HC Deb 17 March 1910 vol 15 cc591-603


Resolution [16th March] reported, "That a sum, not exceeding £7,389,400, be granted to His Majesty to defray the Expenses of Wages, etc., to Officers, Seamen, and Boys, Coastguard, and Royal Marines, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1911."


With regard to this Vote, I am sure everybody will agree with me that every inequality and anomaly should be removed from all classes of men. With regard to the lower deck, a great deal has been done which was needed and right and proper in late years, but there are still certain questions that require to be ventilated. I wish to bring them before the House. I do not expect an answer on them all. Indeed, in regard to some of them I propose to put questions down on the Paper for Monday, in order that a definite reply may then be forthcoming. It is far better for both officers and men that effective answers should be given to these questions. Of course, some things which both officers and men wish for are not within the bounds of possibility. But do not let them have the idea that things are going to be done which cannot be done. The first principle in regard to the raising of wages and salaries in the Service has always been, to my mind, that a commencement should be made at the bottom of the ladder and not at the top. It will be remembered that in the Debate the other day the question was raised about raising the pay of the officers of the Army. I was very sorry it was not raised on this Vote, because the principle has been adopted which was quite right. The men's pay has been raised by 25 per cent., but the officers' pay has not been raised for thirty years, although their work and responsibilities had increased a hundredfold. With regard to the question of the engine-room department, which the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Wedgwood) brought forward, it has been discussed on many occasions. I believe the engineering officers had been led to expect that certain alterations would be made in their pay and position of command and general authority. When the education scheme was brought before the House many admirals and many engineering officers-many of those who looked ahead-knew that this question would arise and they warned the Admiralty that there would come a moment in which friction would crop up as a result of hopes being disappointed, which would be very bad for the Service. I associate myself with what the hon. Member has said in regard to this class. The engineering officers in the stoke-room must have great readiness of resource and independence of action individually when it comes to the bursting of a steam pipe. I have had under my command men who have done actions which deserved not one, but ten Victoria Crosses, and not infrequently in doing them they have lost their lives. They have known it was certain death when they undertook the duty. We appreciate all that in the Service. We all realise that these duties call for great energy, knowledge and readiness of resource. With regard to the engineer officers, there are certain questions which ought to be put right. I was given to understand by the Admiralty that there would be a Committee which would settle these questions one way or the other, and it is only fair not only to the engineering officers, but to the other officers in the ship that something should be done to put an end to the present state of uncertainty. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to give a definite answer to this question, or that definite orders will be issued to the fleet. There are other questions on which I wish to say a few words. I think a Committee was appointed in regard to the position of the engineer officers, and I would like to know whether it has reported.


There has been no report as yet.


I hope the right hon. Gentleman will see that the report is got out as soon as possible. It is only fair to the engineer officers in the Service. I object to the education scheme of Lord Cawdor. I always knew that this would happen. You cannot make a man expert in everything. It takes him a lifetime to become an expert in any one thing. Why I objected to the scheme was on principle. The Service was democratic. The officers were drawn from every class of the community. I have been messmate and shipmate with officers of different grades, some of whom did not use the letter "h" in conversation, but they were splendid fellows, and we were perfectly good friends, because our duties were always active service duties. Under the new scheme care must be taken that we do not get an aristocratic Service. We must have a Service representative and thoroughly democratic, and it was because it was democratic in the old days we did so well on all sorts of occasions. To get an aristocratic Service, to have your officers drawn solely from the monied classes, would, I think, be unwise. There is another point I have to raise. I hope the right hon. Gentleman is not going to reduce the engine-room artificers. You must not do it under the idea that you can keep the engines and boilers of a ship ready for service without taking her into harbour. Little can be done at sea. You have to get your engines and boilers cool before, you can work them. You have too few men to put them right in emergencies. The mechanician is a most excellent man, and there is plenty of room for him in the ship without taking work away from the engine-room artificers. Let me give an instance. I have my barge. I put a leading stoker on board, and he will probably drive me faster than an engine-room artificer. When the engine is laid up, however, it will be for three or four days. But the engine-room artificer, who sees little details, is able to put everything right without the barge being laid up at all. That is the difference between an engine-room artificer and a mechanician. I am not saying a word against the mechanicians. They are a splendid body, but do not think you are going to work your ships in action and do away at the same time with the engine-room artificer. The Japanese increased their engine-room complement considerably, and yet had not enough men to keep everything going. There is, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, a letter at the Admiralty written by a very talented engineer as to what the Japanese did in their engine-rooms and the way in which they kept their ships so well during the war-that all the stoking machinery in the ships was always kept ready. The fact is that if you have people in engine rooms who understand construction they are able at once to put any little detail right which otherwise, if not attended to, might cause the engines to go out of action in consequence of defects that it would take a long time to put right. I hope, therefore, the right hon. Gentleman will be careful not to reduce the artificers any more. Then, again, stokers ought to have warrant officers in proportion to their numbers, and the engine artificers ought to get tropical pay, just the same as the men in the engine-room. Further, warrant officers ought to be in the same position in the Navy as those of a similar rank in the Army. A man in the Army can join as a drummer boy and become lieutenant-colonel. The same principle ought to be introduced in the Navy, so that a warrant officer could retire with the rank of commander. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the rank he can now obtain is only that of lieutenant. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will look into that matter, because the man who joins as a bluejacket boy now cannot get higher than a lieutenant, whereas the drummer boy in the Army can get to be a lieutenant-colonel.

In this connection you must remember that the warrant officers are the backbone of the Navy. They are the go-betweens of the officers and the men, and they are the finest lot of people we have in the ships. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will also remember that there ought to be more chief warrant officers to take the place of the old ratings of gunner, boatswain, and carpenter. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will see his way to remedy that grievance. On 10th September he stated, in regard to this question, that he was not in a position to make a definite statement yet, but that it was under the consideration of his colleagues. It is evident, therefore, that the matter has been considered, and I hope he will give a favourable answer. As to the carpenter warrant officers, there has been no increase in their pay. They only get 6s. 6d. per day, and the rest of the ranks on promotion get more. The carpenters get 6s. 6d. a day, but the young gunner gets 7s. 6d. a day, and he has only got instructional duties. These officers are most useful, if we go into action, because then there is a chance of the ship being knocked about and their services being wanted. Another point which I want to raise has reference to a man who gets into trouble. You may have a man who has served his country with nothing against him and with a most excellent record of fifteen or sixteen years, but on one occasion he goes ashore and he drinks something. He did not mean to get drunk, but he gets some filthy liquor in the public-house, and he comes on board drunk. You have to disrate him for the sake of discipline, and that is quite right, but it is not right that you should deprive him of the pension for which he has served for fifteen or sixteen years, during which time he has borne a most exemplary character. He has served that time well to his own credit and to the country's benefit, and merely that for one mistake he should lose all that service when it comes to a question of pension, I think is unjust. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will think over that case.

Then, again, there is the question of the gratuity with the medal, which was reduced from £20 to £15, nobody knows why. Why should not the men have the money which they had before? If that is done to save money, it is not a very good way of doing so, and the men should go back to the £20. Then, again, the men who are entitled to good conduct badges, engine-room artificers and ships' stewards, and so on, if they are entitled to badges, why should they not get any pay in connection with them? If you give them the badges why do you not give them the pay which the other ranks get? Then I should like to see the raising of the status of armourers in the Navy; and there are other little anomalies which ought to be put right. A man now serves twenty-two years instead of twenty, and gets only the same minimum pay for twenty-two years as he got for twenty years. I think that ought to be looked into, as it is not a fair idea, and there is no reason for it. Then another important point is that the ships' stewards' assistants should be promoted by roster and not from the depots. It is perfectly possible JIOW for a man who is some years junior to be promoted at Portsmouth, because they want a ships' stewards' assistant, and he goes to sea as assistant over the senior man who is at sea. The right hon. Gentleman will see that that is quite wrong, and ought not to be permitted. They ought to be promoted by roster, because no man likes to have another man put over his head simply because he is in the depot. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will make a note of that.

