HC Deb 14 March 1961 vol 636 cc1289-302

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £11,890,900, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the expense of various miscellaneous effective services, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1962.

8.15 p.m.

Mr. Dugdale

This is a comparatively small Vote as Votes go and provides for only £11 million. There are 18 items in it, but the remarkable thing is that the Vote has increased by 25 per cent. over the last year, a very steep rise.

Some of the items are very curious. Subhead A deals with naval sea and air conveyance. The expenditure there has gone up by more than 30 per cent. Who is travelling where and what is he doing when he gets there? Why are there 30 per cent. more people travelling? This curious state of affairs needs explanation, for there appears to be a sudden enormous increase of people travelling everywhere and I want to know what they are doing and whether their journeys are necessary.

Subhead MM—Instruction of Naval Personnel at Outside Establishments—shows a rise of £729,000, again about 30 per cent. Why is there that rise? It may be that the charge was too low before, or that training is now better or that there is more training. What check is kept? I know that the Civil Lord goes into these matters very carefully, as I used to do, but what can he tell us about it?

We then come to the most extraordinary case of the cost of postage. For some obscure reason, which I fail to understand, the cost of postage has risen from £40,000 to £330,000. It has increased by no less than eight times. The cost of sending letters and, maybe, parcels all round the world has gone up by eight times. That needs explanation. We are told that charges for the posting of official mail at home and abroad have increased by that amount. Who writes to whom and what do they write about? Are they, for instance, writing about Holy Loch, or about the admirals? Are they sending love letters to each other, and, if so, has the Civil Lord received any of these letters? What are they all about? I should like to know something about it. It seems to me to be a most extraordinary state of affairs.

The only thing that I can imagine is that there is a state of confusion in the Navy, with orders, counter-orders, the countermanding of orders and everybody rushing round in circles and sending letters to each other. This is the picture we get of the Navy from the Estimates, and we certainly ought to be enlightened by the Civil Lord, because that is the picture presented to us of the Navy under his administration at the moment.

8.19 p.m.

Mr. F. H. Hayman (Falmouth and Camborne)

I should like to raise a question on Vote 11, Subhead G "Compensation for losses, damage, etc." —the details of which are given on page 152 of the Estimates. It appears that damage by Her Majesty's ships has increased by £35,000 last year, £135,000 this year. No doubt, there is an explanation for it, but it seems to me to he a rather large increase. This year, losses by shipwreck or other casualty of the Service" amounted to £15,000, which is the same as last year, but the particular item with which I am concerned is that of miscellaneous compensation—£100,000 in each year.

My particular concern is about a naval exercise in Mounts Bay, in June of last year. I have been asked to raise the issue by the Cornwall Sea Fisheries Committee. This batch of correspondence between the clerk to the Cornwall County Council, the clerk to the Fisheries Committee and the Admiralty has been passed on to me. Briefly, the particulars are that five fishermen—I know that it is a small number—who work the shell fisheries from Porthleven submitted claims for loss of earnings from 8th to 17th June, and also claims for the time occupied in taking up their crab pots before the exercise, moving them to another area and afterwards bringing them back again. Claims were also made for damage to gear outside the exercise area, and these claims were met by the Admiralty, while the claims for loss of earnings were refused.

I understand, from a Question which I put to the Minister of Agriculture, that there is no precedent for paying compensation for loss of earnings. That seems to me to be an extraordinary state of affairs. In any case, if there is no precedent, I do not see why the Admiralty could not create a precedent this year, the Estimates for which we are now considering.

It seems to me that the only criterion that should apply is whether the claim of the fishermen in such circumstances is just or unjust, and I hope that the Civil Lord will say that the claim is just. If he says otherwise, then I should like to know what his justification is, because it seems to me that this precedent may well go back to the days of the press gangs, when men were press ganged into the Navy. Here, however, we are only dealing with ordinary fishermen, and I thing that it is time that the Admiralty had a new look at this matter. I am sure that the Civil Lord is sufficiently humane to give this question very sympathetic consideration.

