§ 3.33 p.m.
§ Major Sir Frank Markham (Buckingham)
I beg to move to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof,This House takes note of the Tenth Report from the Estimates Committee in the last Session of Parliament and of the Fifth Special Report from the Estimates Committee relating to Military Expenditure Overseas.I move this Motion very happily in the presence of the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill), whose father was the progenitor of the Estimates Committee. If the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I should like to quote from his historic book on his father, Lord Randolph Churchill, in which he quotes his father as saying:I should like to turn the House of Commons loose into our public departments on a voyage of discovery. I should like to see every one of our public departments rigorously inquired into by small committees of about seven experienced and practical Members.That suggestion was eventually followed up and resulted in the formation of the Estimates Committee, of which I have had the honour to be a member for about a dozen years.
Our task over the last two years has been this inquiry into military expenditure overseas. We had no precedents to guide us in such an inquiry. Never before had the Estimates Committee or the Public Accounts Committee been overseas with power to study events on the spot. Although it is true that there had been missions, one might call them, to Malta and Gibraltar, there had been nothing on the scale of the inquiries which we have been carrying out over the last two years. We have had to make our own precedents as we have gone along.
1290 Throughout the whole of our investigation we have had the utmost help not only from the Ministry of Defence, to which I pay a very warm tribute, but also from the Army, the Navy and the Air Force authorities. They were, naturally, a little alarmed at our coming to begin with, and one might almost say that they were rather suspicious of our intentions, but as our inquiries went along we had the most friendy co-operation from them, and if our first Report or, rather, the Tenth Report as it is, has any virtues, many of them will be due to the help and co-operation which we have had from the Service Departments.
Our first great difficulty was to find out what we were supposed to look at. We are spending about £2,000 million on defence each year, and we tried very hard to find what proportion of this sum was spent overseas. We have failed utterly to get an accurate picture. What we have obtained—and hon. Members will find this on page 12 of the Report—is an accurate account of local spending—that is to say, money spent on troops' pay, civilian labour and other things overseas. But there is not a hint as to what has been spent on arms, equipment, machinery, vehicles or spares.
If we practically double the figure which is given on page 12, we come to the conclusion that we must be spending overseas at the moment, in one way or another, for defence purposes, about £500 million a year. In other words, one-tenth of all that is gathered in taxation in this country is spent overseas for defence purposes. This was our field of investigation, and it was an immense task.
We began by a visit to Malta, Cyprus, El Adem, Kenya, Aden and Bahrein. Since then Sub-Committee D, of which I have had the honour of being Chairman, has visited El Adem again. We have also been to Gan, Singapore, Hong Kong and Bengazi. In making this Report, and the next Report, which, I hope, will be available to the House in a couple of months' time, the Committee has had the fascinating experience of visiting our soldiers, sailors and airmen overseas. We saw the bases, but we were not allowed to go to the fighting front. I do not know who was responsible for this decision, or whether it was thought that it was too exciting to allow the possibility of seven 1291 M.P.s of all parties being blown up or machine-gunned all at once. We were not allowed to see front-line conditions in Borneo, or the Yemen, or any other area where there had been trouble.
§ Sir F. Markham
It could be that none of us wanted seven by-elections, even in the cause of an Estimates Committee.
This was our scope and these were our powers. What did we find? The first conclusion, with which I know every hon. Member of the Committee will agree wholeheartedly, is that wherever we went we found the troops in extremely good heart, most keen on their job and, by and large, satisfied that the Army and, indeed, Parliament were doing their utmost for their welfare and their comfort.
There were, however, spots on the tapestry of our defence forces, and some of them were rather black. One of the blackest spots owes its origin to the fact that during the last five or six years we have seen a rather dramatic change in the build-up of the Army. Up to five or six years ago when we had National Service the Army was essentially a force of young, unmarried men. Now it is an Army of more senior married men, who expect to have their wives and families with them. This one fact alone means that the cost per man overseas is now 2½ times more than it was in 1958 or 1959.
In addition, there has been an effort to cope with the difficulties created by the shortage of married quarters or hirings for the married Service man. One of the points we make in the Report is that, in spite of the efforts which have been made, the progress is too slow and too costly. It is too slow, because at the moment in Gibraltar alone, which is not mentioned in the Report but some of us were out there only a fortnight ago, we have about 250 Service families living in what I can only describe as verminous squalor. We saw some of these tenements—I think that "tenements" is the word—of at the most two or three undersized rooms, badly lighted, often overrun with cockroaches.
I cannot feel happy about that position. We have seen this again in Tobruk, 1292 where some of our families are living in conditions which are not only squalid and verminous, but are badly below the standard anywhere in this country, or, indeed, anywhere in Europe. These conditions are appalling. One of the difficulties that the House must turn itself to is the provision of adequate married quarters or hirings, or even good private accommodation, for troops who have joined the forces and are serving overseas.
The progress is too slow and too costly. I will give a simple comparison. I take the average council house in this country as representing the standard of housing which should be supplied for the Service man overseas. The average cost of a council house today, I believe, is about £2,800. The average cost of a three-bedroom flat overseas for use by Service men is, according to our statistics, about £6,000. This is a tremendous difference. The difference is more acute when it is realised that the cost of building labour in places like Gibraltar, Malta and other overseas centres is just about half what it is in Britain.
We have gone into this in great detail. Hon. Members will notice from the Report that we have looked at various housing estates and made comments on them. There is much more that we could do. There is very much more that we have seen this year alone that brings us to the conclusion that our building programme overseas is too slow and too costly. I know that some of my colleagues would like to elaborate on this.
I will not say much on this subject, other than that one of the things which is a must in the tropics is air conditioning. It is a must both from the point of view of efficiency and from the point of view of comfort. Yet the Treasury has shown a very stiff attitude towards this, and the latest communications we have had from the Treasury lead us to think that the Treasury is fighting almost a last-ditch battle against air conditioning in any of the domestic quarters for our troops in the tropics or on the edge of the tropics. My personal view is that air conditioning in the tropics is as essential as central heating in England. It is an absolute must. I hope that the Treasury will help the Services to ensure 1293 that the provision of these amenities is made possible for all three Services.
We are not indiscriminately advocating a vast building programme in every area where we have bases, because we have also considered what one might call the security of tenure of the bases. We know that some of our bases will be ours at any rate through our generation and possibly through the next. Here we came firmly to the conclusion that whatever we spend in the way of married quarters, whatever we encourage civilian contractors to do in the way of hirings, we know that the money will not be misspent.
There are other areas where the security of tenure is possibly 12, months, possibly two years—we do not know. Some of these are the subject of very distinct debate between the Foreign Office and the Commonwealth Relations Office. I will not go further into this at the moment than to say that we would not advocate a vast programme of building married quarters in areas where the security of tenure is less than five years. Here we would advocate a very vigorous programme of temporary buildings.
One of the points we make in the Report is that in regard to temporary buildings the most chaotic conditions have occurred simply through lack of foresight by the various Ministries concerned. It is somebody's job to order the prefabricated buildings. It is somebody else's job to ship them. It is somebody else's job to erect them. In the process not a little damage is done to panels and the cheaper part of the buildings.
One of the recommendations we make is that the firm which makes the temporary buildings should be asked to contract for their transport and final erection. This is the sort of thing which is done in civilian life, and we believe that it would result in far fewer breakages and a far swifter programme.
The next point to which we draw attention—this is very important—is the apparent delay between important Cabinet decisions and the reactions of local contractors. When the Cabinet apparently decided that there were to be great changes in Kenya, according to our estimates it took about 18 months before this decision was brought into the modification of contracts which were already in hand. There is no doubt that, if our 1294 military authorities in Kenya had known earlier of Cabinet decisions, we might have saved a good deal of the expenditure on the tremendous Kahawa base, which has cost over £3 million. All told, I think that on the base and the adjacent lands we have spent about £5 million. We have only just completed it.
Now comes this question: are we to hand over the Kenya Government? It is the delay in Cabinet decisions going down through the chain which we find most disturbing. We hope that in future, whatever the Cabinet is thinking about in the way of changes in military deployment overseas, steps will be taken immediately to modify contracts which might be only just being put in hand by the Miinstry of Works locally, or by the Service Departments.
We also stress the need for improved machinery for financial control. No one can be happy with the financial control at the moment in the Services overseas. Part of the trouble is that men who have won great distinction in the Army, Navy and Air Force by virtue of devotion to their careers have not, in the course of their training and experience, acquired financial acumen. They are often quite at sea on financial matters and we have felt that they have not always had the help they should have had in many respects.
We were impressed with the Command Secretariat of the Army. This is an excellent system and we have suggested that something like it should be extended to the other Services. It has been a pleasure to the Committee to be able to report the success of the flexibility of working parties. These, without exception, have done a very good job indeed. They are saving money and producing efficiency left, right and centre and we have paid a warm tribute to these working parties, their members and the Ministry of Defence.
I must return to the subject of our major conclusion; the lack of good housing and the need for a great housing drive in areas where we have security of tenure. I urge the Ministry of Defence and the Treasury to modify their reading of paragraph 130 of our Report, which states:Before starting an expanded programme of building married quarters overseas, the Ministry of Public Building and Works, in 1295 consultation with the Service Departments, should undertake an analysis, base by base, of the relative costs of married quarters, hirings and private accommodation…Unfortunately, that paragraph has been used by the Treasury to hold up future programmes for married quarters or hirings. It appears that the Treasury has taken the line that it must not embark on approving any future schemes of accommodation until a full inquiry into the relative costs has been made. For the paragraph to be interpreted in that light is entirely against the meaning of the Committee, the members of which want building and housing programmes to be carried out with the maximum possible speed.
It has been a great personal experience for me to have gone with other members of the Committee to look at our bases overseas. We will be making many other suggestions in our next Report, which, I hope, will be ready next month. It is the duty of the House of Commons to see that we do not finish here, merely as a result of one or two visits by this Committee. The House should exercise constant vigilance over our overseas expenditure.
There should be triennial visits of our bases overseas by members of the Estimates and comparable Committees. These visits should not stop there but should extend to our embassies abroad and wherever the taxpayers' money is spent. This House has a right, through its Estimates and other Committees, to do on-the-spot vigilation. This is one of the ways in which the House can keep control of public spending.
I would like, finally, to express my thanks for the help and assistance the Committee received from the Ministry of Defence and the Service Departments. I wish that I could say the same about the Ministry of Public Building and Works, but, frankly, we found that Ministry to be occasionally in a state of chaos. I am sure that we were not given all the help we wanted from that Ministry owing to the fundamental changes that were taking place. I only hope that that Department sorts itself out rapidly and helps the Se-vices to see that conditions overseas are at least as good as the men and their families expect them to be in England and Germany.
1296 Having said that, I wish once more to express my warmest thanks to the Ministries and my colleagues on the Committee for one of the greatest experiences of my life.
§ 3.55 p.m.
§ Mr. F. J. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)
I must begin by taking up the remark of the hon. and gallant Member for Buckingham (Sir F. Markham) about the right of the House to investigate expenditure approved by Parliament anywhere in the world. Constitutionally, hon. Members do not have that right. We cannot take evidence overseas and, as the hon. and gallant Member and his colleagues point out in their Report, it was only through the courtesy or kindness of the Minister of Defence that they were invited to go overseas. If that is the constitutional position—and I am almost certain that it is—surely in these days, when we are spending about £2,000 million on defence, much of it overseas, the House should be in a position thoroughly and properly to investigate what is happening to our forces all over the world.
Consider what would happen in business if an accountant, when presenting his annual report to the shareholders—to say nothing of the inspector of taxes—added a footnote saying that he could not vouch for all the information given in the accounts because he was prohibited from investigating some of the company's books. The days are long since gone when we should suffer the indignity of this obsolescent provision which prevents the House from taking evidence overseas, with clerks and a proper committee formed for the purpose.
The situation should be remedied. How, I do not know; but I suggest that if the Minister of Defence wants to avoid a lot of the criticism that will be coming to him now that he has got the House to approve the experiment of amalgamating the three Services, he should take steps to be as clear as he possibly can—subject to the necessary security precautions, of course—to the House about what he is doing with the money that the House has voted.
I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Buckingham that there are 1297 certain matters connected with the welfare of our troops which should be properly investigated. I recall that there seemed to be far greater liberty for such investigations during the war. The right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) will remember that we seemed to have more liberty to criticise the way in which our troops were being handled, the conditions under which they were operating and their welfare. But, remembering that we were at war, I have no doubt that things were more than somewhat different.
I was surprised to note in the Report that expert witnesses were asked straightaway to explain their two memoranda which they presented. Apparently, the Sub-Committee as stated in their reports was composed of lay members who did not understand a lot of military jargon. That cannot be said of the hon. Member for Dorset, North (Sir Richard Glyn). He was a member of the Sub-Committee and I am sure that he is fully conversant with Service jargon as a result of his long service in the forces. I appreciate the necessity for the Estimates Committee to form subcommittees and that it is not always possible for members with military experience to be appointed.
§ Sir Richard Glyn (Dorset, North)
The right hon. Member is making an important point, but I would remind him that the Chairman of the Sub-Committee, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Buckingham (Sir F. Markham), also has substantial experience of military matters. The whole Sub-Committee wished these terms to be expressed in lay language for the benefit of the readers of the Report, because we felt that it was necessary that the evidence should be intelligible not only to us but to all hon. Members.
§ Mr. Bellenger
I certainly recognise the service of the hon. and gallant Member for Buckingham, although I differentiate to this extent. I believe that I am right in saying that the hon. Member for Dorset, North has had considerable regular military service, whereas the hon. and gallant Member for Buckingham, with whom I have served in the House for many years, acquired, as I did, a good deal of knowledge in two world wars. But within the ambit of 1298 the larger question of the £2,000 million which is being spent on defence, we want the experts as far as we can get them.
I speak as a former Secretary of State for War. Although I do not say that I know a good deal about what goes on in the Department now, I learnt a good deal when I was there. This leads up to the case that there are arguments in favour of the proposal by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) that the House should establish a Defence Expenditure Committee. Obviously, it would be out of order to debate that subject now, but it represents the heart of the matter. If we had a Committee of that sort, constantly sitting, we might have something more than the spot check which is all that the Sub-Committee is able to carry out in investigating overseas expenditure.
What did the Sub-Committee find out? Right from the outset, its members were told that to find the cost of what was happening overseas would require a special exercise to be mounted. Therefore, from the start the Sub-Committee met with an obstacle from its expert witnesses. On reading the Report and the questions that were put to those witnesses, one constantly finds the reiterated remark that a witness did not know and, therefore, was urged to go back to the Department and ascertain the information. The Committee examined only a certain number of overseas stations, and not the whole lot, but we are told in the Report that the cost of doing what was done was fairly substantial.
My first point to the Minister of Defence in that respect is that he must look at the costing system within his Department. He is now the Minister responsible for all three Services. We have varying electronic or other costing or pay arrangements in the three Services. I saw one machine for the Army, and it is a very good one. At that time, it was net fully occupied and I put Questions in the House to find out whether that system, which was used by the Royal Army Pay Corps, could not be adopted or utilised by the other two Services. I was told that the other Services would introduce specialised systems of their own.
1299 It should be remembered that when I visited the Royal Army Pay Corps establishment at somewhere like Worthy Down, that machine was dealing with the census figures for the Registrar-General. In other words, the Army machine was sub-contracting for a civil Department. I mention that only as an illustration. Possibly, since those days, progress has been made in this direction. I urge the Minister, however, in his own interest, to see that he has the latest methods for dealing with pay accounts and for costing, because as the hon. and gallant Member for Buckingham admitted, the existing costing is not adequate for the House of Commons, which has to deal with vast sums of money in defence.
§ Sir Eric Errington (Aldershot)
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, although there is not a comprehensive system, there is an establishment of staff inspectors who watch carefully certain aspects of expenditure and of establishment?
§ Mr. Bellenger
I cannot say that I am aware of that. I have to admit that there is quite a lot of which I am not aware. I am not a member of the Estimates Committee.
I have the opportunity of speaking only occasionally when the former Service Ministries or the Ministry of Defence have brought their Estimates to the House. I continually complain that it is impossible for hon. Members to do their duty thoroughly, because they are not given access to information. I do not mean simply information of the nature that was sought by the Sub-Committee. There are certain other matters connected with defence in which, unless one thoroughly understands them or is given information concerning them, one cannot tell whether an overseas base or garrison is being efficiently run, whether it should be run at all or whether the Minister should not be urged to close it down. We know from reading the Report that bases were started in both Cyprus and in Kenya, where millions of pounds of public money were spent, but that later, because of a change of policy by the Government, those bases became either obsolescent or useless.
That brings me to the point, which, I believe, is mentioned in the Report of 1300 the Sub-Committee, that there should be greater co-operation between the Service Departments and the Foreign Office, where policy really is formulated, about our overseas forces or the necessity at all for keeping some forces overseas. I have been a member of the Defence Committee of the Cabinet and, therefore, I have an idea of how the machine works. I have a suspicion that Ministers are too much overworked to be able to foresee clearly what will happen in a certain part of the world, such as, for example, Kenya, while immense sums of money are being spent upon preparing large depôts.
