HC Deb 26 February 1951 vol 484 cc1870-80

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

10.3 p.m.

Surgeon Lieut.-Commander Bennett (Gosport and Fareham)

It seems to me that in times like the present it is not irrelevant that this House should have spent the whole of today discussing various matters appertaining to the Fighting Services. I should like this evening to bring forward a few matters which refer to the most silent of the Services, for whose silence I shall try to make amends in the few minutes at my disposal.

There are various crises which are befalling many men nowadays who are not in the Reserve Services but who have up to now been in the Regular Forces and who may or may not be due now for discharge to their home life. Many of these people at present are being kept on and made to serve extra time because of the present national emergency. Many now, both officers and men, have had their future plans rudely broken up and have, in fact, had to change their minds very sharply. They are expressing not only anxiety, but also a good deal of concern that the disruption of their lives, as it seems at present, is not going to be properly rewarded.

The first of the categories of men to whom I feel a certain amount of attention should be directed are those who, in response to the appeal that was made, with an offer of a bounty, subscribed their names as being willing to re-engage for continuous naval service instead of going out at the end of their allotted time. The offer was made that they would get £100 for re-engaging, provided they did so after the date 1st September, 1950. Many men, I am happy to say, accepted that offer and re-engaged.

But there is a small number of men who could have re-engaged and were eligible to re-engage after the commencement of this particular offer, who sent in their names for re-engagement forthwith and did not wait until that date. It seems to me that these men are being penalised in £100 for their somewhat precipitate action. I understand that the situation may be complicated in that other Fighting Services may claim to have similar privileges allotted to them, but those men have not, and did not have, at their disposal the many many years from which to choose in which they could have re-engaged. They had warning, and after that warning they re-engaged.

I ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether his Department could not find it within their mercy, if not their charity, to reconsider the cases, if not of all these 300 men, at any rate of that number—if it is possible to find for such a small number the dates when, in their respective ships, the announcement went up on the ships' notice boards—who re-engaged before 1st September while still eligible to wait till after that date. It cannot be seriously denied that those men must have been influenced by seeing that notice, and responded to it, and the fact that they made a slip-up in the routine should not cost them £100.

Another matter which is certainly causing a certain amount of concern is the position of the men who have no such obvious claim, the men who have been serving a 12 years' agreement but have not been allowed to get out. Those are men who have made all their arrangements for civil life, and I am assured by some of them that under the terms of their agreement the Admiralty had no right to make them stay on. I agree they had the power, but in this instance power and right do not seem to be the same thing. I do not say for a moment that these men are unwilling or reluctant. but they do feel that if they are to be kept on, they should have some of the benefits which come to a man who stays on and re-engages in the ordinary way, or to a man who has been called up to do a period of extra service in the present national emergency.

The man who stays in the Service and re-engages gets 28 days' re-engagement leave, but these 12-year agreement men who have been kept on for 18 months have no assurance of any leave. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether he could not persuade his Department to make some allowance for leave, even if it has to be "subject to the exigencies of the Service." These men have a bounty or gratuity of £15 offered to them for the extra 18 months' work, whereas the Z reservist is getting £4 for a fortnight's extra work, which seems out of all proportion. The man who does the 18 months extra does an immense amount of extra service, with a good deal of dislocation of his plans, and he should get something better in the way of a gratuity.

There is a certain amount of dismay among officers at some of the things that have befallen them. I particularly wish to place before the House the fate of the technical officers who until recently have been known as warrant officers, now known as branch officers, who have come from the lower deck and usually retire as lieutenants or lieutenant-commanders. Many have been told that they are to stay on another 18 months. We all understand why that should be. But many have been told to stay on at a time when they might be hoping to retire, and they have made their arrangements accordingly. If they stay on, they will at present have the pension rights to which they were due by service in their rank.

