HC Deb 21 June 1951 vol 489 cc840-59

10.17 p.m.

Captain Ryder (Merton and Morden)

I beg to move: That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, praying that the Regulations, dated 7th May, 1951, entitled the Duty-Free Supplies for the Royal Navy Regulations, 1951 (S.I., 1951, No. 803), a copy of which was laid before this House on 9th May, be annulled. I wish to make it clear from the outset that we on this side of the House do not wish to oppose in principle the measures which are broadly outlined in this Statutory Instrument and which were approved last year in the Finance Act. Nor, broadly speaking, are we opposed to the quantities mentioned in the regulations. We feel, however, that the regulations involve a great deal of administrative detail and that there are many small matters which we should like the Government to explain to us.

The first point is that, as far as I can see, these regulations apply exclusively to ships on the home station. We should like to know whether there is likely to be another batch of regulations restricting the consumption of tobacco and spirits in ships on foreign stations, or whether we can have an assurance that there will be no further reduction in these supplies. In this connection I wish to refer to Admiralty Fleet Order 1523/51, which brings into effect the Statutory Instrument which we are discussing. In category II are included H.M. Ships in commission which are normally required in the ordinary course of their duties to be absent from the United Kingdom territorial waters, but not for periods as long as six days continuously. They are to be limited to 1¼ lb. of Service tobacco.

We were assured last year by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty that men in sea-going ships would be entitled to 1½ lb. These new regulations do not seem to live up to the assurance we were given last year, although there may be some good reason for it.

It does not end there, however, because para. 6. of the Statutory Instrument says that ships in the category II are limited to tobacco supplied from naval sources, so that in addition to being limited to 1¼ lb. these men will also not be able to buy duty-free proprietary brands of tobacco. That is a point which I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will explain to us.

We now come to the habitual user of tobacco, referred to in para. 5. In para. 9 of the Admiralty Fleet Order we see that those who claim the right for this tobacco are required to sign a declaration that I am in the habit of using tobacco and I undertake that any tobacco sold to me free of Customs duty shall be only for my own personal use, and it will not be given away. sold or otherwise trafficked. What is an habitual user? A number of definitions are given in the Statutory Instrument. For instance, "The Commissioners" are defined. "Officers and men of the Royal Navy," "Naval establishments" and "Food" are defined. 'Food' means any article used as food or drink for human consumption other than drugs. "Tobacco" is defined: 'Tobacco' includes cigars, cigarettes and snuff. but not apparently chewing gum. There is no definition of an habitual user of tobacco. Has the unfortunate fellow to smoke a statutory cigarette every week in front of a naval officer, or how is it to be decided that he is an habitual smoker? Suppose he decides to train for the ship's football team and to knock off smoking for four weeks, what happens? Must he make a declaration of a change in status as regards his smoking habits? What happens to the poor fellow who offers his girl a cigarette at a ship's company dance? As far as I can see, he will break the regulations if he offers a cigarette on Brighton beach, but not if he goes over to Dunkirk and offers the cigarette there.

This requirement to sign is obnoxious, and that is my sole serious complaint. I think it is very obnoxious to require officers and men to sign such an ill-defined declaration before they are allowed to have this duty-free tobacco, and I seriously ask the Parliamentary Secretary to think again before imposing this on the Royal Navy.

Under paragraph 9 the Admiralty are to control the consumption of alcohol in the Navy, but the Commissioners of Customs are to control the use of tobacco. I do not know whether it is the habit of splicing the mainbrace that particularly qualifies their Lordships to deal with alcoholic consumption in the Navy, but I do think that some explanation should be given of why there is this peculiar form of divided control.

I notice that the Royal Marines and the W.R.N.S. are excluded from this. I do not know why they should be bracketed together. It seems to me an unwise thing to bracket the Royal Marines with the W.R.N.S. The Royal Marines are at least entitled to their duty-free supplies if serving in naval messes, but the W.R.N.S., who may well be serving under exactly the same conditions in Service establishments alongside the men, are not entitled to these duty-free supplies, and I do not see why they should not be. I hope we are not going to be told it is merely because they do not come under naval discipline. Surely they are not to be told that, because they are not suitable receptacles for a tot of rum, they should not be allowed a good smoke.

