HC Deb 12 March 1968 vol 760 cc1247-58

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £19,386,000, be granted to Her Majesty out of the Consolidated Fund, to defray the expenses of medical services, education and civilians on Fleet services, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1969.

6.49 p.m.

Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles

I have three small queries for the Under-Secretary under this Vote. The first is about Service colleges. I have been concerned for some time about the move of the Royal Naval Staff College from Greenwich to Camberley. This was done because of the argument that it was advisable to move all three Services staff colleges to within roughly the same neighbourhood, so that they could work together on joint schemes.

In the context of closer co-operation between the Services, it seems at first sight a reasonable move. But there are very strong arguments against moving the Royal Naval Staff College. The first and important point is that at the level of the staff college in all three Services one is trying to produce not a fully integrated staff officer of the higher level but an officer who can speak with authority and really wide knowledge for all branches of his own Service. The services are very specialised these days. In the Royal Navy, for instance, a man may spend most of his time minesweeping and will not know much about the Fleet Air Arm, or he may spend all his time flying helicopters and will not know much about service in destroyers or antisubmarine work.

To forward the idea of service integration, there is the Joint Services Staff College at Latimer. It is there, at the next step up in a staff officer's career, that integration between the three Services is the very vital thing to achieve. There is a further subsidiary point that the naval officers at the Royal Naval Staff College live and work in a naval environment at Greenwich, which is perhaps unique in the world and cannot be replaced by spending money on converting a country house on the outskirts of Camberley. A wrong turning has been taken here. I would be grateful if the Minister could see whether there is the possibility of leaving the three basic staff colleges where they are now. It is not impossible to get enough cross-pollenation by various expedients. As the staff courses last for one year now, it might be possible to have the first two terms devoted to the single Service subject and the third cross-pollenated, with officers spending it in the staff colleges of other Services.

I now turn to the question of civilians employed on Fleet services. This is an opportunity to pay tribute to the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, which has supported the Navy for many years. Its activities have been becoming more and more important to our naval forces as time has gone by. Anybody who has served in the Fleet will know what a very good job the R.F.A.s do in the way of fuel, transfer of stores and so on, not just around the harbour, as was the case in bygone years, but very much at sea with the Fleet these days.

This is also an opportunity to pay tribute to the locally-enlisted crews from Malta, Singapore, and, particularly, Hong Kong for the work they do. Could the Minister say something about the future plans for the R.F.A.? Is it intended to increase the size and capability of the ships and aircraft it operates, including the ability to operate east of Suez? This will be absolutely essential if the Government are to carry out the effective deployment of their general capability.

On page 43 of the Grey Paper there is a reference to the 350 courses within the United Kingdom for Commonwealth and foreign officers and ratings In the Vote we have an appropriation in in aid of about £257,000 very usefully earned by training those pupils. Was any calculation made when the basic decision was taken as to what that appropriation in aid would be if the ships and equipment had been provided for the South African Navy, instead of those ratings and officers being sent to France?

6.55 p.m.

Mr. Dalyell

I visited the Royal Naval College at Greenwich for the first time in my life today, so I had better not make a speech on it, but I can say that the Ministry deserves considerable credit for the way in which the buildings are maintained.

What are the plans for the transfer of the educational facilities in Singapore when we leave? I have visited the schools at the Singapore base and it is legitimate to ask what the Government's thinking is on the handover of those magnificent facilities, which are not only educational but include swimming baths, to the Government of Singapore in the 1970s. What are the financial arrangements to be? Is this being done in a fairly organised manner, both for our benefit and that of the people of Singapore?

On 21st February I asked my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence what he has done to encourage the training of junior technician staff in defence research establishments. The reply was: Both the Navy and Army Departments operate apprenticeship schemes at their Establishments and there is scope, as appropriate, for both further education and external training, the latter including assistance with external courses in approved subjects leading to recognised educational or professional qualifications. For outstanding Assistant Experimental Officers, Scientific Assistants and Draughtsmen there are opportunities for full-time study at a university up to the standard of Honours degree or diploma in Technology, or, where appropriate, for post-graduate work."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st February, 1968; Vol. 759, c. 143.] Those of us who have been round the Atomic Energy Authority establishments know that a great deal of work is going on to provide skilled apprenticeships not only for those who will work for the A.E.A. but for those who will work for British industry. What is the Ministry's basic philosophy on training, with often unrivalled facilities in any area, not only for its own future use but that of British industry in general?

