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Navy Estimates, 1954–55

Volume 524: debated on Tuesday 9 March 1954

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Vote A. Numbers

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That 139,000 officers, seamen and boys and Royal Marines, who are borne on the books of Her Majesty's ships and at the Royal Marine establishments, and members of the Women's Royal Naval Service and the Naval Nursing Service, be employed for the Sea Service, for the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1955.

4.56 a.m.

I want to draw the attention of the Committee, as I did on the Air Estimates, to a point which I think is of some importance before we proceed to vote the men for the Royal Navy. In these debates on the Services and in the White Papers concerned it has been said that Her Majesty's Government needs a policy of Commonwealth co-operation and that there is no attempt within the organisation of the Commonwealth countries and N.A.T.O. to share out the burden of manpower which is to be borne by the countries concerned. In this we should bear in mind the great sacrifices which the men and women of this country have made in two world wars, and the physical bombardment and damage suffered here by comparison with other countries.

That leads ordinary citizens frequently to inquire why it is in these years just after the Second World War that the Services of this country use so much greater a proportion of the manpower than those of our allies; how it is that there is continual talk of the equality of sacrifice, that this is the only one of the countries which has so long a period of National Service as two years and which carries so large a proportion of its manpower into the military services. When this is mentioned it is sometimes denied, and it was, on a recent occasion, denied by an hon. and gallant Gentleman on the other side of the House, who claimed, for example, that the Commonwealth countries raised very substantial forces to contribute to the allies and the North Atlantic Treaty countries.

I should like to point to the facts in trying to follow the policies being pursued by the Commonwealth countries, most of whose Governments refuse to adopt conscription at all. I recognise that it is their own business and policy. Most of them, as in the case of the Australian Government, consider not more than 30 days a year is necessary for the purpose of conscription, whereas this country maintains a period of two years' National Service for its young men, with considerable reserve liabilities. It has also a longer period of conscription than any of its Western European allies.

As a result of that, we find a larger proportion of our population in the Services than is the case in any of the Commonwealth countries. So that these facts shall be placed on record, so that we may have no further disputation here about the situation, I should like to give these facts regarding the Navy. Today.27 per cent, of the total population of this country is in the Royal Navy. In the case of Australia, the figure is.16 per cent; in the case of Canada 10 per cent; in the case of New Zealand 18 per cent, and in the case of South Africa 006 per cent.

I hope that those figures, which prove that this country has at least twice the manpower in the Forces in relation to its total population compared with all the other Commonwealth countries, dispose of any idea that there has been any success in the policy of Commonwealth co-operation from the point of view of an equal distribution of the manpower burden.

The citizens of this country are entitled to know that it is part of the policy which is now approved by the majority of the House of Commons that this country should continue to pursue a policy of raising a much bigger proportion of military manpower than any of its allies, and we, in spite of the protestations of Ministers from time to time, maintain this system of compulsory call-up whereas a very substantial number of the countries with which we are cooperating, and in particular the Commonwealth countries, rely entirely upon volunteer forces.

This fact is perhaps particularly relevant to the Royal Navy because that Service has always prided itself upon the volunteer element. It is, and should be, the policy of the First Lord to place the Royal Navy entirely on a volunteer basis. But we find today that the First Lord is now becoming increasingly dependent upon National Service men. One of the deplorable facts about the manpower in the Royal Navy with which we are confronted today is that next year it will have to depend more than it did last year on National Service men. I believe that some of the concessions announced by the First Lord today are a result of the deplorable decline in Regular recruitment which took place last year.

I think that all hon. Members, whatever their point of view may be on the question of National Service and whether it should be reviewed or reduced, are in favour of arresting this decline in Regular recruitment which is such a menace to the possibility of abolishing conscription. Personally, I am very doubtful whether piecemeal expedients such as those at present adopted by the Government will contribute towards that end.

We have had no opportunity of a full debate on the question of pay or on the White Paper, which was sprung on the House in the middle of the debate on Service emoluments, and which was produced by the Government for the purpose of attracting more Regular recruits in 1954 to the Navy and to the other Services in order to arrest this decline which now causes the Navy to rely more upon National Service men. I have in mind the idea, which I am sure the Service Chiefs desire, of an all-round increase in pay for the Regular Forces.

A discussion on pay is not in order on this Vote, which merely deals with numbers.