After all, in these Estimates the Civil Lord is asking for £400 million. Surely, therefore, the compensation of the fishermen in circumstances like these would not amount to a very great sum. I am quite sure that the hon. Gentleman will also bear in mind that there are no subsidies to shell fishermen. When it comes to war, the Navy depends on the fishermen of England for help, and they have never yet failed to help. I therefore hope that the Minister will be very sympathetic to the claims of these men, and that on re-examination, or on his personal examination, of the claims, he will make an award and set a precedent for which all fishermen will be grateful.

.8.24 p.m.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

I am very glad indeed to be able to endorse the appeal made by the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman) for the fishermen. Fishermen are vitally interested in the Navy, because most of them have been in the Navy. In my constituency, there is a great deal of interest by the fishermen in a good deal of the extravagant expenditure on the part of the Admiralty. On the Clyde, for example, the fishermen are very critical of certain expenditure, and I am quite sure that if Vote 11 for miscellaneous effective services were shown to the fishermen and explained in detail—. not lost in obscurity in this volume—they would realise that a very close scrutiny indeed should be kept upon these Estimates.

I speak as president of the Clyde Fishermen's Association, and I know how difficult it is to get money out of the Government for harbours and piers for fishermen, who now regard the Admiralty as wasting money in a good many ways.

The Temporary Chairman

We should be quite interested to hear the views of the fishermen and of the hon. Gentleman himself on Vote 11.

Mr. Hughes

I am sorry, Mr. Williams, if I have been misled by the hon. Member for Falmouth and Cam-borne. I think that the right hon. Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Dugdale) should take some consolation from the fact that there is one decrease in these Estimates, and it is a curious one. It is in the allowances to ministers of religion, which have gone down from £8,500 by £1,000. The Admiralty has suddenly been able to effect a small economy at the expense of the allowances to ministers of religion, and also in other various small, petty items, of which I should like an explanation.

For example, while all these other items are going up, we find that contributions to charitable institutions have actually gone down. The contributions to the Royal Humane Society and some other small contributions have gone down. Is the Admiralty cheeseparing with these small but worthy organisations in order to make some show of economy?

I, too, am very interested in the item relating to travelling, subsistence and passage allowances, which shows an increase of £887,000, which is really an enormous sum. We recently had a debate on the travelling activities of the Admiralty between London and Bath. Are they included in these figures? We were told by the Minister that 12,000 Admiralty personnel were living in Bath. What proportion of this travelling, subsistence and passage expenditure is included in this item? The increase in this item is £187,000. I hope that we shall also be given some explanation of the increase in the estimate with regard to telegrams, telephones and postage, which amounts to £347,000.

I turn next to recruiting and publicity services, where the expenditure is expected to rise by £33,800, to a figure of £105,000. We have had various debates on manpower and recruiting, in which we have been told that the Navy was not short of recruits. Is it essential for the Navy to spend so much on recruiting and publicity services when we have always assumed that the people of Portsmouth, Chatham and other traditional Navy ports join the Navy just as the sons of coal miners go down the mines? How much is spent on recruiting, and how much on publicity? An enormous amount of publicity is carried out by the Navy. Whenever it carries out manoeuvres in the Clyde or elsewhere publicity officers supply pictures and stories to the newspapers in order to convince us that the Navy is really doing something, and that the Admiralty is worth the money we are spending on it.

I do not see why we should spend so much on these services. We can depend upon the enterprise of newspaper correspondents to swoop upon any naval activity which has news value. Let us consider the kind of public services that are carried out, as in the case of what happened in Holy Loch last week. The Admiralty conducted a wonderful publicity campaign, when about 186 newspaper correspondents were brought to Scotland. They came to Largs, where they were met by a naval vessel and taken to Holy Loch.

I am told that this was done under the auspices of the Admiralty. Once the correspondents boarded the "Proteus", however, they were entertained by the Americans. This is a curious kind of publicity. Why did the Admiralty invite the Czechoslovaks? I do not believe that the Russians went there. I understand that a vast number of foreign correspondents did go to Holy Loch, however, and I should like to know whether that kind of publicity is covered by this item, and how much more there is likely to be. if the daily newspapers see anything of news value they will take advantage of it without getting any handouts from the Admiralty, and I suggest that expenditure on this item should be pruned. We are doing a service by meticulously examining these matters. I hope that some of these mysteries will be cleared up.

