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British Army

Volume 148: debated on Wednesday 9 November 1921

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Southall Depot

63.

asked the Secretary of State for War what is the annual cost of the I.D.R.E.S. depot at Southall and the number of employés; and, seeing that it was erected as a temporary depot during the War, why is its existence continued?

The provision made in the Estimates of the current year for working this depot was £22,000, and the number of employés provided for was one officer and 66 civilian subordinates. The staff is, however, being reduced and it is not expected that the whole amount provided in the Estimate will in fact be spent. The depot will be disposed of after the end of this financial year.

Will the hon. and gallant Gentleman say whether I.D.R.E.S. is a food or a drink?

I do not know. I will make inquiries if my hon. Friend would like me to!

Woolwich Arsenal (Printing Department)

65.

asked the Financial Secretary to the War Office if he is aware that the linotype operators employed in the Ordnance Committee's printing department at Woolwich Arsenal have been informed that they must sweep out the room in which they work or be discharged if they refuse; that the labourer who formerly did this work has been discharged on the ground of economy; and whether he will take steps to prevent skilled artisans being dismissed through refusing to do labourers' work?

The instructions that linotype operators must clean out their room have been cancelled. No skilled artisans have been discharged for refusing to do labourers' work.

Is there any reason why military officers should be placed in charge of a printing office and introduce Army methods?

66.

asked the Financial Secretary to the War Office if he is aware that the printing staff employed at Woolwich Arsenal have been refused the week's holiday which is granted in every other printing office throughout Great Britain; if he is aware that considerable correspondence has passed upon the subject between the men's representatives and the Department during the past 18 months without satisfactory result; and will he see that the printers in the employ of the Government are placed in the same position in respect to holidays as those employed by contractors?

There are two staffs of printers at Woolwich Arsenal, belonging to the Ordnance Factories and the Ordnance Committee respectively. These two staffs are tinder different conditions as regards pay, etc., and the questions connected with their terms of service are somewhat complicated. I am looking into the point raised by the right hon. Member and will communicate with him as soon as possible.

War Graves

(by Private Notice)asked the Secretary of State for War whether the military organisation which has been at work in France and Flanders since the Armistice, searching for bodies and concentrating scattered graves, has been withdrawn; and, if so, in view of the urgent necessity of allaying public anxiety, he will state whether he is satisfied that their work is completed?

Since the Armistice the whole battlefield area in France and Flanders has been systematically searched at least six times. Some areas in which the fighting had been particularly heavy were searched as many as 20 times. In the spring of 1920 the work was easy and rapid owing to the number of surface indications, but since then in approximately 90 per cent. of the bodies found there was no surface indication. These invisible graves were found by various local indications recognised by the experience of the exhumation parties. It is probable that a number of these invisible graves have not yet been found, and are likely to be brought to light during the work of reconstruction and in the opening up of areas at present inaccessible owing to the thickness of undergrowth, the marshiness of the land, etc., etc. The searching, however, was most thorough, as the whole of the battlefield area was divided up into map squares, to which a platoon under a subaltern was allotted. The actual search party usually consisted of about 12 men under a senior non-commissioned officer. These parties systematically searched the whole of the surface of the areas.

In view of the thoroughness of the search the Army Council has come to the conclusion that the time has now arrived when this work should cease, and consequently they have issued instructions for the withdrawal of the military exhumation parties which were employed by them. It is practically certain that in the course of reconstruction and drainage operations and of the clearing of débris, bodies hitherto unsuspected will be found, and that this will continue for years to come. The owners and inhabitants are now resuming possession of their houses, fields, and gardens, and reports of the discovery of bodies by such owners and occupiers, must be awaited before exhumation and re-interment in an approved cemetery-can be undertaken. Any bodies so discovered will, in accordance with agreements already arrived at with the French and Belgian civil authorities, be reported to local representatives of the Imperial War Graves Commission, by whom arrangements will be made for the re-interment of the bodies in the existing military cemeteries. In cases where relatives or friends can produce from their own knowledge evidence that the body of an officer or soldier may be found in a particular locality, special search will be made under the instructions of the Imperial War Graves Commission if the Commission is satisfied that a good primâ facie case has been made out. I hope this statement of the work done and the arrangements made for the future will allay any public anxiety in the matter.

