Although the House recognises that it is not possible on the occasions of the Defence Estimates being presented to enter into elaborate discussion, as we might desire to do, nevertheless, we ought not to let these Estimates pass without bringing to the attention of the Secretary of State for War and the War Office certain internal matters affecting the Army. We are, however, limited in our Debate. Many of us would, of course, like to know something about the strategical aspects of the situation but, obviously, we cannot discuss matters which would be of considerable interest to the enemy. But I suggest there are matters of great importance to serving men and officers which this House ought to consider and to which the Secretary of State for War ought to give his sympathetic consideration, towards effecting some improvements in the conditions under which the Army is serving.
Before I come to these detailed aspects, I would like to say that I welcomed the remarks of the Secretary of State which he made on the last occasion when these Estimates were before the House that Lord Gort's Despatches would shortly be publish. Those members of the British Expeditionary Force who served under Lord Gort's command will welcome that statement, and, although reasons have been given in the past for not publishing these despatches, namely, that they might convey some information of use to the enemy, there is now being published a growing volume of books of reminiscences by members of that Force who are disclosing various events which took place during that campaign which must be known to the enemy, and, therefore, I think the publication of Lord Gort's Despatches will serve a very useful purpose and one in which the whole of the British Expeditionary Force will be interested. The Secretary of State could not say when these despatches will be published, but I hope that it will be very soon.
The first point I wish to bring before the House is the question of pay and allowances of all ranks. This was touched upon briefly by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for West Leeds (Major V. Adams) when the Estimates were previously before the House, and it is a very delicate subject. We know that those of us who advocate an increase of pay for the private soldier are asking for something which would be a burden upon the Treasury, but, nevertheless, I do not think that we ought to be stopped from advocating that increase merely because of that reason. It is evident to those of us who follow the public Press that large increases in pay are being granted to all ranks and trades now serving the country in the civilian sphere.
We know that fire-watchers, whose job is very similar to the job undertaken by members of the Army in so far as the risk is concerned, are demanding, and are often getting, quite large rates of pay for it. I do not wish to bring down the level of wages but to increase it in so far as it is commensurate with the public weal—but, nevertheless, I think that if we are going to allow these continued demands from civil industry, often working close to or even shoulder to shoulder with the soldier, then, unless we recompense the soldier to some extent, we shall create conditions which will cause some discontent in the ranks of the Army.
Consider the pay of the private soldier. He gets 2s. 6d. a day, and after six months' service, if he is proficient, he gets an extra 6d. per day war proficiency pay, that is, 21s. a week. I do not say that in the case of the single man that is not adequate. Naturally he would like more, and if we could afford it, we ought to pay more because his service is very arduous and often very dangerous, but in the case of married soldiers, I believe that the rates of pay and the allowances to the dependants, whether they be wives or mothers and fathers, are totally inadequate. At the present moment we have fixed scales laid down by Parliament. In addition, there is a Committee which is administered by the Minister of Pensions for granting some supplementary allowance in the case of dependants who can prove that they are in need of some additional allowance, and it is very disquieting to know that of the 300,000 or more cases which have come before the Hardship Committee one-third have been turned down. There is no doubt that a considerable proportion of that one-third has been turned down because of the application of the household means test which we are now in the process of partly eliminating in the case of those who are not connected with the Army.
I quite recognise that the Secretary of State for War has told the House that he is now considering an alteration of the circumstances under which the dependants of serving soldiers who apply to that Hardship Committee will get treatment somewhat similar to that which old age pensioners, and others who come before the Assistance Board will get when the Determination of Needs Bill is passed through Parliament. I welcome that statement, and I hope it will be effective, but whether it will or not, I suggest that the Secretary of State ought to look into the question of allowances to dependants of serving soldiers. With the liabilities which a wife, mother or father may have to continue while a husband or son is serving in the Army, I do not think the allowance is sufficient, and I hope we shall have an opportunity at no late date of considering the matter again. I may say, in passing, that I do not expect the Secretary of State to give me an elaborate answer to all the points I am putting before him to-day, but I do ask that the War Office should investigate these points which are brought before the House of Commons and not merely leave them to be filed until a Member, or a number of Members, or some of those serving in the Army, bring them to his notice in a forcible manner. The Secretary of State for War and the House must not forget that civilians have a powerful influence behind them when they make demands on this House or on industry for increases of pay. They have trade union organisations which at the present time are very powerful indeed, and all of us know that any representations by responsible trade union officials to-day are very carefully considered. In the Army there is nothing of that sort—and we do not ask for that—but, nevertheless, the Army should not be in a position of being, as it were, forgotten men merely because they have no organisation to represent their views.
It is interesting, on this question of pay and allowances, to note something which appeared in yesterday's "Daily Telegraph." It was a piece of news which was given out by a Swedish Member of Parliament who has just returned from Germany. Among other things he says this:
In cases where employés are serving with the colours their former employers are compelled to continue to pay 80 per cent. of the employe's earnings to his family.
That is happening in Germany. Many of us have dismissed the New Order in that country completely and—although I have not checked this information, I well believe it, from my knowledge of Germany—if 80 per cent. of civilian earnings are paid by employers in Germany to the dependants of serving soldiers, then I suggest
that the Secretary of State for War might consider introducing a little of that New Order into this country, although perhaps we might adopt different methods of enforcing it. The House knows that at the present time a number of employers do quite voluntarily make up a soldier's pay to his civilian earnings, and it is a matter of discontent, where one soldier is doing the same work as another, to find that he is getting considerably less pay through circumstances over which he has no control, namely, that he was either unemployed before he joined up or his employer is not sufficiently well off to make up his pay to what he earned in civilian life.
I would like to say something, quite briefly, about officers. I think the time has come when we ought to consider the position of the married officer under 30. The House probably knows that a married officer under that age, if he is a subaltern, gets 3s. a day marriage allowance, and I say that that bears very hardly on many young married officers who incurred serious liabilities while they were earning good salaries in civil life before joining up. Many of them were not called up; they voluntarily enlisted. Let us compare the marriage allowance for a subaltern officer under 30 with the marriage allowance of a private soldier. A private soldier's wife gets 18s. a week, while the subaltern's wife receives 21s. a week. There is a large discrepancy there, and I do know that many of these younger officers feel they are not being fairly treated. I can say this from the knowledge I have of these officers and the correspondence I receive. They are very reticent about voicing their grievances in the same way as a private soldier who does not always understand King's Regulations and, even if he does, has no hesitation in writing to a Member of Parliament or getting his wife to do so. The officer does hesitate to write in the same way to a Member of Parliament or to get somebody to place his views before the Secretary of State, but that does not mean to say that we should neglect his interests.
There is one other matter concerning officers, and that is the outfit allowance granted to newly commissioned officers. I think that at the moment it is £30. I was looking at the pass-book I had when I was promoted to commissioned rank in the last war, and I find that on 18th April, 1917, I was credited with £42 for outfit allowance. There is a big margin between the amount which was granted to me then and the amount which a subaltern receives in these days. Now, with the Purchase Tax superimposed on the charge made by those who make his kit, the newly commissioned officer cannot possibly equip himself properly on the money which is at present granted to him. If it were possible to put the officer on the same basis as other ranks and grant him a free kit, that might solve the problem, but so long as you allow officers to buy their clothes and equipment from a variety of private suppliers, who have a variety of charges, I think you ought to fix a sum which will not place them under a burden merely because they take the King's commission instead of remaining in the ranks.
There are a few points I wish to raise on the question of pay accounting. In the case of officers there has been a considerable improvement by centralising the accounts of officers at Manchester. There remains, however, the anomaly that an officer can draw his pay, either through the Army agents, or through his own private bank, or directly from the Command paymaster. The result is that when the question crops up—as it often does, though less frequently now than formerly—of an officer not having received his pay properly, and when the matter goes to the War Office, they have, first of all, to consider how that officer should be drawing his pay. Now that we are having standardisation and rationalisation in industry the War Office might consider whether it would not be well to insist on officers being credited with their pay through one channel only, instead of allowing the variations which now exist. It does not matter to the officer whether he gets his pay through the Army agents, which is probably the best method, or, through a private bank or through the Command paymaster, but for the sake of simplicity and the better working of the machinery, and in the interests of the War Office itself, it would be worth considering whether all officers' pay should not be issued from one source.
In the case of officers' allowances there is a different system. These come through the Command paymasters. The result is that when an officer is changing from one
Command to another there is delay and sometimes even confusion with regard to these allowances. Many officers live up to the hilt, as it were, of their pay and allowances. Many of them have no private resources and they want their allowances whether travelling allowances, or field allowances, or lodging, fuel and light allowances, paid quickly and on the nail. I suggest that some different method might be adopted, so that officers' allowances could be dealt with in the same way as officers' pay through one channel and not necessarily through the various Commands. As to the men's pay accounts, I have no hesitation in saying that there is considerable delay and confusion under the existing system. I wonder how many of the pay accounts of "other ranks"—N.C.O.'s and men—are really up to date. I had a letter the other day, only one of many on this subject, which said:
Ninety or more of our chaps, myself included, are notified that we are in debt, the amounts ranging from a few shillings to £15.
That sort of thing ought not to happen. Consider the case of a private soldier, who is making an allotment to his wife and who, possibly, has only 10s. 6d. left for himself, if he is confronted with a piece of paper, which has come down from the regimental paymaster, telling him that he is in debt to the extent of £15. Away goes the best part of his pay for many weeks. This matter has been complicated by the accounts of the British Expeditionary Force in France, but the system adopted by the regimental paymasters is, in any case, I submit, hopelessly out of date. The unit, whether it is a battery, squadron or a battalion is more or less self-contained for operational purposes, but when it comes to the question of pay, there is a pay clerk, an N.C.O. in that unit and in his hands is left the whole question of the pay of that unit. Over him there is the regimental paymaster and when any question of pay arises the matter has to be sent through the usual channels to the paymaster, and it may be six weeks before a reply is received showing the state of a man's account. I was speaking recently to a battery commander who brought his battery back from France and he told me that when he got the accounts from the regimental paymaster they almost caused a riot among the men,
and he had to send officers to the regimental paymaster's office to straighten things out.
The method of accountancy could be improved in various ways. I do not propose to take up the time of the House by going into that question now, but I would put this point to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman. Commanding officers have quite enough to do in the training of their men, especially in these days when training is so rigorous. All these jobs connected with pay and welfare and the rest of it which are imposed on commanding officers and for which only limited facilities are at their disposal, are interfering to a certain extent with training. I believe it would be possible to relieve commanding officers of many of these duties. In the days of the Crimean War or the Boer War the commanding Officer was looked upon, so to speak, as a kind of father to his men, but if we are to move with the times, we should relieve the commanding officer of many of the responsibilities to which I have referred so that he can devote more attention to the training of the men. Speaking from my own knowledge of commanding officers, I feel sure that none of them would object to the responsibility for matters such as I have indicated, being taken off their shoulders. An hon. Member seated near me has reminded me of the circumstances which prevail in industry in regard to the payment of men. I will not take up time in going into that comparison, but I feel sure that if civilian workers found on a Friday that there was not in their pay envelopes what they regarded as sufficient, they would be very annoyed and would not hesitate to raise the question at the pay office. I suggest that these matters in relation to Army pay require examination.
I turn now to another question, namely, that of traffic control which has been brought prominently before the House by recent Questions and answers. Reference has been made to the rate of accidents to civilians, and I admit that that is a serious problem, but there is another aspect, namely, the operational side, which I would like to stress on this occasion. I saw something of this traffic difficulty while I was in France. It is true that in a retreat one cannot expect to have the same well-ordered arrangements for traffic as would be possible when an army is stationary or is advancing, but I think if one were to generalise about the reasons for the defeat of the Allied forces in France one could put one's finger on a vital spot in singling out the lack of control of traffic. I suggest that, apart from the question of damage to life and property, the right hon. Gentleman should look into this matter from the point of view of its operational importance. We should have a larger corps of mobile military police in order to control traffic. Accidents, I believe, are mainly caused not by large columns but by small groups and isolated vehicles charging about the country apparently with no idea of where they are going or how they are to get there. As one who served in France on the staff of a corps, I believe there is not enough supervision by both divisional and corps staff officers of the traffic problem and that more attention ought to be paid to it. Very elaborate movement tables are issued, but one can safely say that they are not always rigidly adhered to. Some improvement in this connection is possible.