Last year we asked for an assurance that the reductions being made in the supply of naval tobacco would be restored. In Admiralty Fleet Order Number 1270/49, paragraph 4, there appears these words: Although the above restrictions in the personal allowance of duty-free tobacco and cigarettes are under present circumstances imperative. Their Lordships entertain the hope that when a material improvement in the economic situation occurs it will be possible for reconsideration to be given to the privileges, with a view eventually to restoration of the tobacco concessions hitherto enjoyed. I do not know what happens when their Lordships entertain a hope, but I should like to ask whether we can have that assurance of a year ago substantiated tonight.

10.26 p.m.

Surgeon Lieut.-Commander Bennett (Gosport and Fareham)

I beg to second the Motion.

Nobody feels more strongly than I do that the concession of duty-free tobacco, spirits and other things should be extended to every possible naval establishment, and I hope that any strictures which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Merton and Morden (Captain Ryder) and I may make will not expose us to such a supposition as that we oppose the extension of these privileges to establishments not otherwise enjoying them. But this new rationing scheme is really one of the silliest arrangements I have ever come across. Last week in my constituency it was referred to as being "dead funny" by the serving men in one ship that I was aboard.

What I object to about this more than anything else is that it starts by regarding all hands as being criminal and puts everyone on the wrong foot straight away. For instance, it demands that everybody shall sign as being a smoker or non-smoker. There is no such thing as a light smoker. It is a matter of all or none. A man has to sign as a smoker all the time or as one who smokes none of the time. I have an authoritative report from Portsmouth that one ship there has no non-smokers. I can quite understand that attitude. It is quite ridiculous to ask men to forswear the use of tobacco or put themselves into the bureaucratic clutches to get what is available. Presumably a sailor is an habitual smoker even though he smokes only one a month or, as my hon. and gallant Friend said, one a week under proper witnessing.

I feel that this scheme twists and distorts the whole smoking arrangements of the Services. I am not saying anything about the drink arrangements because they seem to be uninterfered with. One thing I know is that as soon as the introduction of this remarkably silly scheme is made, instead of there possibly being a certain amount of tobacco smuggled ashore, which I dare say there might have been before and which was adequately prevented by the plans in use for the detection of such things—even if one sometimes hears stories of the successful passing of certain amounts of tobacco ashore—the temptation to do so will be increased and the trafficking it is intended to prevent will be aggravated. For instance, I understand that these coupons have a market value of 3s. 8d. in one ship and 4s. 6d. in another, and in Queen Street, Portsmouth, they were worth 5s. a week ago—quite early in the month. This does not seem to me to be a satisfactory state of affairs, and I certainly do not think it is any improvement on the previous situation.

On the question of categories, I have looked with interest through the list at the end of the Admiralty Fleet Order, and though my eyesight is maybe a little defective I was unable to see where a ship like the "Theseus" comes into this scheme. She does not seem to be affected; she has not yet been compelled into this "fiddle" which is now being thrust on the Service.

Now, is the tobacco allowance a privilege or part of the pay of the men? We hear it called a privilege and yet we hear it stated that it brings the Navy pay into line with that of the other Services. I do not think Navy pay is in line with that of the other Services—it is lower. Again, I have been assured by a man who should know, a serving officer who, after spending some years ashore on lodging and provision allowances, has now been appointed to a ship, that, even with these privileges now, he is substantially worse off than he was ashore. I do not think we can consider that these duty-free privileges amount to anything in the way of an equalisation of pay.

Is this scheme intended to reduce dollar expenditure on tobacco? There is a certain amount of reason for supposing it is. If it is, can we understand that when the pinch ceases to be felt so much, this particularly silly scheme will be done away with and we shall return to the ordinary principle of tobacco being issued to those who require it when they require it? It ought not to be forgotten that the Navy has always had hitherto a reasonable amount of duty-free tobacco. Or is it the intention to save money? The cost of printing the extra forms, which appear in facsimile on page 5 of Admiralty Fleet Order 1573 of this year, and of the extra administration, will more than swallow up any gains there may be to the Customs and Excise. It is my contention that the Customs and Excise are not going to be any better off by introducing this scheme. This is a particularly ill-considered scheme. It is creating an organised "fiddle," and I would have none of it.