They have given the ships' stewards-increased pay, but they have laid down a condition under which they can never get it, and they have to leave the Service before they get it. That does-not conduce to give satisfaction. The stoker mechanic also should get an increase of pay on promotion to leading stoker, because the latter is the more important position. There are forty stokers with a leading stoker, and they have to obey his orders. The leading stoker, therefore, has the best chance of getting into trouble, because he is responsible for these men doing their work, and if you put a man in a senior position and do not pay him more, the man will not take that position because he is not paid for the additional responsibility. Since the abolition of the second-class petty officer, the leading ratings have more responsibility, but they get a less pension. It is not a question of pay, but of pension, and the artisan ratings, I think, should be allowed, to join the Royal Fleet Reserve, particularly the blacksmiths and plumbers. I wilt tell the right hon. Gentleman why. If any vessel goes out of action, you will have the standards, the ventilating pipes, the scantlings, and all sorts of things of that kind destroyed by shell and shot. You have only two blacksmiths and two plumbers to-put them right, whereas you ought to have a large number of reserve men of these ratings who understand a man-o'-war. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will look into that matter, because it is not a case where you can get a large number of men on the ship to do the work. You have only two or three men to do it, at the particular moment, and they may have a great destruction of pipes and things of that sort to deal with.

Writers are another class who have been missed out. They are properly qualified men and should be able to achieve the chief rating in ten years instead of twelve. This, again, is a case in which you have given a privilege which the men, under the conditions of the case, are not able to get, except in a very few instances. Another thing I have written about for years, but with no success, is that blacksmiths, plumbers, painters, and coopers have not a chief rating. They do very hard work, and why should they not have the chief rating, as other men do in the ships? The men-themselves feel this most keenly, because other mechanical devices are introduced and men come in to deal with them and they get the chief rating, and these men who have been in the service for years do not get it. Really the last point I wish to deal with has reference to hospital stoppages. The officers do not get them, but the men have to bear them after thirty days. They get full pay for ninety-one days, but their hospital stoppages begin after thirty, and they are l0d. for a man getting 1s. 7d., 8d. for a man getting less than 1s. 7d., and 4d. a day for boys. That is a very sore point with boys. A boy is very liable to get a cold or other ailment and be ill for thirty days and then he is liable to have his money stopped. I tried to get the officers sick leave for some time, and I also asked that these hospital stoppages should be done away with, and now the right hon. Gentleman has looked into the case of the officers it is only fair that he should not treat the officers different to the men. In all these cases I say always begin at the bottom of the ladder, and then you can look at the whole matter fairly when you get to the top. I am afraid I cannot touch on the wages of the dockyards and other things which I should like to mention, but I hope to put some questions on the Paper in relation to these and some other matters, and to get definite answers. I shall be quite satisfied if the right hon. Gentleman looks into these cases, and I am not asking for anything unfair. What I ask is on the same lines as those improvements for which the Admiralty deserves so much credit in giving them to the lower deck during the last three or four years.

8.0 P.M.


I think we in this House have to thank the Noble Lord the Member for Portsmouth very much for the speech which he has just delivered, which is so thoroughly sensible and practical, and which has taught the lay Members of the House so much about the duties and hardships and the work of the men of our Navy. I must say that I feel that we are at a great loss during these Debates owing to the absence of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. I should especially have liked to have had him here on the earlier days of this week, for he could have elucidated some of the points which he made during the recent election, but in his absence the Opposition has been well led by the Noble Lord the Member for Portsmouth, except that, with characteristic timidity, he has not hesitated on many occasions to run away from many positions which he has previously taken up.

In reviewing the Debates we have had on the Navy nothing has struck me so much as the way in which hon. Gentlemen opposite have made assertions during the recent General Election

Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. Whitley)

This is Vote 1, the pay for the personnel of the Navy, and general discussion is not open on it. Remarks are to be confined to matters arising out of pay for the personnel.


We were given an undertaking that general questions might be raised on these two Votes.


No, my hon. Friend is mistaken-so far as the Government are concerned. The undertaking was given on the two Votes with the consent of the Chairman in Committee only.


The hon. Member has misunderstood the procedure. It is not in the power of the Committee to bind the House. It is a very well-known rule of Mr. Speaker that on Vote 1 the Debate must be strictly limited to matters arising out of the pay for the men.


