HC Deb 02 May 1923 vol 163 cc1505-42

I beg to move: That, in the opinion of this House, the necessity for the compulsory discharge of naval ratings, especially the engine-room artificers, 5th class, and the compulsory discharges of ex-apprentices from the Royal Dockyards from employment which has always been regarded as permanent, and for the efficient performance of which they had received special training, partly at the expanse of the State and partly at the expense of their parents, is much to be regretted; and it is the duty of the Government to do all that lies in its power to assist all such men so discharged in as practical a manner as possible, preferably by way of finding them immediate alternative employment. I do not propose to approach this matter with any feeling of hostility. My desire is rather to assist the Government; I wish to find some way out of the difficult situation in which they find themselves to-day. Everyone in the House, to whatever party he belongs, will sympathise very deeply, with the condition of the unfortunate men to whom the Motion refers, I think I may say not least of all the First Lord of the Admiralty and the Financial Secretary. But sympathy will not meet the case altogether; something more and something very definite is required. I never believe—I am not alone in that in this House—in attacking unless I have some remedial measures to propose. Therefore, before I sit down I trust the suggestions which it will be my privilege to propose will at least commend themselves—I cannot say that they will be accepted, but I think that they will commend themselves—not alone to the House, but to the First Lord and the Financial Secretary, and to the Government itself. A very general opinion obtains among naval ratings that these recent compulsory discharges of petty officers and men from the Royal Navy are, in fact, a breach of contract. They say, and I think they rightly say, that there is a moral obligation on the part of the Admiralty to employ a man for the period of his engagement unless through misconduct or unsuitability he proves himself unfit for the position which he has undertaken.

What are the terms of the man's engagement? That is a very important matter. Article 363 of the King's Regulations lays it down that "the first continuous service engagement of a man on first entry shall be for 12 years, that of a boy to serve until he attains the age of 30; the second continuous engagement service to complete time for pensions." Another document to which I desire to refer is the official pamphlet entitled, "How to join the Navy." I daresay there are many Members of the House who have seen that pamphlet. It is exceedingly well printed and very appropriately illustrated. It has a cover which is very alluring, and many a young man and boy, having seen its illustrations and the cover, has perused the official statements, and has ultimately decided to join the Navy. What does that pamphlet hold out to the man who joins the Navy? It holds out to him the prospect of security of employment and an ultimate pension. I do not think that either the First Lord or the Financial Secretary will contest that statement. But I ask the House to follow me a little further, and to answer this question—have these pledges been observed in the cases which we are now discussing, and which we shall go on to discuss? Certainly, I think, no one can say that these pledges have been fulfilled with a month's notice, and, in the case of men who have had less than five years' service in the Navy, a bonus of £20. True, we are told, and have often been told, by the Admiralty, that there is a clause in the men's engagement containing these words: Provided my services should be so long required. But that clause has never been used to dispose of a surplus of personnel. Why was it put in? What was the object of the clause? Everyone who knows anything about the Navy knows that the object of that clause was to reserve the right to the Admiralty to discharge inefficient or unsuitable men—nothing more. What has happened? That clause has now been used to discharge men who, by their conduct and their ability, are admirably suited for retention. That is my first point.

The Admiralty still require men to pay heavily for discharge at their own request, and those men are very severely punished should they attempt to evade completion of their engagements. Apparently, then, it comes to this: If the Admiralty want to discharge a man they can do so without infringing any moral obligation on their part, provided, of course, that they give a month's notice, and, in the case of men who have not completed five years' service, a bonus of £20; but if a man wants to discharge himself he must go through a good many preliminaries, and those of us who have assisted men in the Navy to discharge themselves know very well that it is a very long process. All sorts of inquiries are made, what the man is going to do, whether he has employment awaiting him. Every investigation is made, so that the Admiralty may be perfectly satisfied that the man when he leaves the Navy is going into certain employment. The man has not only to submit to these inquiries, which may be very necessary—I believe they are necessary—but he has to pay for his discharge the sum of £75. Surely £75 as against £20 is hardly an equitable arrangement? I would suggest, in the homely phrase, that what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. This sudden change—and it is a sudden change—in Admiralty policy, by which a man who joins the Navy is refused the privileges promised to him, namely, to serve for a special period and at the end of that period to be allowed to engage again for pension, unless he proves himself inefficient, or misconducts himself—this innovation must necessarily have a very bad effect on the efficiency of the Navy.

No man is likely to give of his best in any walk of life if there is always present to his mind the possibility of summary dismissal without any just cause on his part. This consideration not alone affects men in the Navy but affects every working man in every walk of life. No one, I am sure, is more anxious to do everything in his power to secure efficiency in the Navy than the First. Lord, but I am bound to say that this reversal of Admiralty policy will not assist, the efficiency of the Navy. The policy which has been reversed is the policy which was continued year in and year out for generations; it is the policy upon which the Navy has been built up, and it is the policy which every old sailor living to-day remembers as the policy which was in force when he joined as a boy. Then there is another point. Why should compulsory retirement apply only to the men in the naval barracks, the men and boys in the schools and the men employed in home waters? Are there no surpluses in the different branches of the Navy on foreign stations? I do not think the Admiralty will deny that there are surpluses there, but they say they were unable to deal with the men on the foreign stations, because these reductions had to be made before bringing in the Naval Estimates—in other words, before the beginning of the present financial year. That may be a very good argument from the Admiralty standpoint, but I am not, here to-night to uphold the Admiralty standpoint. I am here to speak on behalf of the men and, while this procedure may be very good for the Admiralty, I ask, is it fair to the men?

Everyone knows that there are surpluses on the foreign stations, and a certain number of these men should, in equity, have been included in the compulsory discharges. The arrangement should have been made on the pro rata principle and not on the principle of arbitrary selection. Moreover, had the Government taken time by the forelock, they might have prepared themselves for this emergency. I would point out that the first Order regarding reductions in the Navy was issued as far back as May, 1922, and the Atlantic Fleet did not leave home waters until January of this year. The Admiralty say they waited until the last minute before going in for compulsory retirement. It may be so, but surely it is open to those who disagree with the Admiralty to ask why they did not begin earlier? If they had done so this kind of thing would not have happened. It may not be too late even now to equalise matters, and I suggest in that direction that the whole Navy should be again circularised to see if there are any young men on these foreign stations who wish to leave the Service, say for migration purposes. We have heard a great deal about migration being open to everyone who desires to take advantage of it. Then I say, offer it to these men in the Navy. Possibly they may not be unwilling to take advantage of the schemes which are now maturing under the provisions of the Empire Settlement Act. In any event, some further effort should be made to give these men the opportunity of going out if they like so as to make it possible for those men to re-enter the Service who have had to go out of the Navy, but who did not want to go out. Of course, if that were done, such men would have to pay back the small bonus they received, but that could be spread over a period of years and it should not be impossible for them to repay it.

Some critics may say that ratings, other than the engine-room artificers 5th class and ratings of less than five years service, have nothing of which to complain. It is said, they have received the same treatment as men of similar standing who have voluntarily taken their discharges. I do not share that view, and I think a great number of Members of the House will agree with me, because I say there is a great difference between a man who leaves the Service of his own accord and one who is compelled to go out, whether he likes it or not. The volunteer may have a post to go to or may wish to be free for some cause of his own, but the man who is compulsorily retired is in an entirely different position. He has no sure employment awaiting him and he may have a wife and family dependent upon him. If these men are to be "put on the beach"—I use a phrase common in the Navy, one that is familiar to many hon. Members—to suit the convenience of the Government, surely their compensation should be on a higher scale than that of volunteers. With regard to the men of less than five years service, they have an even greater cause of complaint, because their bonus only amounts to £20. The volunteer may be quite satisfied with £20, but the compulsorily retired man who was desirous of continuing his life in the Navy, is certainly not satisfied with £20, because he knows, only too well, when that £20 has gone, he will have to walk the streets in search of employment and very lucky he will be if he can find it. I am very much afraid that the qualification of five years in the Navy will not open many doors to men in the industrial world.

