof except by a most fortunate accumulation of circumstances. The desire to disclose maladministration and corruption is up against a tremendous" hushing up" power. The hon. Gentleman knows that as well as I do.

This is the case of an ex-officer of His Majesty's Forces who was awarded the Distinguished Service Order in the last war, and is a fellow member of that Order with the hon. Gentleman. He was also awarded the Military Cross. He held His Majesty's commission up to the rank of major. He is supported by fellow ex-officers—men who have also held His Majesty's commission. He has inter-viewed hon. Members of this House. My hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) has seen him, and I have seen him, and I am convinced, not, perhaps, of his 100 per cent. discretion—I admit that he may be a tactless individual—but I am convinced that he is a man of sincerity and courage. He has offered to produce witnesses to substantiate his charges. He has not been given an opportunity to produce those witnesses in court—not even to the hon. and learned Member deputed to conduct this inquiry. This House surely has some sort of reputation to maintain, and the hon. Gentleman will do himself small justice if he takes up the attitude that his sole duty is to protect the Department against a conviction of maladministration. I hope that, whatever happens, this ex-officer, who has rendered a definite service to the country and has done something which requires a tremendous amount of courage, will not be kicked out on to the streets as though he were a criminal.

I propose to read to the House the answer which was given to him when he produced these charges. I think the House ought to hear it, and I hope the House will support us in our demand that he should be reinstated, or at any rate that there should be an inquiry, and that if these charges are found to have some foundation, that he should be re-employed. It would certainly be to the advantage of the Government to re-employ him. What was his offence? His offence was that he put these matters in rather crude language. This is the letter which constituted his dismissal. It was written by the chief engineer of the Southern Command, referring to the complaint preferred by Major Reid-Kellett: It must be abundantly obvious that I am quite unable to forward Mr. Reid-Kellett's memorandum as written. While I am willing to believe that the writer is sincerely convinced that serious irregularities have occurred involving loss to the Exchequer, his method of presentation is so crude and unbalanced as to defeat its own object. Furthermore, it contains adverse criticism of his superior officers and is, in general, couched in terms wholly inadmissible in official correspondence. If Mr. Reid-Kellett desires to continue this correspondence, he must understand that his letters must conform to the standard of moderation and courtesy expected of Government employees. Moderation and courtesy are qualities which we all admire—but not when they are accompanied by failure to criticise maladministration and corruption. I do not hesitate to use that word, because on the facts which Major Reid-Kellett has put forward, I am satisfied that there has been gross corruption in the building of these camps, and if it is desired to rebut the charge, the obvious course is open. What are these technical regulations of the Civil Service? What do they avail against a man who is prepared to come forward and say, "I can show you how hundreds of thousands of pounds have been misspent."? As I say, I have seen Major Reid-Kellett. He has had painful experiences since the last war. He has been through a prolonged period of suffering, anxiety, and insecurity. Whose personality can stand against 20 years of terrible worry? Is it proposed to apply the same standard of courtesy and politeness to a man in that case? Under strain, men tend to become a little unbalanced, and a man of the world can make allowances for one whose conscience is, obviously, operating as this man's is, in the public interest. I do not propose to detain the House. I make an appeal to the hon. Gentleman opposite. Give this ex-officer a chance to substantiate his charges. If he is able to do so even in part, he will have done a service to the State, and he should be reinstated in employment under the War Office.