HL Deb 18 December 1958 vol 213 cc469-72

2.34 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government if they are aware that the proposed closure of the eleven Malcolm Clubs in Germany would ensure for the N.A.A.F.I. a virtual monopoly on R.A.F. stations; if they regard such a monopoly as being in the best interests of welfare in the Royal Air Force; and if it is their policy to encourage such a monopoly.]


My Lords, the decision that Malcolm Clubs should close is not intended to create a mono- poly but results from financial considerations. I would add that since N.A.A.F.I. is the Services' own welfare organisation, owned by and operated for the Services, the term monopoly is, I think, scarcely appropriate in this context.


My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for his reply. He cannot expect me to be satisfied with it, and I shall feel it necessary to raise this matter for discussion in the House after the Recess.


My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that thousands of letters and telegrams have been received from N.C.O.s and airmen, and their families, from all over the world, protesting against this proposal to close the Malcolm Clubs, and that these protests include some from soldiers who use them? Does he not think that this action will have a most adverse effect on morale if proceeded with?


My Lords, before the noble Earl answers that, may I ask him whether he is aware—this is relevant to the Question put by the noble Lord, Lord Tedder—that it cuts no ice at all to bring into this argument lack of money, so long as money is voted by Parliament for spending by the British Council in paying the fares of English comedians to the Federation of British Industries Fair at Helsinki. in September, 1957; in financing a tour of India and Ceylon by British comedians in February-March, 1958; and in financing Sir John Gielgud's visit to Paris for Shakespeare recitals, The Seven Ages of Man, in November, 1957? Would it not be far more beneficial to the nation to scrap the British Council's expenditure on activities of this kind, rather than to scrap the expenditure on the Malcolm Clubs, which have a truly magnificent record of humanising welfare for the troops?


My Lords, as an ex-R.A.F. man who, before being commissioned, served in the ranks in this country and abroad, I sincerely support the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Tedder. I am quite certain that none of your Lordships who has served in the Royal Air Force—or, to put it in the form of a question, will the noble Earl reconsider his statement, because I am quite certain that it must give a certain amount of displeasure to other ranks in Germany, where the 2nd T.A.F. is our first line of defence—


Order, order!


My Lords, as a supplementary question may I ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will consider allowing the Malcolm Clubs to run on for a little longer? I understand the difficulties from the papers I have seen on the subject, and the difficulties are mainly financial. Rather than close down the clubs, which do so much for the Services, would Her Majesty's Government consider allowing them to go on for a time in order to see whether, if possible, they can pay their way at a later date?


My Lords, I must ask the noble Earl whether he would consider taking advantage of the Recess to ask the Minister to reconsider a decision which is considered very peculiar, not to use a stronger word, by a number of people, and positively disastrous by those men intimately concerned?


My Lords, perhaps I may deal first with the many supplementary questions of the noble Viscount, Lord Elibank, who I think was, rather wide of the mark, although he gave us an interesting dissertation on the British Council. So far as other noble Lords are concerned, I think the noble Lord who put down the Question will agree with me that to-day there is a full-dress debate on this particular subject in another place, in which my right honourable friend the Secretary of State will be giving an answer. If that should not be satisfactory, I suggest that the noble Lord, or one of his colleagues, should put down a Motion and that we have a full-dress debate in your Lordships' House.


My Lords, I should like to put to the Minister replying on behalf of the Government whether he will consider, with his right honourable friend, the fact that the request made in the Question is not on a Party basis. It is not even on a Service basis but is based on general public opinion; and none of us who are supporting this is in any way desirous of detracting from the services of N.A.A.F.I.—not at all. We know full well the advantages to be gained from N.A.A.F.I. but we do not want to see lost to the Royal Air Force or the other Services the services of any similar voluntary organisation, with the humanising effect which has been mentioned by another noble Lord, and the great friendship that can be developed between civilian helpers and men in the Services which may make it seem to the men more worthwhile to be abroad in the service of their country.


My Lords, in order to emphasise the non-Party aspect of this matter may I join the noble Viscount in what he has said and ask the Minister whether it is not possible for him to say that no precipitate action will be taken in the meantime, in view of the large amount of protest that here has been throughout the country?


My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords who have just spoken, and, as an ex-Serviceman, I entirely approve of any efforts which may be made by voluntary bodies, because that is the greatest thing that can happen to the Services. I will certainly convey to my right honourable friend what noble Lords have said.