Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £823,500,100, be granted to Her Majesty out of the Consolidated Fund, on account, for or towards defraying the charges for Defence for the year ending on 31st March 1971, as set out in House of Commons Paper 110.—[Mr. Taverne.]
§ Mr. Speaker: I understand that the Opposition has in mind that we should first debate Procurement, references to which are made in the Statement on Defence Estimates, paragraphs 38, 39 and 40, then the Navy, then the Army and then the Royal Air Force; but there is only one debate.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Emery (Honiton)
Mr. Speaker, this is, as you have already indicated, a new procedure for dealing with the Vote on Account. We on the Opposition side had hoped that it was for the convenience of the House to try to take one major item which we hoped might be the basis of a debate which would cover all of the Votes, and then, perhaps, proceed to specific items under the three Services afterwards. This is, of course, a matter which rests entirely with you, Mr. Speaker, and hon. Members can speak on any item. But it was hoped that we might be able to make better progress and better sense if we limited the discussion into set debates.
Secondly, since previously, this had been a day when back bench Members had specifically been able to raise items on more than one occasion on the different Votes which were open for debate, we had hoped that it was for the convenience of the House that hon. Members might be able to obtain permission to raise a matter which would be discussed at a later time, rather than trying to put it all into one specific debate.
§ Mr. Speaker
I am the protector of the back benchers, but not, I am afraid, to the extent of allowing a back bencher to speak three or four times in one debate.
221 There is one debate. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to refer to something else under this debate which is on the Vote on the Order Paper, he will have to do so when he speaks. He cannot speak again except with leave of the House.
§ Mr. James Scott-Hopkins (Derbyshire, West)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, An undertaking was given by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House that in no circumstances would the rights of back benchers be diminished by the new procedure. It would seem from your Ruling that this will not be so; because under the old procedure on the fourth day of the Estimates debate back bench Members were allowed to raise as many matters as they liked as each Vote was taken. In a debate some nine or ten years ago, I myself spoke 15 times, for a minute or two, on each of the various Votes. I understand that, even with the permission of the House this will not be allowed. I submit to you, Mr. Speaker, that our rights have been gravely diminished and that the new form of debate is quite definitely a curtailment of the rights of back benchers to fulfil their duty to put questions to Ministers on the various items of expenditure on the various Votes for the Army, Navy and Royal Air Force.
Could you look into the matter, Mr. Speaker, because I do not believe that this was the intention of the Leader of the House or of the Committee which examined the matter, and certainly it is not the wish of the House in general?
§ Mr. Speaker
Whether the hon. Gentleman can speak 15 times in a debate is a most attractive idea, but the House has to decide. This is not a matter for Mr. Speaker. The usual channels have put down the Motion in this way. In the old debates, which I remember very well and in which I myself took part as a back bencher, there were a number of Votes; and on those Votes we raised such matters as we wished, and if necessary spoke more than once. But the Question before the House is this: "That a sum not exceeding £823,500,100 be granted for defence this year." If an hon. Gentleman wishes to raise various aspects of the various subjects the Opposition have put down, he will be wise to do it while he is on his feet the one time.
§ Mr. James Ramsden (Harrogate)
Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. I hope that I do not correctly understand your Ruling to imply that as the debate goes on it will be out of the question for more than one Minister to reply to a particular section of the debate, and that it will be quite impossible in any circumstances for an hon. Gentleman to try, with the leave of the House, to make more than one point if he has points to make that fall into completely disparate categories of the debate as the day proceeds.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I could never prevent two Ministers from intervening in a debate, in spite of what the right hon. Gentleman's hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Scott-Hopkins) said about this being a back benchers' day. The right hon. Gentleman's second point is a matter for the House. I think that an hon. Gentleman who takes part in the debate would be wise if, when he was called, he made the points he wished to make, in case he were not to get leave of the House to speak again.
§ Mr. Scott-Hopkins
Further to that point of order. Am I right in understanding, Mr. Speaker, that you are saying that we shall not be dividing the debate into the subjects suggested, but that it will range over all the Estimates covered by the £800 million, and that therefore when hon. Gentlemen are fortunate enough to catch the eye of the Chair it is their duty, if they wish to cover all the subjects, to do so then rather than making separate speeches?
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I imagine that what will happen is that hon. Members will be interested in more than one of the topics. I am suggesting that it would be cautious of an hon. Member who was called if he made a speech covering them. This is a new procedure entirely. I can only apply the rules of the House, and Erskine May tells us that:A second speech has been allowed to an unofficial Member under special circumstances, on an explanation from the Speaker, the pleasure of the House having been signified;…Therefore it is a matter for the House ultimately to decide.
§ Mr. Ramsden
Further to the point of order. The House would not be in this 223 difficulty had the Government decided to put each Defence Vote down separately on the Order Paper, thus producing eight or nine separate Questions to which hon. Members could have spoken more than once in the usual way. I understand that the House finds itself in this difficulty because only one Question appears on the Order Paper, and so there is only one debate. As this is a new procedure, perhaps I might submit that point for your consideration, and perhaps for the further consideration of the usual channels and authorities of the House on a later occasion, if the difficulties which appear to have indicated themselves become real as the day proceeds.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I can make no comment on why the Order Paper appears in the form it does. I have no control over the Order Paper. Once it is before me, I must see that it is followed.
§ Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking) rose——
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. May I with respect advise the hon. Gentleman that the debate must end at ten o'clock. Points of order cut out the debate.
§ Mr. Onslow
I am as aware of that as any hon. Member who has not yet spoken in the defence debate this year, Mr. Speaker. But may I say how unfortunate it is that the Leader of the House has not been here to hear this exchange. May I have your confirmation that, whatever the chances of any hon. Member obtaining the leave of the House to speak again may be, it is probable that the Chair will continue to allow his eye to be caught by Members who have not yet intervened in the debate? Therefore, the debate is capable of being prolonged, whatever the good intentions of hon. Members may be to keep their original interventions brief.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. That is a matter for each individual hon. Member on what has been called back benchers' day. I hope that we can get on with the debate now.
§ Mr. Emery
You will understand, Mr. Speaker, why I mentioned this point at the beginning. I thought that it was to the convenience of the House to be as clear as possible. I hoped very much that we could limit the initial debate to 224 procurement. I felt that the feeling of the House is that if a Government or Opposition Member had a genuine point to raise the House might well be generous enough to give him leave to speak a second time.
We turn to procurement, to purchasing, to buying, to materials management, or to supplies. All are words or titles covering a host of matters within the Vote on Account, matters on which the Opposition wants to try to pull back the curtain a little today, to shine an inquiring spotlight.
Much of this short debate will, perforce, consist of the asking of questions and the seeking of information. Much will be a demand for details which are not readily or not always available to the public. We have a right to know how our hard-earned money, regretfully handed over in taxation, yet so easily absorbed in the insatiable appetite of government, is spent.
The importance of purchasing and the amount of money the Ministry of Defence spends is easily seen and analysed in the Studies of Official Statistics, No. 16 published within the past few days. In Table 9 of that document we find an analysis of military defence expenditure. It contains the figures of £287 million spent on aircraft; £110 million on construction; and £139 million on shipbuilding. Apart from those widely accepted major figures, we can see a breakdown of much of the other Ministry of Defence expenditure. This includes fuel and oil, nearly £12 million; chemical and allied industries, £20 million. Tools, metals and engines. £9 million; plant and mechanical handling equipment, £5.4 million; non-electrical machinery, £10 million; scientific instruments, £27 million; mechanical engineering, £49 million; electrical machines and goods, £29 million; wires and cables, £9 million; textiles, £7 million; radio and telecommunications, £174 million; motor vehicles, £28 million; the distributive trades, nearly £14 million; and clothing and footwear, about £5 million.
The reason why I have read out all those figures is that they are an important way of analysing where our money is going and whether we can obtain a real cost-effectiveness on that expenditure. That information should be easily and rapidly available to the management of 225 any sort of organisation. Will the Minister ensure that that happens?
The figures I have read out might well have referred to what years—1968, perhaps 1967, or, even if they were far behind, 1966? But those figures, published during the past 10 days, refer to 1963. A copy of The Times, the Financial Times or the Daily Telegraph of March, 1963 might be a very pleasant historical document, but I do not believe that it would be of any practical use in decision-making and management techniques in 1970. Therefore, there is something very strange in the fact that it has not been possible to obtain these figures of later years. I cannot believe that there is anything secret or highly confidential in these figures. Therefore, would the Minister ensure that the House and the country can have that same Table 9 brought up to date regularly, so that it is never more than 24 months behind?
Procurement should take more and more of the time and thought of Government Departments. Today's most successful companies are paying particular attention to it. The chairman of Ford started his life in the purchasing department, as did the managing director of Rover. The senior directors of Procter and Gamble, Reed, Lucas and Marks and Spencer's, all of them the most successful companies in the country, are paying specific attention to a good management response to procurement.
I am therefore concerned that the Government do not appear to be doing this. The breakdown of the supply Estimates which I have given, shows that the over-all figures of Government spending which has to be dealt with by procurement are made up by Votes 5, 7, 9 and 8. If one totals these and adds in the non-defence Vote of the purchasing for defence of the Ministry of Technology, and the Ministry of Public Building and Works, one sees a gross figure of about £1,564 millions of our money. It is essential that the House should investigate more and more the way that it is being spent and should be certain that the techniques and the management structure is as good as in any management organisation in the private sector.
I have carried these statistics a stage further. While one would expect that some of my figures, such as the buying 226 of transportation, moving across the world by aircraft, are not specifically consumables in the general purchasing nature, it is certainly fair to claim that at least £1,100 million of the figure I gave is direct funds spent annually by the supplies, contracts and transportation departments of the Ministry of Defence.
Let us analyse the existing organisation. Since 1964, there has been a move towards a unified Ministry of Defence. Paragraph 49 of the Defence Statement would have one believe that everything is quite all right, that things are proceeding nicely:Changes have been made of two kinds: areas of work of the Department have been organised on a more unified basis … In the first category are the abolition of the separate Ministers of State … for the three Services and the establishment in their place of two Ministers of State and two Second Permanent Under-Secretaries of State responsible for Administration (mainly personnel and logistics) and Equipment; the creation of single organisations for civilian management, management services, contracts, accounts, statistics and finance …This would lead one to believe that we have a unified contracts and supplies department in the Ministry of Defence. But anyone who knows anything about it knows that that is not true. In fact, only in the last three months have we even had a single Director of Contracts for all three Services.
But there is no unified contracts, specification and supplies department, as so ably exists in the Navy, in the other two Services. One had hoped that, in six years, the careers structure of purchasing and supplies in the Navy, which had brought into the senior Service the most efficient public service buying structure, would be used as an example for the R.A.F. and the Army. It has not happened. I am particularly concerned that, when it is not happening, we are not obtaining the same efficiency and management viability which one would expect in a structure spending this type of money.
I know that the Minister can say that there has been a Committee of Inquiry into this. There has been the Report known as the Wilson Smith Report, which at the moment is confidential. Its reference, I think, is C.E.C.20/67. It is a restricted internal document. Cannot that document be placed in the Library?
227 There is surely nothing against its being made available to hon. Members. I understand that the Committee was specifically military biased and came out with recommendations which suggested only that there should be no change from the purchasing functions controlled by the uniformed men.
§ The Minister of Defence for Equipment (Mr. John Morris)
I want to respond as helpfully as possible to the hon. Member's interesting and important remarks, but I want to be absolutely sure what report he is referring to. There is the Wilson Smith Committee which reported in November, 1967, on the Employment of Civilians in support of the Armed Forces. I take it that that is the Committee to which he is referring.
§ Mr. Emery
That is correct. I know the problem, but that is the report to which I am referring. In this, there was considered the general "civilianisation" of the rest of the purchasing departments in the Army and the Air Force. The departmental structure in the Navy of stores, transport, contracts and Navy accounts, has, under some very able Directors-General of Supply and Transport, been fused into a single functional management team.
I would be the first to pay a considerable tribute to the high calibre of management of the people who have had to run that structure. If there is no unified entity, one does not get the best out of purchasing and materials managing, nor if the provisioning is not in a unified control with the contracts branch. This is the problem one sees in the raising of the demand itself with the Quartermaster and Ordnance Branches of the Army and the Equipment Branch of the R.A.F. So there are major problems here, which I should have hoped that the Government would solve in six years.
I must be critical. I am even now hearing rumours that, even after the recommendations of Fulton, the strength of the uniformed branch is now turning towards a break-up of the Navy structure under the pressure of the Army and the Air Force. If this is so, it would be very unfortunate. I believe it is being 228 presented in the form of dealing, as the new framework for the future attempts to deal, with the two classifications, economic and financial, and social.
I ask two questions of the Minister concerning the part played by the Ministry of Technology in procurement. I am a little bemused by some of the figures given in the break down. On page 3 of the Defence Estimates we see the gross amount of £216 million and lower on the page the gross figure of £310 million both applying to 1970–71. I do not see how the difference has arisen. This has nothing to do with the repayment structure, the £140 million which we find elsewhere. Nor do I see it analysed in Vote 9. I have had a number of questions put to me on this and I would be glad if the Minister would clear it up.
§ Mr. Emery
My right hon. Friend will see on page XII-3 a gross figure for 1970–71 of £216 million in the statement of comparisons and £310 million in the next table, but higher up the page the figure concerning the Ministry of Technology is £216 million. That is not covered by repayment of £140 million so we have two Ministry of Technology figures and I am unable to follow them. I am sure that there must be an easy explanation which the Minister can give to clear this up. However, if I cannot follow it I am certain that many others cannot.
There are problems overall in dealing with unification of purchasing. In paragraph 43 of the Statement on Defence Estimates there are examples of the centralisation of store capacity. This again is spread over five years. Paragraph 43 gives the impression that everything is going very well, but in my judgment double that progress ought to have been achieved, certainly a 50 per cent. better figure. I hope that from now on that type of efficiency will be obtained. If everything is going so well, will the Minister tell me the total value at purchase prices at any convenient date, or a stock-taking date, of stocks of consumables held by the Department of Defence? I allow him to interpret consumables and I do not suggest that I 229 should do so. I should like to know what percentage of that stock is one, two, or three years old. In any ordinary business operation a stock analysis is available at least quarterly, and often weekly. The only way to carry through a proper stock analysis and to see the cost effectiveness of a concern is by having that information.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer is unable to give those figures for the country as a whole. Perhaps the Ministry of Defence is in a better position. If the Minister is unable to give the figures it shows that in the actual control the amount of stores normally consumed over a period is not known. Only by knowing these figures can one know the efficiency of the stores management and how much should be written off. That is a piece of management information we have never received.
Times have changed. Four or five hundred years ago procurement in the Armed Forces could normally be summed up by the words "Blunder, Rape and Pillage". That is not acceptable in the 20th century as a way of staffing our Armed Forces. It is interesting to note that in 1282 a knight rated 1s. a day, a captain of 20 6d. a day, a crossbowman at 4d., and 2d., and a longbowman at 2d. a day. Those rates included subsistence of the individuals, with the possible exception of knights. As a comparison with prices of commodities and consumables, wheat was 1s. 6d. a bushel, sheep 1s. each and a goose 3½d.
§ Mr. John Morris
I hope the hon. Member is not expecting me in my reply to give details of the consumables available in the days he is quoting.
§ Mr. Emery
The hon. Gentleman need not be afraid for that is not what I am wanting, but I ask what are the totals of stock levels of consumables and how old are they in a three-year break-down?
Turning to the procurement position, I do not wish to go into the very large sums of money being spent, but I should like some assurance about the actual trials of weaponry and their time-scale. There used to be a development trial, a user trial which was the troop trial or soldier-proofing of the equipment, and then an acceptance trial. Modifications of each of these were required by the military 230 to be put in before the next trial commenced. If Fords used that method we would never have a new Ford motor car on the roads at any time. Delays of three or four years in delivery of equipment have arisen because of the amount of time used on trials. If the hon. Gentleman cannot give an assurance at the moment, will he at least see that, as we manage in private industry today, two trials—if a third is necessary, three trials—should run simultaneously. Then specifications can be dealt with on a committee basis so that everyone can see what they are. Then we could get the equipment ordered, specified, procured and delivered to the troops.
The worries I have been putting forward are worries about restriction of management, of procurement allocation of central stores, central allocation of manpower control over the stores and storage itself not being on the same basis as that dealing with supplies and contracts. There is the problem of the Ministry of Defence, not so much in the Navy but still in the Army and R.A.F., sticking to the concept of competitive tendering as the only method of obtaining the lowest price. I would go along with that, but the lowest price is probably the worst value and the Minister should wish to obtain the best quality, the best reliability, the best servicing and the best delivery time and all that in relation to the price to be paid.
With the competitive tendering technique a problem occurs towards the end of contractual periods because quality is inclined to slip, contractors knowing that there is little chance of them having their contracts renewed. There is, therefore, a need to turn, as has been done to some extent in the Navy, to negotiated contracts, which set out to obtain the best cost effectiveness of the materials that must be bought.
This becomes difficult when the raising of the requisition cannot be discussed in a proper interface between the provisioning and contracting departments. One of the problems of the high level of stocks and then the need to sell large quantities of useless stock arises because those concerned with the provisioning of items to be bought attempt to safeguard their position in the knowledge that they can never be thwarted in other words, that at all times demands must be met.
231 The Minister should realise that, with negotiated contracts, one can have a call-off period for delivery. This can extend from 10 to 60 days. By this means one is able to reduce stock levels by the amount of the call-off period. Such an arrangement would be more than adequate for buffer stocks in many sections of the Ministry of Defence. It is imperative that modern techniques of reordering levels are applied by the supply departments.
I am worried lest we will not get the best management, because in most instances the supply and procurement side of the Ministry is within the executive section of the Civil Service. It is to be hoped that, with the new Fulton recommendations, this position will be corrected. In the most recent Civil Service Whitley Report published in March, 1970, entitled "A Framework for the Future" we are told on page 15;Briefly, the Committee found that many administrators lacked the fully developed professionalism that their work demands, because they failed to develop adequate knowledge in depth.It is interesting to note the analysis dealing with senior staff, who are responsible for spending well over £1,100 million, I estimate that not more than 20 of the 280 people concerned with this matter are dealt with in the administrative and executive class of the first categorisation.
One sees that those who are dealing with supply are in the lower financial categories. It is impossible to attain the sort of business management and know-how about which I have been speaking if such low rates of pay are given. Only the loyalty of the men has enabled us to do as well as we have been doing. It is clear from the pay of the most highly paid men on the list—£11,000 for General Executive, Dockyards, and not £9,800 for Permanent Under-Secretaries—that the Government have accepted that to obtain superlative management one must pay a substantial amount to get the right men.
In the same way, the Government must consider functional training. While action from Fulton is setting up a high degree of specialist training, much of which is in management techniques on a general basis, I am concerned that next to nothing 232 has been done on specific functional management. This is available from the Consultative Council of Professional Management Organisations and, being the Chairman of the Executive of that body, I can say that if the Ministry of Defence wishes to use the educational facilities of cost works accountants, chartered accountants, office management or purchasing and supply, that body and the bodies associated with it would consider altering or adding to their educational syllabuses to help the Ministry. I trust that the Minister will accept this offer.
There is major concern over procurement problems and we are especially worried about how things will develop in future. There is no real cost-effectiveness of the way in which the taxpayers' money is spent, mainly because there is either not enough management or insufficient authority is given to those in management to carry out their tasks.
There is a limitation in the rapid application of some of the more modern and technical pieces of equipment because of the outmoded and outdated purchasing techniques that are used. The trouble is that, in the fight for perfection, there is delay, which results in extra cost, so that usually we get neither perfection nor many of the objects that are initially set out to be obtained.
This is, therefore, not a matter for party politics but a desire to ensure that the taxpayers' money is better spent so that the nation gets better value for its money in the sphere of defence.
§ 4.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Thomas Steele (Dumbartonshire, West)
All hon. Members will agree with the latter remarks of the hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery), in which he said that the country should get value for money.
The hon. Gentleman spoke with great knowledge of the subject and I am sure that the Minister has made enough notes to enable him to reply to the debate now, without the discussion continuing. Nevertheless, many hon. Members have matters they wish to raise. The hon. Member for Honiton spoke effectively and dealt in depth with many issues. As he said, our task is to ensure that the money spent on defence, particularly on the procurement side, is well spent.
233 I wish at the outset to refer to a speech made by the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) earlier this month when in an Adjournment, he quoted an article by Mr. Chapman Pincher and said:His article said that the £50 million project had collapsed, that the Navy had been warned two years ago that the factory at Alexandria, in Dumbartonshire, would be incapable of handling so complicated a design …".— (OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th March, 1970; Vol. 797, c. 1081.]I draw attention to this because Mr. Chapman Pincher is wrong and I am glad that the Minister made this clear. It is the boffins who make the errors, not my constituents in the factory at Alexandria. This kind of insinuation and criticism is not easy to pin down. After all the denials have taken place, the fact that the hon. Member had to mention it in this way is an indication of how difficult things are. We in the west of Scotland have suffered too long from this difficulty.
It falls to all of us at some time or another to say "I told you so." The failure of the Mark 24 is an occasion when I can say this. A number of years ago I took an all-party delegation to the Ministry of Defence. One of the members of the delegation was the late Walter Elliot. The delegation was to do with the taking away of the research and development department from Greenock, down to Portland. The argument used was that we should not divorce research and development on these weapons from production. This is exactly what happened and our worst fears were realised. What is happening now, certainly with the Mark 24, is that research and development is being carried on at the same place as production.
We now have 1,300 people in the torpedo factory at Alexandria being told that their services are no longer required. This is a tragedy for the area. It was a place which gave excellent apprenticeship training. A lot of money has been spent upon it; it has one of the best clean-air shops in the United Kingdom. A great deal of money has been spent on tools and other equipment and it would be a pity if the factory was used for any purpose other than engineering.
I know that the Ministry of Technology is concerned about this and I have been in touch with it on a number of 234 occasions and understand that certain things have been happening. I hope that my hon. Friend can give us some information and tell us whether some of the firms with which he has been in contact have reached any conclusions.