As regards another class of men who are dealt with in the Resolution, the engine-room artificers, 5th class, what is their position? They have just completed their 4½ years apprenticeship. For naval purposes they rank as ex-artificer apprentices, because in the Navy you only want a 4½ years apprenticeship. But if these same men want to get work outside, they must go through a five years' course in order to comply with the trade union regulations. I am not saying this in any controversial sense. I admire the trade union regulations in that respect, and I think the trade unions are doing a good work when they insist on keeping up the standard in their unions and insist upon a five years apprenticeship. The men to whom I refer, however, have only done a 4½ years apprenticeship. The Government have seen themselves that this is a hardship, and they have offered to these engine-room artificers to take them into the Royal Dockyards for six months or find them alternative employment in the Air Service. A few have accepted the half year in the Dockyard, but scarcely any have accepted the alternative to go into the Air Force. Why do they not want to go into the Air Force? I think I can best explain that by reading a letter which I received a day or two ago from one of these engine-room artificers discharged. It runs thus: I beg to bring to your notice the following facts, typical of the treatment meted out to us: Under the official notification, the date of discharge was fixed for 29th March, but it was not till 5th April that everything was in order for us to leave. We were offered the alternatives of entry into the Air Force or completion of apprenticeship in the dockyards. The most superficial inquiry into the terms offered by the former for trained mechanics is self- explanatory of the almost general refusal to accept them. For those of us who chose the dockyard, with its promise of some sort of employment, the laxity of officialdom in effecting the promise is exhausting the little bounty granted at our discharge. To date absolute silence has been maintained, and we are forced to add to the long queue at the Labour Exchanges. This indecision prevents the acceptance of a situation in the event of being called upon, so you can easily see the dilemma in which we are placed. I am writing on behalf of myself and 11 comrades in distress to solicit your aid. That is the position as explained by an engine-room artificer himself, who has been compulsorily discharged, and who has had the opportunity of alternative employment offered him. I quite see the difficulty that the officials of the Dockyard are in, and I sympathise with them. They are called upon, on the one side, to turn out an ex-dockyard apprentice on the other to take in an ex-engine-room apprentice. That is their position, and I have no doubt they have found it very difficult to come to a conclusion in the matter. We must not forget that these engine-room artificers had a splendid future before them. Every kind of promotion lay in their path, they might even have become commissioned officers, but all their hopes and expectations have been dashed to the ground, and their compensation is £20, with the alternative of entry into the Air Force or half a year in the Royal Dockyards. What is to happen at the end of the half year? As sure as I am standing here to-night, the end of the half year will see these men on the beach. Compare, then, the outlook in each case, and let us ask ourselves, Are the terms generous? I appeal to the First Lord to say, in his reply, whether he regards these terms as generous on the part of the Admiralty. I do not hesitate to say that they are not generous, and I go further than that, and say they are not just and they are not fair.

Surely, if the Admiralty claim the right to close these men's careers in the Navy at their will, there is a moral obligation on their part to give them higher compensation, and I would suggest to the First Lord that the whole question of bonus for engine-room artificers, fifth class, and for the men with less than five years' service, should be reconsidered, and that where alternative employment has been accepted the Admiralty should see that that employment is immediately made available. Those are my suggestions, and I have sketched out the case, not with any heat or with any desire to put the Admiralty in a difficult position, but merely to explain to them and to the House the position in which the men compulsorily discharged are unfortunately placed. I would ask the Admiralty authorities to do everything that is practicable in the way of compensating these men.

I now pass to discuss Part II of my Resolution, which deals with the compulsory discharges of ex-apprentices from the Royal Dockyards. Who are these ex-apprentices? This is a very important matter, because, unless the House understands exactly who these apprentices are, they will not understand the position in which those who have been compulsorily discharged are placed. Boys become apprentices in the Royal Dockyards as the result of a competitive examination. Apprenticeship covers a period of six years, and the different trades to which they are apprenticed are as follows: Shipwrights, engine fitters, electric fitters, ship fitters, patternmakers, boilermakers, caulkers, coppersmiths, joiners, founders, plumbers, painters, ropemakers, sailmakers and smiths. I think the House will agree with me that that is a very wide area. An all round technical and theoretical training is part of the Admiralty scheme, coupled with continued education at the Dockyard schools, and one of the prime objects of these schools is the provision of qualified men for employment as draughtsmen and subordinate Dockyard officials, but the Admiralty have also kept in view another possibility. They hope, and have always hoped, and their hopes have been justified, to obtain under this scheme a body of men from which could be recruited designers of ships for the Royal Navy, while at the same time increasing the efficiency of Dockyard workmen as a whole.

These facts will give Members some idea of these apprentices. What do they do? They spend periods at the various branches of their trades, and in this, it is very important to observe, their training differs from the practice in outside yards, where men usually remain specialists in side lines. The dockyard apprentice, in addition to manual duties, can, and does, lay off work, take account of materials, make out estimates of cost, etc. These qualifications are all incidental to the training of the dockyard apprentices, but they are outside the duties of all but premium students in private firms. Entry as a dockyard apprentice is primarily by Civil Service examination. This ensures the possibility of brighter and more intelligent youths being obtained at an adaptable age for moulding into the customs and traditions of the Admiralty. I do not think the First Lord will deny that. The net result of it all is that, after completion of his apprenticeship in the Service, the Service obtains a mechanic trained for its particular work, with none of the limitations or restrictions of the outside trained mechanic.

An outstanding feature in the dockyard scheme is the clear field it gives to ability. The entry of apprentices is by competition without nomination. A boy entering from any class may secure advancement to the highest posts, solely as the result of his own ability and hard work. These apprentices have supplied the nation with a large proportion of distinguished naval architects and engineers who, through service with the Admiralty and private firms, have contributed to the preeminence in shipbuilding which this country holds at the present day, and among them are several who have occupied the position of Director of Naval Construction at the Admiralty. That is a description of the dockyard apprentices. That is the work they are trained to do. That is what they become, and yet these are the men whom the Admiralty have felt it necessary to discharge. Numbers of young ex-apprentices have recently been dispensed with, after years of expensive training, partly defrayed, in the earlier years, by their parents, who could ill-afford it, and partly by the State, with a corresponding loss not only to themselves but to the Service and the State. In no other Department of the State would this step have been taken. For instance, all recruits for the Post Office, who pass into the Post Office by Civil Service examination, are automatically established on entry.

And now I come to a reform which I wish to urge upon the Admiralty. Let every dockyard apprentice be established immediately he is out of his time. I think, in the few words which I have addressed to the House, I have at least disposed of the idea that ex-apprentices compulsorily retired will be able to get any work in outside yards, even if there are any vacancies, and we all know there are none. I would ask any Member on the Labour benches to say whether it is possible for these men to get employment in private yards on the training they have received in the Royal Yards?


We do not know; we want you to tell us.


I have asked hon. Members opposite. Take the case of shipwrights. This is a class of ex-apprentices that has suffered most from the compulsory discharges. These young men learn a special trade, which is of no use in the private yards of the country. It is applicable to the Royal Yards only.


Would the hon. Gentleman support us in building merchant ships in those Yards?


I am talking about an entirely different matter. I am afraid the hon. Member has not followed what I was saying. This is not a controversial question about the building of ships, but merely a question as to whether these young men could find employment in private yards on the training they have received in the Royal Yards. I say they cannot.


Then support us in building merchant ships in the Royal Dockyards!


It is well known that ever since the "Achilles" was built at Chatham, the first iron warship built in a Royal Dockyard, the shipwrights have done the iron shipbuilding in the Royal Yards, and, under the present system, the young men entered for this trade do not learn the wood shipbuilding necessary to fit them for competition in the private yards. The consequence is that they have learnt a trade—a very good trade—that of iron shipbuilding, which, by the rules of the trade unions, as the hon. Member knows quite well, they are not allowed to work at outside H.M. dockyards. Therefore, not having learnt wood shipbuilding, and not being allowed to work on iron, they are placed in a hopeless position, and it is not at all likely that a single one of the 1917 shipwrights who have just been discharged will be likely to find any employment at their trade outside. In fact, many of them, I am told, on reliable information, are walking the streets of dockyard towns. Others are now applying for positions in county council work, and in various other kinds of civil work, and taking the position of clerks. These are the men whom the State has paid to be trained to be shipwrights, in order to build up the Navy of the future.

The loss is not confined to the men. There is a heavy loss to the State by compulsorily discharging the ex-apprentices from the Royal Yards. This will, perhaps, be better understood when I say that every member of the Royal Corps of Naval Constructors is an ex-dockyard apprentice, and practically all the foremen inspectors, draughtsmen and subsidiary officials employed in the Royal Yards are ex-dockyard apprentices. So, too, on the engineer side. Ex-dockyard apprentices fill all subordinate official posts in the Royal Yards. Quite a number become naval engineers, others are to be found at the Patent Office, in the Ordnance Corps, and hold Commissions in the Army. Yet by a stroke of the pen the Admiralty adopt this policy; they have found themselves compelled to deprive—quite unintentionally, I am sure—these men not only of their means of livelihood, but, still more, of the opportunities that awaited then, and which their brains and their zeal would have enabled them to profit by. Many of the young men who have been discharged from the Royal Yards recently have shown marked ability. They have won Admiralty prizes, and, no doubt, would have followed in the footsteps of those great designers of the British Navy who have served their time in the Royal Yards had they been allowed to continue their connection with the Service. Not only have these apprentices been compulsorily discharged; they have received no financial compensation whatsoever, and, what is more, they have forfeited what would have been a certain pension, because in course of time these dockyard apprentices are always established, and every established man in the Royal Dockyard gets a pension to which he contributes partly himself and the State contributes its part, but it is as certain as night follows day that the ex-apprentice in the Royal Dockyard becomes established, and that the established man gets a pension.

These men, however, have to leave the yard without any compensation whatsoever, and they have not been offered any alternative employment. They are even in a worse position than the engine-room artificers. Very few of them, indeed, are at work to-day, and certainly none are at work on their own trades. Moreover, the discharges of ex-apprentices within a few months of the completion of their time has had a most unfortunate effect upon the parents of other boys. These parents are beginning to consider whether it is wise to put their boys into the dockyard with such a prospect before them. In fact, letters from parents to this effect have already been received from headmasters at schools. This is a most unfortunate thing for the future of naval construction in this country. I have occupied a long time—not, I hope, without effect—and I am about to conclude. Before doing so, I want to make one further observation. If the Admiralty is unable to offer employment then let the State step in and give to these ex-apprentices, whether they be dockyard ex-apprentices, or engine-room artificers 5th class, these ex-naval engineer apprentices, these ex-artificer apprentices, the opportunity of entering the Civil Service. Both classes have passed the Civil Service examination. The ex-dockyard apprentices have, as I explained just now, received a special scholastic training in the dockyard schools. True, in both cases they are over age, but the question of age was waived in the case of the ex-service men, and, like them, these ex-apprentices may be described as victims of the War.

The other day the First Lord of the Admiralty very rightly told us, and I am sure he will tell us again to-night, that these discharges are not done of his own accord; they are done because of the Washington Treaty. That Treaty, as we all know, is one of the direct results of the War. Many of us in this House thought it was a very wise treaty. Some of us now are not altogether certain that it is quite so wise as we thought some time ago. At the same time, it is allowed by every Member of the House that the Washington Treaty was the result of the War. That being so, I see no reason whatsoever why the age limit should not be suspended in the case of these ex-apprentices, and a chance given to these men who have lost all the future that was before them, all their expectations gone in a day, who have lost everything for which they have been trained, a training paid for, partly by their parents and partly by the state—lost all, without any compensation whatsoever. Surely we ought to give these men a chance of finding alternative and permanent employment in the Civil Service? That is my last word, with the exception of this: that, failing the possibility of the Civil Service as an alternative, then I call upon the Admiralty to award these men adequate compensation. If the Admiralty does not wish, or cannot, or if funds do not permit of an adequate award pay part to these ex-apprentices, who have been compulsorily discharged, if they cannot have that adequate compensation which justly belongs to them—then it is the duty of the Admiralty to find the alternative employment in some other direction, and to find them that employment immediately!


I beg to second the Motion.

I do so under three principal difficulties as well as under various smaller ones. The first one is that this is my maiden effort in the House. I thank the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down for being so kind as to push me over the brink, because it is a thing I have put off a considerable time, and I think in the same way, if I may so, as the habit of speaking is liable to grow upon some people, so the habit of putting off the commencing of speaking in this House will grow too. In the second place, I was not given very much notice of being required for the work of seconding this Motion; but I will say this, the hon. Member who asked me said that it would be sufficient if I just got up and formally seconded the Motion. I have, however, a certain amount of Scotch in me—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear"]—Hon. Members opposite may be pleased to hear that, when I say Scotch I mean Scottish blood, and that Scottish blood did not merely induce me to speak—because that seems to be one of the Scottish attributes—but it did this; it made me realise that if I were to throw away the indulgence which this House always grants a first speech upon just a few formal words that it would be the waste of a very good thing. Indeed, I supposed there would be a certain measure of indulgence still remaining to me in case I ever feel called upon to attempt again to address the House.

9.0 P.M.

The last speaker has had the experience from which he speaks. I also am a dockyard Member. Hon. Members have heard of Portland. I have a certain number, I will not say complaints, but suggestions in regard to Admiralty matters emanating from the stone walls of my town. But this particular matter, the question of the staff of apprentices of the dockyards has not been one of the questions to which I have given much attention. That, at any rate, has this advantage, that it puts me in a position of detachment. I am speaking of a matter about which I had no pressure brought to bear upon me in any way in my own constituency. It seems to me that whereas there are many disadvantages in serving any Government—and that is one of the reasons why I hope that we will never see the nationalisation of industry in this country—at the same time there is this compensation—for it is a compensation to some degree!—that you have continuity of employment. I am convinced that that continuity of employment is one of the most important matters to anyone seeking employment at the present time. In the higher ranks, at any rate, of the clerical staff of the Civil Service it is, I believe, the custom in the event of an Establishment being reduced for the men employed therein to be transferred to other Departments. Indeed, it was said in a period which has passed, under a former Government, that in the event of any Ministry being put an end to the same people sprung up in a different Ministry, composed of the same personnel, with a different name, in an adjacent but somewhat larger building. It seems to me that that continuity of employment was one of the chief reasons why many of these men enter the Government service, which service, however, has been unexpectedly put an end to.

