HC Deb 15 March 1956 vol 550 cc605-7

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £33,250,000 be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the expense of movements, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1957.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

I cannot understand why, in Vote 5, the inland and coastwise conveyance of personnel, travelling allowances and expenses, in subhead A, has gone up by £850,000. As Vote A is down by some 38,000, or about 4 per cent., and as the Army is smaller by about 4 per cent., one would have expected that these travelling allowances would also have gone down by about £800,000. In fact, one would have looked for an economy in this direction of about £1,600,000 altogether.

I want to ask my hon. Friend how the increase has come about, and whether it represents an additional use of concession tickets and concessionary fares. I motor about a certain amount at the weekends and I often pick up young men in the Army and give them lifts. It is astonishing how far they go at the weekend, perhaps 150 or 200 miles, by way of lifts on the outward journey. They then use their concession tickets to go back on the railway, and many of them do this about three out of every four weekends. Therefore, one would expect that the expense to the Army of these concession tickets has gone up very considerably.

I should also like to ask whether the necessity for the home-to-duty travelling allowance is still justified. This was brought in during the war to enable officers and men to visit their wives when the latter had been bombed out of their homes in the bombed cities, but I understand that it is still in use in the Service. For instance, an officer who, say, has a house in the country and who makes a statement that he is making every reasonable effort to find a house nearer to his military base but cannot do so, therefore still receives this home-to-duty concession.

That is something which, in civilian life, would be looked upon very adversely indeed, and it has been resisted very generally in industry. I should like to ask my hon. Friend whether it has been abused or in any way turned into a "fiddle." I should also like to know why we have not made the economy of £1,600,000.

Mr. Wigg

I hope that when the Under-Secretary replies he will tell us whether the statements which have just been made by the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) are accurate or not. I have always thought that concessionary fares were limited to authorised leave, and I am very surprised indeed to learn that literally thousands of troops are swarming round the country, apparently with unauthorised vouchers in their pockets. That must be so, unless the people whom the hon. Gentleman has picked up have been a little odd. The hon. Gentleman gives me the impression that almost every soldier whom he picked up had a return voucher in his pocket, and why a soldier should travel in the hon. Gentleman's car on the outward journey and go back on a concessionary voucher is utterly and completely beyond me.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

I am not suggesting that it is a free ticket, but a ticket at a reduced fare. That is what I am talking about.

Mr. Wigg

Why do they do it?

Mr. F. Maclean

Perhaps I can answer my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke). First, he asks why it is that, although the number of troops has gone down, travelling costs have gone up. The answer to that is fairly simple. The main reason is because railway fares and bus fares have gone up, and therefore it costs more for them to travel. There is another reason, and it is that, with the increase in the strategic reserve, there are more troops in the United Kingdom, and therefore more troops travelling.

As regards the concessions, the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), as so often is the case, is quite right—I do not say always, but very often. A soldier may travel on a concessionary voucher only when in possession of a leave pass. Another point is that the cost of the concession is borne by British Railways and is not a charge upon public funds. We are extremely grateful to British Railways for granting this concession, so that the question really does not arise on this Vote.

In regard to the home-to-duty travelling allowance, I think my hon. Friend answered his question himself. These allowances are given when soldiers, for reasons outside their control, live at a distance from their work, and it is only fair that they should have these allowances. As I have said before, all these things were taken into account in fixing the new pay increases, and there is really no question, in spite of the very satisfactory nature of the increases, of soldiers of any rank getting more than they deserve, and certainly no case of a "fiddle."

Mr. W. R. Williams (Manchester, Openshaw)

I should like to say a word or two about what has been said by the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) because it seems to me that members of the Forces are in great danger when they accept lifts from the hon. Gentleman. I am wondering whether it is not the responsibility of the War Office and of the other Services to have a small notice published, so that they can put it in the hon. Gentleman's car, reading to this effect: "Beware. Do not accept any rides from this gentleman because he is only finding out something about you in regard to your concessionary fares which might in the long run be very detrimental to you."

I think it is only fair that something of that sort should be done, as a result of the points raised by the hon. Member, especially when it seems quite clear that he has got his information under the pretence of appearing to be a benefactor to those poor chaps who are trying to get home to their wives and families. I think it is incumbent upon me to ask the War Office to prepare a document of some sort for the guidance of these boys.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

I have the same feeling as my hon. Friend, but I do not know by what right the War Office could put a notice on the car of the hon. Gentleman. It would be more effective if the troops were warned that it is still dangerous to have careless talk with inquisitive people, particularly if they look like being a Member of Parliament supporting this Government.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That a sum, not exceeding £33,250,000, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the expense of movements, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1957.