Question again proposed,
"That a sum, not exceeding £2,938,600, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Expenses of Non-Effective Services (Naval and Marine), Officers, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1923, in addition to a sum of £668,000 to be allocated for this purpose from the sum of £12,000,000 voted on account of Navy Services generally."
I want to get back to the subject of peculiarity of temper. I had a reply from the Parliamentary Secretary, but he could not go sufficiently into detail, nor could I. I want to ask him why in this new Order you have a different wording from that which obtains in the Army. The Army have an Order to very much the same effect, but you have insti- toted an Order which says you can retire an officer for peculiarity of temper. It has raised considerable uneasiness amongst all ranks of naval officers. They do not quite know what it means, and a clear explanation from the Government will do a lot of clearing up. This Order, I understand, was drawn up really in the interests of the naval officers. The Admiralty say, "It would be a pity to discharge him for misconduct when misconduct is not really alleged, therefore let its say peculiarity of temper. But there is already an Order in existence under which the Admiralty have only to allow an unsuitable officer to remain unemployed for a definite period, when he will automatically come to the end of his useful career, and after a period of full pay put on half-pay, and then has to retire automatically. Is that not a sufficient way of getting rid of an officer? Let him disappear automatically. There is nothing against him except that he is not employed, and he need not say why he is not employed. Now you are going to get rid of an officer for what you call peculiarity of temper. I am not at all sure that every member of the Treasury Bench would survive a similar ruling. Let me ask the hon. Gentleman to be quite explicit on this Order, because it is looked upon by the Navy as a most dangerous Order, and one which might be used against an officer in the interests of the black hand. There is no appeal against this. The officer is simply informed that the Admiralty have no further use for his services owing to reasons of peculiarity of temper. Every Member of the Committee will realise that this is a dangerous Order, and requires more elucidation than the hon. Member has been able to give us.With regard to the special retirement of naval officers, I agree with those who have spoken this afternoon. The Navy, on the whole, considers the present scheme for special retirement as generous, and all that they could possibly expect in the present financial state of the country; but I would ask the hon. Member not to forget the position of officers who went into the Navy 20 or 30 years ago with the idea that they had a life career before them. They have no prospects in the labour market. There is no occupation for them, no opportunity where they can say: "Here we can obtain employment." They have to go into the great field of unemployment. There are thousands of officers left over from the War who cannot get a job. These surplus officers will have only what the Admiralty have been generous enough to give them. In addition to the special remuneration given for the surrender of their prospects in life, could the Admiralty look into their conditions in civil life and help them to get a job? The influence of the Admiralty is great in all spheres. For instance, there is no hon. Member connected with commercial shipping who will not lend a ready ear when the Admiralty pleads the case of a naval officer, especially of senior rank, who has served the country for many years. Let the Admiralty bring all its influence to bear in shipping and commercial circles, and see whether suggestions might be made which might be all that is required to give employment to these officers. I do appeal to the Admiralty to bring all their influence to bear in aid of the naval officer who is now surplus to requirements. He may have a wife and small children, no private means, and his position may easily become desperate. The Admiralty do not want anything of this sort to be held up against them, because it would do great harm to recruiting for the Navy in future years.
