HC Deb 21 February 1902 vol 103 cc745-59
(5.6.) Mr. W. McKILLOP (Sligo, N.)

Mr. Speaker, in rising to move the Resolution standing in my name, I do not intend to take up much of the time of the House in re-stating the arguments in favour of the Motion. This question has been so often debated in tins House that it would be impossible, even for one with greater experience than myself, to add anything new to the debate. The grievances of the Roman Catholics in the Navy are twofold. First, the question of proper facilities to enable Catholic sailors in the Navy to practise their religion, and, secondly, the question of putting Roman Catholic chaplains on terms of equality with their Protestant brothers. In the Navy it is estimated that there are between 12,000 and 15,000 Roman Catholics, and not one Roman Catholic chaplain is to be found aboard the warships. In this respect we consider our claims to be just and reason- able. It has never been suggested from these Benches that the Navy should appoint a Roman. Catholic chaplain for each ship, but what we do advocate is the appointment of one Roman Catholic chaplain to every squadron. If that was done, it would meet the difficulty and remove that part of the grievance. I cannot understand how the Government can allow such a small matter of this kind to interfere—as it undoubtedly does interfere —with recruiting for the Navy; and when on this question, allow me to refer to a meeting of the Archbishops and Bishops of Ireland, held at Maynooth in June last year, presided over by His Eminence Cardinal Logue. With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I will read a copy of the Resolution come to:— We have frequently urged His Majesty's Government to make adequate provisions for the spiritual needs of Catholic sailors in the Royal Navy, and not with standing the repeated promises to do so, such adequate provisions have not been made. We now deem it our duty to advise Catholic parents not to allow their children to join His Majesty's ships until suitable arrangements shall be made to minister to the spiritual wants of the Catholic seamen in the Fleet.




"Bishop of Clonfert.


"Bishop of Waterford and Lismore,


The hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Admiralty, in referring last year to this same circular, regretted the publication of this letter, as, in his opinion, it was bound to injure the recruiting for the Navy. I also regret the publication of this letter from a different standpoint. I regret the circumstances which made it necessary for the Cardinal and the Bishops to issue this letter. I quite agree that it will have a detrimental effect in recruiting for the Service. Since placing this Motion upon the Paper, I have had several letters from governors of Catholic institutions, both in Ireland and Scotland, hoping that the Government will see their way to make such alterations as will enable Catholics to join that branch of His Majesty's Service, as many of their boys expressed a desire to take up the sea as a profession, but owing to the want of proper facilities for the due practice of their religious duties, they are compelled to do all they could to prevent them in the present circumstances from joining that Service.

The second grievance is that of salary and rank. The pay of the Roman Catholic chaplains runs from £25 per annum up to £175, which is the maximum, and on the other hand the chaplains of the Church of England begin at a salary of £275 and the maximum reaches somewhere near £400, with the additional advantage to the English Church chaplains that they hold the rank of a commissioned officer, and retire with a pension after a number of years service. Now, I fail to see why the Roman Catholic chaplains should not be put on terms of equality. I hope that hon. Members opposite do not think that in bringing forward this Motion I have been actuated by any spirit of bigotry or hostility towards chaplains of other denominations. I can assure hon. Members that nothing is further from my mind. I think it was the Secretary to the Treasury, when a similar Motion was before the House a year ago, who referred to the fact that the French Navy carried no chaplains of any denominations. Well, in my humble opinion, that is all the worse for the French Navy. I hope the day is very far off in this country when this Government, or succeeding Governments, will seek to abolish all forms of religion from the public service.

