§ Lords Amendment: In page 1, line 10, leave out "Navy Board" and insert "Admiralty Board".
§ 10.21 p.m.
§ The Minister of Defence (Mr. Peter Thorneycroft)
I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment.
It may also he convenient with this to take the remaining two Lords Amendments. Is that possible?
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
These Amendments are concerned with nomenclature and specifically with the name which should be accorded to a sub-committee of the new Defence Council charged with the important responsibilities of the management of the Royal Navy. It is clear from the Bill that the office of the Admiralty as we know it today in the sense of a separate Department will disappear, as my hon. Friend the Civil Lord said on Monday. This is inevitable because the office of the Lord High Admiral, which was in commission in the Admiralty, will revert to Her Majesty the Queen and most of the main powers of the Admiralty, certainly in respect of major policy, will be conferred on the Secretary of State and the Defence Council. What will be left will be the sub-committee or subordinate Board of the Defence Council. The question with which we are concerned is what name should be accorded to it.
In the Commons the name preferred was the Navy Board. [HON. MEMBERS : "No."] It was the name in the Bill as it left the House of Commons. I am bound to say that that was the name which I preferred and, to be frank, it was the name preferred by the Board of Admiralty. But both names have an 1450 honoured place in history. The word "Admiralty" has been current since about the 14th century in its wider sense of the affair of the sea and since the reign of Henry VIII as the Admiralty as we know it, that is, the Office of the Lord High Admiral ; as also has the Navy Board since that period, with which the names of Samuel Pepys and others have been honourably connected.
We can take a different view, but I am bound to advise the House that I do not think that the name of the Board is of such r[...]agnitude as to justify us in sending messages backwards and forwards between the two Houses and possibly delaying the introduction of an important Measure. In those circumstances, we should agree with the Lords Amendment.
§ Mr. E. C. Willis (Edinburgh, East)
It has been an edifying spectacle that so many of the quarterdeck have been mutineering, hardly the example to set the Royal Navy. Nevertheless, on this occasion I am glad that the mutineers have won. I did not have the privilege of serving on the Standing Committee. I was away at the time trying to reduce the majority of the present Solicitor-General for Scotland—as we did. I found it rather difficult to understand why this fight was pursued to such lengths in another place.
As the right hon. Gentleman now recognises, it is simply a question of a name. The powers are not affected, and the success of the plan for greater integration of the defence departments at the top depends not upon the name but upon the Minister, and the will which is put into fitting them doubtedly very wide associations. It arouses a great deal of sentiment. It is closely associated with our traditions and history. It is a good name, and it is difficult to see why it should be changed.
One argument which was put forward in the other place was that as we were changing the functions we should change the name. The Government Front Bench has on it many people whose present-day functions barely resemble the original functions. There is the Lord Privy Seal, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Treasury Whips. They were not originally intended as Government Whips. Reading the name "Lord Commissioner 1451 of the Treasury", one would hardly expect that it would hide beneath it the Chief Government Whip, but it does.
§ Mr. Willis
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury is the Chief Whip, but I was talking about the other Whips. They are Lords Commissioners of the Treasury.
Many cities and associations throughout the country have officials who bear names that have a long tradition, but their original functions have long since disappeared. Edinburgh has a Lord Provost, who is Admiral of the Forth, but he does not perform many functions in that connection. We preserve these names because we like them, and that is a good reason for keeping them, so long as they do not interfere with the manner in which the various functions are carried out. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has changed his mind on this matter. We accept the Lords Amendments.
§ Mr. Simon Wingfield Digby (Dorset, West)
In Committee, we had a little discussion on this point on an Amendment in the name of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Commander Courtney) and myself, but we did not discuss it nearly as fully as it was discussed in another place, where such distinguished people as Lord Attlee expressed a view with which I agree. I am glad that my right hon. Friend has found it possible to retain the word "Admiralty". A word like that has taken three centuries of naval history to build up, and it would be a pity to discard it if it can be avoided.
Much has been said of the history of the Navy Board, some of which is not entirely justified. Although it performed some valuable services it did not have an untarnished record, and on balance would not be quite so worthy a name as "Admiralty". In any case, in view of the events of the last few days and our difficulty in trying to sort out the naval policy of the party opposite, wonder whether either word would be appropriate if the Labour Party won the general election. But that is not for us to discuss tonight. We have to 1452 choose between the two words. I believe that the word "Admiralty" is to be preferred. A great many people throughout the naval Service who quite understand the new idea of integrating our defence Services will feel that in accepting the Lords Amendments on this occasion Parliament has done the right thing.
§ 10.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
The acceptance of the Lords Amendments by the right hon. Gentleman shows a weakness in his character to which we have become accustomed. Not long ago he resigned from the Government and retreated to the third bench below the Gangway and said that we were spending too much on nuclear armaments. He made a magnificent case, which made me think that I had converted him overnight.
But what happened? As I said last night, the poacher has turned gamekeeper, or perhaps the gamekeeper has turned poacher. At any rate, the right hon. Gentleman has completely reversed his attitude and has proposed the biggest armament budget that we have ever had in peace time. It is quite in keeping with his character. If I may be pardoned for introducing a military metaphor, this is the most remarkable manoeuvre since the days of the Grand Old Duke of York—He had ten thousand men.He marched them up to the top of the hill And he marched them down again.This has been called mutiny. I am inclined to approve of mutiny on principle. But mutiny in the House of Lords, in the gilded Chamber! The result was that the spokesman for the Ministry of Defence in the other place put up a fight. The right hon. Gentleman has not succumbed through sweet reasonableness at all. He has succumbed because he was defeated in another place. He took up the valuable time of the House of Lords which debated this issue for many hours, and now he has come along and hoisted the white flag of surrender. Of course, this encourages the House of Lords to do it again. This is a precedent.
§ Mr. Patrick Wall (Haltemprice)
Will the hon. Gentleman bear in mind that the last time there was mutiny in the 1453 other place it resulted in my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister coming into this House?
§ Mr. Hughes
And that was an absolute catastrophe. The hon. Member could not have chosen a more ridiculous precedent.
It would have been different if the Minister of Defence had said, "I have been beaten in the House of Lords. There were all these distinguished admirals and ex-admirals at each other's throats for hours over this point ; I apologise." But that is not his attitude. He has come here with a story about Henry VIII. This procedure has continued since the time of Henry VIII. I know what Henry VIII would have done with a Minister who had shown such weakness. He would have done the same as he did with some of his wives. [Laughter.] Hon. Members may draw what conclusions they like from that statement. But his head would have gone. Then we come to Samuel Pepys. Think what he would have written in his diary about the weakness of this irresponsible Minister.
I feel inclined to test the feeling of the loyalty of the House by taking this Amendment to a Division, except that I would probably be accused of disloyalty to the Labour Party and might be thrown out. However, I am voicing my protest. I hope that this will not be a precedent, when a Minister, having listened to the views of a Committee of the House of Commons, refuses to take the advice of that Committee and ignominiously surrenders to the House of Lords.
I hope the House of Lords will not take too much encouragement from this incident. Indeed, I hope that we shall soon not have this sort of dilemma ; I hope that we shall have abolished the House of Lords altogether.
