HC Deb 30 January 1945 vol 407 cc1361-71

2.57 p.m.

Vice-Admiral Taylor (Paddington, South)

As I have been fortunate enough to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, I wish to raise a matter which I consider is of great importance at the present time—as do other hon. and gallant Members—the necessity for the reconsideration of the pay of the officers and men in the Services. It has been the policy for a very long time for the State to acquire the services of officers and men in the Army, the Navy and the Air Force at as cheap a rate as possible. Servicemen have been extremely badly paid in comparison with workers in industry.

Owing to the war, the question of Service pay has been brought into the limelight in this House and throughout the nation generally, as never before. Of course, the reason for that is that the manhood of the country has been conscripted from industry for the Armed Services. The matter, therefore, becomes one of great moment, especially in the minds of the Members of the Socialist Party. The workers of this country when sent into the Services are very indifferently paid, but the unfortunate part of it is that though Service pay has in the past been very low for years Members of the Socialist Party have never given any active co-operation in getting the matter remedied.

Mr. George Griffiths (Hemsworth)

We have always voted for high pay for the Services.

Vice-Admiral Taylor

I do not think the hon. Member has a very good case. For years past the Socialist Members have consistently voted against the Estimates, which include the matter of pay——

Mr. J. J. Davidson

Would my hon. and gallant Friend tell us which party was in power during the years that the Services were so badly paid?

Vice-Admiral Taylor

It really does not matter which party was in power; it is not material. The point is that if the people, including the Socialist Party, who were so concerned about the men of this country getting fair wages in industry, had only taken an interest in the pay of the men in the Services, then something would have been done. They did not do that. Those who vote against Service Estimates must not get up and criticise. That is the position in which hon. Members are to-day, due to what happened in the past.

To revert to what I wish to say: it is public knowledge that officers and men in the Services are not sufficiently paid. To show that what I am saying is correct, I would mention that orders were brought out by the Admiralty last year for increasing the marriage allowance for the men of the lower deck. I was delighted that that should be done, but it means that an ordinary seaman receives far more because he is married and has one child than he does for the service he renders to the State as a seaman. T hat is obviously wrong. The only conclusion to be drawn from that position is that as a seaman—and this comment applies equally to the private in the Army, but I know more about seamen than I do about the Army—is underpaid, as a seaman. He is not paid sufficient to maintain a wife and child. Therefore the marriage allowance has to be enormously increased. That is a very unsatisfactory state of affairs.

The unmarried seaman remains underpaid. That also is obvious. He is helping to pay the extra money to the married man. I have not the figures with me, but they would show that the ordinary seaman—the able seaman, the leading seaman and the petty officer—when he is married and has one child, receives as marriage allowance more than his captain. Surely to goodness that situation cannot be defended. There are two points which show that the whole question of pay really requires revising. It is in the interests of the nation, and it is the policy of the Government, to encourage marriage. The increase of the population of this country is absolutely essential to our future. To encourage it, the Government granted this very large marriage allowance. I am very glad they did so, but it shows that the seaman, as well as the soldier, is underpaid. It is high time that we got away from the idea that we should employ men in the Army, Navy and Air Force as cheaply as possible. They render to-day, as they have always rendered, immense service to the country, and they have a tremendous struggle to face, whether they are married or unmarried. It is not only the married man who suffers; there are numbers of officers and men in my Service who are not married but nevertheless support their mothers or some other dependents, and therefore the same arguments apply to them. Their pay is not sufficient to enable them to put a bit away for the day when ultimately they have to retire.

Let not any hon. Member think that everybody in the Services receives a pension. One has to reach a certain age or length of service and of course it depends upon the rank you hold when you retire what pension you receive. With taxation as it is to-day, the pension does not amount to a terrible lot. I understand that it is the policy of the Government that the pay of the officers and men for all the three Services shall be more or less equalised, so that there should be no differentiation between the Services, one Service being more highly paid than another in basic pay. I find no fault with that policy and it may be a very good thing that there should be equal attraction, so far as basic pay is concerned, for those who join any of the Fighting Services. For years I have often bored the House and taken up time in fighting the battle of the naval officers, in regard to marriage allowances. I can only say that I propose to do so again this afternoon and that I shall go on doing so until I win my case.

