HC Deb 18 March 1946 vol 420 cc1565-72

Resolutions reported:

Navy Estimates, 1946 Numbers

1. "That 490,000 Officers, Seamen, Boys and Royal Marines be employed for the Sea Service together with 2,800 Royal Marine Police, borne on the books of His Majesty's Ships and at the Royal Marine Divisions, for the year ending on the 31st day of March,1947."


2. "That a sum, not exceeding £150,000,000, be granted to His Majesty, on account, for or towards defraying the charges for Navy Ser vices which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1947."

Navy Supplementary Estimate, 1945

3. "That a Supplementary sum, not exceed ing £10, be granted to His Majesty to defray the charge which will come in course of pay ment during the year ending on the31st day of March 1946 for "expenditure beyond the sum already provided in the grants for Navy Ser vices for the year."

Sums not exceeding.
Supplv Grants Appro priations in Aid
Vote. £ £
I. Wages, &c, of Officers and Men of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines and of certain other personnel serving with the Fleet 10 50,000,000

First Resolution read a Second time.

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

4.59 p.m.

Captain Marsden (Chertsey)

I do not. think we should allow a further advance of the authorisation to spend the vast sum mentioned in this Vote on Account without making some comment upon it. I have no complaint about the way in which the original sum was introduced, when we got a lot of information. We have here the advantage of the presence of the First Lord, who I see has already on his travelling suit—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Hubert Beaumont)

Iam sorry to interrupt the hon and gallant Member. If he wishes to talk about money, he had better wait till the next Resolution.

Captain Marsden

We are asked now to authorise the expenditure of a great sum of money. Cannot we say anything at all about that now?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

It will be in Order on the next Vote.

Question put, and agreed to.

Second Resolution read a Second time.

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."

5.0 p.m.

Captain Marsden

I am sorry I was a little bit ahead of station. It is difficult to follow the tortuous tracks of this procedure. I am glad the First Lord is here. We know he is to be off tomorrow on a long voyage and that he will be away for a long time, and I wish him luck. The sum involved in this Vote to which I wish to draw attention is very large, greater indeed than the whole Navy Estimates have been for many years, and I think the House should take every opportunity of debating it and bringing forward the numerous points which it was impossible to bring forward in one day at an earlier stage. As a result of our shortened hours, and by reason of the speeches from the Government and Opposition Front Benches, the Private Member gets very little time indeed. Last time we did not get far beyond the question of whether we should sleep in hammocks or not, but there are other things on which I should like to speak.

One of the large sums of money to be expended is for merchant ship construction, which was never touched on by the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty. The point I wish to make concerns that part of the merchant fleet which comes under the protection of the Admiralty during wartime. When this war started, every merchant ship had to be protected, and in many cases it was very difficult to give the ships adequate protection owing to their construction and age. It was also difficult to know who was to pay for it, but I shall come to that in a moment. What I am trying to explain to the First Lord now is that if in the future all merchant ships are to be protected in time of war, it will save a lot of money and time if all those ships are constructed with a view to protection when war comes. We are not told whether that is to be done. In my humble capacity I would advise that it should be done, and that, in the blueprints which are now being drawn up for the construction of merchant shipping, arrangements should be made so that, when the time comes, it will not be necessary to derange the construction of the ship, and upset the crew's quarters, in order to make room for the guns, the accommodation of the guns' crews, and the necessary magazines. If that is not done much time is wasted and you never get the correct organisation of defence that should exist. I hope, therefore, that the First Lord will be able to say that this work is being done. I am perfectly certain that we can leave the technical side of it to the experienced officers of the Admiralty.

Next is the question, Who is to pay for it? At the beginning of the war very good plans were already in existence for the protection of merchant shipping. I do not think anyone could accuse the Department responsible of not having foreseen practically every eventuality, but what was missing was a decision on who was to pay. We were put in rather a difficulty, because there were one or two merchant ship owners—I would dearly like to name them, but I will not—who preferred that their ships should go to sea unarmed, rather than that they should stand a chance of having to put their hands in their pockets. I will not mention them, because their attitude was not really indicative of that of the vast majority of ship owners, who wanted their ships armed and their crews protected whatever the cost, even if they had to pay every penny themselves That was the real spirit of the ship owners, and I am glad to be able to say so. So it would be far more satisfactory if the First Lord could say now that, in future, the whole cost of armament, and of the pay of the guns' crews, would be borne by the Admiralty in future wars, as has been done in the past.

I would now like to say a word or two about the pensions of certain officers. I am referring to officers because the particular argument concerns them, though part of it might equally well refer to petty officers also. At the end of the last war a Committee sat under Admiral Jerram and, looking back, it is astonishing to see how accurate the findings of that Committee were. Their recommendations were carried out. To begin with, there was a basic pension for retired officers, which worked up anddown according to the cost of living. As the cost of living went up, the pension went up. As the cost of living went down, the pension went down. Nobody complained of that, and it worked all right, but about 1934 the Government decided that they would stopthis up-and-down arrangement and pay pensions on a definite level. If the cost of living had gone down, that would have been very nice, but, as always happens on these occasions, the cost of living went up. The pensions did not go up, and I would particularly direct the attention of the First Lord and of the Treasury to the fact that, if the Committee's original plans had been carried through up to now, the pension paid to officers would have been practically identical with the pensions which they are now bringing in for the future. I would suggest that the easiest way of giving a fair deal to the officers retired in the past would be to cancel, as from this date, the restrictive regulation of 1934.

