HC Deb 11 June 1959 vol 606 cc1337-48

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. E. Wakefield.]

11.11 p.m.

Miss Joan Vickers (Plymouth, Devonport)

I am very grateful to you, Sir, for having selected this important subject for the Adjournment debate tonight, for it deals with gallant men who have served their country well. The Admiralty Constabulary is recruited from the Royal Marine Police, Admiralty civil servants, mostly ex-Royal Navy, and the Royal Marine Special Reserve. As my hon. Friend the Civil Lord knows, there are many anomalies in the recruitment of these people. I shall not go into detail, as time is limited, but they are all people who are affected by what I shall say.

I understand that on 7th February, 1958, a letter was received from the Admiralty by the general secretary of the Admiralty Constabulary Officers' Association saying: … the strength of the Admiralty Constabulary has been falling fairly steadily over eighteen months or more, keeping in step with the reduction in commitments. No recruiting has gone on since 1956.

… as a result of 'Way Ahead' investigations and the long-term Defence Review, and other economies which must be made, they have come to the conclusion that it will not be possible to achieve the required reductions in numbers without supplementing normal wastage, either by lowering the normal age for retirement, or by discharging younger men on grounds of redundancy. I understand that there are 900 men under the age of fifty and that the Admiralty decided against discharging them because in ten to fifteen years the Force would have become uneven with too few experienced men.

Therefore, the Admiralty decided to discharge men past the minimum retiring age. A rough guide was given to the men up to the year 1963. I understand that the figures are as follows: the present state of the Force is 2,300; it will go down to 2,080 in 1960 and to 1,880 in 1961, and by 1963 may be 1,600. The Association is particularly worried about this sentence in the letter: The retirement age will be reviewed again at frequent intervals, with the object of establishing as soon as possible whether any further lowering of the age will be necessary during 1959, and I will let you know the result as soon as a decision is taken. Everything is still very uncertain. The letter ended: I am sorry to insert a note of urgency. We must start action in the next week or two, and give the men immediately concerned as much notice as possible. The letter was sent to the men on 7th February and I understand that notices were dispatched on 17th March, which is very short notice. The whole Force is to be reduced from 3,500 to approximately 1,600.

I suggest first that the Force is being wound down too quickly. Consideration was given to an 80-hour fortnight working shift instead of the present 88-hour fortnight working shift. This will enable more men to stay on. Secondly, compensation should be given to the men who had not anticipated being retired until they reached the age of 65, and finally, in view of the fact that extra men are being recruited, those who are living in Admiralty accommodation should be allowed to remain there if they wish, as they would have great difficulty in getting other accommodation. I would suggest that they should remain on the basis of paying similar rent to that operating in the local authority area in which they happen to be. The normal wastage of men is about 50 a quarter, and therefore the Admiralty want an extra 50 above the normal to achieve the 250 wanted at the present time. The lowering of the age as proposed by the Admiralty means the dismissal of between 80 and 90 men.

On 14th February, 1958, there was a meeting of negotiating teams, which was adjourned to 18th February. I consider that the Constables' Association took a reasonable attitude. They said they had anticipated action by the Admiralty. I am therefore asking tonight for some definite, fair compensation. A letter was received on 1st April from the Treasury, stating: The position of the staff who at the age of 60 years have less than the 20 years' service is dealt with by persuading them if possible to complete 20 years' reckonable service is dealt with by enabling them if possible to complete 20 years reckonable service. But where it is not considered possible to do so, there is no entitlement to superannuation allowance other than reckonable service at the date of retirement. I suggest to my hon. Friend that these men, through no fault of their own, are being deprived of their anticipated retirement pension. They are not eligible for the old-age pension until they are 65. In a further statement from the Admiralty, No. CE 58238/ 252/ C.E.B. 1955, it is stated: An officer who has not completed 20 years' service reckonable for superannuation purposes at the age of 60 years, and who is fit and efficient, may, if he wishes, and subject to the needs of the Department, remain in his existing grade until he has completed 20 years' service, or reached 65 years, whichever is the earlier. Men reaching retirement at 64 have no hope in most areas of getting employment. Therefore, I think compensation could be paid under clause BR 2102 (Part 2) of the Management Code.

There have, I understand, been three meetings with the Association of Chief Constables and members of CE IV. The Association opposed the scheme from the beginning and said that they thought it was unfortunate that there was no consultation before the letter of 7th February was sent notifying the changes. Therefore, the position of the men between the ages of 60 and 65 is still uncertain. It was put forward by the Association that they should get consideration on the lines of the prison warders, who, I understand, have a maximum age of 60 years. If they serve after 55 they can count the extra years as payable in reckoning their pension. This was put forward by the Association, but I understand that it was turned down as not being a practicable suggestion. They did not consider there was an analogy between this situation and that of the prison warders.

