HC Deb 22 November 1948 vol 458 cc915-25

5.30 p.m.

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

I beg to move, in page 2, line 13, at the end, to insert: after the conditions of entitlement and the scale of shares of the different ranks have received the approval of a Select Committee of the House of Commons. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will follow the example of his predecessor and withdraw these conditions of entitlement and the scale of shares for re-examination. The argument for doing so seems far stronger than it was in 1918; first, because a great many men are excluded from participation, secondly, because the conditions governing the awards to the men invalided out and to the dependants of men killed are so stringent, thirdly, because the qualifying period is a fixed period and fails to take into account the varying lengths of service, and, fourthly, because the proposed scale has been arbitrarily decided, whereas in 1918 it was fixed by a Departmental Committee.

The Parliamentary Secretary will, no doubt, have considered the procedure adopted in 1918, and he will have seen that dissatisfaction was expressed in the House in regard to the scales. On that occasion Conservative Members thought the scales were too wide, and although they had been agreed by a Departmental Committee, the First Lord acted in a very statesmanlike manner and withdrew the regulations which formed the second part of the Proclamation, and subsequently issued a further Proclamation. There is no reason why a similar procedure should not be adopted this time. We ask that the matter should be reconsidered, and I hope very much that the Government will not ride rough-shod over the many men concerned.

Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)

I am inclined to be in favour of the setting up of a Select Committee to consider the question of conditions of entitlement. But as this is a case of the pirates dividing up the loot without any regard to the people who have played a part in its capture—some Members seem to be living in the times of Captain Kidd and Paul Jones—I want to put in a claim for the miners, if there is any booty to be divided.

The Deputy-Chairman

It is not that miners are necessarily out of Order, but that the Debate cannot be narrowed down to individual categories. The matter before the Committee is whether or not there shall be reference to a Select Committee.

Mr. Hughes

I bow to your Ruling, Mr. Bowles, and conclude by expressing the hope that the position of the miners will be considered by the Select Committee.

Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite

I hope that the Government will see their way to set up this machinery. When the Parliamentary Secretary considers this proposal, he will see that there is a great deal to recommend it. When we were discussing Clause 1, the hon. and gallant Member for East Hull (Commander Pursey) drew the parallel, in regard to certain suggestions then put forward of what happened at the conclusion of hostilities in 1918. I think that, within the calm atmosphere of a Select Committee, it will be possible to elucidate that there are very great differences between the present situation and the situation then ruling.

Perhaps I may be allowed to give one illustration by way of example. The hon. and gallant Member said that D.E.M.S., the convoy staffs, were ruled out altogether in 1918, but the Select Committee would, of course, find out that there is a very good reason for that, namely, that the convoy system, in view of our experience of the 1914 war, was started in this war at the moment it was declared. I cannot help feeling we are not alone in our view that to confine the distribution of prize money to those in offensively armed warships, while denying any distribution to those engaged in the defence of merchant ships, introduces an anomaly which we all wish to see corrected. I believe that a Select Committee would be the best way of dealing with this matter, because in a Select Committee these matters could be calmly argued and all the necessary evidence called to arrive at a fair decision.

Captain Marsden

I hope that the Government will accede to the request for the establishment of a Select Committee. We feel that such a committee will apportion the prize money in a much fairer manner than that set forth in the Royal Proclamation. When the Admiralty decided that prize money should go, not to those directly responsible for the capture of a prize, but to all those who assisted in winning the war, they certainly opened the door pretty wide. I am chiefly concerned about those who did the capturing, and I am wondering why the Royal Air Force have come into this. I am not one who objects to a man getting what he can, whether he deserves it or not, but I am chiefly concerned to see that the people for whom I speak, get their fair share.

As for the Royal Air Force, they did nothing so far as prizes are concerned, although, of course, they most gallantly helped in the winning of the war. As a matter of fact, if they had sunk fewer ships at sea, the Navy would have had more captures to add to the Prize Fund, and to that extent Bomber Command decreased rather than increased the Fund. As for their share in the winning of the war, no one could be a more hearty admirer than I am of the part they played. However, the fact remains that when the Admiralty departed from the general idea that those who assisted in the capture of a prize should participate in its distribution, they threw the net very wide indeed, and made it possible to include almost every one who went to sea.

It is really extraordinary the people who are put in and the people who have been left out. Those people already mentioned who served so gallantly in merchant ships have been eliminated and others in the Merchant Service who received danger rates of pay to the extent of £10 a month get the prize money in addition. I think that a Select Committee would give a fairer apportionment, because the present Bill, followed up by the Royal Proclamation, is most unsatisfactory.

