HC Deb 06 April 1939 vol 345 cc2991-4
Lieut.-Commander Fletcher

(by Private Notice) asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty whether he will make a statement on the circumstances under which every naval rating with children to support will have his allowances reduced as from 6th April, and if these reductions will apply to officers with children?

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty (Mr. Shakespeare)

I am glad to have this opportunity of making clear to the public the system of children's allowances enjoyed by married naval ratings. This system is understood, and I believe appreciated, by the personnel of the Navy, but is not so generally understood by the general public.

Children's allowances for ratings since 1920 have been on a sliding scale varying for each year with the cost of living as ascertained on 1st January of each year. Every 10 points variation is given its appropriate scale. The minimum rates are related to cost of living figures between 46 and 55. Rates of children's allowances fell from 1920 to 1931, when they remained on the minimum scale until 1937. In 1938, however, children's allowances were subject to the appropriate scale increase, because of the increase in the cost of living. On 1st January of this year the cost of living figures showed a decrease of four points, and allowances now go back to the minimum rates where they had stood from 1931 to 1937. The conditions are identical in all three fighting Services.

Some years ago suggestions were made to stabilise the children's allowances. The Board of Admiralty did not favour this course. In present circumstances a sliding scale system has certain advantages. Children's allowances being on the mini-mum cannot fall in the future below the present level whatever the fall in the cost of living. A rise in the cost of living, however, would carry with it the appropriate scale increases. It will be recalled that last year it was found possible to increase the rate of marriage allowance by 7s. or 10s. to a flat rate of 17s. for married ratings.

The position of children's allowances for naval officers is somewhat different. Their scheme was introduced last year in a period not subject to such violent fluctuations in the cost of living as the immediate post-war period. It was therefore decided to introduce a less complicated scheme on a stabilised basis. Officers will not therefore enjoy like married ratings increases in their scales inherent in a sliding scale system.

Mr. Thorne

On a point of Order. I do not know whether my hon. and gallant Friend is entitled to put his Private Notice Question as I have a question down on the same subject for written answer. I withdraw my question, however.

Lieut.-Commander Fletcher

May I ask whether, if the naval regulations allow this to be done, the hon. Gentleman will cause his explanation to be posted on the notice board on mess decks and in barracks, as it is of the first importance that naval ratings should be under no misapprehension about the reductions in pay or allowances.

Commander Marsden

Will my hon. Friend also make it clear that the lower deck ratings will get their children's allowances when they are 25, while officers can get no allowances for children until they are 30?

Commander Sir Archibald Southby

Can my hon. Friend assure the House that there have been no complaints from the lower deck with regard to the working of this scheme?

Mr. Leonard

How many points movement are required before any modification of rates takes place?

Mr. Shakespeare

As regards the first question, I agree with the hon. and gallant Gentleman that it is of first-class importance that the operation of this scheme should be clearly understood by the lower deck. A Fleet order was issued at the beginning of February, and I hope that that order, posted on every notice board in every naval establishment and warship throughout the world, combined with the publicity which I hope this question and my answer will get, will make the position abundantly clear. As regards the question of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chertsey (Commander Marsden), it is clearly appreciated that the benefit in this respect goes to the naval rating who gets his children's allowances five years earlier than an officer. As regards the question of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Epsom (Sir A. Southby), I think the personnel of the Fleet do appreciate that one year they stand to lose and in another year they are liable to have reductions according to the well-known principle. As regards the last question, the scales are rather complicated, but a variation of 10 points will make a change in the scales.

Mr. McEntee

Do I understand rightly that the movement on 1st January this year was only actually four points?

Mr. Shakespeare

That is so, but it brought it down within the 10 point scale.

Mr. Watkins

What amount per week is represented by the variation in the rise and fall of the cost of living?

Mr. Shakespeare

I had better talk with the hon. Gentleman as it is very complicated?

Lieut.-Commander Fletcher

Did the Fleet order to which the hon. Gentleman has referred contain any explanation of the matter, or is it merely an announcement of the reduction, as it is the explanation which is so important?

Mr. Shakespeare

That is so. It is like all Fleet orders; it is not quite as intelligible as it might be.

Mr. McEntee

Will the hon. Gentleman consider publishing the scales in the OFFICIAL REPORT?

Mr. Shakespeare

I will consider that point.