I thought, Sir Rhys, that as we were discussing manpower for the Navy—and one of the most important points today is how to get more Regular recruits for the Navy—the question of pay and the improvement in the pay of certain ranks of the Navy for the purpose of attracting more recruits in 1954 was relevant. However, in view of your Ruling, I will leave that point and simply say that we are very much concerned with this subject which is really worthy of a separate debate, particularly in relation to the White Paper on Service Emoluments.

I express the hope, as we did in the debate on the Air Estimates, that the First Lord of the Admiralty will use his influence in the Government to see that Parliamentary time may be provided at an early opportunity for discussing the whole situation of Regular recruiting for the forces, the question of the distribution of National Service men, and the length of the period of service, because of the disproportionate burden of military manpower now being carried by this country.

5.5 a.m.

I judge from his demeanour that it is the First Lord who is preparing to reply to this short debate, and not the Parliamentary and Financial Secretary. I am encouraged by that fact to make one or two observations on Vote A in the hope that the right hon. Gentleman, unlike the Parliamentary Secretary, will reply to any analysis that is made of the Votes that he has published.

I mentioned in an earlier debate that in some respects, in spite of the fact that the Estimates comprise a voluminous book of 319 pages, the layout seems to be inspired rather by a desire to disguise than to provide information. It is not always easy to get the information which the Estimates purport to be giving. This is particularly true of Vote 8. One of the difficulties is that the compilers of the Navy Estimates appear to be fond of what the Parliamentary Secretary a little while ago called a "wide racket" and like to put down a Jot of classifications and then, instead of showing the sterling amounts or the ship numbers in the case of Vote A, separately, for each classification, bracket a lot of them together.

To make the point clear, I refer the First Lord to page 9 and the section dealing with the Royal Marines, under which five classifications are listed: commissioned officers, quartermaster sergeants and sergeants, buglers and musicians, rank and file, and boy musicians. Of these five classifications, only two figures are provided for numbers. A separate figure is provided for the commissioned officers, and then all the other four classifications are lumped together in a single bracket in order to give a global figure. That is not very helpful.

If page 9 were all that one had to rely upon, there would be no means of knowing that the 10,330 men who are covered by "quartermaster sergeants and sergeants, buglers and musicians, rank and file, and boy musicians," do not consist of one quartermaster sergeant, one sergeant, one bugler, one musician, one rank, one file, and 10,324 boy musicians. It is quite clear that the Admiralty has these figures separately, and, therefore, there is no reason why it should not publish them. If it is argued that the book would be twice as big if every classification were broken down, the short answer is that all the classifications are listed anyway, and the space has been taken up. Therefore, we might as well get the information.

If one troubles to go digging for it, one can get some of the information, because the magic figure of 10,330 appears again on page 11 and there is a small breakdown. It is shown that the 10,330 consists of five in the educational establishments, 74 staff for naval reserves, and 10,251 men. And so one can calculate that, somewhere between 10,251, who are men, and 10,330, which is the total, there are the boy reserves.

This same figure of 10,330 crops up again on page 14, from which it appears that of the 10,330 there are 10,254 quartermaster sergeants, colour sergeants —who appear for the first time—sergeants and other ranks, from which one can, by a piece of cross deduction between pages 9, 11 and 14, figure out how many of the total were musicians. What I suggest to the First Lord is that, when he next draws up the Estimates, he should not do them in the form of an Ellery Queen mystery magazine so that an item has to be picked out and followed backwards and forwards in order to get the required information.

While following through this information, I came across a point mentioned earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Stepney (Mr. W. J. Edwards), who pointed out in respect of the Royal Navy that the number of officers was increasing in proportion to the number of petty officers, seamen and boys, and then added, "This is true to a lesser extent of the Royal Marines." My hon. Friend was understating his own case because, although the global numbers are smaller, it is truer of the Royal Marines than of the Royal Navy that there seems to be this concentration at the top of which my hon. Friend, with his experience, was afraid.

Comparing 1953–54 with 1954–55 one finds that, although the total of the quartermaster sergeants, sergeants, buglers and musicians, rank and file and boy musicians dropped by 810 over the year, the number of commissioned officers required to look after those 810 fewer quartermaster sergeants, etc., etc., is 25 pore than in the previous year, because instead of 11,140 men officered by 660 officers there are now to be 10,330 men officered by 685 officers.

To put the point simply, in order to practise what I preach and give the First Lord all the information and not a bit of it—which I hope he will give us next year—what has happened in the course of the year is that, whereas last year there were 59 commissioned officers per 1,000 other ranks, this year there are to be 66 commissioned officers per 1,000 other ranks. That is quite a sharp increase which does, as I suggested earlier, lend point to the observations of my hon. Friend the Member for Stepney about the danger of getting over-concentration at the top, and I hope we shall have something said on that.

