asked the First Lord of the Admiralty whether, in relation to the captain's party on board a ship which was refitting, he has now considered the signed statements of over 30 workmen who were engaged in repair work on the vessel, alleging that their work of refitting on the date in question was entirely stopped or impeded because of the party, and that renovations and decorations of the ship, unnecessary from a naval point of view, were carried out in order to improve the vessel for party purposes; and, as such evidence was not called before the Board of Inquiry, will he reassemble the Board in order to take oral evidence from these workers?
I have carefully considered the statements in question. This matter has already been fully dealt with in the reply which I gave to my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Maclean) on 25th February. I must emphasise that the Board of Inquiry to which I then referred was very properly summoned by the Commander-in-Chief immediately the original allegations appeared in the Press and before the matter was ventilated in the House. The Board reported that there was no foundation in fact for any of the allegations or insinuations that appeared anonymously in the Press and that the refit of the ship was in no way retarded. Owing to operational requirements, it is not now possible to reopen the Board of Inquiry, but I feel that, even if it were so, such a step would be unnecessary, as the allegations contained in the signed statements to which reference is now made were dealt with in evidence before the Board of Inquiry. I do not wish to trouble the House with the detailed points which have now been raised and about which I am communicating with my hon. Friend, but these latest statements are, from the evidence which was laid before the Board, inaccurate.
Has my right hon. Friend noticed that the point of my Question is that when the Board of Inquiry assembled the evidence of these men who made the allegations was not taken? My Question asks that their evidence shall be taken, and is he not prepared to reopen the inquiry, or to have another Board assembled, in order to take the evidence of those who made the allegations instead of relying on the evidence of those who were only indirectly concerned?
I can assure my hon. Friend that the only evidence that was known to the Board of Inquiry at the time was that which had appeared anonymously in the Press. I can assure him secondly, having carefully examined the signed statement in question, that there is nothing in that signed statement which was not before the Board of Inquiry. They were exactly the same charges. Thirdly, the evidence of the officers, the representatives of the management of the yard and of the charge hands who were working there has been heard and contributed to the findings of the Board.
Is it not perfectly clear from the document which I have sent to the right hon. Gentleman that the allegations emanated from workpeople who alleged that their work on the ship was impeded, if not entirely stopped, and is it not a fact that they have not been asked to give evidence either orally or in writing?
There was no such evidence available at the time the Board of Inquiry was held. It is not operationally possible at the present time to reassemble the Board of Inquiry, but I can assure my hon. Friend again that there is not one of the statements put forward in the document from these men which was not included in the matter examined by the Board of Inquiry.
Does not my right hon. Friend realise that if a statement by 30 witnesses who have no interest in this matter at all and who must know the truth of the things to which they testify is to be rejected without inquiry, it will have the worst possible' effect upon the morale of the men in the dockyards?
I cannot accept as a fact that what those men put forward was rejected without inquiry. The whole matter has been most carefully examined by a properly constituted Board of Inquiry, and I can assure the House that there is not one statement in the signed statement now received which is dissimilar from the facts which were before the Board.