I should like to call attention to some of the duties of the Coastguards, especially in connection with the watching of the coasts in the interests of the mercantile marine. I am not a dockyard Member, and I am not here to air the special grievances or interests of my constituents. I am here to voice what is a very widespread feeling amongst a large number of the community, probably much more widespread than many Members are aware, as to the dangers which are incident to our mercantile marine owing to their signals, which may be thrown up in time of danger or distress, going unobserved on shore. In the recent month, there have been one or two extremely serious and pathetic cases in which vessels have been in distress near to the shore and have been unable to make their distress known owing to their signals being for a long time unobserved. There was the case of the "Thistlemore," in December last, which went aground in Barn-staple Bay, and for six hours and a half threw up its signals, which were unobserved. Owing to the fact that another vessel came along, and was able to save a few of the men, the whole of the crew did not perish, but no fewer than twenty-one men went down and were lost; and a good deal of interest, and even indignation, was excited at what seemed to be the unnecessary loss of so many brave lives. At the service in the village churchyard, where the majority of the men were buried, a company of 2,000 persons gathered, and the clergyman, in his address at the graveside, said they were there to bury these men, who need not have perished if only it had been the properly carried out and recognised duty of some authority to see that signals sent up from a ship in distress are observed and responded to. I want to impress upon the Admiralty that it is their duty to go further than they have so far been ready to go. There is, undoubtedly, a great demand that the coast-watching in the interests of the mercantile marine should be put upon a well-recognised basis. I am well aware that it is a subject which has been a shuttlecock between the Board of Trade and the Board of Admiralty, but, inasmuch as the expression "life-saving" comes repeatedly forward in connection with the duties of the Coastguard, it is the duty of the Admiralty to take the first step by approaching such authorities as there are, and there are several, to work out, in connection with the Coastguards, some definite and practical plan which would cover, at any rate, the most dangerous parts of our coast with a system of coast-watching with the object of life-saving, and especially to recognise that it is the duty of someone on dangerous, stormy, or foggy nights to see that our coasts are properly watched.

There are a good number of authorities which ought to be brought into line in this connection. There are, first of all, the harbour authorities. They have many means of co-operating in this direction. Then there is the Board of Trade, which exercises its authority over merchant shipping; and I think the hint thrown out the other day by the President of the Board of Trade, implying that an extension of wireless telegraphy would mitigate a great deal of the danger now incident to the mercantile marine is one which ought to "be followed up. If there was more wireless telegraphy apparatus on our ships and more stations ashore something would be done by that means to mitigate things. Then there is the National Lifeboat Institution, and there is voluntary association and co-operation which might be brought into line. I should like especially to impress upon the Financial Secretary the importance of this subject. It has been so taken hold of by the papers as to create something of a scare, and there are many families to whom the anxiety of having dear ones on the water is increased by the attention which this subject has received, and by the now notorious fact that there is no recognised authority to see that our coasts are watched for signals of distress. I thank the Financial Secretary for the most patient and courteous attention which he has given to Members on all sides of the House. If there is one point which has come out in these Navy Debates it is that in the First Lord of the Admiralty, the Junior Lord, and also the Financial Secretary, we have gentlemen who are giving most patient, careful and courteous attention to any representations, hostile or friendly, which are made to them.


I heartily agree with my hon. Friend who has just sat down that in a country like ours, which boasts that it possesses half the mercantile marine of the world, it should be properly protected, and I am sorry that some of the money which is very often wasted in shipbuilding is not spent in protecting our mercantile marine. I agree with all that the Noble Lord (Lord Charles Beresford) states about various matters connected with the men in the Navy, but he left out one little matter to which I want to call attention. It is in regard to the substance money which is allowed to sailors on leave. I asked last October whether it was true that the substance money allowed to the sailor was 8½d. per day, and that the soldier got 1s. 0½d. substance money. The reply I received then was that it was correct that the sailor got 8½d. per day, but the right hon. Gentleman said he understood that the soldier got only 9d.-6d. by way of messing allowance and 3d. for rations. I cannot find out whether the First Lord was correct then or whether my information is correct. I got my information from a very good source, as I thought, and, though I may be wrong, I have no explanation except that the First Lord said he understood it. That is why I really want to get more information on the subject. Supposing the First Lord is correct, and that the soldier gets 9d., I do not think it is right that the sailor should get only 8½d. The men in one Service ought to be treated as well as those in the other. I have no doubt that all those Gentlemen who are going to get £5,000 a year do not think much of a ½d. per day, but to a soldier or sailor a ½d. off or on his allowance is a consideration. I hope this will not be put on one side as of no consequence. If the soldier gets 1s. 0½d., I do not want to say that that is too much; if anything, it is not enough, and in time to come no doubt we will have to pay our soldiers and sailors better than we have hitherto done. I want to bring up the sailor to the same level as the soldior, for he does just as good work, and very often more dangerous work. I have only brought this matter forward in the interest of fair play and fair treatment as regards both the Army and Navy, and I hope it will receive full Consideration from the First Lord and his colleagues.


