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Royal Navy

Volume 644: debated on Wednesday 12 July 1961

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Repair Yard, Evanton (Sale)


asked the Civil Lord of the Admiralty whether, in disposing of the establishment at Evanton, Ross-shire, he consulted the Minister of Labour about employment prospects in that area.

Before selling the Repair Yard at Evanton the Admiralty had consultations on the employment aspects with the Distribution of Industry Panel for Scotland, on which the Minis- try of Labour is represented. We also consulted the Board of Trade and the Scottish Office.

Does not the Minister agree that in disposing of the site to someone who was just marginally the highest tenderer he reduced the employment prospects in the area, as it has been reported to me, by about 30 or 35? Is not this worth looking at?

Two of the tenderers had expressed the intention to develop the site industrially, and the panel which looked into the matter knew of no reason to regard either as likely to give more or less employment than the other. I think that some of the facts given are perhaps incorrect. I have every reason to believe that the present purchaser will give as much employment locally as the other person might have done.

Is it not rather surprising that the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) has not the graciousness to inform the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty—myself—that he intended to put this Question on the Order Paper and that at no time has he ever asked me personally for my support, although my interest in industrial development in the Highlands is well known? Further, is the Minister aware that I have had a letter from the purchaser stating that one large hangar is to be used by an industrialist, a group of workshop buildings has been acquired for development, one of the large buildings is being moved to Evanton to expand an existing business

"and I have retained a further croup of buildings with floor space of about 18,000 sq. ft. for industry."

Order. We do not allow block quotations from documents during Questions.

I was pointing out that the hon. Member for Leeds, West must be pleased about this extra employment which is to be provided by this purchaser.

Order. If that was not a question, I should not allow block quotations in a point of order.

In view of that attack upon me, may I make it clear that at no time have I been interested in the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. John MacLeod). As the Civil Lord knows, my concern has been in the interests of a constituent of mine, a tenderer who considered that he was disadvantaged. He was largely disadvantaged because of the intervention of the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty on behalf of one of his friends.

Surely I am entitled to object most strongly to that and to ask the hon. Member to withdraw it, because what he said is not the case at all.

All implications are out of order at Question Time, and I require the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) to withdraw that part of the expression which he used.

I find myself in some difficulty, Mr. Speaker, in knowing what you wish me to withdraw, because I was subjected to an attack from the other side of the House.

Let me assist the hon. Member, and express the hope that we can get on with Questions. I do not quote his exact words, but he said something to the effect that some obstacle had been raised by the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty on behalf of one of his friends. It is that expression which I require him to withdraw.

With great respect, Mr. Speaker, if I substitute the word "constituent" for the word "friend", would that meet your wishes?

On a point of order. I strongly object even to that. There is no foundation for that.

I was considering whether that met the requirement. I think that it does.

Disposal Of Property And Plant (Procedure)


asked the Civil Lord of the Admiralty to what extent it is the practice of his Department to accept always the highest tender for properties and plant to be disposed of; and to what extent he consults other Departments in order to safeguard the wider public interest.

The Admiralty always sells at the highest price unless there are special reasons in the wider public interest for preferring some lower offer. Because of these wider interests the Admiralty invariably consults other Departments before disposal. Properties suitable for industrial use are considered by the Board of Trade—in the light of its statutory responsibilities under the Local Employment Act, 1960—in concert with the Ministry of Labour and any other interested Departments such as the Scottish Office.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that no wider public interest was served on this occasion, only the question of price?

We believed that the employment probabilities of both competing tenderers were equal. The Board of Trade judged the same. Therefore, we took notice of the advantage of the taxpayers and accepted the highest offer.

Frigates (Sale To Portugal)


asked the Civil Lord of the Admiralty what sum has been paid by the Government of Portugal for two Bay class frigates of the British Navy recently sold to that Government; and how much the refitting and modernising of these warships prior to sale cost.

The purchase price of ships sold to other navies is a confidential matter between Her Majesty's Government and the purchaser. The Answer to the second part of the Question is that these ships were to be refitted not by the Admiralty but by private negotiations between the purchaser and a British shipbuilding firm.

Perhaps the Civil Lord will tell me whether the purchase price took into account any restriction upon the use of the ships and whether the same restriction applied to these ships as applied to the provision of arms to Portugal. I hope that he can tell us that the ships are not to be used for conveying troops to any of the Portuguese colonies or for any operation on the coasts of those colonies.

It has been made clear in many debates and Questions in the House that these ships were sold in order to replace over-age destroyers which were being scrapped and to allow Portugal to meet her N.A.T.O. obligations.