We have heard little about the committee which was set up to inquire into the administration of the War Office. I would say in passing that it might be a good idea to bring back from the Forces some of those Members of Parliament who are now serving. They have acquired a large volume of experience and I would go so far as to say that at present quite a few of them are doing jobs which it is not necessary that they should be doing. The regimental officer is no doubt doing a good job of work, but many of the Members of Parliament who are now serving are doing purely administrative jobs that could be just as well done from the Army itself.
I am expressing my point of view, which is based on my experience in this war as well as in the last war. Some of the Members of Parliament who are now serving could be of more use to the Secretary of State if they were in the House or were co-opted on to a committee of the sort to which I have referred. I feel that much more centralization should be carried down from the higher formations to divisions and areas. I believe that too much power is kept up above instead of being decentralised down below. It may interest the House to know that the amount of money granted to a corps headquarters for the purpose of buying incidentals before proceeding overseas is £60. When one remembers that a corps headquarters controls from 70,000 to 75,000 troops, a grant of £60 for buying very essential incidentals that are not issued through the Ordnance is a very small amount. The attitude of the War Office is, and has been for many years past, not to trust the smaller formation commanders. I want to make a plea for a wider decentralisation of powers.
I should like in passing to make some remarks about the amounts paid to housewives when soldiers are billeted on them. Those rates were fixed on 31st March, 1939, before war broke out and before prices rose. I remember that even at that time some hon. Members voiced their apprehensions about the scale of rates, which I do not think have been increased since then, and which are 8d. for breakfast, 11d. for dinner, 3d. for tea, and 5d. for supper. If one compares these rates with the charges made by local authorities which have set up communal restaurants, one must agree that the housewives are not paid sufficient. If one wants to have a good dinner in a communal restaurant, one has to pay something like 9d. or 10d. These communal restaurants have the advantage of being highly organised, and do not do their catering on the small scale of the housewife. I believe that housewives willingly do their best for the soldiers and give them the best possible fare which they can provide out of their own resources, but it is not equitable to impose in this way on the generosity of the housewives. If soldiers are to be billeted on them, the housewives should be paid a fair price for feeding the soldiers. It is the job of the Army to feed the troops, and they should not throw that job on to the housewife.
I want to say a few words, without going into details, about Army welfare. At the present time, it is very scrappy, but it is growing up. In the main it has been left to voluntary organisations, which are doing their job very well indeed; and it is only recently that the War Office have made a grant to those voluntary organisations, a grant which is very small in comparison with the work that is being carried out by them. At the present time, N.A.A.F.I. are making huge profits. At the end of the last war the profits made by N.A.A.F.I. were distributed to various Army institutions, and the amount so divided was a very large one. Why not link up now the profits which N.A.A.F.I. make—and which are provided by the troops—with the welfare of the Army? Now is the time when the troops want the welfare, and it is now that these millions of soldiers should have the benefit of any profits that are being made by N.A.A.F.I. These profits should not be left to accumulate for distribution, apparently in some haphazard manner and according to how the War Office feel, after the war. In this connection I should welcome, as I think the House would—and as I know the Army would—a little more light on the subject of the profit-making capacities of N.A.A.F.I. The matter seems to be wrapped in mystery, and when it is a question of such a big organisation, a trading monopoly frequently given to the exclusion of private traders who probably could often do better than N.A.A.F.I., I think we ought to know more about the operations of this Institute.
I could bring before the House other matters which I believe are a source of trouble, confusion, grousing or grievance. At the present time the troops are first-class material. They are as good as any troops that we had from 1914 to 1918. There is this difference, that most of them have been called up instead of having volunteered, as they did at the outbreak of the last war, but that does not mean that they are not as good and willing soldiers as were the soldiers in the last war. They are willing because they believe that there was no alternative but to submit themselves voluntarily to Army discipline for the purpose of winning the war. But they have their grievances, and no amount of King's Regulations will stop them voicing their grievances. It is impossible for the commanding officer of the unit to deal with all of them. In his statement last week, the Secretary of State said that officers are told to assist their men as far as possible in welfare and social matters. What does this amount to? What instruction does the young officer get in finding his way through all these different matters which at times confuse even Members of Parliament? Probably they hear a couple of lectures on social welfare. It is impossible to expect an officer, in the course of his job of training his men, to deal with matters of this sort. That is why I bring these matters before the House, and that is why the House ought to consider them. They ought not to be neglected merely because there is no reference to them in the Press. I know how many letters are being received by the different welfare organisations in different parts of the country. Thousands of letters are sent to those organisations concerning matters of the sort I have brought to the attention of the House.
The Secretary of State had a very good reception when he introduced the Estimates. In spite of our feelings in bygone days, we want to give the right hon. and gallant Gentleman every opportunity of proving himself to be a first-class administrator of the War Office. We realise the difficulties in which he is working in war time conditions, we know the truth of the saying that one must not swop horses while crossing a stream, but I believe that many of the matters to which I have referred can be remedied, and it is on this basis that we shall judge the Secretary of State if he holds his position until the time when the Estimates are introduced next year.
I did not interrupt the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger), but he made a general speech on War Office matters, and, therefore, I think it right that I should remind the House that the practice which applies in Committee of Supply for a wide Debate on Vote A does not apply to the Report stage. On a previous occasion, at the request of hon. Members, Mr. Speaker expressly agreed that he would allow a general Debate on Vote A provided there was no Debate in Committee upon it, and provided that the House desired or assented to that course. On this occasion there has been no Debate in Committee on Vote A; and I have some reason to assume that it is with the general desire of the House that there should be a wide Debate on the Vote to-day. But I must point out to hon. Members that in future, strictly speaking, a Debate on any other matters than the numbers of men would be out of Order on the Report stage of Vote A.
I am glad that you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, have agreed to a wide Debate on this matter. May I say that it is particularly necessary, in view of the fact that we have no detailed Estimates which would give Members an opportunity of specifying the heads under which they are speaking? I think that the House will agree that you, Sir, have been very generous in your Ruling.
I think it will be generally agreed that one of the features of the speech of my right hon. and gallant Friend the Secretary of State for War was the lack of detailed information in it and the secrecy which necessarily he was bound to observe in a great many matters, especially matters strategical and tactical. I think that that is all to the good when we remember the lessons of the last war. Anyone who went through the last war, certainly anyone who went through it in the senior ranks, cannot fail to remember the stream of gossip which went backwards and forwards from home to France, and doubtless to other theatres of war. Some of us will remember that operations which were impending, about which we were told under the ban of the utmost secrecy, were freely discussed, and discussed not only in the Army but in civilian circles and in London as well. That lack of information is, I think, in every way warranted and justified, but it does not aid a Member who wishes, especially in a maiden speech, to offer any criticism, however friendly and however intelligent as he may think, on the Army Estimates; indeed it makes it difficult to offer any criticism at all.
Some things are talked about in a small way—I do not think they are very important—and I have heard from senior officers that there is a lack of trained staff officers. That is natural enough in a war in which the Army has been expanded many times, and in which new formations and new establishments have grown up almost like mushrooms in the night. When we started this war there were two staff colleges, a senior and a junior staff college, but I think I am right in saying that now we have only one. I should have thought that it would have been a wise policy not to decrease our staff colleges or staff training institutions, but rather to increase them, and to endeavour to give that modicum of training, which is necessary for an efficient staff officer, to a very much larger number of officers, and consequently to increase the value of the staff services. Another point is whether sufficient use is being made of retired officers with staff experience. I am well aware that this is an age in which there is not much use in the field for elderly officers, but, on the other hand, there are experienced officers who could give very good services in offices. A very large proportion of the staff in the United Kingdom, apart from the staff of formations, is in one way or another engaged in offices, and I should have thought it would be possible to employ some of the older, retired and experienced staff officers in office jobs, thus releasing younger, more active and, no doubt, more up-to-date officers for work in the field and in formations.
As far as general staff officers are concerned, it is, of ccourse, obvious that they must be trained and up to date. Among the administrative junior staff officers are many amateur soldiers who have joined the Army from business, and who have business experience. After all, an administrative staff officer has to be a business man, and I cannot help feeling that some of these men, if they had a short course of training, might in a short time make administrative staff officers in the A and Q branches. I believe that they could be made very efficient and that they could be brought to that state of efficiency in a comparatively short time. Various phases of training in the United Kingdom bring troops into very close contact with the civilian population and with civil organisations. I venture to say that in certain cases there might be more cooperation between the two and that better use might possibly be made of the troops than is the case at present. I would instance the case of the Royal Corps of Signals and the Post Office. The duty of the Royal Corps of Signals is to establish, maintain and work the communications of the Army, and it seems to me that they might be very usefully employed in taking some of the communication work, especially between areas, commands and static organisations of the Army, off the shoulders of the Post Office. It will be within the knowledge of hon. Members that in very many cases the Post Office is not providing a very good telephone service in war conditions, and that frequently, if any complaint is made, one is informed that the reason is that the Army make such high demands on the lines and on the exchanges and that consequently there is no possibility of giving a good service for civilians, whether private or business, or even local government; certainly that has been our experience in my county. If the Royal Corps of Signals were employed in establishing, maintaining and working the communications of commands and areas—possibly it might develop even to the formations which may move and are liable to be moved from stations—a good deal of work could be taken over from the Post Office; at the same time it would provide useful training for the troops in the legitimate work they will have to undertake.
Then there is the question of military driving. There has been a high rate of accidents in the working of military travelling on the roads. I cannot help thinking that, if the military traffic was made rather more amenable to the civil law and the civil police, some of the extra military police would be unnecessary. It seems to me that it is not merely a question of operations—and it is a question of operations—but it is a question very largely of discipline. There are far too many young drivers, recently no doubt civilian drivers, who when they get into a high-powered military vehicle think they are entitled to go at any speed they like, quite irrespective of speed limits, the rule of the road, civilian traffic or the civilian police. If the civil police were not only empowered but encouraged to check this military traffic, a great improvement might be effected, and a very much lower rate of accidents might be attributable to the Army.
I, too, welcome the announcement that Lord Gort's Despatches are to be published. I believe that publication is not only desirable from the point of view of the Army, because we know very little about the actual operations of the Army in France and Flanders last summer, but I think it is due to Lord Gort himself, who has never had any opportunity of stating the part that he played and convincing the public of the part that he played—and it was a great and a worthy part—in the operations of the Army, and in justice to the troops also, whose operations are very little known to the public and whose trials and difficulties are very often quite insufficiently appreciated.
I should like to say a word on the thorny question of the supply of officers to the Army. I should be the last to attempt to dogmatise on the qualities that are required or the sources from which officers should be drawn in an expansion such as we have recently gone through. We are at least fortunate that we have made a very much better start as regards the supply and training of officers than was made in the last war. We did not make the initial mistake, at any rate on anything like the same scale, of sending a great part of our potential officer material to be killed as inadequately trained private soldiers in the opening stages of the war, and we have learnt one further lesson—the establishment of the officer cadet training units. Those cadet training units did not begin to make their appearance until the very fag-end of the last war, when already so much potential officer material had been wasted and lost, but, properly handled, and with proper organisation, they should provide us with a trained cadre of officers.
