HC Deb 15 March 1956 vol 550 cc645-51

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £63,688,000, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the expense of the pay, &c., of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1957.

Mr. Kenneth Robinson (St. Pancras, North)

The greater part of this Vote is for the pay of officers and men in the Royal Navy, and I should like to repeat the congratulations which my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) offered to the Government when the Estimates were introduced for introducing these new scales of pay for officers and men of the Services. I agree with what the hon. Gentleman said in introducing the Estimates—that, by and large, pay in the Royal Navy now compares reasonably well with earnings in civil life outside, and that it should enable the Navy to obtain the Regular recruits that it wants in the coming years.

Indeed, so far as comparisons are concerned, I looked rather wistfully at the pay and allowances of a lieutenant-commander with maximum service, because that was the rank in which I left the Royal Navy, and compared it with the present remuneration of a Member of Parliament, and I found that on the whole the Navy is not too badly treated by these standards.

In the debate on the Estimates, I raised the question of National Service in the Navy, and in view of the fact that there is now a reasonable chance of getting the regular recruits which the Service wants, I should like to ask the Parliamentary and Financial Secretary whether the very small number of National Service men needed in the Navy is really justified in present circumstances. We know that it is Government policy that the National Service man should have a choice of the three Services, but it is a very nominal choice as far as the Navy is concerned—I think probably fifty to one against, if we take the figure of 2,000, the figure to which the Royal Navy expects to run down in the year 1957–58.

I do not know whether the Parliamentary Secretary can give us any idea of the cost of training these men. Is it disproportionate compared with the rather different training arrangements that have to be organised for Regular recruits? I am not saying definitely that I think National Service ought to stop forthwith in the Navy, but I should like some indication as to how uneconomic it is—because it must be uneconomic from the Service point of view—at the moment.

There is one other point on which I should like to ask a question. It concerns Vote 1, Subhead L, in regard to education grants. I gather that that is a new subhead, and in the Estimates it is stated that this sum of £100,000 is for the payment of an education allowance up to £75 a year for children at boarding school, and also for the payment of maintenance allowances of lOs a week for children boarded out who attend day school. The Estimates go on to say that the allowances are payable in respect of children between the ages of 11 and 18 of personnel serving abroad and those serving in the United Kingdom who are subject to frequent changes of station. Is it intended that these allowances are to be available for both officers and ratings? Perhaps we could be given some intimation as to how this new arrangement has arisen, what the demand for it has been, and generally what arrangements have been made under this heading in the past.

There is one other item under the Appropriation in Aid—Item Z. There is a sum of £500,000 which is expected as a contribution from the German support fund. I am speaking subject to correction here, but it appears to be part of the sum which the Government budgeted for and which they expected to get from the Federal Republic of Germany in support of our Forces stationed in that country. I believe it is a fact that, within the last 48 hours or so, the German Federal Government have said that they do not intend to make any cash payment at all. Perhaps we can have confirmation from the hon. Gentleman whether, in the light of these recent developments, he expects that figure of £500,000 to be realised.

8.15 p.m.

Miss Joan Vickers (Plymouth, Devonport)

I should like to raise one point in relation to Subhead C; but first I should like to add my congratulations in regard to rates of pay. I should like to say that although I am not a feminist, I should like to see some explanation why there should not be equality between the different Women's Services in regard to pay.

I have before me the total of the payment of these Services, and I should like to pay a tribute to the Women's Services and to the nursing services, because I have noticed during the debate on these Estimates that, up to date, no mention has been made of the very valuable services which they give in Her Majesty's Forces.

If one looks at the table showing what is the pay in the Regular Women's Services, it is interesting to note that in eight different sections there is inequality of pay between W.R.N.S., W.R.A.F. and W.R.A.C. In the case of a second officer, captain or flight officer, the difference is as much as 7s. per day. That is in the category of four years' service, and even up to the rank of six years there is still a difference of 5s. a day. After that, there is 1s. a day difference until they have done eight years' service, and then they get equality of pay up to the final rank. I suggest that as aircraft-women and able seamen are to begin with equal pay, there is no reason why there should be any difference in pay in these eight categories. The women have the same expenses, and they have to go to the same N.A.A.F.I. organisation.

All the Women's Services and the nursing services ought to get equal pay, and I should be very glad if the matter could be considered. I understand that their careers as officers are substantially the same in the final financial reward as for the other Services and it is only in the early stages that it is different. I should be very glad if my hon. Friend would look into it to see if there is any reason why there should not be equality with the other Women's Services.

Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)

Nobody is going to grudge the increase of pay to the sailors, who, like everybody else, are finding the cost of living going up under the present Government. Certainly, we would not grudge the W.R.N.S. their bit of birdseed which comes under Vote 1, but I think it is essential in these days that we should cut out waste and see that the utmost economy is carried out in the Navy, as in the other nationalised services.

I have been alarmed to read in today's Daily Herald an article by a gentleman named Hannen Swaffer. Nobody will accuse Mr. Hannen Swaffer of being anything but patriotic. He draws attention to the cost of the "Britannia", and I want to ask the Minister if he can tell us whether these figures about her payroll are accurate. Presumably they come under this sum of £63,688,000. After all, it is the people outside who read these articles, and they need to be satisfied that the Royal Navy is run economically and without any waste.

We are told in this article that since her completion two years ago the "Britannia" has been renovated five times, and that over £100,000 has been spent on her refitting. The article states that it costs £2,500 a day to run her. I should like to know if that is correct. It states that she carries a crew of more than 200 officers and men who are badly needed elsewhere, when warships are held up for lack of crew.

