Navy Estimates, 1947–48

Part of Orders of the Day — Supply – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 18th March 1947.

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Photo of Mr John Dugdale Mr John Dugdale , West Bromwich 12:00 am, 18th March 1947

There may be individual cases, certainly; but I want to make it quite clear—and I am sure he will agree—that that sort of thing to which he referred is not true in general of the Royal Marine Police. He asked about the question of liberty boats. The liberty boats from shore establishments have been, as I said they would be, abolished in all shore establishments, except those for trainees. It was considered they should be kept for trainees as part of their naval training; but as soon as the trainees have passed the training stage, in every establishment the liberty boats are abolished.

He talked also about long service men and their re-employment in civil life. I agree that this is a very important point, indeed, and we see to it that, wherever possible, we get these men put into jobs in civil life, so that they will not be handicapped by their period of service in the Navy, and so that they will be able to start in civil life under the best possible conditions. He referred also to the question of uniforms. I was rather surprised to hear that, because I had always thought that the sailor was proud of his uniform. I admit I have never worn the uniform, but I think it is exceedingly becoming—much more becoming than the clothes we here have got on. I hope that the sailor does, in fact, like that uniform, and I have no reason to think he does not.

He also asked what had been done to reconstruct space in barracks. A great deal has been done. For instance, in many barracks in the past it has been the custom for men both to sleep and to eat in the same room. My hon. Friend the Civil Lord, who is in charge of barracks, informs me that now, wherever possible, that practice of using one room both to sleep and eat in has been abolished, and that, in future, there will be one room for the men to sleep in, and one room for them to eat in.

I was asked a question about the Royal tour. Let me make it quite clear that the Navy is proud to have the opportunity of taking their Majesties on this important voyage. We want to see that they are accommodated in the way most fitting to them, to see that their accommodation may be such as we should like our Royal Family to have. The only accommodation which has been interfered with is, as a matter of fact, officers' accommodation. Officers' accommodation has been reduced to some extent, in order to increase the accommodation for the Royal Family; but the only alteration in the ratings' accommodation is, that a certain amount of space—a very small amount of space—is taken up by a few sea cadets.

The hon. Member also mentioned the conditions in the Navy, which, he said, prevented recruitment. I can only say that, while, naturally, we have not got all the men we want in the Navy, we are exceedingly satisfied that, after this long period of war, our recruiting campaign is, in fact, going remarkably well. He also referred, in conclusion, to a book by Mr. Hannen Swaffer, and I would like to say a word on that. I have read it with great care, thinking that I might find something revealing which would give me an opportunity to say, "Here is something which should be remedied, something which will make conditions of life for the sailor better." I read it through, but found absolutely nothing in it. I could myself, and so could any hon. Member, write an article in any large newspaper with a circulation of three million, as I think "The People" has—two or three million—asking anybody in the Navy or in any other force, who have any complaints to write to me. It is quite inevitable that, in these circumstances, one would get hundreds, and indeed, thousands of letters, and I have no doubt that Mr. Swaffer got them and was very pleased at having got them, but that does not prove anything at all. The hon. Member far South Poplar (Mr. Guy) said he hoped that Members of Parliament would be able to visit ships and shore establishments. We would welcome their visits, and we hope they may be arranged as speedily as possible.

I turn now to the hon. and gallant Member for Holderness (Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite). I will not follow him in his dismal prophecy of a slump, and, indeed, I would be out of Order if I were to refer to the economic crisis. I can only say that, were such a thing to occur, we would take every step to see that it fell as lightly as possible on the welfare services of the Navy, but I do not admit for a moment that it is going to occur. The hon. and gallant Gentleman also referred to the question of information rooms. These will be continued, as they performed very useful services, and we want them to be continued in every ship of sufficient size. I very much welcome his idea of the ship's club, and I hope I may be able to learn from him more about those to which he referred, as it seems to me to be an admirable idea.

Lastly, the hon. and gallant Gentleman dealt with the question of welfare as a whole. He said the job was usually given to the least occupied officer, and there was a danger that other officers would feel that it was not their duty to pay attention to welfare. Anything that I can do to stress the importance of welfare work to every officer, I will do. We do not mean that, because a welfare officer has been appointed, other officers should feel that it is not their duty to see to the welfare of their men. It is their duty, and it remains their duty. The hon. and gallant Gentleman also referred to canteen committees. I am ready to admit that there may be, indeed there were, some ships in which there were properly elected canteen committees, but by no means in all of them, and we want to see that what has been done in the best ships will now be done in every ship by means of an Admiralty Fleet Order. We are also hoping to extend their functions somewhat, so that they will deal with all questions of welfare, and not, simply, canteen matters. This will be a very considerable extension of a practice which was followed up to a point in some of the best ships.

I have tried to answer various points that have been raised and I am glad that this discussion has taken place. I hope it will do a great deal to focus the attention of the House and of the country on the importance of welfare work in the Royal Navy.