HC Deb 09 March 1964 vol 691 cc40-9

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £156,610,000, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the expense of the pay, etc., of the Army, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1965.

3.47 p.m.

Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South-East)

On a point of order, in connection with the Estimates, Sir William. We shall be taking at a later stage today some of the Navy Votes, and I should like to raise this point of order now so that we shall know what the procedure is.

The question concerns the heading of Vote 3—Navy Department Headquarters. I should like to know whether the Estimates were properly presented, in view of the Amendments made by the House to the Defence (Transfer of Functions) Bill in view of the fact that there is no such Department as the Navy Board, its name now being the Admiralty Board. I ask you for your guidance in this matter. Are we being asked to vote the sum of money in respect of a Department that does not exist?

The Chairman

As I read my Order Paper, Vote 3 of the Navy Estimates is not down for discussion today.

Mr. Callaghan

It may not be down for discussion, but I take it that we shall have to pass that Vote at some stage, and that the Committee will have to agree this estimate of money that it is asked to vote. In those circumstances, whether or not we discuss the Vote today, it would be appropriate to know whether we are being asked to vote a sum of money for a Department which never had an existence, does not have an existence, and is never going to have an existence.

The Chairman

I take the hon. Member's point, but I think that I had better confine myself to today's business—and that does not include Vote 3.

Mr. Callaghan

I know that you do not hear what Mr. Speaker said, and that you therefore start afresh, but if I were to say that this matter has already been the subject of discussion today, and that I was advised that it would be proper to raise the matter with you, perhaps it would not be impossible for you, even if you do not wish to give a Ruling now, to do so later. May I ask at what stage you will be ready to give a Ruling, before we are asked to vote this sum of money?

The Chairman

The hon. Member is putting the Chair in a position that the Chair does not really occupy in this matter. It is for the Committee to decide whether or not it will pass Vote 3 at a later stage. What is in Vote 3 is for the Committee to approve or disapprove. It is not within the power of the Chair to say whether it is or is not good enough for the Committee.

Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)

Would you be good enough to accept a Motion to report Progress, Sir William, to provide an opportunity for the Leader of the House or the Minister of Defence—perhaps a little later, when they have consulted—to tell the Committee what they will do to put right this mistake of the Government? Would you be kind enough to say whether—perhaps not at this moment, but a little later—you will accept a Motion such as I have suggested?

The Chairman

No, I would not be prepared to accept that Motion, because what is being questioned is not part of today's business. After today there will be an opportunity to consider it if it requires consideration.

Mr. Wigg

With respect, Sir William, the fact that this Vote is not down is neither here nor there. The Estimates must be taken as a whole, and the Estimates are down on the Order Paper today, and there is no doubt that they are misleading.

I do not base my argument on a narrow technical point. I should have thought that it was the duty of any Administration—even this one—to give the House of Commons an opportunity of taking a correct decision on the basis of fact, and not anticipating legislation which has not yet become law. I assume that the Leader of the House or the Minister of Defence would have the power to live the Committee some advice. I am only trying to find a way in which they do that without embarrassment to anyone.

The Chairman

I cannot accept the contention that the Estimates are taken as a whole. On the contrary, they are taken individually—the ones specified being the numbers of the Votes that we are taking today. I must confine myself to those Votes.

Mr. Wigg

Quite arbitrarily, the Government have put down the Votes which suit them best in such a form that the Committee is unable to bring the Government to account. I repeat that I should have thought that even this Government had a vested interest in making sure that information given to the Committee was correct and that, if the Leader of the House would not discharge his primary duty to hon. Members, you, Sir William, would have accepted a Motion to report Progress and given us an opportunity of forcing him to do so.

The Chairman

No; I am afraid that I will not accept that Motion.

Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)

I wonder whether, Sir William, to enable us to proceed with the business which was intended for today, you would consider this submission. It was originally intended, apparently, that the three Votes for the Army, Royal Air Force and Royal Navy would be taken today. The Government, apparently, have changed their mind and only two Votes are to be taken. May we ascertain from the Minister of Defence or the Leader of the House when the Navy Vote is to be taken?

The Chairman

I do not follow the right hon. Gentleman. According to my Order Paper, the Army Estimates are to be taken first and then come the Air Estimates and, later, the Navy Estimates.

Mr. Shinwell

If that is the case, I apologise for misunderstanding the position. In that event, surely we return to the original submission. namely, whether, when the Navy Vote is under consideration, we are to discuss the Navy or the Admiralty. What is the position?