The Secretary of State last week gave the impression—whether he meant to do so or not I am not certain—that the main and principal qualification for officers was education. Education is of very great importance—I should rather call it knowledge than education—but there certainly is one other qualification that is desirable, and that is character. I do not mean to suggest good character—that an officer must necessarily be merely sober, honest and respectable. I mean strong character, or perhaps it would be better to call it personality, for without that strong character and personality an officer cannot lead, command, control and look after the men under his charge as he ought to do. There are many other qualities and many variations of them, but I believe with those two main qualities of knowledge and character and a proper system of cadet training, we ought to go a very long way towards having a really fine body of officers. At the end of the last war we went through times when there was a shortage of officers, and each division was ordered to provide so many officer candidates per month. I and other divisional commanders protested. We said we could send 12 names but probably eight of them would never make useful and efficient officers, and I think we were nearly always right, but vacancies had to be filled somehow, and we had this somewhat ridiculous system. Now we have not to go through that. We have a real supply of potential officers, and if, as we have been told, and as I am sure is the case, there is discrimination as well as training in these officer cadet units, we ought to have a really efficient body of junior officers to lead the Army in whatever may lie before it. My right hon. Friend mentioned that officers must be fathers and brothers to their men. If they are to be fathers, they must be Victorian fathers who, while anxious for the welfare of their offspring, at the same time expected obedience, and most certainly in most cases got it, and expected respect, and in most cases got it, from their sons. If they are to be brothers, they must be very much older brothers who will stand no nonsense.
Another question is that of drafting and cross-posting between units. It has for many years past been, I was going to say, a fad of the Adjutant-General's Department of the War Office that a soldier was a soldier, and, provided he belonged to the same arm of the Service, it did not matter if you drafted him anywhere. That has been carried in some cases to excess. There is such a thing as esprit de corps, and it is a very valuable thing. If our Army had been started as an entirely new Army where there were no distinctions of any kind between the different regiments as to the parts of the country they came from, as to their previous services and as to their uniforms and badges, this system might have something to commend it. I freely concede that it has to be indulged in in difficult times where there have been high casualties and where possibly there is a shortage in one regiment which has to be made good from a surplus in another, but in a good many cases, and in the case, moreover, of Territorial units, there has been drafting and cross-posting almost from one end of the Kingdom to another. Our Regular battalions and regiments have their own traditions which are based on their existence as separate regiments, and they had them before the days of the Territorial system. The Territorial battalion bases itself to a great extent on its connection with the county regiment, but in other respects it looks only to its county. Its esprit de corps comes from its county. It has not the traditions of the old regiments of the line in the same way as its Regular brother has. Its county is the source of its esprit de corps and pride, and if you draft into it men from another county, possibly a distant county, who have no connection with it at all, that esprit de corps ceases, for the men of those drafts cannot be expected to share the feeling of esprit de corps of the Territorial battalion or unit as the case may be. I suggest that it would be worth a great effort, even if it needed an effort, which I hardly think it does, to overcome that system of drafting and cross-posting which has so long been dear to certain sections of staff officers.
One other point in connection with the Regular Army about which I should like to ask for an assurance from my right hon. and gallant Friend is that the question of demobilisation is being considered, not merely carefully, but that it is being considered by very competent persons who will avoid the terrible mistakes that were made over demobilisation at the end of the last war. When the Armistice came we had an Army which, in spite of all kinds of difficulties, was in good heart, it had a good spirit, it was generally well disciplined, and it was victorious. A very few weeks afterwards, after the various troubles over demobilisation had begun to come into play, we had an Army which was fading away and dissolving in indiscipline and discontent, all because the demobilisation scheme was one which possibly looked well on paper but which certainly did not work out in practice and did not ensure any kind of fairness between man and man in the ranks. No one is more aware of the dangers and difficulties that ensued than my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, When Secretary of State for War he saved the situation by arresting that demobilisation scheme and substituting a hastily improvised scheme, but a better and fairer and more sensible one. Without his intervention we might have had no Army with which to make the peace. I trust that there is already under consideration a demobilisation scheme which will avoid the terrible dangers and mistakes that were made at the end of the last war. It will have a tremendous bearing on the peace and on the civil population, as well as on what remains of the Army. It would be well that even now it should be pointed out that peace cannot mean immediate demobilisation, that there will have to be an Army which will ensure that the peace terms, whatever they may be, are such as we wish them to be and that they will be carried out, and that demobilisation, when it does come, will be fair both to the Army and to the men who compose it.
It is a great privilege to be allowed to follow such a distinguished Army officer in a Debate on the Report stage of the Army Estimates, and it is fitting that I should, in the name of the House as a whole, congratulate him most sincerely on the valuable maiden speech which he has delivered. We are fortunate in having as a Member of the House an hon. and gallant Gentleman who has had such a distinguished career in the Army, and I am sure that his contributions in future will be of great value to our Debates.
I would like to ask my right hon. and gallant Friend the Secretary of State one or two questions with regard to the Territorial Army. As I have understood it, from time to time we have been informed that the Territorial Army does not exist any longer, and yet I see in the Army Estimates under Vote 2 that there is a token Vote set aside for the continued administration of the Territorial Army. I would like to know whether the Director-General of the Territorial Army is an appointment which is still held, what that gentleman's functions are, and how the money is being expended. Before the Territorial Army was abolished there was a large department in the War Office to deal exclusively with it, with a Director-General, a Deputy-Director and various staff officers. It was their duty to act as a liaison between the Territorial Army associations in the counties and the War Office. As I see it, the only function which Territorial Army Associations have to-day is to administer the Home Guard. It is a duty which they do with great efficiency, but it is no longer connected with the Territorial Army in its administration or from any operational point of view. Perhaps my right hon. and gallant Friend will be good enough to tell us what the position is. This morning I had a constituent to see me and he showed me his calling-up papers. He was required to report to a Territorial unit of the Royal Corps of Signals. If the Territorial Army has ceased to exist and is part of the Regular Forces of the Crown, how does it come about that these various distinctions are made in administration? They can only add to the amount of paper which is passing from one command to another and to the War Office at a time when, I gather, it is the purpose of my right hon. and gallant Friend and the War Office to cut down administration as far as they can. If we are preserving on paper, and employing staff officers to administer it, an arm of the forces of the Crown which has been absorbed in the Regular Forces, it would appear to be an unnecessary waste of administration and time.
I would like also to raise the question of the Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes, and I venture to suggest that the time has come when the War Office must consider abolishing that organisation altogether and letting the War Office administration take it over. I know there are certain practical difficulties. Questions are continually being asked as to where the profit is going. I remember raising this question once, and I was informed that the profit which N.A.A.F.I. makes cannot be returned to the unit or to the soldier himself because such a large amount has to be reserved for E.N.S.A., for providing "movies" for the troops at home and abroad, for maintaining concert parties and the like. Therefore, it is difficult for them to refund to a unit the percentage of profits which they were able to return in the past. Certain practical difficulties also present themselves in connection with any expeditionary force, and I imagine they must be obtaining in the Far East at the present time. In England the organisation is known as N.A.A.F.I., but in the British Expeditionary Force it was known by a different name. The difficulties I refer to are very real and practical ones. Special ships have to be chartered to bring the N.A.A.F.I. stores to the expeditionary force, and when they get to the port of disembarkation it is a question of where the labour for unloading the ships is to come from. If civilian labour is not available a call is made on the Pioneer Corps, but then word comes down from higher authorities that Pioneers are not to be employed on duties connected with N.A.A.F.I. administration. Also, railway accommodation has to be provided at a time when there is a great demand upon goods trains for Army requirements as a whole.
Instance after instance of unnecessary overlapping and unnecessary dual expenditure on the part of N.A.A.F.I. and the Army occurs. I really think the situation would warrant inquiry being made into whether or not it is desirable for the Royal Army Service Corps, or another branch of the Army, to take over this duty, giving the troops the service they are getting at the present time and at the same time placing the employés under full military discipline. That is particularly necessary in an expeditionary force, because in some cases the employés are an embarrassment, as they unquestionably were in the retreat from Dunkirk. This change would also allow prices in the canteens to be reduced, and thus the soldier would get the benefit direct when making his purchases instead of some somewhat obscure return at a later stage, perhaps after the war, when he is no longer in the Army.
Then there is the question of the outfit allowance. It is perhaps a trivial point, but one of some importance to young officers who are being commissioned to-day. An hon. and gallant Member has already referred to it. In the last war there was an allowance of £42 10s., and on top of that a cap allowance which brought it up to £50. Now the rate is only £30, subject to a varying purchase tax of between 10 and 15 per cent., and it is not possible for a young officer to provide himself with all the kit which it is necessary for him to have in order to carry out his duties with efficiency, whether he is billeted in a house or whether he is in camp. There are one or two other points which I should have liked to raise, but other Members wish to speak and so I will leave matters there.
I wish to refer to one particular point concerning the suitability of certain classes of officers in the Army to perform the functions delegated to them. May I say in general that while we appreciate that the great bulk of commanding officers in the Army are excellent and admirable men, fully qualified to carry out their duties with the utmost efficiency, that does not apply in every case. I think it will not be denied that in a certain number of cases changes are desirable, and I would suggest to my right hon. Friend that we should have some independent means of reporting to him—whatever the system may be—as to the qualifications and suitability of certain commanding officers. No doubt that point has been engaging his attention, and I am sure it does need to be looked into seriously. The special point to which I am coming concerns certain inefficiency at the War Office and at command headquarters which results in a wastage of mechanised equipment and, in deed, a threat to the striking power of the Army owing to the, I will not say incompetency, because I do not like that word, but the inability of certain officers to perform their duties. They are in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps and the Royal Army Service Corps.
I am referring to certain officers betwixt and between, as it were, who have had most exemplary records in the past, but who are frequently "dug-outs." They had retired, but have been called back to their positions, and are really not capable, according to my information, of carrying out the highly technical jobs they are called upon to undertake. In those departments you have to be right up to date, with a knowledge of the very latest developments in engineering and the like, and their good record over 30 or 40 years in the past is not going to help them very much. These departments come under the Controller of Ordnance Services, the Director of Ordnance Services and the Director of Supplies and Transport, all of whom come under the Quartermaster-General. I understand that the Royal Army Service Corps is responsible for supplies of food, petrol and oil, and for all transport not belonging to any particular unit; also for the hiring of all vehicles required temporarily by the Army; and it has its own workshops, repairs its own equipment and trains its own drivers. The Royal Army Ordnance Corps has two sides. The larger and more general one is responsible for the issue of all stores such as clothing, equipment, guns, tanks, and transport. The issue of guns, tanks and transport comes under the Director of Ordnance Services (Weapons). There are large stores at various places. The smaller, but much more specialised side, comes under the Director of Ordnance Services (Engineering) and is responsible for the repair of all tanks, transport, guns, instruments and other equipment except that of the Royal Army Service Corps. Under each Director, who is a Major-General, are deputy-directors, who are brigadiers, and assistant-directors, who are colonels. I will not give the abbreviations of their rank, but they are known by initials.
Under the Director of Supplies and Transport many vehicle-hiring scandals have been and still are going on. I believe it is the case that there are instances of hirings going through several channels—the vehicle has been hired several times over, and the charge has been grossly in excess of what would have been justified. In some cases the charge has been so high that the capital cost of the vehicle hired has been more than paid for. The inefficiency and the discontent in some of the training centres for lorry drivers should also, I think, be the subject of an investigation. There seems to be considerable jealousy between the two sides. For a long time D.O.S.(W.) has managed to retain control by the appointment of senior officers from his branch, regardless of the fact that these elderly men often fail completely to understand the requirements of a modern mechanised Army through the fact that they have not had the experience, and really they cannot be expected to be able to do the work.