Another item relates to the instruction of naval personnel at outside establishments. The estimate for that has increased by £728,900. It may be said that that is not very much, in terms of total Admiralty expenditure, but these items of £700,000 here, and £500,000 there add up to the swollen estimates that we are considering. What does the term "outside establishments" mean? It is very vague. Are they outside the country, or outside the Navy?

The total net increase in these miscellaneous effective services—the petty cash account of the Navy—is £2,478,000, and we should have some explanation of that rise. The effectiveness of a business depends upon its petty cash being wisely administered. As a result of taking more care with the Navy Estimates than we have done for a long time we discover that this petty cash account has risen by £2,478,000. This is how inflation comes about. Expenditure is added to expenditure, and in a few weeks' time we will find the benches opposite full of hon. Members demanding a reduction of national expenditure, with special reference to the social services.

These items ought to be explained. I hope that we will get more detailed information than we have had so far. I know that we have been rather hard on the Minister today, but I have sat here as long as he has. It is my business to carry out the instructions given to us by the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) that we must probe, cleanse, and analyse in great detail Admiralty expenditure, because it was necessary in the interests of the country to do so. If anyone knew anything about the Admiralty, it was surely the right hon. Member for Woodford. Wherever he is, be it in Monte Carlo or on the Caribbean Sea, I am sure that his heart is with us tonight while we are examining the Estimates.

8.36 p.m.

Mr. Paget

I wish to raise one point. It is a point on which I have had some correspondence with the Civil Lord. It is the issue of ensign warrants. It is not a very expensive item, but as it concerns not only the most beautiful flag in the world but the most famous flag that has ever been flown at sea, it is a matter of some importance.

For a long time it has been issued through a franchise granted to the Royal Yacht Squadron. I doubt whether this is the proper way to issue flag warrants. I doubt whether the Admiralty, in a matter which so intimately concerns us as the naval flag, should part with the discretion as to who should carry that flag by issuing warrants through a third party.

One of the rather curious results of this is that while there are about fifty flag officers of the Navy, either serving or retired, in the Lloyds Register of Yacht Owners, not one of them is entitled to fly the ensign of his Service on his yacht, yet one sees a number of young guardsmen, who, frankly, are not fit to be in charge of bumboats, doing the most peculiar things with this great flag on their boats. I do not believe that that is right, or that it is a proper exercise of the Admiralty's discretion.

In considering how this franchise is exercised, one has to realise that although the cost to the Admiralty is not very high, the cost to the user is made very high indeed. The Squadron has a life subscription of 1,000 guineas and an entry fee of 100 guineas. Considering the very limited facilities it has to offer, it would be very odd if it could command that figure unless it had a flag to sell. This is a flag which ought not to be sold. It is in the gift and discretion of the Admiralty.

Again, there is an electoral system which, to say the least, is odd. For instance, one of our most distinguished citizen was blackballed on the grounds that his grandfather was a German, to the not inconsiderable indignation of his proposer, the Prince of Wales, whose grandfather was also a German. Good stories are told of how this works. A distinguished officer of the Royal Air Force was put up for election and an inquiry was made as to who he was. The reply came that he had a distinguished service in the Air Force and the answer to that was, "What do they expect us to take, dirt track riders?" This, in my submission, is not the way in which this privilege granted by the Admiralty of a naval flag should be worked.

I suppose the original idea was that the Squadron should operate as the Jockey Club operates for racing or the National Sporting Club operates for boxing, but it has not done so. The bodies which regulate and control yachting are the Yacht Racing Association, the Royal Ocean Racing Club and the Royal Cruising Association. Those are the bodies which do the job. Services rendered to yachting by the Squadron are, in fact, nil. It organises some regattas on the rather peculiar basis that one can draw a programme if one has entered at a lodge at the gates. These rather archaic bad manners are quite amusing although a little embarrassing when we see foreigners, who give us such hospitality in their clubs, treated in that way. It is the more regrettable when that sort of conduct, of which I do not think any one of us very much approves in this age, appears to have the insignia of official approval by the fact that it wears this great ensign of the Navy.

