§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Armstrong.]
§ 11.40 a.m.
§ Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)
I am glad to have the opportunity of raising the case of Able Seaman Michael Goldsworthy, the son of one of my constituents. To me, there is in this case a grave and continuing injustice which, I claim, must now he put right.
I am the last man to snipe at the Navy, for which I have great admiration. In fact, my older brother was called up as a naval cadet during the First World War at the age of 14 and was torpedoed and survived that torpedoing by the age of 14½. Naturally, I was proud of that. We are now 50 years on, however, and we are in peace time, and this is not the time for Nelsonian heroics or for pressgang methods in the British Navy.
My constituent Mr. Goldsworthy, the father of the able seaman, also has an admiration for the Armed Services. It may be his enthusiasm for the Armed Services that has partly led the Navy into this trouble, but I claim that neither father nor son should have been punished for such enthusiasm.
This is not the case of an irresponsible son of an irresponsible father. Far from it. The father is a hard-working patriotic type of man who from his own home 184 runs a small television servicing and rental business, a pay-as-you-view business, which he runs entirely by himself.
In 1960, when aged 15, his son Michael was also fired with enthusiasm for the Navy. To a boy of 15 the advertisements can be grandiloquent and compelling. So both father and son went to the recruiting depôt at Acton. The boy signed on as a boy sailor for three years and nine years thereafter. His father gave his consent.
Both father and son were, I am told, under the impression that the father could purchase his son's discharge at any time, particularly at the age of 18, when his boy service came to an end. Mr. Goldsworthy senior tells me, in fact, that at the recruiting depôt the recruiting officer said, "You can always buy your boy out. It costs more the sooner he comes out." The officer failed to point out, however, that if there was a privilege of discharge, it could be exercised only when the Navy agreed on compassionate grounds, which are seldom agreed to. The net is, therefore, tightly drawn and it is very difficult to get out.
At the age of 17, Michael told his father that he had changed his mind and was not happy in the Navy and did not want to go on. His father went back to the recruiting depot but was told that nothing could be done until the boy was 21, except on strong compassionate grounds, which were not then established, because he was told that the boy had to complete the three years' boy service and then half of the remaining nine years, or an additional 4½ years after completion of his boy service, which would mean his having to serve 7½ years before he could apply to get out of the Navy. That was what his father was told.
In 1965, five years after the boy had signed on—he had been in no trouble up to this stage—he was in H.M.S. "Hardy", a ship lying in Portsmouth Harbour. The boy's story is that he was on duty with another young seaman in the officers' mess. Because of the noise of the Tannoy system, which the officers did not like in the mess, the officers had turned off the Tannoy system. The captain or commander called a muster of the crew through the Tannoy system. The two young seamen did not hear the call. They were arrested and taken before the officer of the day. Although they made their case before the 185 office, Able Seaman Goldsworthy was given nine days' confinement to ship and extra fatigues.
Able Seaman Goldsworthy regarded the punishment as very unjust in the circumstances but he was prepared to take it. This happened on a Friday or Saturday. He asked for the punishment to be changed to a fine or to be deferred until the Monday, which, I understand, is a recognised practice in the Navy. His request for deferment to the Monday, however, was refused.
Unfortunately, his girl friend—he was rising 20 at the time—who was also in the Services, was about to leave for Germany. It was his girl friend's last weekend before she was due to go. Unable to get leave to see her, he jumped ship and thus faced double trouble. The result was that he went on the run in August, 1965. That was his first serious offence during five years in the Navy.
In the five months which followed, the father heard nothing from the son until his return home in January, 1966, when the boy was very run down, depressed, hungry and penniless and came back home. Mr. Goldsworthy senior, who had been in constant touch with the naval police at Kennington, telephoned them as soon as the boy came back. The naval police came and took Able Seaman Goldsworthy away from his home the same evening. He was reported as being arrested at home. While that may be technically correct, the boy gave himself up voluntarily at the suggestion of his father.
He received 42 days' detention in Her Majesty's detention quarters, where life is pretty tough and everything is done at the double. He maintains that he was allowed two cigarettes a day but that the chief petty officer who issued the cigarettes ran down the line throwing them at the detainees and that if a detainee did not catch a cigarette, it was stamped into the ground.
