HC Deb 15 December 1948 vol 459 cc1344-7

Lords Amendment: Page 3, line 36, at end insert: (3) Persons who during the late war were members of the Royal Artillery and served as such in any ship or vessel for the purpose of defending it against enemy attack shall be deemed for the purposes of section two of this Act to have been members of His Majesty's naval forces to which that section applies.

10.51 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty (Mr. John Dugdale)

I beg to move, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

This Amendment arises out of the promise we made when this Bill was in Committee of this House. At that time I said I hoped it would be possible for an Amendment to be made at a later stage and this promise is now being carried out. As hon. Members will see, the Amendment refers to members of the Royal Artillery, because it would not be enough to say "members of the Maritime Regiment." Some gunners served actually in the D.E.M.S. before the formation of the Maritime Regiment and we wish to cover them as well. Hon. Members will realise that no Amendment is necessary in the case of naval and marine officers, ratings and other ranks who served in the D.E.M.S. organisations because they are already members of the naval and marine Forces and come within Clause 2 (1) of the Bill as it stands. They will, of course, appear in the Royal Proclamation. The Proclamation also requires to be amended in order to admit the entitlement of the representatives of men killed or otherwise losing their lives at sea from causes attributable to service afloat. I think this will cover all that hon. Members asked for and all that I promised would, in fact, be given.

Commander Noble (Chelsea)

Will commodores of convoys and their staffs be included as a result of this Amendment?

Mr. Dugdale

They will, of course, be included and the promise will, therefore, be kept.

10.53 p.m.

Mr. J. P. L. Thomas (Hereford)

We on this side of the House are glad to support this Amendment. As the Parliamentary Secretary knows, we were concerned because, while the personnel of offensively armed merchantmen were included in the distribution of prize money, men who gave equally gallant service in merchantmen defensively armed were excluded. We have noted from what the Parliamentary Secretary said, and what was mentioned by the First Lord in another place, that it is necessary only to amend the Bill to include the Royal Artillery, since other personnel concerned are already covered in the Bill—as the Parliamentary Secretary has said—in Clause 2 (1).

We have also noted the Parliamentary Secretary's assurance tonight that the Royal Proclamation will be further amended so as to ensure that the dependents of men who lost their lives from causes attributable to their naval service, before completing the six months minimum qualifying period, will now receive the share which would otherwise have come to them. We are very glad to know that the Government have now acceded to our requests and I am sure the news will be welcome to the widows and families of the men concerned and appreciated by them as some further recognition of the sacrifice made by their men folk. On this occasion, I am very glad that on this side of the House we support the Parliamentary Secretary.

10.55 p.m.

Mr. Maclay (Montrose)

I am in complete agreement with this Amendment, but there is one point I must raise with the Parliamentary Secretary, and I hope it will be possible for him to give me a brief answer. The Amendment does widen the range of people who come under consideration for a share in prize money. I want to know whether the Parliamentary Secretary made certain that in widening it to this extent there were no other categories left out which might appear to qualify. I have in mind the people—they were ordinary merchant seamen—who were trained rapidly in a short course on the Lewis gun. They found themselves gunners on merchantmen in the early days. They did gallant service with a weapon to which they were not accustomed and until the regular D.E.M.S. came along, did valuable work. Has it been considered that this type of men should come in? I hope that when any question of this kind comes up affecting merchantmen or merchant seamen there is some consultation with the National Maritime Board.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)

I do not think that question arises.

Mr. Maclay

The point I was trying to make was whether there was proper consultation. I was not trying to elaborate it. I was concerned that the best advice is taken in arriving at the precise definition of the men who should be included. I trust that that is not beyond the bounds of Order, and I should be grateful if I could have an answer.

Commander Noble (Chelsea)

I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will say when we may expect the draft Royal Proclamation.

10.57 p.m.

Mr. Dugdale

I think I should make it plain that the dividing line is whether men were under military or naval discipline. The men, the hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Maclay) was talking about, were not under naval or military discipline. It is also a principle that to qualify, men must receive Service rates of pay. We have to make the dividing line somewhere, and that is the most suitable one. While we would take anyone's advice the decision must be ours, and we must base it on something which will limit the people entitled to receive prize money. Otherwise we should be extending it to such an extent that there would be little left to go round. With regard to the question put by the hon. and gallant Member for Chelsea (Commander Noble), I cannot state the exact date, but I do not think it will be very long before it comes out. I want to make it quite clean that in moving this Amendment we are acceding to the demand from not one side but all sides of the House.

Mr. Keenan (Liverpool, Kirkdale)

Was not the point made during the Committee stage that the reason why merchant seamen had been excluded was that included in their pay was a danger bonus?