HL Deb 05 July 1955 vol 193 cc431-51

3.36 p.m.

LORD GLYN rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether an immediate review will be made of those persons who, being members of a certain trade or calling, are excused National Service, with special reference to the term "Seamen" being held to cover persons liable for National Service but who have no qualifications other than being waiters; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, in rising to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper, I desire first to apologise to your Lordships for the wording of the Motion, which I am afraid has given a somewhat false impression. I did not intend it to be thought that persons who joined the Merchant Navy in the catering department did so only for the purpose of avoiding National Service, because that is certainly not so; but I will explain some of the reasons why there are advantages to be obtained in continuing training in such a way without a break for National Service.

The National Service scheme permits certain individuals whose work is of national importance to carry on with that work and not be called up for duty with the Regular Forces. In other words, there are cases where, in the real interest of national values, alternative methods have been adopted to permit those who have technical and other qualifications to continue their work in the Merchant Navy. If it is right that certain qualifications should, under strict supervision, exempt men from National Service in one case, at this juncture it may be right to consider whether that system should not be expanded in other directions.

I want to deal with the system of National Service itself. With very few exceptions, people, in Parliament and outside, believe that National Service is a necessity at the present time. So far as the public are concerned, all they want to be sure of is that the scheme is properly administered, without fear or favour. Once it is thought that certain people have advantages over others, the whole system will fall into contempt. When one reads through the debates that took place in both Houses when the National Service Acts were under discussion, it becomes clear that the general opinion was, and I think still is, that there are certain occupations of such national importance that it is justifiable that for the time being the persons in them shall be exempt from National Service up to the age of twenty-six. These occupations are, first of all, coalmining—miners are exempt if they work underground, but not if they work on the surface; the Merchant Navy and agriculture. These three callings are obviously of great national importance. Throughout the debates it was made clear that if an emergency arose, it was unlikely that persons in those occupations would be available for service with the Regular Forces; therefore, it was far better that they should continue at their work and training, so that they could become proficient in their callings.

There is one point I must mention. As I draw attention in the Motion, as drafted, specially to the Merchant Navy, I think it is essential that I should make it clear that I very much regret it if I have put anything in the Motion which gives a false impression of the stringent conditions that exist lo see that that privilege (if that is the right word) is not abused. I am sure that everybody recognises that the Mercantile Marine is of paramount importance to this country, and that nothing should be done which would cause its efficiency to suffer or its power of competition in peace time to be adversely affected. Therefore, when I draw attention in the Motion to stewards or waiters, I ought to say at once that I am now quite satisfied that, although the primary function of those men is in the catering department, their training is such that they have to be proficient lifeboat-men and efficient in other duties. Indeed, it is true to say that none of the large liners in the British Mercantile List would be able to sail were it not provided with a large number of catering staff without whom the lifeboats could not be manned. Therefore, the catering staff are essential in that regard.

But the matter goes further. It is not only in large liners that there must be efficient catering staff; there must be efficient cooks, waiters and stewards in other categories of ships. Also it is not uninteresting to note that when the last war broke out there were about 3,000 stewards who suddenly became redundant, and the majority of those men, because of their knowledge of the sea, were immediately transformed into gunners. In that way it was possible to arm marine ships, and indeed, to transfer these men to the Royal Navy, the R.N.V.R. and the R.N.R.

I would ask your Lordships' attention to the methods that have been adopted by the various Departments concerned to ensure that men who are on the register—and by that I mean the register of the Registrar General of Shipping, who is the official responsible for all seamen—do not abuse this privilege of exemption. The majority of the men who serve at sea are divided into three capacities; that is to say, deckhands, engineers and catering staff. It is laid down that a man who wishes to qualify as a chief engineer cannot possibly be taken away from his duties at sea and brought back to do service with the Navy, thus interfering very much with his training. The training of a marine engineer is a specialised task, and it is obviously essential for the efficiency of the British Mercantile Navy that they should have the most competent possible engineers. The same is true of a man who sits for his master's ticket: we want a man who is a navigating officer to take his examinations, so that he can become proficient as a master. That is true, perhaps, in a lesser degree in regard to the efficiency of the catering staff.

