HC Deb 26 July 1939 vol 350 cc1611-6

Motion made, and Question proposed, That an additional number, not exceeding 12,000 Officers, Seamen, Boys and Royal Marines, be employed for the Sea Service, borne on the books of His Majesty's Ships and at the Royal Marine Divisions, for the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1940,beyond the number already provided in the Navy Estimates for the year

10.44 p.m.

Mr. Ammon

One finds it rather difficult to return to routine business after the discussion we have had in the House during the day. I want to raise a point which was referred to at Question Time by my hon. Friend the Member for Whitechapel (Mr. J. H. Hall) concerning a very estimable body of men, naval pensioners, who are concerned about their position in the recent calling up. It is in order to get a statement from the Parliamentary Secretary, more than anything else to reassure these men, that I raise the point now. I am referring to people who have done their naval service. They have put in 22 years service, entitling them to full pension, which often means that they have done 25 years service, three years of which did not count for pension. They complain of being called up with the Reserve just now because they feel that having reached a certain time of life, nearly middle age, having done their full naval service and received their pensions, they are in positions which it would be very difficult for them to get back again if they should lose them by being called up.

They complain that they have had no option to join the Reserve, that they have not got any retaining fee or clothing allowance. Some of them have written to my right hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) asking whether they are to be penalised because they have done 10 years more service than others. I know that these men in addition to receiving their pensions will receive full pay, and it will comfort them a bit if they can be assured that their services are fully appreciated. These men have given good service to the Navy, they are men of the highest character, and indeed, have been the backbone of our Navy. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us why they have been called up and whether there is any real necessity considering that they already have done their full service. They are men well on in years, most of them in good positions, and they will be under a very great disadvantage if they lose their present positions by being re-called to the Navy.

10.47 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty (Mr. Shakespeare)

I must apologise to the hon. Member and to the Committee that unfortunately I was not in my place last night when the Navy Vote was reached, but I was engaged on official business outside, and could not get back in time. The hon. Member has raised a question of the inconvenience and perhaps hardship which will be suffered by a certain section of the men who are being called up, and who have done their full service. The hon. Member will realise that every officer and every naval rating joins under the full understanding that at the end of his term of service he is liable to be called up in certain circumstances. Nevertheless, we have tried to make the calling up as free from inconvenience as possible. They are to get their full pensions and full rate on active service and also an outfit allowance. The hon. Member has referred to the good spirit of these men. I should like to endorse what he has said. I am sure that the Board of Admiralty recognises, as does every Member who has served in the Board of Admiralty, how much this country owes to the reservists, who do suffer a great deal of inconvenience by being called up at a moment's notice. Many of them, have to make arrangements suddenly in connection with their families and businesses, their civil and social obligations, and when many of them have fixed their holidays. Then comes along this urgent summons requiring them to report on the 31st July. I am sure that the House and the nation will desire to express how much they appreciate the spirit of these men, their devotion to duty and their loyal service, and to say what added confidence the nation enjoys by reason of the fact that this Reserve Fleet is being put into commission. The confidence inspired by the mobilisation of this fleet of 130 vessels must show the pensioners and reservists what the country thinks of them.

We will try to deal with cases of severe hardship, and we have instructed the commodores, in their own discretion, to deal with such cases. When these men report to their depots they can represent their cases through the usual channels, and the commodores have been given instructions to deal with exceptional cases by liberating these men. These men who are doing duty in August and September will feel that they are performing as great a service to their country as ever they have performed during their naval service.

10.51 p.m.

Mr. A. V. Alexander

I appreciate the opportunity which has occurred for the House to pay a tribute to the Reserve men who have been mobilised for the purpose of showing what is our Reserve strength. It is important that at this stage we should make it plain to our own countrymen, and to Europe, that the Reserve Fleet is there and is capable of action. It is from that point of view that we ought to recognise what amounts very often to a sacrifice by these men. I have received a number of communications from men in the Reserve, some of whom seem a little doubtful about their position. It is necessary to make clear to our naval pensioners that their contract for pensions in respect of long-term service connotes that they have a liability to be mobilised for a limited period in a time of national emergency. Until that is made clear perhaps there will be some continuing misunderstanding in the matter.