Naval And Civil Establishments (Security)


asked the Civil Lord of the Admiralty what basic differences exist in the application of security regulations to Admiralty civil establishments and naval shore establishments, respectively; and whether he is satisfied that there is no weakness in the security system resulting from such differences.

There are no basic differences in the regulations applied to naval and civil establishments respectively.

I thank the Civil Lord for that reply. I wonder if he can satisfy the House on two further points. First, is it correct that the captain in charge, Portland, before this particular incident recommended that Henry Houghton should not be employed in Her Majesty's dockyard? Secondly, in view of the serious breach of security in the Admiralty civil establishment, is it not odd that two naval officers have been named but not, as yet, any civilians?

On the first point, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made clear, it is undesirable to try to put a gloss or an explanation on the summary which has already been laid before the House. On the second point, two out of the three persons named were civilians at the time. One is a civilian. One was an ex-naval officer who had been a civilian for some time before his employment. It is true that the third was a serving naval officer at that time.

Security (Romer Committee's Report)


asked the Civil Lord of the Admiralty whether the allegation made in 1954 that Henry Houghton was taking secret papers out of the Underwater Detection Establishment at Portland, as stated in paragraph 4 of the summary of the Romer Committee's findings, was true.

As I said on 5th July, I cannot elaborate on the summary of the Romer Committee's main findings which has been circulated in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Does the Civil Lord recollect telling me on 20th June that in fact Houghton never had any access to secret information? Must not that fact have been perfectly well known to his immediate superior, to whom this allegation was made? In that case, does it not render that person very much more culpable than if in fact Houghton had had such access, because in that case he might merely have been taking the stuff home to do a little homework? In those circumstances, can my hon. Friend say whether this junior official has been suspended from duty prior to the disciplinary action which no doubt it is intended to bring against him?

As my hon. and gallant Friend knows, all these three persons are the subject of disciplinary proceedings at the moment and it would be wrong to anticipate the outcome of those proceedings.


asked the Civil Lord of the Admiralty what disciplinary measures have been taken arising from the Report of the Romer Committee.

In view of the scathing comments made by the Romer Committee, why is it taking the Admiralty so long to decide what it is to do? Is there any reason for the delay? Surely, all the facts are known by now—or I should hope so.

I think it only right that people who have been accused should be given a proper opportunity to defend themselves, and make counter-statements. We are looking into the matter, and hope in due course to make a statement of our reply.

What does the hon. Gentleman mean by the words "due course"? When does he expect to be able to make a statement?

I imagine, probably two or three weeks—something of that sort of period.

Hospital, Gillingham (Equipment And Stores)


asked the Civil Lord of the Admiralty what happened to the medical equipment and stores at the Royal Naval Hospital, Gillingham, when it was vacated by the Royal Navy.

In accordance with the normal practice when an establishment is closed down, all the equipment and stores were carefully surveyed. Serviceable medical equipment and stores were either transferred to other R.N. medical establishments or returned to R.N. storage depots for further use. Unserviceable equipment or stores, including small quantities of drugs whose limited life had expired were destroyed, or were dealt with as scrap. Fixed hospital fittings were handed over to the Ministry of Health.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Is he aware that allegations were made by persons who were employed at the time of the hand-over of the hospital to the National Health Service that they had burned or otherwise disposed of drugs and medical equipment to the value of £7,000, and that the burning and destruction took no less than fourteen days? I accept that in a complete evacuation such as took place here much of the equipment which had been there for many years was useless, but will my hon. Friend ask for a stock list of what should have been transferred and compare it with the figure he subsequently received?

My information is that nothing serviceable was destroyed, but if my hon. Friend has any evidence to the contrary I will certainly consider it and look at the stock list position.

Aircraft Carriers


asked the Civil Lord of the Admiralty at what date existing aircraft carriers will become obsolete; and what plans he has for their replacement.

Our five operational carriers will all have a first-class capability until at least the early 1970s. No decision has yet been taken about replacements, but we are studying the characteristics which they would need.

Would my hon. Friend bear in mind that it might be better, from the point of view both of defence and of cost, not to replace these vessels by aircraft carriers but to lay down missile submarines? Can my hon. Friend say when the Admiralty is likely to reach a decision on this matter?

I should think that recent events in Kuwait showed how valuable an aircraft carrier is, not only to provide radar cover and control facilities—[Interruption.]—yes, the commando carrier has been reinforced by "Victorious", an aircraft carrier, and these carriers are absolutely invaluable in the present climate and difficulties in the world.