Look at the money that was spent in Kenya or East Africa because it was thought by the military authority that we should have to get out of the Suez Canal area of the Middle East, where we had immense stores of weapons, and, therefore, a reserve depôt was necessary. As it turned out, a large amount of stores was left in the Middle East because they could not physically be moved. Then, our reserve base in Kenya was eventually scrapped. Indeed, we seem all the time to be in the process of being gradually pushed out of our prepared positions, because, perhaps rightly, the Government have decided that we can no longer maintain these colonial positions and we must give independence to the countries in which they are located.
Therefore, my point in that respect is that there should be better co-operation between the military Departments, who, presumably, make the strategic decisions, and the Foreign Office, particularly concerning policy.
§ Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Estimates Committee, which is designed to undertake the task of conducting inspections and reporting, does not have any say in the matter of policy? Are we entitled to discuss policy which directs our forces to Aden to Cyprus or to other bases? I am not so sure that we are. I should be delighted to discuss policy, but are we discussing policy or merely the Report of the Estimates Committee?
§ Mr. Bellenger
Obviously, we cannot discuss policy in its wide aspects, but, surely, one can refer to policy when, time and again, the Report speaks of 1301 the inability of the Sub-Committee to decide, for example, whether permanent married quarters were advisable or whether we should use hirings—that is, whether we should have permanent residences for the troops or whether we should go in for temporary accommodation by hiring. That is why I mention the matter of policy, because these matters which the Sub-Committee have raised impinge upon it.
These spot checks are useful to a limited extent, but the House should not be under any illusion: we are not discussing whether the money has been wisely spent. All we can do is touch the fringe and point to certain deficiencies, which it is useful for us to discuss, but which are only a small part of the whole.
For instance, in paragraph 41 the Committee comments on the difference between Service Air traffic control and air traffic control by the International Aeradio Ltd., which is a public company whose shares are owned by the world's principal airlines and one of whose largest shareholders is B.O.A.C. It is obvious that the Sub-Committee came to the conclusion that in that part of the world the military authorities might utilise the civilian system of air traffic control which is used satisfactorily by civilian organisations. This is done by certain Service transport from time to time.
However, this is not really a matter of policy and the whole tenor of my remarks is directed to showing that we want to survey the subject more widely. I think that my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) will agree with me that until we have an expert Committee of the House, with access to some of the strategic implications of our forces overseas, these Committees which go overseas to investigate expenditure will not be able to do their job properly. Of course, a certain amount of information would be denied to such a Committee and certainly could not be published.
§ Mr. Harold Davies (Leek)
Has my right hon. Friend read the Report and the memorandum presented to the Committee by International Aeradio Ltd.? Will he tell me what any expert Committee could get in breadth of knowledge which is not given in this memo- 1302 randum? This organisation is used in Tripoli by the United States for all its operations—I am not arguing whether that should be the case with our forces—and in case of emergency or war its personnel would be taken over. The Report says that if we had used this organisation, we would have saved £82,000. No expert Committee could have found out more.
§ Mr. Bellenger
I do not disagree. Strange to relate, I have read the Report and have even waded through the questions and answers and I am generally conversant with the situation. The evidence given by the civil company endorses what I am saying. The only question which arises is what happens if war occurs. Many things would then happen. Hon. Members will know that in the last war many of the Services were kept going by civilian experts.
Moreover, if there is any doubt about whether a civilian organisation can do the job properly, even in war, what are we doing about the transport of troops? The right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues deny B.O.A.C. the opportunity to tender for trooping contracts and those contracts go to civilian organisations. Presumably, if war came, those civilian organisations would immediately be turned over to the transportation of troops and would do their job.
I should like to see B.O.A.C. as well as the private organisations tendering for these contracts, but I am bound to say, from my limited experience of travelling with some of these organisations, that they do their job very well. At any rate, they are getting practical experience.
The Report is full of what might be called Committee points. The hon. and gallant Member for Buckingham himself found it difficult to give a wide survey of the situation in a debate like this. I was startled to find that one expert witness was asked how many married men were serving in the Army and said that he had no precise figures. During the war, the War Office knew how many married men there were in the Army in which there were more than 3 million troops. I believe that there was a Hollerith machine which kept the punched cards going, and the marital status of every serving soldier 1303 was known. Why should there not be precise figures now? In those days, marriage allowances were paid, but even today the married man has to have something extra to his ordinary pay because of his marital status. If this evidence is true, I am shocked that the Service does not have such precise figures.
Paragraph 11 of the Report says:Although no precise figures are readily available, it is accepted that the proportion of married men in the Forces has increased considerably in recent years.I have some industrial and commercial experience and I should have thought that most big companies knew how many of their personnel—officially, at any rate—were married.
What I am trying to say is that the Sub-Committee has done its work very well and that travelling overseas, especially sometimes in Service conditions, must have been arduous—I know something about Service conditions overseas. Nevertheless, it has presented only a sketch of what is happening to our Forces. The right hon. Gentleman is now in charge of the three Services. I had many apprehensions and doubts about approving that policy and the right hon. Gentleman knows that so had many senior serving officers. However, the right hon. Gentleman has got the amalgamation of the three Services. We do not know how it will turn out, but it is clear that he has to do considerable homework. Whether he will permit a Defence Committee of the House of Commons to assist him, I do not know.
I was recently reading a book, "The Spectrum of Strategy", by Air Vice-Marshal Kingston-McCloughry, who is an acknowleged expert on these matters and who has written several books on defence problems after leaving the Service. On page 44 he says:It is in this sphere that the work of a Cold War Committee"—this is, a specialised Committee which we have been discussing—could be so fruitful.The Secretary of State has the opportunity now to go ahead a little further with the organising of the Services.In a similar way military chiefs or Services concern themselves too largely with their respective Services to the detriment of an overall genuine military policy or strategy.
1304 When I speak of a Defence Committee, I hope that neither the right hon. Gentleman nor the House—nor my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, who has a Motion on the Order Paper—will think that I have a bee in my bonnet on the subject. The House of Commons has to keep thoroughly up to date if it is to do its work, and in the course of our investigations we may come across deficiencies or inefficiencies. We may use those as a stick with which to beat the Government, but my attitude has always been that in defence it is not so much that big stick we want as an alteration in Government policy, in some respects, so as to deal with what is uppermost—the defence of our country against any possible aggressor.
I have vivid recollections of two world wars. The Expeditionary Force that went overseas in the First World War—and I was a member of it—had its defects, but it was a fine, well-balanced and well-equipped force. It was able to do its job on the left of the line in holding up the German armies—helped, it is true, by a very large French force. We were nowhere near so well prepared in the Second World War.
The First World War came after the investigations of the Esher Committee after the Boer War. That Committee made various suggestions, one of which was that there should be a Financial Secretary at the War Office. I was appointed to that position in 1945, and I had a very good Deputy Under-Secretary. We had to deal with certain very difficult matters—notably, the way the troops were juggling with Reichsmarks in Germany. That caused a good deal of perturbation in this House, and gave me a good deal of trouble. That alteration in the War Office resulted from a recommendation made by the Esher Committee, and I believe that it was partly as the result of another of that Committee's recommendations that we had that first-class Expeditionary Force in 1914. I only wish that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) were able to take part in our debates today; he would know, because he is on record has having called attention to many of those defects.
I believe that the time is ripe for another such committee of prominent people, not necessarily all military 1305 people but all having sufficient knowledge of their subject to go into the question of, as it were, the administration of the Services. Some of their suggestions might result in a cut in defence costs—I do not know. But I do know that, if the tendency we have seen in the last few years for defence costs to increase continues, a time will come when Government may be in jeopardy in introducing their defence Estimates, despite the co-operation that has been maintained between the two sides of the House since the last war.
I do not want the Secretary of State to think that I am pinpricking the Sub-Committee or criticising him personally. He has in him the ability to make this amalgamated defence force something worth while. God forbid that we should ever have to try it out, but do not let us ever have to think that if a big war broke out we might find ourselves wanting. In 1939, we had time until America and Russia were brought in and turned the tables; we shall not have that time on the next occasion. Indeed, we may not have that war—the nuclear war—that so many experts think would come about.
We may have a different kind of war. No country in the world, and I include Russia, would willingly press the button to start such a war. It is up to us as a House of Commons to see that the conventional forces can do their jobs, that those in them get the best possible conditions we can provide, and that, even if we cannot sleep soundly in our beds, we can at least feel that we have defence forces which, probably in alliance with our friends, can defend us against all likely aggression, wherever it may come from.
§ 4.27 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Peter Thorneycroft)
It may be convenient if I intervene in the debate at this stage. First, I want to say how much I value the Report of the Estimates Committee. It helps me considerably in my problems. It is centred on the very subjects that are uppermost in our minds today in the Ministry of Defence, and nothing could be more helpful to us than to have the views of hon. Members from both sides who have been looking at some of these matters for themselves. Any facilities that I 1306 can give to the Estimates Committee, or to its Sub-Committees, I shall certainly give, and I shall elaborate on that aspect presently.
I welcome also the speeches of the hon. and gallant Member for Buckingham (Sir F. Markham) and the right hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger), who, I think, expressed general sentiments about our forces that are shared by everyone in the House. Reports of this kind are bound, to some extent, to say what is wrong—why have a Report at all unless one can put one's finger on one or two things that were wrong? But I particularly valued the fact that in paragraph 129 the Committee emphasised that there was a lot that was right as well. It does not even require the Report to show that quite a lot is right; the members of the three Services have in recent months demonstrated that quite a lot is right with our forces.
I should like, first, to deal with accommodation, because that takes up quite a big part of the Report, and then I want to say something about the wider issues of military administration, with which a good deal of the Report is also concerned. These men are volunteers—let us never forget that. They come along, with all their family problems and the rest, and say that they are prepared to serve in the Army, the Navy or the Air Force, and it would be the general wish of the House, as it has seemed to me to be the sentiment of the speeches we have so far heard, that we should see to it that these men have decent conditions and amenities, and are properly looked after.
Security of tenure is an important consideration, but I ask the House to be a little careful how we deal with it. Let hon. Members name a base to me which somebody is not threatening at this moment. I do not mean that I regard it as insecure, but there is someone threatening almost every base in which there are British forces at present, and if the fact that someone is threatening a base is to be taken as a reason for clamping down on all construction in it our forces overseas will have a miserable time. We should, therefore, use the security of tenure point a little carefully, though I recognise that this is an important factor in our considerations.
1307 Soldiers, sailors and airmen, of course, get married, like other men, and raise families, and when they do that the way in which their wives and children are treated is something very relevant to our problems in the military sphere. I know that the House would wish me to say that the news of the death last night, after an illness of some weeks, of Sir James Grigg is something which we record with regret, and that we pay our tribute to a great public servant. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Among the many things that he did was to pay a great deal of attention and to devote a great part of his life to the particular problems which we are discussing now. Among other things, he produced the Grigg Report of the Advisory Committee on Recruiting, paragraph 143 of which says:Perhaps the most important single factor influencing men who stay in the Services is the quality of the living accommodation, and in the case of the married man its availability.That remains just as true today as it was then.
We have about 172,000 men in the Army, and approaching half of them are overseas. Frankly, there is a limit to the length of time that it is reasonable to ask a man to stay overseas unaccompanied by his family. In the Army and the Royal Air Force that limit is generally taken to be about 12 months. In the Navy it generally tends to be a little longer, about 18 months. I fully endorse the view expressed in the Fifth Special Report that this question of married accommodation is one of the most difficult problems of administration at an overseas base.
When we have the wives we must have the married quarters. We have the children and we have the extra hospital accommodation and the schools. Some of the accommodation is temporary, but a lot of it is on a permanent basis. A great deal of permanent or quasi-permanent building has to go on and, therefore, one looks at what one's policy must be. I accept that policy in administration and in finance are pretty closely mixed together.
To take Aden as an example, there, in effect, we have limited the number of families to 3,780, which is a little 1308 over half the married entitlement. The effect of that is that the bulk of the fighting troops in Aden are today unaccompanied. 45 Royal Marine Commando, about whom we have all been reading with some pride at the way in which they are conducting themselves in these difficult operations, are unaccompanied. They are living there in single accommodation. This means that if we put troops overseas unaccompanied we must honour the obligation within about 12 months of bringing them home and letting them join their families. They must know the plan, and it must be an honoured plan so that at the end of the tour they really do go home.
The results of this policy in Aden have effected considerable savings. We do not have to build so much hospital accommodation and there is a limit to the expansion of schools and the rest, but the corollary must be that, first, we press on with the provision of married quarters at home. We cannot throw their wives out when we send them abroad. Secondly, and equally important, we must have reasonable amenities for the single men when they are abroad. By reasonable amenities, I agree, we should mean air conditioning, reasonable provision in the way of clubs and swimming pools, and so on. We must make life tolerable for a man in these circumstances, particularly if we are sending him abroad without his wife and family. This is the pattern adopted in Aden. It will vary between one theatre and another because the conditions vary, but in general the principle must be the same.
We must recognise that the provision of family accommodation is costly. The balance between how many families and how many unaccompanied is a matter of policy and will vary in each case. Once the decision has been taken, the provision of the houses is the responsibility of the Ministry of Public Building and Works. I believe that that is the right decision because that Department has enormous experience of building generally and has great resources and overhead organisation.
I am sorry that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Buckingham was disappointed in the evidence that he had from the Ministry. It was taking over 1309 this vast new task almost at the time when the Estimates Committee was completing its Report, and it is sometimes difficult to give a complete account of what is going on just at the moment when one is taking over a new job. However, we are fully conscious of the problems set out in the Committee's first recommendation and, as I have said, in principle, we accept them.
The decision whether to hire or to build permanently is not easy. One cannot do it just on the basis of cost. It is a question of how far away one can have the men and how far one meets full operational requirements if the men are 5 miles or 10 miles away. There is also the question of safety, as in Cyprus. If one can hire, is it right to hire outside the sovereign base? There may be questions of conditions as in Tobruk. What are the problems if one goes as far from El Adem as Tobruk? It is a complex of a great number of different factors.
§ Mr. Shinwell
It is not entirely a matter of cost accounts, but a matter of cost. I am surprised that the Estimates Committee did not make inquiries about the total cost that would be entailed in providing all the married accommodation required. The right hon. Gentleman might apply his mind to that. Has he any information about the estimated cost of providing married quarters?
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
A great part of the Estimates Committee's Report is concentrated on this point. The deduction it makes is that which I made, that one of the greatest costs in overseas bases is just this factor that one has to take it base by base. Conditions vary in different bases, but I have mentioned how we are tackling it in Aden and the conclusions that we have reached in that case.
I turn to wider aspects of military administration, because a great deal of the Report is concerned with it. The Committee refers to the problem of stores and of costing arrangements between the various Departments, the employment of civilians, and so on. The recommendations in the Report are really more illustrative than comprehensive of the problems which the Committee met. I think that the Committee sets it out rather well 1310 in paragraph 128. This is the nub of the matter, and I should like to read the passage:The criticism which constantly recurs in the Report is that of shortcomings in co-operation between the three Services. In Your Committee's opinion the results of the inquiry so far support the Government's decision to integrate the headquarters organisations of the Service Departments. They hope that this decision will act as a spur to further integration at military bases overseas.This is the point to which the right hon. Member for Bassetlaw was directing attention.
As I say, paragraphs 62 to 80, which are really the main paragraphs on this theme, do not lead to specific recommendations, but they represent a very powerful argument, to my mind, in favour of the decision which the House took to have a single integrated unified Ministry of Defence because with it we are provided with the opportunity at least to improve matters in various directions.
In the discussions which led to this unified Ministry of Defence, there was, as the House well knows, a school of thought, which persisted for quite a long time, that all administration ought to be left in three single Service Departments and that the centre, as it were, should concern itself only with policy. I never shared this view. I have always regarded policy and administration as being closely interlocked. It is right that we should decentralise, of course, and a greet deal of administration must always be decentralised to various parts of the Ministry of Defence dealing with single-Service issues, but the final responsibility must be fairly and squarely on the Secretary of State of the day. It must be within his province to identify problems, to ask for certain areas to be studied, to take certain pieces of machinery and see that they are integrated centrally. This must be the responsibility of the man at the top of the Ministry for the time being.
The House will realise that this is a big problem. There are 25,000 men on the staff of the Ministry of Defence. They are organised on a single-Service basis at present. I am talking now four weeks after integration has taken place. There are some hallowed Service traditions and customs there. The Services are engaged in actual hostilities in quite a number of parts of the world. This is 1311 the background against which we are carrying out reorganisation, and I can tell the House that the great asset which I have here is that there is widespread awareness in the Services of the need to press forward with this reorganisation and undertake some of the integration.
I wish now to give my reflections on the problems raised by the Committee. The first reflection is that this is all a very large-scale matter. What we are dealing with is comparable in size to the largest business in this country. When one has something as big as that, it is necessary to have proper machinery to identify the problems, to say what are the stages at which one will tackle those problems and what the priorities should be. No one can say that he wants to start integrating just anywhere he likes. One has to identify the places where it is worth while trying to bring things closer together and from which real improvements are likely to flow.
