HL Deb 22 April 1947 vol 147 cc29-35

4.5 P.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, the purposes of this short Bill, the Second Reading of which I am moving this afternoon, are, I hope, non-controversial. I am afraid that the amendments to existing legislation which are required and are covered by the Bill are somewhat complicated, but I shall endeavour to explain the Bill in as few words as possible. It is required to bring the Navy into line with certain methods of payment now used by the Army and the Royal Air Force. The Army and Air Force provide that the amounts allowed to a soldier or airman, after deduction for the maintenance of his family, shall be not less than a quarter of his pay, in the case of the ordinary soldier or airman, and not less than one-third in the case of a warrant or non-commissioned officer not below the rank of sergeant. The Navy, however, have continued to work under a different system from the other two Services, and the present operative legislation for the Royal Navy is contained in subsection (2) of Section 98A of the Naval Discipline Act. This limits not the proportion but the actual amount of deductions which can be made from pay.

In the course of time marriage allowance has increased, and the amount that must be deducted in order that the marriage allowance may be paid has to be increased correspondingly. We have found that in the course of time the money limits laid down for the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines under the existing legislation, to which I have referred, have come to be inadequate in certain cases. Prior to the introduction of the new pay code in July last, the allotment necessary to qualify a chief petty officer for marriage allowance was 17s. 6d. a week; and it he allotted this sum, 24s. a week was paid to the wife, with additions for children. If the man did not voluntarily allot the sum of 17s. 6d. a week, Section 98A of the Naval Discipline Act empowered the Admiralty, in appropriate cases, to enforce such a deduction. To-day, however, under the new pay code, the qualifying allotment for a chief petty officer is 245. 6d. a week, and the existing legislation does not allow a deduction of this amount to be enforced from the man's pay without his consent; the maximum amount is 21s. Accordingly, the present position is that where a man refuses to make an allotment to his wife, all that the Admiralty can do is to make a compulsory deduction of that amount. As a temporary measure it has been the practice to increase this amount by a special contribution from the State of 3s. 6d. a week, in order that marriage allowance may be issued. It will he obvious, therefore, that amending legislation is necessary in order to permit enforcement of the appropriate deduction from a man's pay.

Two other points on which the present legislation has proved to be defective have been provided for temporarily by the provisions of Regulation 13 of the Defence (Armed Forces) Regulations, 1939, which were made under the Emergency Powers Act. Although these provisions are in force at the moment, they will in due course expire, and it is appropriate that in seeking an amendment to the permanent legislation these temporary provisions should be incorporated. In particular, Regulation 13 (iiA) gives powers for the compulsory continuance of allotments for the maintenance of wives and families; that is to say, to continue allotments qualifying for marriage allowance in those cases where a man has requested that such an allotment should be terminated. The object of this is to ensure that the family shall be properly provided for while attempts are made to effect reconciliation in cases of matrimonial dispute or until the Admiralty can be thoroughly satisfied by inquiry that the action of the rating is reasonable. Where an allotment is continued after the man has applied for it to be stopped, and on inquiry it is found that the man has justifiable cause and the allotment is stopped accordingly, the Admiralty practice is to refund to the man the deductions made.

There are two other matters which the legislation now proposed is designed to modify: first, the provisions for compulsory deduction from pay for the maintenance of wives and families are now, for the first time, to be applied to officers as well as to ratings; secondly, the deductions and other procedure cover court orders from Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man. This is being continued at the request of the Governments concerned.

I have explained the points which the Bill is designed to cover and I should now like to say a few words with regard to the form which the legislation takes. It was considered that the most appropriate method would be to deal with deductions of the nature in question through the machinery of the Naval Pay and Pensions Act of 1865, which provides that pay and allowances in respect of services in the Royal Navy or Royal Marines shall be paid in such manner and subject to such restrictions that are from time to time directed by Order in Council. This Is provided for in Clause 1, and will have the effect of including deduction for the purpose of providing, first, for the maintenance of the wife and children (whether legitimate or illegitimate), and secondly, for the payment of any sum adjudged as costs or awarded as expenses incurred in obtaining an order or decree in respect of maintenance of the wife and children. The proviso to subsection (1) fixes the minimum amount of pay to be left to the members of the Royal Navy concerned, in the same way as the Army and Air Force Acts to which I have already referred. This subsection, supplemented by the Orders in Council which will be made under it, will take the place of the first part of subsection (2) of the present Section 98A of the Naval Discipline Act. This will overcome the first defect in the existing legislation which I have mentioned.

The first clause of the Bill then goes on, in subsections (2) and (3), to provide protection for men from whom deductions are made, and repeats the present safeguard in Section 98A of the Naval Discipline Acts that deductions under an order in court or decree shall not be made unless the officer or man concerned has had a reasonable opportunity of appearing himself or has appeared by a legal representative. Subsection (3) protects men who leave the Royal Navy against committal to prison for non-payment of accumulated arrears payable under an order of court, unless they have in fact the means of paying. It is considered proper to transfer this provision to the new Bill. Subsection (5) revokes Defence Regulation 13 (ii) and provides that orders already issued under that Regulation shall continue in effect where they are within the scope of Orders in Council coming into force by virtue of the new legislation. The second Clause of the Bill continues the restriction on the discontinuance of allotments at present provided for in the provisions of Regulation 13 (ii).