§ Commander Anthony Courtney (Harrow, East)
I wish to associate myself with the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Wingfield Digby) in this matter.
There is one constitutional point which should perhaps be drawn to the attention of the House. The word "Admiralty", although its origins are lost in the mists of antiquity, has been interpreted as the instrument or expression of the powers of the ninth great officer of State, appointed after the end of the feudal 1454 system, The Lord Admiral has become the Lord high Admiral, after a few permutations, having had the same status as the Lord Chancellor, the Lord Privy Seal and the Lord Treasurer all of whom have suffered "sea changes"—if I may use that term—and the office of Lord Admiral, or Lord High Admiral, has been reassumed by Her Majesty.
In these circumstances, there is a strong constitutional argument for retaining the word "Admiralty" somewhere in the higher échelons of the new defence structure. My right hon. Friend is acting with great wisdom in retaining the words "Admiralty Board". The operational function of the Lord High Admiral will pass to my right hon. Friend who is Chairman of the Admiralty Board, while in his absence the Ministry of Defence (Navy) takes the chair. There, therefore, can be no question of conflict with the general proposition in integration which I think the majority in this House supports.
There are three very small practical points I should mention. I understand that about 25 Admiralty establishments throughout the world will retain their title, largely as a result of pressure from the civilian elements serving in those establishments. It is interesting that the pressure should come from civilians Admiralty establishments must subordinate themselves to someone, now within the Ministry of Defence. It is a detail but it would seem wrong if 25 or 30 Admiralty establishments throughout the world retained the word "Admiralty" while this word was not included in the higher defence organisation
There is the necessity, as laid down in the White Paper on Central Organisation for Defence, for the retention of some focus for each individual Service while we retain independent Services. A sentence which catches my eye says that all experience shows that the fighting spirit of the individual man in battle derives largely from his loyalty to his ship or regiment.
In the Army the new large regiments give that focus of loyalty, but here also there is a case for retention of something higher than the ship on which to focus loyalties of the individual officers and men in Her Majesty's Navy. The modern commission of 18 months coupled with a nine years' engagement for a sailor 1455 means that a man may serve in six, probably ten or a dozen, ships or establishments during his service, which is an unacceptable dilution of his loyalty focus to which I have alluded. It is right that the word "Admiralty" should be retained as a higher focus which also retains the spirit of old association between Her Majesty as Lord High Admiral and the officers and men of the Fleet.
There is a point of confusion between the American and Commonwealth navies. Had we retained the expression "Navy Board" we would have been indistinguishable from the Australian Navy Board, the New Zealand Navy Board and the Canadian Navy Board, apart from the Navy Department of the United States. Why must we slavishly copy our American allies in so many things, even to the exclusion of this wonderful word "Admiralty"? I am glad that my right hon. Friend has seen his way to meet this objection.
From a reply to a Question today, I understand that the word "Admiralty" used in naval signals will be replaced towards the end of this year by "Ministry of Defence, United Kingdom". If that is not the operation of Parkinson's Law in signals, I do not know what is. It means using five words instead of one. Would it not be possible for Her Majesty's ships all over the world to continue, as from time immemorial, to address "Admiralty, London"? If they introduce their United Nations policy, the Labour Party will doubtless require a ship name for the establishment in New York for the conduct of operations to which they will commit Her Majesty's Navy. I can only suggest "H.M.S. Pinafore".
I greatly welcome my right hon. Friend's decision and I am delighted with it. I wish the integration every success.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
The question which I ask myself is, "What sort of men are the Government composed of ; what sort of man is the First Lord of the Admiralty?" Speaking on behalf of the Government in another place, he said :My right hon. Friend and his colleagues have, in fact, reconsidered this matter most carefully, most fully, and, I would claim, most 1456 responsibly. It is only in the light of that careful consideration that, for the reasons which I have sought to advance today, and which I advanced at our Committee stage…
§ The Civil Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. John Hay)
On a point of order. The hon. Member is quoting from speeches in another place in the current Session.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The rule is that Ministerial statements may be freely quoted but that other statements may not be quoted.
§ Mr. Wigg
I thought that some hon. Members opposite would fall for that, but I did not think that a Minister would. But apparently when one goes fishing among the other side of the House it is not necessary even to bait the hook. The Civil Lord is about as competent as the rest of his defence colleagues.
I read again what the First Lord said on behalf of the Government on 25th February:My right hon. Friend and his colleagues have, in fact, reconsidered this matter most carefully, most fully, and. I would claim, most responsibly. It is only in the light of that careful reconsideration that, for the reasons which I have sought to advance today, and which I advanced at our Committee stage, I must once more ask your Lordships to reject this Amendment, should my noble Friends wish to press it"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords. 25th February, 1964 ; Vol. 255, c. 1064.]I take it that there were several Cabinet meetings at which the Prime Minister was present—this pusillanimous but so-called dynamic character. He was sitting in judgment on it, and this is the Government's considered view. The First Lord has not resigned. He is still a member of the Government. Yet he told another place:It is for that reason that we believe it would be illogical and inconsistent and indeed actively misleading to retain the old and, indeed, very revered title."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 25th February 1964: Vol. 255, c. 1061.]But now the Government swallow the lot.
§ Mr. Wigg
Of course I am not surprised. I was certain when I came here 1457 that the right hon. Gentleman would not have the guts to fight, for the same reason that he surrendered to the "blue water school" all the way through the Defence Estimates. This is why the bill will be so high. This is why the other two Services have to take a back seat. The right hon. Gentleman can no longer stand up for them.
It would not matter if the views were carefully considered views. It would not matter if there were an ounce of gumption. But look at the reasons given for the decision tonight. Despite the protestations and denials, hon. Members cannot miss the opportunity to ascribe to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition words which he has never used. Any misrepresentation from them is fair game. Hon. Gentlemen opposite laugh. I have been in the wars for the last two days, and I propose to be in them again. Throughout those two days I offered time and again to sit down to allow hon. Members opposite to intervene. Frequently, I invited the Minister to correct me if he could. There was not one taker on a single occasion. When I deal with strength in Cyprus, the Phantom 2 or anything else, there was not a taker. Not one hon. Member opposite would stand up to answer me.
That is what the argument is all about. This is not an argument about the label on the jam pot. If it is, could the House of Commons be more frivolous? In the 19 years I have been in the House I have never failed to give way immediately—
§ Mr. Geoffrey Hirst (Shipley)
Before the hon. Gentleman permits my hon. Friend to intervene, does he recall his remark about the needle getting stuck on the gramophone record?
§ Mr. Wigg
As long as hon. Members opposite do me the courtesy of getting 1458 to their feet when interrupting I will not object—as long as they do not mutter ; I cannot stand it when they mutter.
I am poisting out that on that occasion in another place it was a serious enough time for them to revolt. If that revolt was about nothing, as we are now being asked to believe, and if this is to be used as an occasion for attacking my right hon. Friend in his absence, despite the denials, then this is frivolity gone mad. But it is not quite like that. It is more serious. The noble Lord who moved the Amendment in another place and his associates there and here have got the Government by the tail. Be it about aircraft carriers, orders for aircraft or any thing else, they call the tune and the Government dance to it.