Alexandria is in a special development area and the Ministry of Defence must take this into account when placing orders. This is not in line with the arguments used by the hon. Member for Honiton. I thought that his Tory upbringing came out during his speech when he expressed a certain amount of nostalgia for what happened in the 12th and 13th centuries. The Government now have a regional policy. Certain economists are toying with the idea of a tax on those areas where there is too great a concentration of industry and where local authorities face problems with services and other things. I would be grateful if my hon. Friend could tell us what his policy is to be in this respect.
We have the Polaris base in my constituency. The main base is at Faslane and the difficulties are in taking equipment by road to the base. The road on the east side of the Gare Loch is being considerably improved and there was a general understanding when the base at Coulport was being built—for the storage of Polaris missiles—that all the heavy equipment would go by sea. My constituents now complain that this is not being done. The access road on the east side of the Gare Loch is a small "B" road. Heavy equipment coming along this road is causing a great deal of inconvenience. There seems to be no reason why it should not come in by sea, as was arranged. Perhaps my hon. Friend can give me a reply to this at some stage.
The "B" road on the west side of the Gare Loch must be improved. The Ministry has been helpful in making a contribution to the local authority for the improvement of the road from the Gare Loch on the east side. I hope that the Government can find a little more money to improve the road on the west side of the Gare Loch.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Fraser (Stafford and Stone)
I am unable to follow the hon. Member for Dumbartonshire, West (Mr. Steele) who has such great knowledge of the Navy and naval affairs and of naval dockyards. My hon. Friend the Member 235 for Honiton (Mr. Emery) has introduced this debate about procurement, and it is clear that what the House suffers from is a total absence of accurate information less than six years old. One wonders whether the instruments of control inside the Government are as accurate as they should be.
Stocks and procurement are the key to the defence of this country. Royal ordnance factories cover the whole board, and I remind hon. Gentlemen opposite that they were first set up as shadow factories with great prescience by the then Government in 1938 and 1939 so as to enable a long war to be fought. Had it not been for the shadow factories and men like Mitchell, who designed the Spitfire, we might have been in a much worse situation than we were. All this changed with Hiroshima and the introduction of the atomic weapon, and one questions whether the most effective way to proceed is by the organisation of ordnance factories. Yet this year no less than £1¼million more will be spent on them.
I agree with the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, West when he said that on the whole it is better for development and production to be under the same hat. This brings me to my second general point on the Royal Ordnance factories, which is that the people who can best carry out the most advanced forms of technology are those who are already employed in the most advanced forms of technology. It is staggering to see the contract for a most advanced form of close proximity fuse removed from E.M.I. and Ferranti and handed over to the ordnance factory in Blackburn which, I am told, is of importance to hon. Gentlemen opposite. This is a strange way in which to run effectively the procurement of supplies.
To turn to the more immediate question of why we are spending £1¼ million more on Ordnance factories this year, when I was a junior Minister in the War Office, we started a run-down from what is called the 90-day war on paper to the 30-day war on paper. This was the conception of the length of time wars would last——
§ Mr. John Tilney (Liverpool, Wavertree)
On a point of order. I apologise for this interruption but, as 236 a Member of Standing Committee D which is dealing with the Ports Bill, I have to report that it is impossible to hear either the Chairman or those participating in the debate because of the noise which strikers on unofficial strike are making in the corridors immediately outside. I know that every hon. Member has the right to see his constituents, but would it be possible for you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to lay down an instruction whereby those Members of the Committee who have to see constituents could see them in the Central Lobby or elsewhere, so that we can continue our business in Committee Room 10?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harry Gourlay)
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for drawing attention to this circumstance upstairs. I am sure that the Serjeant at Arms will have taken note of what the hon. Gentleman has said and deal with the matter accordingly.
§ Mr. Fraser
May I resume my argument which was broken off by my hon. Friend who rightly gave this information to the House. I was referring to the efficiency of the organisation of the Royal Ordnance factory and the wider question of whether or not stocks have fallen too low. We have on many occasions tried to probe the Government on this subject, without success. The Foreign Secretary told the House that there was no shortage of Chieftain tanks in the Rhine Army. Everyone sees quite clearly now that there is a shortage of tanks for the reserves, and it has been decided not to build up the reserves to the top level. I know that one can take risks with reserves, as I did when I was a Minister in allowing a valuable deal in Lightning aircraft for Saudi Arabia to go through. Nevertheless, the House should be told the true facts. We were not told about this. At the time of the debate on the supply of Chieftain tanks to Libya, it was entirely denied by the Foreign Secretary. This proved to be one of the many examples of the misguidance of the House for which the hon. Gentleman has become renowned.
Another point that has been pressed from both sides of the House, particularly by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot), is how much of the 237 totality of arms we sent to Federal Nigeria in the recent civil war. Here again the House seems to have been constantly misled. We talked about 15 per cent. of the totality, but it is clear from an article which appeared in the Sunday Times, and which drew only on the Nigerian trade figures, that this is nothing like the correct figure. Just to take small arms, I have reason to believe that about 40 million rounds of ammunition for small arms were sent and that about 60 million were on order. I am extremely worried about this situation from a military and a moral point of view. The Government, who have branded others as merchants of death, have refused to admit the quantity of their own mortiferous merchandise. May we be assured that there has not been an excessive run-down of small arms ammunition? The House has heard stories about this; no wonder that the Foreign Secretary has been branded on many occasions with misleading the House on this issue. The Government seem to be over-sensitive on the subject.
I hope when the Minister replies that he will tell us first about stocks, secondly about the supply of arms to Nigeria and, thirdly, about the availability of tanks for the reserves in B.A.O.R. Lastly, will he consider the question of the production of Chieftain tanks, which is split between the Vickers factory and the Royal Ordnance factory in Leeds. I believe this to be wrong and that it should be concentrated entirely with one firm, Vickers, because there is no longer much use for the ordnance factory in Leeds.
My hon. Friend the Member for Honiton quite properly mentioned the way in which the House has been denied military information of importance; for example, on Nigerian arms, on tanks and on organisation. The figures which are given are seven years old. The Government talk about the advancement of the knowledge of the House since they have been in office, but they have done everything in their power to deprive the House of this knowledge.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)
I should like to endorse the concluding point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Hugh Fraser). One of the real purposes 238 Parliament can still hope to achieve is that of trying to ensure that we get value for money on defence expenditure, that we get it now and will go on getting it in the future. I am slightly sceptical about the way in which the experimental form of today's debate will advance us towards that objective. I wish to touch on two matters, and I will try to be brief. The first is the question of procurement of buildings for the Services. The second point refers to the Royal Air Force and relates to the procurement of the M.R.C.A. and the amount of information made available to the House about it.
I am glad to say that in my constituency a great deal of military building is taking place. In the neighbouring constituency of Aldershot there has also been, and still is, a good deal of building for the Army. What strikes me as surprising is that not all these buildings remain in a state of completion. Two officers' messes have fallen down, fortunately before they were occupied. In Blackdown the staircase of a new sergeants' mess collapsed, again fortunately before the building had been handed over. In our area and in other parts of the country there have been continuous reports of poor design and bad layout of barrack blocks.
I was lucky enough to be in Cyprus last year and one matter brought to our notice involved a new hangar, which had been constructed in such a way, that with the heat, expansion and contraction caused the nuts to fall off the bolts in the roof, and there was a danger that jet aircraft would ingest these into their engines.
Then there is the extraordinary saga of the new cookery school in Aldershot. It was so constructed that when hot water went down the pipes all the pipes melted and when the cookers were turned on in the kitchen all the cooks fainted. The additional expenditure incurred to the taxpayer as a result has been estimated to be something over £500,000, and I do not believe the story is finished yet.
When people commit idiocies of this kind, what happens to them? The staff of the Ministry of Public Works is large enough to spare a few by way of sackings. When cases of gross incompetence come to light—and when buildings fall down they are bound to come to light—is anything ever done to prosecute guilty parties? The House would be grateful if 239 the Minister could say something about this matter.
I turn to my second point concerning the strange story of the multi-rôle combat aircraft. The House will recall that the Minister of Defence came to the House and made a statement on this subject on 14th May last year. On that same day he held a briefing which was attended by a considerable number of journalists, and it was noticeable that on the following day the leading national dailies carried reports about the aircraft which contained figures as to its cost which had not been given to the House. This matter was first pursued—and the hon. Gentleman at present on the Front Bench, the Minister of Defence for Equipment, will recall this point because he too has had to answer Questions on the subject—by the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) who asked the Minister of Defence on 15th October last year for an explanation of the appearance of costs in the Press which had not been given to the House. He received the following Answer:If my hon. Friend will look carefully at those reports, he will see that a great deal of background information, including an estimate of cost, has been added by the air correspondents to my personal announcement in the House. No doubt air correspondents have many sources of background information of this sort. They do not quote their sources, and it is not for me to attempt to do so."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th October, 1969; Vol. 788, c. 376–7.]That might have thought to be satisfactory if it had not been well known that the source of the information about cost was the Minister of Defence himself.
Subsequently the managing director of Panavia, the international consortium which is building this aircraft, held a Press conference in Rome and again gave some figures of costs. When the Minister of Defence was pressed on this subject in the House of Commons in February this year he remained conspicuously evasive. When my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Corfield) finally said:The managing director is responsible to the Governments which have participated, and if he can give information, surely the Secretary of State can give the information to the House? "—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th February, 1970; Vol. 795, c. 400.]the Minister of Defence refused to answer.
240 This is a most extraordinary situation. I would ask the House to consider the implications of the system of non-attributable Press briefings which has brought it about. What are these Press briefings and who gets asked? I do not think invitations go out to the greenery —yallery leader writers who are far too brilliant to get elected to this House and are thus doomed to spend their time looking down on people stupider but luckier than themselves. I do not think Mr. Andrew Aguecheek gets an invitation, nor does Mr. Lunchtime O'Booze, since this kind of briefing would hardly be an occasion to lure him away from the slopes of El Vino's.
These are sober, sensible, knowledgeable and responsible journalists and they are being taken for a ride. What happens on these occasions? They go along to the Ministry of Defence, having been invited there by civil servants at the Ministry and they are given passes to get in. About 50 of them go into a room together and the Minister and his advisers appear and tell them a whole lot of facts, which are given on the basis that they may be used and quoted, but may not be attributed to the Minister.
This is an operation whose basis is a lie. It is quite distinct from the system of guidance where civil servants may give information to the press on request and may not necessarily be identified as having done so. It is different from the system of off-the-record briefings, at which information is given but may never be used. This is not a leak but a plant, in which information is made available to the press to be used on the understanding that its source will not be revealed. It is wide open to abuse and it is being abused.
The system does have its funny moments. There was an occasion when the Minister of Defence gave a press conference and made his celebrated and ill-judged remark about the aircraft manufacturers of this country being "mentally retarded children". This was picked up by a correspondent who had not been at the non-attributable briefing, and so was not bound by the code, and who printed it in his paper. It served the Secretary of State right.
What happened on 14th May last is that the Minister gave the press information which he subsequently refused to 241 give to this House. He also refused to admit to the House that he had given this information to the press. Why do we put up with this astonishing situation? We know that this sort of thing happens, but we seem powerless to stop it.
When we question the Minister, he answers, through the mouth of his hon. Friend the Minister of Defence for Equipment, that it must be remembered that it is not customary to give cost figures of this kind to Parliament and that it is not for him as Minister to identify sources used by journalists. This is cloud-cuckoo land. I have no doubt I shall be told that all the 175 defence ministers there have ever been have done precisely the same thing. That does not console me one little bit. It is time it was stopped.
We should take this opportunity to think seriously about the implications of that system, and ask ourselves whether it has any continuing validity. Is there some security reason for resorting to this device? Is it thought important that information should appear in newspapers of this country without the people who read them knowing that the information comes from the Minister himself? Are we to assume that if this happened and it were known that the Minister were the source of the information, it would be of value to some enemy? I dare say that the information in question has not yet reached the Chinese, but probably that is only because of translation difficulties. I expect that it reached the Russians some time ago.
We know how many aircraft have been ordered. Why should not we know how much each is likely to cost? Because Government back benchers would never stand for it? That may be the reason, but it is one for the Government Whips to take into account, rather than something the whole security machine must be geared to overcome. We know that it will all be revealed to the Estimates Committee one day, but that is six or seven years away. Why should not we be able, if we wish, to shut the stable door while the horse is still inside? It is extraordinary that we handicap ourselves in this way, and appear to be prepared to going on doing so indefinitely.
There is one other very serious effect which we ought to understand. The system makes it possible for Ministers 242 to embark upon programmes of this kind —they may be good programmes, and I hope that the M.R.C.A. is a good one —without taking the House into their confidence about the sums of money involved. It is a system which allows Ministers to cultivate the illusion that we can have defence on the cheap. It is very much in the country's interest that we should know not merely that we want to be and can be defended adequately, but that we must steel ourselves to putting up the necessary money. Today's debate seems to be an occasion when we should insist upon that.
§ 5.32 p.m.
§ Mr. James Scott-Hopkins (Derbyshire, West)
I wish to concentrate on a few brief points, and the first of them concerns a visit which I paid not long ago to an R.A.F. station in Norfolk where the Victor bombers are stationed for the refuelling of fighter aircraft. On being taken round the station, I examined the flight simulators there, and I noticed how old they were. I asked the age of them and was told that they had been there since the introduction of the Victor. They were kept going by two very devoted Servicemen, a flight sergeant and an aircraftman but when those two left the station, the simulators would probably fall to pieces. I understand that they form an important part of the training of pilots and keeping up their efficiency. From what I saw, it looked a dog's breakfast.
According to Vote 7, the expenditure on electrical equipment, electronic equipment and flight simulators is £130½ million. In that sum there must be a fair provision to improve existing equipment and to procure up to date versions.
My next point concerns submarine batteries called Kathanode 74.20, they are manufactured by the E.P.S. Company at a factory at Bakewell in my constituency. For commercial reasons which do not concern the House, the company is ceasing its manufacture in my constituency, throwing 300 or 400 men out of work and dispersing highly trained personnel. The manufacture of these batteries will be transferred to the company's other facilities at Clifton Junction in Manchester.
As I understand it, the Minister does not like concentrating the manufacture of 243 vital equipment solely in one factory. The reasons are obvious. Should there be industrial trouble, anarchy or whatever it is called in today's context, that article of equipment is extremely vulnerable when there is no alternative means of supply.
Should not the Minister look again at whether alternative sources of supply of submarine batteries should not be ensured? I will not suggest what should be done. Obviously a grant in aid could be made to keep going the establishment in my constituency, which has a good reputation for working conditions and trade union relations. That might be one solution, but it is for the Minister to look into the matter. It is important that the manufacture of vital pieces of equipment should not be concentrated in one sole plant.
My final point concerns a different matter. We are engaged in a new form of debate which is not quite as satisfactory as it might be, and I would like briefly to refer to the B.A.O.R. offset agreements. The figure for 1970–71 is given as £113 million. According to Annexe H on page 100 of Statement on Defence Estimates, that is the cost of B.A.O.R. in Germany. This figure does not take into account the fact that 6th Brigade is going back to Germany.
The statements which have been made by Ministers about offsetting 80 to 88 per cent. of B.A.O.R.'s costs in Germany for 1969–71 is untrue. The House has been misled by the right hon. Gentleman in the past, and it is being misled now. The situation is clear. The present Minister of Transport announced on 29th July last year that the offset agreements had been concluded with the West German Government—Cmnd. 4199—and that the exchange costs to our balance of payments were £189 million. In fact, that also was not so. The cost in 1969 was £98 million. The estimated cost for the coming year is £113 million plus the extra cost of 6 Brigade. That comes to £211 million, without adding the cost of 6th Brigade going to Germany in the near future.
The offset agreements of West German purchases were meant to have been £47 million on defence equipment, £36 million on goods purchased by German public authorities, and £23 million on 244 civil and private sales. That comes to a total of £106 million. That is only 53 per cent. of the total exchange costs of B.A.O.R. in Germany already agreed and set out in Question and Answer in the House.
To get to the 80 per cent. figure, the right hon. Gentleman has included a loan to this country from the German Government of 500 million Deutche Marks or £52 million. It is at the small rate of interest of 3½ per cent., but it is repayable by us in 1979. That is an exact equivalent of what happened in 1968, when there was a similar arrangement. Then, there was a loan to this country of 200 million Deutsche Marks, or roughly £21 million, repayable in 1972 at a rate of interest of about 5½ per cent. costing £5 million in interest payments. The present loan is 500 million Deutsche Marks or £52 million. It was made to this country in December, 1969, and is repayable in 1979, not by this Government but a future Government.
To get the figure up to an offset of 80 per cent. and make the country and the House believe in the negotiations for offsetting the cost of B.A.O.R. in Germany, the right hon. Gentleman has included in his figure this loan which is accruing interest and has to be repaid, just as the other loan has which was made in 1968 and is repayable in 1972.
This is a monstrous deception, because it is not offset, it is not purchases, and the Government have no right to say that they are offsetting our costs by purchases or other means in this country, because that is not so.
Another small amount which has been used by the Government to bring their total up concerns the United States Air Force units being transferred into this country from Germany. By some extraordinary means of logic and deduction, which I do not understand, they are saying that the £17 million thereby being spent in this country rather than in Germany is part of the offset agreement. This is astonishing logic. By this means they have got the figure up sufficient to make it 88 per cent., but it still does not include the fact of 6 Brigade going back to Germany some time this year.
So we have got to £176 million, off which is nothing like the total offset that should be taken. There is an offset of 245 only 53 per cent. There is a further increase in B.A.O.R.'s costs following revaluation of the Deutsch Mark which was not included in any agreement last year. This means a rise in B.A.O.R.'s costs of about 8 per cent. Whatever agreements the Government can negotiate in the coming weeks and months with the West German Government to offset these increased costs, not only of the 8 per cent. rise because of revaluation, or the increased costs because of 6 Brigade going back to Germany, I hope we shall have a genuine offset which would not include any future loan.
I draw this matter to the attention of the House because it has recurred frequently in previous debates and in Answer and Question on the Floor of the House. We should be clear that the Government are not offsetting B.A.O.R.'s costs to 80 or 88 per cent., as they are saying, but to approximately 53 per cent. If we include the United States Air Force units to be stationed here, it may be 62 per cent., but no more. As long as it is clear that this is the true situation, then we will have cleared away this deception behind which Ministers have been hiding. I hope that the Minister will be able to deal with these points in his reply.
§ 5.43 p.m.
§ Sir Harry Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
As this is the first time that we have adopted this extraordinary procedure in dealing with the various detailed matters raised by the Defence Estimates, it might be helpful to have on record what we are really doing today. It is important to remember, from the taxpayer's point of view—and we are supposed to be here to protect the taxpayer—that we are being asked to vote on account for defence £823,500,100 towards a total of £1,912,124,000. If we vote what we are asked to vote today, there will still be a further £1,088,623,900 to find later.
So far we have been dealing in the main with the procurement of equipment. Bearing in mind those appalling totals, it may seem that equipment is but a very small part of what we have been talking about. For example, on page 87 of the Supply Estimates, 1970–71, we see that the defence expenditure of the Ministry of Technology comes to £187,018,000. Going back to page 23, "Defence Equipment and Related Stores", we get a total of £624,853,000.
246 It could be argued that what we are being asked to vote today just about covers those two matters. But I do not think that it is the Government's intention to use the money we vote today purely for the purchasing of equipment. It is a vote on account, and all the things that can be paid for out of this vote on account are listed on the back page, and cover pay, allowances, retired pay, defence administrative services, stores and supplies, Ministry of Defence pay, etc., of civilians, defence equipment and related stores, Royal Ordnance factories and defence purchasing (repayments) services.
I can understand the infuriation at the beginning of the debate at the failure of the Leader of the House to be present when this new procedure was brought in after an assurance had been given by the Government that it would be open to hon. Members to make just as detailed an examination as hitherto, despite the new procedure.
We all know that the Chair is bound by the rules of the House, which are that when there is only one Vote before the House on one day hon. Members may speak only once, unless there is some special privilege reason why they should speak again. Therefore, there is no doubt that, by the procedure they have followed today, the Government have deprived many hon. Members, who might otherwise be here, from coming because they know that if there has been an understanding that the debate was to be largely centred on procurement to begin with, they would not be allowed to speak on more than one subject, and this might not be the one on which they want to speak——
§ Mr. John Morris rose——
§ Sir H. Legge-Bourke
I will give way in a moment.
I think that the Leader of the House should have been sent for the moment that points of order were raised. It was an insult to the House that he should not be present. The right hon. Gentleman is so polite when he comes. He does not always give the answers that we want, but he is very polite and we are always delighted to see him. But, of all the occasions when he should have been here, I think this was one. I hope that, whatever else happens, the Minister will 247 make sure that the Leader of the House is fully informed about the protests which have been made and the severe inroad which has been made in the rights of hon. Members as a result of the Government not putting on the Order Paper what would have given hon. Members the chance of using the assurance, given by the Government before the new procedure was adopted, that they would be able to speak on more than one subject.
§ Mr. John Morris
The hon. Gentleman and I and others here have taken part from time to time in many debates over many years under the old procedure. I have some sympathy with the points that he has made. But, in fairness to the Leader of the House, there were discussions, through the usual channels, about this new procedure. However, I will convey to the Leader of the House the remarks that have been made.
§ Sir H. Legge-Bourke
On behalf of hon. Members on the back benches, may I say that this "usual channel" procedure, on a day which is essentially a back-benchers' day, is not good enough. It is all very fine for the Whips on either side to agree to these matters. However, we on the back benches were hoping that there would be an opportunity of speaking more than once. We all heard Mr. Speaker's very proper Ruling, but he is bound by the rules of the House. It was slightly discourteous, to put it mildly, of the Leader of the House not to be here knowing that this kind of issue might be raised. If he has any intelligence, he must have thought that it might be raised.
I now turn to the ordering of defence equipment and related stores. In years past I have referred to the note which appears at the top of page 25 of the Supply Estimates dealing with bulk settlement. I think that it is now worded as it is partly as a result of protests which I made some years ago and following upon the Third Report of the Public Accounts Committee. But it is still hard for any hon. Member to make the calculation which would give him the true figure of what has been spent.