10.33 p.m.

Commander Pursey (Hull, East)

The ridicule which the mover and seconder of this Motion have poured on these Regulations would leave one to assume that there are a lot of new things in them, that concessions are being taken away from the Navy, that there is some vast difference and that new principles are being introduced. That is complete nonsense, because, so far as I can see, every one of the amounts now proposed is considerably in excess of those in force in the Navy for a number of years. The amount of tobacco allowed was for years and years 1 lb.; now it is over 1 lb.

Without delaying the House by going into lengthy details, I would say that there is no question at all that the Navy is far better off today than it has been at any other time during this century. The Navy is far better off under a Socialist Government than ever it was under Tory and Liberal Governments, which for 60 years opposed an increase of pay, although I admit that is not the subject of this Instrument.

Mr. Brendan Bracken (Bournemouth, East and Christchurch)

Tell that to the marines.

Commander Pursey

We now have an interruption from the finest First Lord of the Admiralty since Nelson was put on his pedestal in Trafalgar Square. His interruptions on naval affairs usually disclose more ignorance of them than any other hon. Member ever shows.

Commander Galbraith (Glasgow, Pollok)

Surely the hon. and gallant Gentleman's memory is misleading him. He could have obtained 2 lb. of tobacco from the ship's stores and any other amount of tobacco he liked. It was not a case of restriction to 1 lb. at all.

Commander Pursey

The hon. and gallant Gentleman has a different argument from the one I am putting forward. I am stating that the amount of duty-free tobacco allowed to the Navy was 1 lb.

Commander Galbraith indicated dissent.

Commander Pursey

Admittedly if a man liked, ashore or elsewhere, to buy non-duty free tobacco he could buy as much as he wanted, and there is nothing to stop a naval officer or rating from buying tobacco by the ton, so there is no point in the intervention.. Now we come to the question of categories. Reference was made by the hon. and gallant Gentleman who seconded the Motion to the "Theseus." There is nothing in the Instrument about ships on foreign stations.

Surgeon Lieut.-Commander Bennett

The "Theseus" is now in Portsmouth Dockyard.

Commander Pursey

It is not a question of where the "Theseus" is today, but where she has been. If it was on foreign service, these Regulations do not apply. The "Theseus" having come home and transferred to a new category, I might be right or wrong—[Laughter.] —That is typical of the laugh before the statement. If hon. Gentlemen would wait for the finish they would not display such ignorance. If she had transferred to a new category by paying off her old commission, and being re-commissioned by new ratings, the hon. and gallant Gentleman is misleading this House by referring to it. If that ship's company is paid off, he has no argument so far as her previous service is concerned. If she has not yet paid off, she will be paid off and commissioned with an entirely new crew in a totally different category.

Surgeon Lieut.-Commander Bennett

I am grateful to the hon. and gallant Gentleman for his A B C of naval service, but I do not see where the "Theseus" differs from any other ship in the dockyard.

Commander Pursey

The hon. and gallant Gentleman's reference to the "Theseus" was irrelevant. In the second place, the "Theseus" will get exactly the same consideration as any other ship in the same category in which she is placed, so the "Theseus" has nothing to do with the case.

Categories of ships have not been changed. Ships on foreign stations have always been in a privileged position by virtue of that fact. Other ships have concessions by virtue of being sea-going in home waters, and others on home establishments are in a different category. The reasons for that I am not going to discuss. That may be left either to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty or to the Financial Secretary to the Treasury. [Interruption.] I am prepared to debate it with hon. Members and the House as long as they like to stay here. It is sufficient to say that there is no change of categories. These categories have existed for a long time, and there is no argument on that point.