After that 42 days' detention, one would have thought that he had been sufficiently punished. On returning to H.M.S. "Vernon", however, Michael says that he found that all his kit had been sold. He was therefore in debt to the extent of approximately £100. Regular deductions were made from his pay, leaving him only 10s. a week, a state 186 of affairs which was likely to last for a year. He requested that the stoppages be limited to £5 a month, leaving him with £2 a week for his own expenses, but his request was refused. He was, therefore, left with only 10s. a week, half of which had to be spent on cleaning equipment, leaving him with only 5s. a week, so that he could scarcely smoke, drink or enjoy any pocket money for a year. This in addition to his detention seems to me to be a very grave punishment.
By that time, the boy had, I am sorry to say, come to detest the Navy. He got a week's leave in August, 1966, and decided not to return to his ship. He is now somewhere in hiding. He is certainly not at home. He is now 21 years of age, rising 22.
One important aspect of the case is that, on the first absence without leave, his father conscientiously kept in touch with the naval police and the welfare authorities, and he said that he was told by the naval police that if his son gave himself up he would be sympathetically treated and would probably get a compassionate discharge. The Minister will remember that Mr. Goldsworthy persuaded the boy of the necessity to return to his ship and informed the police of his son's return.
Now, however, the father feels that he was badly let down, and this is why he is not inclined to help in his son's second desertion from the Navy. The further point should be made that, during the whole of the boy's first absence from his ship, no one visited the father or mother to investigate the case, and, in fact, no one from the Navy has been to investigate the case at home even up to now.
There are certain sad factors connected with the family in general which, in my view, qualify for the boy's release on compassionate and medical grounds. The compassionate grounds are as follows. Mr. Goldsworthy's health is deteriorating. There is no doubt about that. He has, in his own words, been driven "scatty" by this case. He has had to attend the West Middlesex Hospital for psychiatric treatment, and he holds medical certificates of his mental state which have been submitted to the Navy. He badly wants help with his very demanding business, in which he works about 12 hours a day.
187 I visited the family in their home. There is no doubt that the boy's mother is on the edge of a nervous breakdown. There is a boy of 12 at home who is so upset by the house having been searched by the police that he is afraid to go out of it if he sees a policeman within sight of his home. Moreover, Mr. and Mrs. Goldsworthy have a mongol girl child aged 5 who needs constant nursing and attendance, and one of the parents always has to be at home to look after the child. I claim, therefore, that the compassionate grounds for the boy to return home to his parents in this sad position are more than sufficient.
I have had correspondence with the Ministry ever since August. At the end of February, I put a full statement of the whole case before the Under-Secretary of State, and he asked me for a fortnight in which it could be investigated. I said that I would put down a Question on 15th March, which I did, to which the hon. Gentleman replied:I am unable to consider the case for this man's discharge on compassionate, or any other grounds, while he remains in desertion".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th March, 1967; Vol. 743, c. 111.]In my view, this matter cannot be allowed to drift on. It must be brought to a head. The Navy always says that it cannot discuss the case while the boy is a deserter. Whenever there is a strike, every employer always says that he will not negotiate until there is a return to work, yet the employer always has to negotiate. Why should not the Admiralty make a start now?
I ask the Under-Secretary of State to consider the adverse publicity which the case has created. One journalist interested in it told me that the Admiralty has bought itself £10,000 worth of adverse publicity over this one case alone. I for one would very much like to see it brought to an end.
I put it to the Minister that, in the first place, the boy is, obviously, no good to the Navy now and he should have his discharge. If the Navy feels that he must be punished, I would urge the boy even then to give himself up if he can feel that there will be a certain reasonable punishment, say, not more than two months, and he can have his discharge thereafter. But I must have that understanding. 188 I do not think it fair that he and his father should be let down a second time.
This case illustrates some general principles. One cannot bind a boy of 15 for 12 years. One of my own sons, a hard-working and conscientious boy, has changed his job three times in 10 years, and on each occasion everyone agreed that it was reasonable for him to find a job which suited him better. I do not feel that one can hold a boy, against his will, with only a possible chance of discharge on extremely compassionate grounds, after 7½ years, to which the Navy itself must agree.