The note states:Payments made to the Ministry of Technology and to the Defence Purchasing (Repay- 248 ment) Services Vote from this Vote and Class XII, 5 and 9 arc, with certain exceptions, made under the bulk settlement arrangements set out in Treasury Minute of 27th February 1950.… Under these arrangements, a provisional settlement is made towards the end of the financial year, based on the latest information about actual deliveries in the first nine months of the financial year and an estimate of the value of likely deliveries in the remaining three months. Any adjustment is made in the following financial year when the value of actual deliveries during the year is known.In other words, all the figures which we have here include an estimate for the last third of the year, and if they are wrong we shall not know until next year what the right figure was. Embodied also in this is the correction of the last three months of the previous year. Therefore, it is very hard out of this to extract what is being spent on equipment delivered this year.
I have never liked this procedure, and again it is another case for endorsing the plea that has been made by so many hon. Members both in the defence debate in general and again yesterday for a Select Committee on Defence to be set up in every Session. We could then get at these details. Some of the details presumably ought to be placed under some sort of restriction so far as publication is concerned, but it would enable the House to be better informed than it ever can be by merely reading these Estimates and the Vote on Account.
I do not wish to go into great detail about the various items mentioned. One hon. Member has mentioned the M.24 torpedo. I am fairly well aware of what has been happening about that, and the only point which I wish to re-emphasise is the one which I made on the second day of the main defence debate earlier this month. That is that I think we have to recognise the appalling term of years involved in the development of highly sophisticated equipment. What we are confronted with all too often is periods in excess of ten years, and if we make a mistake in this year, or the Government, under pressures for other than scientific and service reasons, decide to come to a policy decision which results in cutting research and development, we are in trouble. It is not only us and the armed Services today who are in trouble but those 10 years hence who may be denied a weapon which otherwise they could have had and which they would feel essential.
249 I only hope that the M.24 torpedo troubles are overcome, and I certainly know that there has been a considerable re-gearing of the industrial effort behind it. I do not want to discuss the Report of the Select Committee on Science and Technology which reported on defence research in depth today, but I think that the decision which has been taken over the M.24 torpedo is consistent with the major recommendations which we made in that report. That is my personal opinion, and I have not consulted my colleagues on the Select Committee. Having asked for a certain amount of details about this, I am grateful for the rapidity with which the details have been produced, and I think that what is being done is consistent with the recommendations of the Select Committee's Report.
I turn to a slightly different matter—the question of operational analysis. I touched on this matter on the second day of the defence debate, and I accompanied the hon. Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Palmer), the Chairman of the Select Committee on Science and Technology, to the United States in 1968 in order to study what was going on in America defence research. I came away with one thing very clearly in mind, and that is that, although we in this country were the original conceivers of operational analysis, starting with the Army, the Americans have "gone to town" on this whereas we are now limping slowly along with a grossly inadequate establishment at West Byfleet. That is not in anyway to criticise the quality of the work being done at West Byfleet; I have every admiration for it. But we must recognise now that the United States is in a superior position in operational analysis.
This really dates from Skybolt. I think I am right in saying that in those days when the Americans suddenly decided they had better call in somebody like the Rand Corporation, the first question they asked the Corporation was whether Skybolt was the right weapon for the United States Air Force. The answer came back pretty quickly. It was: "Before asking such a question you had better tell us what sort of Air Force you want and what you want your Air Force to do." That started off a "think-tank" process in the United States and I coined an irregular verb in the United States which went "I think, 250 U Thant, He Tank, We in-house, You out-house, and goodness knows what They do!"
The Americans have really gone "think-tank" minded. They have overdone it a bit, but we are under-doing it or having a shortfall on it. Of that I have no doubt whatever.
I hope—and this is the part of the report I wish to refer to—that the Government have carefully studied what we were told at West Byfleet on 15th October 1968, in particular so far as co-operation with N.A.T.O. is concerned. One of the questions I asked while we were down there was to what extent there was contact with the N.A.T.O. advisory group, and we were told that there was no contact. It was assumed that it would involve two sets of people—the Ministry of Technology and the project group working for Sir William Cook.
I went on to discuss the question of whether it would be a good or a bad thing if N.A.T.O. were to have an organisation comparable to the Defence Operational Analysis Establishment. I said that I gathered that at the moment there was no comparable organisation, and asked the witness if he would like to see one. The witness replied:I would like to see one and I hope that the new approach being taken by the S.H.A.P.E. Technical Centre will give that group that sort of capability. It is not yet in a parallel position.I ask the hon. Gentleman, who I know has this question in mind, to give us a little news as to whether any further steps have been taken on this and what progress has been made.
I turn to another subject. I am afraid that my speech must be rather a rag-bag. It concerns commuting of pensions. My hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maude) on 25th March last year during the debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill raised this question on the individual basis of one of his constituents, whom he did not name, very properly. He raised the question with the then Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army, the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Boyden). In his speech the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland said:I agree at once that there is something of a paternalistic attitude here, and it is very difficult to weigh the balance between overcautious and being rash. This is the heart 251 of the problem, plus the relative ease with which an officer can commute compared with the difficulty for other ranks."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th March, 1969; Vol. 780, c. 1353.]I have written to the Secretary of State about this because I recently had a warrant officer who had just come out of the Royal Air Force, come to see me. I shall not mention his name for the same reason as the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon did not mention his constituent's name—because it would be inappropriate. This warrant officer has a very great need to commute his pension, to a greater degree than he has been allowed to do. I think I am right in saying that a year ago the limit to which a warrant officer could commute his pension was about £600. I believe it has now gone up to £1,000; there have been some new regulations which, I think, were published on 12th February last year.
The point I wish to make is that it is about time that the Treasury in particular—I suppose that the Treasury is behind it, for it always is in this kind of thing—was made to wake up to the fact that a warrant officer in the Armed Forces with, say, 35 years' service is quite as qualified as a commissioned officer who has just reached an age at which he can draw pension to be allowed to commute at least half his pension, just as an officer can. It seems to me preposterous to suppose that there is less capacity in a warrant officer who has had very considerable experience and has held down responsible jobs in the Service. It is ridiculous to suppose that such a man is not capable of so managing his affairs that he can be trusted to have half his pension commuted instead of being restricted to a limit of £1,000. It is insufferable that there should be this sort of governessy hoity-toity attitude by whoever is responsible for making the Ministry of Defence take this line.
When we get to the question of finance of this kind, especially where pensions are concerned, I always recognise that usually the Ministry does its best for the three Services but that the Treasury usually tries to protect the civil servants, who have not been in the Armed Forces, and therefore prevents the Armed Forces from getting what they should have. It is an old story with which we are all familiar. But in 252 this case it is utterly preposterous. It has always been held that commuting a pension is a privilege and not a right.
In the Supply Estimates for 1970–71 there is the headingArmed Forces retired pay, pensions, &c.Item (3) under sub-heading B is £5,680,000 for commutation of retired pay, pensions, etc. There is a note on the next page which reads:Includes provision for repayment to the National Debt Commissioners of sums advanced by them for commutation of officers' retired pay under the Pensions Commutation Acts 1871 to 1882. Sums so advanced in any year are repaid, with interest, by equal instalments over a period of 10 years.Presumably that sum has been calculated year by year and is probably a little in arrears of what has to be paid out this year when, I suppose, some new commutting takes place. Presumably the current commuting is embodied in the Supplementary Estimates each year.
This system can cause hardship to a man who, like my constituent has come out of the Service after 34½ years at the age of 55. My constituent has a mortgage on a house and wants a further £1,500 from his pension above the £1,000 he has the right to take at the moment. If he could get the extra money instead of having to repay his mortgage at the rate of £33 a month, he could reduce the repayments to £8 15s. a month. Why should he not be allowed to do this?
It is this sort of human problem which arises all too often and which the Treasury in particular overlooks. I suppose that the Treasury would try to justify its attitude on the grounds that some people are more irresponsible than others and that if it allowed all to commute pension rights to any extent, they might suddenly find themselves on their beam ends or be unfairly exploited. But my constituent has had 35 years in the Service and it is preposterous to treat him like this when an officer can commute his pension up to 50 per cent. This must be wrong. We often hear about these being democratic days. This is a funny way to express them. I hope that this time the Ministry of Defence will put its foot down with the Treasury and make it be humane just for once.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)
I am pleased to follow the hon. Member 253 for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) because, as a Member of long experience, he knows that one of the duties which Members of Parliament have to perform on occasions is to visit the troops overseas. We go out there to see how the taxpayers' money is being spent and to what extent the procurement of the Forces and their equipment is being properly allocated and used. If hon. Members are interested, they put their names on a list, and if the Whips like them enough—I emphasise that aspect first—they might, after perhaps 20 years or more, get the opportunity of going out to see the troops in their overseas stations.
You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will no doubt be as surprised as I was to hear that I have been selected to go on one of these visits. I expect to go in April, and only this week I attended a briefing on the trip. I was told that we would be going in an aircraft of R.A.F. Transport Command to Germany to see the troops and that we would obviously be under the control and command of the commanding officer in the field, and so on. That all went down very well. But the most amazing thing I have ever heard of was that the Ministry of Defence would issue a deliberately false statement to the Press about the trip. The statement was to read as follows:A party of Peers and M.P.s led by Mr. Neil McBride, comprising two Peers, five Labour Members and three Conservative Members, will be visiting British Forces, Germany, in a private capacity in order to inform themselves of the activities of the Services in the area.You know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I am one of those who like to have things correct. I suggested to my noble Friend the Under-Secretary of State that I could not be travelling in an R.A.F. aircraft with an R.A.F. escort officer, going to messes and mixing with the troops if I were going in a private capacity. You must believe this, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is like Comic Cuts. My noble Friend said that he would have to ask the Secretary of State for Defence whether he could drop the four words "in a private capacity".
One would have thought that an Under-Secretary of State would have enough power and authority to delete these four words; but no. There was a high Min- 254 isterial power conference and subsequently I got a letter, as did other members of the delegation, saying that the Secretary of State has insisted that the Press notice with the words, "in a private capacity" must go out. I want to know, in considering the procurement of the forces and their equipment, what right the Secretary of State has to say that Members of Parliament who, of course, are not representing Parliament—no one has said that they are—and who are not representing the Government— no one has said that they are—are going out in a private capacity.
If they go in a private capacity will they be allowed to say, as private individuals are, "I am going here and there, and I am going to fix my own arrangements and say who I am going to see and what I am going to see"? Probably the Minister of Defence might object to that, and probably he would be right. Probably he would say, "We cannot pay for a Transport Command aeroplane to take you and a group of Members of Parliament overseas on a trip like this".
I had better quote this letter in full because I see that the Parliamentary Secretary has brought up a copy. It says:Lord Winterbottom is away from the office this evening undertaking a political engagement."—and that, by the way, is the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force. [Interruption.] I wish the right hon. Gentleman opposite would keep quiet, because this is a very serious and important and he will miss the titles and names if he does not.
In case my hon. Friend did not know, Lord Winterbottom is, as I have said, Under-Secretary of State for the Royal Air Force. I went to the Ministry of Defence at 4 o'clock, and they said they did not know him and had never heard of him. I am not joking. I went and asked to see this gentleman and they said that they had never heard of him.
The letter continues:He has asked me to write to tell you that the Secretary of State has decided that it should be made clear that the visiting party are not acting on behalf of either Parliament or the Ministry of Defence and that consequently the wording of the notice should be as follows—".255 To the best of my knowledge and belief no one has suggested that the delegation or group of M.Ps were acting on behalf of the Ministry of Defence or on behalf of Parliament. We have not suggested we were. What we have suggested is that it is deliberately untrue, and the Minister must know this, to issue to the press a statement saying that a group of Members of Parliament and Peers are to visit troops in Germany and to examine the equipment and discuss with them their service equipment, whether they are satisfied with their recent wage and salary award, whether they are satisfied with their billeting and out-allowances and with the general administration, and are to discuss all this with them as private individuals.
As the Minister of Defence is represented here I am, therefore, giving him notice that I shall take my wife with me and shall suggest that other hon. Members take their wives. If any have not got a wife perhaps they can find one for the engagement, because I can tell them that this is a private visit. The point of this is to raise the question: how stupid can we get in having Ministers and Deputy Ministers acting in this way? By the way, a whole host of officers were there to brief us on this. Goodness knows how much it cost just for the one day, to enable us to go on a private visit.
I am going to tell the Minister of Defence that I am not having him make a false statement to my local Press or to the Press at all saying that I am going on a private junketing when I am not; and I tell him frankly, here and now, that if he does not alter the statement I am not going. No doubt there will be hundreds of others who will take the place.
No doubt the Whips will clap their hands and the Ministry of Defence will say, "Thank God, that was why we put it in, because we know this chap is an awkward one and this has now got rid of him". I hope the Ministry of Defence will look into this to see what is said when hon. Members go on a job. It is not the best type of job, not like some of the trips that could be mentioned.
§ Mr. Patrick Wall (Haltemprice) indicated assent.256
§ Mr. Lewis
I see the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) shaking his head. He knows, of course; he has experience of the actual activities of the troops in the field, their messing and sleeping arrangements and all the rest of it. If it is cold and wet and things are not too good as far as weather is concerned, it is not the best type of activity one can take in April, hence it is not like the kind of summer trips one normally can take.
I have done this deliberately because I wanted to show up the absolute stupidity on the part of the Ministry of Defence insisting on this. As I could not get any sense from them in discussing it privately, I thought the best place to do it was here where people might knock some sense into them.
§ 6.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Tom Boardman (Leicester, South-West)
In the delightful interlude from the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis), the part which intrigued me most was his ready acceptance of the fact that he would come under the control and command, as he said, of the commanding officer in the field. I feel sure that the secret of the commanding officer's discipline over the hon. Member is one for which his hon. and right hon. Friend's would pay dearly, to know how it operates.
To return to the more mundane matter of this defence debate and, in particular, the procurement side of it, I would like to concentrate on the purchase of the rather more domestic products. There have been contributions by my hon. and right hon. Friends about more sophisticated weapons. I would like to get down to what I might call the boots and braces of the Service Estimates, because these amount to many scores of millions of pounds. As I see from paragraph 15 on page 34 of the White Paper, there are certainly over 600,000 items, and as far as one can extract the figures from the Estimates, the amounts involved are very large. Perhaps I ought to declare an interest in that companies of which I am a director have been and may still be suppliers of some of this type of equipment.
There are three main defects which arise in the method of purchase which applies to this type of goods. The first is that the specifications which are used 257 by the Ministry in making its requirements known are out-dated. I suggest that probably 50 per cent. of these specifications are pre-last war and many go back to pre-1914. The specifications are designed in a way which sets the standard of what goes into the product rather than relates to the use to which the product is to be put. This has been noted many times, and I am sure the Minister is aware of it, and he will, I hope, be able to say that something is being done to improve it.
An example is that for things like webbings, and fabrics of one kind or another such as braces, instead of seeing what is the commercial specification and whether the commercial product would do the job, the specification is something drawn up by the Defence Department, with certain counts of yarn, number of ends and so on, which does not fit in with any other product in general use; so that each is a "one-off" job, far more expensive to make. This adds nothing to the efficiency of industry in that it does not enable unit costs to be brought down.
There is a great deal of waste of money in this method. The Government brought in those famous buyers, Marks and Spencer, to give them advice, but I cannot feel that that advice has yet been followed. As I read the White Paper, particularly page 34, I am dismayed at the complacent way in which, after having referred to 600,000 items, there is later a reference to the fact that:Since 1966,… over 36,700 items have been classified as non-standard and will therefore eventually be eliminated from the Services inventories".Later it is said thatStudies are continuing … We are introducing standardised terminology … It may be possible …".This is an exercise that has been going on for far too long. There has been a vast amount of waste. My first criticism therefore relates to the specifications.
I move from the specifications to the list of approved suppliers. I suggest that we ought to have another look at the system of selection of the firms to which the product specifications are put out for tender. They really are quite out-dated. I have seen some of the lists of well-known firms and the products for which they are listed as being approved suppliers. They bear no relation to modern 258 conditions or to the current production of such firms.
My third criticism is about the method of buying. The system employed almost universally is that there is an inventory and stock list, and when the stock drops below a certain level, then an indent goes in for replenishment. It goes to the purchasing officer, who replenishes it with the identical product. There is never an opportunity for the supplier to see what is required. The thing that is ordered is what is on the list. There is never the opportunity for the user of the product to say, "I want something that will do this job. Have you got anything?" That is not the approach at all; it is the approach instead of "Have you got this particular specification of web or shackle for towing tanks?"
There is a remoteness between the person who knows what is required of the product and the supplier. The whole trend is to keep the supplier away from the person who knows what is wanted. I recognise that this developed from the time when there was corruption in these matters, and in those circumstances checks and safeguards were instituted so that people were not able to meet as closely as they did and do in commercial circles. This must be avoided.
As the hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery) said, if we can get the right quality of purchasing officer, and that means paying the right rate, then let us see that the supplier and the person who knows what is needed get together to discover whether there is a commercial specification which will do the job. If this were done, then I am satisfied that procurement could be effected more cheaply than is the case at the moment.
I am not unconscious of the fact that progress has been made towards this end, but it has been too slow. Not nearly enough has been done. Years have been wasted, and with them millions of pounds. A proper purchasing system must be installed so that this "boots and braces" operation can be dealt with as it would be in the best type of commercial organisation. If this is done, we shall not be asking where the money will come from for all the things that we would like to do because there will be scores of millions of pounds available, merely by applying good commercial techniques.
§ 6.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Patrick Wall (Haltemprice)
My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South-West (Mr. Tom Boardman) said that he would discuss the procurement of mundane matters in the Services. I want to discuss two specific items of procurement, one concerned with weapons and the other with aircraft. The Minister will not be surprised to hear that the first is to do with tactical nuclear weapons and the second with heavy-lift helicopters.
Before doing so I would refer to the speech by the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis). I accompanied him to B.A.O.R. two years ago and would support him in the general complaint he made in his amusing speech. I agree that the phrase "in a private capacity" leads to difficulties in a constituency. Sometimes one is not warned of these visits very far ahead and has to cancel engagements. It is embarrassing if one is regarded as being on a private "swan" round the Army at the taxpayers' expense. It is hard work, but I agree with the hon. Member that it is worth while. I know that it is worth while for hon. Members, and I hope that it is equally worth while for the Services.
I would like to apologise to the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, West (Mr. Steele) and his constituents for mentioning the town of Alexandria in a newspaper article which I quoted during an Adjournment debate. In that Adjournment debate I informed the Minister that I did not propose to raise anything to do with the factory in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, which is nothing to do with me. In the quotation this was added inadvertently and I apologise to the hon. Member and his constituents. I recognise that the factory was closed for other reasons, as explained by the Minister.
I turn now to the procurement of tactical nuclear weapons under Vote 7. These are weapons of great importance. No one who heard the Secretary of State in the opening and winding-up speeches during the defence debate can help but realise that he attaches great importance to these weapons, because the whole strategy of flexible response depends upon their availability or use. I understand, and I have done a certain amount of research, that we have only once manufactured a tactical nuclear weapon, and that was 260 Blue Water, which was British-built and had a British warhead.
All the tactical nuclear weapons available in B.A.O.R. or the other armies in Germany today are American built, and the Americans have the electronic key to the missiles. Therefore, it is important that we should, where possible, build our own weapons, as we have for the strategic rôle. Blue Water was built under a Conservative Government, and I am sorry to say cancelled by a Conservative Government to save £60 million or £70 million. I complained bitterly at the time, and I repeat that complaint now.
My question is what the Government intend to do about the procurement of tactical nuclear weapons for B.A.O.R. in future. As the Minister said, the Army has the eight-inch howitzer, virtually a conventional weapon with a nuclear shell, which cannot be regarded as a special tactical nuclear weapon. The only true one tactical nuclear weapon that we have is Honest John, which is an American weapon, and its warhead is under American electronic control.
It is an obsolete weapon by modern standards. It is a free-flight rocket with a 15-mile range, completed in about 1953. It has a six-man crew, which takes a considerable time to get into action and is, therefore, not particularly mobile. It is in operation in a number of allied forces. The House has to ask: Are there other means of procurement? Are there other tactical nuclear weapons, American or otherwise, that the British Army should acquire if it is not to build its own? I recognise that to try at this stage to build our own tactical nuclear weapons would be far too expensive. The Sergeant is another tactical nuclear weapon, built in 1959–60 with a 100-mile range. Unlike Honest John, it is a guided missile. Shillelagh is another close support weapon. Lance is a small, light and manoeuvrable weapon which is replacing Honest John in the United States Army. Then there are cruise missiles such as Mace and Matador.
Some of these weapons are in operation in allied forces in Germany. The Minister knows that on the other side of the Iron Curtain the Soviet Army is equipped with a larger number of more powerful and more mobile tactical nuclear weapons. In B.A.O.R. we have obsolete weapons confronting the more advanced 261 weapons in the Soviet Army. What are the Government's plans for replacing Honest John? I asked the Minister this when we returned from our B.A.O.R. visit in 1968. He said then:We plan to replace our current capability in the 1970s."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th June, 1968; Vol. 766, c. 210.]I asked the same question on 4th March this year and then he said:When there is an available weapon we shall, of course, consider the matter, but there is no decision at the moment because there is no alternative available weapon, as the hon. Member fully knows."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th March, 1970; Vol. 797, c. 395.]I dispute that. I have named some other weapons. I am not necessarily suggesting we should purchase them, but I know there are other weapons available if we are to procure off the shelf from another country; for example, the United States.
In the defence debate, when he dealt with this in a little more detail, the Minister said:The replacement for Honest John may be Lance … Lance is not yet fully developed and it may be some time before it is.… At the appropriate time … we shall take a decision …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th March, 1970; Vol. 797, c. 551.]and order the appropriate weapon.