The position briefly is that if a man wishes to go to sea, although he is on the catering staff he is registered as a seaman, because it is necessary under the Merchant Shipping Acts that all persons serving at sea should be indexed as seamen. In common parlance, perhaps, most people think that a seaman is a man who pulls on a rope—possibly what is called a deckhand. But such men are in a small minority, because in a modern ship engineers of all kinds have to play a much larger part than the deck staff. If we are going to have an efficient ship, we must have satisfactory catering arrangements, especially in the Atlantic trade, where we are in violent competition with the liners of other countries who pay special attention to catering and to the comforts of passengers.

There is one point that I feel must be mentioned. A great many men who join the Merchant Navy have already done their National Service, and, indeed, a great many are ex-Regulars—men who have been batmen, cooks and so on join the Merchant Navy on leaving the Services. A large number of young men join the Merchant Navy for the purpose of making their careers at sea. Further, there are some excellent schools where boys are trained; they go to sea in the ordinary way and the majority of them are given assistance, and, as I say, they continue their sea training without interference and without being brought back to serve with any branch of the Regular Forces. I am sure it is the right policy that every encouragement should be given to shipowners and the Merchant Navy to be proficient, because I suppose there is no service of such tremendous importance to the welfare and prosperity of this country as the Merchant Navy. Therefore, from the Government point of view, the whole organisation has to be looked at with great care.

We have to remember that the cost of operating vessels to-day is high, and the first cost of a ship is tremendous. Unless you can operate efficiently, you have no hope of maintaining a modern fleet, because the British custom is not to sub-sidise shipowners but rather, on the contrary, to tax them highly and make it difficult for them to maintain a modern fleet. At the same time, it means that the efficiency of the Merchant Service must be of the highest possible order; and, to achieve that and to obtain the necessary number of men, the regulations for registration are most thorough. If a man under the age of 26 is no longer considered a satisfactory member of the crew of a vessel, his papers go from the Registrar General of Shipping to the Ministry of Labour, and he immediately receives his calling-up papers. I want to emphasise that, because it has been thought recently that certain action taken in issuing calling-up papers was taken for a purpose other than that originally intended. But in fact it continually happens that if a man who is of calling-up age ceases to be satisfactory in his service at sea, his papers come through and he is called up in the ordinary way.

I want to come now to what may be a solution of this difficult question. As I say, I recognise that it is necessary to have National Service and that it should be fairly administered, and that there are these three categories of the population who were exempted in the terms of the original Bill—that is to say, the coalminers who actually work at the face, the agricultural labourers and the Merchant Navy. As your Lordships know, there is intense competition in industry and a struggle to be highly proficient in a very competitive world; and to-day the number of men who are trained to be efficient in technology and other branches of science are not as many as are required if this country is to go ahead and keep abreast of the times. One has to consider how much has happened since the National Service Acts were passed, not only in the field of industrial development generally, but in the difficulties of the international situation. We all hope that the latter is becoming less dangerous and less difficult. But what is not becoming less difficult and dangerous is the need of British industry to have highly educated and trained people to maintain our industry ahead of competition in the world.

There is, for instance, the College of Aeronautics, which some of us have had the privilege of visiting. One has only to go there to find out how great is the difficulty of maintaining the course as it should be, if certain individuals have to leave their studies at a critical time in order to carry out their National Service obligations. Then there is the whole field of nuclear energy—a new science, and one of paramount importance. Sometimes at the most critical stage men are taken away and lose the opportunity that would otherwise come to them of continuing their research and development work. There is, of course, radar and electronics. In all those things we are lamentably short of skilled manpower that we require.

I am not suggesting for a single moment that total exemption should be granted to these people, but I am asking that the Ministry of Defence and the Service Departments of the Government should consider whether there is any alternative form of service which can be undertaken by these people, so that they will make their contribution—which they should do, as everyone else—in such a form and in such a manner that it will not interfere with their progress and study as much as it does at present.