I want to know one other general point, which I think fairly comes within Vote A, because it reflects upon the number of people who will be required for welfare services, chaplaincy services and the like. I think there would need to be less expenditure of manpower in this direction if there were not some misunderstandings on the part of naval personnel about the relationship between themselves and their representatives in this Committee. We used to find that in all three Services some time ago, when men were under the misapprehension that there was some inhibition on a man in uniform writing to his Member of Parliament about some difficulty.

That seems to have disappeared from the Army and Air Force, but I am sorry to tell the First Lord that, from my own experience with my own constituents, for some reason the impression is still widespread in the Royal Navy that it is an offence for a man to write to his Member of Parliament about something that is worrying him, and I have evidence of this. I believe this places an extra load of work upon the officers and chaplains of the Royal Navy who deal with welfare matters, and it is because of this that I say it affects the number of people in these classifications.

I wonder whether the First Lord, when he sums up this debate, will unequivocally tell us that, as far as the Service for which he is responsible is concerned, subject, of course, to the provisions of the Official Secrets Act and to any other reservations about the disclosure of secrets and of strategic information, it is open to any citizen of this country, even though he be in the Royal Navy, to communicate with his Member of Parliament without let or hindrance. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will find himself able to say that.

5.15 a.m.

I am not satisfied that we should pass Vote A, which means that we are sanctioning the call-up of 139,000 men for the Navy. I believe that this is excessive and beyond the reasonable demands of the Navy, particularly when they are being raised to some extent by conscription. I cannot see any justification for sending men to the Navy who would be more needed, for example, in housing and agriculture. I believe that it is a waste of manpower to take people away from housing schemes by methods of conscription in order to swell the ranks of the Navy.

We as a nation say that the miner is more needed for the production of coal than for being conscripted into the Armed Forces. We take the view that coal production should have a priority over the Services, and if we take the view that it is necessary for the coalminer to be at the coal face instead of in the Forces, then we can say the same about housing schemes and agriculture. There is a strong feeling in many parts of the country about the call-up of farm workers for the Armed Forces, including the Navy, and only recently I had two letters from farmers saying that they needed—

The hon. Member is departing now from the Vote before the Committee.

I bow to your Ruling, Sir Charles, but my argument was that the people are more needed on the land producing food than for sending these young men into the Navy to go to British Guiana.

There is only one paragraph in the Admiralty White Paper with which I can agree—that is to approve all the good work that has been done by the Navy in the Greek earthquake. I can add my tribute to the work done by the various ships in that earthquake and also in the Cyprus earthquake.

That is all very true, but the hon. Member should have made this in his previous speech on the general question.

I wanted to say a good word for the Navy when I had the opportunity.

I cannot commend the work of the Navy in British Guiana. I submit that if the work of the Navy were different it would not need to undertake expeditions to British Guiana and it would not need 139,000 men. We are giving the Admiralty 139,000 men to authorise expeditions to places like British Guiana. There is a paragraph here about British Guiana and I submit that we need 139,000 men for expeditions of this kind. If we did not have policies such as those which the Government are carrying for suppressing free elections and democratic ways in British Guiana, there would be no need for so large a number of men.

Nor am I satisfied that we need 139,000 men in order to be prepared for a war against the navy of the Soviet Union. I could not quite follow the argument used by the Parliamentary and Financial Secretary, who said we need all our Navy because the Russians had authorised a large expenditure in their navy.

How does he come to his calculations? It surely makes a very great difference to our estimate of Russian expenditure if we are talking in terms of the exchange value of the rouble, or its internal value; because so far as the exchange value is concerned, that would only apply if we were proposing any financial trans actions to buy some Russian cruisers; and the internal value—

We are now dealing with the number of seamen and officers in the Royal Navy.

Then, Sir Charles, I will again retreat to a defensive position in the rear; but I argue that we should not need so many men if we had an accurate assessment of what the Navy will have to meet and I say that the number of men is swollen by the strategy employed by the Government.

If that strategy means that we have to send aircraft carriers and cruisers to take part in a war in Korea—which I consider was a disastrous war which I do not wish to see repeated anywhere else, nor see British sailors sent to such another war— then we may need 139,000 men. But a quarter of that number is sufficient. The Navy is large because we have not yet liquidated the traditional policies of British imperialism.