When the question of Roman Catholic chaplains for the Army was brought forward in this House many years ago, I believe the self-same arguments were set up against the proposal by Members of this House who were opposed to the principle, and after many years of agitation the Members on these Benches succeeded in having this question settled to the satisfaction of all parties. It was most pleasing for me to listen to the speech of the hon. Baronet the Member for East Birmingham, who has had a distinguished military career. Speaking in most sympathetic terms of a Motion which had the same object in view as this Motion, he referred with pleasure, he said, to the very excellent work performed by the Roman Catholic chaplains who came under his observation white in the Army. He was glad to bear testimony, not only to the amount of good they did in connection with the garrison, but especially when engaged in actual warfare. I do not know what the answer of the hon. Member the Secretary to the Admiralty will be when he comes to reply to this Motion, but I sincerely trust that it will be of such a nature as to satisfy the just, and at the same time moderate, claims made from these Benches on behalf of the Roman Catholic sailors. If it is not favourable, then I would assure the hon. Gentleman that this question will continue to be brought forward year after year, or as often as the opportunity presents itself, until such time as the question has been once and for all settled in a satisfactory way.

(5.15.) Mc. JOYCE (Limerick)

Mr. Speaker, in rising to second the Motion of my hon. friend, I do so with full knowledge of the gravity of the question, affecting as it does the spiritual welfare of a large number of men who have joined your Naval Service and who are of the Roman Catholic faith, and affecting also the number and standing of the Roman Catholic clergymen who have to minister to the spiritual wants of those men. This is not a question that is being brought before this House for the first time; no, Sir, this is a question that has been brought before this House time and time again within the past twenty-six years, and the justice of which has never been questioned. No member of the Government representing the Admiralty has ever denied the justice and moderation of the demand made by the Irish Members for the necessity of a change in the method of dealing with the spiritual necessities of Roman Catholics in the Navy. In this connection let me read the Minute of the Admiralty, dated. June 1878:— My Lords direct that when a large number of ships forming a squadron aresen to on any, service that would keep them for a considerable time away from a port where the services of a Roman Catholic priest would be available, arrangements are to be made for one to accompany the squadron. I also think that the views put forward by the Roman Catholic Hierarchy of Ireland are both just and reasonable, and that the Admiralty would have been well advised if they had adopted their views.

The Secretary to the Admiralty referred in his speech a few minutes since to a falling off in recruiting for the Royal Naval Reserve, I am of opinion that it is I due to this cause. I grant at once that the spiritual position of Roman Catholics in the Navy is much better now than it was some thirty or forty years ago, but this is a progressive age, and the Admiralty must progress, no matter how slowly, with the rest of the Departments of the Government. I approach this question, not from the point of view of an Irish Nationalist, but from the point of view of a Roman Catholic whose only desire is that his co-Religionists should be placed on a footing of equality, as far as it is reasonable, with the members of other religious denominations in the naval service. I quite agree with this inference in the speech delivered last year by I the Secretary of the Admiralty when he said that it may not be permissible to allow men ashore on Sunday for divine service or otherwise during the manœuvres, as, perhaps, the enemy's fleet might heave in sight during the time the men were ashore. But, surely, I Sir, that is an argument in favour of having a Roman Catholic chaplin attached to the squadron, as, if the men were at divine service on board one of the ships, and such an event were to take place, the men would be speedily sent on board of their respeetive ships, and so be prepared to meet the enemy.

Might I he permitted to adduce another argument in our favour, by alluding to the conduct of Irish Catholic soldiers on the field of battle. I don't care under what flag they may have fought—I have never heard that they fought with less dash because they had attended to their religious duties before the battle. Might I also be permitted, Sir, to refer to the prisons of this country, and in doing so to confine my remarks to Roman Catholic prisoners, whether innocent or guilty, who are confined in them. Those prisoners, as any time they may require it, can have the services of a Roman Catholic priest. Surely, what you do for your soldiers, and even for your prisoners, you ought not deny to those in your Naval Service. We trust that the days of bigotry are past; we know that bigotry and intolerance go hand in hand, and surely in this enlightened age the Lords of the Admiralty will not feel themselves bound by the prejudice of their predecessors of generations long gone by, but will approach this question in the broadminded spirit of the age in which we live, and grant our very modest request. If the Secretary to the Admiralty can give us an assurance that a Roman Catholic chaplain will be attached to each squadron, and that such chaplains shall he placed on a footing of equality as regards pay and position with the other chaplains in your Naval Service, we shall be content. But if he tries to put us off by vague promises which are not intended to be kept either in the spirit or the letter, then I make bold to tell him that he has not heard the last of it, and that this question will be brought forward again and again until the just demands which we now make are conceded. I beg, Sir, to second the Motion.