Now if it is right—and I repeat that I believe it to be absolutely right—that a man who is in the Merchant Navy and wishes to get his master's ticket should be allowed to go on in that Service and eventually sit for his master's examination and get his certificate, surely the same principle applies in other directions. In some countries there are alternative forms of national service in the secondary lines. One curious thing is that on the railways, both in this country and on the Continent, it is a recognised fact that in an emergency a man who is an efficient driver or an efficient railway engineer would be exempted from ordinary military service and would do as a soldier the work he normally does, because without that form of communication the Army could not exist. My purpose in putting down this Motion was more to draw attention to the fact that there seems now to be an opportunity when these matters might be considered in a happier atmosphere, always maintaining that there must be a continuation of National Service but that also every effort must be made to give technical and technological education and research a very high place in the ordered affairs of the country. I hope and believe that that time has now come, and that that review can be made with advantage to all concerned.

There has lately been every indication that other countries are maintaining the lead in this field. I know of cases where great trouble has been taken in regard to an individual who has achieved a high place in scientific research. The salary he has been offered by people in the United States is such that he, being a married man, really has no choice except to go. That is happening far more often than is recognized, and the question is how are we going to change that situation? I do not say for a moment that any scientist wishes to be absolved from his National Service. I do not believe for a moment that he would wish to be put in a special category. But I do think the time has come when the Ministry of Defence and the Service Departments together, as they rely more than anybody on the proficiency of these technological people, should tackle this problem. The Air Force depends on how efficient the manufacturers are. It is vital that they turn out a good aircraft. The same thing applies to every branch of the Services. The Navy depends upon electronics more and more, and the Army more and more upon its technical developments. In this connection I think the Army deserve more credit than some Services, for they have established the Army College of Science for the training of Regular officers so that they can handle the complicated machines which the scientists hand out to them. It is no good giving these things to a mutton-fisted man, because they are costly and very delicate. The maintenance charges of all the Services for these complicated weapons is something which is often not recognised, and is largely due to the fact that there is inadequate training in the handling of them.

I wish once again to apologise to the House for the clumsy way in which my Motion was drafted. I want to emphasise that I think the system which the Merchant Navy have, with the concurrence of the Government and all Departments, is the right one in order to maintain the Merchant Navy in a proficient way. I venture to think that the time is opportune when, quietly, the whole question could be gone into of how far military service can be alternated with some other form of service, so that it fits in with the continued education of the men we must have for the efficiency of all three Services and for the prosperity and success of British industry. I beg to move for Papers.

3.59 p.m.


My Lords, I am afraid I am placed in some difficulty. I read the Motion and understood that it was the noble Lord's intention to deal with the subjects mentioned in it. I now find myself in this position: that the noble Lord has spent about one-third of his time eulogising all branches of the Mercantile Marine and has then gone on to another subject. I certainly do not disagree with him and his approach to that subject. Therefore, I am sure that noble Lords will recognise my difficulty this afternoon. I was under the impression that the noble Lord was linking his Motion with the unfortunate happenings in regard to a few members of the Mercantile Marine branches a few weeks ago; and I certainly was under the impression that he had no knowledge of the machinery which existed in the Mercantile Marine for the purpose of dealing with the points which I was under the impression he was going to raise. I do not think there is any industry where there is closer association than there is in the Mercantile Marine, through the National Maritime Board, in dealing with all matters of complaint of any kind—increases of wages, conditions of employment, and so on.

I got in touch with the trade union side of the National Maritime Board to ascertain what their attitude was to this Motion. They certainly thought that it was ill-advised and ill-timed, in view of the fact that the proportion of men who came out on strike Was very small. The strike was damaging but was of short duration. The union had to put up with a considerable amount of difficulty in relation to the matter, but the men quickly went back to work and benefited nothing as a result of their escapade. Therefore, the subject should have been dropped. I will say nothing more about that.

I should, however, like to deal with the question of the scarcity of technicians and scientists to deal with modern problems. There is no disagreement between myself and the noble Lord, Lord Glyn, or the noble Lord, Lord Cherwell, whose speeches I have listened to and read with great interest, in connection with this important matter. When it comes to adding to the list of deferments for National Service, considerable difficulties arise. I happened to be in a Service Department when the National Service Act was passed. It was surprising how important every industry in the country became at that time! Every industry was anxious for the exemption or deferment of their workers, and particularly of their skilled employees, and it was extremely difficult to distinguish or discriminate between one and the other. Had all the applications been granted, there would have been very little National Service, and the difficulties we should have been faced with long before today would have been great.

