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Naval Ordnance Inspectors (Pay)

Volume 467: debated on Tuesday 12 July 1949

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

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

1.1 a.m.

The subject which I am raising at this rather late hour is one which I have pursued steadily by corre- spondence, by Question, and by speech in this House for some years past. It concerns the pay, allowances, and conditions of service of the permanent officers of an important but small and comparatively little-known branch of the Navy, the Naval Ordnance Inspection Department.

I think I am the only Member in this House who has served in this branch of the Navy and therefore has some personal knowledge of the conditions and the troubles which have beset that Department, though I gladly acknowledge that a number of my right hon. and hon. Friends have for some time past been taking a most active and vigorous interest in this Department. I should add that during the time I was in this Department during the war, I, like all the other officers temporarily attached to it during the war, came under the ordinary naval rates of pay and allowances and therefore was not concerned with this particular matter with which we are dealing tonight—namely, the case of the permanent officers.

As I explained to the House on previous occasions, notably in the Debate on the Adjournment on 21st November, 1945, and also in Debates on the Navy Estimates in April, 1946, and March, 1947, the permanent officers of this Department feel, and feel with reason, that the terms of Admiralty Fleet Order 2078 of 1931, which is their charter of service, are not being carried out. They aver that their rates of pay have not for some years past marched in step with the rates of pay which are granted to comparable officers serving on the general active list, though the footnote to the table of pay laid down in A.F.O. 2078 of 1931, states quite explicitly, and I quote it:
"The above rates of pay will be comparable to the standard (1919) rates of pay of officers on the active list and will be subject to similar variations as the latter rates."
That official declaration seems to me to be absolutely plain and specific and leaves no room whatsoever for ambiguity, but in order to put forward the case for these officers with even greater clarity and precision, I will also refer the Civil Lord and the House to the Order in Council, dated 23rd July, 1931. The rules governing the pay and service of officers of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines employed in inspection, research, design, and experimental ordnance duties, are laid down in paragraph 2 of that Order in Council:
"The standard rates of the salaries of the officers included in the scheme shall be such as the Admiralty may lay down from time to time with the concurrence of the Treasury and shall be subject to review according to the cost of living at the same date and in the same manner as ordinary rates of full pay of officers on the general active list."
These are extracted from the two charters governing the conditions of service of officers in this Department—the Admiralty Fleet Order and the Order in Council. What has actually been happening in regard to the implementation of the pledges laid down in those official statements? In 1935, the rates of pay of officers on the Active List were cut by about 10 per cent. and the same cut was applied to the inspection officers, but when subsequent upward alterations were made in the pay of the general active list officers, the same upward movement was not made in the remuneration of the inspection officers, who were thereby put in an inferior position.

More than four years ago, when I raised this matter on the Navy Estimates, I gave a number of illustrations showing the very serious gap which existed between the rates of pay of comparable officers on the active list and in the Naval Ordnance Inspection Department. There was a gap in those days, but it has widened very considerably since I last raised the matter. Though at this hour of the night I regret having to inflict a number of figures on the House, it is the only way in which I can illustrate what I consider to be the shameful manner in which these officers have been treated. I have checked these figures to the best of my ability. I hope that the Civil Lord will correct me if I appear to make an error, but I can quote the authority for each figure which I give.

In 1931, a lieutenant-commander on the active list on promotion received £592, and in 1949, he receives £921, an increase of £329. In 1931, a commander on the active list on promotion received £730, and today he receives £1,250, an increase of £520. In 1931 a senior commander after six years' service received £876, and today he receives £1,387, an increase of £511. In 1931 a captain on promotion received £1,095, and today receives £1,569, an increase of £474. The average increase for those four grades of active service officers is in the region of £458.

What about comparable officers in the inspection service? In 1931, a lieut.-commander occupying a grade D post received £800, and today he receives £814, an increase of £14 over that 18-year period. In 1931, a junior commander in the inspection service, occupying a grade C post, received £900, and today receives £910, an increase of £10. In 1931, a senior commander in the inspection service, occupying a grade B post, received £1,100, and today receives exactly the same. In 1931, a captain in the inspection service, occupying a grade A post, received £1,350, and today receives £1,341, a decrease of £9. The average increase for all those grades of officers over the whole of the long period is precisely £4.

That is a shameful state of affairs having regard to the changes which have taken place during that long period. The House is well aware that in comparing 1949 with 1931, we find that there has been a heavy increase in the cost of living, a rise of over 50 per cent. My authority for that is the Annual Abstract of Statistics and the Monthly Digest of Statistics. Secondly, there has been a substantial fall in the value of money, and the pound today is worth 5s. less in purchasing power than it was in 1931. My authority for that is the present Chancellor of the Exchequer in a written answer to a Question on 2nd June in column 170 of HANSARD. Thirdly, a large increase in wage rates in industry generally has taken place since 1931, something in the nature of 100 per cent. I have obtained that by careful checking from the Annual Abstract of Statistics.

