HC Deb 02 May 1957 vol 569 cc482-5

Order for Second Reading read.

9.23 p.m.

The Parliamentary and Financial Secretary to the Admiralty (Mr. Christopher Soames)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The Bill relates to the pay of officers and men of the Naval and Marine services and provides that Her Majesty may, by Order in Council, fix the rates of pay, bounty and allowances which are payable during service with the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines. The Bill is designed to place the arrangement for authorising pay for the Naval and Marine Reserves on exactly the same footing as are the arrangements for pay of Regular officers and men.

The Bill is needed in order to clarify the law relating to the pay of the Naval Reserves arising from references to pay in many early Statutes. Some of the Acts governing the pay of the Naval Reserve are now about a hundred years old, as hon. Members can see from the Second Schedule to the Bill. Scattered throughout these Acts are various and, in some cases, somewhat obscure references to pay which were, of course, relevant when the Acts were framed, but which now bear little relationship to modern conditions and take no account of the enormous changes which have occurred during the past century. For instance, in Section 6 of the Royal Naval Reserve (Volunteer) Act, 1859, there is a provision that reservists called up for service under the Act shall receive the same pay as Regular ratings entered in the Royal Navy for ten years' continuous and general service.

For many years it has not been the practice to have a ten-year engagement; at present, the engagement is normally for nine years but for twelve in the case of artificer apprentices. The Admiralty is advised that the references in those old Acts, and specifically in the one to which I have referred, to the pay of men serving ten-year engagements, could be construed from the legal point of view as giving to certain classes of Reserve ratings, in the event of their being called up for service, rates of pay which are higher than those to which some Regulars are entitled under the new 1956 code of pay.

The practical result of that is that some reservists would, in the event of their being called up for service, receive a higher rate of pay than would Regulars with the same length of service. This is an anomaly which obviously cannot be accepted, since no reservist can have any moral entitlement to draw a higher rate of pay than that of a serving Regular of corresponding rank and service. If the reservists were to gain this advantage on a mere legal technicality, the Regulars would certainly have considerable grounds for complaint.

The difficulties which I have mentioned have been increased by the 1956 pay code, which introduced differential rates of pay for men serving different lengths of engagement.

The Naval and Marine Reserves are a most vital component of the Royal Navy, and in these unsettled times it is a matter of first importance that there should be no legal difficulties about their rates of pay when serving. Fortunately, we did not have to call up any reserves for the Royal Navy in the Suez crisis, but we can never be sure that we might not have to do so should another emergency develop in the future. Apart altogether from war and emergency, there are sometimes N.A.T.O. exercises, and we may have to call up some of these men for them. The amendment of the law by the passing of the Bill is, therefore, a matter of some urgency.

The Reserves mainly affected by these legal difficulties are the Royal Fleet Reserve—a first-line Reserve, composed of time-expired Regulars of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines—when recalled for service in war or emergency, and also the Royal Naval Special Reserve: but we have taken the opportunity of including within the scope of the Bill officers and men of all the Naval and Marine Reserves, in order to place the law on the subject in a satisfactory state both at present and, we hope, for a long time in the future.

9.28 p.m.

Mr. Thomas Steele (Dunbartonshire, West)

We thank the Parliamentary Secretary for his clear explanation of the meaning of the Bill. I confess that we found it rather difficult to go through the various references and find out exactly what it was all about, but we understand why the Admiralty wishes to do something to remedy the position in which men who called up from the Reserve receive a higher remuneration than full-time serving men.

There are two questions which I should like to ask. First, has this situation already occurred, or has it been discovered before anything has happened and before anybody has been given this extra bonus? Secondly, is it quite clear that in all that is being done here no rights or safeguards applicable to reservists are being abolished, and that they are not suffering in any way under the provisions of the Bill?

9.30 p.m.

Lieut.-Commander S. L. C. Maydon (Wells)

I have to make only one small criticism of the Bill, a criticism of a purely technical nature which I have already mentioned to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary. We have just been dealing with the Naval Discipline Bill, in which the word "Navy" is spelled with a capital "N," but in the Title of this Bill the words "Royal Navy" are spelled with initial small letters. Similarly, in the First Schedule the titles of the various Reserves, which I think in normal practice are spelled with capital initial letters, are all printed in small letters.

The Parliamentary Secretary told me in conversation yesterday that this was perfectly legitimate and that sometimes one course was followed and sometimes another. But as the normal practice is to give capital initial letters to these various forces, in just the same way as regiments in the British Army have capital initial letters, whether their titles comprise one or more words, so these various Naval Reserves and the title of the Royal Navy itself should have capital letters at the start of each word. I should like to have my hon. Friend's assurance that that will be the practice in future.

Mr. Soames

With permission, I should like to answer the three points raised. First, in answer to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wells (Lieut.-Commander Maydon), I would say that I made inquiries about the question whether the initial letters in the title of the Royal Navy should be in capitals. I was told that there was an almost equal number of Bills presented to the House in which capitals or small letters were used, and that neither was right and neither was wrong. I will look at the point against the possibility of our presenting more Bills in the immediate future.

As to the two points raised by the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, West (Mr. Steele), I can assure him that no bonus has been paid up to date. The answer as to whether these men will suffer at all is that they will get the same pay that they would have been getting had they still been Regulars when they were called up and also the same pay that their shipmates who are of the same rank and length of engagement as the reservists had when they were serving as Regulars. That is just and equitable.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Barber.]

Committee Tomorrow.

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