Colleagues of mine and members of my own Party in another place have been anxious that in view of the changed circumstances, there should be an examination of National Service with a view to reducing the period from two years to eighteen months. I do not think they had in mind the points which the noble Lord, Lord Glyn, had in connection with this matter. I know that a strong case could be put up for technicians and scientists, but I am sure the noble Lord will understand—and it is not for me to defend the Government in this matter—that the number of apprentices who are deferred from their National Service is larger than that for almost any other section of industry.

I looked up the Ministry of Labour Gazette only the other day to see what the position was. I was greatly surprised, and agreeably surprised, to see the number of apprentices, which, of course, would include a number of technicians and probably scientists as well. I shall not detain the House any longer because, as I say, with 90 per cent. of what the noble Lord has said I am in entire agree- ment. I was hoping that he would carry out his first decision—namely, talk to the Motion that is on the Paper instead of speaking against it.

4.5 p.m.


My Lords, I must say that I am in almost the same difficulty as is the noble Viscount, Lord Hall. I am delighted to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Glyn, has said. I am afraid his Motion has given a somewhat false impression, but I am sure he did not intend it to do so. He has said that the men of the catering department do not join the Service merely to escape call-up. That, I am sure, is also quite true. One ought to add that a large number of the big ships could not man their lifeboats unless they had members of the catering department, because members of the catering department are seamen and have received seamanship training.

I should like to emphasise one or two points which I do not think even now are absolutely clear to your Lordships, or at any rate to some of your Lordships, regarding the actual status of seamen. In the first place, they are not exempted from military service at all, and two years' service in the Merchant Navy is not counted as an equivalent to two years' National Service; but, provided the man carries out his duties properly at sea, his call-up is held in suspense until he is twenty-six years of age. When he reaches that age, he avoids the call-up altogether.

The noble Viscount, Lord Hall, I think said that at the time that the National Service Act was introduced all questions of call-up relative to the Merchant Navy were carefully examined. I think it was realised at the time that there might be a few men who would join the catering department in order to avoid National Service; but, on balance, it was considered at the time that this comparatively small risk must be accepted. I do not think there is anything further that I want to say on this Motion, because the noble Lord, if he will forgive my saying so, has really argued against his Motion, and most of the points I was going to use have already been covered adequately.


My Lords, I, too, came here this afternoon intending to run up alongside the noble Lord and deliver a broadside, only to find that he has spiked his own guns. I know that he now realises, and I think we all do, that it is impossible to classify a seaman in the narrow sense of the word as a man who hauls on ropes or is responsible for navigation or steering the ship, and so on. The crew of a modern ship to-day, whether a cargo ship, a liner cr a man-o'-war, covers almost every trade under the sun. There are electricians, butchers, clerks, plumbers, cooks, radio operators, et cetera, and it surely is only possible to define a seaman in the legal sense, as one who has signed on ship's articles under the Merchant Shipping Act. It would have a most unfortunate effect on the crews if one section of the ship's company were treated any differently from the other. There are bound to he certain rivalries among departments—between the engineers, the deck and so forth—but by good will they work together. It was originally suggested that they should be under different regulations, but that would do very great harm.

As other noble Lords have said, these catering men in time of war, with their sea experience, are invaluable to the Royal Navy, both for the R.N.R. and for the R.N.V.R., and also under that system known as T.124 under which a great many crews of liners were transferred to the Navy in the last war. I need not waste your Lordships' time further. I think new that opinion is unanimous that it would be a mistake to alter the system whereby merchant seamen of good character are deferred, provided that they remain at sea until they are 26. That is a long time: it means that they have to remain as sea for eight years, and only then are they exempt from call-up.

4.10 p.m.


