Three Government departments, two senior Ministers and the charity chaired by a senior Conservative Party advisor and former official, are facing awkward questions as a senior Labour MP requests formal investigations into the HMS Victory 1744 Project. Fulfilling the undertaking made to the House of Commons in last weeks Adjournment Debate about the fate of HMS Victory 1744, Shadow Defence Minister Kevan Jones has made public a series of formal letters requesting that the National Audit Office, the Permanent Secretaries at the Ministry of Defence, and the Department of Transport, and the Cabinet Secretary, investigate various aspects of the HMS Victory 1744 Project and the alleged underpayment of the Government’s share of the proceeds from the sale of silver salvaged from the SS Gairsoppa by Odyssey Marine Exploration. Another subject for investigation is the controversial, unminuted meeting between former Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt and the Chair of the Maritime Heritage Foundation Lord Lingfield which took place in July 2010. Mr Jones has also requested that the Charity Commission investigate the capacity and independence of the Maritime Heritage Foundation to support a multi million pound underwater archaeology project when it has published resources of less than £70,000, spent a mere £495 on charitable activity in 20013/2014 and has the same archaeological consultant as Odyssey Marine Exploration.
The breadth of the investigations requested Mr Jones has requested, which range from the conduct of individual Ministers. Mr Hunt; through the competence of three Government Departments, the Ministry of Defence, the Department for Culture Media and Sport and the Department of Transport; to the allegation that the Maritime Heritage Foundation is in effect a virtual charity which exists purely as a vehicle for Odyssey Marine Exploration to access the wreck site of HMS Victory 1744, has the potential to embarrass the Cameron Government, less than one hundred days ahead of a General Election. Something which may be concentrating the minds of the various Government and Departmental Media handlers. Particularly as the three Departments of State involved are all headed by Conservative Ministers and Lord Lingfield has been both a senior Conservative Party Official with links to many current MP’s and an advisor to Margaret Thatcher and John Major as well as senior members of the current Government including Prime Minister David Cameron.
Between 2006 and 2010 Lord Lingfield chaired the “Commission on Special Needs in Education” for David Cameron. Once the Conservative led coalition came to power in 2010 Lord Lingfield was appointed to Chair the Government’s “Review of Further Education” and in 2011 he, and senior Conservative MP and Chair of the influential Conservative 1922 Committee, Graham Brady, authored an article for the website “Conservative Home” calling for the removal of local authority control of schools through direct funding and the further expansion in Academy and Free Schools and for the freedom to employ unqualified teachers; policies which can be seen reflected in Conservative Education Policy under Michael Gove and Nicky Morgan as well as in David Cameron’s most recent speech on the subject.
In short, the HMS Victory 1744 issue as all the potential to be one of Harold Macmillan’s “events dear boy, events” which politicians most fear. A potential scandal which comes from nowhere and has a narrative which cannot be controlled. Meanwhile, in a separate development in the story of the controversy surrounding the proposed salvage of Admiral Sir John Balchen’s lost flagship, thePipeLine understands that in spite of the Pre Application Protocol letter for the Judicial Review being sent to the Secretary of State for Defence Michael Fallon on 23 December, nothing by way of a response has yet been heard from the Treasury Solicitor, which handles the UK Government’s legal issues. While legal observers stress that nothing definitive should be read into this fact, one school of thought is that the Ministry of Defense is having trouble forming a legally robust response to the proposed challenge.