Therefore, as no notice was given to the Association and no discussions took place before the first letter went out, and, owing to an unfortunate accident to one of the permanent secretaries, negotiations became very protracted, no one could get a clear understanding on whether the suggestions that the Association put forward would be accepted, and the whole matter was considerably delayed over a period of months.

They asked if they could see the Board of Admiralty, and I regret very much that this request was not granted. They were not allowed to meet the Board of Admiralty, although I think they had a right in view of all the circumstances—for there is to be a cut of 700 men—to put their views forward.

Many of these constables had planned their lives on the basis that they would retire at the age of 65. Many of them have mortgage commitments and quite a number of them find themselves in considerable difficulties. As I mentioned before, they will be unable to get another job. Therefore, I should like my hon. Friend the Civil Lord to consider giving them compensation which, I believe, he may be able to do under B.R.2103 in which it is stated: Compensation allowances for abolition of office. I am going to suggest that the offices which these men held have been abolished, anyhow as far as they are concerned. A great many places have been shut down and therefore no further people will be put into those offices. I believe that under Section 6 of the Superannuation Act, 1909, a civil servant who is retired in consequence of the abolition of office on reorganisation by which greater efficiency and economy can be effected, can be awarded reasonable and just compensation not exceeding the amount of pension or gratuity for which his service qualifies him.

I think we can prove tonight that the offices formerly occupied by these men have been entirely swept away and that many establishments have been closed. Should my hon. Friend the Civil Lord be inclined to take action on the lines of the various suggestions I have made, I hope that he will then consider awarding these men, who have, in my opinion, given really magnificent service not only in the Admiralty Constabulary, but also in their former occupations in the Royal Marines or in the Royal Navy, compensation based on the pay which they would receive anyhow up to their final year of service when forced to retire. Now, I gather, they will not even get that.

The Admiralty has been very generous to other Service men, and I would like to suggest to my hon. Friend tonight that he will be treating these men very harshly and with less justice than the other members of the Service if he does not see that they get equal compensation so that in retirement they will not have to go on the dole for a number of years or live in considerable difficulty through lack of consideration being given to them and because, through no fault of their own, the Admiralty has many commitments and has done away with their services. I hope that my hon. Friend will consider sympathetically the points I have made.

11.23 p.m.

Mr. A. G. Bottomley (Rochester and Chatham)

I am grateful to the hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth, Devon-port (Miss Vickers) for kindly affording me the opportunity to join in making a plea to the Civil Lord that these constables employed by the Admiralty should receive as generous treatment as possible.

My points will be few, mainly because I know that there are other hon. Members who sit for dockyard towns who also have an interest. They happen to sit on the Government side. It is the Government who can do something about this matter, and, therefore, I feel that any pressure which hon. Gentleman opposite can bring to bear on the Civil Lord will influence him much more than a plea from myself as a Member of the Opposition.

I also had correspondence from the Admiralty Constabulary Association. Normally I take the view that matters of this kind are best handled by the Association or by the trade union concerned. Had this communication come from one of the constables as a constituent I should have referred the matter to the Association. But now, in fact, it is the Association which is asking Parliament to intervene, and I give all the support I can to the case so eloquently pleaded by the hon. Lady. The points which she made are worthy of consideration.

At present, these men are working rather long hours and the suggestion has been made that they might work more reasonable hours so that more can be employed.

Then there was the question of compensation. This is a matter on which I feel very strongly, particularly in view of what has happened in recent months. We all remember the case of the British Aluminium Company, which was taken over by other interests. Lord Portal was called upon to retire and received thousands of pounds as compensation for loss of office. What is good enough for those who manage industry is good enough, too, for those employed in the ordinary way as labourers or constabulary, or whatever their form of employment may be. I think there is a case for meting out compensation to these constables who are displaced. I would say that this goes for all who work in the dockyard towns who may be displaced, either by the closing of dockyards or by redundancy, which, as the Civil Lord knows, is bound to happen at Chatham because of the run down of the Navy.

It is a reasonable plea, if some of these displaced constables happen to be discharged when they had expected to be kept on till they reached the age of 65 and whose homes are there, that they should not be turned out into the streets. There ought to be reasonable arrangements for them to continue to live in their present homes, at least till they can make other and satisfactory arrangements.