Amendment proposed— To leave out from the word 'That' to the end of the Question, in order to add the words, 'in the opinion of this House, Roman Catholic Chaplains in His Majesty's Navy should he placed upon the same footing as regards rank and pay as Chaplains in His Majesty's Arm.'"—(Mr. William M'Killop.) Question proposed— That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question.

(5.26.) LORD EDMUND TALBOT (Sussex, Chichester)

I should like to say a word in support of the Motion which has been moved in such very fair and moderate terms. I frankly admit that it is a very difficult question, and further, that Catholics who are most interested in the settlement of it have not always met the Admiralty in the manner in which they should in this matter. I have been conscious for some years past that though we have always approached the Admiralty on the question, we have not always assisted the Admiralty by suggesting measures which would be applicable to, the officers and men of the Navy. Further than that, when the Admiralty have accepted our suggestions, we have not assisted them to carry the suggestions out as we ought to have done. At the same time, it must be universally admitted that the condition of Roman Catholics serving in of the Navy is not satisfactory. We have complaints from various quarters, and I venture to think that the true solution of this problem is, that a properly accredited chaplain should be attached to each fleet—not definitely to a particular ship, but to be left on shore, with means of transport to be allowed to him whenever the fleet left its station. With regard to the spiritual needs of Roman Catholic sailors in home ports, they should be provided for by a local clergyman. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will give his sympathetic consideration to this question, and I hope that when we come together on these Estimates next year, we shall find that a satisfactory solution has been arrived at.

(5.28.) MR..DILLON (Mayo, E.)

said that the demand now made was the demand made twenty-five or thirty years ago, when a promise was obtained from the then Government that Catholic chaplains in reasonable numbers in proportion to the Catholic sailors in the Navy should be placed on the same footing as to rank and pay as the Protestant chaplains. That demand, made some years ago with regard to the Army, was after some controversy granted, and as a matter of fact Catholic chaplains in the Army now had the same rank and pay as the chaplains of the Established Church. On what ground was the same equality as was freely granted in the Army denied to the Catholic priests of the Navy?

This was by no means a new question. It was raised many years ago. Of the 10,000 or 12,000 Catholics in the Navy probably nineteen out of every twenty were Irish. On March 15th, 1878, twenty-four years ago, when Mr. W. H. Smith was First Lord of the Admiralty this question was raised in the House. Mr. Smith was always extremely sympathetic on questions affecting Catholics in the Army and Navy, and in reply to the hon. and learned Member for County Louth, Mr. A. M. Sullivan, who then brought the matter forward, he said— It will be the duty of the Admiralty to endeavour to make such provision while attaching a Roman Catholic clergyman to a fleet of say five or six large ships, operating at a distance from its base, and from any port, in order that in case of illness or sudden emergency, or imminent danger, he might be at hand to afford the consolations of religion which might be required. I cannot hold out any expectation of being able to provide an additional chaplain to any one ship; but I will do everything I can to bring within the reach of Roman Catholic sailors the ministrations of their priests." [(3) Debates, ccxxxviii., 1,417.] That was a specific pledge without reservation or qualification, given twenty-four years ago, and that pledge remained to this day unredeemed. In 1888, ten years later, in a letter addressed by the Admiralty to the Catholic Association of this country, of which the Duke of Norfolk was President, this statement of Mr. Smith was recognised as a pledge— 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 despatched on service which would keep them a considerable time away from a port where the services of a Roman Catholic priest are available. The Minute, dated June 10th, 1878, quoted by the Mover of the Resolution was as follows— My Lords direct that when a large number of ships forming a squadron are sent out on any service which may keep them a considerable time away from a port where the services of a Roman Catholic priest are available, arrangements should be made for one to accompany the squadron. Nothing, however, was done, and the Question was allowed to slumber until 1896, when it was again brought forward on the Navy Estimates. Mr Goschen's reply on that occasion was— He promised the hon. Gentleman that he would inquire 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 claims to the ministrations of their own priests. But the pledge, even though thus repeated, was still unredeemed. That was a most extraordinary record, and he was curious to know what defence the present representative of the Admiralty would make. He was perfectly aware that, subsequent to the debate of 1896, a series of communications passed between the English Catholic Hierarchy and the Admiralty, and considerable modifications were made. But what Irish Catholics complained of was that, after all these specific pledges, their original demand had never been granted, and the reason for refusing it had never been frankly stated. Even in the case of the chaplains at Portsmouth and Chatham, who were now, he believed, called Chaplains of the Navy, they were not on the same footing as Protestant chaplains. That was the first particular in which the pledge had been broken. The second was that, owing to sonic Bidden and obscure obstruction, which he had never been able to understand, the specific pledge that a Catholic chaplain would be attached to any fleet of five or more large ships operating at a distance from its base had never been carried out. That was a great breach of faith, and the House was entitled to know the ground on which it had been committed.