Vice-Admiral Taylor

There can be no doubt whatever that the proposed allocation of prize money is most unjust and unsatisfactory. All we are asking for is that the same procedure should be adopted as was adopted after the 1914– 1918 war, when a committee was set up under the Admiralty to decide on the matter. At present we do not even know who decided on the scale laid down of 10 to 1 and the allocations made under that scale, and perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will inform us: that is a most important question. I cannot help thinking that Members on the Government benches desire that justice should be done in this matter.

Mr. Willis (Edinburgh, North)

Two to one, or one to one, instead of 10 to one.

Vice-Admiral Taylor

If the hon. Member will study the distribution of awards he will see that at present it is most unjust. All we are asking for is a Select Committee to inquire into the distribution in order to see that justice is done to officers and men of the Navy, as was done after the first world war. I cannot understand why there should be any opposition to that request.

Sir R. Ross

It is very embarrassing to discuss this Bill in Committee because some of its most important provisions which, we assume, will be carried into effect, appear in the draft Royal Proclamation on Prize Money. If they had appeared in the form of a Schedule to the Bill we could have discussed the matter much more fully, but as it is we are prevented from discussing the merits and demerits of distribution. One certain thing, however, is that the present position is so grotesque that the Parliamentary Secretary can hardly put it forward as a suitable solution. For instance, there are those who made the greatest sacrifice of all in the war at sea, those who lost their lives in action and those who were wounded so as to be incapacitated. There is nothing for the dependants of those who were killed, and nothing for those who were so wounded unless they served for a specified term. That is a gross injustice. I cannot now deal with these cases in detail, but I cannot imagine that any Minister of the Crown can stand up for a distribution of prize money which excludes the dependants of those who made the supreme sacrifice.

Commander Maitland

If this Committee has any useful purpose at all, it is to discuss these matters fully, and to try to show where mistakes have been made in the draft Proclamation. It was wrong of the Parliamentary Secretary to give the impression to the Committee that sailors were happy, that they knew they were entitled to so much, and were quite satisfied with their share. We have tried to put forward cases where injustice has been done, and we have suggested the appointment of a Select Committee to consider special and difficult cases of entitlement. There are so many of these cases that I do not know whether they all get prize money or not.

For instance, what about pilots of aircraft who took off from merchant ships to shoot down enemy aircraft? There were few more gallant deeds done during the war than those done by these men. The Bill does not show whether they will get prize money or not. If these pilots were Fleet Air Arm men were they working in merchant ships, or what was their position when they were doing this work? There must be many other cases. It is impossible to believe that all the various categories of entitlement are included at the moment, and that is why there should be a Select Committee to consider the whole question.

5.45 p.m.

Mr. J. Dugdale

Various reasons have been adduced for setting up a Select Committee, the principal one being that such a Committee was set up after the 1914–18 war. The main reason for setting up a Select Committee after the first world war was that there were so many complaints in the House about the very great differentiation of scale. As a result of that Committee that great differentiation was somewhat narrowed. Today, the scale has been based, roughly speaking, on that for gratuities, which is the scale which was accepted by Members on all sides. It was, I think, introduced by the right hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson). The hon. and gallant Member for South Paddington (Vice-Admiral Taylor) wanted to know who decided the scale. He must know that the proposal was brought forward by the Government, that it was a Government decision and is their responsibility.

I want to take this opportunity, although I may not be strictly in Order, of saying that the Government have given further consideration to one point in connection with the scales, and have decided to consider whether it is possible to allow prize money to be paid to the next-of-kin of all who were killed or who lost their lives during active service at sea in their first six months of sea service. I think this is the point which has concerned hon. Members on all sides most of all. I know that feelings have been expressed about different categories, which will be discussed shortly, but I think this aspect of the matter has been of most concern to hon. Members. I am sure they will be glad to hear that the Government have decided to make this alteration in the draft Royal Proclamation.

Captain Marsden

The hon. Gentleman said that a gratuity would be paid to the dependants and relatives of all those who lost their lives at sea. Does that include dependants and relatives of merchant seamen who come under the general heading of D.E.M.S.?

Mr. Dugdale

No, certainly not. I mean all those who would have been included had they completed their six months' service in a ship of war, which is the present category, and who were, unfortunately, killed before that six months' term was completed. It does not alter the category we have laid down now. Those who served in a ship of war will get it, and those who did not will not get it.

Sir R. Ross

Is it proposed to bring in those who were incapacitated by wounds during their six months' service?

Mr. Dugdale

No, the only decision which has been made is to include the next of kin of those who actually lost their lives.