There is one little ray of hope. In Command Paper 6750 it is stated: Consideration is being given, however, to the position of retired officers who have given full-time service in the Armed Forces in the 1939–45 war. That will not include all the officers, but it will include a very great majority. The men on the lower deck and petty officers received their whole pay and their whole pension during the war, while the officers only received a 25 per cent. addition to their pay and no, pension at all. Why not wipe out these class distinctions and treat them both the same? The officers are perhaps the hardest people for whom to get complete justice, though they would not use the word "justice" themselves, and the fact remains that life gets harder for them and easier for everyone else. They have no trade union, they would not belong to one if there were one, but they will go on looking to the Admiralty, as they have always done in the past, for a fair deal. The time will come again next month on the Navy Estimates when all these things can be discussed at much greater length, and I hope that by that time some definite decision will have been come to on the few hopeful sentences contained in the Command Paper.

I have only one other point, and that concerns the general construction of the Navy. That, of course, is what everybody would like to know, but so much depends on what other countries have. In the past we have had a White Paper before us with the Estimates showing the strength of the navies' of all other countries and the existing strength of our own Navy. On that basis we have been able to make suggestions, and on occasion have in fact insisted that our Navy should be built up to an adequate strength. Now we have not got those figures, we do not know what any other country has, except that we hope that Japan and Germany have no navy at all. Apart from that we have no figures to judge by, and it is rather difficult to produce any arguments. At least we have the assurance of the First Lord that we shall keep a Navy ' adequate to its purpose, which is mainly to command our sea communications the world over. In the past the Prime Minister has frequently said—perhaps almost more while he was in opposition than while he was Prime Minister—that the strength of our Navy must depend on our foreign policy. We quite realise, therefore, that until our foreign policy is not only set forth, but is proved to be successful, it is difficult to saywhat Navy we should have. I hope that when the proper time comes the House and the country can be assured that we shall have a Royal Navy adequate to meet any demands that may be made upon it.

5.10 p.m.

Major Sir Basil Neven-Spence (Orkney and Shetland)

I want to take up one point referred to by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chertsey (Captain Marsden). He drew attention to the great waste of time that takes place when a merchant ship has to be protected by carrying defensive armament. There is another point besides this waste of time and it is this. As these ships were not primarily built to carry extra weight on the superstructure, when the extra weight was put on at the epicentre the result was, as the First Lord of the Admiralty knows, that a considerable number of those vessels, having had this extra weight added to the superstructure, were lost through turning turtle. I think that this is a point that might be borne in mind by naval architects. After all, it is better to be safe than sorry. We may have to arm our merchant ships at some time again, although I hope not; and I do not see why, when our ships are designed, they should not be designed to carry this extra weight of Oerlikon guns and so on. I do not see why that should not be done in advance, so that the ships will be, at least, seaworthy when they have to be armed.

Lieut.-Commander Clark Hutchison (Edinburgh, West)

I want to ask only one question. It would, I understand, be out of Order to raise the question of the conditions of service and pay of permanent officers of the Naval Ordnance Inspection Department on this Vote. Could the First Lord, or the Parliamentary and Financial Secretary, say on which Vote it would be competent for me to raise this matter?

5.12 p.m.

The Parliamentary and Financial Secretary to the Admiralty (Mr. John Dug-dale)

With regard to the last point raised bythe hon. and gallant Member for West Edinburgh (Lieut.-Commander Hutchison), it would be in Order for him to raise this matter when the Estimates proper are before us at a later stage. As we are to have a considerable discussion at a later period, I shallbe as brief as possible in answering the questions raised today. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir B. Neven-Spence) referred to the technical point about the extra weight on merchant ships. I will see that that is brought to the proper quarters. I could not possibly give him a technical answer on the spur of the moment. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Chertsey (Captain Marsden) raised a number of points. With regard to his point about the publication of details, as soon as we can get the definite information that we want as to the future composition of the Fleet and know exactly what the future composition of the Fleet is to be, the blue book which was published before the war will be published as before, and the hon. and gallant Gentleman will get his information. That will be when we can get, as the First Lord reminds me, reliable information from abroad as well. That is an important point.

I agree that large sums are going to be spent and nobody would grudge an hon. Member raising any points he likes today. I would only stress that these points can be raised at a later period when we can have a full discussion on them. The hon. and gallant Gentleman also referred to the contribution that may be madetowards arming merchant vessels. This will be considered. I cannot give a definite answer yet. He also raised the point as to how far the men can be paid by the Admiralty, but that also may be raised, no doubt, at a later stage. On the question of retiredpensions, that is, again, not a question for the Admiralty alone, but a question which concerns the Treasury, too. We do realise that the officers have given very valuable, untold service to the Navy, and we do not intend that they shall suffer from any unnecessary parsimony on the part of the Admiralty. The hon. and gallant Member said that they had no advocates, but I think that in hon. Members of this House they have a number of very able advocates, and I do not think the officers' case is ever lost sight of in this House, any more than that of the men, I hope. I think the recent White Paper on officers' pay has been received, so far as I can tell, very well. There may be people who disagree with it. There are people who think more should be paid, but on the whole, I think, it has had a very favourable reception. These and numbers of other points raised from time to time by hon. Members will, I have no doubt, be raised again when the Estimates are considered in detail at a later date, when, I hope, we shall be able to have a full discussion and one can give more satisfactory answers.

Question put, and agreed to. Third Resolution agreed to.

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