On the question of a declaration whether an individual is a smoker or a non-smoker, I should have thought, judging by the arguments that we have had from the Opposition during the Budget debates about what can be done with regard to finance, taxation and so on, that the Opposition would have given wholehearted support to this measure, which is designed to prevent goods which today are subject to high duty from being misapplied to purposes other than those approved.

It would appear that the Opposition wants to open the floodgates, to make it easy for people to get this tobacco and foodstuffs and make such use of them as they think fit, to put money into their pockets. The hon. and gallant Member for Gosport and Fareham referred to the prices of these coupons as if this were a grand thing to do. Is it not precisely the same thing as the Customs trying to stop people taking foodstuffs from this country to the Continent. [Interruption.] Now we get an interruption from the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams), who has just arrived and who does not know the gist of the argument. In point of fact, the condition of the country being what it is, but for prevention there would be a considerable traffic in foodstuffs from this country to the Continent for the purposes of making money.

Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, East)

On a point of order. Do foodstuffs come into these Regulations?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Colonal Sir Charles MacAndrew)

I was just thinking of stopping the hon. and gallant Member. We must confine ourselves to the Regulations before the House.

Commander Pursey

With great respect, these Regulations do refer to foodstuffs. To make it clear, I would point out that the foodstuffs in question are those on which there is duty, or where it is possible for them to be sold at higher prices ashore than are charged aboard ship.

Brigadier Clarke (Portsmouth, West)

Is the hon. and gallant Member suggesting that the British sailor will "flog" his meat ration for a bit of money overseas?

Commander Pursey

It so happens that in the early days the meat ration of the sailor was such, and his pay was such, that he had to be given the privilege of taking meat ashore to his wife and family. This was due to his low rates of pay. So it is no good the hon. and gallant Member trying to lure me out of order on that point.

Now let me get back to the question of the declaration whether an individual is a smoker or a non-smoker. This is not the first time that serving personnel in the Navy have had to declare one way or the other. Apparently it has not registered on hon. Members opposite that they have always had to declare whether they were teetotal or not for the same reason, in regard to grog—to confine the supply of grog, which is covered by these Regulations, as far as possible to those who were going to consume it, instead of "flogging" it. In that case, they were paid a money allowance in lieu. So, there are three factors, and anybody reading HANSARD tomorrow would assume from the speeches of the mover and seconder of this Motion that something entirely new had been introduced to the disadvantage of the serving personnel; and that is absolute nonsense.

Now we come to smuggling. Hon. Members opposite should know very well that commanders-in-chief have, for a very long period now, warned the Navy that unless this smuggling was stopped, personnel were likely to lose advantages—not part, but all their concessions. If there was one commander-in-chief who took special steps in that direction it was the Commander-in-Chief, Portsmouth, next to the hon. and gallant Member's constituency. Therefore, it is just nonsense for him to talk about smuggling going on and asking whether it can be stopped.

Brigadier Clarke

I did not say so at all.

Commander Pursey

It has been stated by commanders-in-chief, by the Admiralty, and by commanding officers that with the increase in the duty on tobacco, and the amount of smuggling going on, there was every likelihood of every concession being taken away unless steps were taken to stop it. It was further stated that the Navy would have to pay the full amount, as civilians, for dutiable goods.

Then the point has been made tonight about duty-free goods being counted when the emoluments of the Navy were settled. Let me tell hon. Members opposite that there is a considerable body of opinion in the Navy which favours the paying of the full price for tobacco, and everything else in that class, in order that those things shall not be a factor when pay is considered. Those who are non-smokers and teetotallers would obviously be in a better position if these concessions were completely wiped out. A higher rate of pay for everybody, when the rates are re-assessed, would be what they want.

Without debating this matter at any greater length, I would say that there is nothing new in this, in principle or in detail. This is a measure which was expected by the Service, and a large number of senior officers, commanding officers and ratings are now getting concessions continued which they had every reason to expect would be taken away; and to suggest that there is any dissatisfaction with the reasons for these Regulations is something absolutely fallacious, and something which is absolute nonsense.

Mr. Fort (Clitheroe)

Before the hon. and gallant Gentleman sits down, can he make it a little clearer to an ordinary land-lubber like myself that the Navy is not now losing a concession which it has enjoyed for a good many years?

