HC Deb 20 March 1969 vol 780 cc759-87

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £102,882,000, be granted to Her Majesty out of the Consolidated Fund, to defray the expenses of the pay, &c., of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1970.

4.2 p.m.

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles (Winchester)

This is my first debate opposite the new First Lord of the Admiralty—and what a much better title that is than "Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy". The Royal Navy has almost always been fortunate in its First Lords, and I am sure that the present incumbent is no exception. But he will understand when I say that I can only wish him today a successful but not prolonged term of office.

Today, we come to the end of a long defence marathon, and I hope that we have got beyond what I might call the "competitive insults" stage. I want to summarise the main queries which still worry the Opposition and upon which we do not think the Government have given satisfactory replies. Then I shall pass as quickly as I can to the next Vote. If I am as brief as possible, it will leave plenty of time for the Minister to give full replies and enable the Army and perhaps the R.A.F. Votes to be reached before ten o'clock.

Vote 1 is for the pay of officers and ratings of the Royal Navy, and the Opposition's first objection to the sum of £102 million is unusual perhaps for an Opposition—that it is not a sufficient sum. We say that it is not sufficient, firstly, because we believe that the number of officers and men provided under it is insufficient. This was well summed up by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon), in the recent defence debate, when he said: Either we are adequately defended or we are not."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th March, 1969; Vol. 779, c. 248.] The Opposition believe that at the present time we are not adequately defended, especially on the naval side, in view of the vast Soviet maritime expansion world wide, which has been discussed earlier this week, and the possible threats to our interests and to our shipping, both in the N.A.T.O. area and, just as important, in other parts of the world.

We also believe that the insufficient number which we maintain is provided for by the money granted under this Vote leads to over-stretch. Over-stretch was a very popular term at the time of the Defence Review. Can the hon. Gentleman give any figures to show the House that over-stretch has been reduced by the policy of the Government? I wrote to the hon. Gentleman some time ago about this and also asked a Parliamentary Question, when I was told that it was not in the national interest to provide figures. The hon. Gentleman understands the difficulty, and perhaps he can, with a little ingenuity, prove his case that over-stretch has been reduced.

The second reason for our opinion that this sum is not sufficient is our belief that the pay and allowances detailed in Appendix 1 to the Vote are insufficient for the men getting them. Appendix 1 shows what these sums are in detail, but the recruiting figures show that they are inadequate. It is difficult in these figures to compare like with like, and the Opposition fully realise that there are many advantages in a Service life which are not apparent from tabular statements on daily rates of pay. I am the first to appreciate these advantages of a Service life.

Nevertheless, some comparisons are interesting, and one may be sure that young men who are considering or might be considering joining the Royal Navy do such comparisons. I thought that an interesting comparison was made recently by the hon. and supposedly gallant Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) from the benches behind me in the defence debate on 4th March. He said: Now consider an able seaman serving in a minesweeper on home sea service. He gets basically £12 a week. If he is married with two children and not living in married quarters it may go up to about £18 a week. Of course this able seaman has an interesting and exhilarating life, which he no doubt enjoyed. But he must compare his weekly earnings with those of the average home trade seaman in merchant ships around the United Kingdom. His average earnings are from £23 to £25 a week, according to the latest figures."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th March, 1969; Vol. 779, c. 333.] Under the Grigg system, Service pay already lagged behind comparable civilian rates by anything from nine months to two years and nine months, because the Grigg interval was two years and the statistics were taken in March based on civilian earnings of the previous July. The situation is worse under present conditions as industrial rates outside are rising so fast.

As the Grigg awards were based on existing civilian rates already passed by the National Board for Prices and Incomes, I cannot see the argument for re-referring Service pay yet a second time to the Board, because it will merely mean a comparison with what has already been referred to the Board. It means cantering round the course for the second time unnecessarily and greatly to the confusion of Servicemen.

The third point about rates of pay is: why did the Secretary of State allow this matter to be referred to the Prices and Incomes Board? The Opposition think he was absolutely wrong to do so for a number of reasons. First, because the Grigg formula is understood by the serviceman and the serviceman is accustomed to clear-cut orders and instructions. Secondly, we believe the Secretary of State is neglecting his responsibility to the serviceman.

There was an interesting reply to a Parliamentary Question by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Defence for Administration on 1st May last year. He was asked about the well being of the Forces and why the pay had been referred to the Prices and Incomes Board. He replied: I accept that my right hon. Friend and other Ministers in the Ministry of Defence wear two hats: one as the employer and one, in effect, as the trade union general secretary."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st May, 1968; Vol. 763, c. 1084.] We believe that by referring the matter to the Prices and Incomes Board the Secretary of State is fulfilling only one of those responsibilities, and certainly not the responsibility to the serviceman. It was wrong most of all because the Secretary of State allowed control of this vital matter to pass out of his hands altogether. What could be more important for the Secretary of State than to control the rates of pay and the size of the Forces which defend the country? He has handed this over to a statutory body over which, by his own admission, he has no control. He had in his hands some £480 million for Service pay, £108 million for the Navy alone, and he voluntarily surrendered this responsibility—he handed the helm to somebody else. Having done that, his control over his own Ministry and the Services must be vastly decreased.

The most important questions we ask the Minister on this Vote 1 are: first, why has naval pay been referred to the Prices and Incomes Board? And secondly, why has the Secretary of State taken no effective action to increase recruiting by improving pay and allowances for our naval officers and men?

