HC Deb 11 February 1947 vol 433 cc318-25

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £94,100 be granted to His Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1947, for the salaries and expenses of the Ministry of Defence.

10.23 p.m.

The Minister of Defence (Mr. A. V. Alexander)

I feel sure that the criticism made earlier by my colleague, in the representation of Sheffield the hon. Member for Hallam (Mr. Jennings) and by other hon. Members cannot be applied to this Vote, which is a new Vote. It has already been authorised by the two-days' Debate which took place on the White Paper in October last, in relation to the setting up of the Ministry of Defence. A large proportion of the £94,000 is actually the cost of the transfer, to my new Department, of existing services such as are covered in the actual Estimate itself, which hon. Members can see for themselves. They comprise, in the Department, the administrative divisions charged with the functions laid upon me by the Act which the House has passed. These included the formulation of a unified defence policy and functions connected with the three Services, their supply, including operational resources, the correlation of research and development policy and the settlement of general administration. The Chief Staff Officers Division provides the secretariat for the Chiefs of Staff Committee and its subcommittees, and include the secretariat of the British Joint Staff Mission in Washington and the Military Staff Mission to the United Nations organisation. In addition, the Department as set out in paragraph 30 of the White Paper, assumed control of certain inter-Service organisations, the Joint Intelligence Bureau, the Imperial Defence College and Combined Operations Headquarters. Of the total estimate of £94,100, £24,000 is to cover the payment of the new Minister, and of the additional staff required for the setting-up of the Department.

I think that the relatively small nature of the financial requirements of my Department, which I have submitted to the Committee, to cover the period in the current financial year, since my own appointment and the opening of the Department from 1st January, will assure the Committee of the intention I have expressed in previous Debates, that the Ministry of Defence, over which I have the honour to preside, should be kept small, compact and not allowed to blow itself up into a large and cumbersome organisation. May I add, that the Members of the Committee will have the opportunity, I hope, of seeing, within a very few days, a White Paper on defence policy, on which a Debate will be arranged through the usual channels, and upon which the whole policy can be debated.

Mr. Osbert Peake (Leeds, North)

First I wish to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman upon the new office which he adorns and in respect of which he has presented us with this Supplementary Estimate for the remaining months of the year. The figures contained in it cover only, I think, a period of two or three months. Therefore, the annual Estimate, when we get a complete picture, will be some four times this figure. Am I right in that?

Mr. Alexander

Approximately, yes.

Mr. Peake

There are one or two questions I should like to ask. I see that the Permanent Secretary, that is the civil head of the Department, is to be remunerated at the rate of £3,500 a year. I take that to be the rate now adopted for the heads of all the major Departments of State.

Mr. Alexander

indicated assent.

Mr. Peake

I am much obliged. The other question is in regard to Subhead D on page 9. That is "Special Missions and Services, £7,500." I take it, again, that is for the short remaining period of the financial year now expiring, and that that sum, in the ordinary way, will be more like £25,000 or £30,000. I hope the right hon. Gentleman, if it is not too secret, will be able to tell the Committee something about the nature of the expenditure under that Subhead. If he is not able to do so for security reasons, perhaps he will explain how it comes about that in the Joint Intelligence Bureau, where I imagine matters of a fairly high degree of secrecy will be discussed, the pay of a third-class woman draftsman, of whom no fewer than 14 are to be employed. should be the singularly small sum of £3 a week. It seems to me that in Departments where security considerations are paramount, it would be wiser to pay the third-class woman draftsman, who is, I imagine, something above the ordinary typing or clerical grade, at a rather higher rate than £3 per week. I know something about the rates of salary which were paid in some of the secret Departments during the war. As a rule, even the typist received a higher rate than the £3 mentioned here for the third-class woman draftsman.