Commander Noble (Chelsea)

What the Parliamentary Secretary has just told the Committee emphasises our request for a Select Committee. He said that following the 1914–18 war there had been so many complaints that a Select Committee was set up. The concession which he has just announced is the result of complaints from this side of the House. If a Select Committee were set up many more points could be brought forward, and could be given proper consideration after due deliberation. There are commodores of convoys, naval officers serving in merchant ships and so on. There are also those who went through great danger in bomb and mine disposal. If I might turn for one moment to the actual scales——

The Deputy-Chairman

The hon. and gallant Gentleman must not go into scales in any detail or into categories at all. I laid that Rule down early on and the hon. and gallant Gentleman must stick to it.

Commander Noble

I was only proposing to point out that the many anomalies in the scales amplify what we are suggesting—the need for a Select Committee.

Sir Ian Fraser (Lonsdale)

I should like to add that the decision just announced will obviously be welcomed by very many. The decision not to pay in cases where a man is disabled would appear to be an anomaly, and again emphasises the obvious advantages of considering this matter in the quiet of a committee room rather than during a Committee stage on the Floor of the House.

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre

I should like to support what has been said by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chelsea (Commander Noble). There have been a great number of complaints from this side of the House, and I am very glad that the Parliamentary Secretary has met one I put to him in the Second Reading Debate—the matter of the Jervis Bay. However, he is only touching on the fringe of the problem, and in what he has now propounded, that the scales in general follow gratuities, he is under a complete misapprehension. Gratuities were for general service. Naval prize money was for specific tasks that were undertaken by specific sections of the Service. There is no comparison between the two at all.

He has not got to the root of our complaint, which arises from the fact that six months is the qualifying period. If a sailor has under six months, he cannot qualify, but if he has over six months he cannot help but qualify, which seems to be entirely wrong. Many categories have been mentioned today, and I will not mention any more, but the Parliamentary Secretary knows full well that dozens of people who were probably injured under the rule, cannot qualify, whilst a great number of people who have never earned prize money will, in fact, qualify. Therefore, I suggest to him that it is not only necessary to review, as he has done, the specific cases, but to go to the root of the problem, which is the six months minimum period.

I ask the hon. Gentleman to agree to this Select Committee which can judge the various issues, as was done after the 1914–1918 war. There is nothing here of a half or a quarter grant to certain categories, which was a most valuable thing after the previous war, because it enabled those who knew the Navy and the work done to consider the whole range in which proper prize money was to be given. I hope, therefore, that the hon. Gentleman will reconsider this matter.

Mr. Brendan Bracken (Bournemouth)

I join with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for New Forest and Christ-church (Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre) in expressing the hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will reconsider his decision. As my hon. and gallant Friend said, it was his effort which led the Parliamentary Secretary to take into account, for instance, the case of the Jervis Bay and the glorious service rendered to this country by Captain Fogarty Fagen and his comrades. We are dealing with a whole series of claims of a highly complicated nature. They cannot be dealt with on the Floor of this House and they should not be dealt with by the Admiralty on its own. I have the greatest respect for the Admiralty, but I know how large a part the Treasury plays in its affairs. A case has been made out for a Select Committee. We are not seeking controversy in this matter. It is not a party matter at all. This affects all sorts and conditions of naval persons, and I think the Parliamentary Secretary should give way.

It is all very well for the Parliamentary Secretary to say that what happened after the 1918 war is not binding on us now. It is not. But I can assure him that if he looks at this matter again, he will see that it affects humble people serving on the lower deck of the Navy and is full of anomalies. If there was the prospect of solving this matter here by our staying all night, there might be something to be said for it, but I suggest that it is a matter which should go to a Select Committee upstairs. On both sides of the Committee there are Members who served in the Royal Navy, or are deeply attached to it, and are anxious to see justice done in this matter.

It may be that prize money is now out of date. I am not now going into the arguments for and against, but I do not know of any case which has occurred here in my time—and I have been a Member of the House of Commons for 20 years—that is more deserving of examination by a Select Committee than the one we are putting forward tonight. I cannot understand the Parliamentary Secretary rejecting it. I am sure many hon. Members behind him share my lack of understanding of his attitude. This is beyond party and has reference to the service rendered during the war by the Royal Navy. Those connected with the Royal Navy know that this is a matter of justice to humble people, and on this occasion we should not bring party into it at all. This is a Bill which should go upstairs, so that we can consider the matter carefully though not in any partisan spirit, and then report back to the House of Commons.