The D.O.S.(E) has been recently replaced by a civilian engineer, who was made a major-general for the purpose. I understand that he is doing very well and is a highly competent person. There is no criticism against him at all. He had to take over a very sorry state of affairs and I believe that he is tackling it with energy and imagination. His efforts are, however, much hampered by the sheer inability of many senior officers under him to carry out their work, and he does not seem able to shift them, where it might be desirable to do so. To meet the greatly increased requirements of the Service, many civilian engineers and technicians have been brought in as temporary officers, but, with few exceptions, they are only in junior posts, although some of them are able men with wide knowledge and experience of engineering requirements. Practically all the senior posts in the War Office and at Command headquarters are held by those elderly Regular officers, of exemplary life, who were either due for retirement or have been actually brought back from retirement. It would pay the War Office in many cases to retire such officers on full pay and replace them with younger men of more modern experience.
During a recent reshuffle, practically every chance of promotion for brigadier and full colonel was utilised for these elderly men, who have seen to it that the plums of the Service are kept in their hands while the bulk of the expert work is done by the temporary officers. This process is going on at the present time. No doubt these elderly men are very well versed in military procedure; in fact, many of them are so steeped in it that they cannot or will not depart from it to meet present conditions. They have had very little business experience such as the modern Army needs so much, and their technical knowledge is very limited. Most of them have not been accustomed for some time to a really hard day's work. The result is that temporary officers and some of the young and energetic Regular officers— there are many such, of course— are not only discouraged by having to work under people who really are not up to their jobs, but are seriously impeded in their efforts, because everything has to go through those superior officers, who frequently nullify the effects of the work of the younger men by their muddle, delay, and lack of understanding.
There is a good deal of overlapping and jealously among the senior officers, particularly the D.O.S.(W.), the D.S.T. and a recently formed branch known as Q.(O.), with the result that it often takes many weeks to obtain decisions even on relatively minor points, and much careful work on the part of juniors is often wasted by changes of policy. The generals and brigadiers spend a good deal of their time at meetings and conferences, which seldom seem to get down to hard facts and are frequently abortive. Even when useful decisions are reached, it is often with the utmost difficulty that the juniors are able to put these decisions into effect, because the seniors are in many cases incapable of understanding or even of remembering exactly what took place at the meetings. The minutes of these meetings are sometimes not produced for weeks afterwards, and frequently they are then incorrect, so that the junior officers, who are usually excluded from such conferences, have to unravel the muddle as best they can, and they often spend several weeks sorting out a job which they could have done in a few days, and done much better, if they had had first-hand knowledge of what was going on.
Take one recent instance. An important War Office policy letter, produced by senior officers after several weeks of discussion, was not only inaccurate in most of the detail but was in such a muddle that no one could understand it. The whole job was eventually handed over to a junior temporary officer, who had to begin all over again and issue further instructions cancelling the original ones. He did this in less than a week, without having been admitted to any of the previous discussions. None the less, the same senior officer signed the second letter and took all the credit for it. Unnecessary alterations are often made, apparently merely for the purpose of asserting authority.
Let me sum up. It seems to me that this is a matter of grave urgency and that there should be a thorough and impartial investigation into the work of D.O.S.(W.), D.O.S.(E.), D.S.T. and D of M. (Director of Mechanisation—Ministry of Supply), and of the brigadiers and colonels serving under them at War Office and headquarters of Commands. The investigator would need the very best technical advice obtainable because the matter is highly technical. He would have to make very searching inquiries, since most of the officers concerned would naturally put up a very hard fight in order to retain their positions. They would do anything they could to conceal many other deficiencies from anyone who was not a most determined investigator, thoroughly understanding what he was about.
My right hon. Friend has shown great courage and quickness of decision in several matters which have already been brought to his notice. We look to him to show the same fearless attitude in any matter which requires consideration. From information which has been given to me— obviously I speak only from such information— a situation exists which should be gone into in the national interest and cleared up. I ask my right hon. Friend to give the problem most careful attention, bearing in mind that any such investigation will require to be done by some highly competent person assisted by those who understand the very intricate and technical problems involved.
I would like to lay before the House a few problems in which I am interested, but without any trimmings or garnishings, because I know how short we are of time. I would pay a tribute, first, to the very excellent speech of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War in opening the Debate. I am one of his constituents and, if he likes to make a mental note of this, I can assure him that there will be no need for him to canvas me at the next election.
My first point I believe to be of great urgency. When my right hon. Friend was giving us an account of the activities of our troops in North Africa, he referred to what he called armoured division cannibalism. This I took to mean that, when certain tanks broke down or got into difficulties, they were mended from tanks which had come to grief in action. I do not wish to discountenance the quickness of action of our men in that theatre of war but I hope the War Office does not consider this rather barbaric form of proceeding to be the whole answer to the question. It would look at the present moment as though, in fact, it were practically impossible to get a spare part for armoured vehicles of any sort in the Army. I feel justified in bringing up this matter because I am certain that it is not because we cannot produce these parts; we are, in fact, producing them and turning them into vehicles. We are now trying to fulfil what the Secretary of State said in his opening speech, and putting the finishing polishes to our training. At the same time, we hope that if Hitler and some of his gentlemen were to pay us a visit, we would not have to look to casualties for spare parts for our vehicles.
I could give a great many instances of how tanks have been three months or more off the road and incapable of use owing to the fact that they want some minor part, such as a cylinder head, a sprocket or a clutch which cannot be obtained. It seems to me that this is a problem of administration rather than one of production. Speaking for myself— and, therefore, this is in no way inspired —I would rather have three-quarters of my total establishment of vehicles and be certain that I could put them back into the field and batter the enemy once more with rapidity if they broke down in action. Perhaps I have said enough on this point to warrant the attention of the War Office to a matter in which I believe I am not a lone voice.
I now change to the rôle of a beggar and, I think, with a worthy cause. The hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) spoke about the question of officers' pay and allowances. Before I enter upon this part of my speech, I would say that I cannot agree with him on his point about Members of Parliament who are serving in the Forces being withdrawn in certain cases. A man who is fortunate enough to have been elected to this House and who is also serving in the Forces is in by far the best position to represent what I believe to be the most important part of the population— those who are in the striking Forces. You only have to go out for one day, and you are out of touch with what is going on. We young officers who are also serving in this House are in constant touch with what the men are doing and thinking, and with the whole general condition of the Army, Navy or Air Force, in whichever of them we are serving. Therefore, if there is a question of serving either in the House or in the Forces, we feel that an older man could serve in the House better than we could.
May I be allowed to interrupt the hon. Member? I quite agree that the younger officers, particularly the regimental officers, who are Members of Parliament, are doing an excellent job, but my remarks were mainly directed to some of the older Members who, as he knows, are not doing the same work as he is.
I appreciate the hon. Member's point, but I do not think that they are any good in this House either. When the Secretary of State told us what is expected from the modern subaltern in this citizens' Army, and when the hon. and gallant Member for Petersfield (Sir G. Jeffreys) told us how we had to be a Victorian father and an elder brother, neither of which I feel capable of being, I must say that my two "pips" began to fade away like ice in a furnace, and I felt a lance-corporal's stripe appearing on my arm. But I will say that the modern officer who is now being turned out is complying with what the Secretary of State was illustrating, and we are getting a most excellent type of officer, who is chosen, as the Secretary of State told us, from every walk of life, from every part of the country and from every trade or industry. I do not at all think, though, that the Minister meant that they were being chosen for their education. They are being chosen for their quality of leadership, and possibly for their quality of quickness in action, but for nothing else. These people have a tremendous responsibility, and they should be left without the domestic worries of having to support wives and families. These men who have given up their jobs and who are taking less salary now are, in many cases, living on their pay and are continuously worrying about their wives and families whom they have left behind.
I am not asking for more money in that I want more for the work I am doing, but from the point of view of the peace of mind of the officers. We get pay which is equivalent possibly to that of a civilian at the present time for digging up an aerodrome. What is his responsibility? Little more than seeing that his spade is full every time. I am not trying to say that he is not doing his job efficiently, but it seems to me that the young officers should be given more pay than they are receiving at the present time, or that the question of family allowances should be entirely revised. This old pre-war system of the over-30 and under-30 officer was all very well before the war, but officers who are married and under 30 cannot be prevented from coming in, and, in any case, it would not be right to try and stop them. I only wish that I myself were married. I feel that these men should have the peace of mind for which I am asking. I hope that my remarks, added to the others that have been made, may lead to some inquiry into the subject.
My final point is one which vexes me very much indeed. When referring to the Women's Auxiliary Territorial Service, the Minister said:
There are still great numbers of young women in this country who ought to join up." — [OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th March, 1941; col. 1060. Vol. 369.]
I entirely agree. But has the House thought that there are still in this country great numbers of men who ought to join up— young men like myself, capable, fit, with the muscle but without the will, men who are hiding behind the cloak of what are called reserved occupations? I could lay my hands on many such men, although I would prefer to lay my feet on them. I could give an example such as the man who calls himself a specialised ladies' corset cutter. Is it more important for us to lace up our female sex than to lace the enemy? Up and down the country there are men who should be joining the Colours before we make all our women into soldiers, sailors and airmen. Let us rout out these people and put them into the Forces. I know that the many difficulties which the Secretary of State has are almost Goliath difficulties, but I hope that the Secretary of State will deal with them with the same resolution, determination and success as his great namesake in the Bible.
The opinion has been expressed to me by responsible officers— and I shall rather follow on the line of the last speaker— that very many suitable N.C.O's. refuse to allow their names to go forward for commissions because of the financial difficulties involved, and because they are much better off in the rank in which they are serving than if they were to become junior subalterns. Obviously, I am in no way qualified to express any opinion on the subject, but if that is true, the Secretary of State would be well advised to reconsider the whole position with regard to junior officers' pay. When I asked my right hon. and gallant Friend the other day a question as to whether consideration was being given to officers' pay, having regard to the increases of pay which have been given to almost every other section of the community, I noticed with very great regret that his reply was to the effect that we were living in very hard times. I entirely agree with him, but it strikes me as a civilian, and it strikes a great many other civilians also, that pressure can always be put on the Treasury when encouragement is needed to persuade certain sections of the population to interest themselves in some particular form of service. I am not saying that the Treasury is not right. I entirely agree that conditions and wages should be satisfactory, but I think a reasonable balance ought to be maintained between the services and the civilian population.
I listened to the statement in the speech of the Ministry of Labour on the subject of men who are now and in the future joining or serving in Government training centres, and noticed that they were to start with a wage of £3 a week. These were men doing entirely new jobs; after trade tests, over a period, they are to be encouraged by being given an increase. I quite agree that we want first-class skilled men for our industrial machine, but it seems to me that although outside, before joining the services, there is all manner of pressure which can be brought to bear not only on the Ministry of Labour but also on the Treasury, once a man is in a Service there is very little opportunity for his particular section to bring pressure to bear through the usual channels, unless it is done in the House of Commons. I think the time has come when officers— I should prefer to say all officers, but I mean at any rate junior officers— should be encouraged by an increase of pay. There are very few methods open to them to put their case forcibly before the War Office and the country, and I am absolutely convinced that if such a step were taken, it would meet with the approval of the country as a whole. I am a member of the War Service Grants Committee— I say this because I have a feeling that my right hon. and gallant Friend, in replying to the last speaker, will draw attention to the existence of that Committee and say that it is possible to obtain additional allowances through it— but I would point out to my right hon. and gallant Friend that we are limited to a grant of £2 a week. That indeed is a very small amount in view of the type of case which has to be dealt with, and I think the time has now come when the Secretary of State should reconsider the whole position of junior officers' pay. I hope it will not be long before he can make an announcement which will be satisfactory not only to the officers but also to the country.
There is one other point I should like to raise. I am not certain that I shall meet with much success, but I am quite determined to raise it. I wish that on occasions it would be possible for the War Office to agree that they have made an error of judgment. I know of no Government Department which defends itself with such regularity. One quite recognises the tremendous task of the Secretary of State and the enormous problems involved in building up and expanding a large Army with a very small trained nucleus. We in the House of Commons and in the country are very human people, but it does not seem to matter to what inefficiency, what difficulty we draw the attention of the War Office, there is always a defence. Last night a friend of mine who is a very distinguished soldier told me of a very interesting incident. He had been asked to send up to the War Office the names of two volunteers to go to Egypt and also to make two recommendations for men to go to the Cadet Training Corps. In some quite unaccountable way the names got mixed up at the War Office, but, when it was pointed out, no representations were of any avail, and two men recommended for commissions were sent to Egypt while the two volunteers, who were anxious to go to Egypt, were trained as officers at the Cadet Training Corps.
