HC Deb 02 February 1966 vol 723 cc1251-6

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

11.28 p.m.

Mr. Adam Hunter (Dunfermline Burghs)

I welcome this opportunity of raising a matter which is of great concern to one of my constituents, recognising that I should be failing in my duty were I not to submit to my hon. Friend the details of the case of Robert Bogle in the hope that there will be a complete vindication of Bogle from the implied imputations arising from the incident when his work-pass for entry into Her Majesty's Dockyard at Rosyth was withdrawn.

I am acutely aware that a case of this kind can be extremely delicate and fraught with difficulties for it could involve such questions as the country's security, the integrity and good name of an individual and my own position regarding the correctness of raising my constituent's case on the Floor of the House of Commons.

Robert Bogle, of 28 Melville Street, Lochgelly, was a coalminer until 27th April, 1965, when he was accepted as a building labourer with a building contractor, J. R. & A. Adams, of Lochgelly, a firm which had work going on inside Rosyth Dockyard under appointment of the Ministry of Public Building and Works. Bogle was permitted to work for this contractor until 24th August, 1965, in a section of the dockyard known as H.M.S. "Caledonia". For the whole of the four months he was in the dockyard, with the exception of two weeks, Bogle was in the H.M.S. "Caledonia" part of the dockyard.

On 24th August he was simply told that he would no longer be granted a work-pass to enter the dockyard. His employer had no alternative, but to tell him that he must consider himself paid off. Bogle had no idea why this should have happened to him and he made every endeavour to find out why the work-pass had been withdrawn. His foreman could not give an explanation. Bogle went to responsible local officials of the Ministry of Public Building and Works. They had no knowledge of the withdrawal of the work-pass and referred him to the Admiralty police in the dockyard. They, too, according to Bogle, disclaimed any knowledge of the matter and suggested that he go back to the Ministry. Bogle claims that he tried for two days to find out the reason for the loss of his job.

On 27th August he sought assistance from his Member of Parliament. I immediately telephoned the secretary to the Admiral Superintendent, who informed me that he was in no position to say why the work-pass had been stopped. I also wrote to the Admiral Superintendent that same afternoon asking for an explanation in view of Bogle's repeated assertion that he had no political affiliations, no criminal record, nor had he been a member of any peace movement.

The following weekend I had a telephone call from the Admiral Superintendent's secretary saying that Bogle would be readmitted into the dockyard, but he still could not say why he had been refused entry in the first place. A few days later the official letter reached me stating that Bogle could restart work. The fact that Bogle was to be allowed back into the dockyard indicated that the question of security was not involved.

My letter to the Admiral Superintendent was passed to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy, who replied on 12th October. The central theme of that reply caused me considerable disquiet. My hon. Friend stated in that part of his reply to which I have referred: It is part of the normal responsibility of the management of the Dockyard to determine, at their discretion, the suitability of individuals proposed for entry into the Yard, either as direct Navy Department employees or with contractors. In this matter the management must exercise their judgment and must be as free as any other employer to refuse any particular applicant. It is only to be expected that individuals admitted on a short-term basis may not be thought sufficiently good candidates for longer-term employment of a nature which would require the issue of a standing Dockyard Pass. I wrote again to my hon. Friend on 31st October asking for payment for loss of earnings for Bogle. The claim was rejected in a reply on 19th November, but my hon. Friend said, in the last paragraph: We would be prepared to consider on its merits any further application by Mr. Bogle to enter a Navy Department establishment, having regard to the nature of the employment involved. Bogle did not take the opportunity of recommencing work early in September with the contractor in the dockyard but elected to go to a job in England. I feel that he was anxious to escape from his recent experience in the dockyard and found it easier to cast himself off from the dockyard environment and seek work elsewhere. He has now returned to Scotland and may apply for his former job.

My chief concern is the position of other employees in the dockyard. I should like my hon. Friend to clarify the following points. Could the management refuse entry to any one of them without reasons being given? Was Bogle's case an isolated case? Had he not come to me and had I not intervened, what would have been his position? How many workers in the dockyard have had this treatment meted out to them and just accepted it without making any effort to gain redress?

It would appear that a mistake was made somewhere along the line in some Department If so, why was this not admitted? Surely it would have been preferable to allowing the matter to assume the proportions of having to be ventilated in public. If, perchance, my constituent has not been scrupulously honest with me and had, indeed, some small blemish on his character which he did not think relevant to the acquiring and holding of a job in the dockyard, I submit to my hon. Friend that in view of his willingness to readmit Bogle, anything of a criminal nature could not be very serious.

The dockyard management must feel now that he is acceptable. Why, therefore, not before? All that Bogle asks is that the doubt placed upon his character be dispelled. I concede the point that the fact that he has been offered re-employment with the contractor in the dockyard goes a long way to reassure him on that score, but all he wants to hear is that a mistake was made and that no stigma attached to him personally.