This is achieved in the Ministry on the civil side, as the House will remember from our debates, by the Second Permanent Under-Secretary, who is in charge of the Defence Secretariat, and on the military side by the Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff (Personnel and Logistics). These two men, one on the civil side and one on the military side, work jointly and permanently very closely together, and their job is to study the very questions which are dealt with centrally in this Report.
The way our mind is working is this. First, it is clear that there is great scope for rationalisation in the supply systems of the three services. We are taking steps to seize the opportunities. We are studying the supply arrangements themselves. There is a variety of stores of common use, if I may so put it, for instance, motor transport, clothing, and petrol, oil and lubricants. We are considering the advisability of arrangements for the central purchasing, storage and distribution of items of this character. When I say "central", I do not necessarily mean that one must set up a new piece of machinery, which would only add to the numbers. Very often, it may be very much better to take the major user and make that user responsible for the lot. It may be the Army in one case; it may be the Air Force in another. 1312 One can take one user and make that user responsible over the whole field for the same store which is really of common use.
Second, we are trying to overcome the impediments to standardisation of this kind. Inevitably, there are many impediments if one has had three systems growing up side by side, each doing things a little differently. The method of indenting for stores is different. The name of the same store may be different. In each of the three Services, probably, a hammer is called something different. The cataloguing is different. The whole systems are different.
I assure the House that it is quite a big administrative task to find a way of bringing these things together. We are trying to introduce, or accelerate the introduction of, common systems of stores cataloguing, based, if we can upon the N.A.T.O. cataloguing system since, clearly, there is advantage in doing it on an international basis, particularly if one intends to set up a new method. We are resolute in the drive that we are making for standardisation, and also in the use of computers in stores management, because very great advances can be made with these as a tool of management.
We are also considering the possibilities of greater pooling on the repair side. We are doing some pilot studies on this. Of course, it is no good imagining that one can do it right across the field. Motor transport is the first priority which occurs to the mind, and we are considering whether we could centralise or rationalise the repair arrangements in motor transport for all the defence Services. In this, I am hoping that we shall be able to associate expert advice from outside industry with our own advisers in improving the efficiency with which this work is done. We may in the future proceed also to aircraft, small craft and the rest; but this is another part of the job.
A field mentioned by the Committee to which we attach very high priority is the administration of Service land. There is an enormous amount of property owned now by the Ministry of Defence. It is really a vast estate. I am now able to announce that there is to be a 1313 single centralised administration for land. This will come under the Army Department and under the authority and administration of the Minister of Defence for the Army. It will cover all land owned by the Ministry of Defence. In my judgment, this arrangement will be of considerable advantage. Incidentally, it is an example of what I meant by across-the-board responsibility.
The House will remember that, in our earlier debates, I said not only that the Ministers of Defence would have particular and great responsibilities for the administration of individual Services, but, also, that we should increasingly find some of them taking across-the-board responsibility. This is an example of one sort of across-the-board responsibility.
The Estimates Committee also mentioned signals. On a lot of these matters it did not come down to specific recommendations, but I do not think that that matters. What matters is that it deals with the problem here, and it is the underlying problem that matters. Otherwise, I agree with the right hon. Member for Bassetlaw that one gets down to Committee points. The Estimates Committee mentioned the need to deal with signals. If one goes to an overseas base one finds in one corner, an R.A.F. signals station, in another the Navy's and in another the Army's. One cannot imagine that one will solve all these problems quickly, or that necessarily one ought to come down to one, because very often it may be as well to have more than one signal station in a particular base.
But we have centralised signals in the Ministry of Defence. We have centralised them in such a way that there is only one signals organisation in the Ministry of Defence through which outward and inward signals pass. They have been centralised not only for the purpose of being the centre of a worldwide network of communications, but for policy decisions as well. In those circumstances, I think that we really are on the way to the building up of that centralised worldwide network, on a single basis or an all Services basis, of communications which the Committee quite rightly had in mind.
I could go on over a wide range of these things. I will mention one more—education and training. There are enormous opportunities here, because 1314 with the advance of technology and the introduction of a Regular Army and with the background of Reports like the Robbins and Newsom Reports, and with the revolution that is taking place in technical training in this country, it is quite obvious that the Services must have a new look at all their training arrangements. In this they are being helped by the Estimates Committee. Evidence is being given before the Estimates Committee this afternoon on this subject, so in this, as in the matters that we have been discussing earlier, there can be the closest link between the Ministry of Defence and the work of the Estimates Committee in these fields.
These are all quite considerable exercises. They are being pressed forward with energy and enthusiasm. I do not pretend that we can solve all these problems quickly. They are enormous and they involve an immense amount of work and study; but we are well aware of them. I think that we have got out some of the top priorities, at any rate, and are tackling some of the ones which I think the whole House would wish us to tackle as a first priority.
Reorganisation started, of course, overseas. It was rather late at the centre. The commands overseas were centralised a little before the Ministry of Defence and the Service Ministries and there was a time when reorganisation in those commands was actually being held up, in my view, because we had not been reorganised at the centre. Now that we are reorganising at the centre it is possible to make some further advances in the overseas bases.
I attach the very greatest importance to the responsibility of a commander-in-chief overseas. I regard his responsibilities, like mine, as covering administration as well as policy and consider it to be his duty to intervene where he thinks proper—anywhere in the administration within his base—and to realise that he is dealing now in London with an integrated Ministry in which we are altogether trying to solve these problems upon a defence basis.
I do not want to detain the House too long, but there are a few more matters that I want to mention. There is the question of finance. My hon. and gallant Friend for Buckingham was 1315 absolutely right. The questions of programmes, budgetting and finance are absolutely central to all these problems. I am not talking about accounting development. Accounting is done by four separate accounting officers of the three Services and the Ministry of Defence in the centre. I think that that is quite right. I am talking about the forward planning and estimating.
Up to now it has all been done on the basis of the subheads of single Service votes dealing with pay, research and development, production and the rest. It has been an enormous exercise. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Buckingham was quite right when he said that he asked how much this would cost and he found the greatest difficulty in getting an answer. This is really basically due to what I regard as an outdated system of forward estimating. What is wanted is to be able to estimate not simply what a base costs, but what a rôle costs, what a weapons system costs, and in the future to be able to take a forward look at what these things really will cost. This is what we are trying to do now in the Ministry of Defence.
We have reorganised the Ministry, as the House knows, with a Deputy Secretary in charge of programmes and budgets. We are appointing staff for the purpose of trying to estimate what these total rôles and tasks really involve. We may have to use some extra staff to do it, but I ask the House not to be too pedantic as to whether we have a few more or less. It is worth anything to get this right, because it is an essential tool of management and unless we can forecast what the various strategic rôles cost, and what weapons systems will mean in the future, it is not possible to make decisions with the full knowledge which I think the Government require and to which the House of Commons is properly entitled.
These are the arrangements that we have made. The House will see that we are decentralising and that it is not just a matter of a few men at the top. Thousands of decisions are being taken every day in every part of the Ministry of Defence. It would be quite impossible, and the system would break down, if we tried to take all the adminis- 1316 trative decisions at the centre. The vast bulk of them, in terms of number, is taken in various parts of the Ministry, often on a single Service basis.
But we have adopted the right machinery to identify individual opportunities of centralisation and rationalisation. We are pressing on with this. We have the machinery there. The pilot schemes are being instituted and in some cases, like lands organisation, we are already establishing the central organisation that is required. Indeed, as we go forward the House can help—this is a matter for the House—in the way it addresses its mind to these problems.
I hope that in next year's White Paper it will be possible to do it on a different basis altogether from what we have had before and to try to do it on a basis of tasks and rôles, and the rest, so that we can really have a look at it, with perhaps a chapter on procurement, a chapter on the rôle in South-East Asia and another on the rôle in Europe. It would be even more valuable if the House of Commons would like to debate it on that basis rather than just to have the same old debates on the Service Estimates.
I welcome this Report, because I think that it is a most valuable one for any Government to have. I hope that we shall have more like it. The more we have the easier it will be to have a debate and address our minds to some of the great problems of defence and military administration. I am grateful to the House for giving us this opportunity.
§ Sir Colin Thornton-Kemsley (North Angus and Mearns)
In connection with the immensely important announcement which my right hon. Friend has made about the unification of the lands branches of the three Services, which the whole House will welcome, can he tell us when he thinks that may come about, and whether he has considered the possibility of issuing a White Paper dealing with the administrative arrangements which will necessarily follow?
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
I will consider the latter point. It might be quite useful to have a short White Paper. I should be happy to do that. As to the timing, the decision is now made and the necessary dispositions will start forthwith. I do 1317 not say that we can reorganise the whole thing in a few weeks, but we should be able to do it over the coming months. It will not take a very great deal of time.
§ 5 0 p.m.
§ Mr. Denis Healey (Leeds, East)
It is the Gospel which says that there is more joy in Heaven over one sinner who repenteth than over 99 who have not gone astray. That is true of the Government, even if it is a deathbed repentance. The proposals which the Secretary of State has been laying before the House have been put by us to the Government in defence debate after defence debate for the last few years. We are at least extremely grateful that the right hon. Gentleman is thinking of reorganising the whole basis of Service budgeting along the lines that we have so often suggested.
I am not sure that it was a convenient time for the Secretary of State to intervene. It might have been more useful if he could have commented on many of the points likely to be made in the debate. I think that he also failed in his responsibility to the House in that he did not answer sufficiently the many specific and very important complaints about Service practice which are revealed in the Select Committee's Report, many of which were taken up by the hon. and gallant Member for Buckingham (Sir F. Markham).
The Secretary of State said one thing which would serve as a basis for the whole of our discussion, namely, that economics are now at the heart of Britain's defence policy. We face soaring costs in every field of defence—pay and allowances, married quarters for the men and women in the Forces, and in both conventional and atomic weapons. This year the defence budget went up three times more than the gross national product. If we are to take seriously the prediction of defence expenditure over the next four years published by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in January, the increase for three of the four years has already gone without there being any major expenditure on the five or six major weapons projects to which the Government are, in principle, committed.
I think that hon. Members on both sides must agree that defence is bound 1318 to remain a very expensive business for Great Britain. For that reason, it is more vital than ever that we should get value for money, that we should not spend money on anything which is not absolutely essential and that we should ensure that any money which is spent is spent without waste. The long list of cancelled aircraft and missile projects which we have often discussed is clear enough evidence that the first of these conditions is not being fulfilled. The debate which we had last week on the Ferranti affair was one illustration of the failure to get value for money even in a project which was desirable if not essential.
It seems to me that the Select Committee has unearthed a number of additional examples of waste and defective financial control, and it deserves the House's thanks for its work in so doing. I think that hon. Members on both sides welcome the new procedure which allows the House to discuss Select Committee reports as of right in Government time. I only wish, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) said, that there was some provision by which the House could follow up the issues raised in the reports and check whether action promised by Ministries has, in fact, been taken. I will return to that point later.
It is not sufficient to accept a promise by a Ministry to put something right when we have so many examples from reports of the Public Accounts Committee and the Select Committee on Estimates, one of which is referred to in this Select Committee's Report, of action promised by Departments which is never taken.
§ Sir Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)
I do not think the hon. Member is aware that the Estimates Committee often has a follow-up like that. A year or so afterwards, it gets in touch with the Departments concerned and says, "What has been done about this?". The machinery is there.
§ Mr. Healey
I agree that the machinery is there, but I do not feel that the House is able to make full use of it. There is one example in the Report which we are discussing of a promise which was made by the Department in 1958 to consider amalgamating the lands branches in Cyprus, but no 1319 action had been taken on it when the Select Committee looked at the situation again four years later. Frankly, an accidental inquiry into the problem by the Committee four years later is not sufficient. It would be better if we had a more regularly accepted machinery by which these problems were kept under more continuous review. I am sure that the hon. Member would agree with me.
§ Mr. Healey
I agree, but we cannot always get a Question answered, as the hon. Gentleman and many of us know all too well.
When this Report was published, public attention was concentrated on the more striking cases of individual waste, to none of which, I am sorry to say, the Secretary of State referred this afternoon. Notably, we had the case of Fort Tarshyne, the 5-bedroom residence of the rear-admiral in Aden, which cost £46,150, excluding the site value, £6,600 of which went on furniture alone, although it is possible for the same Service organisation to put up two to three bedroom flats for serving officers in Aden at a price of £6,100. No one who has read the Select Committee's Report will feel satisfied with the explanations given for this extravagance by the Admiralty and the other personnel concerned. It is difficult to think of a more striking example of an 18th century aristocratic folly. It seems to me extraordinarily extravagant to have produced this no doubt attractive and exciting building in Aden, where there are so many more urgent calls on Government expenditure.
There is the case to which the Secretary of State again failed to refer of the building of 59 married quarters at St. Patrick's, Malta, at a cost of £350,000 double the amount paid for similar and, according to the Committee, more attractive quarters built on the neighbouring island of Cyprus. Incidentally, most of this money was spent when it had already been decided to run down the Forces in Malta.
Another case of waste concerns the Gilgil School in Kenya and the building of the Templer Barracks in Kenya at a 1320 cost of £3½ million, which, I understand, have now been handed over to the Kenya Government. I cannot help wondering, as other hon. Members in similar previous debates have wondered, whether it would be possible for the Department of Defence to employ more qualified accountants to work in the branches of the Services concerned with financial control. I understand that during a recent court-martial it was revealed that there was only one qualified accountant in the East Africa Command, and he just happened to be there because he was a non-commissioned officer on National Service.
What I think is more disturbing is the evidence in the Select Committee's Report that central control of defence expenditure is seriously deficient in many respects. The Secretary of State may be right—we all hope that he is—in believing that some of the new arrangements which he has announced this afternoon will give more effective central control. Perhaps I can be allowed to quote a rather discouraging paragraph in the Select Committee's Report. In paragraph 72, the Select Committee, in talking of the amalgamation of works services under the Ministry of Public Building and Works, makes this point:Nonetheless, they"—that is the Committee—are concerned lest the transfer of responsibility should result merely in an increase in the number of higher posts held, with little corresponding increase in economy or efficiency.The Secretary of State would be the first to admit that changes of organisation at the top, particularly when they involve the appointment of additional personnel to cover a job, cannot be relied upon to produce the sort of economies to which he has referred.
There are various respects in which I feel that the existing arrangements are revealed to be seriously deficient by the Sub-Committee's Report. In the first place, as is pointed out again and again, the Ministry has not been reacting fast enough to political decisions about the future of bases. I am not now raising the question of whether the Government as a whole should have recognised earlier than 1962 the inevitability of giving independence to Kenya. What is disturbing is that when a decision had 1321 already been taken by the Cabinet on a transfer of power in Kenya or on running down the base in Malta expenditure on Service installations continued for some time at very serious loss to the taxpayer.
For example, paragraph 81 of the Report—this is an unconfirmed report, neither confirmed nor denied by the War Office—says that £93,000 was spent in Kenya in architects' fees for works never carried out. In paragraph 82 it is stated that one Army workshop building was dismantled, re-erected and dismantled again within a period of three years. Paragraph 83 of the Report reveals that in the case of a guided missile depot built in Malta, £18,000 was spent on producing test facilities for naval missiles although a decision had already been taken not to test naval missiles in Malta.
Again, according to the Committee, £194,000 was spent on a naval air station in Malta, and of that £27,500 was spent on a control tower and air school which it had already been decided were not going to be used in the programme for the rundown of the Forces in Malta. It seems to me that there is clearly a case here for very much more rigorous application right through the Services of Cabinet decisions of this nature.
The second serious failure revealed in the Committee's Report, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, and, indeed, which I think he admitted through the whole length of his speech, is the failure of co-operation between the Services, a failure which it seems to me was not inherent in the separate organisation of the Services at that time. Essentially the failure must be laid at the door of the Minister in London, because, according to the Committee, we had very good inter-Service co-operation in Cyprus but very bad inter-Service co-operation in Malta. There was nothing inherent in the organisation of the Forces at that time which would have prevented the Services in Malta co-operating as well as in Cyprus, and if there was a failure of Service cooperation the fault lies with the Minister in Britain.
What is most disturbing, because it throws a light on what we can expect from the new organisation, is the failure of inter-Service co-operation even in 1322 areas where combined headquarters had already been set up. If we are to expect a great improvement in inter-Service co-operation through the new Central Organisation of Defence in London, one would have expected that the establishment of combined headquarters in Aden and Singapore would have led to the sort of economies to which the right hon. Gentleman referred. In fact, however, the Sub-Committee continually refers to very serious defects in inter-Service co-operation in areas like Aden and Bahrain where combined headquarters had already been working for two years along precisely the sort of lines along which the new central organisation is intended to work in London.
This seems to me to be a discouraging precedent and bears out the point which I made earlier, that in themselves changes at the top cannot be relied upon to produce the sort of economies which I am sure we are all hoping for. I would like to probe a little more deeply into one issue raised in the Report, and to which the Secretary of State referred in his speech, and that is the whole question of Lands and Works Services. Many of us suspect—and we do not blame the Government for this—that works services were originally taken away from the separate Services and given to the Ministry of Public Building and Works in order to teach the Services a lesson. Because they could not agree with one another on integrating the work services on a Service basis the whole thing was taken away from them and put under a civil Ministry, the Ministry of Public Building and Works.
We have the evidence of the Report, to which the hon. and gallant Member for Buckingham referred, and which I thought the Secretary of State confirmed in what he said, that this transfer of works services to civilian responsibility led to a substantial period of dislocation. No one would question that it took the Ministry quite a time to cope with this entirely novel type of problem with which it was asked to deal.
We would all welcome very heartily the decision of the Minister to amalgamate the lands departments of the various Services. If one is to take at all seriously what the right hon. Gentleman's Department said on the proposal 1323 in 1958, I must say that it would have been helpful and encouraging to the House if the Minister had been able to show how his Department then was wrong, because I quote now from the Observation of the Ministers in the Fourth Report of the Select Committee on Estimates for 1958–59 when it was asked to give its views on an amalgamation of these services. Paragraph 4 on page 5 of the Report states:It is difficult to see how integration could lead to worthwhile staff economies."—I hope that the Minister will listen to this, because I hope that he took it into account when he took his decision. As I was saying, the paragraph states:It is difficult to see how integration could lead to worthwhile staff economies. Of itself, it could not reduce the amount of work to be done. It is more likely to increase the amount of correspondence and consultation, because matters which can now be settled within each Service Department would have to be referred outside to the central organisation. The central organisation would have to manage a total estate on behalf of the three Services of vast proportions and complexity; it would be more unweildy than the present system, and would be the wrong kind of organisation for a type of work where a close day-to-day association with departmental staffs is necessary for efficient administration. It would involve either the creation of strong liaison staffs in the individual Service Departments, or arrangement for secondment on an extensive scale. In neither case would economies result.I know that the Secretary of State will not mind my pulling his leg over that, but I think it should be a lesson to all not to accept too readily arguments from Civil Service Departments which are asked to consider these matters. I am glad to see that the right hon. Gentleman, even, as I said earlier, on his political deathbed, is finding courage to stand up to conservatism at least in the Departments.
The one suggestion that I would make is that now that we are to have a central lands department for the three Services, is there not a good deal to be said for transferring the works services back to the Ministry of Defence? It seems to me that the works services now done by the civilian Ministry are easily separable from the rest of their operations and that the major case for putting this under a civilian Ministry was the ingrained separatism of the Services some years ago. Now that the Minister, 1324 through the new access of liberal courage which he has found in himself, has amalgamated the Services and created a central organisation, there is surely a strong case for putting the works services back into the Ministry of Defence where they can co-operate far more closely, intimately, and continuously with the military Services which they exist to serve than they can in a civilian Department responsible, after all, to a Minister who is not otherwise concerned with defence at all. I would like to put that suggestion to the right hon. Gentleman, although I would not expect any final reply on it today.
What I think is most serious in the Report is the reference to the continual inability of the Ministry to produce the facts and figures which would enable economic decisions to be taken. This is something which the hon. and gallant Member for Buckingham spoke about and which recurs again and again in the Report. I take two examples of this failure, one important and the second all-important. First, there is the question of married quarters.
As the Secretary of State said, the right treatment of the married serviceman is the key to the morale of the Army, Navy and Air Force. It is also the key to the size of the Army, because the biggest single deterrent against volunteering for the Army is the fear of the potential recruit that his wife and family will not be properly looked after or, if he is a bachelor, that his future wife and family will suffer penalties which a civilian family does not undergo.
No one will deny that to take the right decision on this is a very difficult matter. Moreover, as the right hon. Gentleman made clear, what is the right decision in Aden may not be the right decision in Hong Kong; what is right for the Royal Air Force may not be right for the Army. Indeed, one can say, because individuals differ on this, that what is right for some men in the same Service is not right for others.
But what we have not had so far—and after all this was a major recommendation of the Sub-Committee—is a careful inter-Service analysis of the relative costs of married quarters, hirings and private accommodation. We all agree that this is not an easy problem 1325 and, moreover, that the situation will be different as between one base and another. But, if we are to take a rational economic decision, it should be possible to get a good deal further than the Ministry had when the Sub-Committee was investigating its operations.
A far more important aspect, on which the Secretary of State only touched in his interesting speech, is that of the virtues of short, unaccompanied tours of duty overseas compared with those of longer accompanied tours. I accept that one cannot take the rigorous economic view that no base whose future is uncertain should have money spent on it. That would mean that we would have no Army for service overseas at all. But clearly we do not want to repeat the mistake we made in Kenya, where we spent £5½ million on a base which was given up before it was ready to be used.
Again, it should not be beyond the wit of man in 1964 to analyse more carefully than has so far been done the cost and impact on recruiting—because this is the key to the problem—of short, unaccompanied tours as against longer accompanied tours. Many of us who have travelled to the Far East and have spent a night or two at Gan have found that certainly in that R.A.F. base the short, unaccompanied 12 month tour works very well. Morale is extremely high, although, as the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, it collapses if a man is kept a week beyond the 12 months. It is essential obviously to be able to fulfil our obligations to a man who is serving a specified period without his family.
But it seems to me—even more after reading the Report again, since I raised this question in the defence debate—that the provision of married quarters is the key to the size and efficiency of the Regular Army, and I still deeply regret that the request by the War Department for a considerable increase in the allotment for married quarters over the increase given in the White Paper was rejected.
Now I turn to the second and all-important issue, to which the Secretary of State referred very encouragingly at the end of his speech. It really was a shocking thing that, when the Sub-Committee made its researches, it was 1326 impossible for anyone in the Ministry of Defence to tell it the cost of an overseas base without a special accounting exercise. Even more deplorable was the excuse given for this failure. I think I should read that excuse, because it throws some light on the extraordinary muddle into which our defence policy has fallen in recent years. Paragraph 25 said that the reason given to the Sub-Committee for this failure to be able to give the cost of a base was…that the overall cost of a base is not of any particular interest; it is known broadly whether a particular station is a very costly commitment or a comparatively inexpensive one, but a base, it was claimed, is maintained for the operation of forces, and their redeployment is undertaken for strategic reasons and not on financial grounds".Really! This argument shows that the Ministry then was living in the 18th century and had no understanding either of the political rôle of our Forces in the second half of the 20th century or of the relevance of the cost of our Forces to the national economy as a whole. I want to give a few general reflections on this problem, because it is the core of the situation touched on in the Report.
None of our overseas bases today is necessary to Britain for her national survival. The national survival of this country depends on quite another factor—the so-called balance of terror between the Soviet bloc and the West in which the British bases in Aden and Singapore play little or no part. The justification for our overseas bases is the protection of interests and a fulfilment of obligations to allies or to the United Nations or—and I say this quite seriously—to humanity, for we have an interest, quite apart from our juridical obligations, in the peace and stability of the world.
That is the justification of our overseas bases. Therefore we must try, however difficult it is, to form some estimate of the cost of maintaining a military capacity in one particular theatre overseas so that we can relate that to the losses we might suffer if we relied solely on diplomacy to protect our interests or to fulfil our obligations.
No one who has thought seriously about this problem will deny that it is appallingly difficult and complicated, but it is our duty to the taxpayer, to the country and to the survival of our 1327 people to try to think rationally about the problem and, in so far as it is possible to quantify its elements. This is what the Ministry, at the time when the Sub-Committee examined it, refused in principle to try to do, because it thought that it was not relevant.
That attitude throws a blinding and frightening light on the background of thought in which the present muddle and confusion in our defence policy has developed. If we are to look at this seriously, one problem concerns which of the various types of military capacity overseas is cheapest and likely to be politically most effective. Will it be fixed bases on land in foreign countries, or Colonies? Will it be seaborne forces floating somewhere in the ocean near the theatres where they may be used? Will it be airborne forces, perhaps ferried from the United Kingdom or Australia?
It is high time that this sort of study was undertaken because, if we are to plan our defence policy ten years ahead—and no one knows better than the right hon. Gentleman that this is essential because of the eight-year development period for new weapons systems—it is absolutely necessary now to try to think out these problems in this rational way.
Personally, I believe that the Prime Minister may be right, in saying, as he has said so often recently, that we are moving into a period when our national survival is guaranteed by the balance of nuclear power between the Western Alliance and the Soviet bloc and that global nuclear war between the two alliances is very unlikely. If this is so, the main rôle of our Forces, as far as our survival is concerned, is to make a relevant contribution to the alliance—that is to say, to make the sort of military contribution towards the Western alliance which the Western alliance needs. I should be out of order if I went over the arguments about the relevance of the deterrent, but obviously this is the major issue which arises in taking this decision.
The second rôle of our Forces is to protect our interests overseas and to fulfil our international obligations. How we protect our interests overseas and what we spend on them is a matter not 1328 just of political and military judgment but also of economic judgment, and it is this element in the argument which has been grossly deficient in the planning of defence policy over the last ten years or so. What we need is a stringent analysis of the military cost of various types of force deployed in various types of ways and in various parts of the world in relation to the political and economic return from that expenditure.
The Estimates Committee's Report has shown that the Government have not only failed to achieve this examination but could not achieve it even if they wanted to do so, because there does not exist in the Ministry of Defence the type of financial and budgetary organisation and of planning organisation which is capable of making this sort of inquiry. To use the present structure of our defence accounting to get value for money in the atomic age is as impossible as to shoot down missiles with a bow and arrow. It simply cannot be done. The type of economic analysis which I think the Minister would like to see cannot be done with the present structure of Service budgeting and accounting. I very much hope that what the Secretary of State told us this afternoon indicates that at last he recognises the point and that at last the necessary changes are under way. But I must confess to a certain doubt whether he, at any rate in this Administration, can achieve it.
§ 5.33 p.m.
§ Sir Richard Glyn (Dorset, North)
I listened with great interest to the important observations of the right hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) when he commented on the difficulties which had arisen owing to the rules which prevented the Estimates Committee from taking evidence overseas. I stress—because one or two hon. Members have used words which implied the contrary—that the regulations concerned prevent the Estimates Committee only from taking evidence overseas in a formal sense. Owing to the kindness and help of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, we were enabled to travel freely overseas, to see what we wished and to question whom we wished, but not, because of the regulations, to take formal evidence.
We prepared considerable notes about our investigations overseas. We investi- 1329 gated very thoroughly overseas and we received, and are grateful for, a great deal of written information from various people and organisations overseas. But these could be no part of our report, because they were not evidence taken in the technical sense by the Estimates Committee. Moreover, some parts were of a secret nature and in any case could not have been included in a report which was to be published. The hon. Member said that spot checks were not enough, and I agree, but I do not accept that what we did, spread over months overseas, was in the nature of a spot check. We stayed an appreciable time in each place which we visited and we satisfied ourselves that we had seen what we required to see on each of the points in which we were taking an interest.
The Estimates Committee's procedure is based as a rule on a previous Estimates Committee's Report on the same Ministry and it is usually only when a new Ministry comes into being that the Estimates Committee starts de novo, and then, in any case, the Committee has some information to go on from some previous Report of the Estimates Committee or some other information. We were breaking new ground and, in that sense, we were pioneers. I have no doubt that when, as I very greatly hope, some further sub-committee of the Estimates Committee goes abroad, it will be able to work on our foundations, if I may so describe them, and to follow on where we left off. It will be very much easier for our successors once the ground has been broken in this way. Had we been able to publish the documents and information which we received overseas, our Report would have been twice the size and would perhaps then have gone further towards satisfying the right hon. Gentleman, but for reasons which I have given this could not be done.
I could not agree more with my right hon. Friend about the question of married quarters. This has been referred to by every speaker and is, perhaps, one of the most important features of the present situation in all the Services. We have a far higher proportion of married Service men in every Service than used to be the case. The tendency to marry younger is a feature of our time and may possibly be an 1330 indication of the prosperity of the present generation. This is causing great difficulties not only overseas but, as my right hon. Friend said, also in this country. The question of proper accommodation for Service families unquestionably will have a very important effect on recruiting. Something must be done about it. Wherever our Service men are stationed, this question must be investigated.
It is generally agreed that each base overseas has a different problem. In some cases, as for example, in Bahrain, it is a problem of the availability of land where we want it. Hon. Members may be interested in the cost of land in the right areas of Bahrain; £33,000 an acre was quoted for the only plot on sale when we were there, and this is rather high even by British urban standards.
Whichever base one visits there is a different problem, but in my view the problem should be approached in the same way by each of the three Services. I would not say that one particular Service was always fortunate but we found in different bases that one or another of the Services seemed to be rather better off not only in barrack accommodation—a separate and also an important problem—but in both hiring and married quarters. In some cases we found that the entitlement seemed to be regarded differently between the Services. I have seen places—I will not go into detail—where practically the whole of one Service had quarters with fans and high ceilings and another Service had barrack quarters without fans and high ceilings.
After one had been in a base for 48 hours one could tell which Service owned the rooms which one inspected by looking at the amenities. That is not right. But I feel sure that now that we have these matters centralised it will be put right. It was quite noticeable in Cyprus that where barracks were used first by one Service and then by another, one Service would regard as a normal allocation for the accommodation considerably more men than the other Service could possibly squeeze in. This matter should be looked at.
Once this has been overcome we have to look at other major questions, because a growing part of our expenditure on 1331 our bases is on what in N.A.T.O. is fashionably called the infrastructure. Something has been said about tenure in different bases. What I have very much in mind is that some of the buildings that we have seen are transplantable, but the great majority are not. As we are spending large sums of money on providing married quarters, I think that in some places it would be advisable to put up buildings which are capable of being moved. Here it is important to realise that the difference is not between construction in bricks, mortar and stone, and prefabricated construction, but the difference between transplantable and not-transplantable buildings, because even some prefabricated buildings cannot be moved.
In Bahrain we saw bungalows which had been transplanted from Ceylon. They were of an excellent standard, and were better than many of the married quarters in this country. I do not know what they would cost to produce now. They had been provided some years ago, but something of that kind should be seriously considered when we remember the great cost of providing quarters—rising in some cases to £8,000 per quarter for officers. I have no doubt that a transplantable bungalow of that type could be produced, transported, and erected on our bases for less than that sum, and in any case the advantage of being able to move the bungalow would greatly increase its value to the taxpayer, especially when there is any question of tenure.
The hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) raised an important point when he spoke about the possibility of transferring the works services back to the Ministry of Defence. If these had not in the immediate past been moved to the Ministry of Public Building and Works, I think that that suggestion would have had merit, but, having seen a little of what is going on at the present time inside that Ministry, I know that it is having a little trouble in digesting the great deal of business which has been placed on its plate. The idea of moving works services back to the Ministry of Defence almost before they have been fully received by the Ministry of Public Building and Works would put everything back for a long time, and 1332 I think that it would be a counsel of despair.
The hon. Gentleman then referred to short unaccompanied tours. This is an important and valuable point, and one which must be fully considered. The difficulty is that one can invite troops to accept a short unaccompanied tour of one year in four, perhaps, but not more than that. I know that in some areas, for example in El Adem, the waiting period for a proper quarter is nearly 12 months, and it is argued that people might as well be unaccompanied for 12 months and then come home. The difficulty—and this applies both to the Army and to the Royal Air Force when there is a good deal going on—is that the unfortunate unit concerned might well have to be away for two years out of four. I do not think that that would be acceptable. An unaccompanied tour of one year out of four is one thing. To be away for every other year is quite different, and again we have the problem of the families who are left behind in this country and are sometimes in difficulties when their husbands are spirited away on duty.
That brings me back to what my right hon. Friend said about married quarters in this country. In our anxiety to provide them overseas, we must not overlook the problem at this end. This again underlines the advantage of having a transplantable building which, in the event of a base being evacuated, could be brought back here where it would be very useful.
I think that the cost of the infrastructure of overseas bases is of great importance. By my calculation, it has risen 55 per cent. in the last five years, and is rising faster than the other costs. That is why we must look very closely at whether it is right to spend substantial sums of money on building permanent buildings, be they prefabricated or conventional, which are planned to last for 30 to 50 years at bases where we might not need them for so long. Witnesses for the Ministry of Public Building and Works said—and I welcome it—that the further development of married quarters will be one of the first tasks of the Ministry. I only say that when the Ministry puts up a building it should do so with a view to the length of time that we are reasonably certain to want to use it.
1333 There is a point affecting bases which has not been referred to in this debate, and which is not given great prominence, though I think that it deserves it. Our bases are of the greatest possible value economically, and indeed to some extent socially, to the inhabitants of the areas in which they are sited. During our journeys we found that the British tax payer is very often not only the largest employer for a big area around the bases, but also provides a big injection of hard currency into areas which often sadly need it.
At some bases this factor has been used by adroit commanders, by local arrangements with contractors of various kinds, to provide additional accommodation. For example, in Cyprus a substantial number of Greek Cypriots have been persuaded to build blocks of flats expressly for letting as hirings to British Service families. This arrangement is of great advantage to both sides. The Greek Cypriots receive far higher rents than they would from their compatriots. On the other hand, it saves the British taxpayer capital and the flats form a useful link between British Service families and the local inhabitants.
