HC Deb 06 April 1900 vol 81 cc1473-88

Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [2nd April], "That the Bill be now read a second time."

Question again proposed.

Debate resumed.

*MR. CALDWELL (Lanarkshire, Mid)

objected to the practice of the Government moving important Bills after midnight, or as on a previous occasion with this Bill, within a few minutes of that hour, without offering any explanation or affording any opportunity for discussion Under the system of party Government, the duty of criticism constitutionally devolved on the Opposition, not in their own party interest, but in the interests of the country, so that no legislation should be passed which had not been well considered and carefully criticised. The Bill had reference to the calling out into actual service of the volunteer forces of the Naval Reserve. By the Act of 1859, the number of such forces is not to exceed 30,000, whilst the number actually authorised by Parliament for the year now current is 27,700, being an increase of only fifty over the past year, notwithstanding that the number of officers and men of the Fleet have been increased this year by 3,499, and now stands at 82,821. They were thus dealing not only with a large body of men, but with a body of men which had not yet attained the maximum of forty-one years ago, which was not increasing proportionately to the increase of the Fleet, and which was a force which should be strictly reserved for being called into actual service only at a time of great emergency or national danger. The Bill had nothing to do with the annual drill and training, which were left entirely, as at present, to the Admiralty. The calling out of the Naval Reserve Volunteers to actual service meant a considerable sacrifice to the men. It was a great loss to wives and families, and, in many cases, the loss of permanent situations. The power ought not, therefore, to be lightly exercised. By Section 4 of the Act of 1859, the sole power and prerogative of calling out the Naval Reserve Volunteers is vested in Her Majesty, which, of course, means the Cabinet as a whole. Her Majesty may call out as many or such part of them as she may deem necessary. But before even Her Majesty may call them out, the occasion must first be communicated to Parliament if Parliament be sitting, or be declared in Council and notified by Proclamation if Parliament be not sitting or in being. Once the Volunteers are so called out, the Act of 1859 devolves upon the Lord High Admiral the duty of making all the necessary arrangements for collecting the men and utilising their services. The important point to observe is that it is Her Majesty who fixes the number which, in her opinion, is necessary to be called out for the particular occasion, the Admiralty having no discretion but being bound to call out the number so fixed. If it should be necessary to call out more Volunteers, the same form has to be gone through, the prerogative of calling out and the duty and responsibility of fixing the number of the additional men to be called out resting with Her Majesty. Nor is there any reason why the solemnity, publicity, and responsibility of calling out the additional number should not be observed. Indeed, it was the more necessary in the case of the additional number, as, obviously, the crisis must have become more acute, whilst the country will be drawing more largely on what is a force reserved for a time of national danger or great emergency. Nor is there anything in the slightest degree cumbrous in the calling out the additional number required. If Parliament is sitting, Parliament has to be acquainted with the fact, an operation not only extremely simple in itself, and involving no unnecessary delay, but a most proper thing to do. If Parliament is not sitting, then the additional number of men are declared by an Order in Council, very easily obtained, no matter where Her Majesty may be, and is made public by Proclamation. In fact, so far as publicity and notice to the men are concerned, the Proclamation would appear in the press all over the country the next morning, before any call or summons to the service by the Admiralty could possibly reach them. The present Act had been in operation for forty-one years, and up to the present no difficulty had been felt, nor had any complaint been made with the existing law. The change proposed by the Bill would seem to have suggested itself owing to the fact that under the Act of 1882 calling out the Army Reserves, Her Majesty has power by the Proclamation to order a Secretary of State— From time to time to give, and when given to revoke or vary such directions as may seem necessary or proper for calling out the forces or force mentioned in the Proclamation, or all or any of the men belonging thereto. Finding this power of delegation in the case of the Army, the Admiralty evidently discover for the first time that they require this power in the case of the Navy, and that it is impossible longer to get on without it, although no difficulty has been known or felt during the last forty-one years. The Admiralty wish given to them the powers which are given to the War Department; but are the Admiralty willing to have the restrictions placed upon the calling out of the Naval Reserve Volunteers which are imposed in the case of the Army Reserves? Therein lies the difference between the two cases, and accounts for the difference in powers. As he had pointed out, Her Majesty can call out the Naval Reserve Volunteers "on such occasions as she deems fit." On the other hand, by Section 12 of the Reserve Forces Act, 1882, Her Majesty can only call out the Army Reserves "in case of imminent national danger or of great emergency," and the occasion must not only first be communicated to Parliament if Parliament be sitting, or declared in Council and notified by Proclamation if Parliament be not sitting, but by Section 13— Whenever Her Majesty orders the Army Reserve and Militia Reserve, or either of them, to be called out on permanent service, if Parliament be then separated by such adjournment or prorogation as will not expire within ten days, a Proclamation shall be issued for the meeting of Parliament within ten days, and Parliament shall accordingly meet and sit upon the day appointed by such Proclamation, and shall continue to sit and act in like manner as if it had stood adjourned or prorogued to the same day. Obviously there is a great difference between the delegation to a Secretary of State to call out all or any of the Army Reserves called out by Royal Proclamation in a time "of imminent national danger or of great emergency," and when, if Parliament be not then sitting, Parliament must be called together within ten days, and the necessity for any such delegation in the case of the Naval Reserve Volunteers whom Her Majesty may call out, to whatever extent she pleases, "on such occasions as she deems fit," without being limited to times "of imminent national danger or great emergency," and without being under any obligation to call Parliament together.

