HC Deb 15 June 1950 vol 476 cc633-9

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

7.30 p.m.

Squadron-Leader Burden (Gillingham)

I wish to bring to the attention of the Committee the very considerable dissatisfaction which exists in His Majesty's Navy, particularly among the ratings, regarding the reduction of the store allowance of duty-free tobacco from 1 lb. to ¾ lb. for a shore-based establishment and from 2 lbs. to 1½ lbs. for sea-going ships. I suppose we shall be told that the reduction has been made in order to lower the demand from the Service in conformity with what has been demanded of the civilian population and that it is an effort to get the Navy to play its part in easing the situation which has arisen through the shortage of dollars. However, it has caused very considerable dissatisfaction.

I am also told that the Government have been concerned at some abuses which have arisen in regard to the administration of the duty-free tobacco, and we are told that as a result of the Government's new arrangements more will benefit from the concession than has been possible in the past, and that therefore on that ground there is a case for a slight reduction. But if the cut in the tobacco of the serving man in the Navy has been brought about in order to save dollars, there is equally a case for a reduction in the free coal concession to miners. Although coal may not cost dollars, it does earn hard currency, and if it is right that naval personnel should have their tobacco cut because tobacco costs dollars the argument can equally be put forward in our present position that a cut should be made in the free coal allowed to miners, because it can earn hard currency. If it is to be a case of fair shares, naval personnel should not be the only people who are asked to make concessions.

I submit that there is no real case for saying that there will be any saving in dollars because of the reduction of dutyfree tobacco to the Navy. It is now possible for a man in the Navy to purchase as much tobacco as he was receiving before and the only change is that the Exchequer will now collect from naval ratings the money which in the past has been lost by allowing them to receive duty-free tobacco. It is obvious that this puts no restriction on the amount of tobacco which the naval rating can consume. All it does is to impose a greater cost on him if he wishes to smoke as much as he did before. That is one of the reasons for the very considerable amount of irritation which exists at the moment.

The Opposition feel that if this has been imposed in order to bring the Navy into line with the rest of the country, which has been asked to use less tobacco because of the shortage of dollars, there shoudl be no further cuts, and we ask that the reduction in the issue of duty-free store tobacco shall be reinstated at the earliest possible moment. I am concerned about this chiefly because of the irritation which exists. The best interests of recruitment to His Majesty's Forces are not served when these little pinpricks— that is how naval personnel look upon them—are constantly being levelled against them. I am delighted to see the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty in his place. As a result of his knowledge of the lower deck he will realise that that is a danger, and I feel sure that we shall receive an assurance that the cut will at least be temporary and that no more cuts are envisaged

Commander Galbraith (Glasgow, Pollok)

I support the plea made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gillingham (Squadron-Leader Burden). In the first place, the Clause regularises a situation which has been recognised as requiring attention for almost 20 years. As one who had the honour of serving in that great Service I can say that one objects to any interference with the rights and privileges of the Navy, for that is natural, but we recognise that something has to be done.

The other matter to which my hon. and gallant Friend referred is the cutting down of the allowance of tobacco to men serving in His Majesty's ships and also in certain shore establishments. That is something which is very grievously felt by all ranks and ratings in the Service, and we would only agree to it on the grounds that it equalises the situation as between those who serve in the Navy and those who are civilians or are employed in the other Fighting Forces of the Crown. We should first like to be absolutely assured that that is what is happening. We should also like to have some further explanation of how dollars will be saved in view of the fact that a naval rating, like anyone else, can now purchase as much tobacco as he likes.

What we want principally from the Government are the two assurances for which my hon. and gallant Friend asks. I will repeat them. The Navy is suffering a 25 per cent. cut at present—it is an overall cut of 20 per cent. but it is spread out and the actual cut is 25 per cent.— from 2 lb. to l½lb. and from 1 lb. to ¾ lb. We want to be absolutely certain that this will be restored as soon as it is possible to do so, and that no further cut whatever will be applied to the naval issue of tobacco. I hope that we may have those assurances.

Sir H. Williams

I have not served in the Navy but only in the Mercantile Marine, and I am not quite certain what the practice is in the Navy. As soon as a ship gets outside the three-mile limit the seals are taken off—

Commander Noble (Chelsea)

Not in the Navy.

Sir H. Williams

No, but the Mercantile Marine goes to sea much more than the Navy does. I fully recognise that, and that is probably one of the difficulties. The merchant seaman spends the greater part of his life at sea but the man in the Navy spends the greater part of his life ashore, which is one of the difficulties that arise. I should like a little technical explanation from those who are supposed to know. It appears that many men in the Navy will now be put in a much worse position than men in the Mercantile Marine. Maybe the trouble is my complete ignorance of the practice with regard to cheap wines and tobacco in the Navy. I do not wish to see the men in the Navy worse off than the men in the Merchant Service.

Captain Ryder (Merton and Morden)

I fully support what my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) has said but I am not quite clear about subsection (5), which says that the power of the Treasury is to be exercised by Statutory Instrument. In point of fact this has been brought about by an Admiralty Fleet Order. Is that a Statutory Instrument or not? Do we get a chance of speaking on this A.F.O. which will carry out the power of the Treasury in this respect, or is it likely to take effect without any discussion?