I have recently had a letter from a voter in my constituency who served in the coastguard till he was compulsorily retired. He writes to me asking whether anything can be done in furtherance of his appointment to the coast preventive force which he desires to enter. Here is a case where a man is undergoing a certain amount of unnecessary anxiety as to the future. Would it not be possible to adopt some kind of principle as is adopted in the clerical staffs of the Civil Service so as to guarantee to that man some further appointment without leaving to him to have anxiety and fear of not being able to get any employment at all? I should like, if I might, to refer to one particular instance, roughly relating to the provision made as regards the selection of the people for discharge. That is the case of officers' cooks. I mention this, because it is a case that has been personally brought to my notice. Officers' cooks have important duties to perform. If you want to see a monument to their work you have only to look around this House when the House is full. This man had the opportunity of obtaining civil employment, a very good opportunity if he had been able to leave the Government's service. This particular man had two years to run, and opportunities for civil employment were only open to him for about six months. If he could have left the Navy he would have got the job. Ordinary cooks could have done this, and some of them are now compulsorily retired. I am sorry that there is no way by which these men could become officers' cooks. The Navy, after winning a War like that one which we have won, should be able to surmount such a small difficulty as that. I am sure there were plenty of men capable of instructing these men cooks, and I regret that it was not possible to do anything in their particular case.

The hon. and gallant Member who moved this Resolution dealt so very fully with the matter that it would be impossible for me even to cross the "t's" or dot the "i's." In this Resolution I do not read of any real criticism of the Admiralty. Personally I have the greatest sympathy for the Admiralty, because it is a most disheartening task for any Minister of the Crown to reduce what was the finest Navy in the history of the world. It is a task, however, which it has bravely tackled. In rising to second this Resolution, I have endeavoured to add some weight to the First Lord's argument which he used when he attacked other Government Departments, and if it does not seem to be presumption on my part, I would remind the First Lord that in the history of the past a considerable amount of success was obtained with a weapon very similar to that which I have employed, I refer to the considerable victory which was gained by Samson over the Phillistines.


I would like first of all to congratulate the hon. and gallant Member for Southern Dorset (Major Yerburgh) upon having made his maiden speech, and I do not think there is any necessity for him to apologise. When he spoke of the attack on the Phillistines, my only regret is that there does not seem to be a sufficient attack in the Motion which has been moved. We all agree that the discharges are regrettable, and I hope we shall be able to strengthen the criticisms which were made on this subject by the hon. Member for Devonport (Sir C. Kinloch-Cooke). I wish to draw the attention of hon. Members to the considerable hardship which at the present time is being inflicted upon these unhappy apprentices who are being discharged. I do not represent them in the same direct way as the hon. Member who moved this Resolution, but a good many of them are my neighbours. I know that in February last in the Devonport Dockyard there were more than 100 of these discharges. They are apprentices belonging mostly to two particular departments. They are men who secured the highest marks in those competitive examinations and then joined the Navy to do constructive and engineering work, and those are the men who have been sacrificed, while most of those who have been retained are those who did not get so high in the examination.

This is not the ordinary case of a workman being discharged because he is not required, because the Admiralty requirements have stimulated in Plymouth and other dockyard towns the local education authorities to provide special educational facilities, and in accordance with those requirements we have built up for the last 30 years special schools and classes. I have the honour to be the manager of one of the first schools in the country as far as its results are concerned. We have brought those schools to a high pitch of excellence, and from some of them we have been able to obtain the highest positions in the country as far as dockyard apprentices are concerned. These boys are selected from thousands of elementary scholars, and their parents, who are proud of their boys being selected, make considerable sacrifices and deprive themselves in many cases of the necessaries of the home in order that one of their boys who may have been selected may qualify for such a position.

I can speak of the pride which is felt when a boy has secured first, second or third place in the whole of England, and naturally the parents thought by that that the boy would have some permanency in his future occupation. These boys are kept at school until they are 16, and after being kept at school up to this age at the expense of the parents they are then trained by the State. It is estimated that it costs the State £400 to see one of these boys through his apprenticeship. After all those hopes have been created, and the State has incurred this expense, the boy is no sooner through his apprenticeship than he is thrown upon the labour market. These lads who are now being discharged were taken on in the boom year of 1917. They were invited to enter at that time to meet national requirements. They have been trained in accordance with the dockyard practice and custom, and I think it can be said—and no doubt the Financial Secretary to the Admiralty will agree in this—that taking the 100 boys who have just been discharged on finishing their apprenticeship at Devonport, they constitute as fine a body of trained workmen as could be found in any institution in the country.

They have special technical and practical knowledge, and it is perfectly true, as the hon. Member for Devonport has said, that, while they are particularly qualified for their own work, they are not qualified for competition outside. They are handicapped in meeting the lads who have been apprenticed in the ordinary private shipbuilding firms. They are well qualified according to all modern requirements, and they are immediately experienced in all the experiments that were made during the War. It is not only a hardship to them, inasmuch as their careers are broken, but you are dispersing this body of workmen, and I know as a matter of fact that nothing has been more distressing than the trouble that has been caused in something like a hundred homes in my town, where the boy, having gone there with all these expectations, and having gone through his apprenticeship and come to the time when it was thought that he would be able to help his parents who had helped him, is at the present time no help at all, but actually a burden upon the home.

That is the situation, and I suppose we can do very little to help the trouble that was occasioned last February, but I wish to ask the representatives of the Admiralty about the trouble that is foreshadowed. The fear that is being entertained, at any rate in my part of the country, is not only that we have just come through one crisis, where discharges have taken place, but we have learned that this year a similar number may be called upon to pass through the same experience, and if any words of reassurance can be given here to-night, at any rate to that extent, it would be a very great help. I am not here to say that we ought to keep these people in our employ if the necessity for their employment no longer exists. I do not think I have the right to make that request to the House. I quite agree that, if there is not the necessity for building ships, we have no right to ask that the public should be put to the expense of keeping in employment those for whom there is no employment. I do not make that suggestion, but I do not think the case is met simply by the statement that work is not to be done and we must get rid of these men. I think there are other alternatives, and I want the Financial Secretary to the Admiralty to consider just one or two suggestions.

I think that all Members of the House, whether they are concerned with dockyard constituencies or not, would, having regard to the hardship of the case, agree that we ought to exhaust every consideration. We ought to see how best we can ease the load which is falling upon these homes. The first suggestion I would make is this: Could not the established men whom we already have at the dockyards, and who wish to retire, be allowed to do so? What difficulty would there be in that? In the case of those who are over 55, why should not their pensions be made secure? Is it not likely that, if the opportunity were given to these older men, they might avail themselves of it, and make the way clear for the younger men to come along, with fresh ideas, who in their careers would probably render the best service?


Apply that generally.


I want to deal with one difficulty at a time. I am quite prepared to consider the whole question. If my hon. Friend lived in my locality, and had coming to him, as some have come to me, the mothers of these boys, I am sure he would be anxious to consider what means could be adopted to relieve their distress. Again, could not the ex-naval men over 55 who are working in the dockyards, and who are already in receipt of pensions, be allowed their gratuity at the expiration of a lesser number of years than 15, as at present? Some of these older men might take their gratuity, and in that way room might be made for some of the younger men. I do not say that we can meet the cases of all who have been discharged, but if we can only do so in the case of half a dozen we should to that extent have lifted the load upon those homes. It is not only the actual hardship that is being caused to these young men at present, but it is quite certain that we are going to affect the character of the entrants in years to come. The boy who is cleverest, the boy who does brilliantly at school, will not be attracted in the same way to the dockyard if there is the prospect, after he has gone through his apprenticeship, that the skill he has acquired will not be used for the purpose for which it was intended.

There is one further question that I would put. What will be the policy of the Admiralty authorities regarding the vacancies which are now arising from normal wastage? That is a question upon which there is some anxiety there. What will be the policy of the Admiralty with regard to the vacancies that will occur during the next few months owing to normal wastage? I understand that the present numbers in the yard coincide with the numbers provided for in the Estimates for the current year. Will authority be given to the management of Devonport Dockyard to fill vacancies as they occur, and will consideration be given, in the filling of those vacancies, to these discharged apprentices who have not been able to secure alternative employment? I think that in that way, as vacancies arise during the year, it might be possible to do something, and I think it would be in line with the assurance given by the First Lord of the Admiralty when he said, in discussing the Navy Estimates here only a week or two ago, that every effort would be made to obtain alternative employment for these people. I hope the mere fact that they have left the yard will not deprive them of the benefit of that assurance. Even if they have left, their skill remains with them. Some of them, I know, are at present eating their hearts out waiting for some employment that they cannot get, and I think they have a very strong claim upon the sympathy of the House. I am sure it would be the wish of no one in this House to see their careers broken, and, if hon. Members could only see some of the distress that has been occasioned, I am sure that all parties in this House would do everything in their power to give them some opportunity of fulfilling the career to which they have looked forward during the whole of the period of their apprenticeship.