I am positively certain from the facts I have that I have an unanswerable case. I have asked innumerable questions on the subject and I have always received what I consider totally unsatisfactory answers. I have raised the matter time and time again, on the whole without much success. If it is the policy of the Government, as I understand it is, that there should be equality of basic pay among the Services, that should be an established fact. It is not. In 1919 a Committee was set up with Admiral Jerram as its chairman to consider the matter of pay. Admiral Halsey was appointed to consider the matter from the point of view of the officers. As a result of the recommendations of the Committee the pay was raised.

Incidentally, I might recall that the pay of the Navy had remained at the same level for about 70 years. In 1938, 19 years after the appointment of the Committee, naval officers received marriage allowances for the first time. The officers in the other Services had been receiving them for some time. It was stated when this concession—if I may so call it—was announced in the House, that the pay in 1919, decided upon and approved by the Government for the naval officer, which had been increased, included an element of marriage allowance. Officers in the Navy were to be given marriage allowance, as officers in the Army and Air Force were already. It was quite impossible to leave the pay as it was in 1919, including an element of marriage allowance, and at the same time to give a marriage allowance to the naval officer—that was the argument. As a result of that argument the basic pay of every naval officer, from lieutenant-commander to commodore second class—that is the rank between a captain and a rear-admiral, of course—was reduced by 2s. a day, and a warrant officer's pay was reduced by from 1s. to 1s. 8d. a day, in order to pay for marriage allowance.

It may be that in 1919 the pay was supposed to include an element of marriage allowance, but if any hon. Member takes the trouble to go to the Library, he will find that that is not in the Report. It is contained in an appendix—No. 5—but Appendix No. 5 is not in the Report in the Library of this House, nor is it in the Report in the library at the Admiralty. Why is that Appendix left out? Admittedly, in 1919 the pay of the naval officer was increased. The House will not expect me, as I have no notes whatever, to dogmatise on what the actual pay for the ranks was; but in 1938, 19 years later, the pay, which was supposed in 1919 to include an element of marriage allowance, had been reduced. Therefore, the ground put forward by the Admiralty that naval officers' pay, on the introduction of a marriage allowance, should be reduced by 2s. a day, because in 1919 their pay included an element of marriage allowance, falls to the ground. It is not fair. They have no right to do that, in my opinion.

If it was, as I understand, the policy of the Government to equalise the pay of the three Services, let us examine the comparative basic pay in 1938 of officers in the Navy and of their equivalent ranks in the Army and in the Air Force. Before the reduction of 2s. a day, a lieut.-commander, the equivalent of a major in the Army, and a commander, the equivalent of a lieut.-colonel in the Army, were receiving less pay than officers of the corresponding ranks in the Army. Captains were the only officers receiving more pay than their equivalents in the Army. In their case I happen to remember the amount: it was 4s. a day more than was received by a colonel in the Army and a group captain in the Air Force—the two equivalent ranks. When the reduction by 2s. was made, on the introduction of marriage allowance, the pay of lieut-commanders and commanders was less than that of the equivalent ranks in both the Army and the Air Force. The captain got 2s. a day more. So far as the commander is concerned, the amount is quite considerable, and it is by no means negligible in the case of the lieut.-commander. If it is the policy of the Admiralty that the pay of these officers should be put on more or less the same basis, why do they not do it? I should not be put off by some rigmarole every time I ask a question about the matter. There is always juggling by Ministers about these things. They give with one hand, and take away with the other.

Mr. J. J. Davidson

The Tories always do that.

Vice-Admiral Taylor

The Socialists have not helped very much. I must remind them that over the years they have always voted against the Estimates.

Mr. G. Griffiths

The hon. and gallant Member was in the House in 1938. Did he vote against this abominable thing for the Navy, or did he keep his mouth shut?

Vice-Admiral Taylor

I have a very clear answer. I hope the hon. Member will look up the Debate.

Mr. Griffiths

I will.

Vice-Admiral Taylor

When he has read that Debate, I shall be quite cleared from any accusation of not opposing this reduction by 2s. I opposed it then, I have consistently opposed it ever since, I am still opposing it, and I am going on doing so.