Something of this is also going on in other bases which are not the subject of the Report, and I think that it should be encouraged in these days when all too many people in other parts of the world, including some of our allies, look curiously at our bases and talk about colonialism. A great deal of the money spent on these bases goes into the pockets of the local inhabitants. This fact should be made more widely known than it is at the present. The fact that these bases are a great asset to the areas in which they are sited, is sometimes overlooked by people who, with the best motives, but without full knowledge, see fit to criticise our occupation of them.
The sooner that we get the married quarters problem into perspective by building more of them, the better. The shorter the time that people have to wait in private accommodation, at great expense, and often under unfortunate conditions, the better it will be for everybody concerned.
I greatly hope that such amenities as air conditioning will be assessed on a base principle, and not on a Service 1334 principle. In areas where air conditioning is necessary, it should be provided for everybody, and not just for one Service to the exclusion of the others.
My friends in the Navy are always in a little difficulty here. The majority of their people are ashore only for a few days at a time. After that they go off happily to their ships, which, in turn, are not often air conditioned either. We visited a "hot ship" in the Far East, and we found it very hot. In my opinion, if a station is entitled to air conditioning all the Services in that station should be entitled to it. It should be borne in mind that many naval personnel, of all ranks, live permanently ashore, doing work in the dockyards and things of that kind. The fact that some naval personnel are merely birds of passage should not prevent their fellows from enjoying amenities which are available to the other Services. The whole question should be assessed on the need for air conditioning in the base, and not on the need for it for any one Service in the base.
One point made by the hon. Member for Leeds, East rather struck me. He referred quite rightly to the difficulty in arriving at the cost of a base. The answer that we were given suggested that this was not very important because the redeployment of forces is undertaken mainly for strategic reasons. In his comment on that the hon. Member rightly referred to these bases as being obligations to our allies, or to the United Nations. He went on to stress the necessity for costing them to see whether we should stay in them. I do not think that he meant to imply that in his view we should set a price on keeping our treaty obligations or fulfilling our obligations to our allies, and should say, "Up to this amount we will keep our treaty obligations and support our allies, but if the cost rises to that amount we will let them go hang."
§ Mr. Healey
I am glad to be able to clear up this matter, because if the hon. Member misunderstood me other hon. Members may have done so, too. He must know that the nature of our juridical obligation differs from case to case, and the amount that we spend militarily on backing up our treaty obligations also differs from case to case. We spend infinitely less on our CENTO commitment 1335 than on our N.A.T.O. commitment although, juridically, the difference between the treaties is not great. In other cases, it is up to us to decide how to implement our obligations—for example, in the Gulf. I suggest that the amount that we commit to the fulfilment of these treaty obligations should depend to some extent on the importance to us of the issue at stake. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman would disagree with that.
§ Sir Richard Glyn
I put it to the hon. Gentleman that the issue at stake is a matter of principle—the question is whether we carry out our treaty obligations and support our allies, or tear those treaties up and desert our allies. That is the question. Whether or not money comes into this must be a matter for the hon. Gentleman. I cannot see that it does.
§ 5.53 p.m.
§ Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)
Apart from some derogatory references to Government policy in the military sphere and the suspicions voiced about the ability of the Secretary of State for Defence to undertake his somewhat formidable task of conducting the policy of the Ministry of Defence and its administration, this has been a largely non-partisan discussion. It is all the more welcome for that. Nevertheless, it appears to me that in all the circumstances it has been somewhat outmoded.
This may appear to be a digression, but it has a bearing on what I shall say later. Yesterday, a reference was made to changes in the accommodation of the House, and to the building of a new section which is to be Gothic in character. The procedure of this debate has also been largely Gothic in character. It is the kind of debate that we might have had many years ago. It is quite irrelevant to the present situation.
Let me furnish an example. The hon. and gallant Member for Buckingham (Sir F. Markham), who spoke on behalf of the Estimates Committee, indicated that he and his colleagues had made a journey almost round the world. I make no complaint about that, although at the end of the day we might have asked whether their journey was 1336 really necessary. Many of their discoveries must have been well known to hon. Members on both sides of the House who have been accustomed to take part in defence debates and who have made some study of this important subject.
Let us take as an example what appeared to be the pièce de résistance of the Report, namely, the need for more suitable married quarters overseas. This topic has engaged the attention of successive Secretaries of State for War, Secretaries of State for Air, and Ministers of Defence for many years. It may be recalled—I say "may", because hon. Members have the capacity to forget what has happened in the past if it suits their purpose; especially hon. Members of the Government—that in 1950 the Government of the day, which was a Labour Government—I make that clear in case that is forgotten—introduced a huge housing loans scheme for military purposes and gave an impetus to the construction of married quarters both at home and overseas. This is a most formidable problem, as hon. Members have indicated, and as the Committee itself says in its Report.
The Secretary of State for Defence listened to what was said and commented on it, but he gave no indication of what was going to happen. He glossed over the question whether there were going to be more married quarters, and whether they were going to be improved in quality, because he had nothing constructive to say. Not a single word did he utter on that aspect of the Report and the request made in it for additional housing for married personnel. Not a word did he say which indicated that the Government intended to embark on the implementation of the Committee's proposals in the immediate or even the foreseeable future.
Instead he gave us a philosophical—almost an academic—dissertation on the new arrangements at the reconstructed Ministry of Defence, and how he envisaged his task. Again, everything that he said was very vague and nebulous. He never got down to brass tacks. That is precisely what we should be doing in this debate.
I want to pose a question to the members of the Estimates Committee 1337 who, within the limitations imposed upon them by the Government and the Treasury, did an excellent job. They carried out investigations abroad and made certain discoveries, which are referred to in the Report. My question is, now that the Committee has reported, particularly on the subject of housing for married personnel—I will come to other matters if there is time—what is to be done about it? Is that a fair question? Of course it is. Indeed, it is the only question, and it requires an answer.
When dealing in a perfunctory and cursory vein with this aspect of the Report the right hon. Gentleman remarked that the number of Service personnel abroad was about half of the total number, and he indicated that there were a certain number of married quarters in Aden, in Cyprus and elsewhere. I interjected to suggest that we should not bother about cost accounting—although it is important—and that the cost was what mattered. There is no indication from the Committee of what the cost is likely to be. There could not be. The Committee had not the information. Neither can the Department furnish details to enable us to come to a conclusion about this.
Let us suppose that we had no overseas bases. Suppose we abandoned the bases at Aden, Cyprus, El Adem and Hong Kong—particularly Hong Kong—and brought all the Service personnel home. We should, of course, have to accommodate them. We should have to provide married quarters and that would cost a great deal of money—perhaps not as much as it would cost overseas, but a great deal of money would still be required. So let us not suppose that by providing quarters overseas for a certain proportion of our personnel we are increasing enormously—I use that word advisedly—the cost of the provision of housing for married personnel. A great deal requires to be done in the United Kingdom in respect of married quarters for Service personnel. Who would deny that?
I do not know whether there has ever been a Select Committee on Estimates which has inquired into the problem in the United Kingdom. By the way—this is almost a digression also—there has been a great deal of talk about waste 1338 in the Services. On the subject of waste, perhaps a Select Committee might be appointed—the hon. Member for Farnham (Sir G. Nicholson) is an authority on this subject and occupies a responsible position in this context—to probe and investigate into the number of storehouses in the possession of the Army, the Air Force and the Admiralty, the amount of land at their disposal and the amount of equipment left over from the last war.
§ Sir G. Nicholson
The right hon. Gentleman must be aware that all these questions have been inquired into in recent years by Estimates Committees and that the Reports are available. I must remind the right hon. Gentleman that all that an Estimates Committee can do is provide ammunition for hon. Members to use in debates, and they can ask questions. We have inquired into all the questions and the facts are there.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Robert Grimston)
Order. The right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) himself remarked that he thought that what he was saying might be a digression. I think that it is, and that we must get back to the Report.
§ Mr. Shinwell
But, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, very great respect, there has been a great deal of discussion about the waste involved. Indeed it is contained in the Report of the Committee.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The right hon. Gentleman misunderstands me. We cannot discuss what other committees are to inquire into.
§ Mr. Shinwell
My suggestion was that there might be a committee to undertake that task, but the hon. Member for Farnham has pointed out that these investigations have already taken place. My question is, what has happened about it? It is very little indeed. That is our problem. That is why I say that our procedure this afternoon—I admit that it is the customary procedure—is outmoded. When the Select Committee has a Report it ought to be presented first to the House and then referred to a committee which would examine and probe and question Ministers in order to ascertain what was to be done. In other words, the task should be completed.
1339 If the hon. Member for Farnham is content merely to ask questions—to which he gets unsatisfactory and sometimes very silly answers—let him be so content. I propose to remain discontented. I have had a long experience as a Member of this House—perhaps longer than anyone present at this time. I never found it possible to obtain all the information one desired to obtain merely by asking questions. I have myself been a Minister and so I know the kind of answers which are given. If the job is to be done, let us do it satisfactorily. What I say is by no means intended to be offensive to the Select Committee, far from it. As I have said, the Committee has done this job satisfactorily under very severe limitations. We have to complete the job.
I come now to the question of what should be done. I wish to put it as plainly to hon. Members as I can. We must increase our defence expenditure because of the need for more housing for married personnel, and provide more amenities, as has been rightly demanded by the hon. Member for Dorset, North (Sir Richard Glyn). I know about these things. I tried to do a great deal myself in this direction when I had the opportunity. Some of the things I was able to carry out, others were impossible for financial and other reasons. Our expenditure is already nearly £2,000 million, and I venture to prophesy that no matter what Government come to power in October or November of this year the next Defence Estimates will not show any reduction, for obvious reasons. First, there is the legacy from the old Government which is bad enough, and, secondly, there are all the obligations that trouble us and which have been referred to.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds East (Mr. Healey) that when we accept obligations we have to carry them out. We have a remarkable capacity—at any rate we have displayed a remarkable capacity since the end of the last war—for undertaking all kinds of obligations which we are quite unable satisfactorily to fulfil; or at any rate, if we are able to do so, it is only at great cost and by imposing a heavy burden on the taxpayers of this country. 1340 No one would deny that. We have accepted obligations in respect of mandated territories, and handouts from the United Nations and the old League of Nations—protectorates and all the rest of it in Asia, Africa and elsewhere. We are ready to take on anything without regard to the consequences. That is why we have bases everywhere.
Will anyone tell me why we need to remain in Hong Kong? The Chinese People's Republic, if it suited their purpose—which it does not for economic and other reasons—could drive us out. Those with less power and military strength than the Chinese could drive us out of other places. We face a terrific task. When reference is made to the prowess of our soldiers, airmen and sailors I wholeheartedly agree with every word. I emphasise what has been said. They do a fine job. Look at what is happening in the Yemen. They are doing a terrific job. They deserve every tribute which can be given to them.
§ Sir Richard Glyn
On a minor point, but one of some importance, our troops are not engaged in the Yemen; they are engaged in Aden. It makes a difference.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I accept the correction by the hon. Member, who has more knowledge of this subject than I have, but I meant that area. Do not let us be too partisan on a minor point.
Of course these men deserve our tribute, but there are the obligations to consider, more accommodation and more amenities, more of this and that. Some hon. Members from time to time complain that our Forces have not adequate equipment. I have heard demands from this side of the House for better equipment for our Forces and allegations about inadequacy of equipment. I do not know; I do not make charges of that kind because I do not know. I have to have the facts before me before I make comments. But this will all cost more. Either we have increased costs or we have to abandon some of the bases and to depart from some of the obligations we have taken on. That is not a matter that we can decide. It can be decided only in the context of our foreign policy and the context of our alliances with the United States, the Western Alliance 1341 and Europe, and now in Aden and elsewhere.
We remain in Cyprus for strategic reasons, although it never occurred to me when I was associated with the War Office and the Ministry of Defence that there was a strategic value there. I never heard a general or an air vice-marshal who said that it was for strategic reasons. We have to pay through the nose for it, with all the trouble we are having at present and the weakness displayed by the United Nations. I repeat as plainly as I can that either we abandon our bases and fail to fulfil our obligations or there will be an increase in defence expenditure. Otherwise we shall not provide the accommodation for married personnel which the Committee desires.
I agree with the Committee. Short tours might be a remedy, but that does not work out very well. If men are sent to a remote part thousands of miles away and have to be trained and become accustomed to the area in which they are likely to be operating, clearly we cannot have a shuttle service all the time.
I say only one further word, and I say it particularly to the Secretary of State for Defence. He has taken on a very big job. He spoke about centralisation. I was a little amused when he spoke about centralisation in respect of the repair and maintenance of mechanically-propelled vehicles. In 1929, which is a long time ago, I was Financial Secertary to the War Office. I was asked to undertake the task of conducting an investigation into the cost of repair and maintenance of mechanically-propelled vehicles. I was asked to do that by the late George Milne, then Chief of the Imperial General Staff. I am sorry but I do not remember the number of the Command Paper, but it must be in the archives. If the Secretary of State looks it up he will find the conclusions arrived at.
I discovered what he has now discovered but it was a long time ago. It was that we failed to get a man at the head of the Royal Army Service Corps to agree with a man at the head of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps. In one depot we would find any amount of accommodation, while another was chock-a-block with vehicles. If we suggested to the man in charge of the depôt 1342 which was chock-a-block with vehicles that some should be transferred to the other depôt, he would say, "No, what we want is expansion" and he would produce with enthusiasm blueprints for expansion.
The right hon. Gentleman still has a very big job. We have been discussing it for many years, just as we have been discussing standardisation, yet we are as far away from standardisation in respect of equipment and services as they were many years ago. I wish the right hon. Gentleman well in the interests of our economy, not that I wish him well politically. I would not go so far as that, but I hope that he does the job so long as he is there in order that our economy shall be properly fashioned and that we can reduce our expenditure and produce something adequate and efficient.
In the next few months we shall be watching that. We shall do so as long as we are allowed to remain here, and that depends on the Prime Minister. Whoever becomes Secretary of State for Defence we shall do the same in the interests of economy and efficiency. I repeat what I have said more than once, but I cannot help being repetitive. When the Select Committee comes before the House with a Report of this kind—a very valuable Report, as is admitted—we have to concern ourselves with what is to be done about its implementation. The implementation does not depend on hon. Members on this side or that side of the House but on the Government.
§ 6.16 p.m.
§ Captain John Litchfield (Chelsea)
I shall refer a little later to some of the points which the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) described as the "brass tacks" of this Report, but I want to go back to some of the things to which the right hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) referred—particularly his suggestion, which I know is favoured by some of his hon. Friends, that this House should set up expert specialist committees to deal with some of these matters of defence.
This subject has been discussed before in this House. I know there is more than one view about it. It is an attractive idea in theory, but I am not sure that it would work out quite so well 1343 in practice. I should have considerable doubts about it. I am not sure, for instance, whether it would offend in its working against the principle of Ministerial responsibility to which we all attach great importance. From a more practical aspect I think that it might be found difficult for those hon. Members—not a great number—who take a particular interest in these affairs to attend both upstairs and downstairs to debate these matters.
§ Mr. Bellenger
I take the point that the hon. and gallant Member has made, but he must remember that it does not seem to affect Ministers in the United States of America, in Germany and other democratic countries in which they have that system.
§ Captain Litchfield
I quite agree, but the right hon. Member knows as well as I do that the Ministers in the United States are not Members of Congress, nor are they elected representatives. In a sense, they are a staff of the Executive.
However that may be, there is a point which might be mentioned in passing about the Estimates Committee which my hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Sir G. Nicholson) will not mind my mentioning. I have already discussed it with him. I sometimes wonder whether in the Estimates Committee we make the best possible use of individual experience of the members of the Committee. I can only give my own experience since I have been a member of the Estimates Committee. My subcommittee has investigated the cotton industry, Downing Street, the Board of Trade development districts, and the Department of Technical Co-operation. These investigations which have been at times of fascinating interest have been for me of the highest educational value, but I have sometimes wondered what experience of my own I have been able to contribute to some of these inquiries. In the Estimates Committee in these rather technical investigations we might perhaps be a little more selective.
§ Sir E. Errington
Does not my hon. and gallant Friend think that there is considerable value in having non-technical people considering technical 1344 evidence that has come before them? Is not that the basis on which we operate?
§ Captain Litchfield
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend on that point. What I am saying is that it seems rather a pity if when individual members of the Estimates Committee happen to possess some experience which might conceivably be of some value, that experience is not always used.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence referred to integration both in the commands and in the new Ministry. I very much agree with everything that he said about it. I know that everything possible is being done and that the points brought out in the Report will be most carefully attended to by him. But some of the things that the right hon. Members for Bassetlaw and Easington said go a good deal beyond what one might call integration in the sense of integration within the Ministry. The right hon. Member for Bassetlaw suggested that there should be closer contact between the Defence Department and the Foreign Office. I am sure we all agree very much with that, but there has been very close contact indeed at the staff level and higher up, at the Defence Committee level, for a very long time, and I do not think there is anything to criticise there.