Attention called to the fact that forty Members were not present (Mr. STEADMAN, Tower Hamlets, Stepney). House counted, and forty Members being found present,

*MR. CALDWELL (continuing)

said it would be absurd to have to call Parliament together every time that it might be found necessary to call out any additional number of men. Delegation as regards numbers, whilst thus appropriate in the case of the Army Reserves is not appropriate to the case of the Navy Reserves, not fenced with the same restrictions, and under no necessity to call Parliament together. Parliament has wisely imposed upon Her Majesty the prerogative, duty, and responsibility, not only of calling out the Naval Reserve Volunteers, but of fixing the number which should be called out from time to time, a new proclamation being required every time an additional number of men are called out. The calling out of any additional number by Her Majesty, however, is encumbered with no unnecessary formalities, and produces no delay, whilst it is but right and proper, wherever an addi- tional number is called out, that the fact should be intimated to Parliament and to the country by Royal Proclamation, and not left to be carried into effect by any secret orders from the Admiralty. At present no more than the number which, in the opinion of Her Majesty, is actually required can be called out, and the Admiralty has no discretion but to call them out. The Bill, however, would enable Her Majesty to call out the whole of the Naval Reserve Volunteers, or any large portion of them, even although the occasion might not require a call out of more than 5,000 or 1,000 men. It would always be explained that, although a larger number were nominally called out than might be deemed necessary at the time, yet it was not intended actually to call out the full number, but only a very restricted number, which the Admiralty had power to do. What he feared might be done in practice was that the whole Naval Reserve Volunteers might be called out in the Royal proclamation, even although a small number only were considered necessary, and that once such a proclamation had been issued, the Admiralty would thereafter have unlimited power from time to time to call out additional numbers as they might think fit without acquainting Parliament or the country, thus depleting that part of the naval defence of the country which was intended to be used only in a time of imminent national danger or of great emergency. He protested against giving such a power to a mere Department of the State. Circumstances of late years had shown that we ought not to give unlimited power to the Admiralty by, first of all, getting an order from the Queen to call out the Reserve forces, and then allowing the Admiralty to call out as many as they please, because the Fleet might at any time be used without the knowledge of Parliament for many purposes, and sometimes for making a demonstration. An Emperor might send a telegram, and then the fleet might be mobilised and the Volunteers called out; something might take place in China, and all the Admiralty would have to do would be to get a proclamation from the Queen, and then they would have the whole thing in their hands. It was in the interests both of the Reserves and the country that a chock should be kept upon the Admiralty, and that is why he objected to this Bill and insisted upon keeping the power where it was. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving that the Bill be read a second time this day six months.

MR. COLVILLE (Lanark, N.E.)

