HC Deb 15 June 1948 vol 452 cc396-402

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Popplewell.]

10.52 p.m.

Vice-Admiral Taylor (Paddington, South)

During the Debate on the Navy Estimates I raised a question about the payment of the 25 per cent. bonus to certain officers on the emergency lists—those officers who were on that list before 31st October, 1930, and who were subsequently promoted after being called up to the rank of commander or captain. My case rests on the regulations which were issued from time to time by the Admiralty, and the Admiralty case rests, as I understand it, on their power to alter the conditions of service without notice and without recognition of vested interest as and when they please. I must quote the regulations in support of my case. In July, 1911, the regulations stated: When called up for active service officers on this list will receive full pay of their rank. On discharge after being called up they will be granted a bonus of 25 per cent. (exclusive of allowances) earned during their employment. In January, 1913, the regulations stated: Officers promoted after they have been placed on the emergency list will receive the rate of full pay of the higher rank. In April, 1916, the regulations stated: Emergency officers in time of war may be promoted irrespective of the regulations governing the promotion of officers on the active list. In April, 1918, the regulations stated: If called up for active service officers on this list, if promoted and subsequently to being placed on the emergency list, receive the full rate of pay of the higher rank. They will also be granted a bonus of 25 per cent. on the lull pay (exclusive of allowances) earned during their employment. It is on these regulations that I base my case. It is quite clear from them that the Admiralty recognised that these officers might be promoted to the rank of commander or captain. No officer in the Service, whether on the active list or on the emergency list, has any prescripted right to be promoted as a matter of course. All promotion to commander or captain is at the discretion of the Admiralty. It is clearly laid down in these regulations that officers may be promoted, and that if they are promoted they will receive the full pay of their rank, plus a bonus of 25 per cent. In 1927 these regulations were altered, and the 25 per cent. bonus was done away with, notwithstanding the conditions under which the officers had previously joined the emergency list. It was brought to my notice in 1942 that officers were not receiving this 25 per cent. bonus in accordance with the regulations under which they joined the emergency list. I took this matter up with the right hon. Gentleman who was then First Lord of the Admiralty, and is now Minister of Defence. I give him full credit for what he did—he instituted the necessary proceedings whereby those officers up to the rank of lieutenant-commander should receive the 25 per cent. pension, but in the case of officers promoted to the rank of captain or commander that was not done notwithstanding the regulation which I have read out.

The reply of the Parliamentary Secretary to me on the Naval Estimates was entirely unsatisfactory. I have had correspondence with him since, and because it also has been unsatisfactory, I am raising this matter tonight. The Parliamentary Secretary told me that after the outbreak of war in 1939 it was decided that the 25 per cent. bonus should only be paid to the emergency officers up to the rank of lieutenant-commander and not to those promoted to captain or commander after being called up. That, I am told by the Parliamentary Secretary was promulgated in February, 1942. He further stated in his letters written to me in February and March, 1948, that as the original contract did not bind the Admiralty to promote these officers to either the rank of captain or commander, they are regarded as coming on to new contracts unless promoted to one of these ranks after being called out, the date of such promotion being an appropriate moment to vary their conditions of service, i.e., to cease paying the 25 per cent. bonus on full pay. That is entirely contrary to the 1918 regulations.

The Parliamentary Secretary informed me—though he had no need to do so; it was quite unnecessary—that the Admiralty had the power to alter the conditions of service without notice and without recognition of vested rights. It could well be that such alteration might be to the detriment of the officers concerned as in this case. The Admiralty have used these powers in such a manner that these officers who expected to get this 25 per cent. bonus are not to get it because of the changed conditions. Is it any wonder that these officers consider that the Admiralty are not fulfilling their contract and that they are being unjustly treated? They have a real grievance in this matter. It shakes the confidence of the personnel of the Royal Navy in the integrity of a contract with the Admiralty. There is no question about it but this is bound to do a great deal of harm.

I do not know whether the Parliamentary Secretary is a good trade unionist, but I am. I am entirely in favour of trades unionism where the procedure laid for trade unionists is carried out correctly. I presume those, too, are the sentiments of the Parliamentary Secretary. Would the Parliamentary Secretary support a private employer who had a contract with his employees and who deliberately broke it? Certainly not. The hon. Gentleman I am sure would advise the employees to strike against the rascally employers who took such action. He would condemn such action at once. Yet that is exactly what the Admiralty has done. I submit that the Admiralty should set an example as good employers; but they certainly have not done so in this case. With these arbitrary powers, the Admiralty should be particularly careful how they use them. They should not use them to the detriment of the personnel of His Majesty's Navy, and I beg the Parliamentary Secretary to say that he will have this matter gone into again, in order that there may be an adjustment and that justice may be done to those officers who were subsequently promoted to the rank of commander or captain. He will then remove a real sense of grievance on their behalf.

11.1 p.m.

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

I support the case which has been raised tonight by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Paddington (Vice-Admiral Taylor) a case which he has argued so often and so well. It is a question of great importance to a relatively small number of extremely gallant officers. We should remember that in this debate we are dealing with officers who retired prior to 1930, so that their age at the end of the war could not have been much less than 60 years. They suffered all the rigours of active service at sea, and must have found it a good deal harder than men of their age in the other Services. They returned expecting to receive rates of pay, including the 25 per cent. bonus, oblivious of the fact that the bonus had been abolished. Owing to his activity in 1942 my hon. and gallant Friend was able to get the Admiralty to restore the bonus to them and, furthermore, the promotion to the rank of lieut.-commander still carried this bonus. But to those who, by exceptional merit, received no automatic promotion, but promotion by selection to the rank of commander and captain and consequently proved themselves of outstanding value to their country, this bonus has been denied.