I am perturbed about developments in different parts of the world, and I do not want to see a Navy such as we had when we bombarded Alexandria; I do not want to see the Navy taking an aggressive role. If there is any argument for the Navy going to different parts of the world it should be under the auspices of the United Nations. I cannot see how, by providing 139,000 men, with aircraft carriers and cruisers, and all the paraphernalia of modern war, that we are entitled to play any different, or any greater part, than some other countries in United Nations.

I therefore submit that this figure of 139,000 men is not justified in view of the role which the Navy should carry out at present; which is such work as rescuing people suffering as a result of earthquakes. I am not prepared to raise a large Navy to carry out imperialist adventures or doubtful wars to assist American imperialism.

That has been put several times and I must ask the hon. Member not to repeat it, because it is becoming tedious.

I think the point has been sufficiently impressed on the Committee and I suggest that I have at least partially proved the case that we do not need such a large number of men.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) for attempting to pay a compliment to the Navy.

I will not keep the House for more than a minute, but I want to reply to two questions asked by the hon. Member for Reading, South (Mr. Mikardo). He complained about the width of our bracket covering the figures in Vote A. He seemed to analyse them fairly well himself, but I will check the figures when I have read his speech and see whether they are correct. I will let him know the answer. We will see whether we can widen the figures in next year's Estimates.

The more important question he put was whether I thought sailors, as well as soldiers and airmen, realised that they had a right of appeal to their M. Ps. From the number of letters which the Civil Lord, the Parliamentary Secretary and I receive at the Admiralty from M. Ps. to whom sailors have written, I should think it is quite certain that they do. Although we hope that they will first use the usual channels, which are quicker, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that every member of the Navy, as of the other two Services, is entitled to write to his Member of Parliament, just as is any ordinary citizen.

Question put, and agreed to.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Chairman do report the Resolution and ask leave to sit again."— [Mr. Buchan-Hepburn.]

5.27 a.m.

The Government should not have attempted to move to report Progress, because we have had a perfectly reasonable debate. I wanted to raise a number of items on the other Votes and they could have been dealt with expeditiously, as we dealt expeditiously with Vote A. I have several points to raise on Vote 10. It was clear that there were differences of opinion among hon. Members opposite as well as on this side of the Committee and that further explanations were needed. We could have asked for them, and the Government could have given them, in the same way as that in which the First Lord answered the questions of my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, South (Mr. Mikardo). It did not take long for those questions to be put and answered, and the same thing could have happened again. We could have dealt with the whole business in 15 or 30 minutes. Equally, on the Air Estimates, we could have dealt with the whole matter in half-an-hour instead of having such a long delay.

This is becoming a serious matter, because it is now accepted as orthodox and automatic policy to move to report Progress immediately after Vote A has been discussed, however long that discussion may have been. The main reason I ask the Committee not to accept the Motion is that it is wrong that it should be accepted as normal procedure, when Votes are put down on the Order Paper for discussion, that no discussion should be allowed. Votes 1, 2, 6, 9 and 10 are down, yet it is accepted as orthodox and automatic procedure that we should not be allowed to discuss them.

I presume that if the Government are to continue in this way we will never again have the right to discuss individual Votes. Why do the Government take that action? Why not follow the simple procedure: it would save time now, and would have saved time the other night. I am protesting against a procedure which will deny me the right, as a Member for a dockyard constituency, of discussing individual Votes on these Navy Estimates. Those rights will be taken away from the House in the years ahead. I know hon. Gentlemen opposite do not like me to protest, but if they were in Opposition and wanted to raise individual matters they would understand the point of principle that is involved. It is absolutely right that we should go on protesting until the Government recognises that an important principle is involved.

There is also a relevant point on this matter which raises a constitutional issue. At the beginning of his speech my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, South said he wished to discuss some Committee points. We had discovered, while discussing the Air Estimates, that we were deprived of the rights of dealing with Committee points on individual Votes just as we are being deprived of that right again today. When my hon. Friend mentioned that he would raise those points he was told by Mr. Deputy-Speaker, who was then in occupation of the Chair, that that was contrary to the procedure of the House, that it was against the Rules of Order that he should seek to discuss Committee points on the general debate.

That was the Ruling, and my hon. Friend had to alter the general course of his speech by saying that instead of discussing Committee points he would discuss points of detail. I would invite anyone who disagrees with me to look at Erskine May, I think it is on page 713 or thereabouts, where it is laid down that it is improper for anyone to discuss, on the Motion to report Progress, Committee points which should be properly discussed during the Committee stage later. If my hon. Friend was discussing Committee matters he was out of order on the Ruling contained in Erskine May.