I wish to join with the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Foot) in congratulating the hon. and gallant Member for Southern Dorset (Major Yerburgh) upon his maiden speech in this House. He had no reason to apologise for making that endeavour, and I hope the House will hear him on other important questions that come before it from time to time. This Motion raises a question of very great importance to men who in bygone years have considered that they had a permanency. In bygone years it was considered that the man who entered the Navy, or who was employed in a dockyard, could always depend upon employment in either the one or the other Service, until the time came for him to retire and take his pension. It seems that the day has gone by for that state of things, and it is wise that this House should consider what is to be the position of the men in these two Services in the future. There are two grades of men who are concerned in this discussion. There are the men engaged in the Royal Navy who have had to be compulsorily retired because of the terms of the Washington Agreement. In addition to those men, men have been compulsorily retired from the dockyards who two years ago considered that they were in perfectly safe employ.

I hope the Admiralty officials are going to consider more seriously the position of the men in these two Services. As the representative of a dockyard, I have taken a very keen interest in the discussions that have gone on in this House whenever dockyard or naval questions were under consideration, and I am deeply interested in the question that we are discussing here this evening. I am afraid that we will require to adopt other measures if we are going to secure permanent employment for the men either in the Royal Navy or employed in the Royal Dockyards in the future, much greater and bigger schemes than any that have been suggested during the discussion of this Resolution this evening. I am afraid, as I have suggested on other occasions, that the Admiralty will require to look ahead and to embark upon other enterprises than those on which they have been engaged in bygone years. I was interested in the suggestion made by the Mover of this Resolution that men should have been discharged pro ratâ from the Navy. He drew attention to the fact that the men who have been compulsorily retired from the Navy have been drawn almost entirely from the Navy in home waters, and that the men who have been serving in foreign stations are still being kept on in the Navy—that these men are not being asked to retire as have been the men in home waters. I was interested in that suggestion, because it reminded me of the fact that when the discharges were taking place in the dockyards, the same principle was not applied to all the dockyards in the country. There was one singled out for special consideration, the dockyard I represent in this House, Rosyth, which was much more largely affected by the reductions in personnel than the dockyards in other parts of the country. Therefore, it was quite interesting to me to hear the hon. Member who moved this Motion advocate a reduction pro ratâ of men engaged in the foreign stations compared with the men engaged in the home stations.

The ground has been fairly fully covered by the hon. Gentleman who moved the Motion and by my hon. Friend below the Gangway (Mr. Foot), and it is unnecessary for me to describe the training that ex-apprentices engaged in the dockyards require to undergo before they are allowed to engage in work in the dockyards. The training, as has been pointed out, is a very severe and a very complete one, but it is training which only fits these men for work in the Royal Dockyards. I am afraid that in the future the training that apprentices will require to get in the dockyards, that is assuming that the dockyards are to be used to their fullest capacity, will have to be a very different training from that which they have received in bygone years. The Admiralty, I am afraid, will require to train these boys in such a way that they will be capable either of doing the necessary work in the dockyards or work that will be necessary in a private yard. It is most unfair that after a lad has served his apprenticeship in a dockyard and after all the money has been spent on him, partly by the State and partly by his parents or guardians, that he should be turned out and in such a position as this be quite unqualified to take up work in a private yard, even if he had the opportunity to take up that work. I am afraid that the training that the dockyard apprentices will require to get in the years to come will have to be of such a character as will fit them for work other than the work that they have been trained to in bygone days.

There is one word of praise I would like to give to the officials of the Admiralty so far as the little dockyard I represent is concerned. When the reductions took place at Rosyth a considerable number of men were travelling from Edinburgh, Kirkcaldy, and other outlying places. A number of apprentices were also travelling from outlying places, and the question arose as to whether the Admiralty were justified in paying the travelling expenses of these apprentices. The apprentices at Rosyth were in my opinion much worse circumstanced than apprentices in other parts of the country. These apprentices in many cases were living in lodgings at Rosyth while their parents or guardians were in the south of England. They had that particular handicap to begin with, but in addition to that some of these apprentices were living in Edinburgh, and I want to thank the officials of the Admiralty for giving travelling facilities to the apprentices who were living in Edinburgh and were employed in Rosyth dockyard. It is not often that I have the pleasure of congratulating or praising the officials of the Admiralty for the things they do for Rosyth, but I want to thank them at any rate for giving these facilities to the apprentices living at Edinburgh to complete their training in the dockyard.

What I am really concerned about is what is going to happen to the apprentices after they are trained in the dockyard, what is the Admiralty going to do to ensure that after these lads have made all the sacrifices you can expect them to make and that their parents have made to qualify them for taking up positions in the dockyards, what is to become of these lads after they have been trained. I hope we are going to have something like permanency assured to these men as it has been assured to their fathers in days that have gone by. I am afraid that the policy being pursued by the Admiralty is not one that is going to ensure that in the future. As a matter of fact, I think that the policy they have been pursuing for some time is a policy which is going to lead to less men being employed in the dockyard instead of more. I am not quite sure that that policy would be received with very great appreciation on the benches on this side of the House. We wish to see very considerable reductions in armaments. We wish to see a policy of that kind adopted, but, at the same time, we are not foolish enough to say that the Admiralty ought to scrap the Navy and the dockyards and that the War Office officials should scrap their organisations until we have security, or something like security, in the international field. So long as international politics remain as they are at the moment, we require to keep our defensive organisations up to the very highest pitch of efficiency.

I was saying, however, that I do not consider that the policy the Admiralty has been pursuing is a policy which is going to lead to more men being employed in the dockyards. For instance, the policy of adopting piece-work in the dockyards has been developed during recent months, and if that policy is pursued I am afraid that, instead of having more men engaged, we are going to have far fewer men employed in the dockyards in this country. There are several ways, I think, in which more employment could be obtained for the dockyards. We on these benches want to see our dockyards used to the fullest extent, not necessarily for the building or repairing of war ships, but for doing other necessary work for the nation. At Rosyth we have a new and up-to-date dockyard. I agree it is not completed, but it is one of the finest dockyards we have in the country. I am not going to enter into discussions with others representing dockyards as to whether or not it is the only dockyard that can berth the "Hood" or other ships of that description, but here we have a new dockyard with the latest machinery which has been introduced, and I am afraid we are going to see a very considerable part of it standing unused. We have accommodation there for dry docking the biggest ships in the Navy. We have excellent dry docking accommodation, and it is proposed to construct a dry dock at a shipbuilding yard on the Forth, a very few miles away. Might I suggest to the representatives of the Admiralty that they might consider the question of having dry docking done for commercial purposes at Rosyth? It may be impossible, but at any rate the accommodation is there. There is not a dry dock in the East of Scotland, and when there is accommodation there it is foolishness on the part of even private enterprise to build a dry dock within a mile or two of where we have some of the best accommodation in the whole country.

