HC Deb 13 March 1896 vol 38 cc946-55

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House doth agree with the Committee in the Fourth Resolution. That a, sum, not exceeding £4,419,800, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the Expenses of Wages, etc., to Officers, Seamen and Boys, Coast Guard, and Royal Marines, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1897.

MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)

said, he rose for the purpose of drawing attention to the persistent neglect on the part of the Admiralty of the spiritual wants of the Catholic sailors in the Service of Her Majesty. According to the religious census of the Navy in 1894 there were 49,200 sailors belonging to the Church of England; 8,300 belonging to the Wesleyan and other Protestant denominations, and 5,900—practically 6,000—Roman Catholics. The provision made for the spiritual wants of those 6,000 Catholic sailors was almost nothing, and the result was that they were left, especially when the ships were on foreign service, in a condition of absolute destitution as regarded spiritual consolation. This question had been raised in the House of Commons over and over again, in the form of questions addressed to different First Lords of the Admiralty. A Debate took place on the introduction of the Navy Estimates on March 15th, 1878. At that time the late Mr. W. H. Smith was First Lord of the Admiralty, and claims were made by the Irish Members that some provision should be made for the Catholic sailors. Mr. Smith, in reply, said, that much as the Admiralty would desire to make such provision, as was asked for, it was practically impossible to add a second Chaplain to every ship in the Navy. It was impossible, he said, to place a Roman Catholic chaplain on a ship in the manner which was contemplated, but in his view it would be the duty of the Admiralty to endeavour to make provision for the assistance of a Roman Catholic clergyman in times of sickness, when, as he understood the matter, persons professing that faith attached peculiar importance to the presence of a clergyman of their own persuasion. It would be the duty of the Admiralty, Mr. Smith went on, to endeavour to make such provision by attaching a Roman Catholic chaplain to every fleet of five or six large ships operating at a distance from its base, so that in case of sickness, sudden emergency, or imminent danger, he could be called upon to offer those religious consolations which might be required. He could not, however, hold out any expectation of being able to provide an additional chaplain to any one ship. He did not see how it was possible to attach to every squadron of five or six ships operating at a distance from their base a Roman Catholic clergyman, who would be within reach of the sailors in case of sickness or imminent danger, unless he were on board one of the ships. Mr. Smith went on to say that he sympathised with every sailor and soldier in the service of the Queen, and would do everything in his power on their behalf to secure what was asked for. During the 18 years that had elapsed since that statement was made, very little had been done, so far as he knew, to carry out the promise then given. What was the present condition of affairs? There were 6,000 Catholic sailors in the fleet, or 10 per cent. of the total personnel of the Navy. Whereas in the Army there were 60 chaplains of the Church of England and 15 Catholic chaplains who were placed on the same footing and enjoyed the same privileges; in the Navy there were 100 Church of England chaplains and not one single Catholic chaplain. That was a monstrous and utterly indefensible condition of things. There were, it was true, at Portsmouth, Devonport and Malta, so-called acting Catholic chaplains—that was, priests at each of these ports—who received a small salary of £175 to £200 without allowances, as against £219 to £401 salaries and allowances of the Protestant chaplains. According to his information, which he believed was correct, there was not a single Catholic chaplain in any of the various squadrons of the Navy, although Mr. Smith, in the year 1878, promised that the Lords of the Admiralty would attach to any squadron of five ships and more a Catholic chaplain, who would be available for Catholic sailors in case of sickness or imminent danger. He was informed that an appeal was made in 1888 to the Lords of the Admiralty by the Catholic Union, of which the Duke of Norfolk was then, and he believed is still, the President, setting forth the spiritual need of Catholics in the Navy. In reply to that appeal, a letter was addressed to the Duke of Norfolk by the Secretary of the Lords of the Admiralty, containing the following paragraph:— My Lords are prepared to carry out, as far as possible, the undertaking entered into in June 1878, as to sending a Roman Catholic Chaplain with any squadron of ships dispatched on service that would keep them a considerable time away from a port where the