Following the question that I asked at Question time, I want shortly to raise the matter of Rosyth Naval Base. There are four naval dockyards in the United Kingdom—Devonport, Chatham, Portsmouth, and Rosyth. Considerable reductions are being made at these yards at the present time. The number of men employed at Devonport is 12,000; Chatham 9,000; Portsmouth 13,000, and Rosyth 6,000. It is the intention of the Admiralty to reduce the staff at these yards by a total of 7,500 men—Rosyth is to be reduced by 50 per cent., and the southern dockyards by 12½ per cent. It has been suggested to me that while I have advocated national economy on several occasions, I am inconsistent now in saying that the reductions at Rosyth are unfair, and not in the interests of economy. I shall try to prove that that suggestion is quite inaccurate. If the Admiralty have decided to reduce Rosyth for strategical reasons, it is not for me, as a mere layman, to criticise that policy; but Rosyth was brought into being and a large staff was created to carry out a line of policy adopted by the Admiralty during the War. They have now decided to change that policy, and I suggest to my hon. Friend opposite that if they do so they must remain true to the obligations which their former policy incurred. There was a very considerable number of English transferees brought from the southern yards to Rosyth Dockyard.
To induce them to come various liberal conditions were offered to them. They were a body of highly-skilled, efficient workmen of high character, and the last thing I wish in the world is for the Admiralty to repudiate any of the obligations entered into with these men. It ought not to be forgotten, however, that a considerable community has grown up round Rosyth. Not only have these Englishmen settled there, but a considerable number of Scotchmen have settled in the Rosyth area. These are described as hired men. The term "established man," which is used in a naval sense, is not very well understood in Scotland. But the Englishmen at Rosyth are mostly established men. My definite suggestion is this: that while the hon. and gallant Gentleman should not dream of repudiating his obligation to these established men at Rosyth, he ought to consider the advisability of transferring them to the Southern dockyards. At Rosyth the "Furious" is refitting, and that will employ for perhaps 18 months 2,000 men. It has been decided by the Admiralty that the "Furious" is to be towed to a Southern dockyard for refitting. If you are going to change the policy in that way, and to dock the "Furious" in the way described, I suggest that you should transfer to the Southern yard a certain proportion of the English transferees. The last time I was in the Rosyth area I received a very important deputation of English civil servants who signified their willingness to return to the Southern yards if they retained their Rosyth status and advantages. I ask my hon. Friend to consider the difficult position which is going to arise at Rosyth if the Admiralty pursue the policy which they have announced. I do not know what the final policy is going to be. I was informed by the Parliamentary Secretary that it was decided that 3,000 men were to be retained at Rosyth. It is now freely stated at Rosyth that 2,000 men are more likely to be retained. I beg the hon. Gentleman to consider the position seriously. Let him bear in mind the position of the ex-soldier to whom the Government have made such liberal promises.
I may say that I faced a week or two ago a hostile meeting in Rosyth, and I told them I was prepared to follow the unpopular course of supporting the Government in their policy of economy, but I would ask for a square deal in regard to Rosyth. I ask for that square deal across the Floor of this House.
The House will have listened with great sympathy to the statement made by my hon. Friend. The House will also realise that this is one of the first fruits of economy, and that economy cannot be applied without involving whole communities in great hardships. I gathered that my hon. Friend does not question the general policy of reductions, but he does question the method by which we are carrying them out. I should like the House to realise the very real difficulties with which we are faced. The number of men we had on the 11th of this month at Rosyth—I am talking only about Vote 8—was 4,569, and they have to be reduced to 2,000. Those 4,569 men at present consist of two classes, established men and hired men. There were 1,658 established men and 2,911 hired men. These two classes of men are in two entirely different categories. The State has contracted obligations, and very definite obligations, towards the established men. They are, in fact, in very much the same position as civil servants and are entitled to superannuation. With regard to the hired men, no such obligation exists. They are, in fact, under a week to week contract. I think it is obvious that it is not in our power to do anything in principle except to discharge the hired men. The definite question which the hon. Member has put to me in connection with the "Furious" was that some of the established men employed on her should be transferred south. That raises several difficulties. It was not easy to get these men to come up to Rosyth from southern yards, and we had to give them certain inducements and they received special facilities. If they had served two years in a southern yard they would only have one year to serve at Rosyth as hired men before going on the establishment. If we transferred any of these established men to southern yards we should block a great number of hired men at southern yards who are perhaps more entitled to establishment than the Rosyth men.
To bring these men south would be very unfair. There is another reason. Every established man who is moved south will have to be paid by the State the whole cost of his removal, and when he moves south he will displace a hired man. That man, unless he can find work, will have to move his home away from the dockyard where he has been brought up, so that it means two removals; and, if anyone is going to be removed, I must remind the hon. Member that the southern dockyards are very much further from any industrial centre than is Rosyth, and that it is more difficult for these men to get any alternative employment. These are some of the difficulties. We have examined them from every possible direction, but I am not in a position, as I told my hon. Friend at Question time to-day, to say whether in some measure they can be overcome. To have to give orders for these dismissals is the most unpleasant task that anyone can have, and I cannot overstate how much I sympathise with my hon. Friend. I can only repeat what I said at Question time to-day, namely that everything we can do will be done and that as little hardship as possible under the circumstances will be allowed to occur. I hope my hon. Friend will keep in touch with me and inform me of any ideas that he may have for relieving this very unfortunate and difficult position.