I am glad that the Parliamentary Secretary has paid a tribute to these men, for the stiffening of our naval resources in time of emergency by these men is essential. I hope these men who have written to me, and whose names obviously cannot be revealed, will gather from these proceedings that their services are really appreciated. I hope there will be an opportunity on another occasion to say a word about the Fleet Supplementary Reserve. I understand that the Board of Admiralty have given attention to some of the grievances of the Supplementary Reserve, and I hope that the men will understand that their grievances are being attended to and that we want to get as large an amount of unity as we can in this service.

I hope the publicity which the Press will give to the Parliamentary Secretary's statement will have that effect. In regard to the Parliamentary Secretary's statement on the acquisition of a considerable number of trawlers, which must be an auxiliary addition to the Fleet strength at the present time, I hope that the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro Jones) and other hon. Members, that those men might possibly be faced with unemployment as a result of this acquisition, will be considered as far as possible in regard to their being absorbed into work for the Royal Navy. It would be very comforting if the Parliamentary Secretary could give an assurance that this will be considered.

10.56 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel Heneage

I should like to say how anxious the people in Grimsby feel that these men should not be unem- ployed. I had an opportunity in a supplementary question this afternoon of pressing this point. I hope very much to hear that the question of their employment has been satisfactorily settled. There is one point I should like to raise with regard to the reservists. A good many of the reservists are small farmers and smallholders, and I hope that it may be possible to allow them to take their service a little later in the year, so that they can do their harvest.

10.57 p.m.

Mr. Garro Jones

Before the hon. Gentleman replies to the points that have been raised, I should like to say a word or two with regard to the acquisition of 80 of the beat trawlers of our fishing fleets. Several hon. Members, I among them, have been pressing upon the Admiralty during the whole of this Parliament that they should take some measures with regard to preserving the strength of our auxiliary fishing vessels, and with regard to those who man them. I do not propose to give any figures, but I am certain that hon. Members would be shocked if I were to give a comparison of the number of patrol and auxiliary vessels available to the Navy at the present time and the number available during the last War. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not think that, by the acquisition of 80 trawlers, he has solved the problem of patrol and auxiliary vessels.

The Deputy-Chairman

I would point out to the hon. Member that we are now discussing Vote A and not the number of vessels.

Mr. Garro Jones

With great respect to you, Colonel Clifton Brown, it is impossible to deal with patrol vessels without dealing with the men, or to deal with the men without dealing with the patrol vessels. If by merely switching from the number of vessels to the number of men, I shall thereby bring myself in order, I will do so immediately. I contend that it is impossible to get the men to man these vessels unless they are trained seamen, and they cannot be trained adequately on the type of vessels which are fishing round the ports at the present time. These 80 vessels represent the cream of the fishing fleets, and even so, they do not compare favourably with similar and corresponding vessels which are being built at the present time by Germany. I ask that, instead of purchasing the cream of our fishing fleet, the Admiralty should endeavour to promote some scheme of scrapping the worst and most inefficient vessels and building higher class vessels to take their place, thereby doing a splendid service both to the fishing industry and to the Navy.

10.59 p.m.

Mr. Shakespeare

I should like to give a brief assurance, and to thank the right hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) for adding his tribute to mine as regards the Reserve generally. It is our intention to take up these trawlers with as little inconvenience as possible to the fishing industry. We are not going to purchase the trawlers from one port or two ports; we are going to do it in such a way that it will have the least effect on the fishing fleet. We shall take the trawlers from all over the country. Our own view is that it will not diminish employment in the fishing community. In so far as we limit the number of trawlers there will be equivalent employment for the fishermen. I hope before the House rises to have an opportunity, perhaps at Question Time, of stating the terms of service which it is proposed to offer to the fishermen. We shall really be providing a new source of employment for fishermen who might otherwise be unemployed during the slack period. I assure hon. Members we have these matters very much in mind and I will bear in mind particularly the points raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Louth (Lieut.-Colonel Heneage) and the hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro Jones).

Resolution to be reported To-morrow; Committee to sit again To-morrow.

The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.

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