HC Deb 13 March 1958 vol 584 cc635-8

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £13,026,000, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the expense of victualling and clothing for the Navy, including the cost of victualling establishments at home and abroad, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1959.

4.42 p.m.

Miss Joan Vickers (Plymouth, Devonport)

I should like to raise one or two points on victualling. I am particularly grateful to the Civil Lord for replying to the points I made during the recent debate on the Navy Estimates. I am glad to see that there is an attempt to reorganise and co-ordinate the victualling yards. I hope that this reorganisation will be carried out because, as I said previously, although they are co-ordinated the expense does not seem to be reduced at all. In fact, the hiring charges are still increasing.

There are two specific questions I should like to ask. One is about the Admiralty Police who are guarding these yards. I understand that at least 58 will be redundant from overseas. These men are of considerable age, and had anticipated being in their jobs until they retired. Are they given an opportunity of taking a job at some of the yards here on their return? I understand that the home Admiralty staff is being cut by only one, so perhaps it might be possible to take some there.

Last year I raised the question of the Admiralty police uniform. I understand this was promised for last autumn, but so far nothing has been seen of it. I hope that it has not got into one of the big storages and been lost.

Mr. R. Allan

Is this on Vote 2?

Miss Vickers

Yes, in page 27.

Opposite, my hon. Friend will see that the police victualling yards are to be reduced from 100 to 42. I am glad, too, that more money is being given for food. It is extremely important that the food should be good, particularly on ships. It makes a great deal of difference to the personnel.

The only other point I wish to mention is on Subhead G, page 27, paragraph (3), where it says: Grog money. The rate of grog money is at present fixed at 3d. a day or 21s. a quarter. I reckon that a quarter has about 91 days in it, and if that is correct the chap is being cheated by 1s. 9d. I should like to have an explanation of that. I am particularly interested in the personnel side.

4.45 p.m.

Mr. Humphrey Atkins (Merton and Morden)

I, also, am interested in the question of the food, and am extremely keen that it should be as good as possible. I am a little surprised to see an increase in the cost of provisions. This year Vote 7 is considerably smaller than last year. If my mathematics are correct, it is down by about 8 per cent. We were told in the Navy Estimates debate that it was to be followed by a further 6 per cent. or thereabouts during the course of this year.

In page 26, Subhead G, the cost of provisions is shown as having gone up, again if my mathematics are correct, by about 7 per cent. Many of the other items in this Vote have gone down in price, some of them very considerably. Subhead K, "mess traps," for example, are down by about 60 per cent.; Subhead M, "clothing, etc.", is down by about 20 per cent.; clothing itself, in fact, is down by 50 per cent.

All these are very desirable savings. I am not suggesting that we should save on the food by giving the Navy bad food, but I do not quite understand why, when Vote A is coming down, including the cost of clothing the Navy, the cost of food should have gone up apparently by 7 per cent.

Mr. Norman Pannell (Liverpool, Kirkdale)

The only point I wish to raise is on the number of civilian personnel in the victualling department. During the debate on the Navy Estimates, my hon. Friend the Civil Lord made a gallant defence against the charges of waste and extravagance, especially in regard to the civilian personnel. Is there any justification for a total personnel of 3,197 compared with 1,603 in 1937? I admit that there has been a reduction in numbers over the past year, but it seems difficult to justify twice the number of personnel today that there were in 1937, when the uniformed naval personnel has increased only fractionally compared with twenty years ago.

Mr. R. Allan

My hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Miss Vickers) asked me about the police. The uniform comes under Vote 8. The Admiralty constabulary generally is being very slightly reduced. I will look into the point she raised, because I am not able to give her an immediate answer to her question.

My hon. Friend the Member for Merton and Morden (Mr. Atkins) asked why the cost of provisions under Subhead G had gone up when we were having a general run-down of personnel. The answer is that under an inter-Service agreement the Navy is victualling the other two Services in certain places in the United Kingdom, and especially in Malta. The extra cost of this is, of course, borne in the Navy Vote here under provisions, but it will be recovered in the form of repayments from the other Services. I hope that the extra cost may reflect a better standard of food as well.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kirk-dale (Mr. N. Pannell) asked me about general numbers. As was pointed out previously on the question of civilians, more work is being done by civilians than was being done before by uniformed personnel. This once again releases uniformed personnel for service at sea, which is where we want them. That is the main reason, but the reduction is also due to the recent closing of establishments at home and abroad.

The hon. Lady asked me about grog. That question is always coming up. The cost of grog is 1s. 1¾d. and a rating gets 3d. a day, or 21s. a quarter if he decides not to take grog. There must be some payment by way of a fixed rate in those circumstances and, in fact, he does better out of it.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That a sum, not exceeding £13,026,000 be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the expense of victualling and clothing for the Navy, including the cost of victualling establishments at home and abroad, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 959.