What we are a little worried about in looking at the past and perhaps also at the future is the viability of the bases abroad and the rather costly reappraisals which have had to be made in the past and which have resulted in some of the bases having to be discarded almost before they were in use. That is not a defence decision. I very much doubt whether it is a Foreign Office decision. It is a very high political decision. It springs from policy statements as important as the "Wind of Change" speech and many other great decisions of that kind in which perhaps our whole national policy has altered course a little. So I do not feel that there is any criticism here as far as defence is concerned. I do not think that closer contacts would make much difference there.
The hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) stated that there is no military base overseas which is vital to the 1345 United Kingdom's survival. That may be true in a strict sense, but I thought that he treated rather lightly the question of the United Kingdom's interests, responsibilities and investments in some parts of the world. I am sure that he would be very sorry indeed to see us lose our position—and when I say "our position", I do not mean the allied position. I refer to the United Kingdom's interests and investments in, for example, Malaysia. If we are not to lose these interests, if our influence there is not to be eclipsed and if our power to protect those interests is not to be destroyed, we must have forces and a base somewhere in the area from which to operate.
I do not want to drag any partisan thoughts into the discussion. As the right hon. Member for Easington said, it has been on a very high and impartial level. However, when the right hon. Gentleman thinks about bases and the possibility that we may have to change our ideas again one day, he should not forget that there is a very important base in the Indian Ocean at Simonstown, and not loosely throw out comments—which I do not think he himself does—which might make our position there and our ability to use that base in the future more difficult than it already is. The base may become more important to us one day.
The hon. Member for Leeds, East had some interesting things to say on the question of accompanied and unaccompanied service overseas. It is an extraordinarily difficult problem to be sure about, but I feel that we cannot think very sensibly about it unless we are in a position to know what the financial implications would be of totally abandoning the existing policy of accompanied service overseas and going in for an unaccompanied service policy. I am not saying that it would be a good thing—I do not know; we have not the information to judge—but it would be an interesting investigation to see on a long view—not an immediate view—whether or not it would be more economical or less to do away with accompanied service altogether eventually, at any rate as far as operational units are concerned.
I agree with the hon. Member that the whole question of families is of first- 1346 class importance to morale in the Services. We all accept that the most tender spot in any Service man is the well-being of his family. I do not think we could run unaccompanied service on anything much longer than a 12 months' basis. We have had an example in the last weekend of one of the problems which can arise in accompanied service. We have had the King's Own Scottish Borderers, who have recently returned from two years' accompanied service in Aden, sent off again to fulfil an absolute requirement out there at a few hours' notice.
I entirely applaud and support my right hon. Friend's decision to send reinforcements to Aden. It is absolutely essential at the present time. I will not go into the question of whether it might be kinder to take troops from Germany or not. But in this instance we have had a very serious disruption of family life. We must feel great sympathy for the families whose lives have suddenly, at a few hours' notice, been disrupted. I would, in passing, say that I hope that my right hon. Friend will look very carefully into the welfare of the families which have been left at Shorncliffe. I listened to a short statement in the B.B.C. news bulletin at 8 a.m. on Monday which implied that considerable difficulty was arising for the wives and children who had been left at such very short notice. I hope that the Government will step in to look after their interests and that no financial considerations will stand in the way of their getting a very fair deal. After all, their men have been called to go to a most unpleasant part of the world at this time of the year and will take part in some very tough operations. We owe it to them to look after their families left in this country.
I should like for a moment to say something about the whole question of overseas bases, which must be one of the most costly investments this country has even indulged in overseas—necessary but costly. As my right hon. Friend said, almost everywhere in the world these bases are under pressure, and in three cases—certainly in two cases—they are under direct military pressure.
I do not think it is very fair to commit our Forces to military operations in 1347 defence of these bases with one hand tied behind their back. In my opinion, our present military posture in Borneo—I am not so sure about Aden, but I suspect there, too—simply cannot be maintained indefinitely with safety or dignity, unless, after going through all the political motions which may be necessary to clear our yardarm with the United Nations and our allies, we give authority for our Forces to strike back at the sources of aggression.
The very last thing that anyone in his right mind inside or outside the House—in this country, at any rate—would want to do would be to get involved in an avoidable war or in avoidable military operations, large or small. But we are already involved in war, or at any rate highly warlike operations, in Borneo and in Aden, and in something which, if it is not war, is certainly not peace, in Cyprus. Our resources, as I am certain my right hon. Friend would be the first to agree, are becoming stretched. We are committing our Forces, or so it seems to me, in operations under such limiting conditions from the military point of view that their task is made, if not impossible, at least very difficult. There will not be any end to it, unless we adopt a more active rôle.
If we are to maintain these bases under direct military pressure, we must get a little more tough with our opponents. My right hon. Friend himself would probably welcome that. I realise that it is a very great responsibility to commit troops to offensive military operations, but I do not see how we can go on in this purely defensive posture very much longer.
I want to return to what the right hon. Member for Easington referred to as the "brass tacks" of the Report. It is an admirable Report. I was not a member of the sub-committee which wrote it, so I can take no credit for it. It is clear, instructive and frank, but there are one or two disturbing disclosures in it. I shall not labour them. Those of us who have read the Report know what I am referring to.
I do not think that paragraphs 107–111, on the subject of air conditioning in Aden, make very good reading. They are enlightening paragraphs. The ways of Whitehall, where central heating is 1348 switched on and off according to the calendar and irrespective of the weather, have been transplanted overseas into the South Arabian peninsula and elsewhere. A more sensible attitude should be taken to this problem. A little more discretion should be allowed to more junior people to decide whether they require air conditioning. I invite the attention of the House particularly to the evidence of the oil companies, which, after all, have been in business out in these unpleasantly hot parts of the world for a very long time. They state definitely that they have found that more extended use of air conditioning is beneficial to efficiency.
It was stated in evidence by the representative of one or other of the Services that the Services must consider the interests of the taxpayer. That is true, but that is a pretty good one after what has been spent in some other ways! The Services surely ought not to consider the interests of the taxpayer at the expense of the welfare, health and efficiency of our men. After all, the oil companies have an even stricter body to be responsible to—their shareholders.
Then there is the question of the reception arrangements in Cyprus. I have heard some references to this on the naval side outside the House. Members of Parliament who visit the Services are sometimes recipients of a good deal of drip from time to time if there is any going. We are all, perhaps, rather gullible to anyone with a chip on his shoulder.
However, the Report on the subject of the reception arrangements in Cyprus must be accepted. It is a serious statement. I hope that my right hon. Friends concerned with this aspect will give personal attention to it. I am surprised that this matter is not referred to in the Departmental observations on the Tenth Report. It is a most serious allegation. It is forthrightly written, and it merits attention.
There are one or two other references to weaknesses on the welfare side. It is rather difficult here in London to judge what weight to give to them, but I do not doubt that there have been some failures. There are strong and serious allegations contained in the Report which I hope my hon. Friend will ensure are cleared up.
1349 I am glad that my right hon. Friend welcomes and accepts the Report. I have served in Government Departments in White hall and I know the resistances which arise on the professional and the Civil Service side whenever there are any Parliamentary searchlights playing around on their fields of responsibility. I congratulate him, as I think we all do, on his decision to carry out a thorough reorganisation of the costing system, which, when it is brought about, as I hope it will be as soon as possible, will be of the greatest possible assistance to all Members who are interested in these things. It will help us in forming our judgments. It may prevent too hasty judgments, and it will give the House something firm on which to base our thought. In the long run I believe it will also lead to substantial economies.
§ 6.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Edwards (Bilston)
I should very much like to follow the points raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Chelsea (Captain Litchfield), but I am afraid that if I did so we should be entering into high controversy on strategy, which was the very issue that the members of the Estimates Committee tried very much to avoid. The hon. and gallant Gentleman completely misunderstood the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey). My hon. Friend was dealing with an issue not based on policy but on economics, as to whether we can justify the maintenance of very expensive bases in different parts of the world in view of the country's economics.
Can we justify spending £125 million, presumably protecting tin and rubber in Malaysia, when our military expenditure is more than the totality of all our trade in the whole area? Can we justify an expenditure of £l25 million on a military base in Aden when we have to put that cost to the taxpayer on the price of Middle Eastern oil? These were the practical issues my hon. Friend was raising.
Our world-wide commitments and our desire, like other democratic countries, to help to keep the peace of the world and maintain law and order, along with keeping our promises to the United Nations, form only a part of the story. The other part is whether this nation can maintain a system of defence which developed with the British Empire when 1350 the British Empire has been transformed into the Commonwealth. I am afraid that many people who should know better still believe that we can maintain this great world-wide structure, although my hon. Friends and I keep telling them that to do so is bleeding the nation white.
I will not dwell on that aspect because I wish to concentrate on the contents of the Report. I enjoyed being a member of the Sub-Committee and very much respect our Chairman, the hon. and gallant Member for Buckingham (Sir F. Markham), who was an extremely energetic and wise Chairman. We were fortunate in having the active co-operation of the Ministry of Defence and the services of two able officers of that Ministry, who travelled with us. We were exceptionally fortunate in having with us two Clerks of the House. They worked unremittingly, often into the early hours, to produce daily reports so that the facts we gathered could be transmitted to our minutes immediately we returned to Parliament.
The Sub-Committee was made up of hon. Members of both sides of the House. Two of my hon. Friends who were on the Committee and I are known to be provocative, nosey and to have strong views about defence. I am not saying that such views were expressed in our work in the Committee. We all accepted the fact that our business was to collect information, it being the business of the, Government and Opposition to discuss these matters of policy, in a positive way or otherwise, in Parliament.
Reference has been made to the composition of the Sub-Committee. It is worth remembering that members of the Estimates Committee are often bogged down for months when dealing with issues like roads, bridges and agriculture. Such subjects often bore us to death. We were, therefore, exceptionally fortunate that a subject so full of life and human interest was allocated to us and that we were able to study it in various parts of the world. Whereas members of the Estimates Committee work, say, two or three hours a week when investigating a subject, we worked six hours and more a day.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East referred to the necessity for a reform 1351 in the whole procedure of collecting information for Parliament and the taxpayer on the subject of massive Government expenditure overseas. It is not enough for Committees of this House to be fed with information by the Ministries, particularly when criticism is often bound to be levelled at those Ministries. As my hon. Friend suggested, it is like biting the hand that feeds one. It is obviously right that when hon. Members examine huge Government expenditure abroad they should have clerical assistance to do their work effectively. We had to take notes and transfer them in our Committee proceedings upstairs. We had to put the information together from our notes so that the evidence we received abroad could be put on the record. This is not an efficient way of collecting information and this is obviously a suitable subject for the Select Committee to consider, particularly since it is at present considering the question of procedure.
It should be remembered that our Sub-Committee was inquiring into the expenditure of one-quarter of the total defence budget of this country. We were dealing with a mountain of wealth—expenditure amounting to £500 million, or one-sixteenth of the total Government expenditure of the nation. That being so, it should not be left to this haphazard, inefficient way of collecting information. We were compelled to use the existing methods because the War Lords—I call them "War Lords" and hon. Members will see the way my mind is working—I mean, of course, the Law Officers of the Crown, suggested that inquiries should be made in this country and in the House and not overseas. I do not know whether that matter has been debated or even reported, although it should be inquired into.
Not all the members of the Sub-Committee were military men, although three of our colleagues were experienced Service men, having been regular officers. It should be remembered that we were not considering strategy but accountability, finance, social, human and building problems Common problems like these can be considered by all hon. Members, remembering that we acquire a general knowledge and understanding of these affairs through our day-to-day activities in our constituencies. I do not 1352 feel that members of the Sub-Committee were not competent to carry out the task allocated to them.
It is important that military expenditure right through the chain should be examined. It is appalling, for example, to consider that although the Cabinet decided to cancel the building of an underground plant, that decision did not reach the builders or the local people until 18 months after it was made, during which time £300,000 of the taxpayers' money had been thrown down the drain. Think of what could have been done with that money for, say, the provision of Service accommodation.
Consider, also, the admiral's house. About £46,000 was spent on building a round house, a four-bedroomed one. I understand that £6,000 was spent on furniture alone. The house was built around a cannon because, I understand, a way could not be devised of getting the cannon down a hill. Incidentally, about a century ago a group of British sailors lugged that very cannon up that very hill. However, all our modern methods of lifting machinery did not enable us to get the cannon down the hill. As a result, the house was built around the cannon.
§ Captain Litchfield
Can the hon. Member say—I am not sure of my facts from the Report—whether it would have been possible to build a suitable house for the admiral more cheaply at a place that had not already got foundations such as this gun site provided for the house? And does he not agree that the apparently very high cost of the furniture was due to the fact that as the foundations of the house had to be round, and the house was round, the furniture had to be rounded?
§ Mr. Edwards
It sounds worse than ever. This was an expenditure of £46,000 on a four-bedroomed house, and that is a great deal of money by any standards or in any part of the world.
Then we had the appalling situation in Kenya where, during the last five years before independence, we spent £5½ million—over £1 million a year—on a beautiful garden estate for the Forces at Gilgil. We built a school and a N.A.A.F.I. at a cost of £100,000. The school had a beautiful ornate wall. Who passed the plans, I do not know, but 1353 in that wall were holes just big enough for a child to put its head in. The headmaster told me that the wall was a constant source of trouble because children were shoving their heads in all the time. It was not surely a family man who designed that wall, but the design was passed here in London. Then the whole estate was to be handed over to the Kenya Government without any kind of compensation being paid.
The question of security of tenure is important, but the Minister of Defence refused to deal with it. Libya is a typical case. We spent literally hundreds of millions of pounds there, and a good deal of it in the last few years, though everybody knew two years ago that our tenure would be very short. We have to take into consideration the whole sweep of Arab nationalism right through North Africa and the Middle East, and it is stupid to plan as though we are to stay in those countries for another 30 years. With this massive expenditure, the whole question of how long we will stay in a base should be considered.
With just one or two outstanding exceptions, wherever we travelled we found British bases in the turmoil of industrial disputes. Many of those disputes should never have taken place. They sprang up from simple trade union issues that could have been settled on the spot, but the man on the spot had not the power to settle them. Simple issues had not been settled after 18 months of meetings—and all because the man on the spot had to wait for instructions from Whitehall. In this modern world, this remote control just will not do. We cannot organise collective bargaining right across the world from the Admiralty, the Defence Ministry or the Royal Air Force in London. We have officers on the spot who are skilled in these labour problems, and we must give them powers to take some initiative and some power to make decisions.
A dispute at a British base very soon becomes a political matter. It turns the population sour. The people become anti-British and there develops a political question when really what is at stake is ½d. an hour in wages, a change in a shift rate or an extra statutory holiday on full pay based on the religion of the country. Those are 1354 simple issues that the man on the spot could settle, yet we get a whole dockyard closed down, or a whole base in turmoil, with pickets, with political con-fleet and with people working up a great anti-British fervour.
I hope that our Report and this debate will result in great savings to the taxpayers. Above all, I hope that there will be some change in the whole system of collective bargaining of the kind I have mentioned.
§ 6.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Pannell (Liverpool, Kirkdale)
I join with the hon. Member for Bilston (Mr. R. Edwards) in his tribute to the Chairman of our Committee. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Buckingham (Sir F. Markham) was a stern taskmaster—or, perhaps, a genial slave driver. He was always a wise counsellor and friend, and set a high standard of hard work that we tried to emulate. I, too, am grateful for the services rendered by the Clerks of the Committee and the officials of the Ministry.
I was glad to hear the hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) refer to these bases as this country's contribution to peace and security. It is a very expensive contribution. My hon. and gallant Friend has said that, excluding weapons, stores and supplies, the total cost is £334 million a year. What is not so generally recognised is that this is a contribution not only to the peace of the world but to the economies of the countries where the bases are. We are sometimes criticised for not paying enough of our national income to the under-developed countries, but our bases are largely situated in such countries and a very great deal of the money is spent for the benefit of their economy. There is no question of that.
Reference has been made to the insecurity of bases and it is a matter of great regret that, if they are, as they should be, regarded as bases for the furtherance of peace and stability, they do not get more support from our friends in the United Nations and from our friends and allies in the world in general; and that, when those bases are threatened, we are not supported more effectively by our friends in rebutting and combating those threats. In these 1355 overseas commitments, we bear a voluntary burden incomparably greater than that of any country other than the United States of America.
The Committee recognised in its Report the difficulty of insecurity of tenure and its criticisms were restrained accordingly. However, one or two criticisms remained. Whilst recognising that plans might easily be frustrated by events for which the British Government were not responsible, there were still criticisms about officers' quarters being built at great expense in Malta, and about certain expenditure in Kenya.
I should like to touch on one or two matters which I do not think have been specifically referred to by other hon. Members so far. One of these is the building projects that we saw. Much of the buildings was prefabricated. I thought that it was a very expensive type of prefabrication and perhaps not altogether suited to the conditions. I recognise that prefabrication is necessary if one is constructing a base quickly. There was an element of that with regard to El Adem and Cyprus, but there is less excuse for repeating the experiment when things have settled down and the same sense of urgency does not prevail.