Here is fire clearest proof of that, for what other explanation is there? The First Lord comes from a very long and distinguished line. He bears an honoured and great name in the Navy. He gives his advice in the other place in fairly categorical terms. He speaks with the full responsibility of the Government—and he asked noble Lords not to press it to a Division ; but they did. They ignored everything that had been said and now, tonight, the Government swallow it What sort of men are these? Are they men at all? They can say one thing on the 25th and a few days later swallow their words without any explanation. The truth is that the Minister has given up the ghost.
The only reason I speak tonight is to point out fiat this is just one more example of why the defence bill mounts and the defence results get less and less. There is no principle. There is no policy. There is nothing here that can be coherently explained. It consists of a series of decisions and the Government benches only occasionally, through the kindness of the hon. and gallant Member for Chelsea (Captain Litchfield)—whom I regard as their leader ; he is the only sensible one among the lot—hear some sense from their supporters. One has only to read his speech last night to know that he was talking sense. He speaks sense every time. It makes sense, but whether what he is advocating is good for the country and whether it would merely create a greater defence bill is a matter for argument. All I have ever asked is 1459 that the facts should be hammered out. I am not asserting my view against that of the hon. and gallant Member for Chelsea. I have a view and I am entitled to put it to hon. Members. It is my duty to do that. The hon. and gallant Gentleman holds the opposite view to mine, but I ask him, as an honest and straightforward man : supposing, by some mischance, I am right and he is wrong? The consequences here are of the most far-reaching character. I have said all through our debates that the Government may be right, but the facts should be given to the House of Commons in a form in which hon. Members can examine them. No hon. Member can say that the House of Commons has been reasonably treated in the way that last week's announcements were made about the purchase of aircraft—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Order. It would be as well to bear in mind that what we are debating is whether or not to agree to leave out "Navy Board" and to insert "Admiralty Board."
§ Mr. Wigg
I am much obliged, Mr. Deputy-Speaker—I always defer to the Chair—but that has a very important connotation. If the expression is to be "Navy Board", then the most rabid "blue water" man on the other side of the Chamber will have to think that in terms of the Navy the Admiralty is something wider and more embracing. As it is, I believe that the take-over bid by the Navy has already happened and that the other two Services have now become subordinate to it—[HON. MEMBERS : "Rubbish."] Hon. Members opposite say "Rubbish," but they do not get up and say it. Where have they been during our debates? Yesterday and the day before there were not ten of them present at any time during those debates—[Interruption.] I repeat—
§ Mr. Wigg
The point I am making is that the term "Navy Board" is a narrow one, and that is why those in another place have objected to it. For them, it is far too narrow, and the hon. and gallant Member for Harrow, East (Commander Courtney) has made the case that was made there ; that the loyalty of the soldier is to his regiment and the loyalty of the sailor is to his ship, and that as in the course of his service the sailor changes his ship many times there should be greater loyalty.
I do the hon. and gallant Member the courtesy of trying to understand that argument, I recognise its force, but what I think is suspect is that this greater and all-embracing loyalty is being applied to the other Services, and things are so working out that one Service has the bit between its teeth. Our debate on the Defence White Paper, and the debate on Monday—and yesterday it was quite clear that the Secretary of State for Air was not fighting very hard on behalf of his Service—have given definite proof of that fact.
It is of paramount importance that the thing should be argued out, and I still maintain that the best way to argue it out in a democratic, deliberative assembly is to have a series of committees being given the greatest possible amount of information. That is all I have pleaded for in the last few years, and I have kept at it. I believe that I am right, and I believe that I strengthen the hand of the Minister.
When the First Lord expressed doubts about the logicality of this step and about its consistency and wisdom and gave the considered, responsible view of the Government, I believe that he was telling the truth. From the Government's point of view, there were very substantial reasons why this concession should not have been accepted in another place.
1461 The Government have tonight swallowed all they have said before, although there were the most substantial reasons for it. In other words, if there were those substantial and responsible reasons, there were risks involved in giving way to their hon. Friends. Yet tonight, for reasons of political expediency, they come here and say, "All right ; all we said before is a wash-out. We now withdraw". What will be the effect of that on the "blue water school"? Will they ask for less? They will ask for more, of course. They have tasted blood. We have had the announcement about one aircraft carrier, but we have not been told the number of aircraft because the Minister is afaid to tell us.
The bidding will go up. As it goes up, and as the cost increases and the defence results diminish, the reason will not be that we have merely changed the label ; the reason will be that this Government have, once again, surrendered the defence needs of this country and subordinated them to political expediency.
§ Captain John Litchfield (Chelsea)
The hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) has referred to me at considerable length. In this case, however, his intelligence service has let him down. I wish to make quite clear that, although no one would regret tie disappearance of the title "Admiralty" more than I should, in this case I thought that the Government's original proposals in the Bill were right, and it was my intention tonight, if my right hon. Friend had resisted the Amendment, to support him in the Lobby. There is, therefore, no truth whatever in the hon. Member's assertion that my right hon. Friend has surrendered to what he fondly describes as the "blue water school". I hope that he will withdraw the suggestion.
§ Captain Litchfield
Although I am complimented by the hon. Gentleman, I must go on record as saying that I profoundly disagree with him. We are full of brains on this side of the House.
1462 May I now briefly and a little more seriously explain my view to the House? Although I should have supported my right hon. Friend if he had decided to resist these Amendments—and he knew it—I am glad that he has decided to accept them.
§ Captain Litchfield
I will tell the House why We have reached the very curious situation in which opposition to the surrender of the title "Admiralty" has come not from the more senior and distinguished naval peers or, indeed, from the Board of Admiralty itself, but from a very wide range of people not directly connected with the Royal Navy. I suppose that this is a great tribute to the Navy a td to the Admiralty, though I must say that there have been times within my recollection when I have, at the receiving end, heard their Lordships, that is to say the Board of Admiralty, referred to in far less complimentary terms than have been used in these debates. I think that my right hon. Friend's derision is the right solution. It may be largely a matter of sentiment and tradition, but sentiment and tradition have Flayed an important part in our affairs in the past, and not a bad part either.
As was painted out in another place, although I must not quote it, there have been times in our history when it might have been argued as logically as today that other titles might have been changed. Far instance, after the Restoration it cot ld have been argued logically that tie title of the Monarchy might be amended in some way, and after the passing of the Parliament Bill that the title of another place might be altered to being it more closely into relation with the functions remaining. Changes of that kind, however, were resisted 300 years ago and 50 years ago, and that has proved to be a happy decision, even if it was not strictly logical. Therefore, although in accepting these Amendments from another place we are, perhaps, being a little illogical, I am glad that my right hon. Friend has decided to take this step and I hope that the House will support him.
I rather thought some time ago that my right hon. Friend would be faced 1463 with a singularly formidable operation in trying to sink the Admiralty without trace. It was a bigger task, I suspected, than any of my right hon. Friends anticipated. Once again, the Royal Navy—and I hope that this will gratify the hon. Member for Dudley, knowing his admiration for the Royal Navy—has shown that if it is to be sunk, it will certainly go down with its flag flying.
§ 11.0 p.m.
§ Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South-East)
I observe that there are a number of mixed reasons for supporting the Amendment that the Government propose to accept. I can understand the supine and benign appearance of the Leader of the House when he has a follower who says, "It does not much matter what you propose. I will still be there in the Lobby behind you."
When the hon. and gallant Member for Chelsea (Captain Litchfield) referred to the Restoration, I wondered whether he had on the tip of his tongue those lines about the Vicar of BrayThat whatsoever King shall reign, I will be the Vicar of Bray, Sir!I cannot understand how the hon. and gallant Member can say that he would have supported the Government no matter what they proposed on this occasion.
I have a different reason for supporting the Amendment. I am, I suppose, one of the few former Lords Commissioners who are in the House, but I also am, and am proud to be, the third generation to have served in the Royal Navy. My father and grandfather before me had much more distinguished records than I did. The reason why we prefer the name "Admiralty" to "Navy Board" is that nobody who was ever concerned about or associated with the Navy ever wants to be mixed up with the Admiralty. To have called it the Navy Board would have meant that the Navy had something to do with it. As somebody who served on the lower deck myself, and knowing what passed in naval households, the thought of having anything at all good ever coming from the Admiralty would have been anathema.
Therefore, I support the Government in this proposal, because I want to make 1464 it clear that this so-called Board, even though I once served on it for a short time, has nothing whatever to do with the Navy. It victuals them, it supplies their provisions and it provides them with rum and, on the whole, it gets in the way of officers and men trying to exercise their function in an independent manner but without much success as long as that wireless aerial was over the Board of Admiralty.
The Defence Estimates have been printed at great cost—11s. 6d. net from the Stationery Office. I have been reading the Votes, and I called Mr. Deputy-Speaker's attention to this yesterday. There appears on page 24, Vote 3, headed "Navy Department Headquarters".Estimate of the amount required in the year ending 31st March 1965 for the salaries, wages and expenses of the Navy Department Headquarters.There is no such thing now. Appendix IV refers to the organisation and staff of the "Navy Department Headquarters" and the senior staff and civilian staff of the "Navy Department Headquarters".
This is a lesson to the Government not to take too much for granted too soon. They had not got the Bill. I protested about this when the Admiralty Votes were introduced. The Civil Lord spoke rather huffily. He thought the Committee wanted him to get on with his speech. We did ; but we also wanted to know that the Votes had been properly printed.
It would be courteous for the Minister of Defence or the Civil Lord to tell us what it is now proposed to do about these Votes. They are, clearly, not presented in proper form. There is no such body as the Navy Board once we have accepted these Amendments. Does the Minister intend to reprint the Estimates? Will the Votes have proper amendment slips put in so that we can have "Admiralty" clearly stated as the body for which we are voting money?
Broadly speaking, for the reasons which I have given, I support the Amendments. I do not much mind one way or the other, but I think that to keep the Navy clean of any association with the Admiralty is well worth an Amendment of this sort.
§ Dr. Alan Thompson (Dunfermline Burghs)
Representing an Admiralty constituency, I do not think I can agree with some of the things that have been said. There is something to be said for the Navy in this matter. As a representative of an Admiralty constituency, I am glad that the Opposition here and in another place have concerned themselves with the traditions of the Navy in a way the Government have not.
While admitting that the functions of the Admiralty will change under the new defence proposals, it seems to me no reason why we should cut ourselves off from current opinion, affection and regard for old titles and old styles of naming our institutions. Lord Attlee put it rather well in another place, saying that he believed in preserving things of great tradition and not going for a kind of iconoclasm, which is a feature of the present Government.
In fact, on this matter the Government took the view that if they changed a function they had to change a name. The Opposition agree with the change of function. We accept that in a changing world the Navy of 1964 is a different kind from that of Nelson. We accept that new kinds of weapons and administration are required. But I have always thought that the Opposition have taken a very sensible view on this, that in a changing world there are still old things that we admire and traditions, objectives and views that we can continue to hold. Lord Atlee and other spokesmen have confirmed me in this view.
The Government originally took the view that if they had to abolish the Army Council and the Air Council, they would have to make everybody equally miserable by abolishing something to do with the Navy so that the Army and Royal Air Force would not feel aggrieved. This seemed to me a very frivolous reason. There are special historical reasons dating back to 1628 for calling the Admiralty "the Admiralty". It is true that its functions are changing, but I do not see why we should not preserve the particularly British features of our Navy. Every country in the world has a Navy, but only Britain has an Admiralty. Britain is a great maritime nation, one of the originally great maritime nations, with its own historical traditions.
While we must move with the times in technology, strategy and tactics, there 1466 are things which we hold should be maintained. I repeat my reason for speaking in this debate, representing as I do a dockyard constituency—that there is a certain public affection for—indeed, at the moment, also a growth of public interest—in Admiralty affairs. In my constituency the closest relations exist between the civic authorities, myself and the people who run the great Admiralty installations. Everyone there speaks of the "Admiralty". We can accept change of function and the reasons for it, but let us have enough regard for our traditions and our affection for all that has gone before not to insist on changing the names of everything.
The name "Admiralty" is still appended to a great many things, and if the word is to be retained as an adjective to describe such things as establishments, I do not see why it should not be retained as the noun to describe this highest organisation of the Royal Navy. Defence must always depend on changes of ideas, technology and strategy, but I do not see why these changes should also involve changes in titles. The Governments original view was that the Navy must be brought into line on this with the Army and the Air Force nominally in order to ring it into line practically. Lurking in the Government's mind was the thought that there were obsolete ideas at large in the Admiralty and that unless the name were changed the Admiralty would be heft behind while the Army and the Air Force moved rapidly ahead.
I cannot accept that view. I agree that it might be said that in Nelson's day, and earlier, the Navy had an entrenched, unique view which put it apart from others, but the tradition of inter-Service co-operation is as highly upheld by the Navy as it is by the other two Services. It may be true that in the Dardenelles campaign the Navy took a view of its own that set it aside from inter-Service co-operation and did not pull its weight—or, if it did pull its weight, pulled it in a different direction from that of the Army. But that is not true of a generation which has seen, in recent months, the operations off Borneo and East Africa.
§ Sir Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)
My recollection of the Dardenelles campaign is that my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) 1467 wanted a combined operation but could not get the co-operation of the Army—I regret, as a soldier, to have to say that—and decided, in desperation, to carry it out on his own with the Navy.
§ Dr. Thompson
I was not there and perhaps the hon. Gentleman speaks from first-hand experience. My recollection of the history of the campaign is that the Army and the Navy were at loggerheads. But that is certainly not the case at the moment. They were not at loggerheads off Borneo and East Africa. There is new thinking in the Services which has permeated the Admiralty as well.
The Government are inflicting great changes in this Bill, but there is nothing inconsistent between moving into the second half of the 20th century with our organisation of defence while at the same time paying regard to the public affection for and interest in the Admiralty.
§ 11.15 p.m.
§ Mr. G. W. Reynolds (Islington, North)
I had not intended to speak on this subject, but the Government seem to have settled with their own supporters even before the House began the discussion tonight. I rise simply because my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) has put one or two pertinent questions to which we have not had answers. We are being asked to approve an Amendment sent to us from another place which, unless the Government put down a number of Amendments, will make it difficult to deal with the Votes with which we shall deal on Monday.