I therefore suggest—of course. I cannot expect an answer now that the Admiralty should exercise this franchise. People who have served the Navy in flag rank should have the right to wear this ensign on their yachts and other people who have distinguished themselves in yachting—they are very few, although some, of course, are members of the Squadron, but a great number are not should he granted this as a mark of distinction, which indeed is what it ought to be. The advice, if the Admiralty wants it, should be taken from the regulating authorities of yachting and those are the Yacht Racing Association, the Royal Ocean Racing Club and the Royal Cruising Association. They could form a panel to advise the Admiralty, although, in fact, commands are now quite sufficiently involved in yachting to be able to advise internally on those yachtsmen who ought to be granted this great distinction.

Mr. Dudley Williams (Exeter)

As a tremendous number of people who are successful at yachting today have had nothing to do with the Royal Navy but have come from the Royal Air Force and, on occasion, fly the White Ensign, would the hon. and learned Member say that they should be allowed to fly a Royal Air Force flag?

Mr. Paget

I do not think that the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams) came in when the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey) would have been able to tell him the attitude taken to members of the Royal Air Force.

8.45 p.m.

Mr. Stan Awbery (Bristol, Central)

I should like the Civil Lord to tell us something about the position in Malta. It is two years since that we decided to withdraw from Malta and hand over the dockyards to Messrs. Bailey and Company. My information from the island now is that the position of the employees is very precarious.

The Temporary Chairman (Mr. Ronald Russell)

Would the hon. Gentleman tell me to which subhead he is referring?

Mr. Awbery

I presume that we are dealing with the Admiralty in Malta.

The Temporary Chairman

We are not.

8.46 p.m.

Mr. C. Ian Orr-Ewing

May I thank hon. Members for their courtesy in giving me advance notice of the points which they would raise. The right hon. Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Dugdale) and the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) asked about travelling and subsistence. I know that it looks rather odd that it should rise. There are three reasons.

First, the increased fares by land, sea and air. I think that it will be conceded that these three have gone up. Secondly, the increased removal expenses and subsistence due to the closure of establishments which involves us in rather more removals than normally. We compensate people being posted as they are able to claim removal expenses. Thirdly, the large number of personnel stationed east of Suez owing to the building up of the fleet and the stationing of the Commando carrier east of Suez. This involves longer and often more expensive journeys.

This factor also applies to families going overseas. Nowadays, school children are allowed one trip a year paid out of these Votes to parents serving overseas. This accounts, in all, for the large increase of £870,000 on a Subhead of £7 million.

Mr. Dugdale

Will the item in respect of school children be only for one year?

Mr. Orr-Ewing

It will be always there. We have far more people serving in the Far East than previously and therefore more children going there than previously. That has been only recently introduced.

Subhead D—"Telegrams, telephones and postage "—is a new procedure, because the Post Office is now a self-accounting and almost a commercial organisation. We have had to provide in this Vote £290,000 for such services, which were previously carried out free of charge by the Post Office as an allied service.

The only other significant increase is £35,000 under Subhead D, to cover the increased cost of the carriage of mails by the General Post Office due to the increase of sea conveyance costs which it now debits to us under the new procedure I mentioned.

Subhead G deals with compensation for losses which it is very difficult to forecast. We always hope that Her Majesty's ships will not have a collision and, therefore, that there will be no claims for compensation. We have had to take note of the incidence of accidents over the last year and to make an increase in the coming year. I cannot go into the question of why it should be. I hope that there will be no claims at all, but I think that we must make an average of what to expect.

The hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman) made a moving appeal on behalf of the fishermen. My hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. G. R. Howard) has been to see the First Lord and me on this issue. He will know that warning was given and that the area of this exercise was fixed after consultation with the fishing advisory authority locally.

On the question of loss of earnings, the policy we carry out applies over the whole Government field. It is very difficult, and we should open the taxpayers to very large claims, if, in the undertaking of any exercise, farmers or anyone else claimed that there had been interference. We looked at the claims for 50 per cent. loss of earnings very carefully and came to the conclusion that some of the claims could not rightly be attributed. They were attributed to storm damage rather than to the action of Her Majesty's ships. We tried to take a sympathetic view when there was any doubt. I will re-examine this matter again on both counts, but I have looked at it fairly closely and I do not think that there is much room for further adjustment.