It is an odd thing that on the lower deck a man's service year by year counts towards the total of his pension, but these officers—some of whom have some time since reached the maximum pension for the rank—have among them such anomalous cases as an officer who has been told to stay on and is really to be on the Retired List but is serving actively and will have no further pension privileges for the extra time he has to do. Furthermore, the officer who has been so kept on may be due, by lapse of time and good service, to be promoted during the period of service. That is by no means an unusual thing.

I could quote the case of an officer who has received, almost at the same time, a notice telling him he is retained for an extra 18 months and a notice saying that he is retired and promoted on the Retired List. These officers feel that one thing to which they should be entitled is that if they are serving actively in a rank when they finally leave the Service, they should have the pension due to the higher rank.

The position of these officers is very difficult. They are serving at the pay of the rank. They are entitled to no extra pension for additional service, nor do they draw their pension, as the men on the lower deck do, simultaneously with their pay. Nor, alternatively, as the men on the lower deck do, can they forgo their pension but draw the pay and get an increased pension when they leave. Their position is betwixt and between and they feel that in this national emergency they should be entitled to a similar position to that of officers called up in the recent war whereby an officer called up on the Retired List got his pay plus 25 per cent in lieu of pension.

Another type of officer who is having a very tough time at the moment in view of the worsening of world conditions and the policies following on that, is the group of officers who started in the Royal Naval Reserve, or Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, and were given extended service commissions at the end of the war. Those men volunteered to stay on in the Service and under Admiralty Fleet Order 7058 of 1946, they were given commissions for four or five years on the Active List, plus four years on the Emergency List. They were to be under six months notice on either side during that time and to receive a gratuity.

In February, 1950, the Admiralty made a signal stating that all these officers were to go out on the completion of their fourth year of service and they would have three months' notice individually, but they were actually told and named in that signal. They therefore made arrangements, took jobs and started securing houses and did everything possible to start in civil life with their gratuity but, in July, 1950, suddenly, after the Royal Proclamation, all this was cancelled. They were told merely that they would be required to "serve towards the longer period."

For seven months, from July, 1950, to about a fortnight ago, these men had no idea of their future nor the terms on which they were to serve. In the last fortnight an Admiralty signal came out saying they were to do 18 extra months, but saying absolutely nothing about extra gratuity for service, the rate of which was £450 for the four years completed. They have no gratuity and no pension, and the thing which is worrying them most is that if the international situation continues to be of great tension and indecision—which many people think it will be—what guarantee have these officers that a similar arbitrary signal will not keep them for another eighteen months or four or even five years?

This is something which is happening in what is still rather euphemistically called peace-time. Therefore, these officers really are in a very difficult position. They are young and excellent officers, and they have done long service: in many cases they have done 12 to 14 years service already. I can speak of one officer who joined as sub-lieutenant, R.N.V.R., at the age of 21 in May, 1939, and is now a lieut.-commander. He is a good example. Under the new orders he expects to be released at the age of 351 years after having done 14½ years' service.

I do not think I am letting out any official secrets if I quote from paragraph 9 from Admiralty Fleet Order 7058/46, to which I have already referred: Applications will be invited at a later date from Executive Officers serving on Extended Service Commissions to transfer to permanent R.N. commissions. It is anticipated that Up to 50 such transfers will be made. Now that these officers are approaching 15 years' service, 15 years being the time when they would have been eligible, had they been in the Regular Navy all their serving life, for pension—they would get what I think is called the minimum or reduced pension after doing 15 years' service as an officer—might this matter of 50 regular commissions not now be looked at again and made applicable to all of them? They have all been found by the Navy to be worth keeping. Surely the Navy should now be prepared to take them on permanently. They would then have most of their fears set at rest, because I repeat that they are not unwilling; they are keen and good officers but they want some idea of certainty and hope for the future.

I ask the Parliamentary Secretary if he can do something to try to retain an option for these officers. The Admiralty wants them and the Admiralty is responsible for them. The Admiralty has had the use of all their formative years. The difficulties these men will have to meet in resettling in civil life do not really bear looking at, they will be so frightful. In order to restore the morale of some of these officers—and I say to the Parliamentary Secretary with all respect that some of them are getting rather "chocker"—I ask the Admiralty to treat them with the gratitude which they deserve. They should have a reward suitable for the enthusiasm that has kept them voluntarily in the Service for so long.