This case is of particular interest to me, for in my short experience as a Member of Parliament two other cases of a similar character have been dealt with by me. Consequently, I am given to wondering how many others there are each year throughout the country. In a democracy such as ours, and with the thought that we consider ourselves part of the "free world", the rights of individuals must be upheld at all times. It is the elementary right of every person who is dismissed from his job that he ought to know why, no matter the circumstances. I await my hon. Friend's reply with interest.

11.40 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu)

My hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline Burghs (Mr. Adam Hunter) has raised, in the first instance, the individual case of one of his constituents, Mr. Bogle, but in the course of his speech he has somewhat widened the line of approach to this issue and thereby, I think, made it even more interesting and more important. I am grateful to him for so doing. I propose to deal with the individual case, but I shall traverse a little of the wider ground which my hon. Friend covered and, in my answer, intermingle both the individual case and the general principles involved.

Anyone who, like my hon. Friend or myself, knows anything about naval establishments and especially about the Royal dockyards realises that, for a variety of reasons, there has to be some sort of control over the admission of people to work there. This control operates not only on the permanent staff of the establishments, but also on employees of outside contractors who from time to time may wish to enter establishments to do particular jobs. The control varies in strictness, depending on the nature of the establishment, the type of work on which a man is to be engaged, and, to some extent, on the length of time he can be expected to be working in the establishment. Normally, a contractor who is doing a job in a dockyard is asked to send in well beforehand a list of names of the employees he proposes to introduce into the dockyard for the particular work, The reason for this is that a check can be made on the names before they start work. So much for the general procedure.

I turn now to the particular case of Mr. Bogle. Last year, he had been working on the swimming pool in the training establishment H.M.S. "Caledonia". My hon. Friend was wrong here. "Caledonia" is not part of the dockyard, but is a separate establishment, a training establishment, and work on the swimming pool there is not something which requires a high degree of checking. But after Mr. Bogle had been working there for some time, a matter of weeks, I think —he was off sick for a while—on 10th August last, without going through the usual procedure and without giving any warning at all, the contractor transferred Mr. Bogle and a group of others to cope with a job inside Rosyth Dockyard itself. So that work on this job should not be held up, this whole group of men were admitted on a group day-to-day pass until such time as a check could be completed.

Subsequently, the contractor asked for permission for the whole group, including Mr. Bogle, to work in the dockyard on a long-term basis. On 24th August, when the checks had all been completed—they were quite routine checks—it was decided at departmental level that permission for Mr. Bogle to work in the dockyard should be withdrawn. Two days later, my hon. Friend, watching, as always, and rightly, the interests of his constituents, telephoned, and subsequently wrote, to the Admiral Superintendent asking for an explanation. Immediately on receipt of this call, the Admiral Superintendent sent for the necessary papers, and, having had a good look at the case, he decided that he would reverse the departmental decision. All this was done without any publicity at all, and there the matter might have rested so far as the interests of Mr. Bogle were concerned.

Here I must say that the decision at departmental level had nothing to do with security. There has never been the slightest suggestion that there is any danger of disloyalty on Mr. Bogle's part, or of subversive activities. Nothing of the kind was involved. The fact is that there were events in Mr. Bogle's background which suggested that he might not be suitable for long-term work in the dockyard and it was on the basis of these events of past history that the departmental decision was taken. However, the Admiral Superintendent, reviewing the case, and while accepting that these events justified a degree of caution in the department about employing Mr. Bogle, considered that they were now sufficiently far back in his history to warrant the issue of a pass.

I do not think that this was harsh treatment, or that Mr. Bogle has any claim for compensation. He was not employed by the dockyard, but by an outside contractor. The fact that the pass was withdrawn—as it turned out, temporarily—need not have prevented Mr. Bogle from doing other work for the contractor elsewhere. The moment the pass was restored the contractor offered Mr. Bogle his work back in the dockyard and Mr. Bogle, for reasons of his own, refused it. Even had the position been different, I would still have said that he would have no claim. His background did give rise to doubts about his suitability for dockyard employment. As soon as the decision at a lower level was queried, it was reversed on review.

I have to say that no one has an absolute right to work in the Royal dockyards. It is essential that managements should have the right to exclude not only security risks, but people whose background suggests they may be unsuitable. Having said that, I must add that it is equally essential that managements should take the greatest care in exercising this right and that anyone who has been working in a Dockyard and is subsequently excluded should have the opportunity of referring his case to higher authority, either directly, or through his M.P., or through his trade union, and thus make certain that his case is fully reviewed. This happened in Mr. Bogle's case and I shall make it my business to see that it happens in any other cases.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twelve Minutes to Twelve o'clock.