HC Deb 15 March 1955 vol 538 cc1236-40

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £7,880,000, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the expense of miscellaneous effective services, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1956.

9.0 p.m.

Mr. M. Stewart

There are two brief questions I should like to put to the Secretary of State. I wonder whether the Government are now in a position to give an encouraging answer on the question of the education of children of Service personnel. If the Government are not in a position to give us a more encouraging answer, could they have one ready by Thursday?

Secondly, the educational work described in this Vote is done under the direction of the Director of Army Education. When last I questioned the Secretary of State on this matter, the Director of Army Education held a rank inferior to his opposite numbers in the other two Services. It was not a very reasonable arrangement, since there is a good deal of inter-Service educational activity and he bears the brunt of that work. I hope we may hear that he has now been given an equivalent rank with them, and that that has been achieved by his going up rather than his opposite numbers coming down. Perhaps the Secretary of State can reply to this.

Mr. Simmons

I should like to raise a point on Subhead D, "Charges for Hospital Services, &c.", which says: No payment is made by the Army for treatment of military patients in general wards of civil hospitals under the National Health Service or in naval or air force hospitals and, similarly, no recovery is made by the Army for the treatment in Army hospitals of civilians in the United Kingdom or of naval or air force personnel. We are asked to approve an amount of £63,000 for hospital services and we are told that this covers officers admitted to special accommodation in National Health Service civil hospitals. Why that distinction? The National Health Service as such is good enough for the other ranks and should be good enough for the officers. Why should the taxpayers have to foot a bill of £63,000 for preferential treatment for the officer class when there is no special regard for the ordinary soldier and other ranks who are accommodated quite adequately in civilian hospitals under the National Health Services?

The other point I want to raise refers to reduced expenditure under the heading, "Welfare Expenses." I see that the expenditure is down by £18,500. I should like to know what kind of welfare this is, whether it is welfare in the shape of providing baths, buns, beer and billiards or whether more welfare officers are looking after the worries and the troubles of the men under their command. That would make a difference. I do not mind some reduction in the baths, buns, beer and billiards side of it, but I do not think we should have any reduction in the amount for the care of those men, especially the younger National Service men who are away from their parents and homes. That kind of welfare ought to be stepped up rather than cut down.

Then there is this heading "Extra-Regulation Expenditure." We should have some explanation about this, because it seems rather curious to me. It says that the money provided under this subhead is to meet small items of expenditure for military purposes, not covered by regulations … Does that involve cocktail parties, or things like that? It is a bit of a curious set-up. Here is £2,000 tucked away to be used for something, nobody knows what. I think we ought to have some explanation.

Mr. Head

The hon. Member for Fulham, East (Mr. Stewart) asked me whether I could make a statement on the subject of education. This was a matter which was discussed at some length in the Estimates debate, and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State said that we had that very much in mind. I think it is one of the most important things now confronting us. I have not got a statement to make, and I cannot give an undertaking that I shall have one on Thursday, but it is a matter of very much concern to us. The hon. Member also asked me about the Director of Army Education. He is now a major-general.

The hon. Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Simmons) asked me about the charge for the National Health scheme for officers. There are different standards in the Army for officers and for other ranks. For instance, when officers of a certain rank travel, they are given a first-class ticket. I believe that standard to be right and it is reflected in all other armies. The Russians tried uniformity, giving everyone the same clothes and the same barrack rooms, but they ran into trouble. The hon. Gentleman and 1 could argue this subject ad infinitum, but I do not think we would agree. If the hon. Gentleman thinks it wrong, I believe that, if we give added responsibility, a certain status and authority should be maintained.

As far as a welfare cut is concerned, I can assure him that in our view the person primarily responsible for the welfare of the men is the officer in charge. That is fundamental to all welfare in all three Services. Beyond that, I agree that there are many helpers, among whom are the various voluntary welfare associations, who are of great help to the Army all over the world. I am determined that we should not reduce that kind of welfare, especially in Germany, because it is the kind of welfare we want. The welfare work of the W.V.S. in the N.A.A.F.I. canteens and elsewhere is of great importance and it is not our intention to cut that side of it.

As regards the £2,000, I am speaking without exact knowledge and I will write to the hon. Gentleman if I find I am wrong, but I think that this is for a very small fund for commanding officers which cuts out a lot of red tape and files and authority for small expenditure.

Mr. J. Hudson

I am emboldened to ask a question, in view of a statement made by the Minister about welfare in reply to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Simmons) about beer and skittles.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, South)


Mr. Hudson

I always get that from the noble Lord, but would anyone expect me to be quiet when that issue comes up?

There was a time in the Army when support of the soldier against temptations put in his way was made a matter of the greatest concern by the best commanding officers in the land. I can recall the part Lord Roberts played in this matter and, many years afterwards, Sir Ian Hamilton and men of that type.

A definite temperance movement was developed inside the Army which had for its object both the education of the soldier as to the dangers involved and the establishment of ideals of abstinence, as far as that was possible, by example. I should like to know that this work is not entirely dead. It is an issue of the greatest importance in those great Departments of the Army involved in motor transport because of the necessity of avoiding such temptation during periods of work. That is important also for the civilians outside the Army, many of whom do not know much about it.

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman can report that attention is paid by the welfare department of the Army, by the Army chaplains and by the commanding officers to the necessity of establishing amongst soldiers a habit of temperance towards strong drink which might have a real influence on their lives and also on their greater efficiency as soldiers. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will say a word about that. I gathered nothing from him on that subject. It may be that he will speak about it later.

Mr. Head

If it will help things along—I apologise to the hon. Gentleman, but I am doing my best—I can tell him that the number of offences for drunkenness in the Army has gone down and that the sales of mineral waters in N.A.A.F.I. everywhere have gone steadily up. However, I do not think that anything that I do or that any one else does will put an end to a certain fondness for beer on the part of the British soldier, which, although I know it goes against the grain for the hon. Gentleman, is not a thing which can be abolished; and in that respect the Army is the same as the rest of the civil population.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That a sum, not exceeding £7,880,000, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the expense of miscellaneous effective services, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1956.

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