We now come to the situation where my hon. Friend is deprived of the opportunity of discussing Committee points if he abides by the Ruling given by Mr. Deputy-Speaker and by the Ruling in Erskine May. By not making his points in the earlier debate he is deprived from making them at all, because the Government move to report Progress immediately after Vote A.

We had this sort of thing last Friday morning. This Ruling in Erskine May was given before the new Guillotine procedure was introduced, a few years ago, and no specific Ruling has been given to amend it. It is clear that that Ruling is out of date because we have an entirely different situation because the Votes come under the Guillotine procedure.

I do not think that that makes any difference. Erskine May lays down a principle applying to any general debates, that in them Committee points are not discussed. It applies not only to debates on Service Estimates, but to debates on Second Readings of Bills. Anyone can see the obvious reason for it. We do not want debates on general principles cluttered up with Committee points.

Our complaint the other night, when we were debating the Air Estimates, as it is our complaint tonight, was that a Motion to report Progress would preclude discussion of matters in Committee. We could have had a full discussion in Committee of other matters, after the discussion of Vote A, had the Government not moved to report Progress. An important principle is involved against which the Government are offending by this procedure of theirs they are adopting. It is apparently to be taken as the normal course that the Government should move to report Progress once Vote A has been dealt with.

There is this aspect of the matter, too, that the Government move to report Progress without any argument in favour or any explanation of the Motion. They move the Motion tonight in the same peremptory way as they did the other night. It is a shocking procedure. In Committee on the Finance Bill, for instance, when the Government move this Motion, there is an explanation, such as that the debate has gone on long enough, or that such and such a matter will be considered by the Government in the interval, or that such a postponement will be convenient. But no such explanation is given in this instance.

Is the explanation that we have had an extensive debate of Vote A? Nobody can say that. We have had only three speeches plus a brief reply by the First Lord. No one can pretend there has been undue discussion of Vote A. Is the explanation that we had too long a debate on the original Question? Some hon. Members may think so, but it has always been a well-cherished right of hon. Members to have, if they want it. a long debate on Service Estimates.

Some hon. Members may not like the views of my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), but he has the same rights as other hon. Members, and the same right to express views on the Service Estimates. I do not think it can be the case of the Government that the discussion was too long. Besides, the debate on the Amendment was longer than such debates usually are, and we did not return to the more general debate until 10 o'clock instead of 9 o'clock or earlier, as we usually do on these occasions.

If anybody cares to check on those who have spoken in the debate he will find that there have been nearly as many speakers from the Government side of the House as there have been from this side. Therefore, if we take the case on the point of the length of time of the general debate, the length of time taken on the Amendment or on Vote A there are no grounds whatever for this Motion. That is probably the reason why the Government did not attempt to make any case for it. Certainly, on matters which involve the liberty of this House, as Erskine May indicates in the passage to which I have referred, or on matters which involve the procedure of the House, we should not be prevented from discussing these Votes—

I think the hon. Member is criticising the Ruling of the House when Standing Order No. 16 was altered on 28th July, 1948, under the new procedure for the Guillotine.

I am not seeking to criticise that decision, Sir Charles. It was a perfectly proper decision. I am not criticising the decision of the House that if, in fact, we carry the Motion to report Progress then the other items fall to the ground.

I am criticising the timing of Government's decision to report Progress. That is a different matter, because the procedure which lays it down that the Government can secure the Guillotine for these Votes is not justification for their deciding to do it now in these circumstances. I am protesting about that. If the Government are not even prepared to attempt to make a case for the action which they propose to the Committee. I do not see why we should have to agree to it.

On a point of order My hon. Friend has made repeated reference to the Ruling in Erskine May that detailed questions may not be raised in the general Estimates debate. May I submit that that Ruling comes down to us from the time previous to the introduction of the 1948 procedure, when the Committee and Report stages became subject to a time limiting factor? Therefore, it became necessary to have a much more prolonged discussion on the general Estimates debate because it was impossible to have any prolonged discussion on the detailed Votes. It was inevitable under the Guillotine procedure that, as it was recognised at the time, some Members would be unable to speak and, obviously, some points could not be made.