I shall not detain the House by referring to the matters which were dealt with by the Noble Lord the Member for Portsmouth (Lord Charles Beresford). He spoke as an expert, and I will be satisfied by simply associating myself with everything he said. I desire to direct the attention of the First Lord to the position of the shipwrights of the Royal Navy. These men I think should be placed on the same footing as engine-room artificers. Both classes receive six years' training in their respective trades, but the shipwright under present conditions joins the Navy as a leading seaman, and receives 4s. per day, while the engine-room artificers gets 5s. 6d. per day, together with all the privileges of petty officer's rank. The shipwrights have to be marched out of the yard by a shipwrights' guard, while the engine-room artificers may leave without a guard. Moreover, after serving twenty-one years, the engine-room artificer receives a pension considerably in excess of that given to the shipwright. I think the House will agree that that is an inequality which has only to be brought to the notice of the First Lord to be rectified. I have not yet received any answer from the First Lord in regard to the policy of the Government in regard to establishment. I brought forward the other day several arguments in favour of the extension of the establishment.


It would be distinctly out of Order for the Secretary to the Admiralty to reply in regard to that matter, as it arises on Vote 8.


As to shipwrights, I have to say that if the hon. Gentleman (Sir C. Kinloch-Cooke) will place his view and particulars before me, that view shall have full consideration. I confess that I cannot off-hand undertake to give any de- cision in any direction whatever. I make the same remark with respect to the question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Sutherland (Mr. Morton) regarding the contrast between the payments made to sailors and soldiers. I understand that he gave notice to the First Lord that he would raise this question.


In that case the First Lord ought to be sent for. I gave him notice in writing before this Debate commenced.


I will undertake to bring the matter before the First Lord.


I do not get £5,000 a year, like the First Lord.


No; it is an ungrateful world. I undertake that the matter to which my hon. Friend has referred shall receive full consideration. I desire, on behalf of my colleagues and myself to thank the hon. Member for North Somerset (Mr. J. King) for his kind references to the work of the Admiralty. I can assure him that the subject of Coastguards to which he referred will receive attention. In the case he mentioned the whole matter, as the hon. Member probably knows, is now sub judice.There will be a Board of Trade inquiry, but I think I am entitled to say that the hon. Member is hardly warranted in saying that a reduction in the Coastguard might be responsible for the failure to protect life.


I never made such a suggestion. I should like to add that that view has no acceptance in any part of the country.


Taking the particular area to which the hon. Member referred, I would point out that the total number of men employed in the Coastguard service is now eighteen as against sixteen four years ago. It cannot, therefore, be said, so far as these numbers are concerned, that anything that has occurred is due to a reduction of the men. As to the matters to which the Noble Lord the Member for Portsmouth called attention, and with respect to which he has undertaken to submit further information, I promise that they will have careful consideration. As to the lower deck hands, what the Noble Lord said was quite characteristic of his regard and consideration for the men. I think it is just to say that we have made some changes recently in the conditions of the following grades. The warrant rank has been established in the following ratings which had been able to rise only to the rank of chief petty officer-stoker mechanicians, ships' stewards, ships' police, and ships' cooks. The disciplinary position and pay of petty officers have been improved as a result of the deliberations of the Ratings Committee. With regard to civil employment for ex-sailors, I was very glad indeed to make an application to the Treasury, as a result of which we have entered into an agreement for three years with the Navy Employment Agency, who have undertaken in consideration of a grant of £l,000 a year to organise special arrangements to obtain employment for these men all over the world. With regard to hospital stoppages, we have arranged that men sent home sick from abroad are allowed thirty days' hospital free of stoppages. As Members of the House know, we have certainly done our best to make improvements in respect of the victualling arrangements, which do not come under this Vote. In all these matters we have improved the conditions as far as we can of the lower deck hands. Nevertheless, I shall be very glad to have before me the particular detailed questions raised by the Noble Lord, and without giving any undertaking in respect of them, I can promise that they shall receive our most sympathetic consideration. I hope that we may now be allowed to get Vote 1.


There are two or three points which have not yet been made in this Debate. The Financial Secretary made a speech two or three nights ago in which he made several points that I really think were party points. One was the question of the defence—


That question would not be in order on Vote 1.

Question, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution," put, and agreed to.

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