These are very striking facts. Apart from that, there are many other disadvantages that inspecting officers have suffered and to which I alluded very fully in the previous Adjournment Debate on 21st November, 1945. I commend these to the study of the Civil Lord, as the reply to that debate was taken by the Financial Secretary. I would only say that the inspecting officers receive a small victualling allowance, that they do not receive tax-free marriage allowance and that they did not receive a war service gratuity nor end-of-the-war leave.

In answer to the previous Debate three and a half years ago, the Financial Secretary to the Admiralty endeavoured to show that the inspecting officers had certain advantages over the active service officers, but in fact those advantages did not appear on examination to be very great. In fact, the only important one he was able to quote was the fact that inspection officers did not come under the Naval Discipline Act and therefore could not be court-martialled. I think I said at the time that that was a wierd kind of advantage to put forward unless it was assumed that those officers had criminal proclivities. When the news of this particular argument reached my former colleagues in the inspection service, the letters I received were in terms that were blunt even for the Navy, and it would be quite improper for me to repeat them to the House.

The only solid fact which emerged from the Debate was that the Financial Secretary did agree that all was not well with the Department and he said in his concluding statement:
"It has been decided that the future structure of this particular Branch shall be investigated as part of the post-war reconstruction programme. All the points raised by the hon. and gallant Member will be considered in this investigation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st Nov. 1945; Vol. 416; c. 523.]
The next development was a remark made by the Civil Lord himself during the Debate on the Navy Estimates in March, 1947, when in answer to a question I had put to him in the course of the Debate, he said:
"The hon. and gallant Member for West Edinburgh made out a useful case in regard to the Naval Ordnance Inspection Department. All I can tell him is that this matter is under active consideration, and no doubt he will not have to wait so long for a reply as he has done in the past."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th March, 1947; Vol. 435; c. 361.]
The Civil Lord has I fear erred on the side of optimism, as two years have gone by and we are still waiting to hear what has happened. This long delay is all the more surprising as the House is aware that a Committee of Inquiry was appointed to consider terms and conditions of service. That Committee was appointed in December, 1946, under the very able chairmanship of Rear-Admiral Madden. The Committee made its report in April, 1948. Thus a year has elapsed since the Committee completed its task; but no news of its activities has been vouchsafed to us. It is no wonder that I and a number of my hon. Friends on this side of the House should have felt compelled in recent months to put down a number of Questions to the Admiralty in order to try to penetrate this veil of secrecy laid over the Madden Committee's Report. Surely it is now time—and more than time—that the Admiralty should inform the House and the Service of its policy in regard to this very ill-treated Department.

I have stated this case as objectively as I can, but I do not conceal for a moment that I feel very strongly about it both on personal and national grounds. The Naval Ordnance Inspection Department is vital to the security of the Fleet because it is charged with functions of the most important nature, including the proving of ammunition, explosives, mines, projectiles and the other weapons of offence with which our ships are equipped. It is due to the work of this Department—formed only after the conclusion of the First World War—that we were spared during the recent war such terrible disasters as the blowing up of the "Princess Irene," the "Natal," the "Bulwark" and the "Vanguard," due to defective ammunition.

It is absolutely essential, in the interests of the nation and for the security of the Fleet, that this Department should be kept in a high state of efficiency. That means that skilled and experienced officers have got to be held, because the work involved is both technical and at times hazardous. I know of two officers in the Department, former colleagues of mine, who lost their lives in testing detonators and shell fillings. It is therefore disquieting to learn that since the conclusion of the recent war something like one-third of the experienced officers have left this Department, disgusted with the prospects and conditions of service, and have taken up other vocations. I ask the Civil Lord of the Admiralty to tell us what is to be done to improve the conditions of service of the permanent officers of this department, and I say to him in the time-honoured words used for the endorsement of petitions of loyal subjects of the Crown, "Let right be done."

1.16 a.m.

I should like to add my views to what my hon. and gallant Friend has just said. I agree with everything he has said. I should like to add something which he cannot say, and that is to emphasise what an important department the Naval Ordnance Inspecting Department is, and how that on their accuracy depend the lives of thousands of men in the Royal Navy. I had an opportunity of working from the other point of view. I was in touch with their work as a specialist officer, and I would like to pay my tribute to the way they did their work during the war.