Commander Pursey

What concessions are they losing? Does the hon. Member mean tobacco, spirits, or what? He asks me a hypothetical question, but what does he think they are losing? I thought that I had said quite plainly that they are now getting more duty-free tobacco than for a considerable number of years. They are losing practically nothing, except that there has been a reduction in the amount previously approved. That amount, and the present amount, is in excess of what it was for a considerable period of years; these Regulations will give no dissatisfaction at all.

10.50 p.m.

Captain Soames (Bedford)

We have listened to a speech by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Hull, East (Commander Pursey) which was as partisan and in many ways just as far from the point as was the speech of the Foreign Secretary which we listened to earlier this evening. This is not a partisan point. I, for one, would not like to see this Statutory Instrument annulled, but there are one or two points in it which could be improved and which would be of benefit to the Royal Navy.

I agree that this Statutory Instrument came about as the result of the second Report of the Committee of Public Accounts and also that it arose from the fact that a compromise was made in order to ensure that various shore-based naval establishments would have the benefit of duty-free cigarettes. In order to bring that about, this rationing was brought in on board H.M. ships. What I do personally object to—and I think there is a strong feeling within the Navy on this point—is that officers and ratings have to sign this declaration. When a man enters in service, he does not have to sign a document saying he will be loyal to his King and country, but now, in 1950, a man in the Navy is expected to sign a document that he will not give a cigarette to a shipmate.

What is all this about? I agree that it is necessary in order to achieve this compromise that cigarettes be rationed and that only a certain number of cigarettes can be sold per month to each man on board H.M. ships. But why stipulate that he has to be a habitual user of tobacco? One has not to sign a document to say one is a habitual user of sweets to get a sweet ration. One has not to sign a document and promise not to give one's sweets to one's children before being allowed to draw one's sweet ration. Why cannot it be arranged that ships carry a certain amount of cigarettes sufficient to give 600, or whatever it is, cigarettes a month to all the ship's complement. Those taken are taken and those that are left are left.

But one is introducing something that is quite foreign to the Royal Navy in bringing in these Regulations. One is forcing a man—upon the lower deck or even officers who are very strong smokers—to get hold of a friend and say to him, "You don't smoke much but sign on as a habitual smoker and I will have your cigarettes." It would be better if nothing of this sort existed at all. If the Government feel that it is necessary and they refuse to take it away, I feel most strongly that something should be added at the end of the document, where it says, "I promise it is for my own personal use and that it will not be given away, sold, or otherwise trafficked," to the effect, "except to other Royal Naval personnel on the same ship," or some such words.

It is very hard to make a man sign a document that he swears he will not give a duty-free cigarette away to a shipmate who is scrubbing the deck. Personally I should like to see this struck out. The Financial Secretary is aware that it is a rule that is going to be disobeyed. Well, why create rules that are going to be disobeyed? Do let us scrap it or add a Clause in order to make it not illegal. Let us say that a man is not breaking his word or his bond, to which he has put his signature, in offering a cigarette to a shipmate, which has never been a crime in this country before. Why make it one now?

10.55 p.m.

Mr. Douglas Marshall (Bodmin)

I only wish to address myself to one point in this Statutory Instrument and it is similar to what my hon. Friend has been saying. With regard to this question of the habitual smoker, I want to put a question to the Financial Secretary, and I hope that when he answers he will address himself to it.

No doubt the Financial Secretary is aware of the view that Mark Twain expressed, that "smoking is the easiest thing to give up in the world because I have done it 5,000 times." Was he an habitual smoker or not? I am putting that question to the Financial Secretary because to make a man sign an oath that he is not, in fact, to give a cigarette away is starting a practice whereby you will get other signed declarations that mean some- thing disregarded altogether. It is the principle of the thing with which I am concerned, and I trust that the Financial Secretary will look at this matter in a very reasonable way.

10.56 p.m.

