HC Deb 01 April 1903 vol 120 cc855-61

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be read a third time."

MR. CALDWELL (Lanarkshire, Mid)

said that so far as this Bill provided for additional forces for the Navy he had no objection to it. But the Bill departed from the usual practice, which was that conditions of service and the pay and pensions of the Naval Volunteers and the Royal Marines should be inserted in an Act of Parliament. There was a great deal of objection to the proposal in the Bill. For the first time, the Admiralty were taking power to employ new forces, and also to frame new regulations. For instance, Sub-section 2 of Clause 1 stated that the Admiralty might make regulations to carry into effect the provisions of this section, giving the Admiralty practically absolute power. He put down an Amendment to the effect that the regulations which the Admiralty made should be laid on the Table of the House. In the numerous cases where Parliament delegated to Secretaries of State power to make regulations which would have the effect of Acts of Parliament, it was always stipulated that such regulations should be laid on the Table of the House; and there were other cases in which such regulations were not to have effect until they had been laid for a specified number of days. He thought that Parliament had already protected the House of Commons in a matter of this kind; because under the Rules of Procedure Act, it was laid down that any rule passed under any Act of Parliament of a legislative character should be presented to the House of Commons and lie on the Table for forty days. He ventured to think that that would apply to Clause 1 of this Bill, because it proposed to give the Admiralty power to make regulations which would have statutory effect. He thought his Amendment was most reasonable, and that the proposal of the Government introduced an entirely new practice, which was rather strange on the part of a conservative and constitutional Government. The present Government would not be always in office, and the power now proposed would be exercised by their successors. It was, therefore, not exactly a Party question; but it was a matter of great importance that Parliament should determine the conditions of service and the pay and pensions of the men to be employed. Under the old practice, all these were put into an Act of Parliament, which had to be sanctioned by the House of Lords. That was now to be taken away, and power was to be delegated to the Secretary of the Admiralty, which hitherto had only been enacted by statute. Of course, the pay of the men would ultimately have to appear on the Estimates, which, however, would not be submitted to the House of Lords; and that in itself was a constitutional departure.


said the Admiralty certainly did take very large powers under this Bill, even larger powers than those referred to by the hon. Member. There was power given under Section 5 to the Admiralty to determine the number of men of which the Royal Naval Reserve should consist. The ancient practice was that the House should determine the number of men, whether in the Fleet or in the Reserve, and the clause was in itself really unconstitutional. But, practically, the House would have the power of over-riding the clause, because on Vote A for the Navy they might reject the number of men proposed by the Admiralty, and insert another number. However, Clause 5 was as bold a clause as even the present Government had ever introduced.

There were two other points he wished to mention. Under Clause 4 the Admiralty took power to enlist men for non-continuous service for any period not exceeding twelve years, and then pass them into the Reserve. That was really a proposal to have two different kinds of service in the Fleet, which would be extremely undesirable and extremely dangerous. He would remind the House that no amelioration of the Navy had been so great and beneficent as the introduction of continuous service. It had made the sailor what he was; and more especially in times like the present, when the sailor required much greater and more continuous training than ever before. The man engaged on non-continuous service could not be so good as the man on continuous service, and would also be a disturbing element on the ship.

His third point was that he had a profound disinclination to see the Navy cursed with amateur blue jackets and amateur Marines. The power it was proposed to give the Admiralty to raise Royal Naval Volunteers and Royal Marine Volunteers was a very dangerous one indeed; and he could not conceive on whose advice such a course was adopted. He was perfectly convinced that these Volunteers would not do any good; and that the new arrangement was unbusinesslike and could not work well. It had been tried before, and, having failed, was abandoned. Was it any more likely to succeed now?


said that he did not fully agree with his hon. friend; but he did share his views with regard to the Naval Volunteers not being of that amount of utility which some people thought. With regard to continuous service his hon. friend uttered the last cry of despair on behalf of the old naval school but the arguments addressed to the Committee presided over by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Berwick, and the opinions of that Committee proceeded on a basis of overwhelming strength. The case in favour of a number of short-service men was overwhelming. The Secretary to the Admiralty stated that the Admiralty looked forward to taking only one-fourth of this class; and, even then, they would have a much larger number of long-service men than any other navy in the world. Therefore he thought that the Navy would still remain a long-service Navy, even though it included the proportion of non-continuous service men he had mentioned. With regard to the Volunteers, he would press the Government to make up their minds and tell the Committee that the Volunteers were intended for patrol service, coast service, and so forth, It was not a thing that the House wished that we should trust to Volunteer blue jackets or Volunteer Marines on board battleships. If the Admiralty really meant them to serve in special places, or in patrolling the coast, this should be intimated to the House, so that the men should not be encouraged in the belief that they would be taken into the Fleet.