I suggest to the House that that is not quite the true picture. The development on Lance started in 1960. The initial procurement for the American Army started in 1965. The weapon is now about to go into service in the American forces, unless it has hit some very severe snags recently which I have not heard about. I am not suggesting it should be bought today. if a decision is made to replace Honest John, it will take one or more years before the actual decision is carried out. What I am asking at the moment is: when do the Government intend to take a decision to replace Honest John? This decision will take two or three years to implement. I am suggesting to the House that now is the time to make this decision, and to see that the British Army of the Rhine is armed with a modern tactical nuclear weapon for the '70s, not one that is nearly l7 years old.
I turn to my second point, the procurement of helicopters. The Minister of State dealt with this to some extent in his winding-up speech on the first day of the defence debate, when he said that, as far as the Anglo-French helicopter 262 programme was concerned, there were three helicopters. The first was the Puma, which is an R.A.F. support helicopter coming into operation in 1970. I understand that 40 to 50 have been ordered for the R.A.F., and the French have ordered 130. There is a clear discrepancy in the relative size of these orders. I also understand that this helicopter is only slightly larger than the Wessex, which is significant from the point of view of troop carrying.
Then there is the Gazelle, which is ordered for all three Services. I understand that the original price for this helicopter was £40,000, and it has now gone up to £90,000. The Minister probably cannot confirm the figures, although they have been published in the Press. Would the Minister say whether it is true that there has been a considerable appreciation in cost, of some 100 per cent., and that this has led to a reduction in the British order by some 50 per cent.?
Finally there is the WG13, which is the only helicopter on which the British lead in this particular Anglo-French programme, and that is to replace the Scout in 1974. Could the Minister tell the House whether the French have now made a firm order for the WG13? We have made firm orders for the other two helicopters I have mentioned. Have the French made firm orders for this one? They had not done so until recently, but I hope that the Minister can tell us that they now have. On helicopters, I suggest that all three Services, certainly the Army and the R.A.F., need helicopters that can land or move a reasonable body of troops. They also need helicopters that can lift, in an emergency, heavy supplies, light artillery, even light armoured vehicles and supply Harrier Squadrons. I do not believe that these exist in sufficient size or quantity in the British Forces today.
For troop-carrying, we have the Wessex, going into operation about 1961. It carries sixteen troops. That means that one squadron of Wessex can lift approximately one company. Then there is the Belvedere which came into operation about the same year, 1961, and lifts eighteen to twenty-five troops. Both are very successful helicopters, but they are now getting old. What have the Government in mind for a troop-lifting helicopter for the future?
263 The Sea King. I believe, could lift twenty-four troops or a 6,0001b. load. Are the Government thinking of using the Sea King, which is initially required for naval anti-submarine purposes, possibly in a troop-carrying capacity, for the R.A.F. and Army?
Perhaps more important is the question of heavy lift. Here we had CH47, the American Chinook, built first in 1965, of which fifteen were ordered, and I understand forty were needed, but then the order was cancelled by the Government in November, 1967, as an economy move. This helicopter lifts thirty-three to forty-four troops, with a pay-load of over 10,0001b. This would have been a very useful helicopter to have in the British forces.
But an even more important requirement is something like the Sikorsky Sky Crane. The Sky Crane lifts various pods. One can have a pod fitted for troop-carrying, for 67 troops; one can have a pod fitted as an ambulance; pods can be pallatised for lifting stores; one can lift vehicles, and so on. One merely uses the helicopter itself to pick up the pod required for different purposes. Therefore, it is a very flexible helicopter. At the moment it lifts 23,0001b.—the Sea King or Belvedere figure was 6,0001b.—so the Sky Crane can lift very much greater loads than any other comparable helicopter in the British forces. I understand that the latest Sky Crane being developed in the United States will be able to lift up to 36,000lb.
I bring this matter before the House because I think it is important, particularly in view of the fact that the German Army has now just ordered 135 CH63Ds, which are heavy-lift helicopters, from the United States. I understand that the Minister confirmed, in winding up the Air Estimates debate the other day, that the Chinook order is definitely off. What, then, are we going to use for the British Forces for lifting troops or heavy equipment?
I conclude by quoting an editorial from the Daily Telegraph of 22nd January, because this points the issue very closely indeed:The R.A.F.'s shortage of large troop—and supply-carrying helicopters is rapidly being shown by our allies to have reached the status of a scandal.264 It goes on to point out that the two squadrons of Wessex that are available to B.A.O.R., could lift one company out of a total strength of 48,500 men. It says that we shall have to borrow both from the Americans and from the Germans. It concludes by saying, "What a disgrace!"
I suggest to the House that, in procurement, these are two issues which are of great importance to our forces. I suggest that the Government must have some idea in their mind as to future policy. I am not suggesting that they will buy either new heavy-lift helicopters today or new tactical nuclear weapons. I do hope, however, that the Minister will be able to tell us what the Government have in mind for the future. I am not thinking of the 'eighties; I am thinking of 1972, 1973 and 1974. There are gaps here which must be closed, and closed quickly, and I hope the Minister will be able to tell us how he intends to do it.
§ 6.39 p.m.
§ The Minister of Defence for Equipment (Mr. John Morris)
This has been a most interesting debate. It is unusual that we have the opportunity to discuss matters of procurement in such detail and with more leisure than we normally have in debates including a number of other topics.
I am sure that the House is grateful to the hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery) for the way in which he opened the debate, set its tone, and gave to the House of his experience in this field, which I know is considerable. I am sure that no one will take it amiss if I also compliment the hon. Member for Leicester, South-West (Mr. Tom Boardman) on his speech. I hope that, after the debate, I shall hear more from him of his own practical experience in this field.
This is a very valuable opportunity for hon. Members to give to the House of their own experience on matters on which we do not throw sufficient light when we introduce large Estimates. We spend a great deal of time on the periphery but dismiss, perhaps, far too lightly issues of substantial importance, and allow expenditure on a very large scale.
I share the concern expressed about procurement, that we should get the best value for money. This is what I think my job is about—to make, to buy and, in due course, to sell. The pyramid which 265 I head, the advisers that I have, both civil and military, have this as their function—to ensure that, major decisions of principle having been taken, British Forces get value for money. So I greatly welcome the very serious speeches made today, and, although I have enough "ammunition" here to keep the House going for a long time, I will not deal with the non-equipment matters, because I do not want to be unduly long, since other hon. Members wish to raise matters on the three Services in turn.
It is a very important function to keep a close watch on operational requirements. This is where the cycle starts. In my two years, as a layman, I have been taking a great interest in the operational requirements of each of the Services, and I have kept a close watch on the finances, to make sure that once those requirements are agreed, they fit into the finances. The gestation period is very long, so it is very important that the decision should be fitted into the finances available for the long cycle of perhaps 10 years or more from the earliest conception of the weapons system to the time that it is actually in the field.
So I regard it as my second role to ensure that the finances are available over a long period and to try to match the individual requirements to what is available globally and then to deliver the goods, to marry the production side and the needs of the consumer, to keep a close watch on what the consumer requires, and to supervise the diverse technical problems which arise from the earliest stage of all, of research and development, right down to production. Anyone concerned with the production or research of even the simplest article will know the many problems which can arise. With the complexity and sophistication of the weapons systems which I and my advisers have to deal with, how much greater is the chance of major technical problems from time to time? An example is the Mark 24 torpedo, which I will deal with later.
I will not weary the House by mentioning the machinery at our disposal —the Operational Requirements Committee, the Weapon Development Committee, the Defence Research Committee. All these are very important tools to mesh in the military requirements, to marry the needs of each of the 266 Services in turn and to see what is feasible scientifically and technologically.
One of the pertinent points made by the hon. Member for Leicester, South-West about industry was this disparity—he conceded that there had been an improvement over the years—between what the Services say they require and what commerce says it can produce. I am very conscious of the great importance of trying to ensure that this gap which has existed, and which does exist up to a point, is closed as best we can. We have taken very important steps in this direction. At the highest level—perhaps the level of the stratosphere—the Defence Industries Council has been set up, with the leaders of industry assembled to talk, under the chairmanship of the Secretary of State, with the heads of department of the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Technology, so that industry knows as early as possible what we have in mind.
I mentioned in the defence debate the two-day presentation which I had the privilege to open to explain to leaders of industry concerned with the procurement of weapons and goods for the Army what the Army required, and to take them into our confidence as early as possible. Last week, likewise, I met all the major ship builders who build warships, and we discussed our future requirements, their capacity to produce, and the problems which arise from our needs and their capacity. That is perhaps at a higher level than the hon. Member was talking about, but this is the philosophy which we have tried to instil into the Ministry of Defence.
I have taken great personal interest in this, because I am deeply conscious that if our Services are to get the equipment they require we must ensure that we do not over-specify, that we do not up-date our specifications, that we do not change half-way through the provision of particular weapons systems or add things to them, so that eventually we do get the weapon which we require. Perhaps the danger of up-dating too much in our specifications is to be set beside what the hon. Member said about specifications which were out-dated. Both problems exist. I am deeply conscious of this, as are my advisers. Given the constraints on expenditure, it is in the interests of each of the Services to try 267 to ensure that they get the maximum return for the money available.
The hon. Member for Honiton mentioned the difficulty of purchasing. He quoted figures, from documents which I did not catch, dated many years ago. I do not think that the position is quite as he said. The figures for expenditure on equipment are broken down in detail and are given in these 1970–71 Supply Estimates. They are set out in their classes and will be published in the Appropriation Account, which is generally available, so far as disbursement is concerned, about a year after the end of the financial year. In particular classes, whether clothing or ships' hulls—name it, it is here—there are up-dated figures right to the present Estimates of expenditure proposed in the current year in this document.
I am not sure what the hon. Member was criticising, but the figures which are so necessary for managerial purposes which he mentioned are the ones which we are now discussing.
§ Mr. Emery
I know that the hon. Gentleman does not want to mislead the House, and nor do I. Of course we see large global sums in the breakdown alphabetically in the Vote. No one suggests otherwise. But what was necessary to my analysis both on the procurement and on the stores side was the analysis of public authorities' current expenditure. This is only broken down—I quoted the document—in the input—output tables, and the last figures we can get are for 1963. They should be available up-dated to today: that is not difficult to do.
§ Mr. Morris
I take the point made by the hon. Member. Fortunately that document is not my responsibility. I will convey the hon. Member's remarks to whoever is responsible. I want to ensure that the hon. Member does not mislead the House, as I am sure he has no intention of doing. The figures are available in the current Estimates, which are fully up-dated, and for disbursement they will be up-dated in the Appropriation Account.
I draw attention to one of a series of Questions which were asked by the right hon. Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples) on 25th July, 1969. He asked a large number of questions. One related to 268the total annual value of contracts placedby my Departmentfrom 1964 until the latest year for which figures are available, in total and by industry order; and what percentage of the total, and of each industry order, was placed as a result of competitive tendering in each year.We set out a large number of classifications. Perhaps the document which the hon. Member for Honiton has may be out of date; I do not know, but I have not to answer for that. The combination of the figures in the Estimates we are discussing and the information obtained by the right hon. Member for Wallasey should ensure that the House is not in doubt as to what the figures are.
The hon. Member for Honiton raised the issue of the unified supply and contract department and was concerned about its efficiency and structure. This was one of the first questions which I as a layman asked when I went to the Ministry of Defence. I can assure the hon. Member that very important steps have been taken in this direction. The three single Service contract directorates were brought together under a Director General of Defence Contracts three months ago. The hon. Member paid tribute to the work of the contract division of the Navy. The present Director General of Defence Contracts came from this division, of which he used to be the head. The unified organisation includes two purchasing directorates, an accountancy directorate and a management directorate on general administration matters.
Rationalisation of purchasing, to which the hon. Member referred, had already been carried out so far as practicable before the unification. With one or two exceptions justified by technical or administration functions, there is a single purchasing point for any class of item. This has been matched by rationalisation in supplying. For example, the Navy Department is responsible for all food supplies and water transport, the Army Department for all vehicles, clothing, textiles, small arms and ammunition, and the Air Force Department for petrol, oil, lubricants, electricity, gas and water.
The hon. Member raised the issue of the Fulton Committee. This is something to which I am sure the whole House attaches importance. The importance which the Fulton Committee attached to work in the Civil Service, I can assure the 269 hon. Member, will be taken into account in future civilian management policies. A high degree of professionalism is however already brought to bear in carrying out responsibilities. The former Navy contract department was staffed exclusively on a career basis. The organisation as a whole has made a not inconsiderable contribution over the years to the development of contracting techniques and relationships in the public sector.
Particular regard is paid to relevant experience and business acumen when appointing people to the top posts For example, at present three of them are fellows of the Institute of Purchasing and Supply, and others are members of the Institute. The grading of the top posts recognises the responsibility which they bear. Thirteen carry salaries in excess of £5,000 per year. I should be in difficulty with some of my hon. Friends if I commented more on the salaries. I take the point made by the hon. Member for Honiton that there is always a problem in the Civil Service and publicly-owned industries when attention is focused on them to ensure that we get the best men and are able to pay them the rate for the job. I am deeply aware of that.
As to purchasing as a whole, I will not delay the House unduly, and I do not intend to go into all the points that have been raised. I pray in aid the improvements which have taken place in purchasing. The Director of Standardisation is endeavouring to identify areas where the number of specifications can be reduced and a common item used by all three Services. Discussions are also being held with other Government Departments, and, as recently announced, with nationalised industries and local authorities, to discover to what extent the benefits of standardisation can be extended further. He has tried to take full advantage of commercial products where these will meet Service requirements, but perhaps we should do more.
I am very conscious of the fact that we should re-examine this matter on every possible occasion to see whether we can further improve it. It frequently happens, however, that the standards of defence equipment are necessarily higher than those of the private sector. Consequently, the defence requirement has to be laid down fairly rigidly in a specification. Even then contractors are invited to offer 270 their own products if these can be readily adapted to meet the specification.
The hon. Member also mentioned the Marks and Spencer experiment. This scheme has been in operation for only six months. It is too early to try to draw firm conclusions as to the effectiveness of the new approach, but the experience of the Ministry is that the new procedures for obtaining food and clothing requirements have been welcomed by industry and are working well.
The hon. Member asked about the Wilson-Smith Committee. I am not sure whether the terms of reference of that committee were as pertinent to all the observations made by the hon. Member as might have been implied. They were: "to examine the employment of civilians in support of the Armed Forces and to recommend whether any changes are desirable in the balance between military and civilian personnel in the interests of greater economy and efficiency, and if so, how they should be achieved". Purchasing is already an entirely civilian operation, but the hon. Member may be equally interested to know that the Army store holders are largely military. At his request I have looked at this problem and I shall be delighted to place the committee's report in the Library so that he and others who are interested may examine it.
§ Mr. Morris
I am most grateful to the hon. Member. He also raised a point about certain differences between figures in the Min. Tech. Vote and Min. Tech. expenditure. I will not weary the House by going into that. I have the explanation here. There is no tie-up between the figures the hon. Member referred to; they have no connection. I will write to the hon. Member about them as I do not wish to weary the House by going line by line over the figures, although I could do so if I were tempted.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, West (Mr. Steele) raised the question of Alexandria. I am sure the House welcomed the generous comment made by the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) in referring to the Mark 24 torpedo. I told the House on 4th March that every effort was being made to bring to the notice of every possible industrial user details of the 271 facilities and skilled labour force that will be available at Alexandria when torpedo production there comes to an end. We have had specific approaches made from two companies. I am glad to be able to tell the House that as a result we are now embarking on a formal negotiation with one of them, the Plessey Company, for the sale of the factory on terms to be agreed.
If, as I sincerely hope, detailed agreement is reached, the Plessey Company will wish to begin to take over part of the factory in the very near future. I cannot, of course, yet give detailed figures for future civilian employment, but Plessey hopes to employ up to 500 people by the end of this year and to increase thereafter. I assure the House that this aspect of the matter—employment of the highly skilled labour force who have been very loyal for many years to the Ministry of Defence—has carried great weight with the Government.
§ Mr. Morris
My hon. Friend has kept an eye on this matter from the earliest possible moment, even before the factory unfortunately faced trouble, through no fault of its own.
In coming to the issue of development areas, which he also raised, I should perhaps declare an interest in that I represent one and am biased in favour of them. As one of the largest producers of sheet steel, I presume that in the ordinary course of events my constituency is a major supplier of the British forces.
I would remind the House that there are two Government preference schemes for development areas in operation. First, there is a general preference scheme under which steps are taken to ensure that firms in those areas are invited to tender on all suitable occasions and, price, quality and delivery considerations being equal, defence contracts are awarded to such firms in preference to those elsewhere.
Secondly, a special preference scheme is operated in those cases where it is practicable to split a requirement whereby if, as a result of competitive tendering and the application of the general preference scheme, at least 25 per cent. of the con- 272 tract is not placed with development area firms, the Ministry of Defence may invite the development area firm submitting the lowest unsuccessful tender to make up to 25 per cent. of the contract at a price entailing no additional cost to the Department. In other words, they get a second bite of the cherry, provided that the Ministry of Defence does not suffer as a result.
In addition, I have taken the view that the way to increase the number of development area firms included in the Department's purchasing lists is to try to encourage those firms in development areas that already produce for us to produce more. Further, a vast range of defence expenditure is in the electronics sphere, where often there is no purchasing from developing areas. In some development areas it is possible that many more articles, some of a humdrum nature, could be produced, and while, of course, the figures are less spectacular from a financial point of view, this is an important aspect.
I have asked my contracts people to carry out a crash programme to identify firms in this context which have not hitherto supplied us with goods. I have asked them to examine this matter on a nationwide basis to locate these firms. The results are so far encouraging, but it will obviously take some time to witness a major increase in work of this sort. In any event, it is quite marginal for the development areas. I have taken every possible step to publicise the possibility of a bigger purchase being made from development area firms by the Ministry of Defence.
The right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Hugh Fraser) asked a number of questions, and particularly about the proximity-point detonating fuse. I was not sure of the implications of his remarks when he mentioned Blackburn, but I will ignore any innuendo that he might have vented by briefly giving the reasons for the decision that the Army's new P.P.D. fuse should be developed and produced by the Ministry of Defence rather than by Ferrantis.
§ Mr. Morris
Yes, at Blackburn.
I welcome the opportunity to set the record straight because publicity has been 273 given to some inaccurate information, with a strong bias against the capabilities of the Ministry of Defence design team and the fuse factory at Blackburn.
In the last few years work has been going on at the Ministry's Royal Armament Research and Development Establishment on the design of a new fuse. Ferranti is one of two companies given a development contract for an important electronic component of this fuse, but there is no question at all of the design rights in the fuse belonging to the company. At most, if it is decided to use the electronic component that it has developed, the company has design rights in that component.
Since 1957—the right hon. Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden) was at the War Office at that time—there has been in existence what is known as the "preferred source policy", which means, briefly, that the Royal ordnance factories should be regarded as a preferred source for orders for products in their customary field unless special considerations, such as price or delivery dates or the need for an alternative source of supply, exist.
The fuse requirements for our forces in the 1970's will be considerably reduced and if the contract for this new fuse were to be placed elsewhere, the future level of production at R.O.F. Blackburn would be highly uneconomic; and that factory has very modern equipment and a highly skilled work force with an excellent record of delivery dates and prices.
It was against this background that we had to consider the design and production of the P.P.D. fuse. The argument has been advanced that to split design and production is wrong, and a good deal has been made of the advantages of a private firm having design, production and sales under unified control. I appreciate this, but the same is, of course, true of the Ministry of Defence.
The whole project will have a single project manager to ensure that all aspects of design and production are fully coordinated. Export sales prospects will be looked after by the Ministry of Defence sales organisation, whose worldwide contacts at government level are far beyond those available to any private firm in this field.
274 I naturally regret the effect that this decision may have on the people who work at the Ferranti fuse factory at Oldham and I hope that the firm will find other work for the factory. But redeployment from defence to civil work is an unavoidable effect of the reduction in defence expenditure, which is the Government's stated policy.
§ Mr. Hugh Fraser
In connection with the question whether the preferred source policy is becoming out of date in the 'seventies, one must consider that the cost of producing this fuse by the R.O.F. will he nearly £30, while Ferranti could produce it for about £12.
§ Mr. Morris
I cannot accept the right hon. Gentleman's figures. As regards the preferred source policy, it has been in existence for a number of years and until it is the declared policy of the Conservative Party to dispose of all the Royal Ordnance factories—I would like to hear if that is the policy of hon. Gentlemen opposite—then, if we are maintaining a smaller number of them than we maintained in the past, we must ensure that the production of Royal Ordnance factories is economic; and providing that they can produce the goods we need and deliver them when we want them, there is every argument for the preferred source policy.
§ Mr. Ramsden
I do not think that the Minister is looking at this problem with the depth it deserves. The question is one of total capacity for defence production at Royal Ordnance factories and such other units of production as there are, the whole matter being looked at in the round. Because the preferred source policy, and the available capacity going with it, was relevant to the size of the requirement in 1957, it does not necessarily mean that it is relevant to the much reduced requirement today as a result of the operations of hon. Gentlemen opposite. Thus, the matter must be looked at from time to time in relation to the capacity required as a whole. There is nothing sacrosanct about the preferred source policy.
§ Mr. Morris
I am sure that when the right hon. Gentleman was at the War Office he looked, at first hand, at each of the Royal Ordnance factories. I doubt, given the number of Royal Ordnance 275 factories that we have now and the different rôles that they play—the right hon. Gentleman will be aware that they do not produce the same articles—if he would wish to significantly reduce the present number of them. If he wants to tell the people of Blackburn that under Conservative policy the Royal Ordnance factories would all go, he is at liberty to do so. But if it is believed that a certain number of Royal Ordnance factories are necessary, then one must ensure that their production is viable and economic.
If sufficient fuses were required to enable more organisations to produce them, nobody would be more delighted than I. However, when one examines this matter in a commercial and businesslike way, as the hon. Member for Honiton urged us to do, one must agree that the decision we have taken is the right one. I looked at this matter with great care and fairness, with the best advice possible, and took this decision, which is in accordance with the policy which even hon. Gentlemen opposite advocated in the past in connection with the preferred source policy, and I was conscious of the real problem which might have existed at Blackburn.