He would give the House one or two particulars of the present condition of things. In the outports there were chaplains, or gentlemen called chaplains. What was the situation? Protestant chaplains commenced at a salary of £219, and could rise to £400 per annum. In addition, they were often Naval Instructors, and a Naval Instructor commenced at £18 5s., and got up to £109. But a Catholic chaplain commenced at £175, and could not rise above £200 after five years. Therefore, roughly speaking, even in these outports on the coast of England, the Catholic chaplains had about one-half the salary of the Protestant Chaplains. As to rank, he had never he able to get from the Government a statement as to why Catholic chaplains did not enjoy the same rank as Protestant chaplains. Evasive answers were always given. In the Army a Catholic priest enjoyed the same rank as a Protestant minister; why could he not do so in the Navy? This was not a small matter. Catholic sailors felt humiliated when they saw their priest placed on a lower level than the minister of any other religion. The Admiralty had no right to take these men's services; to accept the risk of their lives; and then to inflict this humiliation upon them. It was a mark and sign of inferiority, and regarded from that point of view it was a matter of immense importance. The question of rank was also of importance as regarded the facilities which the ministers enjoyed in the discharge of their duties. Therefore he claimed, first of all, that all the chaplains, wherever situated, should not be bogus or sham chaplains, but chaplains in every respect on the same footing as any other minister of religion who served in the Navy; in other words, that the system adopted in the Army should be extended to the Navy in this respect.

Secondly, he claimed that the pledge given and repeated so often on behalf of the Government should now be definitely carried into effect, viz., that wherever there was a squadron of five or more large ships there should be attached to that squadron a Catholic chaplain of full standing, with the same rank and privileges as Protestant chaplains. They had been met by the statement that so strange was the construction of a man-of-war that when they had got one chaplain on board they could not even squeeze in another. All they asked was that when a squadron went far away from its base and was not going to visit a port for some time they should find room for a Catholic chaplain. When ships were manœuvring or cruising in the neighbourhood of a port arrangements should be made for the services of a Roman Catholic chaplain, and that was not an unreasonable demand to make. At least they were entitled to ask that the pledge given to them on this matter some 30 years ago should now be honestly carried out. When he brought this question forward in 1896 he drew the attention of the Admiralty to the fact that sonic of the men who were first killed during the bombardment of Alexandria and whose names appeared in the casualty list were Irishmen, and yet there was no Catholic priest near at the time. Consequently they were hurled into eternity under circumstances which were very painful to Irish Catholics. When a fleet was going on a cruise or going into action it ought to be an established principle that there ought to be a Roman Catholic chaplain on some of the ships.