That, to me, seems to be symptomatic, and as an illustration I would like to draw attention also to this point. I say this because I happen to be the Vice-Chairman of the Advisory Committee on Salvage at the Ministry of Supply. Looking back over a period, you will find that from the very early days when the question of waste food was raised, it has always been the privilege of the Secretary of State to say that all possible steps have been taken and that in effect there is no waste of food. Of course, one quite recognises that there is a great deal of exaggeration, and one also realises that a great effort is made in all directions by the responsible officers and non-commissioned officers to see that there is no waste of food. In spite of that, however, there is occasionally waste, but from the very inception, from the first time that this question was raised, we have always been assured that the organisation is so perfect that there could not possibly be any waste of food. As a member of the Committee I remember taking evidence from a responsible officer of the War Office who confirmed that view. Subsequently, another Departmental Committee on which all the Services were represented was set up under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham, and still the War Office said there was no waste. The other day, months afterwards, it was announced that it was necessary in the national interest to appoint some officer of high rank to look into and deal with this question of the waste of food. Surely it would have been more effective, and would have received very much more sympathy, if it had been possible in the early stages to point out that it was a very difficult question and that there was undoubtedly waste of food. We all knew it, the civilian population knew it, and if one talks to individual officers, they tell us of the difficulties they have.
I would like to inform the Secretary of State that I do not live in a nunnery. I go about the country a lot. This is a free country, and thank God for it; the people do talk, and a great many people talk "off the record." I know that in the War Office nobody ever expects an ordinary individual like myself ever to know anything, hear anything, see or meet anybody, or indeed to be informed on any subject, but as a matter of fact the ordinary, average man in the street and the ordinary, average Member of Parliament hear a very great deal. Sometimes we hear a great deal that the War Office wishes we did not hear, but it would be so much more helpful, and would make our task much easier—it would, I believe, make the organisation of the national effort so much easier— if occasionally it were possible for the War Office to admit that something had gone wrong, that a mistake had been made and that it would be rectified.
But that is not the case, even if it is merely a question of a woman's allowance having gone wrong. I remember another instance involving a court order in which I had to fight for six months to get the case settled. Finally by saying that I was going to put down a Parliamentary Question, giving the dates of my correspondence, a special answer was sent up from the War Office, the court was opened on Sunday, the records were examined and a duplicate of the court order obtained. The inference was— and rightly so—that the court order had been lost; and that, therefore, no allowance could be made to the separated wife. I want to pay a tribute to the staff at the War Office, because I know how tiresome I can be, and they always deal with me In the most kindly and courteous way, without grumbling. On this occasion, when I rang up, I spoke to an extremely kind and efficient secretary, who had handled my inquiries on this matter patiently for months. I remarked how interested I was to know that the court had been specially opened on Sunday for examination of the records. The harassed young man replied, "How unfortunate that you knew the court officer." I wish that the War Office would sometimes give one the real facts. I hope that when my right hon. and gallant Friend comes to reply he will be able to make some satisfactory statement on this point.
I want to draw attention to a practice that is causing indignation in the country. I am not bringing up a merely supposititious case. 1 have had four cases of this sort in the last six months. I must confess that when the first was brought to my notice I did not believe it. I rather doubt whether the House is aware that when a young man joins the Army and makes an allotment to his widowed mother, who gets the allowance supplemented by the War Office, immediately the young man gets promotion the extra pay that he receives is stopped from his mother's allowance. On the first case which came to my attention 1 wrote to the paymaster. I was told that it was all right: the Royal Warrant covered it. I came to the conclusion that this was our old friend the means test raising its ugly head again. These things are disquieting: they are the kind of pinpricks that cause trouble. I will quote from a letter which I received from a widow last week, and which contains facts which I do not think the House will like.
She states that her son enlisted voluntarily in February, 1940. Out of his pay of 17s. 6d. he allowed his mother 10s. 6d. —I should say that he is a son to be proud of. In addition to that, she received the supplementary allowance of 3s. 6d. This man fought in Norway, and has now received promotion which entitles him to another 6d. a day. His mother says:
Although in the meantime they have taken my other two sons, they have stopped the 3s. 6d., but they have sent the relieving officer around to me, and he has asked me for all particulars. I strongly refused to undergo a means test for 3s. 6d. I have had enough of the means test. My son saw service in Norway, and for the past eight months has been in Iceland. This will be very encouraging to him when he finds out. I wonder if he will think this is the type of justice he has volunteered to fight for. The Government made me their allowance when I had two other sons at home. They have taken the two sons, and stopped the 3s. 6d.
I have a letter indicating that there is a possibility of this question being reconsidered. I want to tell the Minister, quite frankly, that this is an injustice to the mother, and no credit to the country.
I intended to cover a number of points, but, as there are other Votes to come before us later, I do not intend to deal with all of them. As I was not fortunate enough to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, when my right hon. and gallant Friend introduced the Estimates, may I congratulate him upon an extremely able speech? I had some relationship with my right hon. and gallant Friend in a capacity in which one is not allowed to speak very much. We have always regarded him as a strong silent man, but he also has a great gift for exposition. He covered a great deal of ground in a speech which all of us enjoyed. I am very glad that the despatches of Lord Gort are to be published. I hope that they will cover all the period from the departure of the British Expeditionary Force to France up to the end. It is only fair to the Army that that should be done. Many questions have been asked, some of them, no doubt, owing to lack of knowledge; and we shall all be interested to read the report.
I would like to endorse what my hon. Friend the Member for Wallsend (Miss Ward) said about wastage in the Army. One hears a lot of rumours, many of them without foundation; but I have had in- formation about extraordinary instances of wastage in the Army in recent months, of which one must take notice. I am very glad that my right hon. and gallant Friend has appointed this major-general to go into the question. I do not quite know what authority that gentleman has. I will give only two instances, supplied to me by reputable informants whom I regard as quite trustworthy. One man tells me that, in order to transport a number of men in the Army a distance of seven miles every day, Army lorries come a distance of 30 miles each way. I believe that there are six Army lorries involved. The other case was to my mind very startling. A man who lives in Essex told me that some weeks ago he saw a lorry deposit on a dump four carcases of what appeared to be horses, but what on closer investigation proved to be actually carcases of meat which had been condemned as unfit for consumption. Now, that, at a time of meat scarcity, was a statement that could hardly be believed, and in order to go into the matter further I inquired of a second individual, who had seen the same sort of thing. I hope that it will not be possible for an incident of that sort to happen in the Army any longer, although, as I have said, this happened some weeks ago.
The main matter to which I have got up to call the attention of my right hon. and gallant Friend is the Question to which reference was made in a very able maiden speech by the hon. and gallant Member for the Petersfield division (Sir G. Jeffreys). It is the question of esprit de corps in the Army, and as one who represents a constituency of a small nation, I want to emphasise particularly how this affects Wales. Representations have been made to the War Office on this matter on more than one occasion. Very sympathetic consideration has been given and promises made. I am not quite sure whether my right hon. and gallant Friend is involved in this, but predecessors have indicated that as far as the Principality of Wales is concerned nationality would be regarded as a distinct principle and force. Are we not fighting for nationality and freedom in this war? I receive letters constantly from soldiers in Wales who have been transferred to units all over the United Kingdom right from the North of Scotland to the South of England. Is it not possible even now for the War Office to arrange matters in such a way that these Welsh boys can be together? If they cannot be together in the same county, surely, arrangements can be made so that Welsh units can be developed.
I received a letter only this morning from a Welsh lad somewhere in the North of Scotland who has not been able to visit his own little country for many months, although his associations and family are there. Why cannot he be with a unit in his own country? I am told that probably one of the difficulties is in connection with the original drafting of men into the Army. I do not know whether the placing officer of the Ministry of Labour has a form on which is contained an entry of the race of the individual, whether English, Irish or Welsh, but, if not, there should be such divisions. It ought to be easy to make arrangements for these men to be sent to an infantry corps or unit of their own nationality, if possible. With regard to the London Welsh Regiment, about which, I believe, a deputation may be going to see my right hon. and gallant Friend very soon, specific promises were given to me by the predecessor of my right hon. and gallant Friend of a definite Welsh unit.
The esprit de corps in the Army is a matter of great value. The principality of Wales to which I belong, has, compared with the rest of the British Isles, made a contribution which is higher than that of any other part of the British Isles in the volunteering of troops for the Army. Judging from my correspondence and the feeling expressed in the Principality there is a very distinct and a justifiable grievance that the War Office has not met them on this particular aspect of the question. I know that the predecessor of my right hon. and gallant Friend pointed out the difficulties but they are not insuperable, and I hope that before long my right hon. and gallant Friend will really send a practical message to Wales saying that he recognises Welsh nationality and their fighting capacity and will make every endeavour, in order to foster that spirit of esprit de corps and national feeling in the Army, to see that men from Wales are drafted as far as possible into Welsh units.
I want to raise two points with my right hon. and gallant Friend. The first is on the question of the requisitioning of properties. I do not desire to hark back to the difficulties that were experienced in the early days of requisitioning, but I am concerned solely with the properties that have been requisitioned and which are in use from time to time by successive units of various branches of the Army. A billet is taken over, and, as far as I can gather, as a welfare officer moving about in Essex, Cambridge and Suffolk, there is very little examination of such a billet between the change-over from unit to unit. All I can say from personal experience is that every time I visit a billet as a welfare officer I find it in a worse state of repair than it was on my previous visit. Nails are knocked into oak panels, valuable panelling which has been in the houses and properties for hundreds of years. A great deal of the property in these counties is what I would call lath and plaster property. Plaster is allowed to become damaged and is not repaired, roofing becomes damaged and water leaks into the building. Once plaster is damaged like that it has to be destroyed. There is the case of the plumbing of these properties. There are definite cases where, during two successive bad winters, pipes have burst owing to the water in many cases not having been turned off by the outgoing unit.
These may seem in themselves very small matters, but when they are dealt with in regard to the 100,000 properties which, my right hon. and gallant Friend explained, in his able and informative speech on the Estimates, to every word of which I listened most carefully, have been requisitioned, and when one realises that these properties are continually passing from unit to unit and are getting steadily worse, which is what I am anxious about, there seems to be a lack of responsibility on the part of the commanding officers concerned. I have had the honour to be a commanding officer, and I therefore feel some diffidence about laying responsibility upon commanding officers, but I do so unhesitatingly. I am quite confident that a great many soldiers at home, both officers and men, have no true regard for the value of property in this country. Their mentality is very largely the mentality of the soldier serving in a foreign land. They have no regard for the fact that they and their families will have to pay the bill for the damage which is being done by them. Lorries drive over private roads and drives and do an enormous amount of damage, and they drive over lawns and gardens with no attempt whatever being made to make good the damage. I have a sandpit on my own property, with drives and private roads, and I have suggested to sundry unit commanders who have been in occupation that they could usefully employ men, at some time when training was not very urgent, on mending roads. Nothing has been done. Prior to the war I spent a considerable sum of money upon these roads. This sort of thing is taking place all over the country, and I consider that my right hon. and gallant Friend and the War Office should tackle this matter very definitely, because the State will have to meet an enormous bill after the war, which, of course, means that the taxpayers will have to find the money.