Sir Ralph Glyn (Abingdon)

I wish to ask one question in regard to the vacancy which is shown to exist under the reference to the Chairman of the Joint War Production staff. There is a footnote to say that the Permanent Secretary is acting in that capacity. Can the Committee assume that that appointment will be filled so as to make the White Paper, when published, more comprehensive? It is one of the most important of these posts, as I think the right hon. Gentleman indicated some time ago. I should also like to reinforce what my right hon. Friend the Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) has just said in regard to the pay for these subordinate appointments. We have had a great deal of evidence about this kind of thing, and I am satisfied that it is far better to have fewer people with better pay, than to have a large number of people paid at very low rates. If this is to be, as we all hope, a matter of security, it is essential that these people should be contented and of the right type. There is no doubt that the £7,500 for which the right hon. Gentleman is asking under the heading of "Special Missions and Services," will lead to missions being sent to the Dominions. I think it is wrong for secretaries and typists to be sent, either to the United States or to the Dominions, with inadequate means so that they cannot look after themselves when they are there. That situation now exists in Washington. The hardship suffered by Service staffs both men and women, in a country where there is a high scale of living, is undoubted

10.30 p.m.

Flight - Lieutenant Crawley (Buckingham)

I should like to ask a question about the Joint Intelligence Bureau. I am not clear whether the bureau, in its peacetime form, is to do what was done by the bureau during the war. Is it to co-ordinate various kinds of Service intelligence, or has it a wider function? Most people who have worked in Intelligence, feel that the time has come when all these services should be under one chief, and many have been hoping they would be made the responsibility of the Minister of Defence. When war comes, these various Intelligence branches become elaborated into separate Services, and in the last two wars the waste resulting from sudden expansion of that kind, without any single central responsibility, has been appalling. I think the formation of the Ministry of Defence is a great opportunity for co-ordination in this respect, and I wonder whether anything of the kind is in view.

Viscount Hinehingbrooke (Dorset, Southern)

Will the right hon. Gentleman vouchsafe a little more information on Subheads B and C? I think he said the cost of the Washington Missions was borne on the Vote of his Department. Does Subhead B represent travelling to and from Washington or does it include other things? Could the right hon. Gentleman also explain the £1,000 item for telegrams and telephones? [An HON. MEMBER: "The silent Service."] I understood that the Royal Navy was the silent Service. If it was not silent, I understood it communicated by wireless through its own network, and that the War Office also had private lines to various parts of the country. Since the right hon. Gentleman's Department was constituted only in October, I cannot understand why it has been necessary to put down an Estimate up to 31st March for £1,000 for telegrams and tele- phones. It seems very high. My final question is with regard to the item on page 9 of £125 paid to a lecturer. Was that Professor Laski?

Mr. Joynson-Hicks (Chichester)

Perhaps I may carry on the interrogation to the next section of the Vote. I appreciate that as regards the Combined Operations Headquarters, the emoluments of the Service staffs are borne on the Vote of the Department concerned—as set out in the footnote—but it seems strange that the cost of the messengers and temporary assistants and temporary clerks should be borne by the Ministry of Defence. I should be very glad if the right hon. Gentleman would explain why his Department is responsible for the emoluments of the messengers.

Mr. A. V. Alexander

With regard to the first point put to me by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) with regard to special missions and services, I do not think I can say that the whole of this £7,500 is to be incurred in three months entirely by the Department. It is an apportionment, made by the Treasury, and now properly charged to our Department, as its proportion of the year's expenditure for the period since the Department has been set up. I cannot guarantee that for special missions of this kind, the amount required would necessarily be exactly four times this amount in future years. I can only promise that we will exercise all possible economy, and if we pay for these special missions, it will be with a view to getting the best possible results.

As to the point with regard to the payment of women draftsmen, I am not sure whether the right hon. Gentleman had in mind what those employees are and the work they are doing. I should say that they were people employed in the past in the Department which I am taking over, and employed by us now, in copying sketch maps and other coloured maps. These are necessary to illustrate papers and the like, and a large number are required from time to time. I am always glad to hear from the other side of the Committee that they are in favour of paying higher salaries to workers, and I shall be very glad to make the necessary inquiry, as a result of the right hon. Member's query whether the present remuneration in this case is adequate or not. Judging from other remarks I have heard from the other side, I thought the Opposition would be rather anxious to keep expenses as low as possible. I am glad to hear this suggestion tonight, and I will look into the matter which has been raised by the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Randall (Clitheroe)

But not at the expense of the workers.

