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Army Supplementary Estimate, 1961–62

Volume 655: debated on Thursday 15 March 1962

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Motion made, and Question proposed,

That a further Supplementary sum, not exceeding £5,000,000, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1962, for expenditure beyond the sum already provided in the grants for Army Services for the year.

Sums not exceeding
Supply GrantsAppropriations in Aid
1. Pay, etc., of the Army4,000,000320,000
2. Reserve Forces, Territorial and Cadet Forces

Cr. 730,000


3. War Office250,000
4. Civilians6,700,000
5. Movements1,820,000330,000
6. Supplies, etc.2,900,000


7. Stores


8. Works, Buildings and Lands

Cr. 6,280,000


SO. Non-Effective Services500,000
11. Additional Married Quarters


Total, Army (Supplementary), 1961–62…£5,000,0001,243,000

* Deficit.

In recent years, the Government have got into the habit of issuing many of these Supplementary Estimates. When the discussions of the Army Estimates are over, the House is in such a state of exhaustion that it does not have the opportunity of examining the Supplementary Estimates with the care that they deserve.

Five million pounds is a quite substantial sum and the fact that this Supplementary Estimate is issued, as it were, as a footnote, as a supplement, to the other Estimates shows the weakness of this Committee system. I shall not enter into the argument for the extension of Committee administration, but this is an example of £5 million being rushed through at the tag end of a tiring week when the House does not have the opportunity to examine it with the care and meticulous attention that it deserves.

In a few weeks' time, the benches opposite will be crowded with hon. Members asking about the financial crisis and the heavy burden of Government expenditure. Today, however, is one of the opportunities to examine one of the Supplementary Estimates. When all the Supplementary Estimates from the different Departments are added up, they amount to a considerable sum.

I should like to examine the Army Supplementary Estimate in detail, but I turn to ask an important question on Vote 4, Subhead E, "Research and Experimental Establishments". We find that the original estimate of £6,035,000 has gone up to £6,435,000, an increase of £400,000 in one year. I should be much obliged if the Under-Secretary of State would tell us something about this mysterious and rather innocuous looking item. Six and a half million pounds is a substantial sum. Can the Under-Secretary break it down a little? Can he tell us, for example, whether it includes the research and experimental establishments at Porton, near Salisbury Plain? If so, what is the reason for the additional expenditure of £400,000?

I ask this question because when these establishments were under the Ministry of Supply, I was a member of a deputation of Members, from both sides, of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee which visited the Porton Microbiological Station, near Salisbury. The purpose of that experimental and research station was to carry out research into biological and microbiological war. We found it an extensive and expensive establishment, costing a considerable amount of money. We were told there that it dealt with all the possibilities of manufacturing the different kinds of viruses and toxins which might be used in the event of biological warfare in the future.

I remember being alarmed at the time that there were 160 scientists employed in this branch of research and thinking that they would be far better employed doing something which might be of greater advantage to humanity. The Committee will recall that there was a considerable number of Questions following the investigations by that deputation, and that the Government's defence was that it was necessary to do research into biological warfare so that we could defend ourselves against possible biological attack by somebody else.

I do not want to go into a great deal of descriptive detail now, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman will say whether the Porton Establishment is included under this mysterious heading, "Research and Experimental Establishments". It used to be under the Ministry of Supply and it was transferred to the War Office. Does it come under this subhead, the Estimate for which has gone up by £400,000 during the year? If so, what is the explanation of the rise?

The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) complains that we do not devote enough time to the examination of Supplementary Estimates. It was to make sure that the House, through at least one of its agencies, should devote more examination to Supplementary Estimates that the recent procedure by which they go before the Estimates Committee was introduced. On an earlier Vote I referred to some of the comments which had come from the Estimates Committee on this Supplementary Estimate.

The hon. Gentleman asks about an increase in the provision for civilians at research establishments. I cannot tell him in detail whether this is attributable to increases in pay or increases in numbers, but, in general, under Vote 4, the increased provision this year is attributable to increases in pay. I should be safe in telling the hon. Gentleman that that is the principal reason for the increase to which he has drawn attention.

It is worth saying in regard to this Supplementary Estimate that the original Estimate was for about £500 million. The Supplementary Estimate is for £5 million, representing a rise of 1 per cent. This is due largely to pay and price increases which came upon us since the original Estimate was prepared and which have necessitated the bringing forward of this Supplementary Estimate.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State does not really mean what he appears to say, that because it is only a 1 per cent. rise it is not to be frowned upon, and that a sum of £5 million can be disregarded as of no great importance. I am sure that he did not mean that. I believe that he is just as worried about these miscalculations and rises, over which we have no control, as I am, and I am sure that he will do his best to ensure that they are kept to the very minimum in the future. A sum of £5 million is equally disturbing whether it be a 1 per cent., ½per cent. or 10 per cent. rise.

With respect, my hon. Friend has misunderstood. I am not talking about the rise. Naturally, we are all as concerned as he is to see the rate of rise in Government expenditure moderated. I was referring to the degree of accuracy possible in estimating, which is different. A margin of error of 1 per cent., no matter what sum my hon. Friend likes to take, but particularly with a sum of about £500 million, is not, I believe, bad. However, we should try to improve our estimating.

9.0 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State has not attempted to answer my question about an item for £6,435,000. Where are the establishments? Do they include the Porton Establishment? For what are we voting this £6 million?

Sir William, I have asked a definite question concerning an item of £6 million, which is a huge sum, yet the Minister sits there and does not attempt to give me an answer. Surely I am entitled to ask whether he can justify this £6 million. What is it for?

I told the hon. Gentleman what the increased provision was for. I cannot go into detail on these establishments with him tonight, for reasons which he very well understands.

That does not satisfy me. I have asked: what are these establishments? I do not ask the hon. Gentleman to go into detail. Is the Porton Establishment included?

Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman should bear in mind that we are only discussing a Supplementary Estimate.

Before you came back into the Chair, Sir William, I suggested that, in view of the increased demand that public expenditure should not be excessive, these Supplementary Estimates should be meticulously examined. I have had great difficulty in dragging an anwer out of the Minister about this item. However, I have dragged out of him at last the fact that the Porton Establishment is included. Can he say what other establishments are included?

Question put and agreed to.