said that the hon Member for Mid Lanark had suggested that the Admiralty had made a new departure in this matter, but that was an entire misapprehension. It had never been the practice to submit the rules governing the service of men in the Navy, rules which were practically orders, for discussion in the House of Commons, nor was it necessary to present them under the Rules Publication Act which had been referred to. If submitted under that Act, the rules and orders affecting men actually serving in the Fleet would have to lie on the Table of the House forty days, and to be open to criticism and discussion by "every public body in the United Kingdom." To state the proposition was to demonstrate its absurdity. The course that had been followed by the Admiralty was the one that had always been followed in similar cases. The hon. Member for King's Lynn had enquired how it was that the Admiralty had power to raise a number of men on its own initiative. In that matter, too, the Admiralty were following the usual course, whereby the number of men to serve in the Fleet every year was settled by the Admiralty. Of course that had to be ratified by this House. There was no new provision in the Bill now before the House. It simply followed the ordinary practice, leaving the number of men in the first place to be fixed by the Admiralty and subsequently to be confirmed by this House. The hon. Member had objected to the Volunteers altogether and asked on whose recommendation that proposal was carried into effect. It was on the recommendations of a very strong Committee, containing several experienced naval officers, a Committee, whose recommendations were ratified by the Board of Admiralty, and upon that they felt bound to lay the proposal before the House. He was more sanguine as to the Volunteers than either the hon. Member for King's Lynn or the right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean. Their duties would differ from those of the old Naval Volunteers. It might be that such duties as had been referred to would be the only ones they would be asked to perform; but time would show the best use that could be made of them. As to the non-continuous service men, it was a mistake to suppose that they were being introduced for the first time into the Navy. There were a large number serving in the Fleet at the present time, though the class now proposed was not exactly the same as the old non-continuous service men. It was absolutely necessary for providing a Reserve to take this step as recommended by the Committee presided over by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Berwick.

SIR JOHN COLOMB (Great Yarmouth)

said he was one of those who looked with the greatest apprehension on the modern tendency to regard it as necessary to have an extremely large reserve of men. He had sat in this House and heard those whose opinions were usually of great value talking at random of the number of men required for the Navy, and totting them up by-tens and even hundreds of thousands. He approved of the Bill because he thought it was a moderate and wise one. The Question of a Reserve of men for the Navy was a totally different question to that of the Reserve of the Army, because in the case of the Navy one could almost exactly measure the number of men we should actually require for our war fleet. There were subsidiary services not so easy, of course, of actual measurement. The Admiralty Committee had recognised a great principle never recognised before; the Admiralty had now acted upon that principle. The initial number of men necessary was the number actually required to man efficiently the ships actually available for war service on the outbreak of war; if the Reserve allowed for the usual percentages for sick and other causes of wastage, they would arrive definitely at the actual number of men that it was possible to require for the available war ships. He did not think in these days they need allow any very large percentage for casualties. In the old days with wooden ships very great loss of life occurred, but in most cases, though the men were killed or wounded, the ship survived, and was soon effectively ready for war again as other men could be put into her. Now the position has changed, because in the process of killing and wounding the men, the damage done to the ship destroyed its fighting power for a long period. If the men and ship went down together it could not affect the Reserve in any way, because no ship being available no more men would be required. That must be plain to anybody who studied the subject at all. He had therefore come to the conclusion that the Admiralty Committee had arrived at wise and states man like conclusions, and he was extremely glad that the Admiralty had adopted them and embodied them in the Bill now before the House. The Volunteer part was entirely new, and it would be interesting to see whether Volunteers would be ready to go anywhere. Volunteers for naval service on any other conditions would be a weakness, and not a strength, but it would be interesting to see what the result of this Bill would be, because if they obtained naval Volunteers who were willing to go anywhere, why not military Volunteers also? He did not see in this Bill any danger of relying too much on the non-continuous service men, because we were compelled to have in peace a large number of continuous service men on war ships really not available for warlike operations, and what would happen in time of war would be that those ships would have to be recalled and laid up, and their crews transferred to effective fighting ships. For other purposes a considerable auxiliary force was needed in war. Suppose an enemy's cruiser or a marauder was driven into an estuary. If they had not a force which could be landed in order to take up a dominant position and destroy that ship, the ships that had driven her in would have to remain outside as long as she was there. The men on the war cruisers ought not to be used for that purpose; therefore the Admiralty required force auxiliary to the Navy such as he had described. He believed the Bill to be a good Bill, founded on sound lines, and he would watch with considerable curiosity how it really worked.