I beg leave to second my hon. friend's proposal.

Amendment proposed— To leave out the word 'now,' and at the end of the Question to add the words 'upon this day six months.'"—(Mr. Caldwell.)

Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."


This Bill is brought forward in order to enable the Admiralty to call out such a number as they may require. The object of the Bill is precisely to prevent that which the hon. Gentleman supposes will be its result. This Bill is simply to give to the Admiralty the same power as is already possessed by the War Office in regard to the calling out of the Army Reserve. It is simply this, that after the Queen with all the responsibility provided by section 4 of the Act of 1859—not one jot of which responsibility will be removed by this Act—has directed the Naval Volunteers to be called out, the Admiralty may give directions as to the number to be called out, so that it will not be necessary to bring all the Volunteers away from their work, and send them back again when they are not all required. I can assure the hon. Member that the Act of 1859 will not be abrogated by anything contained in the Bill before the House but it will apply in exactly the same way as before, the only difference being that the Admiralty will have discretion as to whether they will call out 10,000 or 15,000 men.


I am indebted to my hon. friend the Member for Mid Lanark for the industry and acumen he has brought to bear on the elucidation of this Bill. It appears to me that two points arise in connection with it; firstly, the intention of the Bill; and secondly, whether the intention is expressed in the language of the Bill. The intention of the Bill as explained by the Attorney General corresponds very much with what was laid down by my hon. friend. The law according to the Act of 1859 is that the Queen after signifying her intention by message to Parliament or by proclamation may call into active service the whole or any portion of the Royal Naval Volunteers called in the Estimates the Naval Reserve. The Queen having called out the whole or any part of these Volunteers the Admiralty is then authorised by the Act of 1859 to call them into active service. What is intended now, I understand, is that instead of the present system the Admiralty are to be empowered within, I assume, the limits of the Queen's proclamation or message to Parliament to call into active service such portion of the Naval Volunteers as may seem to them to be required, and at a later period may call, always within the limits of the I proclamation or message, a further portion if required. So that instead of there being only one order and one proclamation declaring the number to be called into active service, there will be a governing order, which naturally will take the largest margin possible. In other words, instead of calling out 20,000 men power may be taken to call out the whole of the Reserve, and then the Admiralty can call out 10,000 to-day and 5,000 or 10,000 six months later. That is the system now proposed instead of the system established by the Act of 1859, which has remained unchanged and uncriticised all these years. What is the reason for this change? We on this side are supposed to be a party favourable to legislative change, but on this occasion we are opposed to a legislative change for which I am bound to say the Attorney General has not given any adequate reason. Perhaps it was only his duty to describe the nature of the change, but I cannot myself discover why this change should be brought about, and my hon. friend has suggested many reasons against it. There is one further point not mentioned by my hon. friend which occurs to me. Assuming that I am correct in describing this Bill as one to give power to the Crown to make a governing proclamation which the Admiralty may administer in detail by instalments, I would ask the House to consider that we are not dealing with the same class of men as the Army Reserve. The Naval Reserve is composed of seafaring men, and we are by this Bill putting on them a burden which they may not have to bear, because their services may not be required. Under the present system 10,000 men are called out by proclamation, and the Admiralty proceeds to call them out. The remaining men are under no obligation except that contained in the Act of Parliament. They are under contingent liability if you like; but under the system now proposed the men will be under special notice, which must necessarily affect the conditions of their employment. That appears to me to be a practical objection outweighing any good I can see in the proposal. Perhaps the First Lord of the Admiralty will be able to tell the House the practical reasons for this proposal. I can conceive one good reason, namely, that it is just as well to have a margin, that the number of men wanted is not actually known, and that, although only 5,000 may be wanted, it is just as well to have power to call out a greater number. That would appear to be the main reason for this change, but I do not think it overweighs the considerations against it. Subject to anything that the First Lord of the Admiralty may say, I should be inclined to agree with my hon. friend in offering opposition to this Bill; but looking at the Bill, I am obliged to say that I am not clear that it affects any alteration in the law whatever. It is a very curious Bill, and there are many things in it which will have to be looked after in Committee. The phrase "called out" appears to me to be new in a Bill, but I will not detain the House on that question now. If we compare the Bill as it is with the Act as it stands, it is a little difficult to see that any important alteration of the law is made at all. The Act of 1859 says that the Queen may by proclamation call out all or any of the Naval Reserves, and a subsequent section orders the Admiralty to call them out. The Bill simply says that when the Queen has declared that all or any of the Naval Volunteers shall be called out for active service, then Her Majesty may authorise the Admiralty to call all or any as may be required. Instead of the Queen ordering all or any of the Naval Volunteers to be called, and the Admiralty as a mere matter of machinery calling them out, the Bill provides that the Admiralty may give directions as to the calling out of the men, always within the limits of the proclamation. That appears to me to be a perfectly fair and proper interpretation of the Bill. The Attorney General's explanation was characterised by his usual clearness and candour, but it does not lie with him to say why the change is proposed, and I am sure the House will be glad to hear the reasons for it.