I should like to make a slightly adverse comment on roughly the same subject, arising from a Question I put to my right hon. Friend on 4th March. I asked for details of the potential research fellowships available at defence research establishments and approximately how many vacant places there are. The Answer was: Up to 20 a year for the Naval establishments; up to 12 a year for the Army establishments."—[OFF[a AL REPORT, 4th March, 1968; Vol. 760, c. 30.] When there is so much complaint in the universities against both the present and previous Government for not providing the highly expensive, sophisticated scientific facilities required, I should have thought that the defence research establishments could do far more along those lines.

6.59 p.m.

Dame Joan Vickers

I should like to pay tribute to the medical services and the excellent co-ordination between the Royal Navy and civilians. I thank the hon. Gentleman for allowing the use of hospitals for civilians. That is particularly valuable not only in making shorter lists in the civilian hospitals but in gaining knowledge for the doctors and surgeons concerned. I notice that there is to be £73,000 for medical research. Will that be completely for naval medical research, or is it co-ordinated with the other civilian hospitals? I do not think that it is a very good idea to do this in isolation.

I join my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles) in paying particular tribute to the civilians employed in the Fleet services. They have had a particularly difficult time recently, and were called upon to do a great deal of overtime and so on. Is it correct that they will be entirely civilianised now and will not have any Navy personnel attached to them at all? Recently one of the heads has been retired at Devon-port. Will they be entirely under civilian personnel in the future?

I want to turn now to education. I am always glad to see money spent on this. It is very necessary. First, there are the overseas cadets. This was a fairly new service and by now we should know whether it is working satisfactorily. It started off in difficult circumstances. The continuation of the overseas cadets is very valuable, although I understand that quite a number of countries will not send them, for diplomatic or internal difficulties. I do not know how the allocations are made to different Governments. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will look into this point. Malaysia wants to send cadets here and perhaps she could have a bigger allocation since some other countries are not sending cadets at present.

My other point concerns apprentices in dockyards. What are the numbers? Are they being maintained? Does the hon. Gentleman intend to keep on training apprentices even while there is uncertainty about the future of the dockyards? If they cannot be employed in the dockyards they will be of great value to industry in general. It would be a disservice to the dockyards and the country if these apprentices were not encouraged to continue their training. It is a very valuable training.

What is happening to the training in Singapore? This is a means of giving aid to Singapore in future. There is always great demand for apprentices. One of the past troubles has been that people trained by the Royal Navy have so often been snapped up, particularly m Singapore, for civilian employment. Will that process continue?

It is interesting to note that we still have naval schools in Malta and Mauritius, which are on an inter-Service basis. Are we to continue the one in Mauritius in view of its independence?

I have frequently called attention to the pre-release vocational training course. We are told that this is for personnel who have completed nine years' service or more if they can be spared or attend on release leave. This is not very generous. Surely they should be given time for this training so that they can go back to civilian life with some occupation. Yesterday, the hon. Gentleman told us that he was aware of the difficulties of these people being accepted by many of the trade unions.

I notice that training of interpreters required for the Navy is also done. This is a very valuable course. I hope that many more people, as they can be spared, will be sent for training in this, because it will become more and more important to talk other languages, and not just for use in the Navy. I would like to see people encouraged to take any courses which are for our mutual benefit in future.

I am glad that there has been no cut in the education service because money on it is never wasted. Whatever the Government decide to do about the Navy or the dockyards this money will have been well spent.

7.5 p.m.

Dr. Bennett

The hon. Gentleman will not be surprised if I confine myself to the naval medical service. What I myself am surprised about is that the consideration of these Estimates has gone through so far without any reference to the disquieting observation at the bottom of page 57 of the White Paper: The manning situation in the medical services gives cause for concern. Recruitment is not keeping pace with requirements nor compensating for the outflow. On page 58, dealing with the Royal Navy, it says that … more qualified medical officers are wanted. That compares with the remark on the Army: on page 59: Unfortunately, the recruitment both of cadets and of qualified and registered doctors has declined, and the number of voluntary retirements has risen. Dealing with the position in the Royal Air Force, the White Paper says, also on page 59, … the number leaving the Service short of a full career has risen sharply. That is no surprise to any of us who had occasion last year to debate the famous double-cross done to the Service medical officers by the Government. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman was at the receiving end of it. I believe that it was the Minister of Defence for Administration who was. It was the most appalling piece of double-crossing I have ever known perpetrated on Servicemen and we said, not just as a whim of our own ill nature but based on the firm resolves we had heard from people wearing Her Majesty's uniform at the time, that they would not stay in the Service if treated like this.