I did not speak on the previous general Vote because I understood upon that Vote the Admiralty had no intention of discriminating between the ranker officer and his brother officer. There is discrimination, and the matter should be cleared up, because there is very considerable feeling in the Navy on the subject. Most naval officers recognise that the scheme of retirement is in many cases generous, but it is a fact that so far as the ranker officers are concerned the retirements are compulsory, while it is not so as regards their brother officers. Inducements are held out to the other officers to get them to retire. There are 1,835 officers who are surplus and liable to be retired.It is a strange fact that 800 of those officers are ranker officers. This is a very large proportion. It will practically clear all the ward rooms of ranker officers. That is not looked on with favour by these gentlemen who after very long and meritorious service have been given commissioned rank. There are 139 lieutenants ex-mates and who have been promoted from the lower deck. They have to go. They are being retired by age and not by seniority, and they think that they should be retired by seniority and not by age. Some examples have been sent me, but I will only give one. A man who was promoted mate in 1915 at 25 years of age and became lieutenant at 27, is now retired at the age of 32. He served during the War, and has been a commissioned officer since 1915. Another man who was promoted in 1917 from the ranks to mate, and in 1919 to full lieutenant is now 35 years of age. The man who held commissioned rank in 1915 is retired on £180. The man who got his commission in 1917 and is 35 years of age retires on £250 a year. The former does not see the reason. There is no reason why they should not have the same amount except that seniority is taken by age. There are some little difficulties in the interpretation of certain paragraphs. Perhaps I cannot read them as clearly as I should, but I have not been able to get these difficulties explained. In paragraph 38 it is stated that officers of warrant rank and lieutenants therefrom who are to be retired compulsorily will receive the rate of pay they would have received had they continued to the age of retirement. They are retired at the age of 50. They must be 50 on the 1st of April, 1922. What is not mentioned is what happens if they are 47, 48 or 49. Can they retire as if they were 50 or must they wait until 50 and then be retired, not with the special rate now offered but with the ordinary rate? That is an exceedingly important point. Does this apply to those officers who, by dint of hard work and by passing some very stiff examinations recently, were given commissions as lieutenants? Are they to be retired at 50 on the terms offered now or to be retired at their present age with the, advantage which is given?
The answer to that is in paragraph 39.
It is not clear that there is not some difficulty. All lieutenants of 35 are to be retired as if they were lieutenant-commanders on the pensions of lieutenant-commanders. It is not clear whether they are to have the rank of lieutenant-commander. That is the rank which many of them would have reached had they been allowed to continue serving to 55. Since they are to receive the pensions of lieutenant-commanders it would be an act of grace to give them the rank. Finally I want to know whether, when we arrive at the settlement of the post-War age, it is to be 50 or 55.
I join with the Noble Lord the Member for South Battersea (Viscount Curzon) in asking the Government to reconsider the Order as to retiring on account of temper. I would like a further assurance that this new Order is not to be used against officers for political purposes. In the past there have been cases of officers being retired because they have had political disagreements either with the policy of the Admiralty or the policy of the First Lord. That such a thing should happen is disgraceful. I wish to draw attention to page 185 of this Vote, and to the high rates of half-pay and unemployed pay which the people at the top of the tree are getting. Admirals of the Fleet are in receipt of £1,800 a year, and unemployed captains get £2 8s. a day. I ask my Labour Friends to notice the difference between these figures and the £1 3s. a week—and not every week—received by an unemployd workman with a wife and three children. In these times, when we are told to be patriot is and to put our hands in our pockets, when the Government have no scruples in taking off the bonus of civil servants, no scruples in proposing that teachers' salaries of £200 should be reduced to £190, and no scruples in reducing the pensions of war heroes under the Royal Warrant, and when we may expect that the pensions of old age pensioners may be reduced, it seems to me that there is no reason at all why we should not press the Government to consider a reduction in the case of those whose pay or pension amounts to between £1,000 and £2,000 a year. Surely it might be proposed that in future cases some arrangement might be made whereby these very highly paid officers might have their pay reduced as the cost of living falls.
The Noble Lord the Member for Battersea (Viscount Curzon) raised a point of interest to the Committee, in regard to officers who may be retired because of their character and conduct not finding favour with their commanding officer. Are the confidential reports concerning officers submitted to the officers themselves before being sent to headquarters? Will these officers have an opportunity of presenting their case to an independent tribunal? As the Committee knows, if an officer in the Navy loses his ship he is judged to be guilty until he proves his innocence. That, I understand, is the rule. I hope some assurance can be given that the cases of these particular officers will be investigated by an independent tribunal, and that judgment will not go against them merely because they differ as to opinion or conduct from their commanding officer. I do not rise to take exception to this Vote, but this I would say, that the longer the Admiralty delay facing the question of reductions the greater the hardship which will arise to the officers and men of the Navy. On a previous Vote, hon. Members pointed out that the number of boys had increased, and I think the number of naval cadets has also increased. The admission of more boys and more naval cadets will, in time, lead to great hardship to these particular individuals, because, undoubtedly, the numbers of officers and men in the Navy will be reduced. The longer the Admiralty delay facing the question the greater will be the hardship and the bigger will be the sum falling upon the taxpayer, because every year an officer stays in the Navy adds to the gratuities. Will the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty inform the Committee whether the scales of gratuities under heading C are sufficient for the purpose of naval officers taking advantage of the rates which the Admiralty are offering? On page 276 of the Estimates I find mentioned a director of dockyards whose salary is under Vote 13, and in addition to his retired pay he is drawing, I understand, an extra remuneration of £895. We had occasion earlier in the day to take exception to the large number of flag officers on the active list to-day. This is another instance of an unnecessary officer drawing a large salary as well as retired pay.