As a result of this case, I have received a large number of letters of support from all over the country testifying to the unfairness of the whole procedure. Letters have come from others of my constituents testifying to the good character of the Goldsworthy family, and letters have come from people in other parts of the country quoting similar cases happening to their own boys or boys in the neighbourhood.
In my view, boys of 15 who sign on should be given a choice, first, not after three months, when they have hardly had time to sample the Service, but after six months. Then they should have a further option at the end of their boy's service, after three years, when they are 18, and a final choice at 21.
Here is the opinion given by an eminent lawyer on agreements of this kind into which lads enter at the age of 15. This lawyer said:I have no doubt that if this was a contract to which the Infants Relief Act 1874 applied"—that Act applies to all ordinary contracts made with children—such a contract, by reason of the length of time that the infant binds himself to one master and by reason of the fact that the master can vary the terms of service at will and also its general unilateral character, would be held to be unenforceable against the infant. Furthermore, the infant would have the opportunity of repudiating the contract within a reasonable time of his attaining his majority".That is what I would like the Navy to permit these boys to do. By driving them to desert, to get out of the Service, as has happened, the Navy is driving them to a life of crime. How else can they live while on the run? I feel that the 189 Navy is driving some of our finest young men, I am sorry to say, into being shirkers and rotters.
I want the Minister to say that this boy Michael Goldsworthy is, in the changed circumstances, of no use to the Navy, and that his family is suffering from severe medical disabilities which provide compassionate grounds for his case to be sympathetically considered, and he should now be granted a discharge on compassionate grounds. I want the Minister to give me a firm undertaking that he will be treated reasonably and, in that event, I will make my best endeavours to get the boy to give himself up to the Navy so that, in due course and in the appropriate time, he can receive his discharge.
§ 11.57 a.m.
§ Sir John Langford-Holt (Shrewsbury)
The case which my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) has raised is typical of an important and difficult problem for the Services. The hon. Lady the Member for Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor) raised the matter in its wider context recently in the House.
My hon. Friend has said that the Navy has earned itself £10,000 worth of adverse publicity. I heard the case discussed twice on the radio this morning, and I think that the adverse publicity which the Royal Navy, in which I had the honour to serve, will acquire out of it will far exceed the value of this boy or, indeed, all the boys who are in service with the Navy today.
I have read the reply by the hon. Gentleman the Minister of Defence for Administration to the Adjournment debate raised by the hon. Lady the Member for Eton and Slough on 13th March, and I must say that, although it shows a lively awareness of Service requirements, it shows no appreciation whatever of the principles involved. For example, the hon. Gentleman said:I cannot accept the claim that people are not aware when committing themselves to an apprenticeship that the period of service for which they are signing commences only at the age of 18".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th March, 1967; Vol. 743, c. 187.]I am not a lawyer, but I have always understood that there has long been a principle of civil law in this country applying to contracts entered into by young people. The hon. Lady quoted Halsbury's Laws of England in her 190 speech on 13th March, and Halsbury's Laws of England, as you know well, Mr. Deputy Speaker, is not just a chapter in Bertrand Russell's autobiography. It is one of the solid bases on which the law of the land stands. Halsbury's Laws of England states thatAn infant is of immature intelligence and discretion.That is in absolute conflict with what the Minister said.
A second principle is involved, of which the case is typical. We have always held in the House that the civil law is paramount. That is what the Parkes case was about. There is a further possibility of legal action pending there, but when the Parkes case came to this House it was the idea that the Service Departments were overriding the civil court which above all made us angry.
That is what is happening here, and what the Services are still doing. Someone of 15 is legally an infant. He cannot sign a contract, drive a car or motorcycle, cannot vote and cannot marry, but he can sign away his life for the next 12 years. That is astonishing.
I know that there is an opportunity for the boy, infant, or whatever one calls him, to reconsider his position after three months, but that period is ludicrous for a boy who has joined up at 15½. One appreciates that the Service has its problems and requirements, but that is not the way to do things.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will tell us that the inquiry will soon be completed. I implore him to use whatever pressure and power he has to see that the whole system concerning the personal rights of infants entering the Services is changed.