They got neither the scale of increase of emolument that was supposed to be in parallel with those officers who were not doctors. Nor did they get the upgrading which was accorded to civilian doctors. They were told on each occasion that they could wait for the other and then in the end they got some puny and derisory addition to their pay. So they are off. What are the Government going to do about it? This is a serious matter. The Government stand impaled on this weapon of their own devising. They cannot allow the Services to go on without medical attention. They have to do something about it. What are they going to do?

My second point is a little less polemical. I have raised before now the subject of the resuscitation potential of H.M.S. "Glamorgan", in which many reserve doctors do their training. I have heard that it is primitive. I believe that H.M.S. "Ark" had something of the sort but nothing new since the days of Noah has been brought into the Service. This ship generates an unholy amount of electricity, as do many others, and there is a strong possibility of people being electrocuted, at least in part, and it is really important that an inexpensive collection of resuscitation and other such gear should be provided in the "Glamorgan" and other ships in which it might be appropriate.

The requirements are simple—a few airways of appropriate kinds and a certain kind of resuscitator—not a too-heavy cylinder which cannot be moved and which will run out in matter of minutes. Again, so that the doctors concerned can find out about it, they need instruments such as an electrocardiograph to find out whether the heart has stopped or is just fibrillating, and, if it is defibrillating, a defibrillator to stop it doing so. I seriously commend these to the hon. Gentleman's attention as matters of concern in this ship and others where electricity is flying about in such indecent quantities.

Finally, I should draw attention to the fact that on page 29 of the Estimates under Vote 5A, the number of staff provided for is 2,075 at 1st April, 1968, reducing to 2,074 by 31st March, 1969. This is followed by the words in brackets: 2,099 reducing to 2,031 in 1967–68)". In other words on 31st March, 1968, there are 2,031 but at one minute past midnight, on 1st April, 1968, there are 2,035. I should like to know how the hon. Gentleman does it.

7.10 p.m.

Captain W. Elliot

I want to refer briefly to the civilians employed in the Fleet services, with particular reference to the Royal Fleet Auxiliaries. As we know, the Government have decided to withdraw from large areas of the world in which we were previously interested. That means fewer bases for the Fleet. In that context the importance of the R.F.A.s becomes greater. I hope that the Government will not confuse this withdrawal from an area, and at the same time reduce the mobility of the Fleet. The two are not connected. The Fleet's supreme advantage is its mobility, and provided that it has the auxiliary vessels to fuel and provision it, the serious results of the Government's decision might be mitigated.

I note that the number of staff provided for it is to rise this year. It may not all be for manning the R.F.A. I notice that in the Statement on the Estimates, paragraph 25 Chapter IV, says that the Government are: …examining the future rôle of support ships in the light of our reduced commitments overseas. That is the point that I am trying to bring out. I hope that the Government will not automatically assume, because our commitments should be reduced, so they think, that simultaneously the R.F.A.s have to be reduced. If we have to cut our overseas shore bases, then the backing for the Fleet, given by the Auxiliaries ought to be at least sustained if not increased.

I note that the Navy has chartered three large tankers and is building a new class of small fleet tankers. I hope that the Government will bear in mind that the fewer shore bases there are the more important the bigger tankers will be because of the long distances they can travel before refuelling.

7.12 p.m.

Mr. Foley

The hon. and gallant Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles) raised the question of Greenwich and the move of the Staff College to Camberley. The question in his mind, which he did not ask and which I could perhaps put for him was: what is to happen to Greenwich? This matter is exercising the mind of the Government, because of the historic traditions and the contribution that Greenwich has made to the life and history of our country. I do not believe that we will go back on our decision to put the three Staff Colleges together. The examination of how we can preserve the naval character of Greenwich, and at the same time make the fullest possible use of its facilities, is going on. I do not know what the answer will be, but it is actively engaging the minds of many people.

As to the R.F.A.s, I agree with what has been said about the importance of the quality of the management of the R.F.A.s and the vital rôle that they have played and will continue to play. As I said yesterday, if one wants to fulfil a rôle outside Europe without any bases, then clearly this places a far greater dependence upon them.

As was pointed out by the hon. Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Wingfield Digby), this is a very expensive exercise. The R.F.A. gives one the degree of flexibility required. Consider the events of the last 12 months—the closure of the Suez Canal, the mounting of the operation off Aden. It was the R.F.A.s who did the job for us. One can pay tribute to the Marines, the Commandos and the Fleet Air Arm, but what would they have done without the support?