My Lords, like other noble Lords who have spoken, I gather that Lord Glyn, who had come to curse us, remanis to praise. It seems to me, however, that it would be quite ludicrous that any young man should be able to escape military service simply by signing on as a cabin boy or apprentice steward or mess-waiter on one of the large Atlantic liners. I rather gathered that that was his view, but apparently that is not so. I am told that these men are wanted for catering, but that they also man lifeboats, which most of us would do in case of need, and do whatever else they can to help about the ship. Of course, these ships must be staffed in some way, but so must many other industries, occupations and professions. I do not believe that the only way in which candidates can be found to till these minor posts on luxury liners is to relieve them of all obligation to do their military service.

As Lord Glyn has said, miners are exempted from military service, but mining is notoriously a somewhat unpleasant, and perhaps even a relatively dangerous, job; and in view of its vital importance and the need for it to continue in war time a good case can be made out for treating the miners diferently. It is possibly not quite so easy to justify the exemption of agricultural workers, though here, again, the importance of manning—perhaps I ought to say "boying"—the agricultural industry is universally agreed, and no doubt there are arguments for exempting genuine merchant seamen. No one would deny that at all. But it would be abominable if anybody, whether he be merely a deck-washer or bar-tender, or even a hairdresser on a luxury liner, were thereby to be allowed entirely to escape from military service. If it were a matter of possessing special skill or knowledge, the reasoning would be perfectly sound, but little attention is paid to that aspect.

I should like again to raise the question which Lord Glyn, Lord Hall and others have raised—a point that bears very closely on my own knowledge—and that is in connection with scientists. As Lord Hall has shown, there is no need to bore your Lordships with arguments about the vital need of the country to keep ahead in science and technology—that, I gather, is generally accepted. But surely it must be clear that, from a national point of view, the work of highly-trained scientists is more important than carrying dishes from the kitchen to the serving tables in liners. Yet when a suggestion was put forward that the appalling shortage of science masters might be alleviated by allowing scientists to teach in schools during their two-years' service, the proposal was, to put it mildly, certainly not welcomed. Surely it is just as important to staff our schoolrooms and laboratories as to staff the bars and restaurants in our luxury liners.

An extreme case of the kind is the one which comes most nearly home to me—namely, that of the really high-grade research workers in the universities. Here we have young men working on the frontiers of knowledge, whose training has cost the State literally thousands of pounds. Everybody knows that in case of war they would instantly be drafted into the scientific establishments, nowadays perhaps the most important branch of the Armed Services. Yet these young men are called up for National Service with the greatest rigour, and made to do "square-bashing" or perhaps even peeling potatoes just at the most fertile period of their lives—an age when, notoriously, two years' interruption will very likely do irretrievable harm to their capacity to think out new theories and discover new facts. It is true that scientists working in Government establishments, or on certain Government contracts, are exempted from military service, but that exemption does not apply to the men doing the really fundamental work in the universities. Surely everybody must realise that their researches lie at the root of all progress. As Lord Glyn and, I think, Lord Hall said, there are cases of young men, again very largely trained at the taxpayers' expense, going abroad. With or without military service, we lose enough of our highly-trained people in this way we do not wish to add to the inducement by submitting them to military service, as against the people who are doing less important work.

I spoke to the Minister of Labour about this matter some years ago. I suggested that people carrying out important research, whose ability could be attested by the examinations that they had passed and the class they had achieved in the university and, maybe, by subsequent awards from the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research or other bodies, should be allowed to proceed with their work, instead of being turned away to learn how to salute or to form fours, or threes, or whatever the numbers are nowadays. The Minister was entirely sympathetic, as one would expect from such a reasonable man. But then the usual thing happened—the proposal had to be submitted to "the relevant Committee." After a year or so, this august, anonymous body reported. I regret to say that they persuaded the Minister to accept a plan so restricted in its scope that not more than fifty of these high-grade scholars can be exempted in any one year—and that only after the most stringent test and vetting and recommendations from all sorts of high authorities.

