HC Deb 31 January 1995 vol 253 cc839-40
5. Mr. Byers

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence when he expects to publish the findings of the review into representative entertaining.

Mr. Soames

Sir Peter Cazelet is due to submit his report in February; we expect to publish it as soon as possible thereafter.

Mr. Byers

Will the Minister confirm that 114 serving officers have their own personal cooks, at a cost of £2.5 million a year, and that the 77 official service residences cost £5 million a year to operate? Is the Minister content that, at a time of defence cuts, there is a regiment of batmen whose duties are to iron and lay out uniforms, make beds, clean shoes and serve drinks? Is that really putting the front line first?

Mr. Soames

Plainly there is no such thing. A cook is provided for a number of senior officers to enable them to carry out their extensive and important representational duties, which add to the dignity of the United Kingdom and its armed forces. Sir Peter Cazelet is examining the provision of domestic assistants, including cooks, for senior officers. The Army had already begun to consider the matter in the wider context of Army catering. What the hon. Gentleman said is correct but, if there is any practice that we should examine more closely, Sir Peter Cazelet will make proposals. We anxiously await his report and look forward to acting on its recommendations.

Mr. Bill Walker

Does my hon. Friend agree that senior military officers, like senior civil servants, senior members of the Government and senior members of industry, are required by the nature of their job to entertain individuals of importance? Senior military officers cannot respond to personal attacks on them, so will the Minister tell The Mail of Sunday and other newspapers that senior military officers cannot and will not respond publicly?

Mr. Soames

As my hon. Friend says, a number of senior officers, who have important public duties to fulfil, are required to provide representational entertainment. The rank dishonesty of some newspapers' fanciful reporting speaks for itself.

Mr. Fatchett

Does the Minister understand that his weak defence of such extravagance will go down badly with British troops around the world? How can he justify expenditure of £9 million on drinks parties, £500,000 on carpets and £2.5 million on chefs? We are now told that the investigation into this waste will cost a further £100,000. Is not it about time that Ministers took a grip of the waste and extravagance in their own Department? What will it look like to ordinary British troops when they learn of such waste and extravagance and hear that the Minister is happy to justify it?

Mr. Soames

That is a travesty of a response to what I said. The Government have instigated a report by Sir Peter Cazelet into how the services should entertain and on what basis they should do so. As part of the study, he is looking into the provision of official service residences, entertainment allowances and domestic assistants. The line that the hon. Gentleman takes is not a good one. We acknowledge that there is a problem but we intend to resolve it.

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