We had a debate this week on national superannuation. It is recognised that we are reaching the stage in our society where there are many old people, and we have rightly said that we do not want the young to be worked to death to keep the older members of the population. The Government ought to practise what they preach and set an example. Here is a chance for them to set an example.

These men should be kept on till full retirement age, not necessarily as constables, if there are too many; but they ought to be employed in some way and not thrown on the scrapheap.

This highlights what has been happening over recent months. The Government have enabled a policy to be followed whereby men advancing towards retirement age, in the coal mines, on the railways, in the dockyards and elsewhere, are dismissed but cannot register as unemployed. There are thousands of these people who really are unemployed, and if they were added to the number of registered unemployed the figure of unemployment in the country would be truly shown to be higher than the Government figures record.

I do plead with the Civil Lord to do all possible to meet the request of his hon. Friend the Member for Devonport, a request which, I am sure, will be supported by other hon. Members who represent, as I do, dockyard interests.

11.27 p.m.

Sir Jocelyn Lucas (Portsmouth, South)

I rise to support my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Miss Vickers). If men are retired before the proper time, perhaps without the full pension which they would normally receive, it may well cause very great hardship. If there be plenty of employment they may get other jobs, but if there is not, or if there is any unemployment at all in their district, then it is very hard for them, as it is hard for anybody over 60, to get jobs. A man may get a job in some position of trust as a watchman or something like that, but he will not get the same rate of pay.

It does seem that special help should be given to try to see that all these men get a job and, if they cannot get a job, get some compensation to make up for what they have lost. They may be paying instalments upon their houses or upon washing machines or any of these modern luxuries, and will be put into very great hardship by being prematurely discharged from positions which they had every right to believe they would hold till they were 65. I hope the Government will do their very best to see that something is done to put this matter right.

11.28 p.m.

Brigadier Terence Clarke (Portsmouth, West)

I should like to support my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Miss Vickers) and my colleague my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, South (Sir J. Lucas). I think that if these men had a really strong union, something like the Electrical Trades Union referred to by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bottomley)—he said they had a union—the Civil Lord would be very worried and would not have come here tonight but would probably have given way long ago. I want him to look at this generously and to remember that this small body of men are all ex-Service men and deserving of something better than suddenly being put on the rubbish heap two years before they get the old-age pension. If they were labelled officers or ex-officers they would, I am sure, have got golden bowlers and gratuities and, perhaps, an additional pension. Perhaps he will tell the First Lord how well he has done for the rest of the Navy, and persuade him to do as well for the Admiralty Constabulary. I hope that he will tell us tonight that he will make every effort to persuade the First Lord in this matter.

11.30 p.m.

The Civil Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. T. G. D. Galbraith)

It is always a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Miss Vickers) in a debate. As is usual, she has presented her case very reasonably and with great charm, and she has had the benefit of the support of several other Members representing dockyard constituencies, which has widened the scope of the debate. Her main charge has been not so much of any lack of efficiency in the Admiralty Constabulary as of the way in which the rundown has been handled by the Admiralty. Because of this I would like to give the background to this rundown.

Two processes have been at work. First, the use of modern police techniques has enabled manpower complements to be reduced and, at the same time, efficiency to be increased. The second process—to which my hon. Friend referred—has been the reduction in the shore support of the Navy which followed the 1957 Defence White Paper and the work of the "Way Ahead" Committee. Thus, at one and the same time the number of establishments for the constabulary to guard has been reduced and the number of men required to guard those establishments which remain has declined. Faced, therefore, with this problem of a declining manpower requirement in the Constabulary, what was the Admiralty to do? That was the problem.

My hon. Friend has suggested that we might have left the matter to what she would call normal wastage. I only wish it had been possible for us to do this. In round figures, the facts are more or less as she stated. The rundown has been from approximately 3,100 to 1,600 —a reduction of 1,500 posts. Normal wastage and retirement would have provided only 1,000 of these, so that if my hon. Friend's plan had been followed it would still have left a gap of 500, which would have to have been dealt with by some other means. Furthermore, in order to obtain these figures it would have been necessary to impose a complete ban on recruitment.

Such a policy would have been absolutely impracticable, because of its effect on the age structure of the force. We must not have too many elderly men in the police force—this meets a point raised by my hon. Friend—because the police force has to perform many active duties, such as fire-fighting, to say nothing of foot patrols in all kinds of weather in isolated parts of the country. To be efficient any police force requires a constant influx of new blood, and this is particularly true of a force such as the Admiralty Constabulary.