I shall be very glad to give the House the reasons why this Bill is introduced, and as I will prove to the House, the object of the Bill is the very opposite to that suggested. It is for the convenience quite as much of the Royal Naval Reserve as of the Admiralty. Suppose that the country were in such a position that we wanted 5,000 men certain, under the existing law there is scarcely any doubt that we would call for a much larger number, because otherwise if we wanted another 5,000 men we should have to have a new proclamation and we should have to trouble Her Majesty and to have Councils at a time of national emergency, which would be very inconvenient in every way. Therefore, under the present Act a very much larger number of men than is actually wanted at a particular moment would be called for in the proclamation which Her Majesty would be advised to make. For any Government to be constantly admitting, with all the pomp and ceremony of a proclamation, that they want 5,000 men more, is not desirable at a time of national emergency. It would be far more convenient to have a larger number in the proclamation, and then to call them out as they are wanted—5,000 at a time or 3,000 at a time—sparing the men, which, under the present system, we are not able to do. Under the present system it has, indeed, already happened in one case in the Army—in the Army Reserve Department—that when there was a possibility of a certain number of men being wanted, the men were called up and put under immediate liability, and then, as they were not wanted they were sent home again. It is precisely to avoid that inconvenience that we have introduced this Bill. It is that we may be able to call the men up as they are wanted, and not according to the necessities of a proclamation, which cannot be final. I think the House will see that the constant issuing of proclamations is very undesirable, and that the liability put on the men by these constant proclamations would be as great and greater than the liability under this measure. If I were a Naval Reserve man I am quite certain I should prefer this Bill—I will not say its theoretical action, but its certain application in practice. I can assure the House that that is the only object of the Bill. It may be asked, the old system having gone so long, why change it now? Because we have been looking most carefully into our system of mobilisation, and we have found that more men are called out under proclamation than are wanted at the moment, and we want to avoid that. We do not want to avoid any communications with Parliament, because Parliament will be notified by the usual methods. We are anxious not to be obliged to call out a greater number of men than is wanted at the moment, thereby causing unnecessary inconvenience to the men themselves. Therefore, although theoretically there may be something in the argument put with great ability by hon. and learned Members opposite, in fact I can assure the House that the Bill will be better than the old Act. With reference to the wording of the Bill, it is rather a matter for lawyers to decide, but the Attorney General assures me that the language is perfectly correct, but if it is not correct it will be altered. I hope the House will not refuse to pass this perfectly innocent measure, both for the convenience of the Royal Naval Reserve and for the easier administration of our Reserves in time of emergency.