Until recently, all young men—perhaps 12,000 a year—were exempted entirely from military service because they proposed to undertake agricultural work. It is true that this exemption has recently been tightened up, and I understand that exemption is now granted only in cases of emergency. Last year, however, I gather that there were over 8,000 cases of emergency! Compare this fact with the narrow, grudging acceptance of the importance of research of the highest class—8,000 men to hoe turnips as against 50 to do high-grade research in a university. What a relative valuation of brawn and brain! It really indicates a lack of understanding of what really conditions a nation's progress and prosperity, not to mention prestige, which we must regret. That a highly-educated doctor of science doing first-class work in the subject in which he has been trained at great public expense, should be called up to peel potatoes whilst an unskilled waiter is exempted in order to serve potatoes on a luxury liner, is surely neither right nor reasonable.

Lest noble Lords opposite should think I am making a plea for boys from what I believe are called the higher income brackets, I hasten to add that most of these highly-trained scientists to whom I have alluded have come up to the universities on State scholarships or the like, and have advanced to their leading positions purely on the strength of their intellectual ability. They are not the products of inherited privilege, but of innate intelligence. And to boggle at exempting them whilst allowing any lad who holds a post on a luxury liner to escape from his National Service is surely very difficult to justify.

I have mentioned only one particular class of young man whose exemption from National Service would be far more in the national interest than the exemption of these pseudo-seamen, but there are many others in other professions—for instance, statisticians—who would certainly be drafted into the Ministries in war time. There seems to be a want of balance and planning about it all. On the one hand we have selected young men of exceptional ability, trained, at great public expense, to do a particular job of national importance in peace time and, especially, in war. They are ruthlessly dragged away from their work and, to all intents and purposes, intellectually sterilised for two years while they are being taught (again at some public expense) to do quite different and relatively unskilled work. And this merely in order to fit them to fight when everybody knows that, far from being allowed to fight, on the outbreak of war they would instantly be drafted back to their laboratories. On the other hand, we have unskilled, often relatively uneducated, lads, only marginally learning to man our merchant ships, and very often learning to do odd jobs in the catering trade, in a floating luxury hotel. At the age of twenty-six they can, if they wish, freely take up any other trade they choose. In the event of war either they will have to be trained from scratch or, very likely, will find themselves in reserved occupations. Surely no one can defend this sort of inverted privilege, which penalises brains and ability and wastes our national substance without one iota of advantage to the State.

4.22 p.m.


My Lords, in common with some of your Lordships who have spoken, when I first looked at the terms of the Motion which has been moved by my noble friend this afternoon I did not think he would make the sort of speech to which we have listened. I formed the impression that he was rather unhappy about the deferment of merchant seamen and, in particular, about those who work as waiters. I hope that the noble Lord will forgive me for saying that he seems to have performed the satisfying and, unfortunately, rather rare feat of putting down a Motion and answering it himself. I only hope that he was not too embarrassed by the support given by my noble friend Lord Cherwell to a Motion which he himself no longer supports.

Now that my noble friend has acknowledged that They also serve who…stand and wait, he has made my task very much easier. I think it might be for the convenience of your Lordships if, very briefly, I were to explain what is the overall position with regard to deferment of National Service—deferment, not exemption, for there is no exemption. In the first place, all men under the age of 26 are liable for National Service, but those in certain specified occupations are deferred for as long as they are employed in those particular occupations. These deferments are granted, in the national interest, to men employed in certain coalmining occupations; to merchant seamen; to sea-going fishermen who are members of the Royal Naval Reserve (Patrol Service); to regular whole-time agricultural workers born before 1933; to a comparatively small number of highly skilled scientists and engineers engaged on urgent work of high priority or on fundamental research; to a small number of shale oil underground workers, and to a small number of police cadets. Such men are protected from call-up only while they are satisfactorily engaged on the work in question, and if they leave it before reaching the age of 26 they become available for call-up. In addition, all students are allowed to finish their studies and to obtain their degrees before they are called up.

I hardly think that it is necessary for me to go in detail into the reasons why these particular categories of job were chosen, but since my noble friend has, in the words of his Motion, particularly drawn attention to the Merchant Service, perhaps I should say a word about that on behalf of Her Majesty's Government.


My Lords, before the noble Lord leaves that point, if I understood him rightly, I believe he said that there is no such thing as exemption; but there is, in fact, exemption so long as men remain in a particular job. If a man is a farm labourer all his life until he dies, then he has been exempt from National Service.