I am not certain if we have not already gone too far in this process of curtailing recruitment. At present, 70 per cent. of the force is over 50 years of age, and that is rather on the high side for a properly balanced force. Technically it would have been possible for us to carry out the rundown much more speedily, and if we are open to criticism we should be criticised not for acting too quickly but rather for going too slowly. However, in the circumstances we thought it right to phase the reductions over a period, so we have spread the rundown over eight years in order to reduce personal hardship and disturbance to a minimum consistent with the maintenance of an effective police force.

My hon. Friend has spoken very movingly about the hardships which may be caused by a rundown such as this, and I have the greatest sympathy with the men who have been affected by the rundown. It is probably no consolation to them to know that they are not alone and that there are many other employees of the Admiralty, both industrial and non-industrial, in the dockyards and elsewhere, who are in exactly the same position due to the contraction of the Navy.

When I announced the closures of naval establishments following the defence review in February, 1958, I think that the news was generally welcomed by the House as a justifiable means of saving money and increasing the efficiency of the Fleet, and I must ask my hon. Friends and the right hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham to look at this problem of the Admiralty Constabulary in the wider context and to realise that if we are to have the benefits of increased efficiency and all possible economies we have to face the sort of difficulties which we are discussing tonight.

My hon. Friend has made a plea that those who are discharged before reaching the age of 65 should have some sort of special gratuity or compensation paid to them. As I am sure she knows, public servants have no guarantee of employment beyond the age of 60 and it is no within the Admiralty's discretion to alter in any way the pensions and gratuaties which are paid on retirement. They are all laid down in the various superannuation Acts, and any change in these Acts would involve legislation, which it would be inappropriate to discuss in an Adjournment debate such as this.

The only thing that the Admiralty could do would be to keep on men that it no longer required. This would not only be costly and inefficient but it would prevent recruitment for a number of years, and, with the best will in the world, as I have said, we simply could not contemplate this.

My hon. Friend also suggested that, quite apart from the merits of the rundown, we should not have started it without much more discussion and advance notice to the men concerned. That was another main point which she made. Although the rundown started in 1955, it was not found necessary to begin premature retirements until June, 1958, because of the fact that we had stopped recruitment in the meantime. When premature retirements could no longer be avoided the staff associations were told in February and exhaustive discussions took place. In fact, between February and September, no fewer than five meetings were held, including one under the chairmanship of the Permanent Secretary, and although the rundown continued while these negotiations were proceeding, the staff associations were assured that any alterations made as a result of the negotiations would be given retrospective effect. I do not think that my hon. Friend can fairly claim, therefore, that the staff associations have not been kept very fully in the picture. We have also been to great pains to give those who have retired early as much notice as possible of the retirement. In practice this is usually between three and six months and we allow those who have only a few months to serve before completing an extra year for pension to stay on in order to qualify for a higher rate of pension.

My hon. Friend the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Sir J. Lucas) also referred to the housing difficulties of those who are retiring and suggested that as we are running down the Admiralty Constabulary there ought to be houses to spare. Unfortunately, the position is not quite as simple as that. There are only 600 Admiralty houses available for Admiralty constables and as at the moment there are 2,200 constables, and even when we reach our target there will be 1,600 constables, it is obvious that there are not enough houses to do what he suggests. We recognise that there is a housing problem, however, and we will do what we can to help tenants who are experiencing difficulties in finding new accommodation.

My hon. Friend the Member for Devonport asked me to make a statement about our future policy. The main lines will be to continue the rundown which, I have described so as to achieve a total strength of 1,600 by the end of 1963. I am afraid that this will involve more retirements under the age of 65, but I do not expect that it will be necessary to lower the retirement age below 62. Meanwhile, we are starting a small amount of recruitment later in the year in order to begin to bring the force back into a proper balance.

I trust that this debate will have helped to clear the air a little. I am afraid that I probably have not satisfied my hon. Friend entirely but I hope that I have satisfied the House that we are carrying out these reductions in as humane and considerate a manner as possible without jeopardising the contribution which a smaller police force can make to the new streamlined shore support of the Navy. That is the point. They have to play their part in this run down just as much as have other parts of the Navy.

I wish to conclude by paying a tribute to the spirit and morale of the Admiralty Constabulary, and to the excellent way in which it has responded to the challenges and problems of this difficult period. I am sure that the modern police force now being created will be a force that will worthily continue, and even improve on, the fine traditions of its predecessors.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at nineteen minutes to Twelve o'clock.