We are told it is impracticable to do commercial work in a dockyard, but unless the Admiralty branch out in the direction of doing commercial work in the dockyards, there is not going to be a very bright prospect for the apprentices. If we should get another instalment of the Washington Peace Treaty, if we should get another reduction in armaments—the scrapping, perhaps, of the two battleships which are being built at present—what is going to happen to the dockyards and the men who are employed in them then. Already you have reduced your dockyards by 10,000 men. Supposing another wave of Washington comes along and throws out another 10,000 or 20,000 men from the dockyards, what is going, to become of them then? I think instead of talking about preparing dockyards for building and repairing battleships, the dockyards ought to be prepared for something else. I am very pleased to be able to welcome such a Motion as this. I want to read again the latter part of this Motion: It is the duty of the Government to do all that lies in its power to assist all such men so discharged in as practical a manner as possible, preferably by way of finding them immediate alternative employment. I hope when the next prevention of unemployment Resolution comes before the House we shall find the Mover of this Motion voting with us. I am not sure that he voted with us on the last occasion.


This Motion is altogether different from the Motion the other night. This refers to men who are compulsorily retired.


I quite agree, but men in private employment are compulsorily retired in exactly the same way. It is merely because the employer has no further use for them that those men are discharged from their employment, and it is for exactly the same reason, that they are no longer required in the dockyards, that these men have been compulsorily retired, so I hope the next time we are discussing unemployment the hon. Gentleman will support us as heartily as we are prepared to support his Motion.


Like the hon. and gallant Member for Southern Dorset (Major Yerburgh), I am rising to make a maiden effort with a certain amount of diffidence, but I know I can rely on the generosity of the House, which is always extended to a newcomer. I feel perhaps a double diffidence, because earlier in the evening I heard two Members expressing sympathy with one another because it was a dockyard Members' night. I agree wholly with the Motion. Perhaps I rather more agree with the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Foot) when he says there is not sufficient punch in it. I should like to join with the hon. Member opposite in his congratulations to the officials of the Admiralty, and I should particularly like to express my thanks to the hon. and gallant Gentleman who deputises for the First Lord. I have had to take many cases to him, and I have found he is a man with a very large heart who is able to do unkind things in a kind way. Each dockyard Member probably deals with his own dockyard, and I want to deal with the dockyard in my own town. I represent the industrial class in my town where probably the large majority of the dockyard men reside, and it is very sad indeed to see so many young men who have been turned off, not only from the dockyard, but from the Navy as well. The hon. Member opposite said that a man discharged from private employment was in a similar position to those discharged from the Admiralty. In many respects that is so, but we have to bear in mind that an individual who once gets under the State authority, in no matter what Department, thinks he is safe for life. In Portsmouth the dockyard is the one great industry. In other big industrial centres you may have more unemployment than we have at the moment, but when the trade boom comes, as it will come, large industrial towns will feel the benefit, and have their unemployment reduced, while, on the other hand, Portsmouth, from the way in which the Navy is developing to-day, will be in a worse plight than it is in at present.

The hon. Member for Dunfermline (Mr. W. Watson) said that the Admiralty should develop commercial shipbuilding. We have suggested that to the Admiralty for Portsmouth, and they say, "No, we want the harbour and the dockyard for Admiralty work." We are not inclined in Portsmouth to disagree with the Admiralty in that respect. We are proud of the fact that Portsmouth is the premier naval dockyard of the world and hope that it will long continue to maintain that position. If the Admiralty are going to maintain the position of Portsmouth as an Admiralty dockyard, they must provide the men with work. Quite recently, in order to develop commercial shipbuilding, the Admiralty undertook certain work, and the hon. and gallant Gentleman who replied to my questions in regard to the charges very rightly said that the Admiralty cannot enter into competition with private dockyards, but, after all, unemployment and all other pay comes out of the one coffer, and the Government should at least charge the same as would be charged in private dockyards, and not two or three times as much. The Government have promised to look carefully into the matter, and I hope that they will do so.

I heard to-day from Portsmouth that 400 men were to be discharged this week additional to 700 men discharged last week. I have seen a letter from the head of a shipping company saying that they are sending no more ships to Portsmouth because the charges for floating docks are too high. I hope that the hon. and gallant Gentleman will bear that in mind and do what he can for Portsmouth. There is another matter which is very hard on naval and dockyard men. They have saved their money and bought their houses in Portsmouth. That is an additional burden at the moment, because if they move to other towns they are not able to sell their houses. While we do not ask in Portsmouth for a large extension of the dockyard, we do say that we should at least keep it in a fair state of repair. It is well known that the sea wall at the north corner is in a very dangerous state. For some years the Admiralty have not been able to berth ships there. If this work was put in hand it would mean work for 1,000 men for 12 months, and would not be wasting money, but only spending money to save money, because, if you leave this work much longer, according to the reports of your own officials, you will have the wall slipping into the sea. When the First Lord made his statement in March he assured the House that there would be no more discharges from the dockyard. Since then, though perhaps you will say that these men were only taken on temporarily, he took on some 400 men last November and December and discharged them in March. I hope that he will be able to see his way to begin reinstating them.

In 1913 the then First Lord, I think Mr. Churchill, with a loud flourish of trumpets said that they were going to bring the lower deck into the ward room and they promoted more than 100 men to be lieutenants. These men were really the brains of the lower deck. They were only promoted after passing a stiff examination, and in face of great opposition. These men have now all been discharged. While we regret the discharge of the officers of the executive branch proper we do feel that these men should not have been discharged. They are now in a worse position than if they had not sat for their examination and been promoted to lieutenants, because they would have retained, perhaps, their old position. Quite recently I heard of a lieutenant offering his services as a valet to a flag officer, while another officer was selling fruit in the streets of Portsmouth.

The case of the 5th class engine-room artificers has been put forcibly on all sides. The Member for Bodmin, and the hon. Gentleman who spoke last, pointed out the very stiff examination the boys had to pass for the dockyard, but they omitted to mention that the boys of the "Fisgard" have to pass an even stiffer examination. These boys' parents have made real sacrifices on behalf of their sons. The parents at the time had to sign them on for 12 years, when they joined the "Fisgard," and the boys, when they attained the age of 18, had to sign for 12 years, and now we are told that under the Naval Enlistment Act, 1853, the Admiralty have the right of ruining these boys' careers. These boys were only trained for one class of work, and they have sent them out into the streets. The hon. and gallant Gentleman below me did ask the Air Minister to find places for these young fellows in the Air Service equal to what they had in the Navy, and the Air Minister promised to do so, but unfortunately he did not do so. We are told that only a few of them applied. The reason is that they were offered berths far below what they had been trained for in the Navy. We have been told that they were not equal to the test. I have seen the young men who were put to the test. Is it fair to the Admiralty or to this House, when we consider the money which has been spent on these lads, to say that they are not equal to welding two pieces of iron together? That is absolutely wrong, and they have not had a fair chance. I beg the hon. and gallant Gentleman to endeavour, now that he has taken these boys back into the dockyard to finish their time—they are supposed to leave again in June—in consultation with the First Lord, to keep these young men in the Navy for the next two or three years, at least. They are really well trained and skilled men, and I am sure the Admiralty will not regret it if they take them back again.

I hope the Admiralty will be able, as early as possible, to anticipate the work they require on the "Victory," in order to employ more shipwrights at Portsmouth. At the moment, the shipwrights are, to a very large number, out of employment. Perhaps more than any other trade. If that work could be hastened, we should all be very glad. Of course, the Navy is very unsettled, and the dockyard towns are very unsettled. We were told that the League of Nations was going to work wonders for us, but I am certain Of this, no matter how many Leagues of Nations you have you will always want your Royal Navy to defend these shores and those of the Dominions.