Brigadier Clarke (Portsmouth, West)

Recently the hon. Member for Bedford and I, with other officers, went out on an exercise with the Navy and we saw the impact of these Regulations arriving while we were out on the exercise. They caused great alarm and despondency. The men did not mind the number of cigarettes they were allowed; that was a reasonable number, and they were not grumbling about the quantity of cigarettes or tobacco allowed; but they did object to making the Navy into a form-filling bureaucracy somewhat like we have ashore here after five years of Socialist Government.

One might say, as the Parliamentary Secretary said when I spoke to him, that this was interpreting the Regulations without proper and reasonable sense, but there will be people who will do such a thing. There will be people who will interpret these Regulations wrongly and an officer is perfectly within his rights, if he sees a man hand out his cigarette case, to say, "You signed a certificate to say that you would not give cigarettes away." The Navy man should not be put in the position that he cannot give a cigarette to a shipmate or a girl friend on shore or to anyone else when he wished to do so.

All this is making life for the sailor extremely and unnecessarily complicated. Is this the thin edge of the wedge? Will there be further instructions such as this? Is the number of cigarettes to be halved next time? If this kind of Regulation on cigarettes is to be brought in, how do we know whether there will be one bottle of gin at a future date? This is the thin edge of the wedge; the Treasury are trying to deny to the sailor what has been his due for years.

Commander Pursey

You cannot get a bottle of whisky.

Brigadier Clarke

I think we should get rid of some of the paper-work attached to these Regulations. The Navy would not mind if that were ended. I say, allow them to continue having the amount of cigarettes and tobacco now allowed, and I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty to cut out the paper-work and trust the Navy.

11.0 p.m.

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Douglas Jay)

It is only because of the well-known bashfulness of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary and Financial Secretary to the Admiralty that I intervene tonight, because I am sure he is much better qualified to do so than I am.

I much appreciated, if I may say so, the spirit in which the hon. and gallant Member for Merton and Morden (Captain Ryder) introduced this Prayer. He did not, I think, seriously question the purpose of these Regulations, or claim that the amounts embodied in them were seriously wrong. He recognised that we are extending the scope of this privilege to a larger number of establishments, and I think to 6,000 more persons than enjoyed it before. This is, of course, a valuable privilege. It enables the personnel in category A, the sea-going vessels, to get 20 cigarettes a day in the case of the blue liners at a price of 5d. for 20 as against the 3s. 6d. which the ordinary member of the public pays.

The hon. and gallant Gentleman first asked me whether these Regulations— and indeed the whole scheme—were confined to home stations. That is the case. Naval ships in overseas stations are entirely outside the arrangement. They are treated for these purposes just like merchant vessels, and I can assure him that there is no question of any action affecting their privileges in this matter. Secondly, he asked me about category B, where the ration is 1¼ lb. and not 1½ lb. in the period. The distinction is this. Category A consists of vessels of the Home Fleet and ancillary vessels. Category B consists of sea-going vessels not included in category A; that means, in effect, Coastal Defence, training craft, and other vessels of that kind in home stations.

The main point raised was the question of this undertaking that the individual is an habitual user. The actual words in the declaration—which is not part of the Regulations we are now considering but part of an Admiralty Fleet Order which, whatever we do, is subject to decision and revision by the Admiralty —are "I am in the habit of", and so on. I do not myself feel that needs a further definition. I should have thought it was a matter of common sense, which could be left to the individual, to decide whether or not he was in the habit of being a smoker. It is the case that the old-age pensioner who gets the tax concession for tobacco also has to sign a declaration of this kind, and I think that generally that has proved a reasonable working arrangement.

The hon. and gallant Member for Gosport and Fareham (Surgeon Lieut. -Commander Bennett) painted a rather lurid and disturbing picture of abuses which he found already springing up in the first week or two of this scheme. Well, I hope he was exaggerating; I hope he was being unfair to some of the personnel concerned. If practices of that kind were to break out on a large scale the whole of this scheme would, as I see it, be in danger.

