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Vote 1 Pay, Etc, Of The Royal Navy And Royal Marines

Volume 655: debated on Thursday 15 March 1962

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Motion made, and Question proposed,

That a sum, not exceeding £69,133,000, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the expense of the pay, etc., of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1963.

If there were time, I might consider that, but we will see how we get on.

I want to deal with what, for the men in the Navy, is the all-important matter of the pay of the lower deck. In February, 1960, the Government announced, in Command 945:

"The Government agreed that Service pay and pensions should be reviewed regularly at intervals of not more than two years, and have carried out the first of these reviews."
There was then a 7s. increase for the ratings. Today, there should be another 5s., but 2s. 6d. has been refused. The Government, having now carried out the second of these reviews, frankly admit that there should be an increase, in round figures, of 5 per cent. in the pay of the other ranks in all three Services, but they refuse to honour their contract, arguing that there must be a pay pause because of their own failure to increase our exports.

My first question to the Civil Lord is: what is the connection between exports and the pay of the seamen in the Antarctic Survey Service, the soldiers in Kenya and the airmen in Singapore—to give only three examples? The answer is that there is no connection. That is a polite expression. If I were on the lower deck I should use a much more emphatic term. There is no question at all but that the Services should have been granted their full 5 per cent., which happens to coincide with a 5s. increase in pay, in the same way as the pay was increased, rightly, for the police and the firemen.

The explanation is that the Service men have no trade unions to fight for them, and they look to the House of Commons to fight their battles—and battles they are—for a proper and good standard of living in their homes for themselves and especially for their wives and for their children, who are the important next generation. But Tory M.P.s have always opposed proper rates of pay for other ranks in the Services. In my young days as an able seaman the pay was Is. 8d. per day, and the rate remained at that figure for over sixty years, from the Crimean War of 1854 to the First World War of 1914.

Did the hon. and gallant Member fight in both those wars?

I am ready to take on any interjection, but I did not hear what the hon. and learned Gentleman said.

I wondered whether the hon. and gallant Gentleman fought in both those wars.

I am the third generation of ex-Service men who served on the lower deck, and I am taking no nonsense from the other side of the Committee about that.

My grandfather fought in the Crimean War of 1854 and was invalided out. My father served in the Navy and was invalided out. I am the one who, fortunately, was able to complete a full period of thirty years' service. If the hon. and learned Gentleman wants the details—because they can never be repeated—I can give them: orphanage boy, seaman boy at 6d. a day, ordinary seaman, able seaman, leading seaman, petty officer, warrant officer and then commissioned officer, with twenty years on the quarter deck, finishing in H.M.S. "Hood", the largest warship in the world and the fastest battle cruiser at that time. I am having no humbug from hon. Members opposite tonight.

The basic rate of naval ratings' pay was not increased until the middle of the First World War, and then only after trouble in the Grand Fleet. When the Liberal Government of 1912 considered an increase in the basic rate, Tory Members of Parliament, probably looking forward to the Orpington result, argued in this House that if any more money were paid to naval ratings it would be spent on wine, women and song. The increase was a meagre 3d. a day, but only then for ratings over the age of 21.

I ask the Committee to imagine what my married able seamen mess-mates on Is. 8d. per day, and with no marriage allowance, were able to do about more wine, women and song, with the further princely sum of 3d. a day. It was Id. a day extra for each item—wine, women and song. [Laughter.] I want to make certain that this is on the record; it must be worth it if it is causing all that amusement on the Tory benches. It was 1d. a day extra for each—wine 1d., women 1d., and song 1d. Even at the lower rates in those days, that did not take them very far.

9.45 p.m.

The Minister of Defence has claimed that as the other ranks have no trade union, he will look after them. Golly, what a foster-father! That is just what he has not done. He has shirked his responsibility in this matter and completely let down the other ranks. The plain fact is that the Tory Party, as always, pays lip-service to the good work of the men of the three Services and then trades on their patriotism by refusing to pay the proper rate of pay for a strenuous job and adverse conditions under which they perform their duties.

On a point of order, Sir William. Is it in order for the hon. Member to waste the Committee's time with this nonsense, when we have other important matters to discuss in a very short time?

I think that the hon. and gallant Gentleman is entitled to make his remarks along the lines that he is doing.

I should have been much further ahead but for the interruptions, Sir William.

There is no question but that these men are 100 per cent. entitled to the full 5 per cent. increase in their pay. But the Government say that they would pay only 2½ per cent. for a year. At first sight, this appears to be only a loss of 2½ per cent. for twelve months, but with the biennial assessment an increase was due a year ago. What is to happen next year, and at the next biennial review in 1964? Are there to be more cuts? If so, I warn the Government that there will be serious trouble.

What does this reduction of 2½ per cent. in pay mean to the men in the Service in hard cash? I am taking the basic figures from Cmnd. 945, Service Pay and Pensions, 1960, page 20. The pay of an ordinary rating is only £5 5s. per week.

We are debating these Estimates and the information is at the back of them if the hon. and gallant Gentleman wishes to refer to it.

To reduce the amount of time that I am taking up I have ruled out from my notes, "The same figure is given in the current Estimates, page 225," so I am on common ground with the Civil Lord. When I want to get ahead full speed, with all boilers alight and both engines going, the Civil Lord, of all people, makes that idiotic remark. The hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Miss Vickers) made the statement last night. Is it necessary to tell me twice the elementary facts of life about naval affairs?

This £5 5s. a week is 15s. per day for unlimited hours up to 24. Fortunately, there are no more than 24 hours in a day, or he could be called upon for duty for even a longer day, so the hours' factor does not come into it. Generally, they are watch on deck and stop on; not watch on deck and watch below.

That brings to my mind the efforts which we made before the First World War in Devonport Barracks. This is not in my notes! In those days the commodore of the barracks saw everyone entitled to leave at the end of his first period of twelve years. One day he had a stoker up before him. The commodore—"Tin Eye" Wemyss—used to open his eye and drop the tin eye down. It rang a bell when it hit a button on his coat. He had it adjusted for that purpose. "Tin Eye" said to the stoker, "My good man, you have been in the Navy for twelve or more years?" The reply was, "Yes, Sir". "Tin Eye" said, "You have got a very good character". The reply was, "Yes, Sir". "Tin Eye" said, "And you are going to leave? Why not take on? There is a pension".

The commodore went on and on and the stoker got more and more "fed up" with him. The stoker was not conceding anything. He then said to the stoker, "What are you going to do outside?"

Even that is not original, because it was said last night.

The stoker said, "I am going to have a cart and two donkeys and I am going to do the rounds". So the commodore said, "Why do you want two donkeys with one cart?" The stoker replied, "Because I am going to work them watch on and watch off"—in other words, watch on deck and watch below—"not like I have been worked in this blank-blank regiment, watch on deck and stop on".

This 15s. per day is the rate for the men who defend this country and numerous other commitments entered into by this Government when the Government claim that we are in an affluent society and that the average wage is above £10 per week. The Service man's pay is only half that of his relations and neighbours in "civvy" street.

That position is bad enough without the Government making it any worse by high rent increases, increased National Health Service charges, and Welfare State charges for wives and children, if not for the man in all cases. Most of them affect the Service man indirectly, if not directly.

According to my board school education and arithmetic, which was always good on money when I was getting only 6d. a day, but I am quite prepared to be corrected by the other side on arithmetic, a 2½ per cent. loss on £5 5s. a week is 2s. 7d. a week.

Somebody said, "Good". I know that the Tory Party supports these cuts.

I thank the hon. Gentleman. A 2½ per cent. loss on 15s. per day is 4½d. per day—not 4½. per hour, but 4½d. per day. Do the Tory affluent Government refuse to pay the trained man in the Service the paltry sum of 4½d. per day, or half-a-crown a week, to which they admit that all these men are wholly entitled?

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Devonport is not in her seat tonight. When I challenged her last night to give these figures to the Committee, she said:
"I understand that, in general, those employed by the Admiralty are not so fussy about the pause, but they are worried about their pensions."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th March. 1962; Vol. 655, c. 1442.]
Not so fussy? This is a new one on me, fifty years man and boy, about pay. But we live and learn from the Tories—and I hope that the Western Morning News and the Western Evening Herald will publish these remarks. I do not know what generals the hon. Lady has consulted but, because of the limited time—

I will simply say, "Tell that to the Marines because the matelots will not 'wear' it. "We have had ten years of Tory Government, with the hoardings shouting" Conservative Freedom Works". Do the Government now really admit that we have reached the dire straits when they must refuse hundreds and thousands of Service men the sum of 4½d. a day to which they are, admittedly, entitled? Is that what hon. Gentlemen opposite support? Why are they not intervening now?

I know what it was then. We are not discussing 1950, but 1962. One of the first things that the Labour Government did when they took office in 1945, in spite of the financial crisis after the worst war we had ever gone through, was to deal well with Service pay, particularly with old-age pensions, and that hon. Gentlemen opposite will not do.

What is the national position today? The flagrant display of wealth is greater now than at any previous time. Fortunes are made overnight in take-over bids—

Hon. Gentlemen opposite with business connections spend more than five guineas on a single meal.

Order. I hope that the hon. Member will restrict his remarks to the Estimates.

Nevertheless, they support the Government's niggardly policy of denying the Service men this meagre 4½d. a day to which they are fully entitled. The Government's object is perfectly obvious; to undermine the standard of living of the working and middle classes, just as the Tories did in 1931 when they undermined the numerous hire-purchase commitments of Service men.

Dissatisfaction with the pay pause and other serious Tory delinquencies has been expressed in the recent by-elections at Lincoln, Blackpool, Middlesbrough and by yesterday's crowning defeat of the Tories at Orpington. The writing is on the wall for the Government. Stand not on the order of going, but go—and the Service men's votes will help to decide the next General Election as they did in the Labour success of 1945.

Years ago the Service and dockyard voters decided the ins and outs of Liberal and Conservative candidates in the naval ports. Next year the Service and ex-Service voters, the old-age pensioners and the other under-privileged people will decide in the General Election to oust this irresponsible Tory Government which have no concern for equity or the welfare of the common man on whom the future of the country depends.

The hon. and gallant Gentleman would do well to remember that we have well contented men in the Service who are reasonably rewarded and very well trained. The very fact that two out of every three sign on to continue their service in the Royal Navy surely shows that they are content with the conditions that now exist. When the White Paper is published the hon. and gallant Gentleman wild see that the rewards ace mot unreasonable, but are commensurate with the cost of living. Not only have we contented men in the Navy, but there are "characters", even today, both on the lower deck and on the quarter deck, as the hon. and gallant Gentleman met in his time.

It being Ten o'clock, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair to report Progress and ask leave to sit again.

Report of Resolutions to be received Tomorrow.

Committee also report Progress; to sit again Tomorrow.