The Chairman

The position is that we are to discuss certain Votes of the Navy Estimates, namely, Votes 1, 4, 5, 8, 9, 10 and 11, but the Vote which contains the Admiralty problem is Vote 3, and that is not included. I am anxious that the Committee should feel that what is on the Order Paper for today's business is correct.

Mr. Callaghan

I am sure that we all understand your difficulty, Sir William, but I know that you will agree that it is not right that the Committee should be denied the opportunity of raising at some stage the manner in which these Estimates are put to us.

I would ask you, as the guardian of the rights of the Opposition and the Government, in what circumstances we shall be able to raise this incorrect heading to Vote 3, "Navy Department Headquarters". There may be good reasons why the Government have not put down a Navy Department Headquarters Vote today. Perhaps they acknowledge their error and intend to put it down on another day in its correct name, which I assume will be, "Admiralty Board Headquarters". Last year it was called "Admiralty Office"—

The Minister of Defence (Mr. Peter Thorneycroft) indicated dissent.

Mr. Callaghan

With respect to the Minister of Defence, the Estimates last year said, "Vote 3, Admiralty Office". This year they say "Navy Department Headquarters". I assume that, in the light of the decision taken by the House, the Government will want to change the title to "Admiralty Board Headquarters". If they do not do so, obviously they will be getting behind the decision of the House last week. I have no doubt that hon. Members opposite will want to question the Minister of Defence about this as much as we shall.

However, that is not a point for you, Sir William. What is, I think, a point for you is this. Can you advise us, before we vote this sum of money, at what stage we shall be able to inquire about the validity of the headings of this Vote and the sum of money we are being asked to pass?

The Chairman

I have never heard it contended that it was part of the duty of the Chair, or that it was within the Chair's province, to select which Votes would be debated on these occasions. That would be going beyond the Chair's powers. I should like to get on with the business on the Order Paper. It is common knowledge to the Committee that this matter has been ventilated. I do not think that I can be of any further assistance.

Mr. Callaghan

I fully understand that, Sir William. The only conclusion we can draw is that the Government have, once again, deliberately dodged a decision of the House.

Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, West)

On a point of order. I understand that we are debating Vote 9 of the Navy Estimates. Under the heading "Miscellaneous Payments" in that Vote there is reference to the Navy Department. Would it be in order, under that Vote, to discuss the problem of the Navy Department—whether it is Navy, Admiralty, or whatever it is?

The Chairman

I think that the hon. Member would be wise to wait and see when we get to it.

Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)

I am interested in the explanation which is given to this Supplementary Estimate. Apparently, there is a reduction and that is offset by reduced recoveries in respect of personnel on loan. Could the Under-Secretary of State tell us something about those personnel on loan and the conditions on which we loan officers? What is the position of officers from foreign States who are at Sandhurst?

The Under-Secretary of State for War (Mr. Peter Kirk)

Are we on the Supplementary Estimate?

Mr. Paget


Mr. Kirk

I thought that we were on Vote 1.

The Chairman

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. We had better dispose of the Question on Vote 1 before we come to the other Vote.

Mr. Marcus Lipton (Brixton)

As the Under-Secretary of State knows, I am more than interested in the situation of the British Army of the Rhine. We have been told on more than one occasion in recent years that the pay and allowances of B.A.O.R. involve the Treasury in certain financial problems, balance of payments difficulties and that sort of thing.

I should like to ask the Under-Secretary of State how much extra it costs the British taxpayer to have British troops in Germany. I know that certain costs would be entailed wherever these troops were stationed, but it is probably more than obvious to anyone that if the British Army of the Rhine were transferred to this country, for example, there would be considerable savings in pay and allowances under this Vote. It would be of interest to British taxpayers, many of whom favour the complete withdrawal of British troops from Germany, to know how much more it is costing to keep British troops in Germany under this Vote.

Colonel Sir Harwood Harrison (Eye)

I should like to ask my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State to elaborate a little on the item Receipts in respect of personnel lent to other governments under the heading "Appropriations in aid".

I see that the sum this year is £4,610,000 as against £3,210,000 last year. This is a considerable increase. I assume that we have lent more personnel to overseas Governments. Have we met all the requests of other Governments, or are we limiting the personnel whom we supply to other Governments from our Army, now a Regular Army only? I imagine that in the case of Tanganyika, for example, there is no payment for our force which went to Tanganyika at the request of the Tanganyikan Government, but that this payment is in respect of personnel who were there before.

4.0 p.m.