After all, there is another side to the matter. It was the Public Accounts Committee in 1948 who first raised this matter and laid a duty on the Government, and in particular on the Treasury, to do something about it. In their Report the Public Accounts Committee said they hoped that steps will be taken at the earliest possible date to define by statute the conditions under which issues of tobacco…may be made to the Navy without payment of duty. The increase in the duty on spirits and tobacco during and since the recent war has, of course, greatly enhanced the value of these concessions to the Navy and has given an additional incentive to smuggling and black-market activities. Your committee were glad to learn that the Admiralty and Customs and Excise Department were examining this aspect of the problem with a view to deciding whether existing safeguards were adequate. I think that in those circumstances we were bound to do our best to elaborate a scheme which would, so far as we could forsee, provide against abuses.

It is, after all, a scheme of duty-free tobacco, food, wines and spirits, which is costing the general taxpayer about £8 million a year. Therefore, we are bound to include these safeguards in it, and if at any time they appear not to be working well, it is obviously not impossible for them to be re-arranged or revised. I should like finally to assure the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth, West (Brigadier Clarke) that there is no question whatever in our minds of any further reductions or this being the thin edge of the wedge or anything like that.

Commander Maitland (Horncastle)

Could the hon. Gentleman tell us whether there will be a saving or not owing to these Regulations, and if so how much?

Mr. Jay

On balance I think the calculation is that had this change not taken place the cost would have been £10 million. The cost now will be £8 million.

Lieut. - Commander Baldock (Har-borough)

Paragraph 3 of this Statutory Instrument says: There Regulations shall apply to goods of the following descriptions,

  1. (a)food, and
  2. (b)tobacco,
which are supplied to any of H.M. Ships specified in Article 4 (a) and (b) of these Regulations or to the Admiralty at a Naval Victualling Yard or Depôt for distribution to any of H.M. Ships specified in Article 4 (a), (b) or (c) … Can the hon. Gentleman tell us whether these naval shore establishments will be able to get duty-free the proprietary brands of tobacco and cigarettes?

Mr. Jay

I am assured that the Admiralty victualling yards will be able to get the proprietary brands.

Lieut.-Commander Baldock

Will they supply them?

11.7 p.m.

Commander Noble (Chelsea)

We are most grateful to the Financial Secretary for the speech he has made. After the Finance Bill, he is used to functioning at this hour of the night and at even later hours. I am, however, a little disappointed at what he has told us, which refers to the subject rather broadly, and I am hoping that his hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty is going to get up in a moment and fill in some of the gaps that have been left.

Two points remain outstanding in this debate. The first is the amount of tobacco. The hon. and gallant Member for Hull, East (Commander Pursey) rather confused the issue, because if my memory serves me right one can have 1 lb. of duty-free tobacco at home and 2 lbs. abroad. At the same time there was nothing to stop an officer buying as many duty-free cigarettes in the ward room as he wanted or a rating buying as many duty-free cigarettes as he liked in the canteen. I hope we shall have that point made clear.

The new regulations would confine the duty-free tobacco and cigarettes on board. Presumably if a man has taken out his duty-free allowance there is nothing to stop him going to the canteen or the ward room and buying more cigarettes and more tobacco at ordinary shore prices. Therefore, one might very well reach the situation described by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Bedford (Captain Soames) where a person offering his cigarette case would say "This side duty-free, that side shore-priced." We are going to get into a rather ridiculous position.

The other point I want to make is in regard to this signing. The Financial Secretary did not say very much about it. An hon. Member on the other side of the House quoted the ordinary rum issue as rather illustrating this point, but it does not. If a man decides to take up his rum issue, he gets his rum; if he does not, he gets a certain amount per day in lieu. That is a very different thing from saying that he is a smoker or not, because he is going to get no advantage whatever for not being a smoker. How often is he to have to sign this declaration—every month or at certain intervals? We have not been told anything about that at all. As my hon. and gallant Friend said, is he to have to sign when he gets married or when different circumstances arise?

If one really thinks about this signing, there are many difficulties. Is there to be any criterion applied to the smoker? Men have to apply and get permission to grow beards. Are they to have to give any outward and visible sign of their smoking? In the old licensing regulations, a person could get a drink after certain hours only if he had a statutory sandwich; is there to be a statutory smoking or a statutory cigarette? In the recent nightclub legislation, licences were only to be allowed if there was dancing after a certain time. I honestly think that this signing is really a rather complicated matter which has been treated very lightly.