India (Law And Order)

56.

asked the Lord Privy Seal whether he has now considered the Motion standing on the Paper in the names of the hon. Member for Twickenham and others; and if he can give a day for its discussion—

"That this House views with grave concern the present state of India, and urges upon His Majesty's Government to take immediate steps to re-establish law and order in that country."

Yes, Sir. As I said on Monday last, we have carefully considered the Motion, but it- is not possible for me to find a day for the Motion within the limits of the present sittings of the House, and I am bound to say that in the opinion of His Majesty's Government the present moment is not opportune for such a discussion. I understand there is general agreement to bring the business of the House to a close not later than seven o'clock to-morrow evening. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I have been led to understand that there is general agreement as to the proposal of the Government to bring our business to an end by then. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!" and "There is to be another Session of this House!"] I should perhaps add that, even if there were time, in the opinion of His Majesty's Government, the moment is not opportune for such a discussion.

May I ask my right hon. Friend if he is aware—I am sure he is—of the very grave anxiety felt by many Members of this House in regard to this matter, as there has been no Debate on Indian affairs this year, and will he give us an undertaking that the Indian Vote, the salary of the Secretary for India shall be set down as early as possible next Session so that we may have an early Debate?

Yes, Sir. Of course I am reluctant to give such an undertaking in regard to the programme of a Session of Parliament which has not begun. I recognise, however, the full force of what my right hon. Friend has said. Since the salary of the Secretary for India was placed upon the Votes of the House in order that the House might discuss the matter, the House has had no opportunity so to do. I think, however, my hon. Friend has made out a good case for putting the Vote down at an early date, so that the earliest possible opportunity may be given next Session.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say why this House is never allowed to discuss a question of vast importance like this, whereas in past years the House of Commons has always been given the opportunity of discussing Indian affairs, and especially when there has been a grave state of unrest?

Phosphates (Nauru Island)

59.

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies the financial result of the trading under the Nauru Island Agreement of the 2nd July, 1919; what quantity of phosphate has been supplied to the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand, respectively; whether any and, if so, what profit has resulted from the supply of phosphates to those countries which are not within the agreement; and whether the agreement has been ratified by the League of Nations?

With regard to the first three parts of the question, I have no information, but inquiry will be made of the British Phosphate Commissioners. The answer to the last part of the question is in the negative.

Government Temporary Buildings

69.

asked the hon. Member for the Pollok Division of Glasgow, as representing the First Commissioner of Works, whether he can now give any definite dates as to when the temporary buildings will be removed from St. James's Park, the Embankment Gardens, and the Victoria Tower Gardens, adjacent to Lambeth Bridge?

It is hoped that the bulk of the buildings in question will be vacated early in the new year and that demolition will follow immediately.

Why cannot this work, which will give very much needed employment to the unemployed, be commenced at once?

For this obvious reason, that the staffs will have to be transferred to other offices.

Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman aware that there is no less than 1,000,000 cubic feet of space still occupied by these temporary buildings, and surely that is enough for the War Staff?

National Physical Laboratory (Aerodynamics Department)

70.

asked the Financial Secretary to the Treasury whether there is any question of closing down the aerodynamic Department of the National Physical Laboratory; and, if so, whether he will reconsider this matter, in view of the services rendered by this Department to the Advisory Committee for Aeronautics and to the aviation industry?

No specific proposals for the provision of funds for the maintenance of the aerodynamics Department at the National Physical Laboratory after the close of the current financial year have at present reached the Treasury. Any such proposals in regard to public Estimates for 1922–3 must obviously be considered in view of the general financial position and the need for drastic reductions of public expenditure even in the case of prima facie very desirable public services. But. I am aware of the importance attached in certain quarters to the work of the Department in question, and the matter will be fully considered before the detailed Estimates of the Departments concerned for the coming financial year are finally determined.

Is it not a fact that this Department is the only provision made by the State for the scientific investigation of aerodynamic problems, and is not the cost a minor matter in comparison with the importance of the work which is performed?

I believe that the suggestion contained in the first part of my hon. Friend's question is quite accurate.