I do not know whether the Parliamentary Secretary can commit the Government now. I feel sure he could for once, but if he cannot, he could make a statement saying that he will consult with the First Lord. I know if the First Lord were sitting in the Parliamentary Secretary's place he would agree with me that this is a case—there is not any attempt

here to introduce party politics—of simple, elementary justice, to me people to whom we owe so much for what they did during the war.

Mr. J. Dugdale

I should like to make a few observations. In the first place, I agree that this is not a party matter and I am glad to pay tribute to the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for New Forest and Christchurch (Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre) for his part in the matter. May I make it quite clear that there was a feeling on both sides of the Committee, and it was due to that feeling as expressed in the House of Commons that we have decided to make this alteration. It proves that the House of Commons is the best place in which to discuss this matter and find out what are the opinions of hon. Members. We can have regard to those opinions and as a result of them, we can, as we have in this case, effect alterations. I am afraid I cannot agree to the appointment of a Select Committee. The Floor of the House is where these matters should be discussed, and I am, therefore, unable to accept the Amendment.

Question put, "That those words be there inserted."

The Committee divided: Ayes, 85; Noes, 188.

Division No. 13.] AYES [5.58 p.m.
Baldwin, A. E. Harden, J. R. E. Noble, Comdr. A. H. P.
Birch, Nigel Head, Brig. A. H. Nutting, Anthony
Bossom, A. C. Hinchingbrooke, Viscount Orr-Ewing, I. L.
Bower, N. Hollis, M. C. Pitman, I. J.
Boyd-Carpenter, J. A. Hope, Lord J. Poole, O. B. S. (Oswestry)
Bracken, Rt. Hon. Brendan Howard, Hon. A. Prior-Palmer, Brig. O.
Braithwaite, Lt.-Comdr. J. G. Jeffreys, General Sir G. Reed, Sir S. (Aylesbury)
Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T. Keeling, E. H. Robertson, Sir D. (Streatham)
Butcher, H. W. Langford-Holt, J. Ropner, Col. L.
Butter, Rt. Hn. R. A. (S'ffr'n W'ld'n) Lennox-Boyd, A. T. Ross, Sir R. D. (Londonderry)
Channon, H. Lindsay, M. (Solihull) Savory, Prof. D. L.
Clarke, Col. R. S. Lipson. D. L. Smithers, Sir W.
Corbett, Lieut.-Col. U. (Ludlow) Lloyd, Setwyn (Wirral) Studholme, H. G.
Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E. Low, A. R. W. Sutcliffe, H.
Crowder, Capt. John E. Lucas-Tooth, Sir H. Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)
Darting, Sir W. Y. MacAndrew, Col. Sir C. Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A. (P'dd't'n, S.)
Digby, S. W. McCorquodale, Rt. Hon. M. S. Thomas, Ivor (Keighley)
Dodds-Parker, A. D. Macdonald, Sir P. (I. of Wight) Thomas, J. P. L. (Hereford)
Donner, P. W. Mackeson, Brig. H. R. Thorneycroft, G. E. P. (Monmouth)
Dower, Col. A. V. G. (Penrith) Maclay, Hon. J. S. Thornton-Kemsley, C. N.
Drayson, G. B. Macpherson, N. (Dumfries) Touche, G. C.
Drewe, C. Maitland, Comdr. J. W. Ward, Hon. G. R.
Dugdale, Maj, Sir T. (Richmond) Manningham-Buller, R. E Webbe, Sir H. (Abbey)
Duncan, Rt. Hn. Sir A. (City of Lond.) Marlowe, A. A. H.
Duthie, W. S. Marples, A. E. Wheatley, Colonel M. J. (Dorset, E.)
Fletcher, W. (Bury) Marsden, Capt A. Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)
Fraser, Sir I. (Lonsdale) Marshall, D. (Bodmin)
Fyfe, rt. Hon. Sir D. P. M Mellor, Sir J. TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Gammans, L. D. Molson, A. H. E. Commander Agnew and
Grimston, R. V. Neven-Spence, Sir B. Major Conant.
Adams, W. T. (Hammersmith, South) Griffiths, D. (Rother Valley) Porter, E. (Warrington)
Albu, A. H. Griffiths, Rt Hon. J. (Llanelly) Porter, G. (Leeds)
Allen, A. C. (Bosworth) Haire, John E. (Wycombe) Proctor, W. T.
