HC Deb 09 February 1927 vol 202 cc123-6

(by Private Notice) asked the First Lord of the Admiralty if he is aware that it has been publicly stated that 800 workmen are to be discharged from His Majesty's Dockyard, Portsmouth, and whether this is correct; and, if so, if it is owing to the transfer of men from Rosyth and Pembroke Dockyards that this reduction is to be made, and if he will consider a special reduction scheme for established men who desire to go on pension before reaching the age of 60 years, such as was authorised in 1922 for the reduction of naval personnel; and if he is aware that the addition of two or three years' service to the period already served would induce many established dockyard men of over 55 years, especially those recently transferred, to take their pension and with s. better chance of getting work outside the yard than when over 60 years of age, and avoid the great reduction of hired man contemplated and the cost to the Insurance Fund?

The FIRST LORD of the ADMIRALTY (Mr. Bridgeman)

The number of men to be discharged from Portsmouth Dockyard is about 600. The necessity for the discharges at Portsmouth is not due to the transfer of men from Rosyth and Pembroke Docks; those transfers were necessitated by the reduction of Rosyth and Pembroke Docks to a care and maintenance basis, and if those yards had not been so reduced it would have been necessary to send to them a proportion of the work which now has to be carried out in the southern dockyards, including Portsmouth. I regret that the suggestion that a special scheme be devised for promoting the premature retirement of established men, with superannuation awards, cannot be entertained.


Can the right hon. Gentleman give the reason why it cannot be entertained, considering that the Insurance Fund will be raided to the same amount, or nearly the same amount, as the scheme would cost?


Yes, the Ad miralty have taken that into consideration.


May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the 2,000 men which we have seen notified as the total reduction will be spread evenly over all the dockyards?


I do not exactly know what my hon. and gallant Friend would call evenly, but there will be some discharges from Sheerness and there will be a proportion of them from other dockyards: they are not all from Portsmouth.


Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the great confusion which is being caused at the dockyard towns owing to this policy of the Government, as he indicated when Rosyth and Pembroke were closed that there would not be discharges in the southern yards and that there would be more work for them, and in these circumstances cannot he entertain the suggestion of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Portsmouth (Sir B. Falle) for mitigating the severity- of the discharges and allowing men who are perfectly willing to go to take their pension at an earlier age, and why is that suggestion impracticable?


I said it was for financial reasons that I thought it would be impracticable. I do not know to what the hon. Gentleman is referring when he says I said there would be no discharges. I do not think I ever said anything of the kind.


In view of the fact that there is a Whitley Council in existence for dealing with problems affecting these yards, will the First Lord of the Admiralty again have this matter of discharges discussed by that Whitley Council?


No. The discharges are in pursuance of the policy which this House desired the Admiralty to endeavour to carry out in the interests of economy.


When the right hon. Gentleman says that he cannot entertain the suggestion of the hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth for financial reasons, does he bear in mind the great cost of maintaining these unemployed which falls on the Unemployment Insurance Fund?


Yes, I do, but it is a question of principle. If you are going to have a scheme for adding years of service to men discharged before their time, it could not be limited to a very few. It is one that the Treasury would have to consider with regard to other Departments as well as the Admiralty.


Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that he followed that principle when he made the discharges from the Navy, and that naval officers were allowed to take their pensions at an earlier date?


That should be debated on the Estimates.