There are some other points arising from Vote 1 which are detailed but nonetheless important to serving officials and ratings. The first is in relation to the doctors and dentists. Why have they been allowed to fall so far behind? Secondly, some of the naval allowances which are in Appendix 1 to this Vote are absurdly anachronistic: fourpence a day for good conduct badges after each four years of undiscovered crime. This was threepnce a day 35 years ago when I was a midshipman. I see that it is only threepence a day to the W.R.N.S. for good conduct. Threepence a day is not much to give a girl for saying "Yes, sir" all day and "No, sir" all night. There is also the long service and good conduct medal which carries £20—that is also a figure from the early 1930s. If we delve into the details, we see a "harmonium" allowance of 4s. for every occasion.

More seriously, the Opposition welcome the education allowance for officers' and ratings' children. This is excellent and appears to be a good allowance. We are concerned, however, with the rules for awarding separation allowance, which are very complicated and really amount to nit-picking of an extremely high order by the Treasury. Who could be more expert in this process than the Treasury?

A fourth specific point, which I hope the Minister will answer, is in relation to a discussion a year ago about the rates of local overseas allowance to people in B.A.O.R. and other parts of the world. It is the local overseas allowance for officers and men, following devaluation, and whether it had been properly adjusted. This was supposed to be under very active review. Has this review of local overseas allowance been completed?

The assistance with house purchase for ratings is an extremely successful scheme and widely appreciated in the Royal Navy, but will the Minister say why this assistance is only provided for ratings? Why is there no similar scheme for officers?

Footnote in Appendix 1 states that certain ratings are paid a re-engagement bounty of £100. This creates differences and bad feeling between ratings. Could the Minister explain why only certain categories of ratings are paid this re-engagement bounty?

On the subject of re-engaging, the Opposition very much welcome the fact that the re-engagement figures have improved somewhat. It shows that men appreciate the life in the Services. The figures given for nine-year men had increased from approximately 29 to 31 per cent. Five years ago the figure was something like 60 per cent., double the present re-engaging rate. Any improvement in this is obviously welcome.

The last detailed point is in respect of Appendix II, on page 51, where there are shown to be 73 flag officers and officers of equivalent flag rating. Admirals are useful chaps to have around the place, but will the Minister say whether the figure of 73 includes the Admirals of the Fleet who are always on the active service list?

To sum this up, I hope the Minister will comment upon the reference to the Prices and Incomes Board, why there has been no interim pay award to help recruiting, and also the smaller details which I have mentioned.

4.18 p.m.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Westlothian)

It might be instructive to reflect on the "undiscovered crimes" of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles). I do agree with him regarding the detailed matter of doctors' and dentists' pay. It is a very real point, and those of us who have talked to individual service doctors are under no illusions as to just how serious this is.

As he has said, this is not the time to indulge in insults nor would I wish to do so during a defence debate. But there is one thing which ought to be said: that is, when rhetorical questions are asked there ought to be some kind of answer given. The hon. and gallant Gentleman asked what the Government are going to do to provide sufficient sums. The Opposition's complaint was that the sum of money under discussion was not too big but too small. I would ask what, in the view of the hon. and gallant Gentleman is a sufficient sum? I am not indulging in party politics. He says it is an insufficient sum; we simply say, then, what is a sufficient sum?

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles

If the hon. Member is asking to see a fully detailed naval statement prepared by the Conservatives, he is knocking at the wrong door. He should ask his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to have a General Election and then he will have what he wants to see. This is the quickest and by far the most certain way of getting that.

Mr. Dalyell

That is a very Delphic answer. It is also a totally unsatisfactory way of handling defence. If one makes criticisms one has to progress chase them through. I am not silly enough to ask for any detailed reply, but to the nearest £10 million. Why make the charges of insufficiency in the first place unless one is to be reasonably specific? This is what throws Parliament in the view of many people including myself, who are interested in defence, into disrepute sometimes. Politicians should be much clearer about what they are doing.

I would like to congratulate my hon. Friend on writing so quickly to myself, my colleagues and, I am sure, hon. Members opposite on the points raised during the Estimates debate. It is very refreshing to have such full replies and extreme punctuality from a Government Department. As he knows, I dealt in great detail with the subject of oceanography and the marine environment. If, as is indicated, the Navy Department are to take more interest in the development of the marine environment and perhaps have point enterprises with industry, could it also be made clear that the naval wages, incurred for oceanography, will be compensated from a Vote other than the Defence Vote?

I have raised this subject in one form or another four times in the past few days. I will not go into it at any greater length. It is not only a question of putting capital equipment on to another Vote, but also the wages if the Government are to go in for this kind of enterprise in the way that we would wish. If the Navy does this, who knows, the recruiting problems and the pay problems might become relatively easier.

4.22 p.m.

Captain Walter Elliot (Carshalton)

Under this Government, the Navy is being reduced So puny proportions, far too small to meet our needs. I want to make quite certain that our teeth are not being cut out of proportion to those cuts made on the "tail". If we look at Vote 1, dealing with pay and National Insurance of officers and ratings, it will be seen that these are cut because there are fewer officers and ratings. On Vote 7—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harry Gourlay)

Order. We can only discuss Vote 1 at this stage.

Captain Elliot

I want to make comparisons, and it is rather difficult. I will only do so briefly, but I cannot bring out my point unless I make this comparison between these two Votes.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

It puts the Chair in some difficulty if it allows any degree of latitude. Perhaps the hon. Member can pursue his point without going into too much detail on Vote 7.

Captain Elliot

I am grateful. If we look at Vote 7, pay and allowances in H.M. Dockyards, we see that the figure has gone up on 1968–69. Again, we see that in Vote 7 "Ships (other than Royal Fleet Auxiliaries), hulls and machinery, &c, purchased and repaired by contract", the figure has gone down, as it has with weapon equipment purchased. Yet pay and allowances on the design, production, inspection and staff has gone up. I am worried that the cuts are falling disproportionately on Vote 1.

I would like an assurance from the Minister that careful consideration is being given to this, because the manpower being provided for in the front line of the Royal Navy is pitifully small, and anything that can be done to ensure that the teeth can be kept up to strength should be done.