Those are startling figures, and the author of the article goes on to ask whether it was really necessary to take the "Britannia" to the Mediterranean for these maneouvres. Mr. Hannen Swaffer says that: Even Tory newspapers which boast of their loyalty have joined in the widespread criticism of this continual waste. Yet, so indifferent is the Prince to this outcry that, instead of flying to the Mediterranean for the naval manoeuvres in a Service plane, the petrol for which would have cost the nation comparatively little, Philip decided that nothing short of the Britannia would suffice. How many more millions will Philip's passion for the sea cost the nation?

The Parliamentary and Financial Secretary to the Admiralty (Mr. George Ward)

On a point of order, Sir Charles. Is this in order on Vote 1?

The Chairman

Yes. I thought it was the crew about which the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) is complaining. He is objecting to the pay of the 200 men in the Royal Yacht, is he not?

Mr. Hughes

Yes, Sir Charles. Although the Minister is strange to the Navy, because he was in the Air Force, I did not think that he thought the "Britannia" could sail to the Mediterranean without a crew. We have not reached the stage yet when automation propels the "Britannia".

I have raised this matter before. There were times when we could afford to pay £2,500 a day for these men. I suggest, however, that when people who are much more conventional in these matters than I am are calling attention to them, it is up to the Minister to allay the public apprehension that there is extravagance in the Navy and that this pay-roll would be much less if, for example, the "Britannia" were sold to the United States of America or disposed of in some other way so that it would not be a burden to the nation.

Mr. Ward

I shall start by replying to the questions of the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. K. Robinson) whose first point was about National Service men. The hon. Gentleman asked whether they were justified, and whether their training was disproportionate and uneconomic.

On the first point, we, in common with the other two Services, look forward to the day when we can have a long term or Regular Navy. Frankly, we would rather not have National Service men, but while we have them they are extremely useful to us in many ways. Although I agree that their training is uneconomic in that we are giving them the same training as we give long-term men, and yet are keeping them such a short time. At the same time there is some economy in that their training is not separately organised but takes place with that of the Regular sailors.

Educational grants are available both to officers and ratings. They are necessary because one of the greatest disincentives to joining any of the Services is the difficulty of educating children because the father is moved around so frequently from place to place. A man posted overseas is faced with three almost impossible choices. Either he has to take his wife and children with him and trust to luck as to the kind of education he will find overseas; or he has to take his wife with him and find some means of boarding out his children during their education in this country; or he has to leave his wife behind to look after the children and face a long period of separation. Those are three extremely difficult choices. For these reasons we try to solve the problem by giving this education allowance so that people can board out their children and avoid at least one of these unhappy choices.

Mr. K. Robinson

Before the hon. Gentleman leaves that point, I was not suggesting that this practice was not desirable. I was wondering what provision had been made in the past in view of the fact that there was no sum in that subhead last year.

Mr. Ward

This is an improvement which has been made recently for the reasons I have stated and as a result of experience.

On the question of the German support funds the hon. Gentleman is right. This £500,000 is the provision which has been made in the Estimates for the amount of German contribution for the coming year. On the point about the newspaper reports, I am not in a position to discuss that beyond saying that negotiations are still going on and that this is only an estimate which we put into this year's figures.

My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Miss Vickers) raised the question of W.R.N.S. pay. I appreciate and understand her interest in the women's Services which she has mentioned to me before. As she knows, I tried in a letter a few days ago to explain the situation and I am sorry that I did not succeed in convincing her. I will try again, but this is not an easy matter to explain. It is a mistake to try to compare the three women's Services rank by rank. The principle is that in post-war years it has been the rule, in dealing with the pay of the women's Services, to give them about three-quarters of the equivalent pay for male officers. The pattern for male officers in the Navy differs very considerably from that of male officers in the other two Services, because they are promoted at quite different ages and it is impossible exactly to compare their various ranks.

8.30 p.m.

If we equate the women's Services to the comparable male Services and not to the other two women's Services, we get some idea of how this works out. If we corn-pare the women's Services age for age and not rank for rank, we will also find that they are very closely equated. Finally, the best test of all is to take the careers in each of the three women's Services from say, the age of twenty to the age of thirty-two and see what each is paid over those twelve years. It will then be found that the W.R.N.S. comes out a little ahead of the other two Services. That, I am afraid, is the best explanation I can give, and I hope that that will satisfy the hon. Lady.

The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) disappointed me very much and I am sure that he disappointed other hon. Members by raising the topic of the expense of the Royal yacht. I have not read Mr. Hannen Swaffer's article in the Daily Herald, so I do not know what he says about it, although I can imagine. What he probably does not say is that Her Majesty's Ship "Britannia," besides being the Royal Yacht, is also a hospital ship.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

He said that.

Mr. Ward

Did he? I am sorry. I said that I did not read the article. The hon. Member certainly did not say it. It is a hospital ship and would be so used in war time. Quite apart from that, I am one who firmly believes and will continue firmly to believe that Her Majesty The Queen should have a yacht.

Mr. Hughes

In justice to Mr. Swaffer he said: It was stupidly stated at the start, that, far from the money being wasted, the yacht could be so changed that she could transport wounded. The Admiralty carefully concealed the fact that, if war broke out, the dockyards would be much too busy to spend weeks on refitting a pleasure craft.

Mr. Ward

That is not so. The "Britannia" is an operational ship and not a member of the reserve, and as an operational ship is capable of going to sea in an operational rôle very quickly indeed. I think that those are the main points, but if there are others, I will later write to the hon. Members concerned.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That a sum, not exceeding £63,688,000, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the expense of the pay, &c., of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1957.