HC Deb 09 November 1944 vol 404 cc1510-1
6. Mr. Driberg

asked the Minister of Labour if he is aware that conscientious objectors, desiring to serve in the Merchant Navy, have been refused permission to do so on the ground that it is not a non-combatant service; and if, in view of this ruling, he will reconsider his decision not to treat merchant seamen as members of the Forces for the purposes of reinstatement in civil employment.

Mr. Bevin

I am aware that conscientious objectors are not accepted for service in the Merchant Navy. The decision referred to by my hon. Friend is not one given by me; it is consequent on the provisions of the Reinstatement in Civil Employment Act recently passed by Parliament.

Mr. Driberg

But can the right hon. Gentleman not do something more for those who have been in actual action against the enemy througout the war? Is it not rather unfair that, because of some technicality of status, they should be debarred from the rights of other Servicemen?

Mr. Bevin

The issue is not quite so simple as that. Those responsible for the men in the Mercantile Marine are absolutely averse to their being classed as military forces at all, and desire that the Merchant Service should be retained as a civil employment. It is difficult for me, or for the Government, to go against the considered opinion of those who are responsible.

Mr. Godfrey Nicholson

Does that mean that my right hon. Friend is not going to do anything in the way of reinstatement?

Mr. Bevin

Those who have gone into the Forces or into the Navy or on what is called P.124, have reinstatement in the Mercantile Marine. All their rights are reserved. If we open this question for one type of civilian employment, I can assure hon. Members that we open it for every type of civilian employment in the country as regards reinstatement, which would be adminstratively impossible.

Mr. Shinwell

Is my right hon. Friend aware that this view is not acceptable to the National Seamen's Union or the Officers' Union? While I appreciate the difficulties that beset him on this matter, may I ask him to bear in mind that men serving on merchant vessels are not always in a non-combatant position and that they very often have to bear arms?

Mr. Bevin

Men who are in a combatant position under Navy discipline are guaranteed rights of reinstatement. When my hon. Friend says that the National Seamen's Union is not in favour of the course which I am pursuing, I would advise him to ask them again. In negotiation, and as recently as yesterday, I was asked not to change this situation.