4.24 p.m.

Dame Joan Vickers (Plymouth, Devonport)

I would like to thank the hon. Gentleman for replying to so many points which I raised in the previous debate. I would also like to suggest that, as his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is coming to Plymouth this weekend, he might like to drop a hint that it would be best to keep off naval matters. I want to deal first with the Royal Marines. I am sorry to see, and the hon. Gentleman has explained the reason, that the Royal Marines Band will have to be cut down. I would like him to reconsider this. It is very good for morale and, as it earns 40 per cent. of its cost, it seems to be rather a mean economy. It is said that the bands will be at Darmouth and Lympston. That will not make up for the loss of the band in the city of Plymouth. I am glad to see that the Marines are to do their training abroad. This was mentioned in the Green Paper. I understand that there are to be about 30 countries involved, and perhaps we could have a list.

The amount of money for the Queen Alexandra's Royal Naval Nursing Service is to be increased. It is one of the few limbs of the Services that have gone up in numbers. I would like to know where they will serve in future, because there are less and less places for the nursing service. Is the hon. Gentleman considering that they may, perhaps, go on ships as they used to do in Nelson's days?

I have had a Question down about the age of majority, and since this is to be lowered I want to know whether the marriage allowance will be brought down to the same age. Now that there is no need for parental agreement, marriages will take place earlier.

As to the Wrens, the record is not too bad, but it is not very good. It could be better if the Wrens did not have to go to H.M.S. "Dauntless" for their initial recruiting training. There is some suggestion that this may be moved. It would be beneficial if they could get into the right naval atmosphere instead of being in the middle of the country near Reading. It would be much more conducive to recruiting.

I see that the lodging and London allowances for officers are being increased. On the other hand, allowances for ratings and others are going down. Living in London is very expensive these days, and officers very often have relations or friends with whom they can stay. I would like the hon. Gentleman to consider this because, in all the other sections, ratings are getting an equal rise, yet in this particular instance they are being left far behind.

I wonder whether there is a misprint in Appendix 1 on page 43. In the last two columns, under "W.R.N.S. Officers" and the nursing services, in the third line the rates of pay are 57s. and 78s. 6d. and 57s. and 70s. 6d. If he looks at the other rates of pay he will see that they rise equally. He may not be able to answer this point now, but it may be that a mistake has been made. I, too, saw the 4s. for the harmonium player, but I was struck by the difference between that and the shorthand-typists, who are very precious these days, who are receiving only 9d. I would prefer to have a shorthand-typist rather than a harmonium player; they are far more useful.

Then we have the flying allowance. I could not understand officers getting only 5s. while ratings get 9s. 6d. I could not see the reason for the difference. Looking at page 47, Married Quarters, I see there is a difference in the allowances for removals. I would like the hon. Gentleman to consider a point I have raised time and time again. Why cannot ratings and N.C.O.s have some unfurnished accommodation? This is always being asked for. It would cost the Government less, considering the cost of storage, and considering also the way in which furniture deteriorates in store. It is a great problem for people now they are to remain in home service much longer.

Also, I could not understand why officers and nobody else should get a fuel allowance. The hon. Gentleman will know that quarters are often damp. Such an allowance is surely equally necessary for ratings, who do not have central heating in these places. My last point concerns the marriage allowance to married officers, ratings and widowers. I am glad to see that W.R.N.S. who are widows are also to get that allowance. This brings up the point as to the age at which the marriage allowance, particularly for officers, is to be payable, because since the age of majority will be going down we should also bring down the age at which the marriage allowance starts.

4.31 p.m.

Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)

During a previous debate on the Navy, we heard about the lack of recruits and the shortage of manpower. I would very much like to ask the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy if he is using to the best of his ability the manpower that is already there; because I can see that a lot of manpower, both officers and men, is being wasted in the ship known as the "Britannia". I know that I raised the matter this year and it was agreed at that time that greater use should be made of the "Britannia", but I am rather disappointed because, during 1968–69, the manpower wastage in the "Britannia" continued, and I am afraid it is likely to continue until the House and the Government assert themselves over the Admiralty.

Surely, at the time we are entitled to question whether the men in the Navy are really doing the job for which this House votes the money. I find that in the "Britannia" at the present time there are a rear-admiral, five commanders, five lieut-commanders and a crew of 234; and the total expenditure last year was £500,000. This is an extraordinary amount to be spent on one ship, and when I look at the prospects for this year I find that the expenditure is not going down but is actually going up. What has the "Britannia" been doing during the past year? What have these officers and men been doing? As a result of a Question I put down, I learned that the "Britannia" had been at sea for 30 days, going to South America, to be at the service of the Royal party. But the Royal party did not go on the "Britannia". It used aircraft to go to South America, and the "Britannia" was not used for any real purpose until it got across the South Atlantic. It stayed a comparatively few days and then returned.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harry Gourlay)

This is rather interesting, but perhaps the hon. Gentleman can assist the Chair by indicating on which page of the Estimates or Vote 1 the "Britannia" is referred to.

Mr. Hughes

Obviously, that on the Vote on the number of men.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The Chair appreciates the point which has been made, but I do not think we need pursue the "Britannia" across the Atlantic and back.

Mr. Hughes

That is an entirely novel Ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If we are not to discuss what the men in the Navy are doing and what is the purpose of a ship, then I fail to see what purpose there is in having this debate at all. Your predecessor in the Chair last year allowed me, not to pursue the "Britannia" over the South Atlantic, but at least to ask what the officers and men were doing. I submit that this is relevant to the debate. I would argue that these men could very well be doing something else more in the national interest. I feel that at a time of national emergency to spend £9,000 a day on the "Britannia" doing this kind of work is not justifiable; and from the last Question I put to the Minister the cost is going up.