It would be out of order to discuss those Votes now, but in order that we can decide what to do tonight we want to know what we can expect the Government to do to unscramble those things which have to be unscrambled. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff. South-East was perfectly right to say that we should have some explanation from the Government before we finally approve these Amendments. The Minister of Defence or the Civil Lord should tell us something about this difficulty. The Leader of the House is present and it may be his responsibility. A legitimate question has been put, and it should be answered before we finish the debate.
§ Mr. Wigg
I gave notice last week, Mr. Speaker, first that I objected to one man bands. [HON. MEMBERS : "Oh."] Secondly, last week the right hon. Gentleman abused the privilege of the House and did not reply to the defence debate but made an intensely political speech. For those reasons, I object to his being given leave.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I rise to a point of order to inquire whether direct from you. Mr. Speaker, or from the Treasury Bench, we can be told the answer to what I think is a legitimate question. The Civil Lord is here, as is the Leader of the House. Can we be told what we are expected to do in relation to Votes which are obviously now incorrect?
§ Mr. Speaker
So far as I am concerned, what we are discussing is the first of the Lords Amendments. The Minister of Defence has, I understand, been refused leave to speak again. That is all I have got to.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
Questions have been asked and have not been answered. Hon Members may have made up their minds, but I have not yet decided whether we should divide the House on this matter. We are entitled to some sort of information about how the Government propose to put right a mistake which they have made by taking a decision of the House for granted. This should come as no surprise to the Government, because the Minister of Defence was there when the matter was first raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) when the Civil Lord was hoping to begin his speech on Vote A of the Navy Estimates. I was hoping that we would get some explanation of the tangle. The Minister of Defence may have decided, objection having been taken to his speaking a second time, that he is debarred from making a statement, 1469 but that does not mean that everyone else on the Treasury Bench is tongue-tied. If it comes to a point of courtesy, I do not think that I have done the right hon. Gentleman any harm, and if he wants to intervene during my speech I shall gladly give way and let him keep within the bounds of order by speaking on his feet.
The Leader of the House surely appreciates that the Government have some responsibility to the House. It is a serious matter to present Estimates in such a form as to make them quite wrong and misleading. It is still further wrong when the basis of that error is the taking for granted of a decision of the House—and, indeed, the decision of another place. We now have terms that just are not right. I should like to know what will he done about it.
§ Mr. Ross
It is a muddle. I am not entirely convinced that the House should put itself into this muddle. We get into it only if we agree with their Lordships in these Amendments. We keep things right if we support the original intention of the Government. When the Government had these Estimates printed there is no doubt that this is what they intended. The difficulty the Government have got themselves into arises as a result of their change of mind. I am sure that there were quite valid reasons why they suggested the change of name in the first place. But it could not have been entirely unexpected that there would be a traditional uproar about the change.
I can remember when we discussed the Naval Discipline Act. There was a prelude to the Act, consisting of a few words which were quite out of character with present-day circumstances. But Samuel Pepys had put them there in the first place, they were familiar to the Navy, and eventually they were allowed to stay. The Government must have realised that that kind of reaction would be only natural in this case, but they decided to make the change and also had the Estimates printed—[Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Worcester, South (Sir P. Agnew) wishes to interrupt me I shall gladly give way [Interruption.] I 1470 do not know whether hon. Members opposite were pleased to hear the hon. Member for Bristol West (Mr. Robert Cooke) speak for more than an hour the other night on Post Office matters. They should not talk about hon. Members boring the House.
The point is a substantial one. I hope that somebody on the Government Front Bench will tell us what will happen about the Estimates if we accept the Lords Amendments. The Government got into the muddle, and it is right they should explain. The Civil Lord is here, and so is the Leader of the House. We might even have an explanation from the Patronage Secretary. He may have visited Glasgow last weekend to obtain the advice of that city about the change of names. Perhaps the Minister of Housing an I Local Government could explain, or the new Education Overlord. We get used to Government incompetence, but silence following incompetence is something new. We usually get some sort of justification or explanation.
Why should no explanation be forthcoming now? Does all the wisdom reside in the Minister of Defence? Can no one else read a brief? The Minister did not write that which is printed on the paper which is now sitting on his knee. Or is it that the rest of them cannot read" We should have had the Prime Minister here. We know that he can read. This is a serious point. I hope that we shall have some explanation from somebody on the Government Bench. I see no reason why we should accept this Amendment and get ourselves into this muddle with no explanation from the Government. [Interruption.] Did the hon. Lady wish to interrupt?
§ Dame Irene Ward (Tynemouth)
The hon. Gentleman said there was no reason why we should accept the Amendment. I merely said there is no reason, so why accept it?
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I should like your guidance on this matter. Could you tell us whether there is any precedent, under any Government, of an Estimate having been printed with the wrong words? Has this Estimate to be discussed again? Could we be told whether there is any 1471 precedent for this remarkable procedure, and how we are to get out of this difficulty procedurally?
§ Mr. Speaker
As this is a Supply question I do not know, but much of the matter will be determined if we decide upon this Amendment, which is the first Lords Amendment on the Paper. Mr. Ross is speaking.
§ Mr. Ross
The hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) stated the case correctly. It is up to the House to decide whether or not to accept this Amendment. I am pointing out that if we accept the Amendment we still have to clear up this muddle of the Estimate having been printed in the wrong form, since I believe we have to deal with a further stage of the Estimates next week. On the other hand, if we decide to reject the Amendment, the Estimates are in the proper form. There is quite a considerable attraction to anyone who has a desire to see the proceedings of the House conducted properly to keep the Government right. [An HON. MEMBER: "Divide."] Whether I divide will be determined by myself and not by a shouted interjection from an hon. Member for whose Parliamentary experience I have little regard.
It may be that there is a simple explanation. My right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) has already given a hint the other day, and again tonight, that the Government have prepared some sort of explanation of what is involved in this matter. Quite apart from the pique of the Minister of Defence because he cannot or does not want to speak, there is still an obligation on the Government to make this explanation to the House. It is a very simple point. I was quite prepared to listen to the right hon. Gentleman. The fact that he cannot give the explanation does not mean that it cannot be given. I want that information.
§ Mr. Ross
If the Government will indicate that they are going to give an explanation I will gladly sit down. I suppose the hon. and gallant Member for The Hartlepools (Commander Kerans) is going to speak on behalf of the Government? I do not feel so strongly about 1472 whether the words should be "Navy Board" or "Admiralty Board". I think there is much to be said for the view expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes). At the same time, there is some logic in the view expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), although, with respect, he has not entirely convinced me. I think we should reject the Amendment rather than get the House into a muddle.
§ Mr. Speaker
These noises seem to indicate that the hon. Gentleman does not have leave to speak again.
§ 11.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The position is that the hon. Member requires leave to speak again. If he is seeking to speak again, he must seek leave.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I think—[Interruption.]—if the animal noises from hon. Members opposite stop it will be seen that I do not need to ask leave to speak again, because I want to move a Motion. With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I beg to ask leave to move, That the debate be now adjourned.