Surely, the basis for withholding the bonus is indeed a flimsy one; it is a niggardly act. If automatic promotion to a relatively junior rank justified generous treatment, surely those, who by exceptional service, reached greater heights deserve more of this country which they served so well. The Admiralty may have the letter of the law on their side, but I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will show a more conciliatory spirit tonight and grant to these few this sum which is infinitesimal when compared to the vast millions spent by this Government today but which will give great relief to these officers whose retired pay bears so little comparison to the cost of living today. I hope he will consider sympathetically the request which has been made, not to close this question but to re-open it and reconsider it as a result of this Debate tonight.

11.4 p.m.

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

I am a little surprised that the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. J. P. L. Thomas) should have joined in this Debate because he occupied part of the office I now hold. It was only a part, and the other half was shared by his noble Friend in another place, but during the time he was there this reform for which he has argued so cogently this evening was not brought into operation. He is doing his duty well in supporting his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Paddington (Vice-Admiral Taylor), but—

Mr. J. P. L. Thomas

I did not get to the Admiralty until late in 1943, and the question was tackled in the early months of that year.

Mr. Dugdale

The hon. Gentleman has managed to secure for himself some sort of alibi. I will now turn to the speech of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for South Paddington. He says he is a good trade unionist. I think from the speech we have just heard he is a good trade union leader manquč, and he would have made a good impression standing on the tribune at the Trades Union Congress. Perhaps we shall see him in due course at the Labour Party Conference, and that his eloquence will be as great there as it is here.

The Admiralty, as the hon. and gallant Gentleman has said, consider that such promotion, that is promotion to the rank of commander or captain, is not a right but is something which may be given or withdrawn at the discretion of the Admiralty. In 1941 the Admiralty issued a new Admiralty Fleet Order, and I think for the purposes of the record I had better read what the Admiralty Fleet Order said. It stated: The regulations governing the payment of 25 per cent. bonus to Emergency List Officers placed on the Emergency List up to 31st October, 1930, have been revised as follows: Officers placed on the list before the above date will be paid 25 per cent. bonus on full pay retrospectively to the date of being called out for service, including those who have been or may in future be promoted to the substantive or acting rank of Lieutenant-Commander and relative ranks. It then went on with this sentence— As no officer on the Emergency List had a prescriptive right to promotion to Commander, the bonus will not be payable to officers who have been or may be exceptionally promoted since being called out to the active substantive ranks of Commander and Captain (and relative ranks) after the date of such promotion. They may, however, retain the pay of the lower rank plus 25 per cent. if to their advantage

Vice-Admiral Taylor

Before the hon. Gentleman leaves that point will he explain why the Admiralty in the 1918 regulations never said anything about the prescriptive right but said these officers would receive the full pay of the rank plus a 25 per cent. bonus.

Mr. Dugdale

I was stating that the Admiralty held a certain view, namely, that they had no prescriptive right. After representations from the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Admiralty changed its attitude. I only want to say one thing in conclusion. Having changed its attitude and brought out the Admiralty Fleet Order to which I have referred, the then First Lord of the Admiralty, now my right hon. Friend the Minister for Defence, wrote to the hon. and gallant Gentleman to explain what had been done. He explained in detail the Admiralty Fleet Order, including the second sentence which definitely stated that this class of officer would not get the bonus. He received from the hon. and gallant Gentleman a letter in which he wrote: I am very grateful for your courtesy in letting me know about the Emergency List Officers pay, and I am so glad the Admiralty have put that matter right. In spite of the fact that my right hon. Friend's communication included the second sentence that certain officers would not benefit from the change that had been made, nevertheless the hon. and gallant Gentleman said that the matter had been put right. Having said that, I can only suggest that he must have changed his mind since. The Admiralty have not changed their minds, and the matter must rest as it is, greatly as I sympathise with his persistence in raising this case constantly as he does. The fact is that when he was given this concession originally he agreed with it, he told my right hon. Friend that he did so, and I can only say that as he agreed with it then he must agree with it now, and that the Admiralty will maintain their position.

Vice-Admiral Taylor

I would only like to say that when I read that letter—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Hubert Beaumont)

The hon. and gallant Member has exhausted his right to speak.

11.11 p.m.

Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth (Hendon, South)

There is an aspect of this matter which has not yet been dealt with. I would like to ask the Financial Secretary to the Admiralty how this matter stands in comparison with the other two Services. My recollection is that in the Army the retired officers in a similar position continued to get the increment notwithstanding the fact of promotion. I am not certain of that, but I have no doubt the position in regard to all three Services has been carefully considered. The House should be informed whether action in regard to all three Services has been the same. Clearly, if the Army officers who came back and were promoted got the 25 per cent. increment, whereas naval officers did not, there must have been injustice. Perhaps the Parliamentary and Financial Secretary will say—I am sure the House will give him leave—that he has looked into the position as regards the other Services, and that they are all treated alike—or, if not, why not, and that he will consider the matter.

Mr. Dugdale

There are many matters in which all three Services have different regulations. It is only now that a large number of regulations are being brought into line, and the fact that a regulation may or may not exist in another Service is no proof that it should exist in the Navy. They have different regulations in many respects, not only in this one.

Adjourned accordingly at Thirteen Minutes past Eleven o'Clock.