HC Deb 14 March 1944 vol 398 cc173-6

"to provide, during 12 months, for the discipline and regulation of the Army and the Air Force": presented accordingly, and read the First time; to be read a Second time upon the next Sitting Day, and to be printed. [Bill 16.]

REPORT [7th March].

Second Resolution read a Second time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."

Mr. Astor (Fulham, East)

I would like to raise a few points on the pay and allowances of naval officers. The question of naval ratings is, broadly, covered by the Debate which took place on the Army Estimates and it is not necessary to produce specific naval troubles in this matter which are different from those of the Army. From the point of view of naval officers, however, I would like to put the case of officers employed ashore either at the Admiralty or at home ports.

While the average rate of industrial earnings in this country has gone up 76 per cent. the figures which the First Lord supplied as regards the net emoluments of officers show that officers between the ranks of lieutenant and commander have had a decrease of something like 10 to 15 per cent. Now the cost of living has admittedly gone up 30 per cent.—it may well, in fact, have gone up a good deal more. The cost of replacement of all capital goods—clothes, furniture, and so on—has gone up something like 100 per cent. Is the lodging allowance really adequate? Could the First Lord, could the Admiralty give a list of places where an officer serving in the Admiralty can, within convenient distance of his work, get lodgings for £60 or £80 per annum? And usually he lives in furnished lodgings, which are not controlled. Then there is trouble about the lodging allowance when an officer ashore gets his wife to come and live with him in lodgings and keep house. He immediately proceeds to lose his lodging allowance, and that is very hard. They may both be in lodgings, their home may be shut up, and they lose this allowance.

I do think the Admiralty might see whether they could meet officers half way, and let them retain, say, 60 per cent. of the lodging allowance. The allowance for food is 4s. a day. Are the Admiralty satisfied that officers can feed themselves on that? The clothing allowance has been raised from £40 to £50, but I have been through the itemised lists with the leading naval outfitters and they say only the barest minimum can be provided for £60. An officer really needs £65. Anybody who tried to get an outfit for £60 would be cold, and his clothing would soon get very shabby. It is hard for officers who have no private means. Where are they to get the money which will make up the difference between comfort and discomfort? I would say, let all officers have blue battle dress as a free issue and wear it always except on ceremonial occasions. We would all prefer to be in proper blue with brass buttons, lout in wartime it would be possible to save a considerable amount of money for naval officers.

Not only do officers suffer hardships under the present system, but the appointing authorities are not able to put the right men in the right place. Many officers appointed to shore jobs ask to be sent back to sea because they cannot live ashore. That does not lead to the efficient conduct of the war. I invite the First Lord of the Admiralty to ask appointing authorities what they feel about the present situation. There is an inscription over the room which Nelson used in Port Royal which reads "In this place dwelt Horatio Nelson. He who treads his footsteps, remember his glory." It would be appropriate to put this inscription over naval establishments in this country. Naval officers are living up to his glory. I hope the Admiralty and the House will deal worthily with those officers.

Mr. McKinlay (Dumbartonshire)

I want to ask the First Lord a question about the wages of seamen and other ratings repatriated to Cairo who signed documents, presumably dealing with their wages. I raised this question on a previous occasion, but the newspapers never commented on it. I was assured that a document was sent dealing with payments due to the men, that the document was in Italian and that it had nothing to do with any declaration that they would not fight again. What I want to ask is whether there was an exchange of documents. Did the personnel who were repatriated from this country sign a similar document relating to payment? Could I have the assurance of the First Lord that copies of the document alleged to have been signed by the naval ratings are in the possession of the Admiralty?

It is peculiar if the British Government have not a copy of the document, in Italian, which was signed by our seamen. Can we have any information on this, because one of my constituents contends that he has not been paid the money that is due to him? If he signed a declaration on being repatriated a copy of that document must be in existence. If so, can we have an assurance that a copy will be placed in the Library so that hon. Members can see it for themselves? This is an important matter. If documents are signed by our nationals on being repatriated, and no copy is retained by the Admiralty, we are entitled to an explanation. Perhaps, the First Lord could let me have a copy for my own personal examination.

Captain Pilkington

The question just asked by my hon. Friend opposite was answered at Question Time some time ago. The arrangements concern pay only; they have nothing at all to do with future service or anything like that. With regard to his suggestion that a copy of the document should be placed in the Library, I am not prepared to give an undertaking to-day, but we will consider the matter. I can answer the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for East Fulham (Mr. Astor) in one sentence. The adequacy of these allowances has been under consideration in the Admiralty for some time, and we shall consider the reports which have been asked for, from the various Commands, when they come in.

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

Third Resolution agreed to.

REPORT [1st March]

Resolutions reported: