HC Deb 14 March 1944 vol 398 cc168-73

3. "That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £10, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1944, for expenditure beyond the sum already provided in the grants for Navy Services for the year."

Sums not exceeding.
Supply Grants. Appropriations in Aid.
Vote. £ £
1. Wages, etc., of Officers and Men of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines and of certain other personnel serving with the fleet 10 40,000,000

First Resolution read a Second time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."

Mr. Astor (Fulham, East)

We have had six rather heated hours on civil aviation, and six uncontroversial minutes on the Army. I feel that one might say now, What about a word for the Navy? I regret very much that the senior Service has been put last, because points of very great importance were raised last year, I think properly, on Vote A, which necessitate the House devoting a little time to their consideration. Last year, there were put before the First Lord, on Vote A, very important points regarding pay, promotion and appointments, to do with the Naval Reservists. These points were received very sympathetically indeed by the Admiralty, and the result was a statement on 7th July, which dealt with the special grievances put up, and the First Lord gave an important general statement that it was the policy of the Admiralty that the officers of the Naval Reserve should have prospects commensurate with the service they have rendered and comparable to those of corresponding officers in the other Services. This pledge, given by the Admiralty, has been carried out in the spirit and in the letter.

I think the House should realise the vastly important position of the Naval Reserve, compared with 12 months ago. There is only one small point, and that is that, if there was a slight disappointment it was because, when they made 12 commanders, only three of them were executive officers. The rest were doctors or accountants or electrical specialists of different sorts. We hope it will be possible, when next they make 12 R.N.V.R. commanders, they will be 12 executive officers. There was one small controversy as to higher ranks. Reserves can only say that they hope everybody will be considered on their merits, irrespective of their stripes, and that it will not be considered that a job is only suitable for an R.N.V.R. officer, but everybody will be considered absolutely on their merits.

The Reserves are about 90 per cent. of the Navy to-day. They are no longer mainly a small-ship group, dealing with coastal forces, or even destroyers and the Fleet Air Arm. Even in great aircraft carriers, and even in the Battle Fleet, there is a substantial proportion of Reserve officers, and I think it is important to consider what was the situation of the Reserves before the war and what it has grown out of. There were only six divisions—I use the word "divisions" in the naval sense and not in the Army sense—of the R.N.V.R. before the war. There were only 1000 R.N.V.R. officers, of whom only 425 were executive officers, and it was reckoned that it cost these officers something like £50 a year out of their own pockets in order to cope with that work.

There were only 6,350 trained R.N.V.R. ratings at the beginning of the war, and that was in excess of the establishment, which was only 4,600. The training of this small force was hampered by the parsimony of the Exchequer and the Admiralty. One division was unable to have proper sea training because of the lack of some £15 a year. The special branch, of which I was a member, was unable to get any training of any sort whatever. The R.N.V.S.R., which was a far-sighted innovation of the right hon. Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare), managed to earmark 2,500 yachtsmen for the R.N.V.R., but they had no training of any sort, and we have had largely to depend on the efforts of the Little Ships Club and the Navy League, with its work for the Sea Cadets. These were the three things we suffered from in the Naval Reserve—small numbers, lack of training facilities and lack of contact with the Royal Navy. That lack of contact with the Royal Navy has been removed, and the Royal Navy is now reserve-minded, and Reserves feel that they are an integral part of the Fleet.

The following post-war points must be considered, because the losses of the Royal Navy proper in this war have been probably the severest of any body of men in this country. We have to consider what conditions will be offered to Reserve officers for incorporation in the post-war Navy. The R.N.V.R., after the war, should be stronger and should have more sea-going facilities, and arrangements should be made to see that the Royal Navy will remain reserve-minded. I think an important point in this direction is that the post of Admiral commanding the Reserves should, after the war, not be given to a Vice-Admiral who will retire, and with whose retirement a valuable experience is thus lost to the Navy, but should be a junior Rear-Admiral, with a sea-going career in front of him, able to bring all that experience of the Reserves to the service of the Navy. We hope that, after the war, they will continue the special branch and the R.N.V.S.R. and I hope the First Lord will consider the position of the real Reserves—that small group who trained and volunteered before the war. We might have made special uniforms, but I think the best way to do it, and I hope the First Lord will consider it, will be to shorten the period of qualification for the Reserve decoration. In the Debate on the Estimates, the right hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris), with the best intentions in the world, suggested that we should all have the same stripes. If he were here, I could assure him that the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve has a special feeling for its own stripes and will give them up only with great reluctance.