I submit that because of that change in procedure the scope of the general debate was widened and it is right to say that we have been advised by Mr. Deputy-Speaker that we are permitted to raise detailed questions on the Votes in the general debate precisely because the Committee stage on those Votes would be limited. Therefore, the rule needs to be brought up to date and it is not correct to say that detailed questions may not be raised on the general Estimates debate. It is clear that if that is correct, then the right of hon. Members to raise questions on the Votes has been much more severely restricted than hon. Members thought by the introduction of the Guillotine procedure. I should like you, Sir Charles, to reconsider the whole question of Members being able to raise the sort of questions which they have always claimed the right to raise.

That is a matter of argument. It is quite clear under Standing Order 16, as it is now—and it was altered in 1948—that we have a general discussion; when Vote A has been reached the rest can be put through on the Guillotine. It is a Standing Order of the House and, therefore, we must stand by that.

That is not my point, Sir Charles. My point was that with the introduction of the 1948 procedure the question is whether it is in order for detailed questions on the Votes to be raised in the general Estimates debates.

We know that Erskine May has been quoted, and if the general debate has taken place on moving the Speaker out of the Chair it cannot be repeated in Committee of Supply.

5.46 a.m.

I think there are some further issues here which do appear on the point my hon. Friend is making. Sir Charles. I am glad that we have the Leader of the House here, because a point emerges which I think needs his attention and that of the House. We have got into a position where the rights of discussion of the House are to be unduly curtailed.

Erskine May says on page 713:
"This power of general debate does not, however, sanction discussion in detail upon special subjects, which must be reserved until the grant for that special service is before the committee, such as the reorganisation of the controlling authorities over navy expenditure, or the tactics adopted during naval manoeuvres or an admiralty minute dealing with a court martial. After the general discussion has taken place, debate must be confined to the particular vote before the committee."
The Leader of the House will see the difficulty into which we are getting by the Government moving that we report Progress as soon as Vote A has been passed. The Government have to get Vote A, because when we go into Committee of Supply we have to do some business, and the least business they can do is to get Vote A.

We are getting to the position now where either hon. Members will seek to contrive to defeat the Rulings of the Chair in the general debate by raising particular issues on small matters— which, under Erskine May, as I have quoted, ought to be raised when they come to the particular Vote that we are discussing—either they are to be involved in a constant battle with you and your successors in the Chair, Sir Charles, as to whether something comes within Erskine May or not, in which case we shall have a very long general debate, or else we shall scramble through the general debate as quickly as we can so that we may assuage the passion of the Government Whips to get the debate over so that we can go on to detailed points.

We have tried to bring out a number of general principles in the debate tonight in the general discussion. If we are to have this process, which seems now to have started, of moving to report Progress when Vote A has been secured, it will mean that our general debates will be ragged, and that we shall have them interspersed with a number of detailed points that should more properly come at the consideration of the individual Votes.

We have not had the advantage of the presence of the Leader of the House— and I do not complain about that, be- cause he has other duties to do—but I think he will find that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot) said, the debate we have had throughout the night has gone one for one, I believe, with the exception of one very long speech from this side which I did not have the good fortune to hear. But, apart from that, I want the Leader of the House to accept my point of view that the discussion has been relevant and germane to the issues which confront it.

As I have said, it is the only debate on the Navy which we have every year. The Civil Lord makes one speech a year. He made a very agreeable one tonight. Although I am as anxious as anyone to get to bed, I do not think it is really too much that on a Vote like this, if some hon. Members on either side have points to raise, Ministers and Whips should be ready to hear them on the one night in the year on which they can raise such matters.

There has been considerable criticism of the Admiralty administration, some justified and some not, but I do not believe that it can fairly be said that points have been raised for the sake of raising them. I speak of the generality of the debate. I know the difficulties of the Chief Whip. He has to consider whether if he moves to report Progress he might lose more time on the discussion of the Motion than if the Committee were to work through the Votes.

There are some real points here which hon. Members wanted to raise. On the Vote dealing with the victualling and clothing of the Navy there is the very important question of naval uniforms. Seamen's uniforms have been under discussion for a long time. No one has raised it on a general debate. I would point out to the Leader of the House that it will encourage hon. Members to discuss the Motion to report Progress at undue length if they feel that there is to be no opportunity of raising perfectly proper points on which people desire information on the detailed Votes.

I ask the right hon. Gentleman, therefore, to reconsider this process to which we seem to be subjected at the present time. Perhaps he has not fully appreciated that it cuts out a great deal of discussion. I hope that he will make a short statement on why he thought it necessary to report Progress at this stage.

5.54 a.m.