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty (Mr. Callaghan)

As the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) said, what we are considering now is Clause 15 of the Bill which gives us power later on, to make regulations which will be brought before the House for its assent under the Statutory Instrument procedure.

Sir H. Williams

The Minister is not quite right. It would not be for the assent of the House. It would automatically have effect unless somebody prayed against it.

Mr. Callaghan

Well, if it is not for the assent of the House, it is for the dissent of the House. It makes no practical difference to the result. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh"] Let us not have a quarrel about that on this occasion. Let me put it in a completely non-controversial way by saying to the hon. and gallant Member for Merton and Morden (Captain Ryder) that the House will have an opportunity of expressing a view about this matter if it wishes to do so.

Commander Noble

There is an Admiralty Fleet Order in print now, but it is not dated and is presumably waiting for this Clause to become law.

Mr. Callaghan indicated assent.

Commander Noble

What would be the next step?

Mr. Callaghan

The hon. and gallant Member is quite right. There is an Admiralty Fleet Order in being. The cut has not yet been applied and will not be until the proper procedure has been followed. This was done in order to give the Fleet advance notice and as much of the details as we could give in explanation of the few words that the Chancellor said about this in his Budget statement.

I think the subsections of the Bill are as reasonably clear as draftsmen ever make subsections and it would perhaps not be proper that we should discuss the details which will come in the regulations later on. However, as the point has been raised, perhaps I may put the picture in its proper frame. It is clear, and it would be wrong for me to deny, that the men in the Navy will suffer a cut which amounts to 25 per cent. of their tobacco allowance.

If I may say so to the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok, without being pedantic, it is not the Navy which is suffering the cut but the men in the Navy, because the Navy as a whole will not be suffering as great a cut as that since there is a spread-over, This means that instead of resentment—which I am bound to say I have not found and I have been round quite a bit in the last few weeks, though the hon. and gallant Member for Gillingham (Squadron-Leader Burden) said he had found some—many men in the Navy are prepared to accept this cut because it is bringing in a large number of other men who were just as much entitled to the duty-free tobacco as are the chaps who were getting it formerly. The new regulations will enable us to bring in these men and to ensure that almost every man in the Navy, with certain minor exceptions, will be entitled to dutyfree tobacco. That is a substantial improvement over the existing condition and will remove many grievances and irritations.

I will give some idea of the continuing value of this concession because I would not like it to go out from this Committee that whittling away has made it nugatory. A man in a sea-going ship will be entitled to 1½ lb. of tobacco, which makes about 600 cigarettes a month. He will in due course be able to get some of them in the form of "blue liners" as they are now called—we used to call them "ticklers"—because they have a line down the middle with "H.M. Ships only" on them. They will cost 8s. for 400. He will also get 200 cigarettes of proprietory brands in the canteen at 7s. 11d. which will cost him together 15s. 11d. a month for 20 cigarettes a day. In civilian life the same cost is, I am told, £5 5s., so in fact this concession is a valuable one and will save him nearly £4 10s. a month.

Similarly, for shore-going establishments it is of the same sort of order. A man will get 300 "blue liners" a month for 6s. So this is an extremely valuable concession for the Navy which is now being put on a proper legislative basis; the custom which has grown up will now have legal backing, and the Admiralty will play a substantial part in its administration. I hope, therefore, that the Committee will give us the Clause.

7.45 p.m.

Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite

May I ask the Parliamentary Secretary a question to clarify the last part of what he said? Is it still the case that duty-free tobacco is available only in shore establishments where the Customs authorities are satisfied that the proper arrangements are being made for the checking of liberty men, and so on, going ashore, to get rid of an obvious abuse? I take it that it is not the case that every naval rating serving ashore will necessarily get duty-free tobacco but will get it if he is in a shore establishment for which proper arrangements are made?

Mr. Callaghan

That is broadly true, but by changing the nature of the safeguards we intend to extend this concession widely. At the moment it depends on an establishment being fenced in, whereas if we apply other methods of administration it is possible to bring in many more men.

Commander Galbraith

The hon. Gentleman has not given either of the assurances for which I asked. I do not know if he is going to do so?

Mr. Callaghan

I do not think the hon. and gallant Member really expects that I can give assurances about the future in that way. There is no intention at the present time of making any further cut, but I cannot say categorically that the cut will be restored. I do not think I can be expected to bind my successors on either of those matters and it would hardly be right to ask me to do so. The hon. and gallant Member also asked me about how the dollar saving was to be effected. It is being effected to some extent by using more non-dollar tobacco in the victualling yard tobacco supplies. I would like to be in a position to give those assurances but I doubt whether it would be proper for me to do so. On the other hand, I would not like the hon. and gallant Member to conclude that because I am not in a position to give those assurances, a further cut is contemplated, because that would not be true either.

Commander Galbraith

Would the hon. Gentleman be able to go as far as to say that it is the intention of His Majesty's Government, when the financial situation allows, to restore the issue to the same standard as it has been up till now?

Mr. Callaghan

That is a little hypothetical. We have to set off against the cut now being made the increase that is being given to several thousands of men who are being brought in. I do not wish to bind myself either way. I do not wish to say categorically that the cut will not be restored but, on the other hand, I cannot be expected to say that it will be restored. Is it not better to let this go as it is at the moment? I think we can always trust the Admiralty not to be backward in restoring this concession when it is possible to do so.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 16 ordered to stand part of the Bill.