Allan, Scholefield (Crewe) Hale, Leslie Pursey, Comdr. H.
Alpass, J. H. Hamilton, Lieut.-Col. R. Ranger, J.
Attewell H. C. Harrison, J. Reeves, J.
Ayles, W. H. Henderson, Rt. Hn. A. (Kingswinford) Reid, T. (Swindon)
Ayrton Gould, Mrs. B. Hewitson, Capt. M. Ridealgh, Mrs. M.
Bacon, Miss A. Hobson, C. R. Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire)
Balfour, A. Horabin, T. L. Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)
Barstow, P. G. Hoy, J. Robertson, J. J. (Berwick)
Barton, C. Hudson, J. H. (Ealing, W.) Royle, C.
Battley, J. R. Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayr) Sargood, R.
Bechervaise, A. E. Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Segal, Dr. S.
Benson, G. Hughes, H. D. (W'Iverh'pton, W.) Shackleton, E. A. A.
Berry, H. Hynd, H. (Hackney, C.) Sharp, Granville
Beswick, F. Irving, W. J. (Tottenham, N.) Shawcross, Rt. Hon. Sir H. (St. Helens)
Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale) Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A. Simmons, C. J.
Binns, J. Jenkins, R. H. Skeffington-Lodge, T. C.
Blackburn, A. R. Jones, P. Asterley (Hitchin) Skinnard, F. W.
Blyton, W. R. Keenan, W. Smith, H. N. (Nottingham, S.)
Bowen, R. Kinghorn, Sqn.-Ldr. E. Snow, J. W.
Braddock, T. (Mitcham) Kinley, J. Solley, L. J.
Bramall, E. A. Lee, Miss J. (Cannock) Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)
Brook, D. (Halifax) Lewis, A. W. J. (Upton) Summerskill, Dr. Edith
Brooks, T. J. (Rothwell) Lindgren, G. S. Sylvester, G. O.
Brown, George (Belper) Lipton, Lt.-Col. M. Taylor, H. B. (Mansfield)
Brown, T. J. (Ince) Longden, F. Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)
Burden, T. W. Lyne, A. W. Thomas, D. E. (Aberdare)
Byers, Frank McAdam, W. Thomas, I. O. (Wrekin)
Castle, Mrs. B. A. McEntee, V. La T. Thomas, John R. (Dover)
Chater, D. Mack, J. D. Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)
Chetwynd, G. R. McKay, J. (Wallsend) Thurtle, Ernest
Cluse, W. S. McLeavy, F. Titterington, M. F.
Cobb, F. A. MacPharson, M. (Stirling) Tolley, L.
Cocks, F. S. Macpherson, T. (Romford) Tomlinson, Rt. Hon. G.
Collick, P. Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg) Turner-Samuels, M.
Collindridge, F. Manning, Mrs. L. (Epping) Ungoed-Thomas L.
Collins, V. J. Marquand, H. A. Vernon, Maj W. F.
Colman, Miss G. M. Mellish, R. J. Viant, S. P.
Cove, W. G. Messer, F. Walkden, E.
Grossman, R. H. S. Middleton, Mrs. L. Walker, G. H.
Daggar, G. Mikardo, Ian Wallace, G. D. (Chislehurst)
Daines, P. Millington, Wing-Comdr E. R. Wallace, H. W. (Walthamstow, E.)
Davies, Rt. Hn. Clement (Montgomery) Mitchison, G. R. Warbey, W. N.
Moody, A. S. Webb, M. (Bradford, C.)
Davies, Edward (Burslem) Morgan, Dr. H. B. Weitzman, D.
Deer, G. Moyle, A. Wheatley, Rt. Hon. John (Edinb'gh, E.)
de Freitas, Geoffrey Naylor, T. E. White, H. (Derbyshire, N.E.)
Diamond, J. Neal, H. (Claycross) Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.
Dodds, N. N. Neill, W. F. (Belfast, N.) Wilkins, W. A.
Dugdale, J. (W. Bromwich) Oliver, G. H. Willey, F. T. (Sunderland)
Edwards, John (Blackburn) Williams, R. W. (Wigan)
Edwards, Rt. Hon. N. (Caerphilly) Orbach, M. Williams, W. R. (Heston)
Edwards, W. J. (Whitechapel) Paget, R. T. Willis, E.
Evans, E. (Lowestoft) Palmer, A. M. F. Wilson, Rt. Hon. J. H.
Ewart, R. Parker, J. Wise, Major F. J.
Fernyhough, E. Parkin, B. T. Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.
Follick, M. Paton, Mrs. F. (Rushcliffe) Wyatt, W.
Foot, M. M. Paton, J. (Norwich) Yates, V. F.
Ganley, Mrs. C. S Pearson, A. Young, Sir R. (Newton)
Gibson, C. W. Peart, T. F.
Glanville, J. E. (Consett) Perrins, W. TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Granville, E. (Eye) Piratin, P. Mr. Joseph Henderson and
Grey, C. F. Popplewell, E. Mr. Richard Adams.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.