The right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone raised the issue of war reserve stocks and the sales of small arms munitions to Nigeria. I am glad to assure him that at no time did we have to draw on our war reserve stocks to make small arms munitions available for sale to Nigeria. He also raised the question of the reserves of the Chieftain tanks and the—I cannot read the writing on my brief, an experience that I am sure the right hon. Member has known.
§ Mr. Morris
I can assure the right hon. Gentleman, in fairness to whoever wrote this, that the writing is better than mine. The re-equipment of the Royal Armoured Corps with Chieftains is already two-thirds complete and of course the regiments already re-equipped already have this appropriate backing of reserve tanks. We are expecting the full re-equipment of B.A.O.R. with Chieftains to be substantially completed by 1972. I agree with the point made by 276 the right hon. Gentleman when he asserted that it was sensible that the production of these tanks should be concentrated at one factory. It already has been concentrated at Leeds. The decision was taken in the light of a comparison of the costs at the two potential sources of production about two years ago.
The right hon. Member asked why provision for the R.O.F. was going up by£1½ million. The output of the R.O.F.s has increased, and is planned to increase further in 1970–71. This reflects their ability to offer value for money not only to the Services but to overseas customers. In part the increased provision for 1970–71 reflects the increasing output. In part it represents the increases in salaries and the like, expenditure which will not be recovered until complete items of manufacture are delivered after 1970–71.
The hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) mentioned the work of the Select Committee of which he was a member. I have already paid tribute to its work and expressed the gratitude of the Secretary of State for its pertinent observations. We have already published our reply. We have differed from the Select Committee on the part that operational analysis should play. I hope that this will not be interpreted as a sign that we do not attach importance to such studies. The reverse is the case. The output of studies from Byfleet—and I have been down there myself to see what they do—is making an increasing contribution to the formulation of policy. Closer links have been established between the study staff in M.o.D. and the operational requirements staff.
The essential point about operational analysis is that it should continue to be advisory. In the words of the Government reply, it is a tool, not an end in itself. It must therefore be integrated with the decision-making machinery and not given an over-riding position. In their reply to the Select Committee the Government undertook to develop the use of operational analysis as far as resources would permit. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that matters are improving. We attach great importance to the work being done at West Byfleet. These staffs are highly technical and in 277 great demand in industry as well as Government establishments, but the chronic shortage has been overcome and all posts in the D.O.A.E. scientific complement have now been filled. Secondly, contract work is expanding. For example, purchase of computer time is now about double the figure mentioned in paragraph 115 of the Committee's Report.
Thirdly, re-building plans for the D.O.A.E. are making good progress. As to the point the hon. Gentleman made about N.A.T.O., he will be aware that it is not our responsibility alone. We will play a part in encouraging the development of S.H.A.P.E.'s technical centre. I hope that that will reassure the hon Gentleman as to the importance we attach to this part of the organisation.
The hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Scott-Hopkins) raised the issue of flight simulators and referred to what he described as rather aged simulators for the Victors. We are at present buying a number of new simulators, primarily for the new aircraft entering service. I recently saw two of these being installed at R.A.F. Kinloss in Scotland for training Nimrod crews and also at R.A.F. Coningsby for the Phantom. I am not aware of any plans for buying new simulators for the Victor, but I will look into this and let my hon. Friend know.
He also raised a point about submarine batteries. I am afraid that I have not been able to trace anything on this point yet.
The hon. Member for Haltemprice raised, as he has done on a number of occasions, the issue of the replacement for our present tactical nuclear weapon, Honest. John. It is rather an unfortunate name, reminding one of a bookmaker. The position has been made clear by me when answering questions in the course of the debate in the House. When I said that there is no replacement now, which, as the hon. Gentleman knows, were the words I used in the course of a reply to a second or third supplementary, I had in mind from what he had raised previously that he was mentioning Lance. I knew of the existence of Serjeant and the other weapons to which he referred. As I said in the defence debate, Serjeant is not the replacement we would envisage, introduced 278 on the time-scale he mentioned. I cannot add anything further on Lance. When the time is right we will have to take a decision. I am not fudging the issue in any way, but the time is not yet opportune. When there is a weapon available, at the appropriate stage in the cycle, we will certainly look at this matter and take a decision then.
I do not know what the position is with the American forces. When I was over there, in the autumn, Lance was still at a fairly early stage of production. Obviously development had been going on for some years. I am not able to deal with the point about helicopters, raised by the hon. Gentleman shortly before I rose to speak. He asked about the increased costs of the Gazelle. Speaking off the cuff, I know that there have been increased costs, but we do not normally give figures of these costs. I do not think that we normally give figures except in exceptional circumstances.
He also asked about the position of the French with the WG13 and whether they had placed an order. I will look into this and find out what is the position. He knows that the French cancelled part of their requirements but the other part is still going ahead. I ran into difficulties with the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) when I said—about the Gazelle—that a certain stage in the procurement and order cycle had been reached. He asked a specific question, whether a contract had been entered into. I was not able to go further than that, but I have searched further, and I find that a contract has been entered into.
§ Sir H. Legge-Bourke
I am grateful to the Minister for what he has said about D.O.A.E. Will he say whether he or one of the other Ministers will answer the point I raised about commuting pensions?
§ Mr. Morris
I said earlier that I would confine my remarks to replying to questions about procurement, which is my responsibility. Whichever one of my colleagues catches your eye, Mr. Speaker, will deal with the pension point made with some feeling by the hon. and gallant Gentleman, together with other points which have been raised.
We have had a most interesting and helpful debate. As one who labours in a rather solitary state in dealing with 279 equipment, and, apart from Question Time, not having the opportunity to canvass the real problems which exercise the minds of myself and my advisers, I am grateful for the opportunity of answering at greater length than is normal at Question Time some of the useful contributions which have been made in the debate. It would not be a platitude to say that this is the House of Commons in one of its better moments, of which we are proud, where people have been drawing on their own experience and relating it to Estimates which far too frequently go untouched by the detailed comment which we have had tonight. I am grateful to all hon. and right hon. Members who have taken part.
§ 7.21 p.m.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles (Winchester)
At nearly three bells in the last dog watch we come to the Royal Navy. At the end of defence debates which have lasted for about two weeks, one might think that almost everything that had to be said from a partisan viewpoint had already been said. There has been horrifyingly little agreement between the two sides of the House in the debates until today, except that both sides renewed the plea for a Select Committee on Defence. There is much to be said for this. The House of Commons has today been asked to give to the Government more than £800 million on account. If the debate continues until ten o'clock tonight we shall have been handing out about £2 million per minute to the Government. For a House that is so sparsely attended as this, that is a fairly good rate for handing out money.
I want to abandon the competitive insult system and try to examine the various Navy Votes objectively, as one might hope they would be looked at by a responsible Select Committee. I believe that we are discussing the Supply Estimates (Class XII: Defence), affecting the Navy Votes 1, 4, 5, 6 and 7. I hope if I confine myself to those Votes I shall be in order. I also hope that the Minister will answer the specific points which I shall put to him in the same way as he would have to answer if he were appearing before a Select Committee.
§ Mr. Ramsden
I believe my hon. Friend will be in order, subject to your 280 correction, Mr. Speaker, whatever Votes he happens to mention.
§ Mr. Speaker
It would be a dangerous thing for Mr. Speaker not to ask hon. Members to confine themselves.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles
I should be very grateful for any tolerance which you may allow, Mr. Speaker. I hope also that the Minister has a sharp pencil, as there are specific points which I wish to put to him. In the previous procedure where Votes were dealt with one at a time it was easier for the Minister to cover the points raised by hon. Members.
The total estimate in the White Paper on Vote 1, pay and allowances, is £110 million, which is increased by the military salary subsequently announced. Will the Minister tell the House what will be the total net increase for the Royal Navy from the gross £135½ million which the Secretary of State said was involved in the military salary scheme?
Descending from that global figure to a small point of detail, will the Minister elucidate the point which occurs on page 32 of the National Board for Prices and Incomes Report on the Pay of the Armed Forces to the effect that neither food nor accommodation will be charged while men are at sea or in the field for two nights or more? There is confusion in the Fleet whether a person has to be at sea for two nights or for only one night to be absolved from food and accommodation charges.
The Select Committee that I have spoken of would see the increases in pay now being given to the forces not only as a means of bringing Servicemen's pay up to date but also as a way to attract recruits to improve the current recruitment figures as well as making up leeway. Although the report speaks of two-yearly reviews, I think a Select Committee would wish to be assured that, if the result of the pay increase is not as good as is hoped for, the Government will scale pay up again without waiting for two years to elapse. Will the Minister give a specific answer on that?
Still under Vote 1 is redundancy. The White Paper says that 19 officers and 794 Fleet Air Arm ratings will be made redundant but almost all will be volunteers. What will be the redundancy terms of these officers and ratings, and 281 will the Minister publish the total cost to public funds? A Select Committee would surely wish to be told why any redundancies were being effected when there is such an overall shortage of officers and ratings in the Royal Navy. The basic training and experience of Fleet Air Arm personnel could be of great value to the Navy, and those men could be transferred to other branches with relatively little retraining being necessary. I know that the Minister mentioned this in the debate on the Navy Estimates, but I was not satisfied with his explanation that difficulties of structure within the various branches would be caused by this relatively small number of men. My suspicions were reinforced when I read a letter which appeared in the Daily Telegraph this morning written by Mrs. Parsons of Horndean, Hampshire. She says:My husband, a chief petty officer with 17 years' service, at present serving on H.M.S. "Eagle", would like to be offered another job in the Royal Navy or Royal Air Force, but no such luck.… Dr. Owen, lamenting lack of recruits on the one hand and busily retiring good men on the other.Perhaps the Minister will say why these redundancies are needed.
What are the future figures of redundancies in the Fleet Air Arm? Figures have appeared in the Press which suggest that between 2,000 and 2,500 ratings will have gone in 1972 and that within three years 700 highly-trained Fleet Air Arm officers will have gone. I do not think we have been given the future figures for redundancies and I hope that the Minister will be able to fill in the details. Would he also explain the use in the White Paper of the term "volunteers". Does it refer to those who wished to leave the Fleet Air Arm before the cuts were announced, or are the "volunteers" those who have accepted the terms offered, in other words, decided to make the best of a bad job?
How many short-service officers on the Supplementary List, who comprise about 60 per cent. of the Fleet Air Arm pilots and observers, have expressed a wish to stay on for further service at the end of their current engagement, if they are allowed to do so? These Supplementary List officers have done a splendid job in the Navy and it seems a pity to lose them if it is possible to retain their services.
I come on to Vote 4, which deals with retired pay and pensions. Many Service- 282 men believe that it is extremely important from a recruiting point of view to improve retirement pay and pensions. The Minister assured me that pari passu with the statement on the military salary scheme we would have a statement about the whole matter of pensions and retired pay. When may we expect this statement? There are at present inconsistencies in the proportion of serving pay given to various ranks as retirement pay. Other inconsistencies affect service widows. A widow's pension is only a third of the husband's retired pay in the Services instead of one half as is applicable in the majority of pension schemes outside the Service. I hope that this anomaly will be eliminated when the statement on pensions is made.
A similar point may be made about pensions of widows of personnel who marry after retirement. This matter is important since there is now some encouragement to have unmarried men in the Services and the pay scales will be better fitted to them. Therefore, a larger proportion of people will wish to get married and settle down after they have left the Service. Furthermore, it is most important that the very old pension codes applying to officers and men, who still somehow manage to live or exist on them, should be brought up to date so that these people do not fall further behind all the time. Some of the cases that one meets in one's constituency are pathetic and the situation is quite disgraceful.
A Select Committee on Defence would understand that the father-and-son connection runs like a golden thread through the Royal Navy and Royal Marines, as it does in many regiments in the Army. If the older generation does not feel that it is getting a square deal, then it cannot be expected to encourage young men to join that Service. If the hon. Gentleman cannot answer all these points today, will he assure us that these points will be included in the expected statement on pensions and retired pay?
I should like to turn to Vote 5, which deals with administrative stores and supplies. Why in Vote 5.F is there an increase of £50 million in victualling allowances in lieu of provisions? I do not understand this point, but presumably it is an accounting matter. Last year's 283 figure on Vote 5.F for victualling was £58 million whereas this year's figure totals £109 million. There must be a different accounting method, but I cannot see how an extra £50 million has arisen. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will clear up that mystery.
I welcome from this side of the House the increased expenditure in Vote 5. J on publicity and recruiting services. There has been some excellent publicity which we have seen in a Standing Committee of which I am a member, and there was also an excellent "Know your Navy" display put on in the Grand Committee Room at the end of last year, though unfortunately very few people saw it. Perhaps the Minister could say whether he thinks that this relatively small increase in advertising is sufficient. I have done a sum on the back of an envelope and calculate that it is costing £36 per recruit to get a man in the forces. In view of what it costs to train him and to pay him during his Service a larger number of recruits might be attracted if we spend more than £35 per head.
Vote 5 contains Grant-in-Aid W.1 relating to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. There is an item of £7,300,000 as to share of common expenses, etc. Does that item include any contribution to the making of the Tyne-Tees film on N.A.T.O. or any compensation for the expenses to which that company was put when it was not allowed to show the film? The film, which I have seen, contains a valuable explanation of the purposes of N.A.T.O. and the need for it and gives details about the naval surveillance effort in N.A.T.O. I believe that a Select Committee on Defence would wish to know why that film was banned and whether the Ministry will pay compensation since the company went to considerable expense in making the film and obeyed every security requirement at every stage. The film was cleared by three British generals, by the Chief of Staff to C. in C. North, by SACEUR's own Assistant Chief of Staff (Intelligence), who is the Chief Security Officer for the whole of Allied Command Europe, and by the Commander-in-Chief Allied Forces, North—and presumably an officer holding that position is not 284 devoid of discretion under the Ministry's orders.
The Secretary of State has said of the film that there is no political objection, and there could be no security objection because material in the film has already been published in the Continental press. I believe that the Government should either show the film or should compensate Tyne-Tees which has acted correctly all along. Perhaps the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy, who is wriggling a bit, will say something about the matter when he winds up.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy (Dr. David Owen)
I was not wriggling.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not wriggle when he replies. The Naval Staff College comes directly under Vote 5 and Vote 5.Q relates to lands and buildings. There has been a lot of argument throughout the period of this Government about the College moving to Camberley. Although the Government have not been able to effect this move, they still have not been able to let go of that idea. I submit to the Minister that it is a mistake to move the college to Camberley. I believe that the stage at which junior officers should become inter-service-minded is at the Joint Service Staff College which is being retained on a permanent basis. After all, when an officer goes to his staff college, the complications of life in all the Services these days are such that he has a great deal to learn about the other branches of his own Service if he is to become a competent staff officer.
I move now to Vote 5Q and Vote 7K. I am concerned about the facilities for re-fitting our nuclear submarines. From the history of the nuclear submarine, we know that there are facilities and a skilled work force at Cammell Lairds in Birkenhead. We were told in last year's defence debate that the facilities were to be concentrated only at Vickers and that the facilities at Cammell Lairds were to be dispersed. To our surprise, we now learn that new facilities are being installed at Devonport, within the Minister's own constituency, for the refitting of nuclear submarines. I do not understand this, and I hope that the Minister can explain it.
285 Then there are various interesting grants in aid under Vote 5, and I refer in particular to V.9, in respect of the R.U.S.I., which we all agree is doing an excellent job as one of the very best of our "think tanks", and Vote V.11, which is the Sailors' Fund for rum. Can the Minister say how that fund is to be administered?
If the hon. Gentleman's pencil is not blunt, I will move on to Vote 6, which is headed "Ministry of Defence, Pay, &c. of Civilians". As the pay of the Under-Secretary of State for the Royal Navy comes out of that Vote, I hope that I shall be in order in referring again to the concern about the proposals to abolish the separate Navy Minister. I do not want to see him abolished—not even the present one! The First Lord of the Admiralty is a title which is as old as the Royal Navy itself. The whole cohesion of the Service might be jeopardised by the feeling that there was no individual Minister politically responsible for standing up for the interests of the Service.
Another aspect of great importance which falls between this Vote and Vote 1 is naval intelligence. I speak as a onetime Chief Staff Officer, Intelligence, in the Far East, and so I am aware of the security difficulties in discussing this subject. I do not want to embarrass the Government or step out of line about this, but it is public knowledge that the British Service intelligence organisation makes a valuable contribution to our various Alliances. Without going into details, which the hon. Gentleman cannot do, I think that the House would wish to have his assurance that the run-down east of Suez, including the Gulf, will not include any reduction in the intelligence organisation in those parts of the world. Our intelligence processing may be in the horse and buggy age, but our intelligence collection is very well organised. I understand fully that details could be better given on this sort of subject to a Select Committee, but the Minister can assure us in blanket terms about this important issue of Service intelligence.
I come now to Vote 7, Defence Equipment and Related Stores. Vote 7A is the largest total net estimate of all. A Select Committee might expect to be given a breakdown of it, because it applies to what might be called warlike stores and war and contingency stocks of ammuni- 286 tion. At the time when the Services are being cut, it is natural for the Opposition to fear that war and contingency stocks are possibly being cut to below a prudent level. Without breaching security, perhaps the Minister can give us concrete statistics to reassure us that war stocks are not being cut. In this matter, the Government must not hide behind a security screen. It is of great importance that war stocks should not be cut to the point where an incoming Government find the cupboard bare.
Still on Vote 7A, I come to the aircraft carriers. The Minister will scarcely be surprised that I have got round to this question. The arguments for keeping these ships in commission for the remainder of their useful lives have been stated in recent debates, and I will not repeat them. The Government have stated that N.A.T.O. is the focus of their defence policy and that they will phase out the carriers after our withdrawal from east of Suez. However, Admiral Thomas H. Moorer, the Chief of Naval Operations in the United States Navy, has told us:May I say, too, that your aircraft carriers are still, in my opinion, as advanced as any in their operating techniques and equipment and second to none in their training and efficiency. And, as far as I can see ahead, N.A.T.O. will continue to need them.That takes us away from the idea that the carriers should be withdrawn simultaneously with our withdrawal from east of Suez. This is the Chief of Naval Operations of our principal ally saying that, as far as he can see ahead, N.A.T.O. will continue to need these ships.
In addition, it is well known that the policy of the Opposition, if elected, is to continue the life of the existing aircraft carriers for as long as possible. In those circumstances, a responsible Select Committee for Defence would wish to be assured by the present Government that no essential stores, spares or ammunition needed for these ships or their air groups will be disposed of at this stage. Again, we do not want to find the larder bare of stores and equipment for the aircraft carriers. It is only fair to leave any incoming Government with freedom to manoeuvre so that they can do with these ships what they believe to be right.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles
I agree with my hon. Friend that that is a most important point. Perhaps the Minister will understand if the Opposition are suspicious about this following the destruction of the jigs and tools for the TSR2, the unseemly haste to get the contractors to cut up the flight deck of H.M.S. "Victorious" when she was scrapped, and reports of wholesale helter-skelter disposals of much British Service equipment in Singapore. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be able to assure us about the back-up for the aircraft carriers.
Still on Vote 7A, I come to our submarines. Some of us feel that the Polaris submarines should be shown on a separate central Vote of the Ministry of Defence and not charged against the Service providing them. It has been argued that the deterrent should be charged against such a central Vote. Excluding the Polaris submarines, there are only 29 conventional and three nuclear fleet submarines. Essential refits reduced these numbers to 21 and two.
The White Paper is misleading, because it says that a force of 27 patrol submarines will also be in service during the year, whereas only 21 will be in service during the year. It is a big difference. In 1966 there were 46 submarines, including those refitting and in reserve, so our submarine totals are falling at the wrong time. They should not be falling.
The nuclear fleet submarines have been described by the Government as the main striking power of the fleet. Yet the building of these submarines was slowed down early in 1968 by the Government. By the end of 1971, according to the figures that I have, there will be only seven, instead of the 17 originally planned. Perhaps the Minister will confirm or deny those figures when he replies.
The Mark 24 torpedo has been discussed. The Minister's right hon. Friend explained that he was hoping that the Plessey Company would take over the Alexandria factory. That is very good news. However, we also want to know where the torpedo will be made 288 when the bugs have been got out of it. Will the Minister assure us that he is equally alert on that aspect of the matter, because this torpedo is an extremely necessary weapon if our nuclear submarines are to be really effective?
Naval planners are worried whether the number of submarines that we now have is sufficient, especially observing that a submarine is the best antisubmarine weapon and that the only possible potential enemy of N.A.T.O. has about 400 submarines in commission.
From a national point of view, our submarine force is gravely overstretched even to meet its own training requirements. Submarine commanding officer courses—called "perishers" in the vernacular of the submarine service—have great difficulty in getting submarines to carry out "perisher" courses for future commanding officers. They also find that existing submarines are extremely busy trying to meet the training requirements of the other elements of the fleet. For any form of realistic anti-submarine training there must be a submarine target. Will the Minister remark on submarine numbers?
I turn now to Vote 7M, "Advance purchases of defence equipment for sale abroad". Recently, when I raised the question of Sea King helicopters, the Minister said that it was not customary to reveal details about overseas sales of equipment. That is fair enough. But there is real concern, because the Sea King helicopter, with its sonar, electronics, automatic hover and navigational arrangements is more than a new helicopter; it is a giant stride forward in anti-submarine warfare. I believe that it would be reasonable for the Minister to assure the House that at least the Sea King would not be sold to foreign countries which have obtained supplies of arms from Soviet sources. It is well known that when arms are supplied to countries from Soviet sources, officers have to go there to learn how to work them. I believe that a differentiation should be drawn between one country and another in this respect. The potential loss of security by exporting the Sea King—the Minister will know what I mean—is important, and I should like an assurance that this matter will be reconsidered.
On Vote 7A, new construction of ships, I should like to refer to one or two 289 other types of ships. We welcome the construction of new designs of ships from private builders. The type 21 frigate seems an excellent idea. Being a smaller, more economical, very up to date ship with, presumably, a smaller ship's company, it will be more economical in manpower and will get over the difficulty I raised in a recent defence debate about a hugely expensive and sophisticated ship being used, for instance, in the confrontation to intercept two bare-bottomed Indonesians in a canoe. We also welcome the survey ships which do valuable work and are built on commercial type hulls.