Another development of the war which must be kept on is the Sea Cadet Corps. There are tens of thousands, with several thousand officers, who, apart from their war work, are occupied with this in their spare time several evenings a week. I think these officers deserve a special word of recognition from the First Lord. Anybody who saw, as I had the fortune to see last Sunday, a Division of this Sea Cadet Corps, could not but be impressed by the work done by these boys. After the war they will need stronger staffing and progressive training. They must be considered as part of the educational machine of this country, not only as pre-entry for the Royal Navy but as pre-entry for the Merchant Navy. We want to see the decasualisation of the Merchant Navy and so get the same type of boy coming into both, training in the same school of Sea Scouts, and that same propaganda value which attaches to the visits of His Majesty's ships to foreign parts from the bearing and conduct of their seamen will attach also to ships of the Merchant Navy.

I hope that before the National Government break up they will make a final decision on the question of National Service. It is impossible for the Fighting Services to plan after the war unless they know whether National Service is to be retained or not. I hope that while the National Government are still in existence, this point will be considered and that they will reach an agreed decision and stick to it. It is important for the Navy and even more important for the Army.

On the question of the W.R.N.S, I think that their pay and conditions are, broadly, satisfactory. Their troubles, as far as they have any, are mainly what one might call internal ones. There is very often misuse of material. The other day I found a highly trained woman secretary being used in the mess as a waitress and it was regarded by the Department as a perfectly normal thing and that it did not reflect on the W.R.N.S. organisation that this should be so. I conducted a correspondence with the Department, a correspondence conducted in verse on both sides, and it was a very good-humoured one. It is the job of those who have authority to see that their abilities are used to the full. In some places they have been over staffed. There is the other trouble coming from the excess of zeal on the part of W.R.N.S. officers, who perhaps have not the same traditions as men officers. I know of one case where W.R.N.S. have to wait in a certain office for certain signals, and, if no signals come in, they have to sit with their hands crossed, and they are not allowed to read or knit or to play patience. They have to sit there. That clearly is not in accordance with the ancient traditions of the Navy and might be remedied. Sometimes W.R.N.S. have been victimised for making complaints about food. I know of one particular case where a member of the W.R.N.S. complained and afterwards was made to apologise to the cook. I will not go into names and places, but that will give the House an idea of the sort of trouble one gets in a Service which has been improvised in wartime. I hope that we shall keep the nucleus of the W.R.N.S. organisation on a volunteer basis after the war. I now want to deal with the question of officers' pay which I think comes under this Vote.

Mr. Speaker

That comes under the next Vote.

Mr. Astor

May I ask for your guidance, Mr. Speaker? Shall I be in Order in trying to catch your eye on the next Vote?

Mr. Speaker

The question of pay will come up on the next Vote.

Mr. Astor

In that case, Mr. Speaker, I will sit down and hope to have the good fortune to catch your eye on the next Vote.

The Civil Lord of the Admiralty (Captain Pilkington)

There seems to have been what I would describe as a joint family admonition to the two Senior Services on this occasion in the friendliest way. I would say we appreciate very much the references of my hon. Friend to the way that the Admiralty carried out the undertaking made last year. He referred to a number of points dealing with the Reserves which should be considered in their post-war organisation, and I can assure him that all those points will be taken into consideration when the times comes. He also made special reference to the Sea Cadet Corps, and I can tell him that the most excellent work which the instructors and the members of the Sea Cadet Corps are doing up and down the country is fully realised in the Admiralty. I myself have seen a good deal of them, and my right hon. Friend takes a very great interest in them himself, and has paid numerous visits to them all over the country. If I assure him that the matters which he raised about the Reserves will be looked into when the times comes for preparing reorganisation of the Reserves, he will, perhaps, rest satisfied with that assurance.

Question, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution," put, and agreed to.