This is where the question of flexibility comes in. It has been said that we chartered three large tankers and placed an order for three smaller R.F.A.s earlier this year. This gives us the degree of flexibility that we need. The question of the size of a future R.F.A., the kinds and number of ships, will be dealt with in the review now being undertaken. As to whether there has been any assessment of the contribution that may come from South Africa, all I can say is that some time last year, in response to a Question, I said that there were still training activities going on with the South African Navy, and this is still so.

The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) raised the question of Government schools in Singapore. I saw these last summer and they are absolutely first-rate. A mission headed by Sir Alan Dudley from the Ministry of Overseas Development has just returned from Singapore and Malaysia. We have not seen the conclusions of this, but the object of the visit was plainly to determine with the Singapore and Malaysian Governments the run-down and the kind of support that could be given. In this context, the question of the facilities that we enjoy, and what would be handed over and on what terms, must have been among the issues discussed, but it is too early to comment finally on this.

My hon. Friend also referred to training for industry in general. He will recall that yesterday evening I said that in my 12 months with the Navy the emphasis on training had come over again and again. I had been impressed with the way in which one found ordinary ratings, with not much of an educational background, ending up by taking "O" levels and even "A" levels while in the Navy. A number of them acquire skills recognised in "civvy street". While one may look at the Services as a drain on resources, they are as much a scheme of further education and real quality training as anything one can find in civilian life. We must never ignore this or look upon them as an unnecessary drain upon resources. We are giving people the opportunity to serve their country, and in the process to develop their own personality and character and enhance their status in our society.

Apart from a brief reference in the White Paper there has been no reference to the future of the R.D.C. I look forward to the day when officers and many N.C.O.s will have the chance to take a university degree. It may be that in years to come, in order to attract the right kind of person, we shall have to offer this sort of opportunity. The problem of preserving the balance between academic attainment and preserving the qualities of personality and character that go to make a leader is a difficult equation, but I am sure that in future years someone will be standing at this Box saying that the Government of the day are intending to introduce just such a scheme.

In this context the hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) referred to the Upper Yardmen scheme for recruitment of officers. Parallel with this is the S.D. scheme. I believe that they are both going quite well. It is highly significant—and I do not say this in any boastful way—that one-third of the serving officers in the Navy have come from the lower deck, through the ranks. This reflects the value of the Navy as a school of training and character formation, and the way in which people can be encouraged to study and learn, a id advance themselves. I am delighted to see it, and this scheme makes a valuable contribution.

A further point was raised about the dockyard apprentice schools. The four at home and the one at Singapore make a considerable contribution and are a source of valuable labour for the dockyards. It is equally true that about half of the apprentices move elsewhere once they are trained, which represents a tremendous contribution to the nation carried on Navy Votes.

I am anxious to see that the rôle of apprentice schools is not exclusively concerned with training people for dockyard work and that they also help in training people for other work in the area. To that end and to look at the whole nature of training and its financial implications, we have set up a committee. I can assure the hon. Lady that that committee will solicit the views of hon. Members representing constituencies in which there are dockyards, the trade unions, employers and other bodies and institutions.

She then referred to those who come to be trained from overseas. Clearly, as a result of our political relationships with other nations, there comes a degree of trade and sales and, with it, the question of who is to train their personnel. Up until now, it has been done successfully. However, it means that an extra burden falls on Dartmouth and the other colleges. There are language difficulties and then there is the question of the educational background of people coming from overseas. All this adds an extra load on to the backs of people who are already overworked. It is a matter which has to be kept in perspective. Possibly because of the quality of our training, there is a tremendous demand from people who want to come here. In fact, if we are not careful we shall find ourselves asking for a few places at Dartmouth. As I say, one has to keep a proper perspective about this.

The hon. Lady asked about pre-release vocational training. I quite agree with her that if someone has given the nine or 12 best years of his life, the least that we can do is to make sure that he is given adequate preparation for "civvy street". If there is one thing that I intend to do, it is to make sure that that happens.

As I expected, the hon. Member for Gosport and Fareham (Dr. Bennett) referred to the medical personnel. I can only say that their pay is one of the issues being looked at at the moment by the National Board for Prices and Incomes. He will be aware of our concern about the problems of recruitment and morale in the medical service. As regards his point about Glamorgan, I think that the best suggestion that I can make is to arrange for one of my senior medical officers to have a word with him. Between them, it may be that they can sort out this one. As for the figures that he quoted, I am not sure whether one talks about the number of staff provided for, or whether this is a target or an actual achievement of a target. However, I will look at this and write to him.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That a sum, not exceeding £19,386,000, be granted to Her Majesty out of the Consolidated Fund, to defray the expense of medical services, education and civilians on Fleet services, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1969.