He would assure the Secretary to the Admiralty that this subject would be raised in the House of Commons upon every possible occasion until something was done. It was not creditable that after the Admiralty had given a distinct pledge upon this matter that they should seek to evade its fulfilment. The tea Mr. W. H. Smith once said in the House of Commons that they might take it for granted that there was no feeling of religious bigotry or prejudice in this matter, but, nevertheless, he was inclined to believe that there was at the back of this refusal to grant what was demanded some bigotry and dislike of the Catholic religion amongst the officers of His Majesty's Government. He could not imagine any other ground for the obstinate refusal of the Government of a demand which would only involve at the outside the expenditure of about £2,000 a year. Therefore it could not be contended that it was refused on the ground of expense. There must be some other reason, and he was afraid it was because of the old bitterness in the Navy against Catholics. They might shut the door of the Navy to Irish Catholics if they liked, and put up a notice at all the recruiting stations, "No Irish need apply," and if they did that he would undertake never to trouble them on the. Navy Estimates. They accepted these Catholics in the Navy, and the Government were compelled to admit that they certainly were not the worst fighters they had. Therefore they had no right to inflict upon them this double insult and injury, which was keenly felt by them, for it was acknowledged that sailors were much more religious men than soldiers. Therefore they were inflicting a real substantial injury by denying them the opportunity of religious ministrations, which were not only desired by them, but which any Government responsible for the conduct of the Navy ought to see that they had, for they could not possibly have a better guarantee for the good conduct of the men. In conclusion he said that by the present system they inflicted upon Catholics in the Navy a stigma of inferiority, because they felt it not only to be an injustice, but an insult, that the ministers of their religion should be placed on an inferior plane to the ministers of any other religion.


The hon. Member for East Mayo and my hon. and gallant friend the Member for Chichester have both referred to the pledges which have been previously given to this House. I wish to say that I am undoubtedly responsible for pledges, which may have been given many years ago, but I am more fully cognisant of those which I myself have given. I think, however, that hon. Members are under a misapprehension in regard to, those pledges. The undertaking which I myself gave on this matter was that, when large squadrons of ships were detached from their stations for any length of time in circumstances which would preclude Roman Catholic sailors from receiving the ministrations of their religion, a Roman Catholic chaplain should accompany those ships. That is the pledge which I gave, and I think hon. Members will agree that my pledge has been carried out. What was promised has been done on the two occasions on which those conditions were fulfilled—namely, when ships were detached from the Mediterranean fleet to take part in the manœuvres, and when a squadron was detached for warlike operations in China. On both those occasions special arrangements were made, in pursuance of my pledge, that a Roman Catholic chaplain should accompany the Fleet.

The hon. and gallant Member for Chichester said that lie also desires that there should be a Roman Catholic chaplain at the great stations at which the Fleet calls who might minister to the requirements of Roman Catholic sailors. That, I may remind the House, is already the practice. It is the case not only at Malta and at Portsmouth, but there are at present no less than 154 stations where Roman Catholic priests are paid wholly or in part for the purpose of ministering, when required; to Roman Catholics in the Navy. The hon. Member for Limerick and the hon. Member for North Sligo both called attention to the fact that there were occasions when the men's lives were in peril; when it was particularly essential that they should have the ministrations of priests belonging to their own faith. The hon. Member for East Mayo has also alluded to something which occurred during the bombardment of Alexandria. I may say that some time ago Lord Goschen gave an assurance, and I myself have repeated it, that, whene vr a hospital ship accompanies a Fleet engaged in warlike operations, a Roman Catholic chaplain should embark on board that ship. I do want to make it quite clear that there has been no breach whatever of that pledge. I may also say that I do not think it is desirable that the Admiralty should alter the present arrangements in regard to ships which are constantly entering ports. No case has ever been brought to my notice where a sailor has been deprived of the ministration of his own religion at the time of his death when serving in the Navy. I would remind hon. Members opposite that it is not a question of economy at all.


The right hon. Gentleman has omitted the question of the rank of Roman Catholic chaplains.


