HC Deb 09 March 1964 vol 691 cc154-61

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £350,000, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the expense of miscellaneous effective services including certain grants in aid and a subscription to the World Meteorological Organisation, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1965.

9.15 p.m.

Sir H. Harrison

There are a few questions I should like to put to my hon. Friend regarding Subhead K, the administration of sovereign base areas in Cyprus, because in the company of other hon. Members I paid a visit to Cyprus, where we were the guests of the R.A.F., about six months ago. We were extremely impressed with the general administration of the Royal Air Force on the island. In these troubled times we have not heard very much about the commander-in-chief there, Air Chief Marshal Barnett, although some of the greatest successes of our joint forces in Cyprus have been due to his wisdom and cool guidance.

I wonder, since a large number of British troops have gone to the area, whether the administration there has been able to cope with the situation effectively? I raise this matter on this Vote because when we were there we found that the main messing halls were being run by the R.A.F. and that about 1,000 men were being fed in each half. The food was of a very high quality and the R.A.F. was also catering for many of the sub-units of the Army. This shows a good degree of integration between the two Services. I imagine, too, that these messes have been responsible for getting food to armed detachments on patrol in different parts of Cyprus. If so, has the administration been able to perform this task effectively, although I am sure that it has?

I should also like to know whether R.A.F. Transport Command, to which all hon. Members pay the highest tribute, particularly from the safety point of view, is still able to operate the airfield at Nicosia. This is a particularly poignant question in these difficult times.

Under Subhead A, "Telecommunications and Postage", there appears to be an increase on the postage side. Can my hon. Friend say whether the postal arrangements to Libya have been improved? A small increase is shown for telecommunications. Can he comment on that aspect?

Mr. William Yates (The Wrekin)

I was interested to hear the remarks of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison) about Cyprus, the work in the sovereign bases and the task being performed by the R.A.F. there. I hope that the Under-Secretary will make it clear that, besides Army units doing security work, when I visited Cyprus in early January I found R.A.F. units under the command of the Army taking part in the security measures with the same effect and loyalty as members of the Army. This point should be remembered when we are discussing this Vote.

Mr. F. Taylor

There are a number of increases in this Vote. I appreciate the danger of referring to this, because if there are increases hon. Members opposite—all six of them—are likely to rise up and say that they are due to inept estimating. If the figure has gone down, no doubt they will say that it is due to lack of decison, whilst if it remains as it is, they will say that there is stagnation. Nevertheless, there are a few increases.

I should like my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary to let us know the reason for the increase in publicity. Is it due to recruiting or to some other reason? Can he let us know the reason for the increase in compensation, the reason for which is not easy to see? Why is there an increase in the fees to civilian doctors? Are there more of them or does each of them receive more? The figure for training expenses could cover a multitude of sins. May we have some information also about how this is made up?

Mr. Mulley

I am glad that the hon. Member for Manchester, Moss Side (Mr. F. Taylor) has raised the question that we need more information, although his reference to the duty of the Opposition was both cheap and inept. If he had troubled to look at the recruiting figures, he would not have needed to ask whether the increase for publicity and recruiting services was due to the need to increase the number of recruits. I understand from what we have been told by the Secretary of State and by the Under-Secretary that last year and this year the problem of recruiting is not be as acute as it may be in the future. It is, therefore, surprising that the publicity and recruiting services dealt with by the Air Ministry show an increase, although the £8,000 is probably not a large sum.

I notice also that the sum given to the Central Office of Information as agent for the Air Ministry has increased substantially during the period in question. Since the Estimates Committee reported some years ago that the Royal Air Force did an excellent job with its own poster and display work, I have often wondered why so much of the work was given to the Central Office of Information, because the evidence given to the Estimates Committee was conclusively that the Royal Air Force did it better and more cheaply than the C.O.I. That was several years ago. I do not know whether it is still the case. Certainly, we would like to know why the Air Force, which is without a serious recruiting problem in comparison with, say, the Army, still manages to get through a large sum of money in this general direction.

It seems to me to be totally unsatisfactory to include in the same Subhead—C—fees to civilian doctors, dentists, chaplains, etc., and the payment made by the Air Ministry for medical and meteorological research, which is a quite different category to payments to civilian doctors because, presumably, Service doctors were not available. We should be given a breakdown. Since, presumably, medical research is a matter for the Ministry of Health and the Lord President's office, what kind of medical research does the Air Ministry consider it necessary to subscribe to? It is a wholly commendable practice, but it would be a good thing to tell us of the sums spent in research and to which universities the payments are made, so that we can give them credit.

There are two other items on which I should like more information. Everyone will have seen the item concerning the Royal Air Force Museum and the grant-in-aid in that connection, which is also one of the items on the Supplementary Estimate to be considered later. What is involved in the Museum and what purpose is expected to be fulfilled? If the Under-Secretary has time, will he also say why the subscription to the World Meteorological Organisation has been much increased and what that organisation has been doing? Support of such organisations is excellent, but it would be helpful to have a little further information.

Under appropriations in aid, almost a 50 per cent. increase is being found by, no doubt, increasing the rent charged to R.A.F. personnel. Is the much greater item under Z (1) due to increased charges? Has there been a general substantial increase in the sums paid by personnel for their married quarters? Perhaps examples of this and the reasons for it can also be given to the Committee.

