HC Deb 20 November 1972 vol 846 cc912-3

Mr. Judd (by Private Notice) asked the Minister of State for Defence whether he will establish an immediate public inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the recent catering fraud case in the Royal Navy.

The Minister of State for Defence (Mr. Ian Gilmour)

I recognise the concern about these cases. From the time the alleged frauds were first brought to our notice, interim remedial measures have been taken. These measures have included the tightening up of accounting controls to prevent manipulation of stocks, and there has been a significant reduction in the amount of the messing allowance which United Kingdom shore establishments and Her Majesty's ships in home waters can spend with local contractors. We are setting up an independent inquiry into the financial control of catering in all three services and a further announcement will be made as soon as possible.

Mr. Judd

I thank the Minister for that extremely helpful reply. Will he agree that the case has been a sad experience for the Navy, a worrying saga for the public and a personal tragedy for many of those involved? Can he assure the House that the inquiry will consider how this matter went undetected for so long and that it will cover the problem of introducing effective auditing methods in future in order to avoid a recurrence? Will it examine security aspects of the case which give some grounds for concern?

Mr. Gilmour

I agree that it is a sad experience and one which is greatly regretted. The frauds went on for so long because they were mainly carried out by substituting false invoices for the genuine invoices. That could not be uncovered by normal auditing procedures. The inquiry will examine the past events and consider what should be done in the future to see that such an incident does not happen again. We are considering the security aspects, but I have no reason to believe that any security risk existed because, while the catering branch is important, it is not close to the nation's secrets.