I should like to reply, first of all, to the point raised by my Noble Friend the Member for South Battersea (Viscount Curzon) and by the hon. Member for Greenock (Sir G. Collins) in regard to what has been described as the Order retiring officers for peculiarity of temper. That is not the object of the Order at all. The object of the Order is to enable the Admiralty to do what my Noble Friend said the War Office always have done, that is, to dispense with officers who are inefficient without assigning to them the stigma of misconduct. As a specific instance of what may be the reason for inefficiency, the Admiralty in that particular Order mentioned peculiarity of temper. This is only, however, as an instance of one of the things which might possibly cause inefficiency, and it certainly is not likely to apply to a man who is normally and reasonably efficient. My Noble Friend suggested there was no need for such an Order, in view of the fact that officers could always be got rid of by simply not employing them. The Admiralty felt, however, that it was fairer to an officer to let him know at once, and not to let him hang about for two or three years hoping he would be re-employed when all the time there was no intention of re-employing him. The hon. Member for Greenock asked a question in reference to the reports on the strength of which such an Order might possibly be enforced. The procedure of the Admiralty in such cases is this. If an officer is adversely reported upon by his captain, he is informed that there is such an adverse report against him and warned of the general character of the deficiency which is attributed to him, and from that time on quarterly reports are made. If adverse reports still come to the Admiralty, the officer affected is not straightway judged, because it is always possible that an individual officer over him may, for one reason or another, be prejudiced. Instead, the officer reported adversely upon is transferred to another command, and a fresh chance is given to him to show whether or not he is a really satisfactory officer. It is only if there is a consensus of opinion of more than one commanding officer that an officer is thoroughly slack, or in one way or another inefficient, that then the matter comes before what as the highest tribunal in the Navy on such matters, namely, the full Board of Admiralty. The same procedure would then remain as in the case of a dismissal for misconduct, and the officer would get every opportunity in that respect of an officer who is charged with having committed misconduct. The conditions are, of course, entirely different from those of a case of running a ship aground, where the court-martial is really on detailed, ascertainable facts as to what a man did in particular circumstances. This is a question of a want of general efficiency, a question of inefficiency, on the part of an officer, and it could not be judged by an outside tribunal.
This is a very important point in the Navy, and I shall be glad if the hon. Gentleman will illustrate it a little bit further. I believe the wording of the Order is different from that in the Order which obtains in the case of the Army, and I should like the hon. Gentleman to say why it was necessary to word the Order differently. I believe the words "peculiarity of temper" do not appear in the Army Order. Will the hon. Gentleman define a case of "peculiarity of temper"? Suppose an officer in the Navy, where they are not expected to exceed a monthly wine bill of £5, were persistently to exceed that amount, would he,ipso facto, be adjudged to be guilty of "peculiarity of temper"?
As to the fact that the Order is somewhat differently worded from the corresponding Order in the Army, not having closely scrutinised the two Orders I really cannot say why they differ, and I do not think the Admiralty took the War Office Order as a model to be followed exactly. As to "peculiarity of temper," anyone who has to deal with the Service knows there are some men whose manner or temper makes it impossible for them to work with others. supposing a captain invariably reported against every one of his commanders, and did not get on with them, the natural inference would be that that captain himself had a "peculiarity of temper." I should like, before leaving this point, to give the assurance, for which the hon. Member for East Leyton (Mr. Malone) asked, that there is no question of using this Order for the compulsory elimination from the Navy of officers who differ in their political views, or in their views on naval strategical questions, from the High Command at the Admiralty.