The second point I want to make is that there is far too wide a disparity between the amount of meat and cheese and other necessaries available for the heavy industrial worker and that received by the serving soldier at home. I do not want to emphasise what is called the "pig bucket" or what we look upon as a considerable waste, but it must be wrong that a heavy industrial worker can get only 12 ozs. of meat per week at a cost of Is. 2d., while the serving soldier at home receives 42 ozs. per week. Up to a few weeks ago the soldier received 56 ozs. of meat per week. I cannot believe he is entitled to receive 3 ½ times as much as the heavy industrial worker. It is not common sense, and I ask my right hon. and gallant Friend to be so good as to give even greater attention to the matter than he has already done. In conclusion, I would like to say that we are very happy to have my right hon. and gallant Friend in this position. I wish him the best of luck and ask him to be kind enough to give his attention to the points I have mentioned.
I thought I heard the hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just sat down describe himself as an Army welfare officer, but it seems to me that the gist of his remarks formed a rather concentrated attack upon the Army rather than something which savoured of the Army's welfare. It is some considerable time since I have had the opportunity of addressing the House. Indeed, it is the first time since the present Minister was appointed to his high office, and I, too, would like to congratulate him. In the palmy days of peace I was one of those who always viewed him with a certain amount of resentment, because he was able to marshal his countless minions into the Lobby opposite to that in which I found myself. It was, therefore, with some pleasure that I found he had been transferred to the War Office—a pleasure because it took him from the position in which I had formerly viewed him with so much apprehension and, secondly, because I had always believed that his high qualities would adequately meet the needs of the high office he now holds.
I want to carry further the representations which I have made to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman during the past few weeks, during which he has been able to accomplish more for me than his predecessor. It concerns esprit de corps in the Army. I have here a publication, which came to me two days ago, and which is directed to officers of the Army. I do not propose to quote from it at any considerable length, because it is not desirable, but one paragraph which I will read will enable me to hinge thereon what I want to say. It is:
Outward bearing is the first index of discipline and esprit de corps. Officers and men must realise that they carry the badge of their regiment and that those who see them look upon them not as individuals but as representatives of the regiment whose mark they bear.
Those are very fine words, and in drawing attention to the Movement Control establishment of the Army I would like to say that it performs a duty which has received no publicity but which is almost unequalled in importance in the matter of maintaining supplies, the shipment overseas of supplies and the movement of personnel in sometimes not easy conditions. The establishment has not been recognised as a regiment at all. It is composed of men drawn from all regiments in the British Army, without any regard for their qualifications for the work which they have to perform. In my own establishment at the moment
there are three officers and 25 other ranks. These officers belong to two regiments, and the other ranks belong to 10 regiments. What esprit-de corps can one expect from such an organisation as that? We are enjoined to realise that we carry the mark of our regiment, but we belong to no regiment. We are a conglomeration of men drawn from all regiments of the British Army. I appeal to the Secretary of State to go further than he has gone already and to give to Movement Control troops some identity of which they can be proud, which will call forth from them some united responsibility and enable them to be proud of the regiment whose badge they wear. I have made representations on these lines, and a month ago the Secretary of State assured me that the other ranks embraced in this organisation would be transferred to the Corps of Royal Engineers. Nothing has yet happened.
I ask the right hon. and gallant Gentleman whether he will define what will be the position of the officers who remain? Are all the other ranks to be transferred to the Corps of Royal Engineers, and the officers still to belong to a number of regiments? That would not be good enough. There are officers belonging to the establishment at the London terminal stations who all seem to belong to the Brigade of Guards. I do not know why. In other parts of the country they are drawn from the artillery and the infantry, and some of them are engineers, while others carry what is commonly known in the Army as Cross and Blackwell's badge —that belong to that nebulous body called the General List. That is not good enough for men performing a job which calls for some degree of technical ability. I ask that they should be merged into some Corps of their own, or given the status of Royal Engineers. The singular thing is that if one of these officers, never mind whether he has had any technical training or whether he knows the remotest thing about moving anything, is sent overseas, he immediately becomes a member of the Corps of Royal Engineers; but a man having the best technical knowledge and doing a most important job on this side, ready and willing and liable for service overseas, is a member of the General List. This anomaly may seem to be a small thing to the House, but it is a big thing to the men concerned. In almost ever' telephone conversation I have with Command, somebody will ask me "How are things going on? When are we going to belong to someone"? I ask the Secretary of State to do something in this matter.
There is another matter to which I want to refer. I know that something has been done with regard to it, and I do not claim that this was due to representations which I made, although I did urge, in a speech in the House, that measures should be taken to ensure more security and secrecy in the movement of War Department stores and personnel. I know that my representations were not viewed too kindly at the War Office. When, some months afterwards, in a conversation with a higher officer, I ventured to make a suggestion in the interests of the security of movement of War Department stores in this country, I was told that I need not raise the matter in the House, and that it was receiving attention. My rejoinder was that if I did raise it in the House, the matter would be one of Privilege. Apparently there is some resentment felt when a serving Member raises something in the House.
However, in the interests of security, I ask that something more should be done to withhold information from the enemy. I can give, as an illustration, something that happened quite recently which will enable hon. Members to appreciate why I ask for still greater measures to be taken to avoid the disclosure of essential information to the general public. My illustration refers to arrangements for a move of some considerable importance not many weeks ago. It may have been a coincidence that these things happened in the sequence which they did, but is it not singular that a week before a large quantity of stores was assembled to be loaded into special trains, those stores were blitzed? Was it a pure coincidence that before one of those trainloads could arrive at the port, the port to which they were being sent for loading on to the ships was blitzed, and the ships bombed? Was it a pure coincidence that the personnel, when they moved a fortnight later to a totally different port, in a totally different part of the country, found that the ships on which they were to embark had been blitzed? There is still a considerable disclosure of essential information which becomes known far and wide. In movement work one finds that there are far too many people who know what moves are in progress. Last week, I stood at one of the biggest ordnance depots in this country, a depot which employs 10,000 men, the bulk of them civilian labour, and I saw at the side of a shed 15 cases of stores, eight of which bore in letters five inches high the location of eight ordnance depots in various parts of the world. I wish I had had a camera so that I could have photographed them—and risked the consequences—as evidence of the disclosure to every person who walked along the road of the exact location of large accumulations of stores for the British Army, not in this country, but from Iceland to Africa. We ought to have some better system of shipping our stores than making available to every docker and stevedore, every man who handles a package on the quayside, the ultimate destination of that package. Attempts are being made at codification. I know that one can codify too much and that if one does so, one creates difficulties in handling stores, but much more than is being done at present could be done to prevent the disclosure of essential information. I ask the Secretary of State to give his attention to this matter.
To revert to the Movement Control organisation, I ask the Secretary of State whether he will make some inquiry again into the question of the men who are being appointed to key positions in the organisation. The story that goes round among officers is that no officer will be appointed to any field officer rank, or higher, unless he is a Regular serving soldier. That story persists, and it is borne out by the appointments that have been made during the last 12 months. Each appointment that I have seen made has not been made with a view to selecting men who have the necessary technical qualifications to perform the job, but has been made because the men were Regular serving soldiers. In the last two appointments which I have in mind, the officers concerned have said to me quite frankly that they knew nothing at all about movement. In appointing officers to key positions in the Movement Control organisation, whose job it is to move War Department stores and personnel throughout the country, regard ought to be had to the necessary technical qualifications. That is not the case at present. There is room for considerable inquiry into the whole administration of the organisation. Probably it is the Cinderella of the Army. It has grown up, or rather it has drifted up, and I think it is time that an inquiry was held into the administration of this branch of the Army and that it was put on to some sound basis.
The hon. Member for East Wolver-hampton (Mr. Mander) made some comments concerning a certain corps and certain people in that corps. Far be it from me to criticise any corps to which I do not belong. It is my duty to work in liaison with the corps to which the hon. Member referred. One of the things which amazes me is the colossal number of officers who seem to have sprung to that corps during the past 12 months. In fact it is freely stated in the depot to which I belong that soon there will be more officers than privates and N.C.O.s. I think that the rapidity with which the officer strength of that corps is growing, and the rapidity with which men seem to climb in rank is something well worth inquiry. A very pertinent inquiry could also be made into the detailing of men for oversea duties and why volunteers are called for among officers to serve overseas. When the War Office is prepared to draft men overseas, why are not officers and men selected who are most suitable for the job of work to be done? In the corps to which I have referred, there floats around a circular asking which officers will volunteer for oversea duties. I saw the list after it had been round. This particular depot contains probably about 100 officers, and there were only four volunteers for oversea duties. I wish to ask what sort of: espri de corps can be expected among the men who are drafted for oversea duties when they know that only four officers are prepared to volunteer to go with them. The general comment among junior officers is that in the Army, if your face fits, you stay, and that if your face does not fit and they do not like the look of you, you automatically go overseas. It should be the responsibility of those who make up drafts to detail both officers and men, and to treat officers in the same way as men.
Much has been said about feeding and waste in the Army. But I should like to draw attention to the feeding of another branch of the Service, and that is in the Auxiliary Territorial Service. The Secretary of State for War, if he is so disposed, will be able to find out the group to which I am referring. As a result of numerous representations I have promised to bring the question of the feeding of some of the women in this Service to the notice of the Secretary of State. Many of these girls have come from very good homes, and all of them are accustomed to having much better food than they are getting at the present time. When I was called out in the early hours of the morning I went to a telephone exchange and had a chat with two A.T.S. operators on that exchange. I said to them, "When you go off at six o'clock in the morning, I suppose breakfast will be ready for you." "No, we shall not bother about it. We shall go to bed, because the breakfast is not worth eating," they told me. The food is there, but it is the cooking which is wrong. It is vital that these girls should be properly feed and looked after, more so perhaps than a soldier, because he can often help himself where a girl, in spite of her claim for equality, is not in the same privileged position. I ask that an inquiry should be made into the feeding of these girls in this depot, which I will indicate to the Secretary of State for War if he so desires.
I would ask him whether there is any code of discipline laid down by the A.T.S. which is applicable throughout the whole of the country. If so, is power given to local officers to impose restrictions upon their own particular people which do not apply to other units located 10 miles away? The complaint is made to me that a lot of irritating local restrictions are imposed on certain units which do not seem to be in conformity with the general practice. I should like to know whether there is a standard code laid down for the whole of the A.T.S. I apologise for keeping the House so long, but I hope that the Secretary of State will look into the points I have made, particularly those relating to the Movement Control organisation, its establishment, administration and its functions, and whether he will consider giving it an identity of its own.
I have no intention of delaying the Secretary of State for War replying to this Debate, but before he speaks I should like to add a few words in support of what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Denbigh (Sir H. Morris-Jones). He appealed to the Secretary of State to give opportunities for Welshmen to join Welsh units. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman's predecessors have told us and have given the promise that this would be done, but unfortunately in actual practice that has not been the case. I cannot see what the difficulties are. These men register in various towns in Wales, and there is always an officer present representing the War Office. Why is it not possible for that officer to assign the men who register to Welsh units? In the last war, I would remind the Secretary of State, we formed in Wales the Welsh Army Corps. It is true that at that time we had a system of voluntary enlistment, but it proves that the idea of Welshmen serving together was of fundamental importance. We were able to form the Welsh Army Corps and to keep supplying men to make up deficiencies as the time went on. We are not asking for anything more than was granted to us in the last war. I myself served in the Welsh Division in France, and our men came from various localities in Wales. They worked together and understood one another, and the officer? understood the men who were serving under them, with the result that there was, as my hon. Friend said, the most complete esprit de corps among the units forming that division and the Territorial division and the division we had here at home.