Everybody in the Royal Navy knows that these officers do not have the same chance of promotion to the really high ranks as do officers serving in the ordinary executive branches of the Navy. It is for that reason that ever since the branch was formed, they have normally had relatively higher pay than have officers of equivalent rank of the executive side. I simply want to add this to what my hon. and gallant Friend has said, and I challenge the hon. Gentleman who is to reply to deny that these officers are now paid on a lower scale than officers of relative rank on the executive side. These officers were led to believe that their pay would be increased, but it has not been increased. It is a disgrace to the Admiralty and to the Royal Navy that it has not been.

1.18 a.m.

It has been said that this is only a very small body of men whom we are considering in this Adjournment Debate, but I am certain that the House will agree that at least if it is small it has had a fair amount of representation in this House on a large number of occasions. The hon. and gallant Member for Horncastle (Commander Maitland) has mentioned the way in which this body of people has been treated in the matter of pay. In the 1930's it was decided by the Admiralty that the salaries of these officers were to be reduced, and one of the reasons why the salaries in 1949 are not much higher than the salaries in 1931 is because of the large reduction imposed by the Government of the 1930's.

Surely if my memory is right, the salary of a Naval Ordnance inspecting officer has always been higher, and was higher at the time about which the hon. Gentleman is talking, than that of officers of relatively similar rank serving in the Navy. If it is not so, I should be interested if he could give me the figures.

I do not think that is correct, but that is not the point I am making. I am referring to the charge made by the hon. and gallant Member for West Edinburgh (Lieut.-Commander Hutchison) with regard to the salaries received today as related to those in 1931. In fact, there has been a consolidated war bonus, in 1945, of £120 to £90 in most cases. That proves that from 1931 to the start of the war there must have been a similar reduction if the figure in 1949 was not higher than that in 1931. But I do not want to get involved in a lot of discussion about this.

The hon. and gallant Member for West Edinburgh has certainly taken a deep interest in the matter and I have had the good fortune to be able to read the speech which he made on an Adjournment debate in 1945 and of knowing exactly what he was going to say tonight. When HANSARD is published tomorrow. I doubt whether there will be found to be much difference in the wording.

I quoted figures which were absolutely up to date and took in account changes made in the post-war pay code and Admiralty Fleet Order 995 of 1949.

Could that not have been covered by looking up speeches made in the Debate on Navy Estimates? In my view, the speech was not much different from that made in 1945 and to which a reply was given by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary.

Inadequate, perhaps, but that reply stated clearly and briefly that these officers are not comparable with officers serving afloat, and became less comparable as the years have gone by. As the result of Admiralty consideration of this matter, a committee was set up in 1921. It was not until 1924 that the Admiralty of that time submitted recommendations of the committee to the Treasury. We are being accused of delay because a committee was set up in 1946 and our submissions have already been made. The Madden Committee went into the whole question of the inspection pool from the points of view of manning and salaries. It took some considerable time to go into the matter because it was a most complex one which had to be examined carefully. I was glad to hear the views of the hon. and gallant Member for West Edinburgh on the chairman of that committee, Admiral Madden.

The recommendations made by that committee with regard to salaries have been given most careful and favourable consideration by the Admiralty, and agreement has now been reached with the Treasury on the consolidated salary scales for inspectors, and it would perhaps be convenient for the House if I read them out. The Department was informed yesterday of these new salary scales, which are: C.I.N.O. £1,700; Group A: £1,400 commencing, rising by yearly increments of £50 to £1,550; Group B: £1,175, rising by annual increments of £35 to £1,350; Group C: £975, rising by annual increments of £30 to £1,125; Group D: £800, rising to £950. All these are being ante-dated to the 1st January, 1947.

I can assure the House, after the most careful consideration of the committee's recommendations, that I do not think there will be much cause for complaint about these new scales. The matter could, perhaps, have been dealt with more quickly, but if it had been, the possibility is that I might not have been able to announce the same figures. I trust, in view of the fact that I have been able to state that this matter has come to finality, after a large number of Parliamentary Questions and interesting discussions both on the Navy Estimates and on Motions for the Adjournment, that we have cleared the matter away at least for the time being.

1.26 a.m.

This Adjournment Motion has certainly served a most useful purpose. I am grateful to the Civil Lord for having given us these figures, and especially for his announcement that they are retrospective to 1947. I thank the Civil Lord, and congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend on his unceasing battle on behalf of this important section of the Royal Navy. He had a go at me a past regime, and he passed from me to the Civil Lord. I am sure the officers and men concerned are most grateful to him for his services on their behalf. We on this side are delighted that the Adjournment Motion tonight has resulted in the announcement of these new scales.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-eight Minutes past One o'Clock a.m.