asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty how many ratings and other ranks of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines completed their first period of service during the past 12 months; how many have not signed on to complete their time for pension; and of these how many were chief and petty officers and equivalent ranks.
During the 12 months ending 30th June, 1949, 4,249 Naval ratings and other ranks of the Royal Marines, including 2,932 chief and petty officers and equivalent ranks, will complete their first period of continuous service. According to reports so far received in the Admiralty, 2,849 of these, including 1,860 chief and petty officers and equivalent ranks, have not signed on to complete time for pension, and have taken their discharge. In a substantial number of cases reports of the men's decision to sign on to complete time for pension or to take their discharge have not yet reached the Admiralty.
Can the Minister tell us what steps are being taken in view of this very serious situation? As one step, would he consider paying a gratuity of £100 to the man who stays in after his first period of service instead of paying it, as under the present arrangements, to the man who goes out?
We are considering a number of possible alternatives, and the one which has been mentioned by the hon. and gallant Gentleman will be taken into account along with many others. I hope that we may get some results.
Mr. J. P. L. Thomas:
In view of the figures given by the right hon. Gentleman, does he recall that in the Debate on the Navy Estimates I suggested that the Admiralty might consider the American scheme of shorter periods of re-engagement and that during the Report stage he said that he would consider the point? Has he come to a conclusion yet?
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it is an extremely alarming situation in which these men, who are absolutely the key men in the Fleet, are going out after having learnt their seamanship and the arts of naval warfare? Is it not essential to take steps to make careers in the Navy attractive to these men?
I must remind the hon. Gentleman that we have one difficulty which was not experienced before the war, namely, that we have full employment now, which was unknown before the war.
In view of the right hon. Gentleman's claim that the reason is full employment, is it not truer to say that this indicates the complete failure of the new pay code and the conditions behind it?
In view of these figures which in the light of the reply to the previous Question make the matter look even more serious unless some improvement can be obtained, can the right hon. Gentleman say whether we have yet reached the position of not being able to man ships for either home or foreign service because of this problem?
In view of the terrifying shortage of what used to be described as prime seamen, will the right hon. Gentleman take steps, whatever may be his views about the cause of it, to see that the Fleet is kept efficient by retaining key men in it?
Certainly, Sir. As I have said, we are examining every possible method we can because we realise the seriousness of it and we are determined to get an adequate number of fully trained men.