This is an entirely new Motion and does not need the leave of the House.
§ Mr. Callaghan
With respect, Mr. Speaker, on page 408 of Erskine May, it is said :In the midst of the debate upon a question any Member may move 'That this House do now adjourn', or 'That the debate be now adjourned', not by way of amendment to the original question, but as a distinct question, which interrupts and supersedes that already under consideration.
§ Mr. Speaker
Yes, but that supposes that the hon. Member seeking to move it has not spoken to the Question. The difficulty is that the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), who is seeking to move that Motion, has already spoken to the main Question.
§ Mr. Denis Howell (Birmingham, Small Heath)
I beg to move, That the debate be now adjourned.
1473 I do so for the reasons which were about to be stated by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan). It is quite clear to one who knows absolutely nothing about the Navy that the Government have got us into a situation in which, in terms of military strategy, the Navy would be disgusted to find itself. My hon. Friend asked questions in respect of the form of the Estimates and Votes to come before the House on Monday. They were very pertinent questions which those of us listening very passively to the main debate found extremely relevant.
The Minister of Defence first indicated that he might like to speak, but after the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline Burghs (Dr. A. Thompson) he stayed in his place and indicated that he did not wish to speak. At that stage for the first time he changed his mind. There was a further intervention from this side of the House and the Minister of Defence said that he would address the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) at this stage, for pertinent reasons for which he alone is responsible and for which he would not expect us to accept responsibility, but which were certainly appreciated by some of us—the discourtesies of the Minister in the defence debate—refused leave. As several of my hon. Friends have pointed out, this does not mean that questions ought to be begged.
It is quite clear that the Minister of Defence cannot speak and the other Minister present representing the Admiralty refuses to speak. The Leader of the House, in the midst of this discussion, leaves the Chamber. [Interruption.] The Leader of the House is not technically in the Chamber. I regard this as a procedural matter. I do not personally regard the matter which has confronted the House at this late stage as primarily one which affects the Admiralty or the Navy Board but as a House of Commons procedural matter.
§ We are therefore entitled to House of Commons answers. It has been conclusively proved by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East that the debate which is to take place on Monday will be seriously hampered. We want to know how the Government intend to rectify the matter and what Amendments they intend to put down for the Estimates, I how they intend to get us out of the impasse in which they have landed us.
§ If we could be given guidance it would not be necessary to proceed with the Motion, That the debate be now adjourned. I move it because we have listened to over an hour of questions and have been seeking answers to very important questions about the inaccuracy of the Estimates before the House. If we cannot have this matter straightened out and if the House cannot be satisfied on this important question, we must adjourn the debate. One of the traditional functions of the House is to consider Supply and to alleviate grievances. The Treasury Bench show no sign of being either able or willing to deal with these important constitutional matters and we are therefore justified in the moving the adjournment of the debate so that when the matter is again brought before the House we may have a Government statement about the impasse into which the House has been put.
§ Mr. Speaker
No point of order arises. I am putting the Question in pursuance of Standing Order No. 28 (1).
§ Question put, That the debate be now adjourned:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 39, Noes 117.1475
|Division No. 39.]||AYES||[11.37 p.m.|
|Benn, Anthony Wedgwood||Hannan, William||Manuel, Archie|
|Bennett, J. (Glasgow, Bridgeton)||Harper, Joseph||Mellish, R. J.|
|Bray, Dr. Jeremy||Hilton, A. V.||Mendelson, J. J.|
|Callaghan, James||Houghton, Douglas||Milne, Edward|
|Dalyell, Tam||Howell, Denis (Small Heath)||Mitchison, G. R.|
|Davies Harold (Leek)||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)||Morris, Charles (Openshaw)|
|Duffy, A. E. P. (Colne Valley)||Kelley, Richard||Mulley, Frederick|
|Evans, Albert||King, Dr. Horace||O'Malley, B. K.|
|Grey, Charles||Lawson, George||Redhead, E. C.|
|Robertson, John (Paisley)||Stonehouse, John||Wigg, George|
|Ron, William||Swingler, Stephen||Willis, E. G. (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Silkin, John||Taverne, D.|
|Skeffington, Arthur||Thompson, Dr. Alan (Dunfermline)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Stewart, Michael (Fulham)||Whitlock, William||Mr. Ifor Davies and Dr. Broughton.|
|Agnew, Sir Peter||Hiley, Joseph||Pounder, Rafton|
|Allason, James||Hill, J. E. B. (S. Norfolk)||Prior, J. M. L.|
|Anderson, D. C.||Hirst, Geoffrey||Redmayne, Rt. Hon. Martin|
|Ashton, Sir Hubert||Hogg, Rt. Hon. Quintin||Rees-Davies, W. R. (Isle of Thanet)|
|Atkins, Humphrey||Holland, Philip||Renton, Rt. Hon. David|
|Awdry, Daniel (Chippenham)||Hollingworth, John||Roberts, Sir Peter (Heeley)|
|Batsford, Brian||Hooson, H. E.||Scott-Hopkins, James|
|Bidgood, John C.||Hornsby-Smith, Rt. Hon. Dame P.||Shaw, M.|
|Biffen, John||Howard, Hon. G. R. (St. Ives)||Smith, Dudley (Br'ntf'd & Chiswick)|
|Bishop, Sir Patrick||Hughes, Young, Michael||Stainton, Keith|
|Bourne-Arton, A.||Iremonger, T. L.||Stevens, Geoffrey|
|Box, Donald||Joseph, Rt. Hon. Sir Keith||Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.)|
|Braine, Bernard||Kerans, Cdr. J. S.||Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir Malcolm|
|Brown, Alan (Tottenham)||Kerr, Sir Hamilton||Summers, Sir Spencer|
|Bryan, Paul||Kershaw, Anthony||Tapsell, peter|
|Channon, H. P. G.||Kimball, Marcus||Taylor, Edwin (Bolton, E.)|
|Chichester-Clark, R.||Kirk, Peter||Taylor, Frank (M'ch'st'r, Moss Side)|
|Cleaver, Leonard||Kitson, Timothy||Taylor, Sir William (Bradford, N.)|
|Cooke, Robert||Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry||Teeling, Sir William|
|Curran, Charles||Litchfield, Capt. John||Thorneycroft, Rt. Hon. peter|
|Dalkeith, Earl of||Lloyd, Rt. Hon. Selwyn (Wirral)||Tiley, Arthur (Bradford, W.)|
|Dance, James||Loveys, Walter H.||Tilney, John (Wavertree)|
|Deedes, Rt. Hon. W. F.||Lucas, Sir Jocelyn||Touche, Rt. Hon. Sir Gordon|
|Digby, Simon Wingfield||MacArthur, Ian||Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.|
|Duncan, Sir James||McLaren, Martin||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton)||Maclean, Sir Fitzroy (Bute & N. Ayrs.)||Vickers, Miss Joan|
|Elliott, R.W.(Newc'tle-upon-Tyne, N.)||Maddan, Martin||Wade, Donald|
|Farr John||Marshall, Sir Douglas||Walder, David|
|Finlay, Graeme||Matthews, Gordon (Meriden)||Walker, Peter|
|Fraser, Ian (Plymouth, Sutton)||Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.||Wall, Patrick|
|Glover, Sir Douglas||Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C.||Ward, Dame Irene|
|Goodhew, Victor||Mills, Stratton||Webster, David|
|Grant-Ferris, R.||Miscampbell, Norman||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Green, Alan||More, Jasper (Ludlow)||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Grosvenor, Lord Robert||Osborn, John (Hallam)||Wise, A. R.|
|Hamilton, Michael (Wellingborough)||Page, Graham (Crosby)||Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick|
|Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye)||Panned, Norman (Kirkdale)||Worsley, Marcus|
|Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.)||Partridge, E.|
|Hay, John||Peel, John||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Hendry, Forbes||Pickthorn, Sir Kenneth||Mr. Rees and Mr. Pym.|
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ 11.45 p.m.