Mr. Hayman

I am sorry that the hon. Member has said that, because I feel that fishermen, who are, in the main, a kind of reserve for the Royal Navy itself, ought to receive special consideration, and I cannot imagine that their claims should be treated in the same way as claims by farmers and others.

Mr. Orr-Ewing

It is an appealing case and one would like to do something for people who contribute to the reserve power of the Navy, but we must administer the taxpayer's money with great care.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Hear, hear.

Mr. Orr-Ewing

I am glad to have some support from the other side.

The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) asked me about charities. The reason why there has been a out-down is that we had increased for a time our contribution to one charitable organisation which looked after the employment of officers being retired early because of the run-down scheme, but, since we have now completed our run-down, we have reverted to a more normal contribution.

The hon. Member for South Ayrshire referred at one point to my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill). I remember well that my right hon. Friend on one occasion said that the House was a very jealous place. The hon. Member said that he had been trying very hard this evening. I readily acknowledge that the House of Commons always must take absolute priority, and the fact that we are trying, in the Board of Admiralty, to give a dinner to our retiring Permanent Secretary after fifty years with the Navy on this very evening is one of the accidents of parliamentary life. I do not in any way resent all the very good questions which have been put to me from both sides.

The right hon. Member for West Bromwich asked about Subhead MM and the reason for the increase of £728,900. This is mainly paid to the Air Ministry for flying training of naval pilots, and the abrupt increase arises from the specialised training necessary because we have now gone over to Jet Provosts in the initial stages, and this is very much more expensive. We have had increased costs on that account, and also there is the increased entry of helicopter specialists required now to man the second Commando carrier, among other things.

I come now to Subhead N, "Miscellaneous Payments". Here again, the main reason for the increase is the provision in the current year to include £75,000 for services hitherto carried out by the G.P.O. free of charge. Thus, two aspects of this Vote are affected by the decision that the Post Office should charge Government Departments for services.

The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget)—I am obliged to him for giving me advance notice—asked me about the Royal Yacht Squadron. Incidentally, my grandfather was a member of it, so I have some feeling for it. From the researches I have been able to make, it does not seem that the Royal Yacht Squadron was ever granted the privilege of flying the White Ensign because it was the governing body of the sport in the same way as the M.C.C. or the National Sporting Club can be said to be governing bodies.

I do not think that that ever happened. I am quite willing to look at the matter, although, as I think the hon. and learned Member will agree, though one may feel proud of the White Ensign and the privilege of flying it, it is not actually very relevant to the maritime defence of the country.

It is a very old privilege dating back, I think, in the first case, to 1829. I believe that it was originally given to the Squadron in 1842, when its yachts used to join manoeuvres, particularly when the Sovereign also was taking part. I think that it has now become a privilege somewhat hallowed by tradition, and one feels a little reluctant to abolish such old practices. However, I will look at the point.

If we took the privilege away from the Royal Yacht Squadron, I think that we should prefer to restrict the use of the White Ensign exclusively to the Royal Navy rather than grant the privilege of flying it to other clubs and individuals. There would, I think, be a good deal of acrimonious debate if a Government Department, albeit the Admiralty, tried to become the arbiter of who was or was not a good sailor, or who was or was not a worthy citizen. I think that the pressure, lobbying and other influences to which we might be subject if we adopted that proposal would make us extremely vulnerable. However, I will look at it. The hon. and learned Member will, I am sure, bear in mind that it is a very old tradition which one would not lightly forsake.

Mr. Wigg

I am very interested in the point raised by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget). I ask the Government to bear in mind what I am going to say, for consideration in future years. I do not know how the recent discussion has been in order, but it obviously has been in order, otherwise the Chair would not have permitted it. It is odd that we can have an erudite and sophisticated discussion on the Royal Yacht Squadron, but cannot have any discussion on Naval Intelligence and the expenditure of money on it. Naval Intelligence is very important. We can spend ten minutes or a quarter of an hour discussing the flag flown by the Royal Yacht Squadron, but cannot devote a moment of time to discuss an important subject affecting the security of the country.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That a sum, not exceeding £11,890,900, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the expense of various miscellaneous effective services, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March. 1962.