10.18 p.m.

Mr. Ivor Owen Thomas (The Wrekin)

I gladly take the opportunity on this occasion of underlining the case which has been put forward by the hon. and gallant Member for Gosport and Fareham (Surgeon Lieut.-Commander Bennett). I take the opportunity partly because my attention has been called to a case which supports the claims that have been put forward on behalf of the men affected by this additional service. I presume that difficulties of this nature arise in all the Services due to the extended period of service.

I do not think I can do better than give the details of a personal case to emphasise the type of problem which this additional service raises affecting so many men. I received a communication from a constituent who is serving in the Royal Navy. I do not think I can do better than read to the House this short communication which I received last week, and which illustrates the type of problem which is raised. My constituent states: In view of the 18 months' extra service that I have to do in the Navy, could you please tell me if anything is going to be done to enable Naval ratings to enter the police force after passing the age of 30. My intention, on completing my 12 years' R.N. engagement, was to enter the Shropshire Constabulary. This would have been in February, 1953, and I should have just qualified under the maximum age limit. With an extra year and a half looming over my head the prospects of entering the police force seem remote, so I would be grateful for any information you may he able to supply. Having served throughout the last war from the age of 16, it is rather a bitter pill to swallow when a further period of service is pressed upon you and the chances of employment with the police fade. I think that serves much more effectively than a long speech to emphasise the state of difficulty which this additional service creates. I hope serious attention will be given to this problem by all the Service Departments and endeavours made to assist these men in solving their very difficult personal problems.

10.22 p.m.

Captain Ryder (Merton and Morden)

I wish to support the case put forward by my hon. and gallant Friend. These are anomalies which inevitably arise from the conditions of the Service, especially in these difficult times. We on this side of the House believe that as a Department the Admiralty run their affairs reasonably well, and endeavour to make sure that these anomalies do not create hardship. We know they have a difficult case to fight against the Treasury, and we want to support their hand. We want the Parliamentary Secretary to go to the Treasury and say that the case has been very forcibly presented to this House.

We suggest that these anomalies provide special grounds for grievance. The Treasury say—and this is a well-known dodge—"If we do that for you, we shall have to do it for all the others." Then they go to the other Departments and say "If we do it for you, we shall have to do it for the Admiralty." I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to appreciate that, and not to be led astray by people who say that the Admiralty always get what they want. The reason the Admiralty very often do get their way is because their demands are always reasonable. Unlike other Departments, they do not double their demands knowing that the demands will be halved. The Admiralty's policy is always to state the minimum demand which can be justified, and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will go back fortified by that feeling.

10.24 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty (Mr. James Callaghan)

I shall have that encomium upon my administration at the Admiralty cut out and sent to the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition in case he decides to intervene in the debate on the Navy Estimates next week.

I think the hon. and gallant Member for Gosport and Fareham (Surgeon Lieut.-Commander Bennett), has put some problems in a way from which I certainly do not dissent; indeed I would thank him for the dispassionate and objective manner in which he presented them. We must all appreciate, and I hope that the country appreciates, that this extended service which we are asking from a large number of our sailors must cause great interference, with their private lives, and place burdens not only on them, but on their wives and families. The men of the Fleet have responded extraordinarily well to these particular demands which have been made and I hope—indeed I am sure—that the House recognises the fact. It is certainly my duty, so far as I can, to make the conditions under which they have to serve as bearable as possible and I assure the House that that will continue to be my endeavour so long as I have the responsibility.

The point made by the hon. and gallant Member in connection with the re-engagement bounty was in continuation of the debate we had on 6th February, when the case was represented with great vigour by many hon. Members. I promised I would communicate the points put to my noble Friend the First Lord. I have done so. The hon. and gallant Member for Merton and Morden (Captain Ryder) appreciated that this is not within the Departmental discretion of the Admiralty. Other Services are involved much more deeply than is the Admiralty. If this was merely a question for us, the additional cost would be extremefy small. I do not know whether it could be tucked away under "postage and stamps" but it would be comparatively tiny. Altogether, however, it is a substantial matter, because this question of re-engagement concerns both the Royal Air Force and the Army who have far more people involved in this problem than we have, with our 300.