We are to spend more this year. The number of voyages that the "Britannia" will make for ceremonial purposes is likely to increase; and so is the expense. I see in the Press, for example, that in July the "Britannia" is to go on a voyage to the Menai Straits. What is it going to do there? I have heard of the Free Welsh Army, but I have never heard of a Free Welsh Navy. I understand that the "Britannia" is to be in the Menai Stairts accompanied by two other warships, to be on ceremonial duty during the time of the Investiture of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales.

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

Mr. Hughes

If hon. Members are saying "Hear, hear" as a note of appreciation of the services of the Prince of Wales, then I quite agree with them. But I suggest that it is merely a waste of manpower to take this expensive vessel up there for a few days so that the Prince can stay aboard. I do not see why, with the hospitable people of North Wales who are supposed to be enthusiastic to welcome their Prince, he cannot find hos- pitality on land. Instead, there is to be this expensive vessel with all these men who, presumably, could be engaged on other naval duties.

I renew my request to the Minister to see if he cannot ease the burden on the national Exchequer and utilise this ship for something else. One of the suggestions I made last year was that it might be chartered out to somebody in America, or even to Mr. Onassis, for the purpose of bringing in money in connection with the tourist trade. I was told last year that the "Britannia" was to be used in other ways, and I have noted that it took part in the N.A.T.O. manoeuvres in the Mediterranean; but the "Britannia" is not suitable for naval warfare. What has happened this year, and what I am afraid will continue to happen, is that the services of those men will be utilised purely for ceremonial purposes at a time when we are told that there are not enough sailors and officers to carry on the normal work of the Royal Navy. I would ask my hon. Friend to look into this matter again with a view to seeing whether it is possible to make some economy.

Then I want to ask him some questions about the Polaris. One ship, the "Resolution", is already in commission. What will it do? Recently, I put a question to the Minister about the Polaris missile, and I did not get a very satisfactory answer. This Vote provides a sum for a number of men, including those who will go out in the Polaris submarines where, presumably, they will be called upon to take part in the practice of firing missiles. They are very powerful and deadly weapons which, if delivered in other parts of the world, could do enormous damage. What about the warheads? Is it the intention to equip the Polaris submarines with the very expensive Poseidon weapon?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. As long as the hon. Gentleman relates his remarks to the men engaged on the Polaris submarines, he is quite in order. But it is not in order to discuss the missiles.

Mr. Hughes

I bow to your Ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I do not understand how the missile can be dissociated from the men who are to fire it. It will not go off automatically, we hope. It takes men in the Polaris submarines to fire the missile. I suggest that the effectiveness of the work that these men are doing depends upon the missile.

When I pressed the Minister on this point during his speech in the preliminary debate, he said that it was not the intention to equip submarines with the Poseidon missile. Then he added something which is a bit of a mystery to me and which I hope that he can clear up today.

There has been criticism of this submarine in America, because it is regarded there as obsolete or obsolescent. In view of that, I cannot understand why we should vote a number of men to equip and manage an obsolete submarine. But, when I pointed this out to the Minister, he said that the Government would not be buying these expensive American weapons but would hold our position in reserve. I would like some explanation from the Minister. Are the sailors who are going out in these submarines and who are classified in this Vote not entitled to know what exactly is to be their rôle in any future warfare? Are they to have the new kinds of missiles, and are the Government preparing to spend £20 million according to the Daily Mail—equipping the Polaris submarines with new weapons? I hope that the Minister will be a little more candid and tell us whether there is to be a vast new expenditure on the Polaris submarine.

4.45 p.m.

Sir Ian Orr-Ewing (Hendon, North)

The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) is underestimating his ability to raise the same subject year after year. I remember the "Britannia" being referred to in 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961, and so on. He has the feeling that the sailors may not be usefully employed. Having listened to 12 years of defence debates, I cannot help wondering whether I have been usefully employed listening to his speeches. I have been totting up the number of hours that I have put in, and I am not sure that they are cost-effective in the terms that the Government like to use.

I always give full credit to the fact that Mr. Attlee, as he then was, had the courage to lay down and order "Britannia" during the General Election of 1951 because he thought that any succeeding Government would feel it impossible to order a Royal yacht. It was in- tended for two purposes, of course. It is able to undertake hospital services as well as its Royal duties.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that it was built as a hospital ship?

Sir Ian Orr-Ewing

I think that this debate is the best argument for an all-party Select Committee on defence—

Mr. Hughes

Hear, hear.

Sir Ian Orr-Ewing

I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman would find himself a member of it. Probably what would happen is that, like a weathercock, as he came on, I would go off and vice versa.

We find it very difficult to probe some of these points in depth, and such investigations would be more appropriately conducted in an all-party Select Committee by people who specialise in these very considerable problems.

A point was raised earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devon-port (Dame Joan Vickers) about marriage allowances for our personnel. I would urge that we do not introduce marriage allowances at 18, 16 or at any other age which is suggested. I very much agree with Lord Montgomery, who said in the other place that it would pay us to bribe bachelors with something like £2,000 a year to join the Services. However, I can see that there would be other oncosts which might arise if everyone in the Services was a bachelor, and I do not think that that is a very practical suggestion. However, we should not put any incentive in the way of young people in the 18 bracket to marry. It must be remembered that, once given, an allowance cannot be taken away. If we are to increase the marriage allowance, in my view it should be done at the age of 25, when one's children are beginning to get to an expensive age in terms of the destruction of shoes and clothes.

Mr. Deputy Speaker, I must apologise in advance in that I shall have to leave the Chamber at 5 o'clock in order to attend a Committee. However, I shall read the Minister's reply with interest.

I want to turn for a moment to Vote 1, subhead Z, Appropriations-in-Aid. It is a little worrying to see the steady fall in receipts in respect of personnel lent to other Governments. I will give the House the figures first and then put my question. In 1962–63, the figure was £1.18 million. In 1967–68, it was down to just over £1 million. Last year, it fell to £938,000, and this year it is down to £615,000.

The best possible way of keeping ex-Commonwealth countries in our sphere and, incidentally, adopting our training methods and, above all, our equipment is to lend personnel from our Services for training purposes. I am sorry to see that the figure is going down, though there may be some other explanation which is not directly apparent.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that here is very good value for money. We need them in Muscat, Oman, the Gulf, Malaysia and Singapore. Perhaps we need them in the Caribbean as they begin to train up their own defence forces rather than rely on ours.

When I was in Singapore last autumn on a defence visit, I learned that a wing-commander lent to the Singapore Government was charged for at the full rate plus all the overheads. It was not just a matter of the salary and allowances of a wing commander, but a full assessment. It occurs to me to ask whether this is really necessary, because it seems to be very expensive. Once the wing commander has been trained, I suggest that we should lend him to friendly Governments at the cost which it is on the Service Votes and not make them bear the overheads as well.

4.50 p.m.

Mr. Patrick Wall (Haltemprice)

I had not intended to intervene on this Vote, but the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) has succeeded in bringing me to my feet. I do not feel nearly so calm as the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Sir Ian Orr-Ewing). I thoroughly resent this campaign, year after year, that the crew on board H.M.S. "Britannia" are wasting their time. This country lives by sea trade, and sea trade alone and the hon. Gentleman ought to know that as well as any other hon. Member. We are a maritime nation and shipbuilding is very important too. It is right, therefore, that the Sovereign should have the finest yacht in the world, which is what she has.

If the hon. Gentleman had done his researches properly, he would have found that the crew of the ship have a full- time job. She is used very frequently by various members of the Royal family, and she is used as one of Her Majesty's ships in exercises. I do not know why the hon. Gentleman thought that she did not work as one of Her Majesty's ships in the Mediterranean—or whatever was the phrase he used; that is entirely incorrect. I suggest to the House that the expense incurred for the officers and crew of H.M.S. "Britannia" is fully justified to a maritime nation, and I resent this unenlightened campaign which I am sure has no support from the Royal Navy. I think the Minister will agree with me when I say that the Royal Navy is very proud to provide for the Royal yacht.

4.52 p.m.

Mr. Simon Wingfield Digby (Dorset, West)

The first point which I would like to raise with the Under-Secretary relates to the admiral superintendent. The functions of two admiral superintendents, in Devonport and in Scotland, are to be amalgamated with the ordinary local flag officer.

In the past it has been recognised that the admiral superintendent had special functions, and the man who could best perform those functions was not necessarily the man who could best perform the functions of a local command. Great trouble was taken in selecting the right person for the job of admiral superintendent, one who would be able to preside over the Whitley Council, for example, and who understood labour relations; these aspects being rather outside ordinary naval work. The Admiral superintendent is also involved in the construction and repair of warships, and this demands special qualities. Otherwise, it tends to be rather "Juggins's turn" in appointments of this kind.

Are we now to understand that an admiral superintendent will be selected simply as the best local flag officer who can be found, and that the attempt to appoint an admiral superintendent who has special knowledge of the problems which arise is to be abandoned?

My second point is that the first Polaris is now on operational patrol. The right hon. Gentleman on the Front Bench visited the American Polaris on the same occasion as I did, and he will remember that we studied the special problems affecting the crew, which are quite unlike those arising on an ordinary ship as such a long time is spent away from base.

In the American submarine, for example, smoking is allowed all the time and there are special provisions for welfare. I have read in the newspapers that a service will be provided whereby families can send special messages to ratings and officers working in Polaris submarines. I have also read in the Press about the reading matter which will be provided.

The Polaris poses completely new problems, and I hope that the Under-Secretary will tell us what provision is being made at the start of this important new task for the Royal Navy.

Mr. Eric Ogden (Liverpool, West Derby)

The hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) said that he was tempted to intervene because of the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes). Whilst I do not agree completely with my hon. Friend's views about the usefulness of H.M.S. "Britannia", I think the remarks of the hon. Member for Haltemprice were a little vitriolic and unnecessary. My hon. Friend was not saying that those employed on the Royal yacht were not fully employed but that they were unnecessarily employed.

I go a great distance with the hon. Member for Haltemprice and his colleagues. I think there is a place for the Royal yacht, and its scope has been considerably widened. He was stretching it rather far when he claimed in support of the Royal yacht and its activities that it was engaged in trade and commerce. [Interruption.] This was my impression, and we shall know tomorrow from the OFFICIAL REPORT. I think that he made a reference to commerce, and this is precisely the point which my hon. Friend has made time and time again, that it should be used for trade and commerce.

Mr. Wall

I said that, because we are a great trading nation and we live by sea trade, and because we build ships, it is important for our Sovereign to have the finest yacht in the world, which she has.

Mr. Ogden

The impression I received was that the hon. Gentleman was saying that the Royal yacht was engaging in trade. It is an honourable profession, why should it not be engaging in trade?

4.57 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy (Dr. David Owen)

I have been asked a large number of questions, and I will do my best to reply to them. The question which is of over-riding importance on this Vote, and I can understand the concern, relates to pay. The hon. and gallant Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) raised this question, and I thank him for his kind personal words. I do not think he meant to give this impression to the House, but what he said led me to believe that there had been major delay and almost that there had been no increases in pay because of the reference to the National Board for Prices and Incomes and the giving up of Grigg, about which there has been much argument between the two sides.

