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Ways And Means

Volume 237: debated on Tuesday 25 March 1930

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Report 24Th March

Resolutions reported,

1. "That, towards making good the Supply granted to His Majesty for the service of the year ended on the 31st day of March, 1929, the sum of £401,855 13s. 9d. be granted out of the Consolidated Fund of the United Kingdom."
2. "That, towards making good the Supply granted to His Majesty for the service of the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1930, the sum of £3,044,912 be granted out of the Consolidated Fund of the United Kingdom."
3. "That. towards making good the Supply granted to His Majesty for the service of the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1931, the sum of £194,330,950 be granted out of the Consolidated Fund of the United Kingdom."

Resolutions agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in upon the said Resolutions by the Chairman of Ways and Means, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Mr. Pethick-Lawrence.

Consolidated Fund (No 3) Bill

"to apply certain sums out of the Consolidated Fund to the service of the years ending on the thirty-first day of March, one thousand nine hundred and twentynine, one thousand nine hundred and thirty. and one thousand nine hundred and thirty-one," presented accordingly, and read the First time to he read a Second time To-morrow, and to be printed.—[Bill No. 146.]

The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.

Cadet Corps

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— [Mr. Parkinson.]

I do not propose to keep the House for more than two or three minutes at the most, but in view of the fact that I was ruled out of order in dealing with the question of the Cadet Corps, I hope I shall be permitted to take this, the only opportunity, as a member of a Territorial Association, to explain the position in which we have been placed. The Territorial Associations of this country are responsible for the administration of the Cadet Corps, and already the Council has been inundated with protests from all over the country pointing out the difficulties to which we are subjected by this very violent decision of the Secretary of State.

Apart from the general question, it is understood—and here perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will correct me if I am wrong—that the grants to the Council for administration of the Cadet Corps will cease on the 31st instant. It is laid down in War Office Regulations that the Cadet year commences on the 1st November in each year, and the consequence is that commanding officers throughout the country have already, for the past six months, been carrying out training and expending money in order to qualify for the grants that they were expecting to receive. I feel no doubt, after what the right hon. Gentleman said in the previous Debate, that it is not his intention to see anyone suffer unfairly through any training expenses which may have been incurred, but I would point out the very difficult position in which the Council of Territorial Associations has been put. As I mentioned earlier, on every previous occasion when there has been a change of policy of this description the Council of Territorial Associations—those Associations which carry on this work throughout the country for the love of it-have always been consulted; but I imagine that even Lord Derby was not informed of this decision, and was not able to take counsel upon it, as the first time that the Council heard of it was when they read of it in to-day's newspapers. The Council actually have offices and a staff for carrying out this branch of their work and, as far as I can understand it, he has only given seven days' notice to wind this up. That is hardly treating the Council of Territorial Associations fairly.

There is another point. It will take at least six months to clear up the business of the Cadet Corps. How is that going to be done? It will involve a considerable amount of work and expense. It may be imagined that these Cadet Corps are perhaps well-to-do boys. Over 10,000 of them are from secondary schools. For this paltry sum of £10,000 or £16,000, 20,000 boys go to camp every year and get that wonderful breath of fresh air which they cannot have if they are deprived of this small grant. The sum is extraordinarily small. I am not asking the right hon. Gentleman to change his policy, although I think it is a niggardly and a mean policy to deprive these lads of the happiness they have previously received. I know the right hon. Gentleman is a very determined statesman and I do not ask him to change his policy, but I ask him to treat the question more fairly. The House appreciates his decision when he says, "No more cadets," but would it not be fair to allow the cadet year to be completed, which means that it will run on till 1st November? I urge him, on behalf of the Territorial Associations and of all these thousands of lads whom I have seen in such great happiness on this annual holiday, to reconsider the question and allow the cadet year to be completed instead of bringing it to a sudden halt.