I look with great jealousy on any Bill connected with the Royal Naval Reserve, because I have always taken a special interest in that body; but having looked at this Bill I am bound to say that there is no real ground for the objections advanced on the other side of the House. Let the House look at the present situation. Section 4 of the Act of 1859 states that it shall be lawful for Her Majesty to call into active service so many of the Naval Volunteers as Her Majesty may deem necessary. Under the Act there is power to call out all or any of the Royal Naval Reserve, and, the "all or any" having been called out, it then rests with the Admiralty to carry out Her Majesty's instructions. This Bill does not substitute any other authority for that in the Act. It simply provides that when Her Majesty has done the act contemplated by the section power is given to the Admiralty, which, however, does not come into existence until what is contemplated by Section 4 of the Act of 1859 has been actually effected. When that act has been done by Her Majesty, and when the order has been communicated to Parliament, if Parliament is sitting, then this Bill will come into operation. Anything which has to be done now will not be unnecessary after the Bill passes. All that has to be done now will have to be done in the future, and the only effect of the Bill will be that instead of making it absolutely necessary for the Admiralty to call out the exact number of men named in the proclamation, the Admiralty will have power to call out the men in such numbers as may be convenient to the Admiralty and to the men. Is that unreasonable? It must stand to reason that the Admiralty will not call out more men than are required, because the First Lord of the Admiralty has a wholesome dread of the hon. Gentleman opposite and his Scotch colleagues, and is not likely to propose higher estimates than are required. It may be desirable to call out 5,000 men now, 5,000 more in three months, and another 5,000 in six months. How much better that would be than calling out the whole 15,000 at once, thereby preventing a larger number of men from shipping for distant voyages. Is it unreasonable to give this power to the Admiralty, which is exactly analogous to the power possessed by the Secretary of State for War? All who love the sea and wish to magnify the Navy should join together in claiming from time to time for the First Lord of the Admiralty and his Board of Naval Advisers equal powers to those given to the Secretary of State for War. That is practically what this Bill proposes. I came to the Bill with jealousy; it seemed to me in one of its aspects as though it would somewhat curtail the powers of Parliament, and as likely to inflict some disadvantage or inconvenience on the Naval Reserve men which I should strongly resist; but really having looked into it I see it is for the convenience of the Admiralty, and for increasing the dignity of the Admiralty by giving it power now given to the Secretary of State for War, who always considers himself superior to the First Lord of the Admiralty, whereas he is far inferior in connection with the national defence. Seeing that the Bill is for the good of the State and for the convenience both of the Admiralty and the Royal Naval Reserve, I have entirely divested myself of any suspicion I had, and I do think the House ought to pass this Bill.

MR. HAVELOCK WILSON (Middlesbrough)

I cannot agree that the Bill is quite the innocent measure it is reprepresented to be, and I can quite imagine that it may inflict great hardship on Naval Reserve men. I have an idea why this Bill is being brought forward, and I do not quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman on that point.


Why not? I have stated the truth.


I do not deny that. I make no suggestion to the contrary. What I say is this, that the Admiralty have some considerable difficulty in getting firemen and stokers at the present time. I know they can get plenty of men who are not accustomed to stoking work on board vessels, they can get the raw material, but they have some difficulty in getting trained stokers. If this Bill is sanctioned by the House of Commons it will be possible for the Admiralty to call on the stokers alone without interfering with the able seamen's section at all. Again, there is no mention in the Bill of the matter having to be brought before Parliament, whereas the Act says that that must be done, and therefore Parliament could have something to say to it.


The hon. Gentleman is quite under a mistake. The reference to Parliament is just the same as under the Act.


I understand this Bill repeals the Act of 1859. If that is not so, I do not see why the Bill is brought forward at all, because the Admiralty have already sufficient power. I can see that some hardship will be inflicted on the Naval Reserve men if this Bill passes. The Naval Reserve is not divided into sections like the Army Reserve, and I should therefore like to know how a section can be called up. There will be a general proclamation issued that the Naval Reserve is to mobilise, and a large number of men, not knowing what section is to be called up, will be delayed in getting employment, because many of the men go on long voyages, for twelve or eighteen months, and they may have some difficulty in getting ships, as they may be told that their services may be required by the Admiralty. For that reason I strongly oppose the change, and as an ex-Naval Reserve man—I have served five years in the Reserve—I should resent the conditions on which I joined being altered by Parliament without being myself consulted as one of the men. I do not think any substantial reason has been given for this change, and I cannot get away from the impression that it is for the purpose of giving the Admiralty power to call up an additional supply of stokers.