I have always taken a very keen interest in the Navy, and considering that a large number of men who follow the same trade as myself are in the Navy, as artificers, I naturally feel a kindly interest in their welfare whilst they are serving in His Majesty's Navy. The appeal that has been made here does not seem likely to receive any real response. After all, the deliberate policy of the Admiralty in this country, for many years, has been to make the dockyard towns exclusively Government dockyard towns. The result is that when the Washington Treaty is entered into, it simply means that the dockyard towns are absolutely helpless, and there is no other employment for these people to follow, as they might have done had there been any ordinary industrial avocation in those various centres. Go to Chatham, Portsmouth, or Devonport; hardly anyone knows of any manufactures in those places. The result is that those towns are going to be helpless because of the enormous number of discharges. There is not the slightest doubt that what is happening in those towns is striking consternation into the hearts and homes of thousands of people. They have no prospect at all in the future, and, as has been pointed out, many of them have bought their homes. No doubt, they have committed themselves in a thousand ways, apart altogether from that. Here is the result of the Washington Agreement. They are to be struck down, without any possible prospect at all.

The point that concerns me is this. It must be obvious to anybody, on a moment's reflection, that whoever was responsible for the policy of this country at Washington certainly did not look very far ahead, and did not consider very much the welfare of the people who were employed either at Devonport, Portsmouth, Chatham or the other dockyard towns. After all, this country is a country with a history behind it. It has had a Navy for a great many years longer than any other country. It has taken hundreds of years to build up that Navy, and one would have imagined that when some agreement for disarmament was entered into, some foresight would have been shown and I some consideration displayed for the position of the various dockyard towns in this country, and all that they implied on the human factor. Is it not obvious, to anyone listening to this discussion to-night, so far as the men engaged in the dockyard towns are concerned, and the men who are giving their lives to the Navy—because, there is no doubt about it, the men entering Government employ give their lives to the Service—that the lack of consideration is, when one comes to examine it, really inhumanly brutal? Worse than that, it throws these people on an empty labour market just when that market is at its worst.

10.0 P.M.

I am not one of those who is inclined to take a very hopeful view of the situation, even as it is. There are millions of money and tremendous quantities of plant in these various dockyard towns. Take Rosyth, which was an illustration given by the previous speaker. There are floating docks, dry docks, and all the rest of it there. The hon. Member was hopeful enough to imagine that the Admiralty might put those things to some useful service. It seems to me the most hopeless proposition that anyone could suggest in the House of Commons that they were going to set their hands to do something useful with the plant which the nation has provided. What a difference might be brought about if the ordinary commercial mind were directed toward finding a solution of the difficulty in the dockyard towns. There are really very considerable possibilities of finding employment for a very large number of these men, if the Admiralty authorities would only try to get out of their old stride, which has been in existence ever since the Admiralty has been in existence, and the object of which is to move as slowly as they possibly can, and, if somebody can put them on to a slower method still, to adopt that method. That seems to be the plan which has been adopted in all the dockyard towns, so far as my own experience goes. I know something about the business. Thousands of members in my own union are in the dockyard towns, and this is hitting these people very hard, indeed.

I should be a good deal easier in my mind if I could feel that those at the head of the Admiralty would bring some consideration to bear in these matters: would keep politics out of their minds for a moment or so, and would see if they could not get their minds to work on something like commercial lines, and help these people to meet their difficulties. Anyone who knows anything about dockyard life at all knows that there are plenty of young men whose lives are ruined under the system and plan upon which the dockyards are being run. That system is entirely different from the ordinary commercial yard. This has been the set policy of the Admiralty—to my knowledge at any rate—for at least 17 years. They have carried the dockyards on on their own particular lines, exclusively. The management of the yards and the arranging of the jobs for the workpeople, who are producing ships of war, were entirely different from any other shipyard in this country. Therefore we can understand, when these men are thrown out of employment in the various dockyard towns, that they have an exceedingly difficult job indeed to find employment in an ordinary commercial shipyard.

Therefore that is all the more reason why the Admiralty should set their wits to work and see if they cannot bring into use a plant that is in these dockyards. If they cannot use it, surely the dog in the manger policy ought not to be persisted in at this moment. They might, at least, give other people a chance of using it, and in this way find employment for a large number of these men. What is to be the effect of the cutting down of the Navy on the future of places like Plymouth, Devonport, Portsmouth and Rosyth? What future will these places have? They can only be secondary seaside resorts in years to come. The Admiralty should set their house in order. There is nobody who has a greater responsibility towards these men than the present Admiralty, and I do hope they will show some real consideration in this matter and consider the human element involved and see if they cannot do something to relieve the very difficult situation that has arisen.


I had not intended to intervene in this Debate, but I thought I should do so for a few moments. I really make this speech because I am attacked in my constituency by a Labour Member who comes down there. I welcome him there, but I felt it would not be right that they should be able to say that I did not rise on this particular occasion. They have a way of putting things which in my view might be put otherwise. In regard to the matter of this Debate, the hon. Member who last spoke, if I may say so very respectfully, does not seem to have appreciated the present position. When he talks of putting dockyards to commercial business I am afraid he has not reflected upon or considered the subject. That was the suggestion made at the last Election by my Socialist opponent. In regard to the matters that have been raised to-night, I gather they dealt with the discharges from His Majesty's Navy and from the Dockyards, more especially the apprentices who entered the Navy. I spoke on this matter on the Admiralty Estimates, and the First Lord then promised to give it every consideration. He undertook he would endeavour to find alternative employment, so far as it was in his power, by transfer or otherwise, for every man discharged from the Navy and for the ex-apprentices, and that he would endeavour to get them transferred with the assistance of the Air Force to the Air Force. Speaking for myself, I am perfectly confident that the First Lord has not played these men false. I believe he has given a promise which he will faithfully carry out to the best of his ability. In these circumstances I have to say that in my experience, so far as Chatham is concerned, the administration of the Admiralty has never been more humane and has never endeavoured to deal better with the situation than the present administration. I have nothing but praise for what the Admiralty have done in my constituency, and I believe that is a feeling that is shared in my constituency. One of the mayors of the two boroughs went out of his way to congratulate the First Lord upon what he had done. In saying that, I am satisfied that he will not abate one jot or iota in his endeavours to get these men employment. I just intervened—I hope I have not been too long—as I wanted to make my position clear when the Labour Members come down to my constituency.

The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the ADMIRALTY (Commander Eyres-Monsell)

I would like to say that my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty and myself appreciate the note which has been struck by the last speaker and the atmosphere in which I have to reply. In the course of this Debate a great many and varied points have been opened up, and in my reply I shall endeavour to answer them to the best of my ability, but I must first address myself to the Motion before the House. This Motion was moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Sir C. Kinloch-Cooke). We have heard him before in this House and we are always glad to welcome his interventions in Debate. It was seconded by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Southern Dorset (Major Yerburgh) and, if I may, I would like to congratulate him on behalf of the House, I think very warmly, on his maiden speech. It was an amusing and well-instructed speech and recalled to a good many of us who have been in this House for some time the hon. and gallant Gentleman's father, who did so much for the Navy in the capacity of chairman of the Navy League and who for many years was an able and popular Member of this House. I recommend this to the hon. Gentlemen opposite as a good case of heredity.