I accept the responsibility on behalf of this side of the Committee, and if the hon. Gentleman asks me why we moved to report Progress the answer is that it is because we have had a long debate on this topic. No one can pretend that a debate which lasts until 5.30 in the morning from 4 o'clock the previous afternoon is not a long debate.

While I accept from the hon. Gentleman that the speeches have been one for one, I gather that two-and-a-half hours more have been taken up by hon. Members opposite than by hon. Members on this side. I do not complain, but it puts the matter into slightly different perspective.

As I understand it, it would be in order to raise these points of detail during the general debate. We are doing nothing unusual at all. After all, 1948 was a period of time when the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends were in office. Therefore, if any changes were made in 1948, those of us on this side now can hardly be held responsible for that. It was the arrangement then made, though I hasten to add that it has been accepted by us since and has become part of the procedure of the House.

As I understand, the reason why all Votes are put down is in case, if I may use the term, the debate fizzles out and time is available for specific points. But no one can say that a debate which has lasted until half-past five in the morning has fizzled out. I do not think that even the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot) would say that. This has been done in other years. It is nothing new. I have not looked it up, but I think the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East will find that after Vote A had been obtained, this procedure happened in the time when his party were in office, just as it is happening now.

It is the normal practice.

Although I have not heard all the debate today—I cannot always listen to every debate—my right hon. Friend tells me that it has been a good and useful debate. But there comes a period when it ceases to be good and useful, and gets rather long and is not quite of so much value to us all.

I think that, on reflection, the hon. Gentleman will realise that we are not doing anything at all unusual. We are adopting the procedure which our predecessors adopted in the light of the changes in 1948. We have had a good debate. There is a Report stage to the Service Estimates, and any important points can be brought out then. I hope, therefore, that taking everything into consideration, the House will now be prepared to agree to the Motion to report Progress and ask leave to sit again.

5.58 a.m.

Those hon. Members who groan are perfectly at liberty to go home. Most of them have spent very little time in the Chamber during the debate.

For what one voice is worth, I am bound to oppose the Motion to report Progress. Indeed, I am reinforced in something I was about to say in support of that opposition by what the Lord Privy Seal has just said. I accept his point that this is not something that is made by the Opposition against the Government. He is perfectly right in saying that the Government which preceded his party in office did precisely the same thing. But this is a point which has to be made for the back benches on both sides against the Front Benches on both sides.

It is, of course, the incentive of Front Benches, and especially of Whips' offices, always to get the business of the House through as quickly as possible, and if, in the course of doing, that they inhibit the possibilities open to private Members to query the expenditure of Governments, they do not worry very much about that. I put it to hon. Members opposite—those who are interested in the matter, not those who groaned like children just now; those interested in safeguarding the expenditure of the taxpayer's money—that one of these days they will be sitting on these benches, and doubtless they will feel just as sore about the situation as we do at present. They are very shortsighted if they now acquiesce in this steamrollering of the Service Estimates through the Committee.

It is true, as the Lord Privy Seal said, that this procedure has gone on for five years, but one always ought to be willing to review a situation in the light of the experience of the years. Like my hon. Friend, I do not blame the Lord Privy Seal for not being present throughout, for he has other responsibilities, but he has missed seeing that we have had during this long night's debate at least one example of the fact that the procedure is not working out as it was expected to work out. It was expected when the procedure was introduced that people who had detailed points to make or to inquire about on the Votes, other than those which would be discussed in full, would be able to make their points and ask their questions during the general debate. Indeed, the right hon. Gentleman said that in almost as many words.

What has become apparent during the night is that, first, there is—I put it no higher than this—some question about whether it is in order to put detailed points during the course of the general debate. Second it has transpired that even if it is in order to ask questions en masse during the general debate, it is extremely difficult for the spokesman of the Government, faced with this pile-up of detailed questions in the middle of general debate, to do anything worth while to answer them.

The First Lord has said with his characteristic courtesy that anything the Government could not get around to answering, because of the pile up and because they had not had and could not have notice, they would answer afterwards as best they could in correspondence with those hon. Members who raised the matters. Now let us have a look at these two questions: first, whether one can raise detailed questions in the general debate, and, secondly, whether one will get replies to them even if one does raise them.

On the first question, there have not only been some differences evinced between my hon. Friends the Members for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Swingler) and Devonport (Mr. Foot), but there have been differences evinced—if I may say this without getting right out of order and right into trouble—between the occupants of the Chair at different periods during the debate, because at one stage we were told quite categorically that it was improper to raise in the general debate not merely Committee points but points of detail.