Dr. May Glyn (Clapham)

I have some questions to put to my hon. Friend. First, do we deal in Vote 1 with boys who are staying on an extra year, from 16 to 17, and the consequential cost this year? Secondly, what is the position as regard foreign Governments who wish either officers or other ranks to come here for periods of service? I regard this as extremely important and I do not think that finance should be a barrier. If people from Commonwealth countries can come here and go to Sandhurst and other institutions, it does a good deal to cement relationships between our forces and Commonwealth forces. I should like to an assurance from my hon. Friend that there is no financial barrier. Are there more applications from Commonwealth and foreign countries than vacancies which we can offer, or are we limited by the amount of money?

My last question relates to the Gurkhas. I notice that there has been a fall in the sum of money for the Gurkhas from last year, and I should like to hear something about this.

Mr. Kirk

I interrupted the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) on the point he was making about seconded personnel, but much the same point has arisen in the substantive debate. Perhaps I may deal with it now and give the Committee a brief outline of the arrangements for financing these secondments.

Since November, 1962, secondment of officers and other ranks to the newly independent countries of the Commonwealth are subsidised by the Commonwealth Relations Office, which meets all costs except basic pay and marriage allowance. These two elements continue to be the financial liability of the borrowing Government, that is to say, the Government taking the seconded personnel. At that time, too, it was agreed that, for ease of administration and control, all emoluments would be issued from the Service Votes, recoveries being treated as appropriations in aid. Up to that time borrowing Governments had issued all emoluments direct to the seconded personnel. The introduction of the revised procedure was dependent upon successful negotiation of schedules of agreement between the Commonwealth Relations Office and the countries concerned.

Provision was made in the Army Estimates last year, 1963–64, on the assumption that as from 1st April, 1963, all newly independent countries would take advantage of the new arrangement. In the event, only two countries ratified the schedules of agreement, Malaysia in September, 1963, and Jamaica in December, 1963. The other countries concerned raised certain objections and as a result the schedules were not ratified.

The overall effect has been that countries other than Malaysia and Jamaica have continued to meet the emoluments of seconded personnel direct and no costs have been borne on the Army Votes. It has been necessary, therefore, to reduce the Vote this year by that amount and increase the appropriations in aid correspondingly by £1,200,000. There is no change in the net Vote on this account. That is the position as regards this Vote in the Estimates and in the Supplementary Estimates to which the hon. and learned Member for Northampton referred in his first question.

Mr. Paget

So that that may be clearly understood, it was expected that the Commonwealth Government or borrowing Government would pay us and we would pay the officer instead of their paying the officer direct, and there is no more to it than that?

Mr. Kirk

As I understand it, that is the position, yes.

The hon. Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) asked about the British Army of the Rhine. Speaking from memory, the sum is about £75 million, but I will check that and make sure that the accurate figure is sent to the hon. Gentleman.

In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Clapham (Dr. Alan Glyn), I do not think that there is any particular significance in the reduction of the sum for the Gurkhas. I set out the position again the other night. We are for the moment maintaining the present Gurkha establishment and not proceeding with the run-down.

Dr. Alan Glyn

It looked from the fall in the figure as though we were making a reduction, but I realise that that is purely an accounting matter and that is why I asked the question.

Mr. Lipton

The hon. Gentleman has kindly offered to give me up-to-date figures relating to the additional cost of B.O.A.R. When he gives me those figures, will he say how much of it involves foreign currency, since this is an important matter in considering the balance of payments problem?

Mr. Kirk

I shall try to make it as explicit as I can.

Mr. Paget

There is a question which I should have asked, but did not, on the colonial and other contributions, which appear to have fallen. How much of that is Hong Kong? What is Hong Kong's contribution to its defence, and what does the defence of Hong Kong cost us? Can the hon. Gentleman give that now, or does it appear somewhere else?

Mr. Kirk

I omitted to answer the point about boys, which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Clapham. They are covered by Vote 1, but, of course, it is not an additional year; it is an extra six months' recruiting, from 17 to 17½.

Perhaps the hon. and learned Member for Northampton will permit me to answer him later about Hong Kong. I think that it does come under Vote 1, Subhead E(3), as regards pay; but there is an overall defence agreement with the Government of Hong Kong, as the hon. and learned Gentleman knows. I have not before me at the moment exactly how the figures are broken down.

Mr. Paget

The figure which interested me a little comes under Subhead Z(3), "Colonial and other contributions". The figure has gone down by nearly £1 million. I was wondering why that had happened and whether it touched Kong Kong or not.

Mr. Kirk

I do not think that it touches Hong Kong. I will look into the point, but, speaking from memory, I think that I am right in saying that sums in respect of the Hong Kong defence agreement have not gone down this year.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That a sum, not exceeding £156,610,000, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the expense of the pay, &c., of the Army, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1965.