I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the question of the supply of stokers never entered my mind, or the minds of any of my advisers, for one moment. The point is absolutely without foundation, and I hope the hon. Gentleman will accept my explanation that that is not the cause of the introduction of this Bill.

*SIR JOHN COLOMB (Great Yarmouth)

I really cannot understand the objection which is being raised to this Bill, because it appears to me to be simply a matter of convenience. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Middlesbrough said it would inflict great hardship on the men, but he did not give a single scrap of evidence in support of that statement. I think the Bill will be an advantage to Naval Reserve men. The Act states that any man called out is liable for a year's service, and if the Admiralty call out more than they want many men will imagine that they are required for one year, when, as a matter of fact, they are not required at all. I see no objection whatever to the measure.


I would like to ask the First Lord of the Admiralty whether it is not the fact that at the present time there is a difficulty in manning the ships of the Fleet either with seamen or stokers?


No, Sir.

MR. MADDISON (Sheffield, Brightside)

I have tried to listen as carefully as I could to the right hon. the First Lord of the Admiralty, and I gather that the Act of 1859, and all the machinery required by the Act, is left untouched, and that as a matter of fact the only change is when you come to the question of direction by the Admiralty. This is a point that I want cleared up in my own mind. As I understood him, the First Lord of the Admiralty said that under the present Act the number of Naval Reservists which Her Majesty is advised to call out must be called out; and then the First Lord said that as a business matter you should always call out more than you actually want; you must always allow some margin. My fear is that under the present Bill there might be a tendency on the part of the Admiralty, at certain times, to call out a very much larger number of men than they actually require, as a kind of demonstration against other naval Powers.


It is just the opposite. Under the present Act the tendency would be to call out more men than we wanted. Under the new proposal the Admiralty would only call out those men whom we really want. That is our object.


One does not like to differ from the First Lord of the Admiralty as to what he would do; but I still adhere to my opinion that under the present system you might call out, as a business matter, a larger number of men than you want. Seeing that the total number you require can be called out by instalments as you require them, I cannot see how the First Lord can say that the system operates in the opposite direction. I am bound to say, however, that to the Naval Reserve men it does not make much difference which system is in force.

SIR U. KAY-SHUTTLEWORTH (Lancashire, Clitheroe)

I agree that the new system proposed by the Bill under discussion will lead to administrative benefit in the Admiralty, and be a convenience to the men themselves. My hon. friend behind me seemed to be a little afraid that if a proclamation was issued by Her Majesty calling out the Reserve and Volunteers for active service, the Admiralty might, for some purpose with which Parliament was thoroughly acquainted, call out a small force, and then, when some totally new question or some difficulty had arisen with a foreign Power, call out a larger portion. I think if my hon. friend will look at the wording of the Naval Volunteers Act he will see that Her Majesty is to communicate the occasion of calling out to Parliament, if Parliament is sitting, or declare it in Council if Parliament is not sitting. And therefore it would not be possible to call out the remainder of the Reserves without either a declaration in Parliament or in Council.


Hear, hear!


There is one point which I would ask the First Lord to carefully consider, as it occurs to me there may be some force in it. After a proclamation has been issued calling out the whole of the Reserve, whereas the Admiralty only require a small portion, it may be only a small squadron, the rest of the Royal Naval Reserve having been called into actual service by proclamation might have some difficulty in obtaining employment at sea, and so of pursuing their ordinary avocation. I think that is a subject worthy of the attention of the First Lord of the Admiralty, although I do not see how they would be in a worse position than they are now. Before I sit down I venture to ask whether the right hon. Gentleman contemplates further legislation this session in regard to the plans for strengthening the Reserves which he foreshadowed in his speech in the early period of the session, or whether those plans can be accomplished without further legislation.

MR. JOHN BURNS (Battersea)

There is a lingering suspicion on this side of the House that this Bill dispenses with the notification to Parliament. I will put it directly to the Attorney General, "Does it?"


I have already answered that question twice; but I have no objection to state for the third time that it does not.


In reply to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Clitheroe, I may say that a plan in regard to strengthening the Naval Reserve is developing. It is difficult to express myself without showing what the plan is, but I may say that it may require further legislation.