Concerning the main frigate force—the maids of all work of the fleet—a select committee would wish to know whether sufficient allocation of money had been provided.
Looking at new construction overall, since the end of 1964 only 28 new ships of all sizes, including Royal Fleet auxiliaries, have been ordered. That is about half the number ordered between the 1963 and 1965 Estimates. As an indication of the shortage which I believe exists in the fleet, last year a Russian squadron appeared unexpectedly off the north of Scotland, and it was desirable to trail this Russian squadron. This is normally done by both sides in this extraordinary world in which we live. When the commander-in-chief wanted to do so, the only ship that he could make available was a civilian manned naval tanker, the "Olmeda", which had no electronic monitoring gear and no sonar underwater gear to do this task effectively. If this is typical of the way that the fleet is over-stretched it is a remarkable example. The "thin grey line" must be stretched to bursting point if we have to send a tanker out to shadow somebody else's task force.
Concerning overstretch, in the 1966 Review, published in February 1966, the Secretary of State published figures giving details of the average employment of destroyers and frigates. It stated:The following figures give some idea of the strain involved.The Minister has heard it before and he will hear it again. The figures were given by way of illustration of the fact that the forces were not large enough. The figures were given to 1964. Every time I have asked for these figures to be brought up to date, even up to two years 290 ago, the Secretary of State has consistently refused to do so. This is his choice of yardstick for the adequate size of conventional forces. Because it no longer suits his book, he refuses to bring the figures up to date. If he wants us to believe that there is not overstretch in the fleet, he should bring these figures up to date, not against national security, which I do not believe is involved anyway, but up to the same degree of up-to-dateness that they were when originally published.
My last point concerns the number of ships in reserve. This number has been reduced in the lifetime of this Government from 170 to 38 ships. Yet there are 52,000 naval personnel sailing ashore in the United Kingdom. What are they to do for ships in any kind of emergency?
I believe that all the factors that I have mentioned would cause a Select Committee on Defence to look carefully and urgently at the size of the Navy today. If it did so, I believe that it would conclude that our naval forces are not now sufficient to make our proper contribution to the prevention of war—let alone to fight one.
§ 7.59 p.m.
§ Dame Joan Vickers (Plymouth, Devon-port)
I should like to congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) on a remarkable and all-embracing speech. I spent a certain amount of time ticking off the different points I had written down which I did not want to repeat.
I should like to exonerate the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Navy. The dockyard is in my constituency, and I shall have something to say about it later. I support my hon. and gallant Friend's plea for easier commutation of pensions—commuting is difficult now—also his point about widows and their one-third pensions, which is important.
I should like also to thank the Minister for arranging so many visits this summer. I found them extremely interesting, and the only disappointing thing was that on three separate occasions I was the only hon. Member to take advantage of them. On one occasion I had lectures from four naval officers for nearly two hours. I felt ashamed to put them to all that work, but I am sure that it was to my 291 benefit, if not for the Minister's as he had a number of letters after my visits some points turned out satisfactorily. I hope the visits will continue in future.
Turning to the question of dockyards, I am in a somewhat difficult position because I am not quite certain of the division of the Minister's responsibility over this. In the defence debate the Minister of Defence for Equipment seemed to have overall responsibility for the dockyards. So if the Minister cannot answer me tonight and my questions have to go to his hon. Friend, I shall understand.
I should like to see more construction done in the dockyards. I know that they are really mainly repair yards but to construct a ship from time to time does give the workmen—and they are specialised craftsmen—an added interest. I notice that the hull of the "Scylla" was made in Devonport and cost nearly £200,000 more than either the "Hermione" or the "Jupiter". Why? It may be that they are different types, but they are all supposed to be Leander class frigates. This does rather put one against suggesting that we should have other ships built there, although one would have thought that some construction of Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships or Royal Navy manned support ships.
Paragraph 12 of page 33 of the White Paper says;The Royal Navy has now widened its existing responsibilities to cover the design and procurement of all marine craft of the services … together with the major repair and refit of Army marine craft and the Royal Air Force's interim recovery vessels and long range recovery vessels. The transfer of responsibility to the Navy Department for the major repair and refit of the older Royal Air Force marine craft, currently carried out at R.A.F. Mount Batten, is planned to be completed by the end of 1970–71.As Mount Batten is so near Devonport, it might be convenient to transfer the whole organisation up to Devonport, and this would give more work where it is needed. The Estimates show that there will be a £8½ million cut—a major cut —in construction this year of naval vessels.
As regards the replanning of the dockyard, I do not know whether the Minister can say something today. It is essential 292 that the programme is known in the near future. I have been privileged to see the design, which I think is excellent and will be very beneficial to the men working in the dockyard, and the amenities will also be better, but it is about time that we heard the programme for beginning this planning so that the men who are working there can have a little idea of what is ahead, and what may be the future career for young men.
There is also still a certain amount of dissatisfaction about pay, and perhaps in replying the Minister could give, if not all the scales, at least some idea of what the lowest-paid worker takes home without overtime and also, perhaps, what a highly-skilled man can earn, as to my mind there is too much differentiation between the money that people earn in the dockyard.
I am sure that the Minister will not be surprised when I raise—regrettably—the question of the apprentice group instructors once again. This has been going on for a considerable time. I have just received a letter dated 14th March which says:I can now inform you that at a meeting of instructor representatives from all dockyards, it was unanimously agreed that due to lack of any visible progress being made on the part of the Ministry of Defence (N), further action will be implemented. This further action has the full support of the National Executive of the Civil Service Union and may therefore be termed 'official'".It goes on—… further dispute action might still be avoided as it would be operational from April 1st, 1970.I suppose that the Minister has had a similar documentation.
Notice has also been issued, which is not marked confidential, from the Flag Officer, Spithead, in regard to certain difficulty in arranging for supervision during the lunch breaks. It says that it will mean that there will be no alternative to closing down the centre from 12 noon to 1 p.m. daily. This has been going on for a long time and I have had several interviews with the hon. Gentleman and his predecessors over this as well, and there has been a deputation to Lord Shackleton. Surely it is not beyond the realms of possibility to get something settled amongst this small group of men who do an excellent job.
293 My other point—and I think the Minister will have some sympathy with this—is the question of the policy in regard to the building of married quarters. I have previously pleaded on this with the Conservative Government, and again tonight I consider that we do not want these large cantonments of people living together, having to work together all day and then go home and live near each other. Suppose I suggested that all hon. Members should live in one block of flats; what an awful idea that would be. This would be a similar idea as regards naval married quarters, and one should not have to work together all day and then go home together with Navy wives having nobody but Navy wives with whom to talk. It is a bad environment, and one must get away from the job from time to time.
I now come to the question of victualling, and my figures are rather different from those of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester. I would like to know the breakdown of these victualling allowances in lieu of provisions, which do not seem clear to me.
I was interested—it is difficult to find the Navy figures—in the question of the number of ships which will be scrapped in the future. My hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) asked a Question and received an answer last Friday. I gather that there are about 23 different types of ships which are going to be scrapped. This is only in answer to my hon. Friend's individual Question but there are others in the White Paper. Is it really necessary to scrap these ships? I notice that two are being sold to Peru. Surely there might be smaller nations which might want some of them, and they cannot all be in a bad state. What about asking the Malaysian Navy if it would like more coastal minesweepers? We have sold two in the past; the Malaysian Navy needs ships to go round its coast protecting its coastline. Has the Minister any idea of the worth of the scrap metal of these ships and for all the pieces of ships? What would be the ultimate saving in scrapping these ships, as opposed to repairing some of them and selling them to navies overseas. What is to happen to H.M.S. "Albion"? We are all rather anxious about that in case we do not have sufficient ships for our amphibious operations.
294 I apologise for not mentioning a point about the dockyards and the labour force earlier. We know that there is going to be a cut-down in the labour force. On page 57 the White Paper says:This is expected to be achieved by normal wastage without any declaration of redundancy.I would like to know whether this is really being carried out, because I think it is extremely important for the whole concept of getting future industry to Plymouth.
I was going through the Estimates for the Headquarters Staff. Here again it is rather difficult to divide it up. The staff was put at 105 extra and I was fascinated to see that S.E.A.T.O. is having an increase of three principal officers. I thought that the Government's policy was not to have anything more to do with the Far East, yet here we are going to increase the number of principal officers.
I also regret—though this may be something to do with the running down in Singapore—that the education staff is being severely cut in numbers. Surely this service is still essential to the Royal Navy.
An interesting and fairly new feature is the Institute of Naval Medicine. I understand that it is to study nuclear and underwater medicine problems and environmental health physics and audiology —presumably to protect ears not only under water but from the effect of guns. I am also interested to note that the number of senior principal psychologists is to be doubled. Is the Navy getting neurotic so that it needs so many psychologists? The number of dentists, on the other hand, is to be cut. I should have thought that teeth were more important, especially in view of recent comments we have heard from the medical services.
I notice that the numbers in H.M.S. "Britannia" are down, despite the fact that there are now two entries. We also seem to be getting far fewer people from overseas.
§ Dame Joan Vickers
I am glad to hear that. The numbers are not adumbrated, and I thought that perhaps there had been 295 a fall. This is a very good service that we can give to overseas people.
The other day, I had the opportunity of visiting the National Sea Training School at Gravesend and was interested to note that it does not seem to have difficulty in getting recruits. Indeed, I was informed that it takes only one in three applicants and the standard of the young men is high. I sometimes wonder whether the standard for able seamen is not being put too high. According to the newspaper advertisements, a recruit has to have at least five "O" levels in some cases. I know that in certain higher grades this is necessary, but in view of the education facilities in the Navy I wonder whether we do not expect too high an educational standard in some categories when recruiting.
I believe that there are about 400 units of the Sea Cadet Force, and 55 Royal Marine detachments. This has so far been run as a partly voluntary service with the help of the Navy League. Is the Minister contemplating a change in the organisation to bring it into line with the R.A.F. and Army Cadets? What are his plans for the future?
I support what my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester said about the fund of £2.7 million. We already have several naval funds, and we do not want overlapping. There are not many trained welfare officers in the Navy, and perhaps this would be a suitable job for some naval officers who are retiring; they could go on special courses. I think that, with the new changes in the pay scale, we may need some extra welfare help.
Perhaps when the Minister is carrying out his reorganisations of Naval establishment, he could let us know what they are costing and how much money they will save. For example—and again this concerns young men—I am not very happy about H.M.S. "Ganges" going to Torpoint. It is a long way to travel. I understand that there is a possibility that it will not go until the school leaving age is raised. It is a great distance for boys to go, and there is the inconvenience of the ferry before getting into the town of Plymouth. It is also a long way for parents to visit.
I am sorry to have fired so many different questions at the hon. Gentle- 296 man, and I shall understand if he cannot answer them all tonight. I know that he will write to me and give me details of those he is unable to cover.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Ogden (Liverpool, West Derby)
The hon. Lady the Member for Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) will forgive me if I do not follow her in great detail on the effect of the Royal Navy on her constituency and the other things she spoke about. I want to place on record my appreciation of the occasions on which we have listened to her. I have the utmost admiration for her contributions. She shows real concern, and it may be that if she had been responsible for the Royal Navy in the Conservative Government my right hon. Friends would not have had quite so many problems to deal with, particularly in those matters concerning the welfare of Service men and women and their families.
The hon. and gallant Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) rightly reminded the House that during the last 10 days we have had a full working week on defence matters. First, we had the two-day debate on defence as a whole and its strategy; then we debated each Service in turn; this afternoon we debated procurement and now we are having a series of mini-debates. Like him, I, too, wish that we could have these debates spread a little more over the year.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman said that it was unlikely that by now anyone could say anything more about defence matters, and then produced in 37 minutes a formidable list of questions. If my hon. Friend is able to answer any of them at all, I shall be amazed, but no doubt he can. The hon. Lady was kinder to my hon. Friend than was her hon. and gallant Friend in saying that she was asking questions at short notice and that if my hon. Friend could reply in writing it would be helpful.
On one matter I think there will be agreement on both sides. From time to time in the House reference has been made to the formation at some future date of a Select Committee on Defence. My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) referred to it in the Navy debate. I support the suggestion. Such a Committee would 297 be formed, as I see it, with strict terms of reference, carefully formulated, and there would be great responsibility on its members for the way in which they conducted their affairs. But there is little doubt, I think, that there is now little likelihood of getting such a Committee in this Parliament even if, as it might well do, it lasts until 6th May, 1971.
However, there is an interim step which could be taken and I hope that my hon. Friend will consult his colleagues on it. From time to time the Ministry asks hon. Members to show interest in ships of the Fleet, installations, ports and other things. It is some time, however, since hon. Members were asked to go to the Ministry itself to discuss with Ministers and possibly their advisers matters about which the House rightly shows that it has care and concern. The opportunities for hon. Members over the year are limited. Questions and Answers in the House come into the process but these are formal occasions.
I made inquiry during the last Navy debate and I understand that, in years gone by, this was almost common practice, although not quite the same as is done in local government, where councillors and aldermen can discuss with the town clerk or the borough surveyor matters of concern. Normally, inquiries have to be made through Ministers, and rightly so, but there should be an in-filling position, and if good will were shown by the Ministry it would be of great help.
After all, there are hon. Members who are known to be Navy men. No one would suggest that the hon. and gallant Member for Winchester is or ever was an Army colonel. There are Members on both sides who have a continuing interest in the Navy. I hope that my hon. Friend will put it to the Secretary of State that this would be a useful experiment, starting perhaps in a small way, so that we could learn where we agree and where we disagree. Then, instead of a rough series of Questions and Answers —Questions rightly put but difficult to answer across the Floor of the House—we could have a better understanding of the Services which, in one way or other, are our concern. There would be a vast difference from asking Questions in the House and there would result a better understanding in the House of the prob- 298 lems of defence and of the Ministry. We in our turn would be able to help Ministers. There would be nothing formal about it. It would simply be something we are putting to the Minister, asking him to put to his hon. Friends. A precedent was once established and in this House it is always good to lead on a precedent, particularly if it is a good one.
§ 8.20 p.m.
§ Mr. John Farr (Harborough)
I listened with a certain amount of interest to the remarks of the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) in relation to a Select Committee on Defence, because I was a member of a Select Committee on Agriculture which was a new experiment established by this Government two or three years ago, amidst a lot of criticism. Initially it went very well. We got off to a great start. There were a number of people known to be interested in the subject as experts in a minor way in specific fields. We called as witnesses a variety of people from different walks of life associated with agriculture and at the end of a year's deliberations we produced an interim report.
What happened then? We found that while it was not exactly a case of working ourselves out of a job, some of the items we had uncovered during the course of our investigations were found to be not palatable to the Labour Government at the time. The Leader of the House therefore took steps to see that our powers as a Select Committee were wound up and I believe that the experiment was officially classified as useful, but as far as Governments in power are concerned, slightly dangerous. It may he of interest to the House to know that although some 20 or 30 hon. Members from both sides of the House spent over a year on the Committee and produced a voluminous report it has never at any time been debated or discussed in the House and as far as I can see at the present time is unlikely to be.
After that slight digression, I would like to return to Section 5, Defence Administrative Services. It would be appropriate at this time, in considering this particular Section dealing with administrative services, stores and supplies, to refer to the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member 299 for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles). He made a wide and embracing speech of intense interest. One point he made which caught my particular attention was that last year, I believe in the autumn, we had to send a fleet tanker or oil tanker of some kind to observe a Russian naval force because there were no other vessels available.
He made the point that the vessel had to be dispatched to cover Russian vessels in waters to the north and west of this country. This brings me directly to Section 5, and the question of the Vote on H.M.S. "Sea Eagle". I believe I am right in saying that neither in this debate nor when we debated the Navy Estimates did the Minister make any official reference to certain points put to him in the debate. The illustration given by my hon. and gallant Friend lends even further weight to those who request that there should be some form of continuance of H.M.S. "Sea Eagle" and that that vessel should be retained with the effective use of the wonderful anchorage of Lough Foyle, for providing at least the flimsiest of naval patrols in those important waters. Lough Foyle is one of the best, most sheltered deepest anchorages in the British Isles. It is situated at a very strategic point in the British Isles. Apart from the political reasons for the desirability of retaining that vessel in its present form indefinitely in Northern Ireland there are very good strategic reasons why that base should be retained.
It is, for example, a focal point for reservists and those who undergo special training from the whole of Ireland when N.A.T.O. exercises take place. There is a fine selection of administrative and executive blocks of buildings there. It is very well rigged out in a commanding position. I believe these facilities should be continued in their present very good use and should on no account be thrown away. I hope that when this debate is concluded and the Minister gets up to answer he will make at least some reference to H.M.S. "Sea Eagle".
My first remark in connection with Section 7A, and the provisions for vessels is one which I do not believe has been made before in these debates but is nevertheless one which I regard as of some topicality at the moment. I would like to know if any serious consideration 300 has been given recently to the provision of a nuclear-powered surface vessel for the Royal Navy. I understand that a decision is likely to be taken over the provision of a nuclear-powered merchant vessel built in this country for the British Merchant Marine with the aid of Government financial assistance. Such a step is not being taken a moment too soon, because all other major maritime nations have such a nuclear-powered civilian vessel. The Russians have their icebreaker; and the United States of America, France, Germany and Japan all have or are in process of building their own nuclear-powered merchant vessels. We in this country are on the threshold. I understand a decision is likely to be taken fairly soon. The matter has been postponed for a long time.
I wonder if it has ever been considered that the Royal Navy should give a lead in this respect. Not only would such a vessel be of considerable value as an addition to the fleet but its operation would provide us with a tremendous amount of data and information which could be passed on to those who handle nuclear-powered merchant shipping which sooner or later, if we are to remain in the forefront of merchant shipping in the world, we have to have.
My hon. and gallant Friend referred to the importance of aircraft carriers, a subject which also comes under Section (7)A. I share his regret that if present plans remain unchanged we are likely to see the end certainly of "Hermes" and also of the "Eagle" and "Ark Royal" in the foreseeable future. I cannot but believe, however, especially in view of what my hon. and gallant Friend said about the efficiency of the vessels, that a prolonged use for them in their present rôle must and will be found. It will not be found because an American adviser says that they are second to none. His advice merely echoes what we already know. We have had the evidence with our own eyes and from our own experience. Other countries look on them with great envy, and I believe that sooner or later the Government, if they remain in office, will come to realise the inevitable.
If N.A.T.O. is to mean anything, with the foreshadowed increasing withdrawal of American and Canadian forces the continued presence of "Eagle" and "Ark 301 Royal "in a N.A.T.O. fleet, and of vessels like them, will be of paramount importance to the whole structure of that organisation. I hope that this view percolates through to the thinking of the Secretary of State for Defence before too long. Many other speakers, far more qualified than I, have given very striking and sound reasons why the vessels should be retained. I support wholeheartedly all that they have said.
I also support the strengthening of our hunter-killer submarine fleet and the speeding up of its construction. I think that it has been said that seven are due to be in operation shortly. There is no doubt that nuclear-powered hunter-killer submarines will be the major threat to any submarine attack on our shipping. Whether that attack comes from conventional vessels or nuclear-powered vessels, the hunter-killer submarine can deal with it. It has the speed and stamina to outrun and outlast other submarines. It has the size to carry all the necessary technical equipment, and can have the latest methods of detection. Its weapons are classified, but they are certainly of the highest category and are most effective.
The nuclear-powered hunter-killer submarines are fine vessels, but I cannot help thinking that the seven or so that we have is a derisory figure. The Russians could deploy about 400 submarines. We have over 20 million tons of merchant shipping. To try to protect that amount of shipping against 400 submarines with seven hunter-killers would be laughable if it were not a very serious matter.
Subhead A of Vote 7 refers to ships' hulls, and subhead F refers to weapons, and I want to speak about them jointly. I want once again to call attention to the overwhelming superiority of the Eastern fleets in the possession of surface-to-surface missiles and missile platforms. I told the House the other day that Russia and her Eastern allies possessed more than 200 such platforms. I understand now that the figure is nearer 300. They are capable of over 40 knots and have a range of from 20 to more than 250 miles. The warhead has a homing apparatus. The figures I have given may sound alarming and they are. But what is particularly alarming to me is that we appear to have no surface-to-surface or ship-to-ship weapon research programme and 302 manufacturing. We have a few surface-to-air guided missiles with a very limited range, which does not extend beyond the range of visibility. But we have no surface-to-surface missiles. It is said that some of our surface-to-air weapons have a surface-to-surface capability. They do, but at the most only as far as the horizon. An attempt to fight with weapons like that against a weapon deployed from over 100 or 200 miles away would be a very one-sided battle.
I plead once again for more research into the production of a surface-to-surface missile. If a really whole-hearted effort were made, not on expenditure but to leap-frog the Russians and their allies by producing a more sophisticated generation in four or five years' time, we may have a chance of protecting ourselves and our merchant marine when the Fleet aircraft carriers go out of commission. But without a capable, useful and efficient surface-to-surface weapon, my own view is that any capability we may have of self-defence after that date will be negligible.
To return to the back of the document we are considering, Appendix 3, relating to reservists and the duties they undertake, and their liability for call-up, I should like in particular to refer to two categories of reservists. The first is the R.N.X. and the second is the R.N.R. I should like to pay a tribute to the R.N.X., because if there ever was a silent service within a silent service it is the R.N.X. They are seldom spoken of; a most retiring body of people. They are really patriots, giving up hours, days and weekends, on recall or for training purposes, completely voluntarily. They come from all walks of life, and very often get little or no recompense, not only for the hours of work they put in on the job, but, in addition to that, for their travelling expenses.