I appeal to my right hon. and gallant Friend to give instructions to these placing officers who act in conjunction with the Ministry of Labour at the various Employment Exchanges to help in placing Welshmen in Welsh units. I would ask a further favour from him, and that is that Welsh officers, after they have been trained and commissioned, should so far as is possible be assigned to Welsh units. I can assure him that the efficiency of these troops, the work they do, and their esprit de corps will be far better than at the present time. I have had many letters from serving soldiers on this subject. I have the case of a Welshman who has been put among Englishmen, Scotsmen and Irishmen. He is the only Welshman there and probably has an inadequate knowledge of the English language. One can realise how lonesome that man is. At the beginning of the war, and for some considerable time, there was no home defence unit in the Royal Welch Fusiliers, with the result that men who had served in the last war and were anxious to do what they could in this were sent, for example, to Newport and places of that kind. Their homes and families are in North Wales. Now we have a home defence unit attached to the Royal Welch Fusiliers. I have asked for the transfer of these men. back somewhere nearer their homes. Is that impossible? Can it not be done? It seems a very simple matter. There are quite a number of men attached to the home defence battalion of the South Wales Borderers at Anglesey, Carnarvon and other counties in the North. They are unable to see their families except on very rare occasions. I feel sure that there are plenty of other men who could take their place in the South Wales Borderers.
There is another point to which I should like to draw attention. There are several instances within my own knowledge where there appears to be a complete lack of policy with regard to the location of troops. I have a place in mind where it was thought necessary to have a company of a home defence battalion to guard it. Hutments were built and paths and roads made. Finally, it was decided that there should be a supply of water brought at considerable expense. The day the water scheme was completed it was decided to do away with the guard altogether. Within a mile or two of the same place there was an old mansion which had been unoccupied for several years. It was requisitioned by the military authority and was to be the headquarters of one of the newer battalions. The Post Office telephone engineers worked for weeks laying down new lines to the house and putting up a telephone exchange there. On the day they finished the exchange the troops were all taken away, and next day the telephone people started taking down the exchange again. Someone should have known that the place would not be used. All that expense was really unnecessary, as the place was never used for military purposes.
I have in mind, too, a camp on the erection of which a great deal of public money was spent. It was to be a permanent charge. The brigade was there for less than three months. The whole thing was scrapped, and now there is not a soldier anywhere near the place. There must be some sort of policy somewhere, in deciding where troops are to be stationed. We cannot have this sort of muddle going on all the time, involving the country in huge expense. I ask my right hon. and gallant Friend to try to get some sort of definite plan. We cannot afford to waste public money as we are doing.
I ask him to listen to pleas which are being put to him constantly in writing and by public authorities in Wales that he should pay regard to the country of origin, the nationality and the language of the men registering in Wales and, as far as possible, post them to Welsh units, where there is ample room for them. I know for a fact that many of our units have had men sent to them from Scotland and from the North of England, while plenty of our own men were being sent to regiments with which they had no connection whatever. The people of Wales and the serving soldiers will be grateful to him, and I feel sure that in the end it will prove of very great benefit to the Army itself.
I wish to draw attention to two points. One is the number of men who seem to be leaving the Army now as rejects after a very short period of service. The men are called up, pass the medical board and go into the Army and after three, four or six months are discharged on medical grounds, very often in such a state of health that they are not easily returnable to civilian life. This represents great wastage from the military point of view. These men are never really satisfactory soldiers. They never learn their job. I speak from my own experience in the last war. They are always unsatisfactory in their units because their heart is not in the job; they never feel really fit and they are always a disorganising element among the other men. That state of affairs becomes more difficult as time goes on. As we reach a higher age limit, there is a higher proportion of rejects. Cannot the right hon. and gallant Gentleman get in touch with the Ministry of Labour and see whether the proportion of rejects is not higher than it need be and whether it cannot be cut down?
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman, in his very moving and heartening survey of the military situation last week, made an interesting and important reference to the selection of officers. He gave us to understand—I have no doubt whatever that he had very good reasons for doing so—that the method which we now follow is the best that could be devised, but I am not altogether certain that that is so. I think the method by which we are selecting and training officers at present may be very good in the situation in which we find ourselves—a situation of static war in which the casualty list is very small and a sudden demand for a new influx into the junior ranks does not arise to any great extent. That does not mean, however, that this method will necessarily work very well if the Army as a whole is engaged in serious military operations and the loss of junior officers is severe. We on these benches feel strongly that it is very desirable that the net should be cast us widely as possible, from a social point of view, and that fresh blood should be brought into the Army. Unfortunately, it is impossible to cast the net as widely as we wish, because for educational reasons we get no boys from the elementary schools. We wish that valuable type of fellow who is accustomed to take responsibility very early in life, the sort of man of whom the Jesuit father spoke when he said, "Let me have him by the time he is seven, and I do not care who has him afterwards." It is a great misfortune that the elementary schoolboy is very often unsuited, for educational reasons, to the position of an officer. Apart from that, it is desirable to try and pick them as widely as possible and take in men from all classes of society.
Within this limitation it is important, when we are calling up a new citizen army from all sections of society in all parts of the country, that we should give them the best possible type of officer. I am not convinced that the numbers of officers whom we are commissioning are as necessary as we might suppose. I believe it would be possible to do with fewer officers and try to raise the type of man to whom a commission is given. In the last war my experience was that the best way of selecting an officer was to take a noncommissioned officer and make him a platoon sergeant in a platoon that had not got an officer and let the commanding officer examine the situation and see whether the fellow was fit for the kind of duties he would have to carry out as an officer. The trouble is that we do not necessarily get either in the Regular officer or the pre-war Territorial officer the best type of man for selecting new officers. He may be a very good officer himself, but he is not always good in selecting the types who will make good officers. Then, again, the officers' cadet training system of putting a man strictly and rigidly through a given course in order to train him for his duties as an officer is not, in many cases, the most successful way of picking out and preparing the ordinary fellow for the duties he will have to perform. Many people who do not show up well in a unit, show up very well when they have to do the job and take responsibility. It is important to get the right type of man, and I appeal to my right hon. and gallant Friend to consider whether he is certain that under the present system he is getting the best type of man, the man who is likely to carry responsibility and to display those qualities which an officer requires—qualities of being able, under modern conditions of warfare, to pull out the best that is in his men.
As my right hon. and gallant Friend reminded us last week, the Army of to-day and to-morrow depends enormously upon the individual efficiency, initiative, common sense and capacity of the ordinary man. When an army goes into action an officer has, of necessity, to abrogate a great part of the responsibility of leadership which he played in the past. He can no longer inspire and lead his men in battle for the simple reason that he may become a casualty himself, and the men cannot depend on the type of leadership on which the Army depended in the past. To-day we have to face a situation in which an officer's function is to call out those qualities in his men which will make them the most useful soldiers in the hour of emergency and battle. If we get that type of officer, we shall have something which will be of enormous value to us, when we find ourselves face to face with the emergency of a serious engagement. There are many other important elements in the equipment of an officer: he must be able to stand up to the enemy, he should know something about the civil background of the men he commands, and he should be able to stand up to the generals. If you include the higher command and general staff, that is an important part of the functions of an officer at the present day. I heard of a case of a divisional commander being fetched out of bed by a junior officer at 3 o'clock in the morning because his men had had no food for 24 hours and had been called upon to unload a train before they were fed. The officer went to the village where the divisional commander was, got him out of bed and told him what the situation was. That is the type of man we want. I would suggest to the Prime Minister, who is interested in the moral factor in war, that he should consider the introduction of a new decoration—perhaps the Churchill Cross— to be given as a reward for gallantry in the face of the higher command. A great deal of encouragement is required for the young officer to-day which he does not get, but more important than giving encouragement is to get the right type of man. I would like to say a word with reference to the Air Force and Air Force research.
I should like to congratulate the Secretary of State on the fact that the grievances which have been brought out today have, relatively speaking, been of a minor character. I rise, as a serving officer, to call attention to what I believe are two of the greatest menaces which my right hon. and gallant Friend has to face. The first is the continual increase of paper. From the point of view of the efficiency of the Army, it is undeniable that the tendency in all Departments of Government is to increase the amount of paper circulated, and I do not think it is conducive to efficiency. From the point of view of the officer commanding the unit, this tendency means that officers have less time to attend to training. I would ask my right hon. and gallant Friend to stop the multiplication of files as far as possible and to see that officers commanding units are relieved from administrative work. It works through the Army right down to the company commander and even beyond, and administrative work is taking up more and more time. The Army could well take a leaf out of the book of the Navy where the executive officers are relieved of an enormous amount of administrative work.
I beg my right hon. and gallant Friend to keep an eye on the age of senior officers. Astounding successes have been gained by the German Army. The hall mark of the German Army more than anything else is that the average German leader is young. I do not know the average age of the divisional commanders in the British Army, but I am convinced that it is greater than that of our divisional commanders at the end of the last war. I would remind my right hon. and gallant Friend that the problem he is faced with now is not the problem of waging a war with an army but of creating an army under what I may, without very much exaggeration, call peace conditions. In this part of the world, at all events, the Army is not at war, and creating an army under these semi-peace conditions is quite a different thing from using an army in actual war. One would lose a hell of a lot, if I may put it like that, if one dismissed large numbers of officers solely on the score of age, but equally one would save a hell of a lot of blunders when it comes to actual fighting. I do beg my right hon. Friend to keep his eye on that side of the efficiency of the Army. I am not a professional soldier myself, and never have been, but my candid opinion is that there is a vast reservoir of ability in the officers of the middle ranks of the Army, the brigadiers and colonels and majors. I hope that my right hon. and gallant Friend will bear in mind, when it comes to actual fighting, that in the long run elderly general officers will not stand up to the physical conditions; that to-day ability is found just as much in the middle ranks as in the senior ranks and that, speaking generally, the confidence of the troops is placed more willingly and more whole-heartedly in young commanders than in elderly commanders.
I wish to submit a few points which I hope will receive the consideration of the Minister. The first point, which has already been dealt with by an hon. Member from this side, is concerned with the action of the Army authorities in throwing young men out of the Army only a few months after they have been taken into it and with their condition when they leave. I am continually getting letters from constituents on this point. It would appear that there is no adequate examination of these men on joining the Army, and that the authorities do not make use of their services in a way which would avoid seriously worsening any defects which may have existed previously. I had a letter the other day, and I have written to the Minister about it, concerning a lad who has become a complete cripple as a result of several months' service in the Army. At the time he was taken into the Army he was suffering from a certain defect, but, without any consideration for his condition, he was put through all the ordinary routine and now he is a cripple for life. That kind of thing ought to be avoided. There is another point to which I would direct attention. To-day I received a letter signed by four soldiers. They were in a convoy and got drenched to the skin and were shivering with cold. They went into a cafe to get a cup of tea to warm them, but the manager turned them out, saying he served only officers. The War Office must see that that does not happen.
Another point I wish to make is that it is of the greatest importance that soldiers should be given political education. I have sent a letter to the Minister, but he did not reply to me, or if he replied I did not receive it. I went to speak recently at Llanelly, and a large number of soldiers and airmen were there, but there was a sergeant and two "red-caps" at the door to keep the soldiers out of the meeting. On whose authority? Every soldier who came to the meeting was stopped and turned back. Let me tell the Minister something that may astonish him and other Members of this House. I am prepared to say that, if an examination could be made and statistics produced, a greater proportion of young Communists would be found qualified as officers than members of any other party or association. It is not known to their immediate superiors that they are young Communists, but the fact remains. I am astonished—well, I am not really astonished, because I can understand it—that wherever I go I come up against this kind of thing. The young Communist's political education makes him active and alive. Therefore, I say that political education is of the greatest importance for enlivening the minds of soldiers.
I would like the Minister to give the closest attention to what is happening in the Home Guard. Some employers are treating the Home Guard as their own private army. There have been cases in which employers who are having trouble with their workers, have paraded the Home Guard. I believe that the Minister received information of one case where the employers paraded the Home Guard and used them to arrest the shop-stewards. In certain country districts, some of the nice, influential gentlemen are very careful about the selection of the Home Guard. They want to run the organisation on private lines. Wherever that kind of thing exists, you will not get a democratic army that will be able to defend the country. In the area of the Clyde there are numbers of engineers and miners of the most robust character, strong and independent men. If they were mobilised and organised they would never stand enslavement by anyone. This idea that some old. superior person, or "has been," should control the Home Guard for his own political purposes, is disastrous, and T ask the Minister to look into the matter.