Now, I put it to the Lord Privy Seal, with all respect—and I am not just trying to make a debating point—that, if that rule were to hold, the theory that we could raise detailed points during the course of the general debate and, therefore, it does not matter if after a lapse of a considerable number of hours all the Votes other than Vote A were guillotined, we no longer hold water.

On the second question, during the course of what I admit was an over-long speech—although the First Lord will be the first to say it was not a speech which wasted any words or introduced any irrelevant matter whatever; it took an hour but dealt with 17 points, which is only 3½£ minutes per point—I put 17 questions to the Government. There was no attempt made to answer a single one of them. The Parliamentary and Financial Secretary, in winding up the debate, did not refer to a single one of those questions. I do not altogether blame him. As I said earlier, he had no notice of them; some of them were detailed points, and he was obviously taken aback at the idea that any hon. Member had read this 319 page document, and so he was not prepared.

The situation, therefore, is that, even if it is in order to raise points on Votes 1 to 15 during the course of the general debate—which seems to be in question— for one reason or another, either because the Parliamentary and Financial Secretary cannot be bothered, or cannot find out, or does not know, one does not get any reply to questions anyway. That is precisely the situation which would arise if, in the course of a Second Reading debate on a Bill, an hon. Member tried to introduce a lot of detailed points. We are in this difficult situation, that the procedure has not worked out in practice as it was expected to in theory.

Though the hour is advanced, and even though those hon. Members who have arrived last in the Chamber are complaining most bitterly about the length of the debate, even though it seems to be held as a reproach by the Lord Privy Seal that the Opposition have been two and a half times as assiduous in looking after the expenditure of money as the Government side of the Committee, I do not see how it can be held that it is now proper to curtail all discussion on 15 of the 16 Votes included in these Estimates. That is why I think the Government are unjustified in asking the Committee to agree to the discussion being brought to an end.

6.5 a.m.

I do not think we should discuss this very much further, because I feel it is to be submitted to a higher authority. The Leader of the House has referred us to what was said in 1948. I remember well the assurances which were given then. It was that we were applying a Guillotine procedure to the Votes, but it would be admissible to discuss all the details in the general debate.

The only trouble about that is that that has not been applied by the Chair. The Leader of the House would not realise that because he has not been able to attend all our debates, but we have had the experience during these debates on the Estimates of hon. Members being ruled out of order for raising detailed points and being told that those points could be raised on a certain Vote, although it is clearly known by everyone that the Government will report Progress after Vote A so that the other Votes come under the Guillotine procedure. That is quite fantastic. We do not know where we are.

Some hon. Members try to discuss what Erskine May calls special subjects on the general debate, and other Members are ruled out of order when they tried to raise details on the Votes. The assurance that we were given when this new form of procedure was introduced— a reform to expedite Government business—simply has not been fulfilled. I hope that as a result of these discussions the whole of this procedure will be looked at again so that we can have a clear Ruling from the Chair whether or not it is in order to discuss details on the Votes put down in the general Esti- mates debate. The Leader of the House has told us just now that it is in order, but we had an earlier Ruling from the Chair that it was not. The assurance given in 1948 was that we would be allowed to do so. Today, we do not know what the position is and what the result will be. Hon. Members feel frustrated and prevented from raising points of detail on the Votes with the result that our proceedings are prolonged by a procedural wrangle.

I think that the trouble is that the second paragraph on page 713 of Erskine May has not been amended to bring it into line with the new Standing Order. There is a certain contradiction in what is stated there. That is my opinion. There is a certain amount of confusion, but I think if the sixth, seventh and eighth lines were taken out it would bring the paragraph into line with the new procedure.

We are most grateful to you, Sir Charles, for what you have said, because the point put by my hon. Friends is a point of substance. I see by the notes on page 713 that the Rulings given are dated 1886, 1889, and 1893–4, and I am sure that we should all be grateful if you could have this matter reconsidered, so that we may be able to know what is in order in matters of detail in these debates.

Perhaps on the Army Estimates, which are coming later in the week, we will ignore the lines I spoke of and on the general debate points of detail can be gone into. Then, at the end, when we go into Committee on Vote A, we will have discussed earlier most of the points which can be raised.

We are all grateful to you, Sir Charles. I would ask the Leader of the House whether this is a matter which might be considered through the usual channels, as it appears to me that there is some contradiction in the Standing Order.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolution to be received this day.

Committee to sit again this day.