My Lords, it is the fact that a man is deferred so long as he stays in that particular job. I am not altogether accurate in saying that there is no exemption, because I believe that clergymen are completely exempt from National Service; but we are not talking about them. I think your Lordships will agree with me that it is essential that, in the event of war, we should have immediately available a large body of trained seamen, and with the experience of two world wars behind us, and of the essential part which the Merchant Navy played in those wars, we should be asking for trouble if, for short-term advantage, we did anything to weaken the man-power of our Merchant Fleet. It was therefore decided, at the time the National Service Act was passed in 1947, that merchant seamen should be deferred.

The strength of the Merchant Navy at the present time is about 148,000, of which there are 53,500 officers, cadets and so on, 32,500 deck ratings, 18,500 engine-room ratings and 43,500 catering ratings. The definition of a merchant seaman is a person employed or engaged in any capacity on board any ship, and thus the catering department personnel are included in the deferment. These men, stewards, cooks, waiters and the like, are carried in all types of merchant ships to cater for the crew as well as for the passengers; and waiters in passenger liners are a very small part of the catering section of the Merchant Navy. It is obvious that merchant ships must carry a full complement in all departments if they are to operate efficiently in peace and war, and all departments are equally essential to the efficient operation of a ship in its particular trade. It would be difficult to discriminate as between the departments or between the various ranks in any one department.

The position of waiters cannot be considered in isolation, although I know that there are some people—my noble friend, Lord Cherwell, is one—who say that there should be discrimination between what the public thinks of as a seaman, and a waiter in a restaurant in a luxury passenger liner. Such a distinction, however, would not be at all easy to make, even were it desirable to make it. One has only to look at the complement of a passenger liner to realise that in all departments there are those employed who are not seamen, in the sense of being concerned in the navigation of the ship. For instance, there are a number of men employed on cleaning the decks, on washing down and painting; and a number of engineers who are employed in maintaining machinery installed in the ship only for the "hotel" purposes of the ship. All of those men are essential to the ship as a passenger ship, and I do not think that it would be desirable or practicable to draw distinctions of usefulness.

Moreover, the demands of the Merchant Navy for trained manpower in war time are very large and are increased by the movement to the Royal Navy. There is, in particular, a shortage of deck ratings, and it was found in the last war that peace time catering ratings, with their previous sea experience, most of them having passed through the National Sea Training schools and having had basic training in seamanship, made better material for training for the deck department than untrained men. In the event of war those now serving, as well as those who have served (and here my noble friend is wrong), will be made available for recall under Registration for Employment and Essential Work (Merchant Navy) Orders. So that once a man has been in the Merchant Navy, and his National Service has been deferred because he was in the Merchant Navy, he will be called up in the Merchant Navy.

My noble friend, has mentioned, as has the noble Lord, Lord Cherwell, the deferment of scientists. Since 1949 there has been a scheme under which scientists and engineering graduates have been deferred for employment on a limited number of research and development projects, mostly connected with the defence programme. I may say that deferment is granted only if a man not liable for National Service is not available as a replacement. I think I heard it said—and I fancy that the noble Lord, Lord Cherwell, would rather like this—that all scientists ought to be deferred because of their great importance to industry and research.


Not at all. What I said just now was that highly trained scientists, whose capacity can be tested by the examinations they have passed, the degrees they have taken and the grants they have had from the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, working on fundamental problems in the universities, should be deferred. As it is, a man can get deferred if he is stupid enough and takes until he is twenty-six to get his degree. If he calls himself a student he can be deferred and he never gets called up.