Mr. Griffiths

Did the hon. and gallant Member vote against it?

Vice-Admiral Taylor

The hon. Member must not misunderstand me. I do not want to misunderstand him. The naval officer is quite agreeable to accept half a loaf as being better than no bread.

Mr. Griffiths

The hon. and gallant Member is almost as good as a Cabinet Minister at evading a question. Did he vote against it?

Vice-Admiral Taylor

Vote against what? I think my position is quite clear. I have consistently, and I might almost say unilaterally, taken up the cause of the naval officer in this respect. I have a perfectly clear conscience, and I think my record will not be in any way smirched when the hon. Member has read what took place in 1938, when the hon. baronet the Member for Norwich (Sir G. Shakespeare) introduced this Estimate. I think I have proved the case up to the hilt. I hope that when the matter comes up again, every hon. Member on the Socialist benches will rise in his place and support me.

I have been looking for that for years, and now I hope I have got it. The case is that the pay of the officers, and of the men, of course, should be more or less on the same level, but that is not the case to-day. The naval officer is worse paid than officers in the other Services, and the country will not stand for that. There is, to-day, any amount of lip service, not only in this country but throughout the world, to the magnificent service which the men in the Navy and the Merchant Navy have rendered to this country, but the naval officers are worse paid than the officers in the other Services. It is arguable, of course, whether they should be better paid. I think their responsibilities are immensely greater. After all, imagine the captain in charge of a ship which costs the country £10,000,000 or £15,000,000, and with 1,500 officers and men on board. I do not consider that his responsibilities are less, but greater, than those of a colonel in the Army or of a group captain in the Royal Air Force, but I do not wish to stress that. I want to get to the position where the naval officer is at least as well paid as officers in the other Services.

There are various anomalies which have been brought into being by the Admiralty. It may be the fault of the Exchequer, but one never can find out who it is. First, regarding the naval officer and the marriage allowance, I asked the First Lord the other day what assessment was placed by the Admiralty upon the accommodation which was provided for officers at sea—a cabin, heat, light, etc., at sea—and in shore barracks, when they had their own rooms, heating and lighting, and so on. The Anderson Committee assessed the naval officer's accommodation at £150 a year, and as far as I remember at £30 a year for the men. Of course, that amount is taken into consideration in calculating what pay officers and men receive. In their recommendation the Anderson Committee, in order to make good the case for not increasing the pay of the men in the Service, were always elaborating on how much they got in allowances and accommodation and all the rest of it, and they then compared it with what, at any rate, at that time, was about the lowest paid man in the country—the agricultural labourer. How unjust and unfair.

My main point is that an officer is provided with Service quarters on board ship or ashore, and that light, heat and so on are taken into consideration in assessing what pay he shall receive. I am not arguing whether that is right or wrong; it may be right, it may not. But, when the officer is appointed ashore, and no Service quarters are provided for him to make up for not having Service quarters provided, he receives a lodging allowance instead, because of what he has to provide for himself and pay out of his own pocket. That assessment of his accommodation is no doubt taken into account when arranging what pay he shall receive, and he receives less because of the accommodation provided for him than he would were it not provided. When the Admiralty does not provide Service accommodation for him, he receives lodging allowance—£100 a year in the case of a captain, £80 for a commander, and it works down.

The point I want to stress is this great injustice to the naval officer, which does not apply to officers in the other two Services. On the introduction of the marriage allowance, it was laid down by the Admiralty that the married officer shall not receive marriage allowance and lodging allowance together; that is to say, if he has to provide himself with quarters and he receives marriage allowance, he does not receive the lodging allowance. That, not to put too fine a point upon it, is, in my opinion, a pure swindle. There is no connection whatever between lodging allowance, which is given because the Admiralty does not provide the officer with quarters, and marriage allowance, which is a very different matter and given because he is married. The Admiralty, however, say it is because marriage allowance is bound up with lodging allowance. I cannot see it, and neither can the officers concerned, and I hope it will be done away with.