The R.N.X. are essential to the functioning of some of our naval defence systems. For instance, last autumn there was a N.A.T.O. exercise called Proud Warrior, and it is safe to say that without the R.N.X. being closed-up last autumn Proud Warrior would not have continued; it would not have got off the ground. Yet they have to struggle along on the poorest pittance of pay, with practically no equipment, in very poor surroundings, and almost have to beg to be 303 allowed to continue. I hope that the Minister will recognise publicly, for I think the first time in the House, not only the value of what the R.N.X. are doing at the moment in their training, but also the essential rôle that they will have to play relating to the control of shipping should a national emergency arise. Without the R.N.X., the plans which have been foreshadowed for the control of merchant shipping could not be put into effect when necessary.
In talking about the Reserves, I should like to refer to the R.N.R. and say how essential is the work that is being done by naval control shipping officers. It is vitally important that their work, which goes hand in hand with the R.N.X., must in no way be stunted, and that they must be allowed to have adequate money and equipment. There is no shortage of volunteers for either of these groups of reservists. There is a shortage of money for some essential items; there is a shortage of equipment and accommodation. In view of the essential rôle they both have to play, I trust that the Minister will assure the House of their importance.
In Appendix 7 we talk about the sale of defence equipment. Hon. Members in the House have probably seen, as they go up and down the road from Trafalgar Square to the House of Commons, a large notice on the right-hand side going towards the House of Commons, which is the office of the Sales Director of the Defence Equipment organisation. The White Paper refers to him and expenditure on his staff.
How did the catalogue of defence equipment, which was being produced 12 months ago, get off the ground? The Minister may remember that this time last year all manufacturers of defence equipment were circulated by his Department asking them to send to a publisher details of all the defence equipment they produced which could foreseeably be of use to an allied country. A great deal of material was dispatched to the publisher through the Ministry, listing the different items, after it had been made absolutely certain that none of the equipment was classified.
I wonder whether there is any liaison, and if so what, between the Department handling the sale of defence equipment 304 and the disposal of surplus naval vessels, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) referred. She asked what efforts were being made to dispose of unwanted naval vessels and suggested that patrolling the coasts of Malaysia as minesweepers would be better than putting them on the scrap heap. I agree, and I wonder whether there is a method by which these vessels are passed over "on paper" to the equipment department, where they are included in an annexe to the catalogue, which no doubt is available for our defence sales staffs abroad. This catalogue is a very embracing and well-produced publication. One would think that it would be a good idea to add supplements from time to time as surplus aircraft, army vehicles or warships become available for disposal. I hope that the Minister will answer that point.
I had the privilege of speaking in the Navy Estimates debate when I asked the Under-Secretary five questions, only one of which he answered. I am therefore delighted to be able to put the other four to him again tonight, and I hope that I will get answers tonight.
§ 8.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving)
Order. As the hon. Gentleman has suggested, he will need the leave of the House, having spoken once already. However, in view of the unusual circumstances of the debate, the House may be disposed to grant that leave.
§ Mr. Emery
Thank you, Mr. Irving. This is an unusual position in that, in the way that the debate has gone, we have tried to hold a general debate on procurement, which was accepted by many to have been of some success.
I have given notice to the Department of what I now want to do, which is to raise one specific and primary constituency point—the position of No. 34 Civilian Anti-Aircraft Co-operation Unit, based in my constituency at Exeter Airport. This is a strange position, because it flows over all three Votes. It is used by the Navy, for specific target practice in the Plymouth sea area, the Portland 305 training area and the Portsmouth training area. It is also used by the Army on ranges at Manorbier, Senny Bridge and Salisbury Plain. At the moment, a decision has apparently been made that this unit will be transferred from Exeter Airport to St. Mawgan, about the end of 1971.
The reasons for so doing are that it will involve much less capital expenditure by moving to St. Mawgan—about £175,000 will be saved and another £75,000 in running costs and overheads. Those figures I take directly from a letter sent to me by the Minister of Defence, Administration on 17th December, 1969. I have gone to a great deal of trouble in investigation of this matter because the closure of a civilian co-operation unit of this kind is a very major step to take. What is of much more concern when attempting to make any assessment of the decision is that it appears that the arguments propounded by the Ministry of Defence do not hold water.
A considerable amount of correspondence has taken place on this question. I do not intend to weary the House by recounting all of it. That would be very tedious. However, I wish to take up a number of main points and to ask the Minister to give assurances on them. If there are to be major savings, in the region of a quarter of a million pounds, obviously I would wish to ensure that the proper cost-effectiveness of the unit should be carried through. If not, of course one has to pose the question and consider why this action has been taken.
The first point arises from the capital factors involved. It is suggested that it was necessary for this unit to transfer from Meteors and Vampires to Canberras. I am still not convinced that that is actually in the best interests of the Services because on the whole the amount of silent tracking and the amount of target towing being done is more and more on the science side. Requests for the range varied between 64 per cent., and 36 per cent. and the flown time was silent 66 per cent. and towing, to 34 per cent. If those figures are substantiated, as I have every reason to believe they are because they were sent to me by the wing-commander in charge of the unit, the Vampire is a very much better aircraft to continue that type of silent tracking work.
306 There is the problem of phasing out the Vampires. I am informed that there are enough spares available to the unit to last for five years and, with a certain number of other Vampires which are still operational, this period could be extended to 1978. That would preclude the necessity for having immediately to transfer to Canberras and for having to make capital expenditure available at Exeter Airport to allow Canberras to operate there.
In a letter to the Minister for Defence for Administration, I attempted to point out earlier this month—he has not had time to reply to me and I am not critical of that—that the position concerning capital expenditure at Exeter Airport, if it had to be made there, did not necessarily take into account the cheapest methods of obtaining the necessary improvements. Nor do I think that they have taken into account the possibility of contributions coming from sources other than the Ministry of Defence to meet this sort of improvement. If this is so, the proper cost-effectiveness study has not been carried through.
I come to the major argument, which is that moving to St. Mawgan would be a cheaper operation from the point of view of flying time. Can this argument be substantiated? The distance from Exeter and from St. Mawgan to Senny Bridge is 80 and 112 miles, respectively, it therefore being in favour of Exeter. From Salisbury Plain to Exeter and from Salisbury Plain to St. Mawgan the distance difference is 65 and 128 miles respectively, again in favour of Exeter. From the Portland training area to Exeter and from Portland to St. Mawgan, the distance is 39 and 98 miles, again in favour of Exeter.
From the Portsmouth training areas to Exeter is 82 miles, while to St. Mawgan it is 142 miles, again in favour of Exeter. The distance from H.M.S. "Cambridge" to Exeter is 37 compared with 34 miles to St. Mawgan, this being very slightly in favour of St. Mawgan. The Plymouth sea areas are 45 miles distant, from Exeter while to St. Mawgan it is 34 miles, slightly in favour of St. Mawgan. Manor-bier to Exeter and Manorbier to St. Mawgan are approximately the same distances, but the Manorbier range is being closed down, and then all of that work 307 will be done at the Salisbury Plain training area. This, I have already pointed out, is a difference of about 63 miles in favour of Exeter. It seems difficult, on this so-called major argument, to envisage from where the Ministry of Defence is getting its information.
Nobody has denied that the financing of this type of unit—if run by civilian pilots, and particularly by civilian maintenance personnel—is much cheaper than having it run by R.A.F. pilots and maintenance people, which I gather is to be the position if there is a move from Exeter to St. Mawgan. Thus, in terms of operating costs on the maintenance and manpower side, the argument substantially comes down in favour of staying at Exeter.
Operating at this civilian co-operation unit are about 25 extremely experienced ex-Servicemen, ex-Navy and ex-R.A.F. pilots who have spent a considerable amount of their careers with the Services, before them moving into this unit. I gather—I looked into this matter last week—that no real plans have been made for their redeployment or for compensation or redundancy to be paid should the unit be closed down. This is an unforgiveable omission which is not worthy of the worst employers. Men of this experience should not be treated in this way, particularly in view of their seniority. I hope that this error will be rapidly corrected.
I have put forward views which show that, on the current situation, it would appear that there have been some overestimates of the capital charging, some incorrect figuring on the operational costs side and that certain errors have occurred concerning the economies that could be obtained.
It is purely on this specific matter that I have asked for the leave of the House to speak again. This is an important constituency matter and a major Service matter dealing with targets and firing practices. I hope the Minister will take these arguments most seriously and look at the background to the decision. What worries me is that there are certain vested interests which would like to see the disappearance of the civilian aspect of this unit in order to have it transferred to the uniformed Forces. For these reasons it is imperative that the Minister should 308 be asked to comment on the matters I have raised.
§ 8.55 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy (Dr. David Owen)
We have had more questions asked in the short space of this debate than have been asked in the House for some weeks, and I shall be hard pressed to answer even some of them.
Perhaps it would help if I dealt with the question raised by the hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery). This is a question about which he has written to my hon. Friend the Minister of Defence for Administration. The points he has mentioned in his letter are being examined now, and the arguments he has deployed this evening will be studied carefully by my hon. Friend. It is much better that we should make a balanced judgment on his representations. My hon. Friend will be writing to him as soon as he has done this. The use of Exeter Airport covers more than one Service, and I realise the genuine constituency interest for the hon. Gentleman. We will look at it most carefully because it obviously has repercussions for the whole of the south-west region.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) asked some questions on the Navy Estimates, particularly on the effects on the military salary. As my right hon. Friend made clear a fortnight ago, the Estimates do not take full account of the improvements to Service pay which have been agreed, but the Supplementary Estimates which will be presented will not mean that the defence budget target will be exceeded. The precise figures have still to be calculated. For the Navy the figure is likely to be of the order of £20 million to £25 million.
The defence budget will rise to about £2,370 million-£2,380 million compared with £2,280 million in the published Estimates. That is an increase of £90 million to £100 million. The Navy's Vote A is 22.1 per cent. of the total of the Votes A of the three Services. This should give a reasonable measure of the Navy's share of the extra money, but I must emphasise that these are tentative figures, and I would not like the hon. and gallant Gentleman to draw too much from them. These have not 309 yet been fully calculated, and statements will come forward later.
The first reports on the pay review suggest that the Navy is generally well satisfied with the results. We think that the new salary for recruits ranging from £14 7s. to £17 17s. a week, which will increase to £17 10s. and £21 in April, 1971, will provide a valuable stimulus to recruiting. Much more competitive rates of pay for senior ratings will encourage more men to remain in the Service.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman asked a detailed question about the living-out allowance. This is slightly different for the Army and the Navy. In the Army it is two nights in the field and in the Navy it is 48 hours in a ship, from mid-day. There is a mid-day rule. These regulations will be circulated to the Fleet and will be well understood from the time of introduction.
Questions were asked about victualling allowances. The increase of £50 million is due to the extension of the ration allowance to single men and the grossing up of the ration allowance for tax purposes. The hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) asked about the breakdown between the cost of provisions and victualling allowances. This is shown on page 13 of the Defence Estimates.
I will deal with the Fleet Air Arm redundancies in some detail. The redundancy, as has been explained to the House before, is in two phases. The first phase entails discharges towards the end of 1970 and consists of six commanders mechanical air engineer officers, 13 special duty list air engineer officers and 794 Fleet Air Arm ratings. They have all been selected and informed of their approximate date of release. Almost all the officers and all the ratings were volunteers.
The second phase does not involve anyone being retired as redundant until after 1st April 1971, and the majority will be retired after the middle of 1972. It is expected that about 200 to 300 Fleet Air Arm officers and about 2,600 ratings will be made redundant, although every en-deavour is being made to reduce these maximum numbers. Applications from ratings are now being received; the list closes on 15th May 1970. The numbers required and the numbers of volunteers 310 to date could be given roughly, but I think it would be better not to give this information as one does not know how many more people will apply.
Special duties list applications closed on 31st October 1969 and general list officers on 31st January 1970. Supplementary list officers may apply until 1st May 1970. Those selected for redundancy will be informed; general list by 1st April 1970, supplementary list by 1st July 1970. The special duties list were all informed in December 1969. All the second phase special duties and general list officers selected are volunteers.
The second phase also includes Royal Marines officers and other ranks and Royal Navy officers and other than those in the Fleet Air Arm, but redundancy in the Fleet Air Arm is the main issue, and I will try to explain how we have dealt with this. We have appointed specially a Fleet Air Arm employment liaison officer who is himself an aviator. His task is to strengthen the Naval Resettlement Organisation which already exists. He is expected to visit ships and shore establishments to advise individual officers on the options open to them and to assist those who retire on redundancy terms to find suitable civilian employment.
May I deal with the options? Fixed-wing aircrew officers have the following options open to them. General list lieutenants may apply to transfer to rotary-wing flying. I am glad to say that a great many are doing so. They see that this offers an extremely good future in the Navy, and I am hopeful that more will do so. General list lieutenants may apply to transfer to the permanent list of the R.A.F., and we are doing everything possible to encourage them. General list lieutenants may apply for re-sub-specialisation. All officers may apply to revert to general service. Officers may apply for retirement under redundancy terms. I think the House will agree that these are generous options.
Supplementary list air crew within a stipulated age and seniority bracket may apply to transfer to rotary-wing flying to complete their short service commissions. Air crew may apply for loan service with the R.A.F. to complete their present engagement, with the possibility of transferring subsequently to the R.A.F. Officers may apply for retirement under 311 redundancy terms. This does not apply to present rotary-wing pilots, nor would the House expect it to.
Air traffic control officers may apply to transfer to the R.A.F. or to complete their current engagements on loan service to the R.A.F. Officers may also volunteer for retirement under redundancy terms.
Any non-volunteer ratings who may have to be detailed will be offered opportunities to transfer instead of being made redundant. So no rating will be made redundant if he wishes to take up the option of employment in the general Navy. Those ratings would have to transfer and retrain. It is planned that the whole redundancy programme should be completed by 1st April, 1973.
I hope the House will realise that I have given full information. The main reason is that I do not want it to be felt that there is anything covert about the redundancy situation. It is in line with the Government's defence policy. While the Government retain power, we will conduct that policy in the way we have set out. There is no truth whatever that we are either hurrying the transfer of Fleet Air Arm aircraft to the Royal Air Force. That is taking place as a normal stage plan and is totally dependent on the question of aircraft carriers and their deployment when they come back from overseas, the length of time it takes to de-store aircraft carriers, and so forth.
§ Mr. Wall
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has made that categoric statement to clear up some of the rumours that have been bandied about on this matter and which have not been for the good of the Navy. He will, however, recognise that the phasing of the rundown scheme is a difficult matter from the point of view of dates. Whatever happens at the next General Election, it will come round in the middle of this programme. Since it is the declared intention of this side of the House to maintain some or all of the aircraft carriers, which will presumably need some or all of these men, I hope that this will be conveyed to them.
§ Dr. Owen
The House know that "Hermes" is coming to the end of fixed-wing flying rather earlier than the other two aircraft carriers. The House also knows that "Eagle" and "Ark Royal" 312 have to remain operational until our withdrawal from east of Suez, which does not take place until December, 1971. Whatever the date decided for the election, that withdrawal date will be after the next election. Hon. Gentlemen opposite are getting very sensitive about this matter.
The new terms of redundancy have not yet been agreed. These will be announced as soon as possible and it will give full information to the House on the terms. There has been a lot of criticism about why we should have any redundancy when we are facing severe manpower shortages. The reason is clear. We must have a balance.
It is difficult to know whether right hon. Gentlemen opposite are prepared to run on with both "Eagle" and "Ark Royal". If this is their firm policy, they have yet to answer how they will man them. They have yet to face up to the manning situation. These are not party political issues. There is a clear-cut issue, and they will have to choose, if they ever have the chance to put their policy into action. We are not wilfully getting rid of people from the Royal Navy. It is in our interests within the problems of specialisation, age groups, and so on, to retain as many of these men as we can.
I do not deny that there will be isolated cases such as were mentioned by the hon. and gallant Member for Winchester when quoting a letter in one of this morning's newspapers. Of course, we regret it when a man wishes to stay on in the Navy. But we all know that the problem of the Navy is that it tends to be rather a younger Service than the two other Services. We do not keep people on for quite such a long career structure. We have to take notice of the balance of ages between particular branches and ranks.
On the matter of pensions, on which a number of points were raised, I am not in a position to carry discussion any further. We have said that we hope to announce the new pension rates shortly. The points made about widows and people who marry after retirement do not, strictly speaking, relate to that announcement but I assure the House will be borne in mind by my hon. Friend the Minister of Defence for Administration, who deals with these matters.
313 In the current year over £1 million has been available on the CO.1 Vote to finance a major advertising campaign for recruits into the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines, and this has been welcomed in the debate. The money has been made to work harder than ever before, and many new advertisements with fresh material and a new-look format have appeared. We shall continue this campaign at much the same level in the current year. We are keeping our recruiting organisation up to date.
As the House knows, a Sub-Committee of the Estimates Committee is at the moment looking at recruitment. A number of speakers have mentioned the need for a Select Committee on Defence, but we should not forget that a very important area of defence is being examined at the moment by that Select Committee of the House. Most hon. Members will have seen from that Committee's minutes the extent to which it is looking into the problems which we face. In the coming year, over £315,000 has been provided in the Navy Votes to assist the career services in the varied activities which they can provide and to improve the general naval publicity effort. Certainly we will continue to use this avenue to help recruitment, but it is only one avenue.
I now come to stocks and reserves. Not unnaturally, I will not be able to give in detail the exact level of the reserves being maintained. However, stocks are at an adequate level, and the quantities of reserves of various weapons and equipment are kept very carefully under review. I hope that that general assurance will satisfy hon. Gentlemen opposite. It would be unrealistic of them to expect me to give detailed figures.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman then referred to the Sea King helicopters. I can assure him that security considerations are always taken fully into account before any sales are authorised. They were in these cases. The Ministers are advised on this subject.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman also referred to the number of submarines in service and, in particular, the figures given in the White Paper. However, he has been misled by the figure of 27 patrol submarines which appears in paragraph 20 of Chapter IV. That is the 314 total in service in the year, whether they be operational, preparing for service or under refit. On page 102, he will find the 27 patrol submarines identified by name.
As regards fleet submarines, I am afraid that I cannot comment on the planned building rates. I have gone as far as I can on this subject in the main debate on the Defence Estimates. I gave some indication of the importance that we attach to the fleet submarines, and an indication of how much money we were spending in comparison with earlier years. A significant force of submarines will be in service when the aircraft carriers are withdrawn from service at the end of 1971.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman raised a number of other points. For example, he queried, as other hon. Members have done in defence debates, the decision to abolish the single-Service Under-Secretaries. I have held my present job for just under two years. I confess to having enjoyed it. I have been proud to serve the Royal Navy. In my case, the change has not been forced upon me. I fully support it. Where a Ministry is evolving, this is rational and sensible. No one will deny that there are not arguments in favour of single-service Under-Secretaries. However, we are asking the House to make a judgment on the balance of advantage.
Anyone who knew the late Minister of Defence for Administration knew that he had developed a very real knowledge of all three Services, yet he was a functional Minister. I admit that he had the earlier advantage of serving one Service, but it is possible for a functional Minister with across-the-board responsibilities to develop a real knowledge of the individual Services. The decisions made by Ministers in respect of one Service increasingly have to take into account the situation in the two other Services. Defence policy is becoming more and more a whole defence policy. It is impossible to make judgments on equipment and personnel matters without having in mind the impact of decisions on other parts of the Ministry of Defence. I would not dispute some of the arguments which are deployed in favour of single-Service Under-Secretaries but, in my experience, the balance of advantage clearly lies in favour of abolishing the single-Service 315 Under-Secretaries and going for across-the-board Ministers.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles
I am grateful to the Under-Secretary for the careful replies that he is giving to all questions. But the point is not so much what goes on in the Ministry. It is what the individual Serviceman in one of the three Services thinks about it.
§ Dr. Owen
The individual Serviceman is realising increasingly that the person to whom he looks ultimately is the Secretary of State. Ministers are able on visits to show that they have the Service man's interests very much at heart.
Over the last year there has been marked scepticism about the salary of Servicemen. But I think that most right hon. and hon. Members believe that this has been satisfactorily resolved. I believe that Ministers are capable of looking at individual Service problems when they arise and will be able, under the planned set up, to give them just as much care and attention as before. Many of the fears expressed in this connection are unnecessary.
No one will deny that there have been strong advantages in the past. But we are now discussing defence on a new Vote structure. Evolutionary changes have gone on remorselessly in the Ministry of Defence. These have been put to the House at, I think, a reasonable time and we have encouraged discussion. I am giving my own personal view on this question.
The hon. and gallant Member for Winchester welcomed the building of the type 21 frigate, and also talked about the survey ships. He reiterated his concern about the number of people ashore and called for reserve ships in which to put them. I assure the hon. and gallant Gentleman that what causes me concern is how in some branches some personnel are spending too much time at sea. Their sea-to-shore ratio is much too high.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman argued about over-stretch. He cannot have it both ways. In a modern technological Navy we must have more than adequate back-up, and the balance towards backup to keep our operational fleet running may have to shift. We are noticing this in the amount of support costs that we 316 are putting in—for instance, the effort involved in keeping nuclear-powered submarines going. I do not believe that there is any need to worry about the number of people ashore at the moment. As for putting them into reserve ships, this does not meet the bill. According to the hon. and gallant Gentleman's argument, they are already overstretched, and we would add to the manpower problems facing us.
The hon. Member for Devonport raised a number of questions with which I hope to deal. The hon. Lady paid tribute to visits to the Fleet. Visits by Members of Parliament are valuable. Many Members of Parliament, after visiting the Fleet, come back and talk to Service Ministers. We often correspond in detail. It is extremely useful to us, because often they can go to areas which we have not been able to visit recently. This is part of the continuing process of discussion which goes on.
To deal with the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden), I should be only too happy to have further discussions. We have had discussions with and representations from hon. Members representing dockyard interests. If hon. Members wish to come to the Ministry of Defence to discuss rather wider issues, I am only too happy that they should do so. One useful way may be to have a discussion following a visit. As the hon. Member for Devonport mentioned, visits have already been arranged for the summer.