§ 12.2 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy (Mr. Maurice Foley)
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) for introducing this subject, and I pay tribute to the restrained way in which he dealt with the matter and the way in which he has pursued it over the months in the cause of his constituents.
It may be useful if I "recap" briefly the history of the whole case, and I want to draw attention to a number of statements which are not correct. Able Seaman Goldsworthy formally joined the 191 Navy on 6th September, 1960, at the age of 15 years and two months. He served until 28th August, 1965, when he deserted at the age of 20 years and two months. He was recovered from desertion on 11th January, 1966, and was awarded 42 days' detention. He returned to duty on 11th February and served until 23rd May, 1966, when he began his present period of desertion.
The first question we should clarify is whether he was misled on joining. I did not interrupt the hon. Member for Shrewsbury (Sir J. Langford-Holt), although I was tempted to do so. The idea that a boy of 15 signs himself away is totally false. In this case, Michael Goldsworthy went with his father to the Acton Recruiting Office in July, 1960, and both signed the normal initial forms completed by candidates for entry. I do not want to read it out. The hon. Member for Twickenham has a facsimile copy of the forms that were signed. There is a form signed by the boy with his father present. There is also a form signed by the father, and a further form signed by the boy's headmaster. There is no question of small print here. It was clearly stated and clearly understood—by the father and headmaster at least, if not all three—what they were signing.
§ Sir J. Langford-Holt
I was trying to conclude my speech by 12 o'clock, or I could have gone on longer on the subject. I realise that the boy does not sign on his own and that parents are involved. There are endless reasons why parents might want him to join—the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor) previously talked about broken homes, which are an obvious reason why parents should be parted from their sons. But nobody has the right to sign for anybody in a civilian capacity, and there should not be the right to do it for the Services.
§ Mr. Foley
I shall return to the general later; I am now dealing with the particular. I raised the matter only because people might have gained from the hon. Gentleman's speech the notion of boys going off on their own in a fit of rage because they were punished by their father and signing up with the father having nothing to do with it. That is not the case. Father, boy and headmaster signed the form, and understood 192 what it was about. On the form are the words:I acknowledge that I am bound to serve until the end of my engagement and I understand that earlier discharge is permitted only in exceptional circumstances.There was no question of trying to mislead, so there was no question of press-ganging. They were aware what they were doing.
The completion of the initial forms was done in July, 1960. It did not bind the candidate to serve in the Royal Navy. Not until he joins his training establishment and has been given a few days to adjust and settle in is a candidate required to complete the form of engagement committing him to a particular period of service. The normal practice is for the captain of the training establishment to see each candidate during his first week to explain the form to him. Until he signs that form of engagement the candidate can change his mind about joining the Royal Navy and return home free of all commitment.
In this case, Michael Goldsworthy joined the Naval establishment in September, and therefore father and son had two months after the signing the initial form to think, "Is this the right and proper thing to do? Were we bulldozed into something? Can we now have second thoughts?" After joining the training establishment he still had in his first week the possibility of saying, free of parental influence, "I shall leave and not sign the engagement form."
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
The sort of second thoughts about which the Minister speaks are like those one has in a hire-purchase agreement, but the right to them does not appear on the front of the form, which says:I, … understand that I am joining the Royal Navy as a Junior 2nd class for service as a SEAMAN, or COMMUNICATION RATING for a period of Twelve years' Total Service: …
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
My point is that that right to think again, if it exists, does not appear on the form.
§ Mr. Foley
I am aware that the hon. Member has a facsimile. I am stating what actually happened. He did not immediately join the training establishment and had a further period to think again if necessary. That shows that in this case there can he no suggestion of press-ganging or bulldozing anybody into a decision, or his being bounced into something.
Having gone to the training establishment, he could have decided in his first week, and away from parental influences, that he did not want to sign the engagement form. If he had found in his early period of training in the first training establishment that he did not like it, or the captain found that he was not fitting in, he could have been discharged.
