§ SIR WILFRID LAWSON
asked the First Lord of the Admiralty, Whether there is anything in the regulations of the Royal Marines which prohibits a member of that service taking part in religious services when off duty; and, 837 whether it has been brought under his notice that a corporal at Gosport has been sentenced by Court Martial to eighty-four days' imprisonment, with hard labour, to be degraded to the rank of a private, and to lose one conduct badge, for taking part in religious services against his Colonel's wishes?
§ MR. GOSCHEN
, in reply, said, there was nothing in the regulations of the Royal Marines prohibiting members of that service from taking part in religious services, whether on or off duty. Since the hon. Member put his Question on the Paper yesterday he had inquired into the facts, and found that the corporal in question was tried not for taking part in religious services, but for repeated disobedience of express orders given him by the colonel of the regiment. The sentence was correctly stated in the terms of the Question, but 77 out of the 84 days' imprisonment had been remitted. [Sir WILFRID LAWSON: Might I ask what the orders were?] I have not seen the proceedings of the court martial, and therefore I can only give a general answer to the Question, without pledging myself to the accuracy of every detail. But I have seen a letter from the colonel of the regiment, and I have had a letter placed in my hands stating the matter from the point of view of the men. The religious services referred to were preaching in the street, and the colonel, taking the view which I believe is universally taken in the Army and Navy, that soldiers and sailors are not permitted to preach publicly in uniform in the streets, sent for the two corporals and three men who had been acting in this manner, and pointed out to them that they should not do so. The colonel added that he appreciated their desire to do good to their fellow men; but suggested that there was ample field for the missionary labour which they had undertaken, in dealing with their comrades in the tap-rooms and elsewhere. He spoke to them repeatedly on this point, and three of the men fell in with his views, but the other two repeated the street preaching, though called in and remonstrated with, he believed, on two or three occasions. At last, they received the order that street-preaching was to be discontinued; and the men apparently disobeyed this order deliberately, in order to test the question. Under these circumstances, the authorities felt they 838 had no alternative but to deal with the question as one of discipline, if they were to maintain discipline in the Army and Navy at all.
§ SIR WILFRID LAWSON
asked, whether he was to understand that the regulations permitted soldiers and sailors to preach in tap-rooms?
§ MR. GOSCHEN
said, he was sorry the hon. Baronet seemed to have misunderstood his explanation. The colonel saw these men were anxious to do good to their fellows; and he pointed out to them that there was a great deal of drunkenness and evil of various kinds going on, to the checking of which they might turn their attention, without its entailing any necessity for their preaching in the streets in uniform. The colonel had no desire whatever to interfere with their exertions, provided they did not infringe the one point on which he insisted.