§ Mr. R. J. Mellish (Bermondsey)
I should like to ask the Civil Lord whether he will now reply to the questions put from the Opposition Front Bench. I understand that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Defence was to have answered what he regarded as important questions on Vote 3 of the Navy Estimates put to him by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) but was unable to get the leave of the House to do so. It has since been pointed out that the Civil Lord is more than adequate to deal with the questions.
I appreciate the Civil Lord's ability to deal with matters such as this. He was inhibited for many years by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Transport, no matter what he did or how hard he tried. He now has a chance 1476 to make a great name for himself, although the trouble is that he may again be inhibited from doing so by another lord and master. However, perhaps the hon. Gentleman will now answer the simple question : what happens to Vote 3 of the Navy Estimates now that the name has been changed?
§ The Civil Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. John Hay)
A number of hon. Members have come into the Chamber who have, perhaps, been a little confused about what exactly has been happening, and I can tell them. A number of questions were put to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence—particularly those relating to the Navy Estimates put by the hon. Member for Cardiff, South East (Mr. Callaghan). My right hon. Friend, as is courteous and customary, sought to reply, but owing to the behaviour—the churlish behaviour—of the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg)—and 1477 the hon. Member now appears, as far as I can see, to be in charge of the Opposition—he was prevented from answering the questions
My right hon. Friend took what I think to be the perfectly correct view, namely, that as long as the House refused him leave to speak again, as long as one hon. Member refused him that leave, he should not seek to put up some other Minister to reply—[HON. MEMBERS : "Oh."] I think that is perfectly correct, because he is not only in charge of the debate on this particular Motion but is also the Minister presenting the Estimates that were questioned.
I will now try to explain the point. All that the House is really concerned about on the Estimates is the first part of any Vote. Hon. Members will see that the text in page 24 falls into two parts. At the beginning is an Estimate of the sums required for the year ending 31st March, 1965…for the salaries, wages and expenses of the Navy Department Headquarters—and then the sum is set out. The second part gives theSub-heads under which this Vote will be accounted for and additional detail.All the House is concerned with is what, to use the technical expression, comes within the ambit of the Vote, and that is what is shown in Part I.
On the Motion, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the Amendment, all we have done is to propose that we accept that in the Bill the words "Navy Board" should be changed to "Admiralty Board". We are not changing the name of the Navy Department Headquarters. If Part I of the Estimate were shown as the amount required for salaries, wages and expenses of the Navy Board, then, perhaps, there might be a point ; but all we are concerned with on the Amendment is the name of the Board, whether it should be "Navy" or "Admiralty". The point, therefore, is completely irrelevant. That is the explanation.
§ Mr. Hay
I know that the hon. and learned Member for Kettering has been waiting impatiently for some time to address the House, but I ask him to allow me to finish. All I say in con 1478 clusion is that, so far as the Amendment passed by another place is concerned, it raises the simple issue of what we call this Board. The Estimate is another matter entirely, which may, of course, be looked at on another occasion.
§ Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)
This is a real point, and it is not a matter for verbal quibbles. The Government have anticipated the outcome that their description "Navy Board" would go through. They did not expect a revolt in another place, and they did not expect that they would have to succumb to it. The result is that they have hopelessly misdescribed large parts of their Navy Estimates.
I refer to page 24 of the Estimates to which the Civil Lord turned. First, there is a general Vote. Next, there are Subheads under which the Vote will be accounted for. The first one is the Minister of Defence, whom we see sitting on the Front Bench. The First Lord is not with us. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State is not with us. The Civil Lord is with us. After we have disposed of them, what do we find?—Other members of the Navy Board.Who are they? If the hon. Gentleman wishes to correct me—
§ Mr. Hay
I thought I had explained it, but obviously I had not made it clear to the hon. and learned Gentleman. Part II of what appears on page 24 is purely explanatory. It is not the operative part of the Vote which Parliament will be asked to pass. What matters for that purpose is only Part which is the Estimate of the amount required for the expenses of the Navy Department Headquarters. Frankly, we could put almost anything we liked in the explanatory part. That is not what the House is concerned with ; it is concerned only with what appears in Part I.
§ Mr. Mitchison
This is the most singular explanation of Government arrogance I have ever heard. We are presented with what are now misleading Estimates about a body which does not exist. We are told, "That is all right : you can vote their salaries. They do not exist, but you can deal with it all right because there is a general head above which would cover anything, however inaccurate".
1479 This really is a serious point. These Estimates are put before the House in order to cover well known matters of the highest consequence to the House, and they are at present inaccurate.
§ Mr. Mitchison
The Civil Lord shakes his head. Will he tell me who are the other members of the Navy Board? He cannot do so, obviously, because there are not any. These Estimates as a whole are grossly misleading in name. I agree that it is only a question of name, but that is what we have been arguing about. What I want to know is this. Are the Government entitled to miscall—if I may so put it—the people with whose Estimates we shall have to deal? Are they entitled to describe things by the wrong name and, when charged with it—the reason is perfectly clear, that they anticipated a decision of the House—say that it is all right and we can find on a misleading page one general sentence which will cover anything, even payments to non-existent people? This is not the way to treat a matter of this sort. If the Government want to put their Estimates right, let them do it and tell us how they will do it, but it is an arrogant insult to the House as a whole to say, "I shall not do anything about it because there are some general words which cover all our mistakes". We are at least entitled to have Estimates put before us in a clear and correct form and not Estimates which refer to bodies that the Government supposed would exist and which they now wish no longer to exist. We must be told what the Estimates are about and told in this—
§ Sir Spencer Summers (Aylesbury)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will you help those of us who are interested in the subject of Estimates and serve on the Select Committee on Estimates? Is it in order to debate the wording of the Estimates on the Motion that is now before the House?
§ Mr. Mitchison
I do not want to trespass upon the hon. Member's patience, but this is a point. At the last moment the Government, having mistaken their 1480 own attitude and the course which events would take, have put before us Estimates which contain a misdescription. One could call it a misprint if one liked. If it were a misprint, it would undoubtedly be corrected. This is the kind of document in which one does not tolerate misprints.
Surely, we should hear from the Government what they propose to do to correct the error, which is entirely of their own making. In form, the error is simply a misdescription, but it occurs again and again through the Navy Estimates. It appears towards the end of the statement on page 52. Over and over again the Navy Board is continued, and the Estimates start by saying that the Secretary of State for Defence is Chairman of the Navy Board. He may be at the moment, but he will not be if the Amendment is agreed to.