The first part of the Motion asks the House to regret the necessity for compulsory discharges. Let me say at once that nobody regrets it more than the Board of Admiralty itself. They are our own people, men who have had a brilliant career in the past, men of great promise for the future, and we had to get rid of them, and it has been a heartbreaking job to do so. That I do assure the House. I wish I had the power of language adequately to express our regret. Since the War, whatever hon. Gentlemen may think who are out of office, I can assure them that the holding of office has not been a very pleasant task, and this work of getting rid of a large number of men in the dockyards and Royal Navy has been the culminating point in unpleasantness. It has been the bitterest experience in what are called the sweets of office. I sometimes think that this phrase must have been coined at the same time as someone said the House of Commons was the best club in Europe. The necessity for this has been thrust upon us. The world's situation, the urgent need for economy, and the Washington Treaty have all combined to force a reduction of the Navy and a consequent reduction in its personnel. I should like to give to the House the numbers of the Royal Navy that we have had to reduce—officers 1,996, men 12,272. When hon. Members say that this has caused a feeling of grievance, I would point out that 69.3 per cent. of officers went voluntarily, and that it would have been a very much smaller number if it had not included the great majority of warrant officers, for whom we make special terms, and the officers to whom reference has been made to-night. To listen to some hon. Members one would think that we had compulsorily retired the whole of the men of the Navy. 95.5 per cent. of these men retired voluntarily, leaving a very small percentage indeed to be retired compulsorily. I maintain that that shows that the vast majority were perfectly contented with the terms and with the gratuity, and that it is an extraordinary tribute to the fair way in which the officers of the Admiralty have carried out this most distasteful task. In the case of a reduction of personnel of such magnitude it might reasonably have been expected that there would have been a very general sense of grievance. But this has not been the case. It shows, at all events, that the most loyal body of men in all the world have understood the great difficulties which the Admiralty have had to face, and have understood also that we have obtained for them the most generous terms that we could obtain.

When I was in the Navy I was brought up to the idea that a little cherub sits up aloft, and looks after the destiny of all of us at sea. The idea of this invisible and benign being was a very comforting one. But when I became a Member of Parliament I received three distinct shocks. The first was when I saw this cherub materialise. [HON. MEMBERS: "Name!"] The second shock was when I found there was not one, but a lot of them, and not confined to one sex. The third shock was when I found that they all represented dockyard constituencies. As Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty, I can testify in the most thorough manner to the efficient way in which my hon. Friends look after their constituents. I always thought that the maximum number of letters passed between an engaged couple, and that possibly two a day was the limit. But I consider any day of mine ill-spent unless I have received from, and despatched at least 15 letters to, my various suitors in this House.

I now come to the specific points raised by the Mover of this Motion. First, as to engine-room artificers, fifth class. In making the reductions that were forced upon us we had to examine the numbers in every grade and every class. We had to see how many men were surplus in each of those grades, and we had most reluctantly to get rid of them. The engine-room artificers, fifth class, had to take their chance along with everybody else, and not nearly so many of them have been compulsorily discharged as the House may have been led to believe by some of the speeches made to-night. Actually only 47 were compulsorily discharged. What have we done for these men? That was another question asked from all quarters of the House. As I have said, 47 were compulsorily discharged, and after long negotiation with the Air Ministry we found 80 jobs, but only 26 of these men volunteered. It is not our fault if they did not accept the terms offered by the Royal Air Force. If they did not think the terms good enough and rejected them, it is no use talking about these men being turned on the street. We have done more than that. We have given permission to all these men to go back into the dockyards and have opportunities for completing their apprenticeships. These are all skilled men taught by the Admiralty. They all belong to a skilled trade, and I suggest they are in a very much better position than a great many other men in this country who served this country during the War. I think a little undue weight has been given to this question.

I now come to the other specific point raised by my hon. Friend who moved the Resolution, namely, the discharge of ex-apprentices from the Royal Dockyards. These discharges, which have given rise to many of the speeches to-night, were made at Devonport, and affected about 100 ex-apprentices, 85 of whom were shipwrights. Let me answer on this point the hon. Gentleman who moved the Resolution, the hon. Member for Dunfermline (Mr. W. Watson) and the hon. Member for Clay Cross (Mr. Duncan). All these three hon. Members gave the impression to the House that men who had been trained in the dockyards were no good for private work.


I did not say they were no good. I said they could not be employed.


I say they can be employed. They have learned all about their work, and have received much better instruction than the ordinary shipwright in a private yard.


They could not be employed because there was no work for them.


The only reason for these discharges was that there was a redundancy of workmen in the trades to which the men in question belonged. We did not reduce the total number all round and about 80 labourers were entered at the same time that these men were discharged. I can give a general assurance that we are down to bedrock numbers, but I cannot give any assurance that we shall not have a redundancy in one branch or another. I hope not. I do not wish, however, to deal with the general question of reduction, but we had to discharge these men. The retention of these ex-apprentices would have involved either the employment of more men than we required, or the discharge of other men with better claims and probably greater responsibilities. It has been done before. One of my hon. Friends suggested that this was an innovation, but that is not so. What have we done to try to find alternative employment for this branch? First we tried all the other yards to see if we could get them in there, and we failed. Here I can assure the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Foot) that, in the event of additional work being required at a future date, the Department will be only too ready to consider applications from the ex-apprentices for further employment in the dockyards.


Would that apply also to filling up vacancies caused by normal wastage?


I am afraid wastage has already been taken into account and discounted. Endeavours have been and are being made to find employment for some of these men in the Royal Air Force, but here I cannot give any definite hope of them finding that employment; and further than that, we have allowed these men to finish their apprenticeship. It has been said that these men have cost their parents a great deal, but they have coat their parents very little indeed. Perhaps in the first year, when they were only boys of 14 and getting 12s. a week, their parents could not keep them on that, but it rises to 32s., and the hon. Member for Bodmin himself said the State had spent about £400 on their training. Here again we are very sorry indeed that these young men have had to go, but we have not turned them adrift on a friendless world; we have turned them out well educated, knowing their trades thoroughly, and having had a sound education at the cost of the State, and here again I suggest that the men comprised in these two examples that my hon. Friends have stretched so much to-night are in a very favourable condition compared with a great many unfortunate men in this country to-day.

May I say one word about what we are trying to do to find employment for any men discharged from the Royal Navy? This is rather outside the scope of the Motion, as the last part of the Motion deals only with those compulsorily discharged, and I am dealing with men who went voluntarily and also men who were compulsorily discharged I want to give the National Association for the Employment of Regular Sailors, Soldiers, and Airmen the best advertisement that I can. It is a very good society. We have got a Treasury grant for them, and they have received most generous contributions from the Royal Naval Benevolent Fund. From 1st April, 1922, to 31st March, 1923, they found places for 1,540 men, and in addition, more than 500 men were placed in temporary employment. I want to call the attention of all employers to this, that it should be observed that only men of proved character are accepted for registration, that there are no fees asked from employers or men, and—I should like to make a special point of this—that voluntary subscriptions would be gratefully received.


The hon. and gallant Member has not answered two points that I put. One was whether or not he would consider the question of establishing the apprentices in the dockyards in the future, and the other was whether he would allow them to compete in the Civil Service.


I could not possibly give answers on the spot to very complicated questions of that sort, but my hon. Friends who have made valuable suggestions can rest assured that they will receive the most careful consideration of the Admiralty. I cannot say more than that now, and I think my hon. Friends who have had a good deal of correspondence with me know that I try to do what I can. As I sit in my room at the Admiralty I feel sometimes like, I think it was, Faithful, but I have not read my "Pilgrim's Progress" for some time. On one shoulder sat an angel, and on the other shoulder sat a devil, each trying to draw him in opposite directions. On one of my shoulders I am continually reminded of a little group of dockyard Members, and my heart goes out to what they want every time. But on my other shoulder sits a very large man in the shape of Sir Eric Geddes, representing a good deal of public opinion, and I sometimes find my head, which would like to follow my heart, pulled back. We are doing what we can, and I can promise the House that we shall continue so to do. We can agree most thoroughly and most heartily to the first part of this Motion. We are trying to carry out the spirit of the second part. I do ask the House to believe that, and, in view of that, I hope my hon. Friend will withdraw this Motion, and that the House will allow him to do so.


After having listened to the very sympathetic reply of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty, and having considered very carefully what he has said, the endeavour he has made to answer all the questions that have been put to him, and the desire to find employment for these two classes of men, namely, the ex-artificer apprentices and the ex-dockyard apprentices, I would like to ask the House to allow me to withdraw my Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.