It was disconcerting to find a prefabricated building in Cyprus which had been inflated in cost by the rigid conditions insisted upon in the building. It was required to be free from attack by termites, when termites do not exist in Cyprus. It was to be proof against gales, which are unknown in Cyprus. The answer was that these prefabricated buildings are essentially chosen because they have to be transferred if we have the misfortune of having to abandon a base. We found from inquiries, however, that it would cost as much to transport and rebuild them elsewhere as to obtain entirely new buildings from the United Kingdom. That argument therefore falls to the ground.
Have we paid attention to the possibility of building with local labour and local materials, or with imported materials and local labour? I have had experience of this in tropical Africa where it was the custom to import cement to make breeze blocks and to build with local labour on the spot. 1356 The buildings were very good. Tobruk is a few miles from El Adem. It is not a shanty town, though it may be a shabby town. The buildings are constructed of solid materials and if those can be built, as obviously they were, by local labour with imported materials, surely that can be done wherever buildings are erected for our Forces.
The need to provide air conditioning has been emphasised in the debate. In the matter of more accommodation for married quarters I depart from speakers on the question of air conditioning only on one point. I endured many years in the most trying tropical conditions without air conditioning, but I am the first to recognise that it is a great aid to efficiency, though not universally. One does not need it in every living room. One needs it in the bedroom and in the office where one works, but with that slight modification I accept that there should be an extension of air conditioning in the interests of efficiency.
All building, however, is very expensive, and if we are to embark on building, whether by importing prefabricated buildings or by building locally, the bill for married quarters, if the accommodation is to be adequate, will be colossal. This is why I support those hon. Members who have recommended that some study should be made of the possibility of unaccompanied tours. I know that it has been suggested that the tour might be one of only 12 months. I think that we can go further than that, especially in the area in which we were interested. It is not the Far East but the Mediterranean. Could there not be more frequent leaves if men leave their families at home?
The arithmetic of all this is rather startling. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence said that roughly half our men are abroad, which means about 85,000. Pay and allowances for personnel amounted to £218 million, which is £2,500 per head. On the same reckoning, overseas works, including buildings and presumably married quarters, cost about £450 per head. Overseas movements, it is true not all connected with troops and their dependants going to and from this country, accounted for £300 per head. This gives a total of £3,250 per head per annum for every man sent overseas.
1357 This is why it is so important that we should study this question of unaccompanied tours. It is a little incongruous to go to some of these places and find a sort of Butlin's holiday camp with swimming pools, cinemas and clubs. It is not that I think that we should give the troops anything less. It is essential that we should give them these, but my argument is that the need for supplying them might be diminished. Fewer people should take their families out so that the need for these expensive amenities might be removed. I hope that this matter will not be allowed to drop. Even the question of offering a bonus to a man at the end of his tour, or at the end of his period of service, if he is unaccompanied might be considered.
The question of building married quarters in this country in that event becomes even more urgent. I thoroughly applaud efforts to provide those quarters here. It may be said to be a deterrent to recruiting to leave the families behind, though strangely enough naval men have the company of their families to a far less degree than do members of the other two Services and yet recruiting to the Navy is much easier. This makes one wonder whether all the implications of the problem have been fully considered.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
Could the hon. Member help me on one point? I am surprised that the Estimates Committee said nothing about it. The hon. Member talked about the equipment of camps. It seemed to me to give an unwarranted sense of continuity when I saw that two churches, at a cost I should have thought of about £100,000, were being built at the Commonwealth Brigade Camp in Malaya. Has the hon. Member any opinions about that?
§ Mr. Pannell
I did not see that camp, but there was a striking example of a church in Kenya which I think received criticism from the Committee. The same has applied to certain expenditure on schools, which however might have greater utilitarian value than an expensive church building.
As for civilian employment, the question arose in Cyprus whether we were taking full advantage of the opportunities that were present. A comparison 1358 was made between the Royal Air Force and the Army. The Royal Air Force had a Service personnel of 7,400 and a civilian personnel of 2,300. The Army had 4,300 Service men and 6,000 civilians. In other words, the proportion of civilians was 25 per cent. in the Royal Air Force and 60 per cent. in the Army. The answer we were given was that there were difficulties in finding qualified men, that the conditions were rather different in the R.A.F. and that there was the question of security. There has been and there is a continuing opportunity to test whether security has been endangered in these rather turbulent days in Cyprus. If, as a result, the argument that security is an important point is disposed of, the Secretary of State for Defence, acting for the Royal Air Force, might be able to rethink the problem of employing civilians in that Service.
I enjoyed the perhaps undeserved privilege of being a member of the Committee. I hope that we have produced a Report of value which will result in some service to the taxpayer.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Dick Taverne (Lincoln)
I was not a member of the Committee and I am in no position to follow the hon. Member for Liverpool, Kirkdale (Mr. N. Pannell) in some of the detailed points which he raised, although I listened to his speech with the greatest interest. I wish to return to a point raised in a number of speeches, namely, the question of costing. I was particularly glad that the Secretary of State said that this whole matter was to be reviewed and that in future it would become possible to base a rational defence policy on knowing what we spent and knowing whether it was worth spending the sums involved. I thought that on this issue the Report of the Committee was, if anything, rather mild. After saying that it could not give the expense attributable to a particular base because it was said that, after all, bases were maintained for the operation of our forces and that redeployment was undertaken for strategic reasons, not on financial grounds, the Committee said:Your Committee do not altogether accept this argument. While strategic considerations must be paramount, the Defence Budget as a whole is limited, and its size is determined not 1359 only by the needs of the armed Services but also by what the national economy can afford".I think that that was putting it very mildly indeed.
I wish to look at the matter in a slightly different way and examine our defence expenditure with particular reference to the relevance which particular bases have to our balance of payments. How far can we, or should we, break down the costs in order to determine how far bases are an avoidable drain on our balance of payments which, of course, affects the country's welfare as a whole?
I take the example of the Middle East an area in regard to which, perhaps, there is particular need at this time for a dispassionate appraisal, now that certain high emotions have been raised. It is very difficult to arrive at any estimate of what our commitment in the Middle East costs us. Looking at the total picture of costs and the balance of payments, one finds in the 1963 White Paper on the National Income and Balance of Payments that the total of military expenditure having relevance to the balance of payments was £247 million. It is a debit item of £247 million in total. This has not been broken down into sterling and non-sterling to give an indication of what the commitments in the Far East and Middle East might be. However, in the 1961 figures there was a breakdown of the total of £227 million lost on the balance of payments for foreign commitments, and about £137 million was sterling and about £90 million was non-sterling. One can probably deduce from this that the approximate figure of sterling payments out of the £247 million debit in 1963 was about £150 million.
From the 10th Report one finds that the total figures are rather larger. In 1962–63, the total was £334 million and for 1963–64 it was about £20 million more. If one applies this to the current situation, it is reasonable to assume that the balance of payments deficit attributable to military expenditure overseas is something like £170 million.
When we try to go further to see how far we can attribute any part of this to the bases at, say, Aden and the Middle East, we find that we do not 1360 know. We have no rational basis for judging the effect of the Middle East base in what it gains and what it costs us. The appalling fact is that not only do we not know how much money we spend but, on the other side of the equation, we do not know what we spend it for.
It is sometimes suggested that the purpose of the bases in the Middle East is part of the general strategy against Communism. But, of course, the presence of military forces in that part of the world is more likely to lead to the Arabs turning more closely to the Soviet bloc rather than to the prevention of the spread of Communism. It has been suggested—I do not want to go into detail, and I have discussed this on another occasion in the defence debate—that the Middle East base is a vital staging post. For the Far East, there is an alternative route, the west-about route via Canada.
The other main reason for the presence of our Forces in the Middle East is, of course, oil. Here we find that not only do we not know how much money we spend to protect our oil interests but we do not know the other side of the equation we do not know how much money is brought in by our oil. Here is material for precisely the sort of exercise which I hope that our foreign policy planners and our defence planners will undertake.
From the 1963 White Paper, one derives no assistance at all. The only item referable to income from oil in the balance of payments is the item entitled "Other" under the subhead "Interest, Profits and Dividends". This is not exactly helpful. The total is £324 million, but we have no idea how it is to be broken up. A study of this was done in 1960, with some valuable result, and this suggests that out of the figure of £330 million at that time listed under "Other", about £144 million was, perhaps, attributable to oil revenues. But this "Other" item appears also on the debit side of the account, and one has also to look at the movement of capital.
If one refers again to the 1963 White Paper, one finds that there is a loss of about £97 million on capital account currency investment overseas which includes oil company investment and insurance company investment. So we have 1361 no idea at all what the gain is to our balance of payments from the oil interest which we are supposed to be protecting by our military expenditure in the Middle East. We cannot do either side of the sum, and there is no rational basis for arriving at a realistic assessment of what the expenditure is really worth. It is also said that the presence of our Forces in the area is a very important factor because of the effect there might be on our general economic position if, say, the sterling balances of the Middle East countries were withdrawn. However, this also is a quite unsatisfactory point. We know from the last Bank of England Bulletin, for December, 1963, that the sterling balances of the Middle East countries, that is, the Gulf States, Jordan and Libya, amount to £423 million. In an article in the Financial Times today the estimate for Kuwait is about £300 million.
Is this part of the justification for the presence of our Forces in the Middle East? If it is, it is a rather expensive item, about £50 million to preserve a deposit of about £300 million. Quite apart from anything else, it is extremely doubtful whether, in fact, the withdrawal of military protection would lead to the withdrawal of sterling balances which not only get a high rate of interest and can be easily withdrawn but are banked in a country where there is a tradition of non-political banking as opposed to other possible places for the deposit of money where the situation might be rather different.
In trying to make a realistic appraisal of the expenditure we find that we do not know what is actually spent and we do not know what the receipts are, either. The whole thing is entirely surrounded by myth. It is part of the conventional wisdom of our day to say that our Middle East commitments are essential for the purpose of safeguarding British interests in oil, but we do not know how much we spend and or how much we gain. Nor, for that matter, is sufficient attention devoted to the connection between the sums we spend and the receipts we get. We do not consider sufficiently the question whether or not these receipts would cease to come to us if the expenditure were cut down.
Several questions arise here. Undoubtedly, the presence of our Forces in 1362 these bases is to some extent a positive danger. They are an irritant. It is not likely that the oil producing companies would cease to supply oil, but, on the other hand, it is rather less unlikely that, at a period of general excitement in the Middle East, countries through which the oil pipelines passed might interfere with the oil supplies, as happened at the time of Suez. Second, it is rather doubtful whether, in view of the cost structure of the oil industry and its marketing arrangements, it would pay any of the countries concerned to cut off oil supplies to this country or expropriate the oil companies, having regard to the difficulty of marketing the oil and the doubt about whether they would, in fact, gain anything at all in the way of revenue.
I see the, hon. Member for Lancaster (Mr. Berkeley) in his place. I read the article that he wrote in the Daily Mail today, and I agree to a large extent with what he wrote. If one looks at the military protection supposed to be given and the results it is supposed to produce, what do we find? In Iraq, when we had troops there, the oil flowed, and when we ceased to have Forces there the oil continued to flow. When Nuri-Es-Said was in charge the oil flowed and so did it when Kassim was in charge, and with the present régime. The whole connection between military expenditure and the flow of oil and the receipts from oil which we are supposed to be safeguarding has not been proved.
I hope that the next Government will look very hard at these facts and do some concrete economic sums. At the moment, the position is that the economists say: "So far as our balance of payments are concerned our military expenditure is a pain in the neck; the military expenditure is something which is a grave embarrassment, but, of course, strategic considerations may make it necessary." Often when we approach military men and ask what they think about our presence in the Middle East, they say: "It may be an awkward position for us to be in the Middle East and it raises all sorts of awkward commitments, which we do not necessarily like, but it is necessary for economic interests to safeguard the oil."
We have the economists using bogus strategic arguments and the strategists using bogus economic arguments. This 1363 may not be entirely so, but the position has never been fully studied or fully gone into. My own hunch is that if this inquiry is made we may well find that we spend far more than we can afford aiming to protect benefits which have been vastly exaggerated, and that we are seeking to do it by means ill-designed to achieve that end.
§ 7.22 p.m.
§ Sir Harry Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
I thought that when the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. Taverne) was speaking that, although the voice was the voice of Lincoln, the words were the words of Lancaster. The article which my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Mr. Berkeley) has in the Daily Mail today has been re-echoed by the hon. Member, and I would only say that I am sorry to see my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster associating himself with an attitude of mind which is all too typical of the party opposite but which used not to be typical of our party on this side of the House.
I approach this Report of the Select Committee with one absolute certainty in my mind, that we are spending not too much but too little on the defence of this country. Wherever one goes, one knows perfectly well that the Forces having to do the job have not everything they want, and they never will get it as long as we limit our expenditure to 7 per cent. of the gross national product. If the defence of this country is not worth ensuring for 10 per cent. of its gross national product, I do not know what it is worth. That is my preconceived approach to this Report.
It is very easy for hon. Members, whether members of the Select Committee on Estimates or of any other committee, to spend a few days in an area and to come away with certain obvious ideas which perhaps have been put into their minds by certain people who feel strongly on this, that or the other. In doing this, with the best will in the world and the highest motives, they come back with an impression which cannot possibly be as accurate as it must be if we are to make sense of all these matters.
Every time I have been posted overseas, I reckon that it takes at least three months before one begins to get some 1364 grip on the situation locally. However desirable it is that we should encourage hon. Members to visit abroad, I think that they are very brave men indeed who, when they come back after a visit of a few days, feel really qualified to speak in much detail on what they have seen and heard. Whilst I in no way wish to derogate from the importance of the Select Committee on Estimates and the Sub-Committees it appoints, I have always been suspicious of Reports from the Committee for this reason. When the Reports come after tours abroad, I am even more suspicious, because it is essential to get into the atmosphere of these base areas or zones where we are deeply committed before one can start adjudicating on the rights and wrongs of the policies being pursued there.
I would say straight away that I agree with something that the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) once said when he asked, "What do we think the Armed Forces are for?" What I am quite certain they are not for is as a means of conveying the British Welfare State about the world. Their purpose is to play their part in defending the world and in deterring war. That is their object. Now and again that can be a very uncomfortable exercise for those most deeply involved in it. Whilst I am all for ensuring the utmost comfort for the maximum number of people, I am not prepared to support in any way something which, when expenditure is limited, results in expenditure being placed on the nonessentials at the expense of the essentials.
There are a great many things in this Report which have a bearing on this. In saying that, I do not wish in any way to underestimate the importance of married quarters to the success of our recruiting programme. I would far prefer to see this Sub-Committee spending all its time with B.A.O.R., in Cyprus or in Aden than have it scampering round several places. It would be far better for us to make a study first of B.A.O.R. in detail.
I am absolutely convinced that we have not exhausted all the possibilities of getting B.A.O.R. on to a one-year tour basis. I know that the Americans tried it at one time and had to give it up. I think that perhaps the reason they did so was because of the enor- 1365 mous distances involved. This problem I do not think arises here. I say to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence that until we have solved the B.A.O.R. problem and got the answer to it right, none of the rest will be possible of the best solution.
As long as we have the heavy commitment in B.A.O.R. and the vast expenditure we are indulging in on married quarters there, on the assumption that we are not going to have a one-year tour only, it will be all the more difficult to do for the other areas what we would like to do in providing married quarters and other amenities. I made this suggestion tentatively in a debate on the Estimates last year. This might be something which we should look at again, despite the United States experience, because circumstances are different for the United States forces in Europe from what they are for our own. I believe that this is the dominant problem that affects the whole of British Army policy and that all that this Committee has reported upon is not possible of solution in the way that we would all hope until we have solved that problem.
So far as service in Arab countries is concerned—I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster is not here because I want to come back to the article that he wrote in today's Daily Mail—we have to recognise that one thing that we did which has never been forgiven and never will be forgiven by any Arab country was to move out of the mandate of Palestine and allow the State of Israel to be established. Whatever the rights of that, it would be difficult to argue it today. I have always had sympathy with the Arabs in this attitude. I cannot see how we can ever hope for a solution of our difficulties with Egypt and the Yemen until that issue has been cleared up. So long as those millions of Arab refugees remain, so long will there never be a solution of the problem confronting us in Aden because of the Yemen and Egypt. If the Government want to solve this problem, they should take a new initiative in the United Nations to get something done about Arab refugees. Until that happens, the position in Aden will worsen.
I have not been to Aden myself. I have read a good deal about it, and 1366 I have talked to a good many people who have served there. I know that the conditions are about as unpleasant as one could find. There are not many areas which are less attractive for British people to live in. If we regard this as a vital area, as I hope we do, we must make the lives of our troops there as comfortable as possible, subject to the exigencies of service which are inevitable when there are maraudings across frontiers.
