HC Deb 06 February 1974 vol 868 cc345-6W
Dame Joan Vickers

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what action he intends to take to implement the recommendations of the naval welfare committee set up under the chairmanship of Lord Seebohm.

Mr. Buck

The report of the committee under Lord Seebohm, which undertook a comprehensive examination of naval welfare, is being published today. It reflects the outcome of a most comprehensive and painstaking study and I should like to take this opportunity of thanking Lord Seebohm and his colleagues for all their hard work on our behalf.

The committee recognises the effectiveness and fairness with which the Naval Family Welfare Organisation deals with "crisis" type welfare cases—for example, arrangements for the return of a husband from overseas to visit a seriously ill wife. However, the committee considers that a substantial expansion is required in the level and scope of other forms of welfare support provided by the Navy, particularly for the benefit of wives and families during periods when husbands are away at sea.

Accordingly, the committee recommends the formation of a Naval Personal and Family Service, staffed in the main by trained social workers, to encompass the work of the existing organisation and to extend naval social work to community support and preventive welfare. The committee's recommendations also include proposals for the easement of Service conditions as they affect welfare matters and specific programmes for inclusion in community and preventive work.

We accept in principle the majority of the committee's recommendations and we have consulted Lord Seebohm about their implementation.

The organisational changes recommended are the most far reaching and we are planning a two-stage approach. In the first stage, expected to last about three years, the Naval Family Welfare Organisation will remain responsible for "crisis" welfare work while simultaneously a number of trained social workers will be recruited to establish a Social Service to undertake community and preventive welfare work and also any professional case work required among those families that encounter serious difficulties. At the same time, some of our present staff will be sponsored for professional training. Subsequently, we hope to proceed to the full implementation of the Naval Personal and Family Service, as recommended by the committee with any adjustments to it that may be desirable in the light of lessons learned.

Some additional continuing expenditure will be entailed but we hope that this will be at least partially offset by a reduction in the numbers of trained men who leave the Royal Navy for reasons which might have been avoided by a more effective preventive welfare organisation. The general level of job satisfaction, in its widest sense, will be improved.

The House will, of course, have the opportunity of debating this subject in the forthcoming Navy debate.