services of a Roman Catholic Priest would be available. In that letter the Lords of the Admiralty admitted that an. undertaking was given by them in 1878 that a Catholic chaplain would be available for the spiritual needs of the Catholics in any squadron of ships which was so situated as not to be within easy reach of a port where a priest was available. The language of the letter of the Lords of the Admiralty was peculiar. They promised to carry out ''as far as possible,'' the undertaking given by Mr. Smith. The Lords of the Admiralty could carry out that undertaking, and if they promised they should do it. One would suppose that if they placed a Catholic chaplain on board a ship where a Protestant chaplain was, they would immediately create dissatisfaction. He could not see why a Catholic chaplain should not be stationed on board the flagship of every squadron. He was not unreasonable in the matter. He recognised that the Catholics were in a minority in the Navy, but they were entitled to religious ministrations just as well as Protestants within reasonable limits. The Minute to which the Letter of the Admiralty referred, and which was presented on June 10th, 1878, was as follows:— My Lords direct that when a large number of ships forming a squadron are sent on any service that would keep them a considerable time away from a port where the services of a Roman Catholic priest are available, arrangements are to be made for one to accompany the squadron. That was the Minute presented to Parliament in 1878, and it was a monstrous thing that it had not been faithfully carried out. It would appear that, despite that Minute, no provision was made for Catholics in the Navy except at the three ports of Portsmouth, Devonport and Malta, and at these ports the acting Catholic chaplains had neither the status nor the authority of the Church of England chaplains. It was intolerable that Roman Catholic chaplains should not have the authority or status of chaplains of the Church of England. If the Duke of Norfolk was fit to be a Member of the Cabinet, why should not humble members of the same despised faith be fit to sit with officers of the British Navy? There was not a Roman Catholic chapel on board any of Her Majesty's ships. Some provision for the spiritual wants of Roman Catholics had, however, been made at Devon port, Portsmouth, and Malta; but the chaplains were regarded as socially inferior, and were paid very much less than Church of England chaplains. This was indefensible. He claimed that Catholic chaplains should be treated as the equals of their Church of England brethren. He was informed that the allowances made to Roman Catholic priests in the outports where the English fleets called were: Portsmouth, £200; Devonport, £200; Sheerness, £80; and Malta, £80. Out of £25,000 a year which appeared on the Estimates for the pay and allowances of chaplains of the Navy, only £1,458 was paid to Catholic chaplains. The balance went to Protestant chaplains. He saw a great deal of the Navy when residing at Malta. For whatever reason, sailors were much more religously minded than soldiers. He held in his hand a sheaf of letters—some of them very touching—from Catholic sailors about religious consolation. One letter described the great delight of Catholic sailors in having the privilege of hearing them at Alexandria, after having been unable to attend any service whatever at sea. Another, writing from Alexandria, said:— On the way here we had to call at Tripoli to transfer the remains of men recovered from the disaster to H. M. S. Victoria. There were two Roman Catholics, and the captain asked me, as a Catholic, to read the burial service. Thanks to the 'Sailors' Guide,' you sent me I was able to do so. It was a monstrous thing that Catholic sailors, who risked their lives as much as those of the Protestant faith, should be denied the consolations of their religion, which Protestants were afforded. The late Mr. W. H. Smith, who had considerable sympathy with Catholics, once said in a speech that in times of imminent death Catholics, even more than their Protestant comrades, appreciated the necessity of a minister of religion being near. Looking over the list of those wounded in the bombardment of Alexandria, he noticed that the first man to be wounded was named McCarthy. He called upon the Government to carry out in this matter the pledge given 20 years ago, and place Catholic chaplains within the reach of Catholic sailors wherever five or six ships were at sea at a distance from port or the base of operations. He hoped that at Devonport, Portsmouth, Malta, Gibraltar and Hong Kong Catholic chaplains would be appointed, who would receive the same salary and social recognition as chaplains of the Church of England. It was not an unreasonable claim which he made; and, if the Catholics did not get satisfaction in this matter, he did not understand how one of their co-religionists could remain of the Government which refused their reasonable demands.

THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY (Mr. G. J. GOSCHEN, St. George's,) Hanover Square

could assure the hon. Member that there was not the slightest vestige of bigotry in the attitude of the Government with regard to Roman Catholics in the Navy, nor any desire to deny them every possible privilege in the exercise of their religious rites. [Cheers.] If the hon. Member was to be understood as suggesting that, on the part of Naval Officers there had been any desire to thwart Catholic sailors in the matter of religious privileges, he believed the hon. Member was entirely mistaken. For himself, he desired to deal with this matter in an entirely impartial spirit. The present Government were new to office, and they took an impartial view of the situation. He could honestly say that if, on looking into the question, he found there was any real grievance to which Catholic sailors were subjected, it would be a pleasure to him to remedy that grievance if it was possible. He would not willingly say a word that should jar on the ears of hon. Members opposite, nor wound the feelings they conscientiously entertained. There were two questions raised. One was the extent to which Roman Catholic chaplains had been admitted on the effective list of the Navy, and the other was the position which, when admitted, they were entitled to occupy. He would promise the hon. Member that he would look carefully into the status of those Roman Catholics who were at present receiving Government assistance and emoluments in return for the spiritual ministrations they gave to sailors. That day he had been engaged in reading up all the papers he could find at the Admiralty, and they raised a considerable number of complicated questions, with which at the moment he did not feel competent to deal satisfactorily. He would examine the whole question afresh in the most impartial spirit, with the view of seeing whether any grievance could be established. Of course, an element in the question was the numbers in the Navy belonging to various denominations. While Churchmen were 75 per cent, of the total, Roman Catholics formed 8 to 9 per cent., and Wesleyans 7 to 8 per cent. It would be admitted that, whatever privileges were granted to Roman Catholic chaplains should be extended to the ministers of other denominations. [Mr. DILLON: "If they claim them."] They were bound to be alive to the Roman Catholic movement, and would not be at all insensible to their own claims. He would agree with the late Mr. W. H. Smith that to Roman Catholic sailors and soldiers there was something special in the ministrations of their own priests as distinct from laymen, and particularly at the time of approaching death. Therefore he should be anxious to secure for Roman Catholics the fullest privileges compatible with the requirements of the Service. In some respects Roman Catholic sailors were better off than sailors who belonged to the English Church. It was only on large ships that there were chaplains belonging to the Established Church, and on ships below first-class cruisers there were no chaplains. On the Pacific station, along the whole coast, Catholic sailors found chapels and priests, while members of the Church of England might be three years without being able to enter an English church.


said that English sailors could not understand or speak the Spanish language or Maltese in the Mediterranean.


continued, that Catholics were understood to be able to enjoy the service of the Mass, even in a language unknown to them, and that in any language the service had to them a sacred character. If he were wrong he hoped hon. Members would forgive him, for he did not wish to press the point beyond the acquiescence of hon. Members; but he did wish them to understand it was only a small proportion of sailors belonging to the Established Church who had the advantage of the services of permanent chaplains. There was no objection on the part of Naval officers on religious grounds to the presence of a Roman Catholic priest on board ship. If the hon. Gentleman had any idea of that kind he would ask him to dismiss it at once from his mind, for it was utterly without foundation. ["Hear, hear!"] Naval officers were as free from religious bigotry as Army officers, and a Roman Catholic priest would be as well respected in the Navy as in the Army. The difficulty was that space was limited on a man-of-war—so limited that there were many men-of-war, with large bodies of Protestant sailors, on which it was found impossible to have chaplains. This difficulty was admitted by the Duke of Norfolk and his friends when they placed this matter before the Admiralty some years ago, and they did not, in consequence, press for the appointment of a Roman Catholic chaplain to every flagship. He promised the hon. Gentleman that he would inquire fully into the matter in order to see that no undertaking given by any of his predecessors in Office was left unfulfilled, and to make it clear to Roman Catholic sailors that it was no feeling of religious intolerance which barred their claim to the ministration of their own priests.

MR. T. P. O'CONNOR (Liverpool, Scotland)

said, he thought they had no reason whatever to complain of the general tone of the answer of the right hon. Gentleman, but at the same time it was a matter which they would have to press upon his attention. The right hon. Gentleman had alluded to the more frequent facilities in the way of spiritual ministrations which Catholic sailors en-enjoyed as compared with Protestant sailors. It was quite true that Catholic sailors found a church of their religion in far more ports than Protestant sailors found churches of their creed; but it should not be forgotten that the administration of the sacraments—especially confession—depended on the confessor being able to speak the tongue of the sailor. They could not admit that a question of space should regulate a matter of such importance as that of providing Catholic sailors with the consolation of their religion. If they found it necessary to press the right hon. Gentleman, it was because in the representation which the Duke of Norfolk made to the Admiralty in 1888, reference was made to a promise given in 1871, which promise was still unfulfilled.