Mr. Ridsdale

I join my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison) in paying tribute to Sir Denis Barnett for the way he has looked after all our interests in Cyprus. Sir Denis is but an example of the first-class commanders we are fortunate to have in the R.A.F. today. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. W. Yates) for his tribute to the R.A.F. for the work it is doing in Cyprus under the command of the Army. The first patrols that went into Nicosia on Christmas Eve were R.A.F. patrols.

As far as I know the airfield at Nicosia is still being used by Transport Command. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye also spoke of the sovereign base areas on the Island. The administration of our bases in the last three months has, of course, been carried out in the shadow of the inter-communal crisis. Naturally the crisis has affected some of the normal processes of AngloCypriot consultation but I am glad to assure my hon. and gallant Friend that, in general, there has been no interruption of the work of the sovereign base area administration, which has continued very smoothly.

Law and order have been maintained without incident at the bases and the crisis has not directly affected them. The attendance of local labour has, not unexpectedly, been erratic but most of the absences have been due to inability to travel of to fear of leaving home rather than to deliberate absenteeism.

Both Greek and Turkish Cypriots have continued to work without incident. Relations between the base administration and the Republic of Cyprus and with the local population have in the main continued satisfactorily, although we have been unable to continue the scale of day-to-day contact normally achieved. I am sure that we all hope that the arrangements agreed in New York will enable an enduring political solution to be found.

My hon. and gallant Friend also asked about increased postal charges. A small part of the increase is to cover increased expenditure at home but the bulk is to cover part of the Forces' postal concession. Mail sent to or from the forces stationed abroad is paid for by the individual at concession rates and the difference between this and the actual cost is paid for by the Services. The amount is worked out by the Post Office. The R.A.F. share in 1964–65 is up because the strength of the Far Eastern Air Force has gone up quite a lot and also because we have agreed to bear the Ministry of Public Building and Works deficit in view of the difficulty of separating it from the rest. I was glad that mention was made of the delivery of mail and newspapers to Libya, for I know that at one time it was slow in reaching some of our forces at E1 Adem. This has been corrected.

The question of telecommunications was also raised. The provision of £5,125,000 represents a slight increase on last year's figure. This arises from the need to provide certain new facilities—for example, new circuits for the Bloodhound Mark II, which will shortly be coming into service, and new switchboards following on the reorganisation of the Central Defence Organisation. Much of this extra cost has been met by an intensive economy campaign, but, despite this, some increase in the subhead was inevitable.

9.30 p.m.

The increase of £8,000 on publicity mainly represents higher spending on recruiting exhibitions because, although there is no short-term need for recruiting, there is still a long-term need. Indeed, we shall probably have to intensify some of this spending in the course of the next year. We have this year to provide a stand at the National Radio Show, which takes place every other year. We shall also be spending more on display materials and local advertising for career information centres because of resumed ground trades recruitment. As the Committee knows, the main R.A.F. recruiting publicity expenditure is met by the Central Office of Information, which pays for Press advertising, pamphlets, and so on. This Vote is just for recruiting stands, window displays and advertising for civilian vacancies.

Hon. Members, particularly the hon. Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley), asked why the amount spent on personal services was so large. It is £375,000, an increase of £26,000. I do not believe that this is excessive, but perhaps it would help if I explained this Vote. First, there are civilian doctors. We employ civilian doctors where it is uneconomic, because the station is too small, to employ a full-time Service doctor. We also use them a great deal to carry out family examinations before a Service posting overseas. It is usually more convenient for a family to go to its own doctor for a check-up than to go to a Service doctor on the camp, although the family can do so if it wishes. Secondly, we pay for the services of civilian padres, again where the station is so small as not to warrant a full-time Service padre. Also under Vote 9C come such things as grants to the Soldiers', Sailors' and Airmen's Families Association for work which the Association does overseas, and legal aid for court martial defendants. All this is invaluable and worthwhile. Indeed, the increase of £26,000 is not so large.

The hon. Member for Sheffield, Park raised the question of a Royal Air Force Museum. For some years the Air Council has been concerned about the fact that, apart from aircraft, there has been little systematic effort to preserve historic material relating to the Royal Air Force. Moreover, in the absence of such an effort, valuable historic relics of all kinds were being lost. Some months ago, therefore, the Air Force set up a Committee under the chairmanship of Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir Dermot Boyle to look into this problem. I am glad to be able to announce that as a result we have decided to establish a Royal Air Force Museum at the Royal Air Force Henlow. A great deal of work has to be done but we hope to have the museum open to the public in 1968, which will coincide with the 50th anniversary of the R.A.F.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about the annual contribution to the World Meteorological Organisation. This is a specialised agency of the United Nations, not unlike U.N.E.S.C.O. and the World Health Organisation. Although it has a small permanent headquarters in Geneva, most of its work is done through regional associations and technical commissions manned by members of the national organizations and universities. The increased grant to this world organisation was proposed in the Fourth Congress at Geneva last year, and the increase in our contribution is the agreed United Kingdom percentage due to the extension of the organisation to provide for more research and development and for translations of data into more languages.

I was asked about accommodation charges. This increase is simply the reflection of the increase in the rental for married quarters reported in last year's White Paper on forces' pay.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That a sum, not exceeding £350,000 be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the expense of miscellaneous effective services including certain grants in aid and a subscription to the World Meteorological Organisation, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1965.