Yes, he does get called up, because he has to take his degree before he is twenty-six. There is no deferment after he has got his degree except in the circumstances I have described. If I have misinterpreted the noble Lord, I apologise, but there are people who would like all scientists to be deferred because of their great importance to industry and research. We must not overlook the Services' need for science and engineering graduates. I think your Lordships will appreciate that with the new and complicated equipment with which the three Services are being equipped, it is more than ever essential that there should be an ample supply of men in the Forces with a very high standard of scientific and engineering knowledge, not only to look after the functioning of these equipments but, even more, perhaps, to train the larger numbers of those who have to operate and maintain them. Graduates in science are particularly valuable to the Services as potential officers in the technical arms, and qualified men are badly needed by the Education Corps of the three Services for teaching in technical training colleges. The Forces, in point of fact, have a particular need for young scientists who have degrees in engineering, physics and mathematics, and it has been estimated that in 1955 the Services will recruit rather less than half what they need. I can assure my noble friend, Lord Cherwell, that we do try to use National Servicemen who are skilled in a particular job in a job for which they are well suited. We shall certainly continue, and also seek to improve, in this direction.

In addition to these defence projects, earlier this year, as the House will remember, there came into operation a scheme under which deferment can be granted to a limited number of exceptional science graduates who are engaged on fundamental research in a university. The maximum annual number is limited to fifty. I think that is quite a good innovation. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Cherwell, has perhaps poured rather too much cold water on this idea. In fact, it is much too early to say how well it is going to work. With regard to his remark that the number is far too few, I should like to inform him that in fact we have not yet had fifty applications from the universities for deferment under this scheme. I feel sure that the scheme will be of great value, and we shall watch with great interest how it works out.

A good case can be made out for the deferment of large groups of skilled men in all sorts of different industries who are employed either on defence work or in our export trade. This particularly applies when we have full employment, and we all know how hard we have to work to maintain our position. But the fact remains that, for the time being at any rate, we must maintain our defences. To do this and to carry out our commitments we have no alternative but to continue National Service. I have mentioned cases in which deferment, admittedly on a small scale, has been granted. Industry and the Services want the best brains and the highly skilled workers, and there are not enough for both. The allocation between the two is not an easy matter, but I can assure your Lordships that my right honourable friend the Minister of Labour will continue, as he has done in the past, to meet the requirements of these two interests as fairly as possible.

In his Motion, my noble friend Lord Glyn asks for an immediate review tc be rondo of those persons who are excused National Service. I hope he will have realised, from what I have said, that the Ministry of Labour is well aware of the need to keep these natters under review. The National Service Act is based wholly on the principle of universality: that is to say, that everyone over a certain age has an obligation to serve his country in the Forces. I believe that exceptions to this rule should be made only in cases where it has been shown conclusively that deferment is of greater benefit and importance to the country than call-up. I can assure my noble friend that the Minister of Labour will study carefully the speeches that have been made this afternoon, and I hope that in view of what I have said the noble Lord will find it possible to withdraw his Motion.

4.36 p.m.


My Lords, before the noble Lord, Lord Glyn, replies, may I say a word as the Minister who was responsible, as the noble Lord, Lord Cherwell, recalls, for the introduction of National Service in the Bill of 1947, and for the adjustments in 1949? I am sorry that was not here to listen to the whole of his speech. I must say that I can find no fault in any respect with the statement which the Minister has just made from the Government Front Bench. I think it was exceedingly fair. I welcome very much the remarks with which he closed his speech. In all Parties, having assented to National Service, we are desirous of dealing with it as far as we possibly can on a basis of universality of service, providing we do not waste effort that could be far better directed in the defence of the country.


My Lords, I hope that the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, is not under the impression that I am against National Service. Quite the contrary. But I do think there is a great lack of balance in saying that only fifty a year of these high-grade scientists ought to be deferred, whereas 8.000 agricultural workers every year are deferred, as though that were quite a proper ratio.


My Lords, in rising to ask permission to withdraw the demand for Papers, I should like to say that perhaps my fault today has arisen because I am rather new to the procedure of this House. As the House does not sit on a Friday, it is very difficult to withdraw a Motion. The real fact is that the more I went into this question, the more I found out what a small proportion of men join the Mercantile Marine with a view to evading National Service. I have no doubt that the number who do so is so small that it would be very wrong indeed to tar the whole of the catering staff of the Mercantile Marine with that brush. I very much regret the inconvenience which I have caused to the noble Lord, Lord Cherwell, and others. In asking leave to withdraw the demand for Papers, I should like to express the hope that the debate which has taken place will be of assistance to all concerned with National Service. I ask your Lordships' leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.