agreed that the speech of the First Lord of the Admiralty was very satisfactory, inasmuch as he had promised to make an inquiry into the matter. He did not for a moment desire it to be thought that he accused the right hon. Gentleman of being influenced by bigotry. He was convinced that this matter had simply been overlooked. This matter ought not to be judged in proportion to the comparatively small number of Catholic sailors. What they had to do was not merely to provide religious ministration for these sailors, but to meet the sentiment of a large number of people. If the Admiralty acted wisely they would do what the 6,000 Catholic sailors required and thus convey the idea to very many millions of people in the Empire who held the Roman Catholic religion, that there was a desire at headquarters to give full and fair play to the Catholic as well as other religions. The right hon. Gentleman would no doubt make an inquiry and the matter could be brought up again. In the meantime the right hon. Gentleman would excuse him saying the plea that this matter had not been attended to on the ground of want of space could hardly be a serious one. It was well known what huge things men of war were, and one would imagine room could easily be found for a Catholic chaplain. He had hoped to be able to move in Committee to reduce the Vote by the amount of the increase in the sum required for wages of officers and men. He would now, however, move to reduce the Vote by—


said, the time for moving a reduction of the Vote had passed. The Resolution was read at the Table, and before the question was put he waited until the hon. Member for East Mayo had spoken. He had now put the Question, and it was, therefore, too late to move an Amendment. Of course, the hon. Member could speak on the Vote.


said, it would meet his wishes to object to the whole Vote. He objected to the increased expenditure on the Navy, but as he was rather sleepy he would content himself with taking a division.

* MR. J. G. WEIR (Ross and Cromarty)

said, the First Lord of the Admiralty was of course aware that trawling was carried on very largely around the northern coast of Scotland. On the south coast of England the coastguards were very numerous, and part of their duty was to report trawlers. Could not the right hon. Gentleman arrange that the coastguards be increased on the coasts of Scotland, and especially about the islands, and that they should report trawlers? Some years ago he raised the question, and was informed it was not the coastguard's duty, but he trusted that now he would receive some satisfactory assurance on the point.

* MR. HERBERT LEWIS (Flint Boroughs)

said, there was one subject he had desired to mention last night; it related to the six Naval cadetships. The Secretary to the Admiralty, replying to a question, said that the number of naval cadetships given to the Conway and the Worcester would be reduced to four in 1897, and to two in 1898. The boys of parents who were not well-to-do went to the Conway and Worcester, where they received an excellent training, and the naval cadetships given to those vessels were an incentive to work, and raised the whole tone of the ship. He regarded the proposal to reduce their number as reactionary. The system had been found to work well; and he should like to see these ships receive the same consideration in the future as they had done in the past.

DR. TANNER (Cork Co., Mid)

said, that he recollected, 25 years ago, relatives of his own, who were in the Naval service, pointing out how important it was to prevent Irish Catholics from joining the Navy. How many training ships had they had in Ireland? Why were they not given to Ireland? Simply because the majority were Catholics, and they did not want Catholics in the Navy. That was the whole truth in a nutshell. [Laughter.] The Catholics were boycotted in the Navy. Let there be fair play all round. It was a cruel injustice that the Catholics should not have the benefit of their own clergy, as well as the Anglicans; whether they were High Church or Low Church, Wesleyans, and what not, they should all have the benefit of their clergy. The First Lord spoke of the ease with which Catholics in the Mediterranean might attend religious service on shore; but nobody knew better than the right hon. Gentleman that that was not feasible. In the first place, the sailors were not allowed on shore in time; and then, as there were only a few Catholics in a squadron, there was a great deal of difficulty in the matter.


I must call the attention of the House to the continual repetition of the hon. Member. I must ask the hon. Member to resume his seat.


I have not been cautioned, Mr. Speaker. ["Order!"]


I thought I gave the hon. Member considerable time. ["Hear, hear!"] The Question is, that the House do agree with the Committee on the said Resolution. [Cries of "No!"]

The House divided:—Ayes, 175; Noes, 32.—(Division List, No. 54).