The House will recall that Service pay was made the subject of a standing reference to the Board from 1st November, 1967, and that the first Report was accepted by the Government in May, 1968. The main recommendation, which was implemented without delay, was an increase of 7 per cent. in Service pay from 1st April, 1968, and it was always stated that this Report was of an interim nature. The House was informed on 30th May, 1968. that the Government had asked the Board to complete its review within a year.

In the meantime, the Board has devoted a great deal of time and labour to the whole subject of Service pay. It has involved a searching study of the whole Services' pay structure and the important and extremely complicated task of examining the relativity between the work of Service officers and other ranks in various employments and that of civilians in comparable tasks. In the latter task it has been making extensive use of the services of industrial consultants. Members of the Board have visited and are still visiting Service establishments in the United Kingdom and Germany.

As stated in the first Report, the Board has been paying special attention to the remuneration of doctors and dentists in the Services, and I will deal later with this in more detail.

I cannot, of course, anticipate the conclusions which the Board will reach as a result of its inquiries and deliberations, but I hope that a solution will emerge which will be scrupulously fair to the Serviceman and woman, and which will stand the test of time and also provide an improved pay structure. So the Government are very conscious that Service pay is a major element, and probably one of the most critical single elements, in recruiting; it is not something that we have tried to disguise. We have also said that we attach particular importance to the concept of a Service salary which is demonstrably more comparable with pay in civilian life. In taking up the hon. and gallant Member's specific point in which he compared Service salaries with merchant salaries, there are many disguised advantages which people, rightly, claim to be part of Service pay, but there are some things which tend to be overlooked when direct comparison is made. I cannot anticipate the report of the Board, but I am sure that it has not overlooked the possibility of a Service salary, and we await the Board's thoughts on this with considerable interest.

The Secretary of State has already said a little about the shortage of doctors—

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for answering my question about the N.B.P.I., but he did not quite answer the point that we on this side believe that this should be the function of the Ministry of Defence and cannot see why it should be sub-contracted to the N.B.P.I.

Dr. Owen

In no sense is it subcontracted. The Board advises the Government. It is then for the Government to make a decision. This is the collective decision of the Government. The Ministry of Defence has in no way abrogated its prime interest in ensuring that the Services are given full financial compensation. Hon. Gentlemen opposite tend to think that we must accept what the Board says. This is not the position. The Government decide whether to accept the recommendations of the Board. I do not think I should go into that matter any further while the Board is still sitting.

The shortage of doctors has caused some concern, and I will deal with that matter in a certain amount of detail. Until about six years ago the method by which the Navy obtained its doctors was by the direct entry of qualified doctors. We found, however, that we were getting insufficient officers in this way. The House will know that in 1962 a scheme was introduced whereby undergraduates could enter the Navy while at university and receive appropriate rates of pay during medical training. They then enter on a five-year short-service commission on completion of that training.

I am pleased to say that, although recently there has been some fall-off in cadet entry, the scheme is still proving attractive. The entry of short-service doctors into service with the Fleet is improving as the earlier entrants under the scheme complete their medical training.

Unfortunately, even with the present level of entry for short-service officers, we have a significant shortage of doctors in the middle ranks. This is because very few short-service officers now find the prospects of transfer to the permanent list of medical officers sufficiently attractive. This is basically a question of pay. They feel that their prospects outside the Service are considerably better than if they remained with the Navy. This aspect of the question is part of the general review now being carried out by the National Board for Prices and Incomes into Service pay. We are hopeful that the result of that review will be to restore the confidence of short-service doctors in the attraction of a continued Service career. We hope, too, that it will prevent a further fall-off in cadet entry, which we fear would otherwise be likely. It is important that Service medical officers should not feel at a disadvantage compared with National Health Service doctors and consultants. In addition to their medical duties, they are subject to the inconvenience and disturbance which life in a disciplined force must inevitably involve.

Mr. Victor Goodhew (St. Albans)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the trouble is that Service doctors are suffering a disadvantage compared with civilians in the Health Service? Though it was intended that they should be kept about 15 per cent. ahead of the G.P.s in the National Health Service, today they are about 34 per cent. behind. It is no use the Government saying that they are anxious about this position if they are not going to correct it.

Dr. Owen

We have taken action. This has been referred to the National Board for Prices and Incomes. We have expressed anxiety about the situation. I explained it very openly to the House. However, we must wait for the National Board for Prices and Incomes. We are trying to achieve a Service salary structure which makes sense throughout.

The hon. and gallant Member for Winchester raised the question of over-stretch. He has asked a Question about this for 26th March. He knows that there are real security difficulties about giving an answer in the terms that he suggested. I note that he has a Question down to be answered next week asking for figures relating to over-stretch. I will bear his points in mind when I come to consider my Answer. There is no intention to hide this information deliberately. I believe in giving the maximum amount of information possible.

The hon. and gallant Gentleman also raised a point about separation allowance. He said that there were delays and difficulties in getting it through. I agree that it is a valuable allowance. Subject to the views of the National Board for Prices and Incomes, we foresee this allowance continuing in any new pay structure. Service life inevitably involves some family separation. This is one factor of the Service way of life that we consider should be recognised in basic pay. However, we think that separation beyond a certain point will still need to be recognised by additional payment to the individual concerned at the time of separation. I will look into any particular cases where the hon. and gallant Gentleman considers there has been long delay in how it works.

The hon. and gallant Gentleman also asked about local overseas allowance. We have had discussions on this in the House. Following devaluation of the pound, interim rates of local overseas allowance were approved pending detailed review of local conditions and costs in each country which did not devalue its currency in line with sterling.

This programme of urgent reviews is virtually complete and firm revised rates of allowance have been assessed and promulgated for almost all the countries affected. Good progress has been made by the limited numbers of expert staff available, and priority has been given to the most important areas in terms of numbers of personnel and of expenditure on this allowance.