I am more optimistic than my hon. and gallant Friend in asking the Secretary of State to reverse his decision because, as far as we can gather, changes of opinion come somewhat suddenly. No one connected with these Cadet Corps heard before the announcement in Committee that they were to be done away with. The Committee yesterday and the House to-day actually passed money in the Estimates to enable a grant to Cadet Corps to be given. In the general discussion we were able to point out that it is actually on the printed pages in the block grant. On page 61 we get the grant for the County Associations and on page 60, in those excellent pink pages which explain what it is all about, it says:

"Provision (£10,700) is made in this subhead for grants to recognise cadet units at the rate of 4s. for each qualified cadet."
That is in the Estimates that were before the House 10 days or a fortnight ago and, therefore, we must take it for granted that the right hon Gentleman's policy then was to continue the grant in the coming year. Then, of course, we saw on the Order Paper dealing with the Committee of Supply on the Army Estimates a Motion by certain back benchers opposite, wishing as quickly a, possible to do away with the Army, and the final few words of their Motion were:
"and the immediate withdrawal of all State grants for the maintenance of the Officers Training Corps and Cadet Corps."
We are very grateful for small mercies to find that the right hon. Gentleman is not going the whole hog in taking away the grant from the Officers Training Corps. We can only presume that, wishing to do something to propitiate his own back benchers, he came to the conclusion that he could at least cut off the grant to the Cadet Corps. That is the only reason that can be apparent for such a sudden change of policy taking place between the issue of the Estimates and the right hon. Gentleman's statement yesterday. As the right hon. Gentleman has been able to change his mind once in a fortnight, I hope he will be able to tell us he will reconsider it and perhaps in the course of another fortnight change his mind again and reinstate the grants for which the Committee has already provided a certain amount. Unless he amends the Votes in the meantime, we shall in due course, as the Army Estimates go through, be providing the money which he is going to refuse to give to the Cadet Corps. I ask him, therefore, to reconsider his decision.

I like the hon. and gallant Gentleman's cheery optimism. It brings a ray of sunlight into a dull and dreary world. If I could please him I would, but I am afraid I cannot. The decision is taken on grounds of policy, and it is that these children ought not to be connected with a military establishment. That decision is quite clear cut. It is a matter of policy and we shall have to take the verdict of the House upon it. There can be no question about that.

Let me now come on to the other questions that have been raised. I did not know it was necessary or customary to consult the Territorial Associations with regard to matters like this. I knew the grants had been suspended from 1923 to 1926 and then re-introduced, not on military grounds I think, but on social grounds. If there is one thing that the War Minister is not responsible for, it is social matters. He has to maintain the armed forces and he must keep strictly to his own work. I cannot offer the slightest hope of a change in policy, but I am extremely sorry if by any mistake of mine I have not consulted the Territorial Associations, if they have been consulted in the past. I am sure, if that is the case, they will accept my assurance that no discourtesy was intended, and no discourtesy would have taken place if I had the slightest idea that a consultation of this kind was customary. The hon. and gallant Gentleman put the point to me that expenditure has already been incurred by Territorial Associations in the belief that this grant would be forthcoming.

I stated very clearly that, when existing contracts had run out, there would be no more grants and that the cut was absolutely clean, but I give the hon. and gallant Gentleman this assurance, that as Minister for War I shall act just as I should act as an ordinary individual. If a bona fide case is shown where this expenditure has taken place. there will be no hesitation in meeting it on the statement which I made, that an existing contract must be honored, and if the expense has been incurred that expense will be borne. I think I cannot say more than that to the hon. and gallant Gentleman. We cannot act in a way which might lead people to spend money and go to trouble, and then simply say, "Thank you for your trouble; we cannot pay you." Any expenditure which has been incurred I shall meet under the terms of the declaration which I made to the House, and I ask the House to accept that statement. Existing contracts will certainly be honoured.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that assurance, but may I once more press upon him that he should consider whether the cadet force should not be continued until 1st November, in which case there will be no question whatever of any of these difficulties to which numerous individuals are being put?

I am afraid that with the best will in the world I could not do that. The decision was taken on the ground of policy, and that decision I must maintain. I regret that I have to do any- thing which is disagreeable to anybody, but the decision is there. It is based, as I said, on the principles which we hold, and it must be maintained, if the House will support us. The other matters, I do not need to repeat, will be met in the ordinary way.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Fourteen Minutes before Nine o'Clock.