Mr. Alexander

I have said that I am always glad to hear suggestions for higher salaries for workers.

Another question raised by an hon. Gentleman opposite, was with regard to the chairmanship of the Joint War Production Committee. For the time being, it is much more convenient that we should, in organising this new aspect of this Joint War Production Staff in peacetime, let the new Permanent Secretary of the Department do the work. He is very able, and has great Treasury experience. For the time being, at any rate, I think he will have time to do this work. The right hon. Gentleman can rest assured that if, at any time, I find that we must have a new chairman, I shall not hesitate to see that the appointment is made. In the interest of keeping staff as low as possible at present, and until the matter is more fully developed, I prefer to do it in this way at present. The hon. and gallant Member for Buckingham (Flight-Lieutenant Crawley) mentioned the Joint Intelligence Bureau. I should like to thank him for his remarks. The whole idea of the bureau is to get real coordination of the results of the Intelligence Service. The bureau is working now with the Intelligence branches of all the different Services, both military and civil, and in consequence we are getting a much more economical collation of results.

The noble Lord the Member for South Dorset (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) asked about travelling and incidental expenses. This is not a sum of £4,000 specially incurred by my new staff in the space of three months. This sum is the allocation by the Treasury to the Department in respect of what they consider to be our share of travelling, for the Services which we now cover. The same applies to the item for telegrams and telephones. I do not think the noble lord need get anxious. This is for all the tele- grams and services which have to be covered, if we are to carry out the whole of the Intelligence Service, the Imperial Defence College, and the many inquiries and contacts which must be made if the Chiefs of Staff are to be properly briefed by planning staffs, and I am sure he would want that done. As to his remarks about a certain professor, who is a very good friend of hon. Members on this side of the Committee, if the noble Lord looks at the paper carefully he will see that this item is in the plural. It refers to the fees to Lecturers. There is no reason for regarding that as a payment to one lecturer, namely, Professor Laski. I am sorry that through thinking of other matters I almost overlooked the point made by the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Joynson-Hicks). I wonder if he will be good enough to repeat it?

Mr. Joynson-Hicks

Why is the right hon. Gentleman's Department responsible for the emoluments of all the messengers of Combined Operations Headquarters, and no one else?

Mr. Alexander

For the time being, the charges for the Combined Headquarters are almost entirely for military officers; and for the time being those charges are being carried on the Votes of the War Office and other Service Departments.

Captain Crookshank (Gainsborough)

May I remind the right hon. Gentleman that he has said nothing about the question of cost of living for staffs in the United States which is, I think, a matter of considerable importance. I refer to the secretariats of the Joint Staff Mission and the Military Staff Committee of the United Nations. This question seems not to have been noticed. It may be that there is some compensation for this purpose included in some other Vote.

Mr. Alexander

This particular item is an apportionment, and the actual details to which reference has been made are subject to adjustment. I may say that I have had experience in the last few years of adjustments being made to cover cost of living and household accommodation in Washington. I assure the right hon. and gallant Gentleman that, wherever possible, compensation for the higher cost of living will be paid. All the cases are examined on their merits.

Sir R. Glyn

May I point out that the rate of allowances in Washington has not been increased in proportion to the recent increases for civilians. This means suffering for some of the lower grades on the staff. I should be glad if the right hon. Gentleman would look into this matter again.

Mr. Alexander

I have not yet had a case, in the new Department with which I am concerned, but I assure the hon. Member that if I have notice of any particular cases, I will look at them.

Major Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)

When the right hon. Gentleman says that "for the time being only," the messengers are being paid from his Vote, are we to take it that, next year, the whole staff will be paid—

The Chairman (Major Milner)

The question of what is to be done next year does not arise.

Resolved: That a sum, not exceeding £94,100, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1947, for the salaries and expenses of the Ministry of Defence.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. William Whiteley)

As the acting Leader of the House promised that we should not keep the Committee too long tonight, I now beg to move, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."

Resolutions to be reported Tomorrow; Committee also report Progress; to sit Again Tomorrow.

Back to