The Government should not come here with this cheerful adherence to the letter of a somewhat misleading text and say, "We can get away with it. We can think of a sophisticated argument which would be sufficient to meet the misdescription in the Estimates." They should admit frankly that they anticipated the decision of the House ; they anticipated their own point of view about it. They supposed that they had enough strength of mind and firmness of purpose to stand up to another place. They have now appeared this evening before us and told us that they cannot do it ; they are too weak, too confused. The result of this, if they go on with it and if the House accepts their attitude of mind, will be, as I have just pointed out, a number of misleading statements in the Estimates.
What we want to hear from the Government is quite simple. What will they do to put this misdescription right or do they still insist that it is the duty of the Government to stick to what they have had printed so far, however misleading, however insulting, however arrogant it may be? This is Government arrogance and it is just about time that on this small point they put the matter right and cleared themselves. They should not be so happy about it. I hope that they will say to one another, "Let us for once put on a little bit of a white sheet and behave properly to the House in this matter."
§ Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benn (Bristol, South-East)
I should like, first, to congratulate and thank the Minister of Defence for clearing up one doubt which I have often had : that is, why emblazoned on the Admiralty pennant is the symbol of a fouled anchor. This has often puzzled us. Now, at last, we know. It also somewhat confirms the view which many of us have had that if one yields to another place, one is liable to get into difficulties.
We are discussing three bodies. The first is the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty. Everybody agrees that in whatever form the Bill is passed, the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty will disappear. The Civil Lord is referred to in italics in the Estimate because he himself will go, and although we are naturally sorry about it from a personal point of view, from the way in which he has discharged his office we can understand why he should be regarded as redundant.
The second group body is the Navy Board, to which we are voting a great deal of money ; but it will never come into being. The Navy Board is mentioned in the Estimates which have already passed this House, but it will never come into existence.
The third body is the Board of Admiralty, which will come into existence but will have no money because we have not voted any for it.
So we have those three bodies. The dying Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty will hand back their commissions to Her Majesty, the Navy Board will have a lot of money but no existence, and the Board of Admiralty will be there maintaining the tradition back to Henry VIII but with no money.
Since the hon. Gentleman said that the Navy Department Headquarters had nothing to do with the Navy Board, are we even sure that if we accept the Amendments the Board of Admiralty will control the Navy Department Headquarters? Where is the authority for that? It is not even mentioned. The result is that it looks as if when the Bill comes into force we shall have a position of unparalleled confusion.
The Minister of Defence thinks he frightens the Russians. But what does 1482 he do to as? I heard him the other night expressing himself with passion and patriotic fervour. But he gives way to some old admirals. The right hon. Gentleman, whatever his forces may be, is himself not a credible political figure.
This concerns you, Mr. Speaker. As the guardian of this House, it is your responsibility to see that the House is given the facts and documents and correct Motions on which we can reach decisions. This raises a major point of Parliamentary procedure as to whether the House late at night, after midnight, ought to be asked to pass Amendments the consequence of which simply cannot be anticipated. I realise that to give a Ruling on a matter of this kind might well require consideration, but perhaps at the meeting of the House tomorrow you could give your advice on this. As to precedents, it seems to me that there could never have been an example where, the House having voted money to a body specified in the Estimates, the Government have then abolished the body before the Estimates came into effect.
We have had a lot of fun this evening. Even hon. Gentlemen opposite have had to laugh at the confusion into which they have got themselves. They may be even more confused by the fact that an hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite said that he was prepared to go into the Lobby whichever way the right hon. Gentleman said he should. We have had a lot of entertainment, but we are dealing with one of the Services, sometimes called the silent Service, though it if as not been silent tonight because many of its voices have been heard. It is the Senior Service. We are dealing with the future of the Royal Navy. The fact that the Government have allowed this confusion to develop in this way calls for some further explanation, or else on their own Motion the Government should look at this again and come back and tell us whether the confusion to which we have drawn attention will, as we suspect, seriously prevent the Estimates from coming into effect.
§ Mr. Harold Davies (Leek)
In all seriousness, I believe that this is by no means slight matter. We are told that this is merely a change of name. The House of Commons and the British 1483 people are told rather arrogantly that they can call it what they like and it does not matter. This is a completely new doctrine which the House of Commons is having presented to it. No Estimates Committee, whatever its calibre, would accept a report such as this knowing that later on changes of name would be made.
A change of name will entail extra cost, perhaps some hundreds of pounds to meet such expenses as changing notepaper headings, for instance. There may have to be a Supplementary Estimate. Hon. Members should not allow this to go through tonight. The rights of the House must be protected.
I therefore appeal to you, Mr. Speaker, to help us. Someone should give the House an answer. It would be better to adjourn so that the Government could consider an answer satisfactory to both sides and to the people, the taxpayers, whose rights we have to protect. I hope that you can give the House some guidance to protect it from the Executive.
§ Mr. John Stonehouse (Wednesbury)
We are in a most extraordinary position, and I hope that the Leader of the House will intervene to indicate that he agrees that we should adjourn so that we may, perhaps, have an explanation tomorrow to clear up the confusion. The Civil Lord claimed that the matter was quite clear since, according to page 24 of the Navy Estimates, the amount the House had voted was for the Navy Department Headquarters.
§ Mr. Stonehouse
We shall be in an extraordinary position. A substantial amount is involved—£10,657,000. Page 53 deals with "Senior Staff (Navy Department Headquarters)". These are the people who will spend the money and they will be under the instructions of what is called on page 52 the "Navy Board". Page 52 also states,The Secretary of State for Defence is Chairman of the Navy Board.1484 According to the Lords Amendment, however, the Navy Board will not exist. Under whose instructions, therefore, will the senior staff referred to in page 53 be acting?
This great confusion shows the state that the Conservative Party and the Government are in and why we should have a General Election soon. Obviously the Government cannot even handle a simple item like this. They are in a state of confusion and in their own best interests as well as tho of the House, the Leader of the House should intervene to agree to adjourning the debate so that the Ministers responsible may have an opportunity for reflection and to come up with intelligent answers.
§ Original Question put and agreed to.
§ Remaining Lords Amendments agreed to.
§ Mr. Callaghan
On a point of order. Would you be good enough, Mr. Speaker, to consider the form in which the Navy Estimates have been presented, particularly Vote 3, which is headed "Navy Department Headquarters"? We would like your Ruling as to whether these Estimates will be in order if they are passed in this form, or whether a reprint will be needed. We have heard the explanation of the Civil Lord—if that is what he still is, and I think he is—but the fact remains that there is no such body as the Navy Department. There is an Admiralty Board and there may well be an Admiralty Department Headquarters, but, so far as I can see, there is nothing in the Bill which refers to the Navy Department. This was always called the Admiralty Headquarters in previous Votes. It would be for the convenience of the House if we were to have your Ruling, at your convenience, as to whether the form of words in which this Vote is presented is accurate.
§ Mr. Speaker
I will consider what the hon. Member has said. I am not quite certain what the implications are for me at the moment, but I will consider it and do what I deem to be right.