Finally, there are the three cases raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Merton and Morden. The Financial Secretary did not mention the W.R.N.S. and the Marines; and there is also the Royal Naval College at Greenwich, which, so far as I can see, does not come into any of the categories mentioned tonight. If we are to have any more explanation from the Government Front Bench, I hope they will give further consideration to this matter. We do not intend to press this matter to a Division, but we should like to have a little more information.

11.13 p.m.

Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, East)

I had not intended to take part in this debate but for the unnecessary comments of the hon. and gallant Member for Hull, East (Commander Pursey), who started talking about the smuggling of food. That led me to study this topic. The Regulations state: 'Food' means any article used as food or drink for human consumption other than drugs. I rather regret the absence of Lady Astor from this House, because that definition would have horrified her. I wonder what kind of food the hon. and gallant Member meant. What kind of food can be smuggled by people who leave this country for not more than six days? I interrupted him about food. I do not think he can tell me of any kind of food that would come under the terms of these Regulations.

Commander Pursey

Surely the hon. Member realises that coffee has a considerable value in France, because of its low price in this country and the better quality. One of the things that the Customs have had to take particular care to try and avoid is the smuggling of coffee and other foodstuffs out of this country.

Sir H. Williams

Paragraph 3 deals in specific detail with tobacco, and paragraph 4 makes a reference to paragraph 3 and speaks of Regulations for consumption. Do I understand it is now the practice of the Navy to supply coffee in tins or bottles, and that that is what they sell abroad? I cannot find anything in the Regulations that bears out his contention. I have never served in the Navy, but I have served in the Merchant Navy, which has not these advantages.

Commander Pursey

Does the hon Member think they sell coffee in bricks?

Sir H. Williams

I thought they supplied it in cups: I do not know what kind of coffee the hon. and gallant Member has in mind. It is a stupid thing to ask a man to declare his morals. In the old Chamber I heard countless speeches about men "genuinely seeking work." Any man in the Navy will declare that he is a smoker if he wants to get this, and why not?

I should like to deal with the constitutional aspect. I think Parliament ought to control all regulations. According to paragraph 9, it would seem that if we approve this document the Commissioners can do all sorts of things over which we have no control. I think it is wrong that after we pass on Regulations like this they can be superscribed later on in various ways and what becomes the law is not challengeable in this House.

That is the constitutional issue I wish to raise. I think it is quite improper that some statutory declaration, which is not attached to this document and does not appear in the Schedule or Appendix, should be demanded. When an Order is brought before Parliament and conditions are attached to it which may be varied from time to time, it ought to be provided that these should be published so that this House could challenge them in the way these Regulations have been challenged tonight.

Commander Pursey


Mr. J. P. L. Thomas (Hereford)

I wish to endorse what has been said from these benches. The Financial Secretary to the Treasury answered a number of the questions put by my hon. Friends, but a great many were left unanswered. No answer was given about the W.R.N.S., or about the Royal Marines, or about the signing of the declaration. I hope the Government will consider the views expressed from these benches in regard to this declaration. I wonder if the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty will consider answering the purely naval questions put during the debate to the Government Front Bench.

Mr. Jay

When the hon. Gentleman rose I was about to answer one or two of the questions which the hon. and gallant Member for Chelsea (Commander Noble) asked me. He asked about the Royal Marines. They are included if they are in sea-going vessels or in naval establishments ashore under naval discipline. As the hon. and gallant Member thought, the W.R.N.S. are excluded as not coming under the Naval Discipline Act. The Royal Naval College, Greenwich, is not included, but that is under consideration.

Captain Ryder

I said at the beginning that we are in broad agreement with the main principle of these Regulations. We brought forward the Prayer in order to extract explanations on a number of points, and although we have not had all of them explained, we are grateful to the hon. Gentleman for answering a number of them. With the permission of the House, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.