As two other Votes are to be taken I feel it is only right that I should make some reply now to the many speeches that have been made during the course of the Debate. The hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) was good enough to say that he did not expect a detailed answer from me on the many points which he addressed to me; I hope that, in general the House will not expect such answers from me on this occasion. It is not possible to go in detail into many of the points that have been raised. It would be beyond my capacity so to do, but I assure hon. Members that I will examine the Debate very carefully and closely. I will not go over it in a perfunctory way but I will take the points one by one and see whether I can do anything to meet them. If so, I will communicate with the hon. Members, wherever they may be, who have raised the various points.
The hon. Member for Southwark Central (Mr. Martin) raised a point which has been touched on in several quarters of the House, namely, that no sooner were some men taken into the Army than they were rejected as being medically unfit. He asked whether we could not do something about it. The medical examination of men registered under the Armed Forces Act is the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour, and the medical tests are made by his Department, but I will certainly discuss this question with my right hon. Friend and see whether there is any tightening up or improvement which can be made in the machinery for that purpose. The hon. Member for Bassetlaw dealt with a point regarding rates of family and dependants' allowances. Without making the position final, I would say that these rates were revised as recently as 4th November, 1940. It must be borne in mind that a good deal of a soldier's emoluments is in kind and not in cash, and therefore, it is immune from the fluctuations which people outside the Services experience. Another point which he made, and which was again raised in different quarters of the House, concerned the question of officers' pay and allowances. It is a subject of considerable difficulty. For some little time I have been looking into this question. I do not know how the hon. Lady the Member for Wallsend (Miss Ward) got the impression that I was doing nothing of the sort. It must have been my fault when replying to a Supplementary Question.
I must have looked a bit old-fashioned, then. It was an attitude of face rather than of mind. The matter is under my consideration. The House will understand that it appertains not only to the Army but to the other Services as well. I do not wish to raise any false hopes, but I assure the House that 'this matter is being looked into.
Another point raised was the question of regimental pay. It was suggested that the system was bad and prolonged, and that the men did not get their pay in time. This matter was recently considered at the request of the Standing Committee on Army Administration by a business man of experience who is now serving in the Army. He reported that the system was sound for the purpose that it had to meet. The improvement of the machinery is constantly before us and a great deal has been done to bring it more into line with requirements in this respect. Of course, at the beginning, when units did not quite understand how the code should be worked, there were many difficulties. Papers did not arrive, and so on. I am led to believe, however, that now that the units have got into the way of working the code, the delays are less and a definite improvement has been shown.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw also raised the question of outfit allowance. He drew attention to the fact that the outfit allowance was not as high as officers would like. I would point out that the prices which we have shown for outfit allowance are, of course, average prices. The figure of £30 is the average price at which it is possible to buy a uniform, etc. In some places the cost is more, but I am informed that it is equally possible to pay less, and therefore the figure of £30 which is allowed is an average figure which should enable an officer to buy what is required. Of course, I fully recognise that the imposition of the Purchase Tax has made a difference, but the Chancellor feels that soldiers as well as other citizens should be subject to the Purchase Tax and should pay their 'share along with all other classes of the community.
My hon. Friend also raised a point dealing with traffic control. He has had experience of that himself and knew many of the difficulties connected therewith during the period the British Expeditionary Force was in France. I need refer to this subject only briefly because of the remarks I made when I introduced the Estimates. The facts are these. We have now formed a new corps, called the Traffic Control Wing. It is a corps of the Military Police started in July, 1940, and its strength at the present time is 260 officers and 8,000 other ranks. Its business, as will be readily understood, is to replace the civil police in operational zones, to help the police with large traffic movements and supplement them in places outside the operational zones, in connection with the essential and vital work of keeping the roads clear for military traffic and securing quick passage for military vehicles. The new corps has been brought into being to help the police in that most necessary function—everybody will agree that it is essential—of keeping the roads clear so that in the event of troops being needed in a hurry, the roads will not be blocked by civilian traffic, but a free passage will be allowed for the military and their vehicles to get to the place of danger.
I take these points from my hon. Friend's speech because they are points which have been raised in many quarters of the House, and I am therefore answering other hon. Members at the same time. My hon. Friend then raised the question of N.A.A.F.I. profits. The question of the accumulation of profits is one which I and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer are watching very carefully. There is no intention of allowing large profits to accumulate during the war, but before we talk of profits we must realise that the N.A.A.F.I. lost the whole of their stocks and stores in France. They had to start all over again and as far as I am aware of the position to-day, nowhere have large profits accumulated. As I said, however, we are watching the position and it is not our intention to allow large profits to accumulate during the war.
I am not saying that at all; I am not saying that the prices have been increased, but only that before you talk of huge profits that are supposed to be accumulating, you must take some account of what happened in France when they lost their entire stocks.
The House to-day has heard a well-informed and highly-instructive maiden speech from my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Petersfield (Sir G. Jeffreys). It gave hon. Members in all parts of the House the greatest pleasure to hear him. He speaks with great knowledge and experience on all matters connected with the Army, and he did something intensely useful, in bringing up points of real substance and of great importance which, but for his intervention, might possibly have been overlooked. In future, I hope, we shall have the benefit of my hon. and gallant Friend's further participation in our Debates. There were two points in his speech to which I would like to refer. He asked whether we are using the older staff officers now in this country. I am pretty certain that use is made of them, but I will look into the question more thoroughly than I have been able to do in the short space of time available to me and will let him know whether there is any change to be made in this answer I have given. He asked for an assurance that we were looking into plans for demobilisation, in order to avoid the pitfalls into which we fell after the last war. I can assure him that the question is very much in our minds, and that touch is being maintained with all the other Departments concerned. He will realise, of course, that it is not a matter which concerns only my Department. The demobilisation of the Forces is one thing, and what happens to the men afterwards is another thing. Perhaps it would be too bold to suggest that we can avoid all the pitfalls into which we fell after the last war; but we shall do our best, by looking ahead.
My hon. and gallant friend the Member for South Cardiff (Col. A. Evans) asked what the Territorial Army associations were doing. He really gave the answer himself. It would be very unwise to assume that these associations will not be required, in some form or other, after the war. I would not care to wind up these associations without being sure that they could perform no useful purpose in the future. They are working to a great extent with the Home Guard, and doing wonderfully useful service. There is a Director-General of the Territorial Army, Sir John Brown, who is Inspector-General of Welfare at the same time. I do not think that the organisation is wasteful, and I think it would be wrong to wind it up.
My hon. Friend the Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) made some general complaints. Of course, I cannot be expected to answer them, when he speaks from information which I have not in my possession, and makes an exparte statement which does not sound anything like what I know to be going on. As far as I can, I will look into the matter. I am sorry that my hon. Friend should throw charges about, against officers whether they are young or old, in the very wounding remarks which he made, culled from information with which he was provided by somebody else. It is hard on these officers that such charges should be thrown about. I would have preferred—I say quite frankly to my hon. Friend—if having this information in his possession, he had come to me and said, "Look here! What about it? This is what I am told. It sounds very serious. Cannot we have a talk about it before I raise the matter in Parliament?" But as it has been raised in public, I am bound to say to my hon. Friend, that I entirely dissociate myself and the War Office from it, but that the matter will be looked into, to see what is the position.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Profumo) raised the question of motor vehicle spare parts. I think he said that in my speech when I presented the Estimates I had given the impression that I was content with the existing state of affairs, that it was the best of all possible worlds and that there was no need to worry. That was certainly very far from my mind. I did not mean to create that impression at all. What I meant to say was that the motor vehicles which we had in the Libyan desert had been of such a high quality that they had stood up to the test of war exceedingly well, and for that we were very grateful to the workmen who produced them, and to the designers and the rest. I also said that some of the motor vehicles, naturally, had become casualties, and that those that were able to keep going were able to live upon those that were not so fortunate— mechanically, I meant. That was only, of course, because we could not get into North Africa all the amount of material and spare parts needed to keep the vehicles at 100 per cent. efficiency in the desert, and further, the very rapid advance of these tanks and motor vehicles meant that they had got a very long way in front of their base units and repair depots. Therefore, this kind of improvisation had to be resorted to. But I certainly did not mean to say that everything was all that it should be.
The question of spare parts is one that I have constantly represented to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply. We are the customers of the Minister of Supply. We say to the Minister what we want to buy in his shop, and we ask him to produce the parts. As to the extent of the shortage, if the shortage is due to bad administration and not to production, I can assure my hon. Friend that on the administration side I will do all that I can to see that this matter is put right. I recognise very clearly indeed the mighty importance of having an adequate supply of spare parts to keep these motor vehicles going at the top speed of efficiency.
Then there was my hon. Friend the Member for Wallsend (Miss Ward). In a sense she accused—I think that it is too strong a word, and I will say she complained that the War Office was not always frank, and asked why we would not "come clean." She said we had made mistakes and that we ought not to try and hide our faults. I quite agree; let us "come clean." Let us be perfectly frank about these things, as I am trying to be. I was asked how many accidents in which War Office vehicles were concerned there were per day on the roads. I suppose there could have been two kinds of answers. One could have divided up a lot of figures showing the number of major and minor accidents, and the other could have come out straight away with the hard facts. We told the House and the country the truth straight away.
The hon. Member said that we had not been truthful in the past about waste, that we treated the matter as though it did not exist and that we thought the Army was so efficient that, unlike ordinary people, there was no waste at all. But that was not the attitude I adopted in my speech on the Estimates 10 days ago. Then I did "come clean," and I did say that I was glad to see an improvement. After all, there are these catering and messing officers and the school of cookery at Aldershot, which I went to see last Friday. There, a big class of A.T.S., most intelligent, were being turned out as fine cooks. I think somebody said that the A.T.S. were not cooking well, but this lot was learning a good deal, and I have no doubt that the cooking and messing in their units will improve. Turning from that digression, I would add that in my speech on the Estimates I did say that although the degree of waste was far less to-day than it was before we tried this new education in catering and the prevention of waste, it did still exist. I do not want to cross swords with my hon. Friend —there are many more serious points on which we disagree—but when she implied that the War Office was not being frank I thought I would give these two instances—
That is a very generous and courteous interjection. Now I come to the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Denbigh (Sir H. Morris-Jones) and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carnarvon (Major Owen), who asked whether I could do something to ensure that Welshmen should be drafted into Welsh units. I have arranged to meet a deputation from Wales in the course of the next few days, and I am "most willing to hear all they have to say when they put their case in front of me. I do not know that there are any insuperable difficulties— I dare say there are not— and I think that we shall be able to thrash out this matter.
Since the war started, we have been given undertakings by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's three predecessors that Welshmen would be posted to Welsh regiments and units, but unfortunately, not one of them has carried out his promise. Welshmen are constantly being posted into English regiments. What we say is that you would get better service out of these men if they were put into Welsh regiments. I want the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to give a guarantee that in future he will give instructions to the placing officers that, wherever possible, they will post Welshmen to Welsh units.
Whatever was done then, I am not responsible for it. I cannot tie myself down. There are some difficulties connected with this matter. There is. for instance, the difficulty of tradesmen. In an Army such as we have to-day, the demand for tradesmen is enormous, and far greater than it was in the last war. Suppose that there are more tradesmen in Wales than are wanted in Welsh regiments, are we to say, "No, we cannot transfer those men because they are Welshmen"? I do not want to stress the point now, because I think it is the sort of matter which we can talk over when I meet the deputation. However, I want the House to recognise that it is not through stupidity, or anything of that sort, that we do not concede this point straight away. There are very definite difficulties.
Once more I wish to thank the House for the very kind and courteous way in which they have received me. I fear that I have only skimmed over the ground of this Debate, but time is getting on, and I repeat the assurance which I have given, that the Debate will be fully looked at and gone over with a fine comb, and that I will do my best to reply to hon. Members in detail on another occasion.