The hon. Lady also mentioned new construction. She knows that we have decided to build a transducer calibration facility—the RDVO 1—at Devonport, that building will start this month, and that it will be on the slipway about a year. Devonport will construct a number of dumb craft for the port auxiliary service. The importance of this decision is that the possibility of further construction work for the dockyard is left open and will be reviewed in 1971. By then, I hope that a number of the measures which have been taken over the last few years, and are still to be taken, will ensure improved dockyard productivity which will reduce overheads and that the difference in price with frigates constructed elsewhere will be so reduced that we 317 can justify to the public accounts building frigates inside the dockyards. It is right to mention, however, that the primary duty of the dockyards is to repair and refit ships. This being their primary duty, it is hard for them to keep their overheads down so that they can match the building facility of private shipyards which are just new construction shipyards.
There are other internal arguments—namely, that this would help train young apprentices and men to obtain certain skills which are hard to obtain on just repair and refit. It has a very marked psychological effect in the dockyards which are keen on new construction. I make no secret of the fact that if it can be justified on economic grounds, I should like to see new construction in the dockyards. So far as Devonport is concerned, the option is open, and if it can be competitive when the position is reviewed again in 1971 the question of new construction is left open for it. I know the hon. Lady attaches some importance to this as do I.
The hon. Lady also asked a number of questions regarding the amenities and the replanning of the dockyard. I very much agree—one hon. Gentleman has already said this during the debate—that it is very easy to throw brickbats at the dockyard. The dockyards have an extremely difficult task, and I think that they respond to the load which we put on them remarkably well. One has only to see the refit of H.M.S. "Ark Royal", which has been a project management carried out to time and within the cost limits, allowing for rising prices, to realise that this is a formidable achievement—an achievement of which any new construction yard could well have been proud.
I agree with the hon. Lady that the amenities inside the dockyards have been bad. They have been bad for many years. What we are dealing with is, quite honestly, a neglect of capital investment in the dockyards which goes back over decades. It is particularly important to try to get working conditions improved.
As the hon. Lady knows, we have announced the Leander refitting complex which is to be covered in Devon-port, and we are also looking into the question of the guided missile 318 destroyers at Portsmouth and whether we can justify it there.
The conditions of working afloat in winter are not such as to encourage a man to improve his productivity. To put it bluntly, it is extremely hard and difficult to do skilled work such as welding in bad weather conditions.
I hope to be able to announce plans for the modernisation of the dockyards fairly soon. Such plans must obviously go into considerable detail, not least because they put a heavy load on the construction industry, and this must be phased in while all the time widening requirements to meet the operational requirements of the Fleet. We hope to announce plans largely for Portsmouth and Devonport because the two other dockyards have been modernised.
I should like to deal with the point raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Winchester about the third nuclear refitting stream in Plymouth and Devon-port dockyards. In the last debate right hon. and hon. Members speaking from the Opposition Front Bench made it clear that they thought this was a wrong decision. It is up to them to say this loud and clear when they visit dockyard constituencies. I believe that in the last defence debate we showed quite clearly why it was impossible at least to keep the option in Cammell Laird. The question was one of time scale, and the third nuclear refitting stream which is scheduled to be built at Devonport is not coming into operation until the end of the 1970s. So one has a long period when Cammell Laird cease building nuclear-powered submarines, and this is one of the very strong reasons, although there are other reasons, too.
It was the party opposite which decided to build up the nuclear refitting facilities at Rosyth, and if its view is that dockyards are unable to refit ships, or unable to refit nuclear ships, it has certainly condemned the decision to put the third nuclear refitting stream in Devonport. I find this very hard to understand. The dockyards have given extremely good and valuable service, and just because they happen to be run by the Ministry of Defence we should not necessarily deprive them of the modern technological skills which I believe they have. I fail to understand the hon. and gallant Gentleman's dissatisfaction with the decision.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles
It is not a question of our thinking that the dockyards cannot do the job. They can do it, and I agree with the tributes the hon. Gentleman has paid to them for the complicated work they do so well. But we could not understand why the Government should dismantle the existing facilities and work force at Birkenhead in order to re-create them somewhere else.
§ Dr. Owen
It is a question not of dismantling them but of the time scale. We have previously gone into detail on this, and if the hon. and gallant Gentleman looks up the arguments deployed in the previous debate, he will agree that they are substantial.
The hon. Lady the Member for Devonport mentioned the apprentice group instructors. As she said, this matter has been going on for a long time. My predecessors were involved and I have taken considerable personal interest in it. I assure her that I hope to be able to announce a decision fairly shortly, and that is not just a stalling reply. As I have explained before, these are complicated negotiations, and the instructors do not help by threats. She read out a letter, and I assure her that we do not need threats behind us. We recognise that this case needs looking at thoroughly. That is being done, and I hope to be able to make an announcement reasonably soon.
The hon. Lady also mentioned married quarters, and criticised the very large estates. I strongly support her views. I think that very large service estates are a bad thing. But there are problems. Unlike a local authority, we have to furnish the married quarters, keep them serviceable and provide rather more than most furnished houses are normally provided with. This means problems of organisation for the Ministry. We cannot have our married quarters scattered all over a major city. The question is the eventual size beyond which we should not go. I am looking into this matter. I have a great deal of sympathy with the idea of trying to spread married quarters throughout the local community.
The hon. Lady also mentioned the Institute of Naval Medicine, and welcomed its formation. But she criticised 320 the appointment of more psychologists. But psychologists play an important part in recruiting and are perhaps unlikely to be doing the work which she thought—psychiatry. They are an important part of our trying to get such things as attitude surveys, trying to understand what motives people have in joining the Service or remaining in it. Hon. Members opposite should not make disparaging comments about them, because they have an important rôle to play.
The hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) referred to the question of "Sea Eagle". The reason I did not mention this in the defence debate was that the decision had already been made and announced by my hon. Friend the Minister for Defence for Administration. The reasons both for the original decision to come out of "Sea Eagle" and for bringing it forward now are well understood in Northern Ireland. We had the problem of housing the Army contingents which have to be in Northern Ireland. There was genuine need to provide barracks accommodation. We have explained the reasons, and we have kept to our obligations to the civilian employees. The operation is going smoothly.
No one would deny the great value of the joint anti-submarine training which has gone on at "Sea Eagle". We have to provide this. The White Paper mentions that part of it is going to Turnhouse in Scotland. We are looking at the whole question for the future. An important N.A.T.O. interest is involved. A considerable number of our N.A.T.O. allies use "Sea Eagle" and I join in paying tribute to what has been done there. The decision has been announced, and the reason for speeding up the withdrawal has been understood.
The question of nuclear propulsion is not for me but for my right hon. Friend the Minister of Technology. The Navy is constantly looking at this matter. But the point is that it would not be right to make an experiment. We cannot do so. We have to justify it on economic and operational grounds for the Navy. We have the technology and the knowledge to do it. The question revolves round an objective evaluation of it. I looked at this myself in the not distant past, and I was satisfied that at 321 this stage, it does not make sense for the Navy to build a nuclear-powered surface ship. That is quite apart from the fact that nuclear power is very useful in submarines. But this is kept under constant review, and there is no option foreclosed for the future if it is shown to be economically or operationally viable. I hope that that satisfies the hon. Gentleman.
He paid a generous tribute to the R.N.X.s I gladly pay it back. There is a tendency in these debates not to mention the activities of R.N.X.s particularly the control of merchant shipping in a possible emergency. They do a great deal and I am very grateful for all that they do.
On reserves, I believe that the size of the naval reserves are adequate to meet the tasks laid upon them of the manning of 11 coastal minesweepers and fulfilling their special rôles of maritime headquarters, Communications Centre and the Naval Control of Shipping Organisation. A great deal is done up and down the country, and I certainly think they play an important part.
The question has been asked: why do we not sell ships due to be scrapped? I can assure the House that their possible sale is very fully considered. We would certainly offer the full facilities for a sale to any allied country, or any country to which we can reasonaby sell our equipment; and this is done.
There were a number of other points which I may not have been able to cover in the time available. One I would like to mention is the question of the Sailors' Fund. This will be used solely for the benefit of ratings and Royal Marine other ranks and their dependants; and ratings and Royal Marine other ranks will play a major part in the administration of this fund. The whole of the details of this have been dealt with in a Defence Council Instruction to the Fleet.
The only other point was the question of anti-ship missiles, mentioned by the hon. Member for Harborough. He will find that I dealt with that in considerable detail in both speeches and particularly in my opening speech on the Navy Estimates. I am afraid I cannot go any further than I did at that stage. I would stress again the open-mindedness that we have on this whole issue.
322 A number of points have been raised already in debates on Army questions and I hope hon. Gentlemen will agree that I have covered as many points as possible.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles
Could the hon. Gentleman deal with the point about intelligence operations?
§ Dr. Owen
The hon. and gallant Gentleman has had more questions answered than anybody else. He will know that this is a delicate area. Ministers are very conscious of sceurity issues. His question on our security interests in the Far East and the Gulf will certainly be borne in mind in deciding any reductions which may or may not be made. I am certainly not prepared to go any further. Clearly, that is something which is watched most carefully by Ministers.
§ 9.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Jerry Wiggin (Weston-super-Mare)
I am only glad that it is not on the Royal Air Force that I wish to speak tonight. The subjects I wish to raise have already been raised by myself last week. On that occasion we were rather pressed for time. I would like to expand slightly on two points I then made. The first is the question of TAVR. recruiting. The Minister will be aware that at the present time the TAVR. is 22 per cent. under strength. He has reduced the amount of money that is spent on advertising, and we do not seem to be any nearer solving the basic problem which is to get known to the people of the country the fact that the TAVR. exists; that the old Territorial Army has not completely sunk without trace and that the young men of this country can give military service in an acceptable manner to themselves and for the benefit of the country.
I do not believe we have yet a proper answer to this problem. I do not believe that a programme has been instituted that will deal with the problem. I hope the Minister will be able to take up this point. The question of cadres is one that must be examined most seriously. I believe their very existence, and their creation, was in the first place an admission of the necessity of having something upon which our territorial force could be expanded. Three officers and five men constitute a totally inadequate force, even to administer itself.
323 The cost of expanding it, even by a modest amount—say, doubling it—would be comparatively insignificant, but it would give a much more credible power to the cadres, and make their whole administration easier. I am not in a position to know how far the Government have gone with their avowed intention to create a mobilisation store and nominal roll for 300 men, but it is that possibility that led to the cadres' creation in the first place, and I hope that a progress report can be made.
I have mentioned many times in correspondence to the Minister the problem of the P.S.O.s, the staff officers who run the TAVR, who do the adjutant's job in many cases, and quite a lot of the training major's and commanding officer's job as well. The Minister is well aware that I, among others, consider them to be underpaid. The salary before the latest review was a mere £1,340 for men and £1,100 for women, rising after six years to the princely sum of £1,460 for men and £1,190 for women. That can hardly be described as a career structure. I believe that they do not receive the perks that a commanding officer receives, such as travel allowances and so on. They work very long hours but get no overtime pay. When there are volunteers present, the chances are that the P.S.O. will be there as well. I hope that the Minister will take up my suggestion of having consultations with commanding officers, brigadiers and generals dealing with TAVR personnel, who I think will confirm what I have said, and I hope that this may lead to a rather better deal for the P.S.O.s.
I should like briefly to mention once again the question of H Troop, Royal Corps of Transport, since the point may have slipped by in the debate last Thursday night owing to the rush. This organisation was charged with the responsibility of animal transport in the Royal Corps of Transport. It was a quite small organisation. I thank the Minister for his courtesy in enabling me to visit it in Aldershot. Its present rôle is that of reinforcing 29 Squadron in Hong Kong, for which I believe that it sent three or four N.C.Os. The N.C.O.s. on the job now will finish in 1974 and as far as I can see there will be no one to replace them.
324 The cost of the organisation has been estimated by the Ministry at £80,000, using a technique know as "sliced" costing, which means slicing off the costs of neighbouring organisations and adding them to that which one wants to dispose of. I believe that it has been a little unfairly treated.
The requirement may be considered to be out of date, but I remind the Minister that in Aden camels were used quite extensively in the Radfan for transport, and in Vietnam, despite the enormous number of helicopters the Americans have, a large number of mules are used. America is still very agricultural in many parts and can take from its farms experts in mules, horses and so on. I do not believe that the same can be said in this country. To keep even four or half a dozen N.C.O.s would seem to me to be a wise precaution. I believe that four men are leaving on redundancy on the disbandment at the end of this month. One of these days in some theatre I believe that the Army will regret the absence of those four senior N.C.O.s.
The recruiting power of H Troop and its public relations aspect may have been overdone, as the troop itself might well admit, but the recreational aspect and the character training involved could be placed on the credit side. This is a small and false economy, and if there is any possible way in which they might be attached perhaps to the remount depot, as a Royal Corps of Transport responsibility, then I believe it would be a sensible decision. I do not think I need remind the House that it is always the unexpected that catches the Services unawares.
§ 9.38 p.m.
§ Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)
I take as my text two items in the Defence Estimates relating to the Army. Paragraph 39 on page 8, describes the fact that the Royal College of Defence will be holding courses for European officers who will be able to come to this country to participate in defence studies which we will be carrying out here. I understand in the past it has been the practice, when inviting officers to the college, to take those that come from one of our N.A.T.O. partners, Greece. Secondly, paragraph 61 on page 28, Statement on Defence Estimates describes an exercise 325 in which the Army took part in Greece, along with some of our other N.A.T.O. partners.
I think my views on this are well known. I know it would be entirely out of order in this debate to talk about Greece. What I do want to say to my hon. Friend is that, in organising courses at the Royal College of Defence on organisation exercises, and exchange of information and exchange of ideas about tactics and strategy in Europe, I hope he can assure the House that our Army officers are not going to play any part, and we are not going to co-operate with people that are responsible for the subjugation of another nation in Europe. This is particularly so if the Army is going to have people from what is, frankly, a Fascist State, participating in courses paid for by this Government and country, and I hope that we are not going to go in for the business of educating Fascists as well as co-operating in military exercises with them. Not everyone shares the view that politics should be introduced into the Army.
I spent two years in the Army as an education instructor, and I know perfectly well that the way in which the Army works does not depend only on war games; it depends also on conveying to the men some idea of the philosophy and rationale for their being in the Army at all. When I was an instructor, we explained the reasons for participating in various defence pacts in Europe and other parts of the world. Not only did one explain to the soldier the strategy—I am sure this still goes on—one explained the reasons as well. I assume this continues, and that soldiers and officers in the Army are instructed upon the rationale and purposes of N.A.T.O. Indeed, a lot of the judgment about Army strategy in Europe is based on the assumption that one is providing for response against a misunderstanding between two ideologies as much as defence against possible wholesale aggression against Western Europe. Therefore, one cannot leave the rationale and the philosophy out of it. The Government have to make a decision about this.
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary would have expressed his views quite clearly when he was a member of the Council of Europe. I hope, equally clearly, on this very limited point, he 326 will express the view that the British taxpayer is not going to pay for pupils to come from a Fascist country to be educated in our defence college here, unless he is absolutely certain that they are as committed, both in practice as well as in theory, to the preamble of the N.A.T.O. treaty, in which we participate; that what defence in Europe is all about is the defence of liberty and democracy and the rule of law. Fascism, as well as Communism—in fact Fascism much more than Communism—has been in the past a threat to security in Europe. It again is likely to be a threat to security. I hope, in this very limited way, that my hon. Friend will be able to express the view that in co-operation with this military junta, the Army is going to make quite sure that it deals only with people committed to the cause of democracy.
§ 9.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)
I know that the Under-Secretary wishes to reply, so I shall be exceptionally brief.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) referred to the provision which had been made for retired pay. I, too, should like to refer to this. I know that the provision for next year is 2 per cent. greater than that for 1969–70, but prices will go up by much more than 2 per cent. In last year's defence debate, the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) reminded the House that some years before, speaking from the Opposition Dispatch Box with the full knowledge of the present Secretary of State and the then Leader of the Opposition, he made a solemn pledge that the Labour Party, if elected, would introduce parity in Service pensions. Obviously, they cannot appear in these Estimates, but is there any intention to honour that solemn pledge?
My hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir E. Errington) in the debate on the Army Estimates on 12th March told us that he was the Chairman of a Sub-Committee of the Estimates Committee which was considering recruiting. He said that the first intimation that that Sub-Committee had had that the Ministry of Defence had called in civilian management consultants to reorganise the Army 327 recruiting organisation came in paragraph 19 of this year's Defence Statement:The Army Recruiting Organisation is also to be reorganised during the next two years following the report of a firm of civilian management consultantsHow is it that this important Sub-Committee was not informed that management consultants were carrying out this important rôle?
Could the hon. Gentleman tell us what this reorganisation involves? I hope that it will involve Army, Navy and Air Force recruiting centres giving some information about careers in the other Services. I called into my own local recruiting centre, a few days ago, as I do from time to time, and found that there was no information of any sort available about careers in the other Services. I hope that this is just one of the points which the management consultants have told the Minister to put right.
§ 9.50 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army (Mr. Ivor Richard)
Perhaps it would be as well if in the 10 minutes that remain for this debate I try to answer some of the specific points which have been raised, particularly those by the hon. Members for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) and Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke). It is not often that one can give some joy to hon. Members opposite, but I start by giving a certain amount of moderate satisfaction to both hon. Members.
P.S.O.'s salaries were referred to by the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare. These are being reviewed consequent on the introduction of the military salary. I hope shortly to announce the new rates. I take the point the hon. Member made about the valuable work they are doing. On the point he made about some expertise remaining in the Army in mule squadrons, the expertise will remain in the Veterinary Corps and the pack troop which it is proposed to retain in Hong Kong. I do not know whether he appreciated that it is the intention to retain that pack troop. To that extent the expertise will remain in the Army.
On the point about commutation, mentioned by the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely, I will spend a few minutes 328 describing the rules and then state the present attitude to them. The hon. Member put his finger on an anomaly which appears to exist and which clearly deserves to have a considered answer. As he pointed out, the rules as they apply to officers and other ranks differ. An officer, without a great deal of difficulty, can commute up to 50 per cent. of his pension, while other ranks can broadly commute without difficulty up to 25 per cent. or a capital sum of £1,000, whichever is the less. On good grounds, generally compassionate grounds when a man perhaps wants to buy a business and so on, he would be permitted to commute further up to 50 per cent. of his pension if the Ministry of Defence thought that right.
The amount of a man's pension which can be commuted can be up to 75 per cent. for someone who is not an officer, whereas it would remain at 50 per cent. for an officer. I recognise that there is substance in the anomaly. I recognise that at first sight to say that an officer is entitled to commute up to 50 per cent. without trouble whereas a warrant officer with 35 years' service in the Army has to get permission to commute more than 25 per cent., is prima facie anomalous, but a general review of Service pensions is going on.
In the course of that review the question of commutation is one which we want to examine. We shall examine it in great detail, and, I hope, with a certain amount of sympathy. It would be very wrong for me to hold out any form of promise that the rules will definitely be changed, but I can at least promise the hon. Member that the points he made will be borne in mind very seriously in the general review.
The hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Scott-Hopkins) raised the question of offsets for B.A.O.R. I am not sure whether he understood precisely what the offset agreement is. It is not designed to relieve the United Kingdom of the budgetary burden of troops in Germany. It is designed to remove the foreign exchange costs, but not costs in actual cash. There is nothing anomolous or unjustifiable in bringing into the offset agreement the loan element referred to by my right hon. Friend the then Minister of State at the Foreign Office when he answered 329 Questions on this subject in considerable detail on 23rd July last year.
In connection with 6 Brigade, I reiterate, in general terms, what my right hon. Friend said in the debate on the White Paper; namely, that agreement has been reached on the return of 6 Brigade and on the offset arrangements which go with it. Those arrangements are that the German Government have agreed to purchase a further 24 million Deutschmarks of defence equipment, this sum being 80 per cent. of the running costs of 6 Brigade for the six months ending 31st March, 1971.
In addition, they will pay, as my right hon. Friend announced last week, up to a minimum of 13 million Deutsch Marks for what are called "settling in" costs. It would not be sensible to refer to any particular matter as offsetting the foreign exchange costs of any one unit. The total German obligation is to reach a target of 474 million Deutsch Marks and we have no reason to suppose that they will fail to reach that target.
Thus, on the offset arrangements with the Federal Government of Germany, Her Majesty's Government reiterate what has been previously said; namely, that the offset arrangements amount to about 80 per cent. of the foreign exchange costs of British forces stationed in Germany, and that for Britain is an arrangement with which we should be pleased.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis) raised the issue of his proposed visit to the British Army in Germany. It would be wrong of me to delay the House, in the few minutes remaining to me, dealing with this matter——
§ Mr. Richard
With his customary courtesy, my hon. Friend informed me that he would not be present for the reply due to his having an engagement elsewhere. In view of his apology, I trust that a point will not be made about his absence.
In view of the robust way in which my hon. Friend castigated us for the terms of the Press announcement, I assure him that there was nothing unusual about the form 330 of the announcement. When visits were made in 1969, almost precisely the same form of Press announcement was put out, and I do not think that that ruffled any feathers.
A Press release of this kind is designed not to inform my hon. Friend's constituents that he will be abroad but to inform those in Germany of the reasons why my hon. Friend will be visiting them. It is, therefore, important to make it plain that the party going out does not represent my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and has not been despatched by the authority of Parliament in the execution of any Government business going through the House of Commons.
The visit has been announced in this form so as to make it clear, since the party is travelling ouside the United Kingdom under official Ministry of Defence arrangements, that it is not going in an official capacity as representing the Ministry of Defence. There is nothing sinister about it, and if my hon. Friend thinks that because of the phraseology used he would find it impossible to go on this visit, then we would naturally regret that, but the decision must be made by him.
My hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. John Fraser) raised the question of co-operation with the Greek Government. Attendance at the Royal Defence College is part of our policy of increased European co-operation within N.A.T.O., and much as I sympathise with my hon. Friend's views, we have consistently made it clear that defence and N.A.T.O. aspects need to be kept separate from our general feelings towards the present régime in Greece. I undertake to look into the matter, which is all that I can say at this stage, since no more time remains available to me.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That a sum, not exceeding £823,500,100, be granted to Her Majesty out of the Consolidated Fund, on account, for or towards defraying the charges for Defence for the year ending on 31st March, 1971, as set out in House of Commons Paper 110.