asked the Secretary of State for Defence what was the cost of the Royal Marines Band playing at the departure of the "Queen Elizabeth 2" when the latter started its luxury cruise on 4th January; and what was the cost of the helicopter fly-past on this occasion.
The Royal Marines Band took part at no cost to public funds; all incidental costs and a fee for the services of the band were paid by the Cunard Steamship Company. The brief helicopter flight is estimated to have cost about £100.
Does not my hon. Friend realise that during that weekend Opposition spokesmen were making gloomy speeches about the disastrous economic situation facing this country? Does he not think that it is rubbing salt into the faces of workers who are being asked to tighten their belts for a vulgar and ostentatious display of this kind to take place? In answer to an earlier Question it was said that no unnecessary fuel had been used. Was this an unnecessary use of fuel? Further, will he tell me whether they were workers or shirkers who were the passengers on the luxury cruise?
If my right hon. Friend is asking whether the helicopter flight was ill-judged, I must say that in my view it was. Methods of participation are always under review, forming part of the constant review which is going on to see that no unnecessary fuel will be used in future.
Will the Minister say whether the flight fulfilled a useful training function? Such flights may easily fulfil just as useful a training function for helicopter pilots as any other kind of flight, possibly even pulling an hon. Gentleman opposite out of the water if he were drowning. That might be in bad taste, too.
The hon. Gentleman's question has merit, in that any flight has a training value. Whether the flight in question was necessary and whether the training could have been fulfilled in another way are the questions that we must ask. That is why I have said that in my view this matter was ill-judged.
First, does the Minister agree that there is never anything vulgar or ostentatious about the Royal Marines? Secondly, does he agree that the contribution which they made helped to earn foreign currency for Great Britain?
It is tempting, but it would be dangerous, for the Minister for the Royal Air Force to comment upon the Royal Marines. It is true that they participated on the normal fee-paying basis, in the same way as other Service bands. I do not want to comment further on that aspect.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. For the avoidance of doubt, will you please arrange for the Table Office to encourage hon. Members who are tabling Questions about ships to refer to them as "her" rather than "it"? After all, proper respect for the feminine gender may soon become very topical.
No doubt the hon. and gallant Gentleman's point will be noted.