With regard to the question of rank, no chaplain has any rank at all. The chaplains who go afloat—and the chaplains of the Established Church minister to over 80 per cent. of the Navy—do have a commission on the ground that they are liable to be moved, and often are moved, by the orders of the Admiralty, to any part of the world. That is not the case with the Roman Catholic chaplains who minister to Roman Catholics in the Navy in such places as Portsmouth, where they remain permanently in port. I wish to point out, however, that when these Roman Catholic chaplains go on board ship, they receive the same consideration accommodation, and deference as the chaplains of any other denomination, and beyond that I do not think I can go. With regard to the question of pay I do not think I can, without notice, discuss adequately any special cases which hon. Members have brought forward. I may say that there have been many mprovements in the rates of pay, and if any hon. Member opposite desires to bring any specific case to the notice of the Admiralty, in which he thinks the services of a Roman Catholic chaplain are not adequately remunerated, I can assure the House that any representations of that kind will receive very careful consideration by the Admiralty.

(6.0.) MR. GILHOOLY (Cork County, W.)

said he wished to remind the hon. Gentleman that in June last year he brought before him the case of a Catholic sailor, serving on board the "Diadem," who met with an accident at four p.m. and lived until 6.30 suffering great agony. The ship was at Berehaven, but none of the officers on board took the slightest notice of the dying man, and he was allowed to die without the last rites of his Church. When the inquest was held one of the jurors asked why a boat was not sent off to bring the Catholic clergyman, and the reply of the officer was that if their own Church of England chaplain ha d been on board the sailor would have had his services if he required them. That showed the sympathy the officers had with the Catholic sailors.


I stated at the time why the Roman Catholic chaplain was not sent for.


said he asked the hon. Gentleman at the time whether the statement he had mentioned was made by the officer in open court, and the reply was that no such statement was made at all. The hon. Gentleman stated that the Catholic chaplain was not sent for because the doctor did not consider that the man would collapse so soon. The officer who made that statement to his superior had a great amount of hardihood. Those who were present in court heard the statement that if the Church of England chaplain had been on board the man would have had his services. It was owing to the bigotry of the officers that chaplains were not attached to the fleet. He could give the House some idea of the insolent and tyrannical manner in which Catholic sailors were treated on board His Majesty's vessels. The "Collingwood" was stationed in Bantry Bay, and the commander who was on board a few years ago—he was brother to the private secretary of Her late Majesty—had a favourite name for the Catholic sailors. He called them Irish pigs. That was an example of the tyrannical, bigoted, and ill-conditioned treatment they received.


I would remind the hon. Member that this Amendment has nothing to do with rudeness or persecution by officers. The only question with which the House is dealing is "that, in the opinion of this House, Roman Catholic chaplains in His Majesty's Navy should be placed upon the same footing as regards rank and pay as chaplains in His Majesty's Army."


said he would not go further into that matter. There was a total disregard of the spiritual wants of Catholics on board the ships, and there was a great deal of bigotry and intolerance shown towards them. Promises similar to those which the hon. Gentleman had given now had been made before. He dared say that after this debate was over there would be nothing done in the direction they desired. He had no desire to see Catholic sailors entering the Navy, but when they did go to serve His Majesty he thought there ought to be some attention paid to their wants, both spiritual and temporal. He hoped the hon. Gentleman would use his influence with the Admiralty to do something to remedy the grievance of Irish Catholic sailors.

(6.7.) DR. THOMPSON (Monaghan, N.)

said he had had the honour to serve as one of the surgeons in the Navy, and he was conscious of the fact that there was a great want of Catholic chaplains. He was very glad, indeed, to hear the remarks of the Secretary to the Admiralty in regard to the improvement that was taking place in supplying the wants of the Navy so far as Roman Catholic Chaplains were concerned. He felt quite certain that the words which shad fallen from the hon. Gentleman would be received in Ireland with a great deal of satisfaction.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question again proposed.