asked the First Lord of the Admiralty how many men have applied for release from the Royal Navy, in order to return to the coalmines, in the period from 1st October, 1951, to 29th February, 1952; and how many of these men held higher rank than able seamen.
Nine applications have been received by the Admiralty but all have been refused since the special scheme for the release of ex-coalminers from the Armed Forces to return to underground work came to an end on 30th September, 1951. All men in the Royal Navy and Royal Marines were given sufficient warning of the approaching end to the scheme. No application has been received from any rating above able seaman.
Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us why his Department can supply this information and the War Office cannot? Secondly, will he tell the House how many of these men were ignorant of the previous scheme which lapsed last September; and will he use all the influence he can to get these men back to the mines? Is he not convinced that they would be doing a much more useful job digging coal than sailing around in ships?
I am afraid I cannot answer for any other Department, nor am I able to give the numbers for which the hon. Member asked. I believe there is a later Question in the hon. Member's name addressed to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence, and perhaps he will await that answer.
Will my right hon. Friend do something about the hon. Gentleman's assertion that naval service consists of sailing round in boats?
Would it not be better, in view of the acute shortage of coalface workers at the moment in the mines, to grant unconditional release to coalminers in the Navy, rather than import Italian labour?
That is a policy which was introduced by the previous Government, and I am not prepared now to give an answer on a wider basis.
Would the First Lord consider the point made in Question 48 today—that if these men were serving in Korea or the Far East last year, they were debarred from applying under that scheme? Will he consider re-opening the scheme on a limited basis for those very few men?
I cannot anticipate a Question which is later upon the Order Paper. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will wait till it is reached, when we may be able to satisfy him.