Your Lordships will observe that the intention is to make the Act operative on a date which the Admiralty will appoint by order. This provision is required for two reasons. First, the Naval Discipline Act applies to certain of the Dominion Navies and it is necessary for the Dominions to have time to consider whether they require a corresponding modification of their own legislation. Secondly, it gives time for the necessary Orders in Council to be prepared by the Admiralty in consultation with the other Service Departments. As your Lordships will be aware, the corresponding legislation for the Army and the Royal Air Force is being amended in certain respects by the Army and Air Force (Annual) Bill in order to bring the three Services into line. The principle that a man should maintain his wife and children is, of course, a part of the general law of this country, but the normal machinery for obtaining maintenance orders through the ordinary courts of justice is not always available in the case of the sailor, who may be at sea or serving on a foreign station, sometimes out in the Pacific. As I have previously mentioned, special provisions for dealing with these cases have in fact been on the Statute Book for very many years. Both the old and the new provisions nevertheless contemplate that where it is possible for the normal machinery of the civil courts to be employed, there is a ready means for enforcing their orders or decrees in these particular cases. The Bill which is now before your Lordships merely brings up to date Admiralty procedure in relation to the civil courts in this matter of the naval man's wife and children, and in so doing it provides for the adaptation to this end of the simple machinery of Orders in Council so that future modifications may more readily be made. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Viscount Hall.)

4.18 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure your Lordships will be grateful to the noble Viscount for the clarity with which he has put before us the few changes which are embodied in the Bill. I know I am speaking for all those who sit on these Benches when I say it is always a great delight to us when we are able, on any Service matters, to say that we entirely agree with the proposals laid before us, from whatever quarter they omanate. I am glad to be able to say that that is the case to-day, and I can only hope that it may be so when bigger matters with regard to the Services come before your Lordships in the not too distant future. The noble Viscount has explained that it is desirable that the three Services should, so far as possible, work on comparable lines. He has pointed out that the system at present in vogue in the Navy is somewhat different from that in force in the Army and Royal Air Force, but that as nearly as possible the system is to be worked upon parallel lines, and I am sure that that is sound.

May I say that we are particularly pleased to see that two amendments have been embodied since the original proposals were made? They deal with two points; the first is the fact that a limit is now set on the amount of deductions which may be made (which is undoubtedly desirable and which I think rounds off the Bill), and the second is something which some of my friends were rather anxious about—namely, that the person who is affected shall have the opportunity of attending in person or of being legally represented in whatever court the case may be tried. With those improvements, I think that all Servicemen will be agreed that the Bill is a good one, although perhaps some of us may be somewhat reluctant to see officers compelled to be brought into the present scheme for compulsory deductions. At the same time it must be clear to all of us that now there is in vogue the general system, by which men come to commissioned rank through the ranks, it must be desirable that where these deductions are made while the men are serving in the ranks the system should be continued when the men are commissioned. We on these Benches entirely support this measure, as we did the Army and Air Force (Annual) Bill, and think it is a great improvement.


My Lords, may I ask my noble friend two questions on this Bill? The noble Viscount spoke about giving the Dominion Governments time to bring their legislation into line with this legislation. Does that include Eire? There arc a number of Irish seamen serving in the Royal Navy, and we all hope that they will continue to do so. Is this Bill to apply to them, and will the cases have to be enforced in the Southern Irish courts? There is also the case, for example, of the Maltese. We have reference to courts in Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man, but there are a number of Maltese serving in the Royal Navy, and have been for many, many years. Do the Maltese courts function in the same way, and do they come under these provisions?


My Lords, the replies to the questions put by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, are as follows. Eire will be informed of this Bill, and if there are any persons who are there involved, and legislation is proposed in Eire covering the points covered by this Bill, then it will he for the Government of Eire to bring their legislation into line with the existing legislation here. I am under the impression that the Maltese will be covered by this Bill.


My Lords, I wonder if I might ask the noble Viscount a question of which I have not given notice, and for which I apologize? It may not be strictly relevant to the subject under discussion, but could the noble Viscount tell me whether there is any intention to bring the W.R.N.S. under the Naval Discipline Act?


My Lords, I think on all sides of the House it is agreed that where an officer fails to maintain his wife and family, there should be a compulsory provision for maintenance, as is now outlined in this Bill. But in the debate last week on the Army and Air Force (Annual) Bill, I raised the point whether, provided that an officer made adequate provision for his family, he could do so in any way that he thought fit, and would not necessarily have to make a compulsory allotment out of his pay. The noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, who answered for His Majesty's Government, was good enough to write me a very courteous letter in which he agreed that where there is no question of an officer having failed to maintain his family, he may provide for them in any way he thinks fit; and there would not necessarily be any compulsory allotment made from his pay. I should be glad if the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, could give me an assurance that a similar state of affairs will exist in the case of a naval officer.


I will certainly look into the point which has been raised by the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, and he may be assured that we shall endeavour to walk step by step with the other Services in any matter affecting the Services. In regard to the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Ailwyn, about bringing the W.R.N.S. under the Naval Discipline Act, I may say that that proposal is not included in this Bill. So far as I am aware, at any rate, there is no question of so doing at the present time.

On Question, Bill read 2a and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.