I regard Aden as vital for a reason which, apparently, has not occurred to either the hon. Member for Lincoln or my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster. It is not oil which makes Aden important. If only hon. Members would do what I have repeatedly begged them to do in debates on the Service Estimates, namely, to look at globes instead of maps, they would see why. It is our polar position in the world which makes it essential that we have various strong points along the lines of communication about the world. We are in a unique position on the surface of the globe. It is for this reason that we must have what I call a triadic policy of the Army, Navy and Air Force. I believe Aden to be a vital point in these lines of communication. It is not, therefore, only oil about which I am concerned.
It is for this reason that we must ensure that we do not allow the position in Aden to get so bad that eventually we have to give it up. We must stay there for the foreseeable future. The sooner that is made absolutely clear to the world the better. I am very glad to see what has been said by the military commanders on the spot. Much as one regrets the apparent misunderstandings which have arisen over recent incidents, wt at the military commanders have said about our intentions to deal with the situation is absolutely right and highly admirable.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend is right to bring about centralisation of the control of the land occupied by the Armed Forces. I take his decision to mean that all the airfields and port and harbour installations—everything which comes within the purview of the Ministry of Defence—will be dealt with centrally in the one Department presided over by 1367 the Minister of Defence for the Army. I commend that. I am sure that it is right. If that is the purpose of setting up this new federal department, I am sure that it is most important that this should happen. I sympathise with my right hon. Friend, because I feel that he will have one or two kicks against this before long.
The hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) completely missed the point when he suggested that because of this decision the Ministry of Public Building and Works should be again divided so that the Ministry of Defence takes over the defence building. To my mind, the combination of the two makes it all the more important that there should be one Department in the Ministry of Defence dealing with this. Having made great play at my right hon. Friend's expense about what had happened in, I think, 1956, the hon. Member completely overlooked the significance of the change which had taken place in combining Ministry building with Service building. It was a perfectly proper decision which my right hon. Friend took, and I congratulate him on it.
On costings, it is proper that my right hon. Friend should ensure that his Department does not overspend and that what it spends is spent as well as possible. Having been at the Treasury, he will naturally have that instinct in him. I hope that no one, as a result of this Report, will get the impression that the Armed Forces are being given too much money. Let us be clear that the responsibility of the Armed Forces to keep the peace in the world today is so great—and they are fulfilling a rôle which only this country can fulfil—that we are probably spending millions of pounds too few each year to enable them to carry out their task. However desirable all these other things may be, it is sometimes worth while thinking about what would happen if the Armed Forces were not able to preserve the peace. While I congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Buckingham (Sir F. Markham) and his Sub-Committee on the great assiduity that they have shown in their exercise, I hope that they will understand why I am a little suspicious of some of the conclusions which they have drawn.
§ 7.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Harold Davies (Leek)
It is always interesting to follow the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke), whose sincerity this House does not doubt. However, he has completely missed the purpose of an Estimates Committee. I would be out of order if I were to follow what he said. We were seven very different types of people on the Estimates Committee. There were three Conservatives and three Socialists. Two of us would be considered, in loose language, to be Left-wingers. There was, however, one thing which we tried to do—to carry out our function as the watchdog of the House of Commons, to consider military and other expenditure and to keep clear of Government policy and pet theories. As I have said many times, I have pet theories on the Far East, but I propose to keep away from them. Therefore, let us be clear about the purpose of an Estimates Committee. I know that it is elementary, but I think that it should be on the record.
I am grateful to the Government for having instituted the system whereby the findings of Estimates Committees may be debated in Government time, thereby according to an Estimates Committee, whatever it may have been examining, its proper place and dignity within the gamut of our constitutional procedure.
Standing Order No. 80 states:There shall be a select committee, to be designated the Estimates Committee, to examine such of the estimates presented to this House as may seem fit to the committee and report how, if at all, the policy implied in those estimates may be carried out more economically and, if the Committee think fit, to consider the principal variations between the estimates and those relating to the previous financial year".That is the operative part of the Standing Order. It is absolutely wrong to think that we said that too much was spent on the Armed Forces. We did not say that.
§ Mr. Davies
That was the implication of the hon. Member's speech. No one wants to criticise military expenditure 1369 more than we do, but let us get the record straight.
Whatever sum of money the Government have decided to expend, the only function of the Estimates Committee is to see that, after it has been approved by the House of Commons, it is spent wisely. Whenever I see some of our troops playing brag with a dirty pack of cards in a N.A.A.F.I. canteen, I resent it as much as I did during the war. I want our forces to have the best. One has only to study Caesar's campaigns against the Celts, when the Roman soldiers were grumbling that they did not have in Bicknor, Bristol and Caerlon all that they wanted, to realise that no military people in history have ever had from their Government all that they wanted. Let us spike the debate down to the purpose of the Estimates Committee.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) wishes to add to Standing Order No. 80 to set up a Select Committee of 15 with the special privilege of examining military expenditure. That is completely different from the purpose of the Estimates Committee. It is all right if the Secretary of State, in his wisdom, decides to call on 15 experts in the House to go overseas, accompanied by other experts to advise them, to study strategic, logistic and other problems, but that is not the rightful function of the Estimates Committee.
With all due respect to you, Mr. Speaker—and I am making no criticism of your Rulings or those of anyone else in the Chair—I consider that 50 per cent. of today's debate has been out of order. At this juncture, it is the Estimate Committee's job to watch the spending of the taxpayer's money.
When we are asked about bringing in experts, I say, "Let us beware of experts." For example, I have taken an interest in atomic energy for years. I was putting down Questions about it twenty years ago, as were other hon. Members. Who among us would have questioned its progress in face of such enthusiastic articles in the scientific Press, in the Financial Times, in the Manchester Guardian, as it was then, and in other authoritative journals, about the wonderful discoveries of such things as Zeta? People made speeches about the great changes 1370 already under way and how sea water would be turned into gold. We were told we would have the Midas touch. Wonderful articles were written by people who were not themselves experts but who were advised by experts.
Some experts ooze with expertise and completely lack common sense and wisdom. One needs the balance of the layman, who quite rightly takes the advice of the expert and respects it, but who, because he does not live within the periphery of one specialised range of knowledge, is able to mesh the experts into life and living. What we on the Estimates Committee try to do is to mesh the experts into the needs of the House and the country.
The hon. Member for the Isle of Ely asked how, on a short visit, we could get to know about a country. We were not there to do that. In any case, most of us had been there before. We were not there to study the local diet or the religious customs of the Adenese, the Maltese or the Malaysians. We were there to look at British expenditure by and for British people on behalf of the British Government, which is a thing we were qualified to judge. No doubt the hon. Member himself would have pronounced judgment on these things, and, indeed, we would have valued his help. I want it put on record that I do not think that this debate has been used to the advantage that could have been gained in discussion on the Estimates Committee and its purpose.
One hon. Member has already referred to costing. As we point out in the Report, we were told that there is no method of costing of bases. I am not blaming the system of accountancy. Nor do I blame the Government entirely. This is a very difficult and complex matter. But it is a fact that we cannot arrive at the cost of a base anywhere in the world. There are, however, modern computer methods and modern accountancy systems, and it is essential to use these. Even a Labour Government could not judge the cost of bases without such methods. I hope I have put that point fairly enough.
I believe that such methods are necessary for the future, becauses no analysis of the country's economy in relation to the military machine will be 1371 worth anything otherwise. We need valid answers to such questions as how much we can spend on welfare, health, pensions and other things. But how can we make a really valid judgment if we do not know the costs of what are regarded as essential bases overseas?
Aneurin Bevan resigned over this issue, and the dynamic personality now sitting opposite to me—the Secretary of State himself—a few years ago stood up in this House and talked about the relativity of military expenditure to the economy. I am not making a crack at him. I am merely stating the facts of our expenditure. Consequently, we must put our house in order. If the military people and the Defence Department say that they cannot find out the costs of bases, we must nevertheless order them to find out so that we can study the costs—allowing for a reasonable margin of error—in this House.
There is another misunderstanding among some hon. Members. I have had a number of letters about married quarters, and the Secretary of State was kind enough to consider them. The suggestion has been made that we could give a grant to a man to go overseas for a short time unaccompanied. I have suggested £500 or £600 as this incentive. This money could be put in a bank to be used by the man towards buying a house when he finished his service with the Forces. Of course, such a scheme would have to be voluntary. Would it work?
I do not know whether it would. I have discussed it with troops in many parts of the world. Some of the younger ones have said they would not have it at any price. It has not been mentioned today, but on page 149 of the Report of the Estimates Committee we said—discussing personnel maintenance rates in Malta—The current policy of all three Services is that wherever possible the married officer or man posted for service overseas should be accompanied by his wife and family. Great importance was attached by the Grigg Committee (Cmnd. 545) to the development of this policy on grounds of recruiting and morale but other considerations are, of course, involved.Later we go on:The question of the current restriction on the recruitment of married men is not directly linked with the problems of accom- 1372 panied service overseas. As the Secretary of State for War explained in the House on 14th March, 1963, recruiting for the Army is now entering a new phase. In the final build-up emphasis is being placed on getting the right men, and getting them into the right Arms and Corps. The recent restrictions on recruiting, and a revised selection procedure, have been devised to meet the needs of this new phase. So far as married men are concerned they are now accepted only if:—That implies, whether the House likes it or not, that the cost of married quarters overseas has influenced our recruitment policy. This is a factor the House should bear in mind.
- (a)they have certain specified qualifications, or trade skills;
- (b)they are ex-Service men; or
- (c)they can claim a relation, past or present, in the corps or regiment of their choice."
To sum up, we were grateful to the Ministry of Defence for putting all the facilities at our disposal, but the House should realise that it is in command and should demand its own right to go overseas. We ourselves had to send for another clerk. It was not a matter of working six hours a day. Sometimes we worked 14 hours a day in the heat. Therefore, our clerks were overworked. No typists were sent there for us. We had to beg from the Ministry of Defence, and the Services, with pleasure, gave us typists and so on.
Never again—we were pioneers in this—should an Estimates Committee go overseas representing this Mother of Parliaments and yet dependent on the charity or even the courtesy of Ministers of Defence or other Ministries in doing so. It should go as of right. It should have stenographers—I do not like the word—and clerks, so that we do not depend on the people we may have to criticise or the people who may be helping us.
I believe that we broke fresh ice. For the first time we have looked into military expenditure overseas as the House of Commons has never before quite looked into it. Whatever the destiny of our political lives may be after the General Election, I hope that this tradition will be maintained and the procedure improved and that new methods of checks and surveys of military expenditure will be evolved, not for the good of one party but for the good of the British taxpayer.
§ 7.52 p.m.
§ Captain Walter Elliot (Carshalton)
I am not a members of the Estimates Committee. I hope that the hon. Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) will not think I am out of order in anything I say, but I think that during the debate we have been lucky in being allowed to discuss to a certain extent policy, which seems to be absolutely right, since it is policy which basically is responsible for expenditure.
First, I support most strongly my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) in his statement that our Forces and bases in various areas of the world are not there to protect only our commercial interests. It may be important that they should be there for that purpose, but that is by no means the most important purpose. I was most alarmed to hear the hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), the Opposition's Shadow Secretary of State for Defence, remark that none of our overseas bases are necessary for the security of this country. I may not have got his exact words, but that was the meaning of them.
§ Mr. Harold Davies
The words were "for the survival of this country". That has a different connotation.
§ Captain Elliot
I am prepared to accept the word "survival"; it makes little difference; but I thought the hon. Gentleman said "security". His words reminded me very much of the words spoken before the last war about Czechoslovakia, a country far away about which we knew little. I should have thought that by now most people in this country, and certainly most hon. Members, would take the view that the defence, the security or survival of this country is not assured only from this country. On the contrary, the defence or survival of this country and of the Western world is secured by the presence of our forces in segments or areas dotted all round the world. I hope that when the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) winds up the debate for the Opposition he will say something about that and state whether he agrees with that or not.
I want to reiterate something that one or two other hon. Members have said. I must confess—I have said this previously—that I have found somewhat 1374 irksome the fact that as the bases which we build in overseas countries are completed, or just before or just after they are completed, they are absorbed, through political developments, by the countries in which they are built. My right hon. Friend asked us to go carefully on the question of security of tenure because if we examined the security of our overseas bases too closely we might come to the conclusion that none was secure. I do not think that we should necessarily come to that conclusion, but if we did, we certainly ought to take it into account. Without going into it at length, I should like to commend for his consideration the provision of mobile bases. They need strong, secure areas from which they can emerge, but mobile bases could provide everything that is necessary, as they did in the last war, for the operations that we have in mind in many areas of the world where we have responsibilities.
There have been quotations from the very excellent Report of some items of expenditure which might have been saved if we had considered political developments. There was the housing in Malta, the primary school and the shop at Gilgil in Kenya, and, above all, the Templar Barracks. I seem to have recollections of a base at MacKinnon Road in Kenya which was being developed not long ago, and it always struck me that it would have very little use in the future, but that is not mentioned.
Perhaps these things are past, but there is one place at which it might be possible to save money, and that is mentioned in paragraph 15 of the Report. I refer to El Adem and the accommodation for families. I would be the last to say that one should economise on housing for the families of Servicemen overseas. I do not know whether El Adem has changed very much since I knew it during the war—I very much doubt whether it has—and whether the addition of some married quarters would improve it greatly—I doubt it.
However, recently there have been rumblings in Libya throwing doubt on the security of our tenure there. I do not know what they amount to, but we have done without accommodation there for a good many years, and it 1375 appears now, according to the Committee, that 101 married quarters are being built there at a cost of about £700,000. I do not know when these will be completed, but I hope that consideration that will be given to whether they will be completed in time or not. I should have thought that if that was an unaccompanied station, it would have been easy, with modern air communications, to give leave to the men and fly them home as a temporary measure if in due course the base was to be given up.
The other point, which was also made by my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely, is the question of amenities such as housing, and weighing these against the operational facilities that are necessary. My hon. Friend did not quote the case mentioned in the Report and I should like to do so. The Report draws attention to the current years works estimate for Cyprus which includes £1,245,000 for married quarters, and the completion of a new hospital costing nearly £1 million. I have no doubt that they are extremely important, but a figure of only £311,000 is quoted for airfield works and it is suggested that the operational facilities at the airfield are less than could be desired. This is very important, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will pay attention to it. It is no good building up amenities if the troops have not the wherewithal with which to fight.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on bringing into effect the single administration for land. This will be an enormous achievement if it works, and if my right hon. Friend can do that he will be able to do practically anything in getting common services between the three arms. I have in mind medical services, the procurement of common stores, provisions, and so on, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will pursue that line to the bitter end.
I go much further than my right hon. Friend does, in that I believe that we should have one Service, but there are many common services which at present could be administered by one authority. I hope that my right hon. Friend will press forward with that, because I think that it will have good effects on the three Services as a whole quite apart from the immediate economies.
§ 8.2 p.m.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
This is a relatively new procedure, and I feel that if we are to make it work properly we must play fair by the other Sub-Committees. That means giving the Home Office the best part of two hours, and therefore I shall cut my speech short by saying nothing more.
§ 8.3 p.m.
§ Sir Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)
I am sure that the House appreciates the generosity of the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), but regrets that it will prevent us from hearing another of his eloquent speeches.
I have very little to say beyond a few words in my capacity as Chairman of the Estimates Committee. I thank the House for a very good debate. It has, I hope, justified the existence of the Estimates Committee.
Various themes have run through the debate. I propose to deal with only one for about two minutes. I am referring to the remarks, some well informed, some ill informed, about the functions of the Estimates Committee. It has not been pointed out clearly, except by the hon. Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies), that this was a pioneer exercise in that for constitutional reasons, which cannot be surmounted, the Estimates Committee cannot go abroad as the Estimates Committee. We could not have a Committee which represented the House in miniature at the mercy of an external Government, nor could it send for people and papers if it was abroad. That is categorical, and I cannot see how one can get round that.
The Minister of Defence was good enough to invite members of the Sub-Committee to come as individuals to collect all the information that they could. In this way back benchers can familiarise themselves with Government expenditure abroad, whether it is defence expenditure or any other. I hope that one moral of this Report and this debate is that this practice should be greatly extended.
I hope that hon. Members will not go too far in pressing for the setting up of an expert Select Committee which will cross-examine Ministers and examine Departments, permanent defence committees, or whatever they are, because 1377 the Estimates Committee, in so far as it achieves success does so for one reason, and one reason only, namely, that its affairs are conducted in an all-party spirit. The day when party politics rears its ugly head in a Select Committee will be the day when that Committee is finished and done for, and the system begins to meet its doom.
It is my proud boast that since I have been Chairman of the Estimates Committee—not because of it, but coincidentally—there has not been a division of opinion in that Committee. I guarantee that if an outside visitor, or a man from Mars, watched the proceedings of the Committee he would not have the faintest idea to which parties the various Members belonged. This Sub-Committee, with at least two ebullient and colourful Members on it, acted in complete harmony. Any Select Committee of the House, which must consist of Members of all parties, can be useful only if it retains that all-party, or non-party, spirit.
I do not wish to keep the House from the next subject for debate, and I hope that my hon. Friend will ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Sir F. Markham
I can more than take a hint, especially when it comes from the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), and my hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Sir G. Nicholson), and I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.