The hon. Member was right to say that the first signs of unhappiness came at the age of 17. He then told his father that he would like to leave the Navy. It is true that Mr. Goldsworthy made inquiries from the recruiting officer, who correctly advised him that apart from the possibility of discharge on compassionate ground there was no prospect of release until Michael was 21. I do not want to go into details of the incident which led to his desertion.
The charge may well have been trivial and he may well have been tried and sentenced and accepted his sentence, but asked for it to be postponed, his request being refused. I cannot go into the merits of why when a sentence is passed it is not carried out immediately. It was a disciplinary act. As for the idea that one could go away and start a sentence on Monday—these sentences are often designed to give a salutary lesson and that is why it happened straight away.
It is true that his father behaved most properly and that when the son arrived at home his father contacted the military police and that the rating was taken in charge. It is true that he was sentenced 194 to 42 days' detention and discharged back to duty in February. So far as I can gather from the records, it is true that he might have been advised by one of the military policemen who took him into custody that there was a possibility of compassionate discharge. Clearly, no one would suppose that a military policeman taking someone into custody could be firm or absolute about that; he was giving no more than his opinion.
I have looked into what has been said about the cigarette issue. There is no substance in the allegation that cigarettes are thrown at detainees and stamped into the ground if not caught. In detention there is a system by which everyone does things at the double. If it is thought that that is purely and simply in detention quarters, I should say that I am told that officer training at Dartmouth in the first term includes doing everything at the double. It is part of the process of "making a man". I have not been through it myself and I cannot comment on its efficacy or worth-whileness, but it is common practice. I am also told that the idea of the staff at detention quarters deliberately grinding cigarettes into the ground when they are dropped is completely foreign to the attitude of the staff, who are carefully chosen men. I have had inquiries made into those questions and I am told that that does not happen.
The hon. Member has been completely misled about the sale of kit and pay. Naval discipline provides that a deserter's kit is sold. This is normal practice once a man has been in desertion for a month. The precise financial situation of Able Seaman Goldsworthy was that on his first desertion in August, 1965, he had a credit balance of £9 4s. 6d., which remained on the books as a credit. On his recovery, this sum was still to his credit and he returned to full pay on his release from detention on 11th February, 1966. The charge incurred for the replacement of kit deficiencies amounted to £18 1s. 1d.
On arrival at H.M.S. "Vernon", after he had completed his spell in detention, he was £35 in credit. He continued to receive full pay until the date of his second desertion, receiving in that time £117, an average of approximately £8 a week. I do not know how there arose the idea that he had to live on 5s. a week. I have given the facts which I asked 195 for from the cashier and which are provided on the basis of the man's pay statements. I raise that matter because the hon. Member for Twickenham has been misled about those facts.
The hon. Gentleman also spoke of no one having visited the house. There have been contradictory statements. The son is afraid of going out because of police pestering, it is said. The police who are "pestering" are the police who have called at the house and they are the naval police. The hon. Gentleman says that no one has visited the house, but the naval police have, because they intend to arrest this man, or to encourage him to give himself up.
As for the welfare department of the Navy visiting the house, as a matter of custom when someone is in desertion the naval welfare people do not visit the house concerned. Clearly, until such a person gives himself up, one cannot see what the compassionate grounds or circumstances are, as I explained to the hon. Gentleman in reply to a Question of his in March.
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
The naval police go to the house only for the purpose of searching. They go in a hostile way. No one has been to discuss the case with the parents.
§ Mr. Foley
It has been made clear to the parents that there is no possibility of the case being discussed until Able Seaman Goldsworthy gives himself up.
I want now to refer to the legal situation. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that a bargain should be struck in terms of dealing with this man, or promising what will happen if he gives himself up. This is not just a matter of bending naval regulations. It is not a matter of Navy policy alone. Hon. Members will be aware that in 1966 the House passed the Armed Forces Act which amended previous regulations and which in Section 18(2,c) saidknowing any such person to have committed such an offence"—that is, desertion—procures or persuades or assists him to remain a deserter, absentee without leave or improperly absent from his ship or place of duty, or assists in his rescue from custody …".That Act imposes a penalty on those who aid or abet a deserter. This is not 196 a matter of my making regulations or of the Navy making regulations; this is what the House decided last year in the Armed Forces Act.