In the case of the Army and the Royal Air Force, there is no question that they should receive both these allowances, and they get both. Also, a naval officer has to live apart from his wife before he receives the marriage allowance. If he lives with his wife in the same house ashore, he is not entitled to the marriage allow- ance, but has to be separated from his wife in order to get it. I remember the hon. Baronet the Member for Norwich saying that if married officers ashore received a marriage allowance when living with their wives the officers at sea would not like it. Of course, it is nonsense, but, to-day, that is what is going on, and officers have to be separated from their wives in order to draw the marriage allowance. If that applied to all the Services we would not have such a strong case, but there is a very strong case for saying that, if a man is married and there is a marriage allowance, he ought to get it all the time, not for part of the time. Officers in the other Services do get it all the time, whether they are separated from their wives, living in different houses, or living together in the same house. I plead for justice for the naval officer. He should be placed on an equality with the officers of the other Services, which, I understand, is the policy of the Government and of the Admiralty and is the wish of the nation—that he should be treated more or less on the same basis so far as these things are concerned. That is not the case to-day.

There is another thing which was brought to my notice the other day. It is the question of pre-natal allowance to help officers to meet the extra expense of their wives having a child. The prenatal allowance is given to civilian workers, and quite right too, but if it is right for them it is right for the officers and men of the Services. If an officer in one of the three Services is living in official quarters he does not draw any pre-natal allowance in respect of his wife. I would ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he considers that, because an officer is living in Service quarters, it is less expensive for his wife to have a child. Of course it is not less expensive, and it is very mean, whoever is responsible for the present condition of things, and this applies to all three Services. There are other things which I could bring up in connection with this matter, but I hope I have brought out almost sufficient—and these are all facts which are indisputable—to induce hon. Members in this House to try to get justice for naval officers and men and a revision of their pay and allowances.

Mr. Beverley Baxter (Wood Green)

I intervene with the object only of assist- ing my hon. and gallant Friend, for whom I have a great personal regard, and I shall be glad if he will tell me what, in his opinion, is blocking what seems to be a very sensible and fair case. Has he any theory? Is it the First Lord of the Admiralty, or the Admirals themselves, or the Treasury, or is it because the Front Bench has not grasped the justice of the case?

Vice-Admiral Taylor

I am much obliged to the hon. Member for the point he has raised. Unfortunately, it has always been the policy to get officers and men as cheaply as possible.

Mr. Baxter

Who is to blame?

Vice-Admiral Taylor

The Treasury have done their best. The recommendation of the Jerram Committee of inquiry was stated to be that 20 per cent. of the whole of the pay of the naval officer in 1919 should be subject to the rise and fall in the cost of living. I cannot dogmatise about this, but I am informed that the recommendation was not that 20 per cent. of the whole of the pension should be subject to the rise and fall in the cost of living, but 20 per cent. of the increase in pay which the Committee recommended. I cannot understand why the Admiralty do not do more to stand up for their officers in this matter. I do not know where the blame lies. It is extremely difficult to find out and pin down those who are to blame. Eventually the pay was stabilised and this was done after a continued fall in the cost of living index and when a rise in the cost of living had started. There is also the question of widows' pensions; the amount that widows get is deplorable. An officer might serve right up to the rank of Admiral of the Fleet and render great service to the country and yet his widow's pension, which in any case is small enough, would be subject to a means test. The question of officers' pensions should be revised. Owing to the immense increase in the cost of living, that which was a reasonable pension years ago is no longer reasonable. These people are very hard hit. There are bonuses galore for civil servants and for those in industry—and I have no objection—but officers who have rendered great service to the country are pinned down to a pension which has no relation to present conditions and have to meet the great increase in the cost of living of the present day. They have to maintain a certain position. Is there anything wrong with that?

I apologise for having taken up so much time and I am very grateful to hon. Members for the way in which they have given me such a patient hearing on a subject which I have raised on many previous occasions. I feel very keenly about it, and I am most desirous that the matter should be put right and that naval officers should be treated in the same way as the officers in the other Services. The whole question of pay of officers and men is due for revision. The country, I am certain, would not stand for the present state of affairs, knowing the magnificent service the officers and men have given to the country in its hour of trial.