Increases in allowance determined by the reviews are paid retrospectively to the beginning of March, 1968, but decreases apply only from a convenient pay day following review. I am in no doubt that the new allowances fairly reflect the difference in the serviceman's cost of living abroad compared with that of his compatriots in the United Kingdom.

Routine periodic review of local overseas allowance for countries such as Malta, which devalued in line with the pound, is being resumed. I hope that the hon. and gallant Gentleman will feel that we have looked into this.

The long service advances of pay scheme was introduced in September, 1965. It allowed married leading rates and above an advance of pay to be used to assist them in purchasing a house when they re-engaged for pension. Many hon. Members have drawn attention to the fact that it is generally a popular scheme. I have no doubt that it has been one of the factors in improving our re-engagement rate. It may interest the House to know that the total number of advances since the scheme's inception is something over 6,600.

I am aware that there are many who feel that this attractive scheme should cover officers as well as ratings. There are difficulties here since the present scheme is related to re-engagement, which does not apply to officers, but we are at present considering a variety of alternative schemes. Hon. Members can be assured that as soon as we have reached a firm conclusion we will make an announcement.

On re-engagement, I think I have been extremely honest about recruitment and the problems facing the Navy. There is also a good side to the story. Re-engagement rates for Royal Navy ratings who had completed nine years' service improved substantially to 31 per cent. in 1967–68 from 25 per cent. in 1966–67. The rate has remained at the higher level during the first half of 1968–69. The nine-year re-engagement point is the point at which the highest number of ratings become eligible for re-engagement. Re-engagement rates are highest amongst senior rates, and much of the improvement in overall rates has been brought about by improving advancement times to the higher rate.

I am not complacent about it, but it is a matter of great importance that we continue the improved re-engagement rates. These people have been trained. We have put a lot of money into their training, and they still have very valuable service to do.

A point of detail on bounties was raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Winchester. There is a relatively small amount of money in for two bounty schemes. One is a £100 re-engagement bounty of general application, which was discontinued in 1956. Certain ratings who were serving then as juniors or apprentices retained reserved rights which are still being taken up. The other is a £130 bonus payable to W.R.N.S. who enter on a six-year engagement upon completion of that engagement. I hope that this will be some compensation to those who think that good conduct money is not sufficient for W.R.N.S.

I was also asked detailed questions about the number of flag officers. The figure of 73 in Appendix II on page 51 of the Defence Estimates does not include any Admirals of the Fleet. It would do so if there were any on active service.

The number of flag officers borne in the Royal Navy and Royal Marines today is about 74. It is difficult to be precise. As most people know, we share appointments in the centre. This is subject to small variations, but I must point out to the House that, comparing today's figures with those for 1964, we have achieved a fall of 11 per cent. in flag officer numbers.

For those who saw the cartoon in the Daily Mirror, the number of flag officers includes not only those in national operational commands but also those in N.A.T.O. administrative and professional posts.

With the phasing out of the separate admiral superintendent posts which were referred to in the recent Navy Estimates debate, the number of flag officers will fall still further in the next few years.

This might be an appropriate time to answer the point raised by the hon. Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Wingfield Digby), who asked about admiral superintendents. I would be the first to pay tribute to the extremely valuable work that admiral superintendents have done, and are doing, for dockyards. But we have to take account of the management changes which have taken place in dockyards and which were started by hon. Gentlemen opposite. The idea was to give greater authority to the general managers. I think it is in keeping with giving more authority to the man who is managing a major industry—we tend to forget this—at the same time to take away some of the detailed powers of the admiral superintendent. We still believe that we shall need to retain the admiral superintendent, as the new title at Chatham shows—Area Flag Officer Medway and Admiral Superintendent. We believe that he will still need to have the responsibility for the base as a whole. We are more and more keen to push the attitude of looking at the base as a whole, not identifying and reporting out any one item within it. This will be the responsibility of area flag officers. I ask the hon. Gentleman to see the eventual abolition of the separate post of admiral superintendent as part of the new concept of giving greater authority to individual general managers.

Mr. Wingfield Digby

Can the hon. Gentleman give the House examples of the power which is to be taken from the admiral superintendent? Will this officer continue to preside over the Whitley Council, which is a good arrangement?

Dr. Owen

No decision has been made about his presiding over the Whitley Council. I think we should discuss this with the trade unions to see what their general feeling is, and I should not like to commit myself about that.

My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) is not here, but he apologised for having to leave the Chamber. He asked whether we ought to have special Estimates for oceanography. I do not think that I can go any further than I did on 10th March, when I said: The Royal Navy undoubtedly has a contribution to make here,"— I was talking in terms of oceanography and ocean technology— but, unless other financial arrangements are made, it cannot be expected to be funded against more relevant defence research within the Defence Estimates."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th March, 1969; Vol. 779, c. 1118.] That is the position. The Select Committee on Procedure is currently examining the Government's proposals for a new form of Defence Estimates, and if my hon. Friend feels strongly on the subject presumably he can influence the Committee's deliberations.

The hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot) raised a matter which is of concern to all Servicemen, namely the question of cutting the tail to match the teeth, and asked the Government to ensure that not all cuts and economies fall on the teeth. I refer the hon. and gallant Gentleman to page 6 of the Statement on the Defence Estimates, where it says: Although it is not easy to reduce overheads in direct proportion to reductions in defence tasks or activities, the Government is determined that cuts in the teeth arms of the Services shall be matched by cuts in the tail. That remains our determination.

The hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) raised the question of Royal Marines' bands. I have written to the hon. Lady about this. The total reduction is relatively small, and I join the hon. Lady in saying that the bands are a very important factor in recruiting and general morale, both of the Marines and of the Royal Navy, and that they will continue to be so.

In my letter to the hon. Lady I said: … the band of H.M.S. "Raleigh" is due to be disbanded in 1971–72 and the Flag Officer Plymouth's band will then be accommodated in "Raleigh". The bands at Dartmouth and Lympstone will remain, and I am sure that these three bands will be able to serve the Plymouth area as well in the future as they have done in the past. The hon. Lady also raised a question about the W.R.N.S. and said that H.M.S. "Dauntless" was rather daunting—I hope the House will forgive the pun—for a new W.R.N.S. intake. The hon. Lady should know that a few weeks ago we said that we would move "Dauntless" to South-wick Park, which will be part of the Naval complex, with all the attractions that that offers for the W.R.N.S., and I hope that this will please them. They have wanted this move for some time. We are satisfied with the figures for W.R.N.S. recruiting, and I pay tribute to them all for what they do for the Service.

The hon. Lady also raised the question of marriage allowance, and referred to the recommendations of the Latey Committee. We had somewhat opposing views on marriage allowance from the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Sir Ian Orr-Ewing). I was not certain whether he was totally opposed to it, but he seemed to say that we could not do away with it once it was here. I think we showed during the recent defence debate that we have been considering the wider question of marriage allowance, even whether it should disappear altogether. It is a big subject. and it, too, has been referred to the Prices and Incomes Board, whose report we await. I do not think that I can comment further on that.

The hon. Lady also raised the question of lodging allowance and London allowance. Both of these form part of our Service review. Lodging allowances were fixed in 1965. We are reviewing these at the moment, and an announcement will be made as soon as possible.

The hon. Lady also referred to the free fuel allowance. I draw the attention of the House to the statement on page 47 of the Defence Estimates: Officers, occupying large official residences and married quarters which have excessive fuel costs may receive an allowance to meet the cost of the assessed extra need. Anyone who has received hospitality at some of these residences knows that to heat them without any form of allowance would be a massive expenditure for the person concerned, and while officers continue to live in premises of this kind, some of which are extremely attractive buildings, I think that this is a reasonable allowance to pay them and it is not one to which I object.

Mr. James Ramsden (Harrogate)

No one objects to officers getting the allowance in the circumstances described by the Minister, but ratings do not get it. My recollection of the same allowance in the Army context is that it is payable in circumstances where married quarters put up by the Ministry of Public Building and Works are inadequately insulated and it is judged that extra fuel is needed to keep people reasonably warm. I do not know whether Royal Navy families do not have such quarters, but I think we should be told why ratings are not entitled to this allowance.

Dr. Owen

I take the point made by the right hon. Gentleman. The hon. Lady drew attention to the fact that there were some damp houses, and I would be prepared to consider the matter if there were a demand for the allowance to be paid. Generally, however, I think that if there were too many allowances we should create immense difficulties. I think there is a lot to be said for paying people a basic rate which is the rate for the job.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes)—and I hope that he will not take it amiss if I say this—made a ritual attack on what to him are subjects of concern, one being the Royal Yacht "Britannia" and the other the Polaris submarine. I shall not deal with the Polaris submarine, except in the context of manpower. My hon. Friend said that it was wrong to use men for this obsolete submarine. It is not obsolete, far from it. It makes an extremely effective contribution to the deterrent.

My hon. Friend claims that the Royal Yacht "Britannia" was not used in South America. This is not true. It was used, particularly in Brazil. I spoke to our Ambassador there, and he told me that it had made a very useful contribution to the visit. It took out visiting businessmen, and then took part in a naval sales drive which was very valuable at the time. It contributed greatly to the success of the visit, and I strongly rebut any criticism of the Royal Yacht "Britannia" on that score.

We have given considerable thought to the manning of the Royal Yacht. My hon. Friend knows that we have decided that wherever possible it should be used with the Navy in naval exercises, and steps are being taken to ensure that this can be done. As a Welshman albeit somewhat Anglicised, I welcome the proposed visit of "Britannia" to the Investiture

Mr. Emrys Hughes


Dr. Owen

I shall not give way.

The hon. Member for Hendon, North raised the question of personnel on loan, and quoted figures which showed a marked fall. The fall in the appropriations in aid for personnel loaned to other Governments does not reflect a fall in the number of naval loan personnel. It is the result of a variation in the accounting procedure. There is a slight increase on the estimate for next year, but the long-term forecast remains fairly steady. There is a fall in some countries, but this is offset by increases elsewhere.

I have tried to answer most of the points which have been raised during the debate. I do not want to make this a mud-slinging exercise. But it behoves hon. Gentlemen opposite, particularly when speaking from the Front Bench and saying that the sum for the expenditure on this account was not enough, and making claims in other debates for cutting public expenditure and reducing taxation, to try—I say no more than that, particularly on this Vote, which deals largely with personnel—to cost some of their suggestions.

Mr. Geoffrey Rippon (Hexham)

Will the hon. Gentleman give us an assurance, then, that he thinks that there will be no increase in forces' pay in the coming year? If he does think there will be an increase, will he give us his estimate of it?

Dr. Owen

The right hon. and learned Gentleman must think me very naïve if he thinks that I would give any such pledge. He knows that all I have said indicates that I hold the opposite point of view. This is a tendency which occurs throughout these debates and is likely to be more in evidence on the later Votes. It helps in these debates if we cost some of the differences of view. That is all I am asking for; particularly in the atmosphere of these Votes, this is more possible.

Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)

I apologise for not having been here during the debate. I thank the hon. Gentleman for having written to tell me that the pensions of serving men will be reconsidered in the light of the circumstances which have arisen as a result of the national pension intention. Will this also apply to the pensions of dock-yard workers? Will they, too, be reconsidered in view of the new situation?

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That a sum, not exceeding £102,882,000, be granted to Her Majesty out of the Consolidated Fund, to defray the expense of the pay, &c, of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1970.