§ Sir J. Langford-Holt
Does the hon. Gentleman realise that by implication he is saying that the Navy now intends to, or should, take action against the B.B.C.?
§ Mr. Foley
I want to draw the attention of hon. Members and of the Press and of others to the fact that anyone who aids or abets a deserter is in breach not of naval law, but of law established by Act of Parliament. I cannot make it any clearer than that. The law of desertion is enacted by Parliament which has prescribed punishments for the offence.
A warrant is out for the arrest of this rating. Public policy requires that the law should be observed and enforced by bringing him to trial. It is a matter of serious concern that Able Seaman Goldsworthy, who has been defying the law, has been in contact with and received encouragement from many persons who might be expected to uphold the law.
I now turn to the subject of compassion. Soon after his first absence, Able Seaman Goldsworthy applied for a compassionate discharge on the grounds of his father's health and the wish to relieve him from the running of the family business. Mr. Goldsworthy was asked to obtain a report from his doctor and the naval welfare organisation made inquiries about the family's general circumstances. However, at that time it was felt that the rating's presence at home was not vital and compassion, therefore, did not arise. Since his second desertion, I have seen further medical reports and the hon. Member for Twickenham has been kind enough to inform me of his own visits to his constituent and of his deteriorating health. This will, clearly, be taken into consideration.
I now turn to the future. When he is arrested or surrenders to the police or the naval authorities, Able Seaman Goldsworthy must stand trial for his offence. He will appear before the Commodore, Royal Naval Barracks, Portsmouth, who will decide whether he should be tried summarily or be court martialled. Clearly, the longer he stays in desertion, the more severe is his penalty. After he has been tried and a verdict given, then the question of his 197 release on compassionate grounds can be examined once more. I cannot forecast what the outcome of that would be, but I can say that, in the light of the information which the hon. Member for Twickenham has given and in the light of our knowledge and of the further knowledge which we hope we will acquire, we shall have far stronger grounds on compassionate reasons than anything we have had up to now.
If I may now turn briefly to the broadcast raised by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Shrewsbury (Sir J. Langford-Holt), I wish to make it clear to the House that this case is not typical. There may well be instances of people who are unhappy in the Forces, and there are equally, instances every day of people successfully applying for discharge on compassionate grounds. The idea that we are somehow in the Nelson days, press-ganging people into the Navy and keeping them there, is utterly false.
Nevertheless, we have recognised, the Minister of Defence for Administration and myself, that this whole matter should be looked at again. The hon. Member will be aware that last year we introduced a break point after three months for juniors. He will be aware that the Minister of Defence for Administration, in reply to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Surbiton (Mr. Fisher), said:I shall announce the outcome of my investigations when they are completed."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th March, 1967; Vol. 742, c. 214.]In an Adjournment debate the Minister said:… but I cannot say how long they—the investigations—will take, for they involve long-term considerations."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th March, 1967; Vol. 743, c. 185.]Again, on 15th March, I made it clear when I said:I cannot promise that there will be an answer in a matter of weeks, but there is a degree of urgency."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th March, 1967; Vol. 743, c. 586.]I am seized with this whole question, and whatever we do we must weigh up the two sides, that is to say, the needs in terms of manpower and the whole question of people in the Navy who are unhappy and who cannot do a good job. We are probably doing some harm to morale within the Navy.
198 I recognise this and these are the things that we will be dealing with in this investigation. I would ask the House to be patient about this. I have noted the comments of the hon. Member on the legal aspect of this and I am aware of his own legal background. I would not like to tread into this aspect without some advice, but I will certainly look into the points raised, and see that they are introduced as a factor to the Committee which is reviewing the system.
I urge, as strongly as I am able, that Able Seaman Goldsworthy should now give himself up and that those who may have influence with him should advise him to do so. In the long run this is in his own interests; it is in the interests of his father and his business, and his whole family. It is in the interests of all hon. Members and others, who have been campaigning on his behalf.
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
May I say that I am very much obliged to the Minister for going so fully into this case. I will think over very carefully what he has said and will discuss the matter with the father. I will not say any more than that.