May I ask whether the officer would be fully seised of all the circumstances of previous reports?
I should think so, but I will certainly look into that. Coming to the question of the general scheme of reduction, I think it is generally admitted throughout the Service that, taking into account the very serious national financial circumstances, these terms of retirement have not only been fair, but generous. I think that is the general feeling of the Navy. I believe it is quite true that very few officers have voluntarily sent in their names as wishing to accept the offer. That is, I think, a tribute to the keenness of the officers to remain in the Service, but not a reflection on the want of generosity in the terms themselves. In settling these terms, we took into account all through the officer's legal claim and added to that an element of compensation for loss of career, loss of opportunities in civil life, such as my Noble Friend suggests, and, again, in cases where an officer was sure in a very few years to reach a certain appointment, we gave him compensation for the loss of full pay in the interval. There seems to be some confusion, not only in the minds of some members of the Committee, but in the Service, as to how far the system is compulsory and how far voluntary. The whole scheme is compulsory in this sense. We have to make certain reductions in the interest of the Service., and we have gone right through the list in such a way as to secure the best continuity of promotion in the future. While realising that in certain categories a certain number of officers have got to be reduced, for a short period we make it open to the whole number of officers in that category to apply to be among those to be reduced. When you have got a Service in which practically they are all good officers, and it is very difficult to make a selection, it is not unfair to take account of the fact that where you have two officers of equal merit, enforced retirement may create hardship upon one and may be by no means an inconvenience to another. Therefore, we leave it open for a short time to those officers who would like to avail themselves of the opportunity to come forward voluntarily; but, in the last resort, if enough officers do not come forward, then the reductions will be enforced. From that point of view, the scheme applies on exactly the same principle to officers promoted from the ranks as to officers promoted from the cadet class. Where there is a surplus, then, in the first instance, there is an opportunity for voluntarily accepting the terms before the element of compulsion comes in, but there are two exceptions, and they arise from the circumstances of the Service. In view of the greatly reduced number of openings, with a reduced establishment for certain officers—lieut.-commanders and lieutenants, ex-warrant officers—and in order to prevent the blocking of promotion in future to men to rise to warrant officers, and to commissions from warrant officers, it has been decided to lower the age of retirement permanently in those categories. That means that officers over 50 will come under compulsory retirement. The only object of that, which also applies to a certain small number of officers specially promoted during the War, is to clear the lists and enable the flow of promotion from the ranks to continue again at the normal rate instead of being blocked for an almost indefinite number of years by the retention of a large number of officers at the top. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for North Portsmouth (Major Sir B. Falle) asked me a question concerning the case of six officers specially promoted, but I am afraid it is not clear to me under which of these paragraphs they come. I will try to ascertain exactly who these six officers are, and whether they will come under the scheme.
They are six officers promoted after examination open to the whole Service, and in which were entered a considerable number of officers. The six were the only ones who succeeded in passing the examination. There was great delay in commissioning them. This was before my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary was in office.
I fancy the case of these officers will come under paragraph 39. If they are under 50 it will be open to them to take advantage of the terms of the voluntary retirement. If they do not, it will all depend upon how many of the others have taken advantage of the terms offered, and the number of the actual surplus, whether or not they will be reduced. As to other officers in these categories who are just under 50, the scheme is open to them. If they think they will benefit by coming under it, they would naturally apply to be released from service.
Can the hon. Gentleman say when the compulsory retirement will begin—when the Admiralty staff have made up their minds—will it be in July or in August?
That is made clear in the Admiralty Order itself. The scheme is open for six months. Before the end of that time the Admiralty will have to make a list of those who contemplate voluntary retirement, and these will go at the end of the six months. There is only one other point—as to our efforts to secure employment in civil life for the officers and men who are leaving the Service; what we are doing over and above the actual compensation given. We have set up an Advisory Committee of business men to give us what help they can in this matter. We are in the closest touch with the Oversea Settlement Committee in case there should be openings overseas either now or under the Empire Settlement Bill later for those who wish to take advantage of it. We shall use every endeavour to give such assistance as is possible to both officers and men to enable them to get a reason able chance in their new life, with the help of the compensation given.
Question put, and agreed to.