I note the suggestion made by the hon. and gallant Member that perhaps some part of the 300 might be included. Of course, he will realise that that, again, will mean drawing a line. We always get these anomalies whenever we draw.a line. The line was drawn on 1st September, and the point of view taken at the time was that the payment of £100 was an encouragement to those who had not signed on to do so. Those who had signed on before 1st September had signed on in the knowledge of the conditions existing at that time. Therefore, the view was taken by the Government that we should not be expected to pay bounties to those who had already signed on.

I should like to say that my noble Friend is consulting with the other Departments concerned about this matter. Meetings are going on and it would be improper for me to anticipate any conclusions which may be reached but I do want to repeat, in continuation of the earlier debate, that we have not dropped this issue and that discussions are still continuing.

Surgeon Lieut.-Commander Bennett

I am not quite sure whether the announcement about this took place before 1st September. Would the hon. Gentleman make the position clear?

Mr. Callaghan

The announcement was made after 1st September and dated back to that date, so that people who signed on after 1st September were signing on without any expectation of getting £100. That is the case made against back-dating the bounty further. The hon. and gallant Member asked that those who are retained should be given a leave allowance similar to those who reengage. On consideration, I think he will realise that there are certain difficulties. Those who re-engage sign on for a further period of 10 years. Therefore, very properly, they are given a substantial leave allowance, because they are to be separated from their wives and families for some time.

In the case of those who are being retained for a period of 18 months, I do not think that the hon. and gallant Member would suggest that we should bring them back, for example, from Korea where a number of them happen to be, in order to give them leave and send them back again. During the time they are doing their additional 18 months they will be entitled to the ordinary seasonal leave. In the case of a man in the Home Fleet, I believe that that is something like 42 days a year. Men in Fleets overseas have a different leave allowance. In any case, they will be entitled to the full 28 days' leave given at the end of any man's period of service. That will fall to them in any case.

On the question of the bounty for reservists, the hon. and gallant Member contrasted their treatment with that of the Z Class men who are to be called up for 15 days and who are to get a bounty of £4, while the Royal Fleet Reservist who is called up for 18 months will get a bounty of £5. I am sure that he realises that the reservist has a recognised liability which he took on and understood, whereas it can be argued that the Z man regarded himself as a demobilised civilian without any further liability at all. In addition, the reservist has been, and is, drawing a retainer which varies between 7s. and 10s. 6d. per week irrespective of whether he is called up or not and irrespective of whether he is called up for training or not. There is a difference between the two cases which I am sure the hon. and gallant Gentleman will appreciate.

It is true that, on the question of officers' pensions, if officers have already attained the maximum pension they cannot get an additional pension as a result of their additional period of service. I do not see how it would be possible to increase the maximum pension in the way suggested, any more than it is possible in the Civil Service if a man does more than the number of years established service which qualify him for the maximum pension. I do not think that there is a real grievance there.

On the question of their pay, if they are promoted whilst retained, the short answer is that they are paid the pay appropriate to the duties which they perform. If they are doing duties that are in the higher range then they will get the appropriate pay.

Surgeon Lieut.-Commander Bennett

And pension?

Mr. Callaghan

No. I fully agree that we have had some excellent service from extended service officers. We owe a great deal to them. Although a large number of permanent commissions have been given, it is my intention that the matter should be reviewed once more to see whether we can offer some more commissions. That depends on the size of Vote A. I think that that is the minimum we owe to these men and I shall certainly undertake to make that review.

On the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. I. O. Thomas), if anybody who had applied for entry into the police before the date of the Royal Proclamation and then, three months before he got to the age of 31, he applied again, I think he would find that he would get sympathetic consideration.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-nine Minutes to Eleven o'Clock.