Can the Civil Lord give an assurance that before the Admiralty comes to a decision on this, there will be a debate in this House, as very strong views are held on both sides as to whether or no we should persist in replacing these aircraft carriers?

Some time may elapse before we start on the programme. As I say, no decision has yet been taken about replacements. An aircraft carrier normally lasts twenty years, and if we do a major modernisation on it, it will last ten years after that. So we need not rush into a decision on this important matter.

The Civil Lord cannot be asked about arrangements for business. He does not arrange business.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Admiralty makes the decision, and all we ask is that it should not be made until after there has been a full debate in this House.

Assault Ship


asked the Civil Lord of the Admiralty when he expects the new assault ship to be laid down and to be launched.


asked the Civil Lord of the Admiralty what progress is being made with the construction of the assault ship.

We hope to invite tenders by the end of this month, and we shall then need time to consider the response before an order is placed. It is too early to say when the ship will be laid down and launched.

While accepting my hon. Friend's view that the Kuwait operations illustrate the success of the commando carrier concept, do they not also illustrate the fact that it is essential to have an assault ship capable of keeping up with the commando carrier and of landing both transport and armour? Will my hon. Friend press forward with the completion of this ship, and get on with the laying down of a second?

It is important to get the tenders out first, then consider them, and then get the ship laid down before we consider a second.

As the Admiralty has known that such a ship has been required for many years now, has it not been very dilatory, and should it not now try to get the ship completed as quickly as possible?

Considerable improvements have been effected during the period. We have taken the best lessons of American and other practice and have built them in the design of this ship which, we think, will be the better for them.

Hms "Albion"


asked the Civil Lord of the Admiralty what steps are being taken to expedite the conversion of H.M.S. "Albion" to the rôle of commando carrier.

Special steps were taken to fit H.M.S. "Albion" into the dockyard programme at Portsmouth. She will be completed as soon as possible consistent with incorporating in her the lessons learnt with H.M.S. "Bulwark".

As recent events have shown the importance of these ships, can the Civil Lord say when this one is likely to be finished?

We would hope that she would become operational towards the end of next year.

They will operate concurrently, one east and one west of Suez. To maintain continuous availability east of Suez, the carrier west of the Canal will be refitting part of the time.

Chief Of Security


asked the Civil Lord of the Admiralty when the new chief of security in his Department will be appointed.

My noble Friend hopes to make an announcement before the House rises for the Summer Recess.

In view of the urgent need for effective control of naval security, will the Civil Lord hasten the appointment of a competent person? Will he see that whoever is appointed is not just an ordinary civil servant or a "brass hat" on the verge of retirement, but someone who has some experience of security methods?

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that my noble Friend is aware, as I am, of the need to have the best possible man for this very important job.

Is the hon. Gentleman satisfied with the Admiralty's security arrangements in view of the fact that yet another Admiralty official was arrested yesterday, according to the Press, and charged under the Official Secrets Act?

I am not responsible for reports in the Press, but I can say that the report this morning that a security leakage involving top secret experimental work on nuclear-powered submarines is being investigated is completely untrue; and most of the statements in the rest of the article have no foundation.

Will the Civil Lord see that the person who is appointed is someone who has previous experience of security work?

Admiralty Departments (Select Committee's Report)


asked the Civil Lord of the Admiralty what further steps have been taken to concentrate Admiralty departments at one site, in pursuance of Recommendation 6 of the First Report from the Select Committee on Estimates in Session 1959–60, in view of the recent decision to amalgamate sections of the Naval Accounts Departments at Bath.

As already announced, the Dockyards and Maintenance Department has already been concentrated on one site in Bath, and the Radio Division of the Weapons Department, at present in London, will join its parent department in Bath in mid-1962.

The move of the Accounts Department to Bath in mid-1962 will leave two branches in London. The intention is to move them to Bath also as part of a long-term redeployment plan, but this will involve new building.

The Admiralty is vacating Queen Anne's Mansions and its offices in Pinner next year, and concentrating approximately 1,900 staff in the new Empress State Building at Earls Court. This will achieve economies in common services and contribute to greater inter-departmental efficiency.

Whilst expressing satisfaction with the progress that is being made with the first part of Recommendation No. 6, may I ask my hon. Friend whether equal progress has been made in the implementation of the second part of that recommendation.

The concentration of the whole of the Department in one place does mean that there is less call on the Director-General to have to travel. We in the Admiralty are trying to exercise economy in this respect, and are trying to avoid calling the Director-General up from Bath unless it is absolutely necessary to do so.