§ Section ninety of the Naval Discipline Act shall extend to vessels in His Majesty's service in time of war other than hired vessels, and accordingly for the words "With respect to hired vessels in His Majesty's service in time of war" there shall be subsituted the words "With respect to vessels in His Majesty's service in time of war, whether belonging to His Majesty or not, which are not wholly manned by naval ratings, but," and the word "hired" shall be omitted whenever it occurs in that section.
§ Mr. PETO
I beg to move, to leave out the words "Section ninety of."
The Clause to which I have put down my Amendment is to insert an Amendment in Clause 90 of the Naval Discipline Act. This is the second Naval Discipline Bill which we have had during this Session. When the previous Naval Discipline Bill was before the Committee, I had down Amendments with a similar purpose, but as the Bill happened to come at the very end of a sitting, as indeed this Bill has, I withdrew those Amendments at the. request of the Government, and contented myself with a short expression of opinion that some more efficient means of ensuring discipline on the transport and hospital ships should be adopted. As this Clause 3 specifically extends the powers and discretion of the Government in respect of ships which are not strictly naval ships, but which are used in time of war—extends it from hired ships to ships which may be actually acquired by the Government, I have thought it my duty to put down in the form of an Amendment words which would ensure, if they were accepted by the Government or passed by the Committee, that the Naval Discipline Act would actually be applied to the crews of these hired or purchased ships. The Clause which this Clause amends I propose to 2095 read to the Committee, so that hon. Members may see exactly what it is and has been in the power of the Government at any time during the continuance of this War to effect if they so directed. Clause 9 of the Naval Discipline Act says, with respect to hired vessels in His Majesty's service in the time of war, being either armed or under the command of an officer of His Majesty's Naval service, the following provisions shall take effect if, in any case, the Admiralty think fit so to direct. And the first such provision reads "Every person borne on the books of any such hired vessel shall be subject to this Act."
The Clause in this Bill extends that to ships which are purchased as well as hired, and, in view of the complaints that have been made, not to me or any private Member, but in the most authoritative form to the Admiralty itself, what occurs to me is, if in the twelfth month of the War it is necessary to extend these powers which the Government have always had over hired vessels employed by His Majesty in any capacity to vessels which have been purchased, why, if this is necessary, have the Admiralty in no case thought fit to direct that the crews of the vessels over which they have had entire control under the Naval Discipline Act should be in fact subject to it? The condition of affairs on board transport and hospital ships has certainly been very far from satisfactory, and I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman when he replies to me will tell the Committee that that is so. We recognise that there have been and are still great difficulties in the way of the Government, but, as the House has been reminded on other occasions, we have to bear in mind that we are at war, and here is an Act which I regard as a legacy from a perhaps more robust age than the present, which specificially gives the Admiralty certain powers in time of war, and which certainly suggests that those powers would naturally be used in those contingencies. What has really happened is that a large number of the officers actually in command of transport vessels, as far back as 23rd October last, sent a very emphatically worded memorial to the Director-General of Transports. I should like to read to the Committee practically the whole of that memorial. It is quite short, but it exactly expresses what was the experience, not of any Member of this House or anyone unconnected with and without 2096 responsibility towards these men, but of the actual officers who had the command of the transports at that time. They wrote this to the Divisional Naval Transport Officer, Southampton:—We, the undersigned, being the Masters of steamship now engaged in the transport of His Majesty's troops in connection with the War, beg leave to bring the following matters before the notice of the authorities, namely:That we are experiencing considerable difficulty with our crews in that our powers under the Merchant Shipping Acts are not sufficient to enable us to deal promptly and efficaciously with offenders.Our orders from the divisional naval transport officer make it obligatory for us to sail by a specified time, and we are held responsible if this is not done.It frequently occurs that men have gone ashore and we are unable to get them on board again in time to sail, with the result that we are forced to go to sea with a crew short in number. This is a serious matter for us, and handicaps our carrying out of our important orders.The crews on the different ships are bound under different sets of articles, which causes considerable trouble, and it appears that in most cases the men are entitled to their discharge after a single voyage, thus frequently necessitating the engagement of new men, who are difficult to obtain in the limited and uncertain time at our disposal.The fact that the ships sail under sealed orders renders it impossible to adjust the articles to different voyages.We therefore humbly petition that the crews serving on the ships engaged in the Government duty of transporting troops, may be brought under the provisions of the Naval Discipline Acts, 1S66 and 1909, or some other means may be adopted by the authorities which would prevent all the trouble which now arises, and enable us to carry out our duties more expeditiously and satisfactory than at present.If the matter ended there it would only be necessary for me to point out that the officers actually responsible found that the provisions of the. Merchant Shipping Act, which are calculated on a peace basis and to meet the contingencies that arise in peace, had broken down in fact, and were insufficient, and that these officers had asked the Government to exercise the very-power which the Naval Discipline Act emphatically gives them. But that is not so. This was emphasised in a letter which is contained in the White Paper presented to the House by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 1st May, a letter addressed to the First Lord of the Admiralty by Mr. Graeme Thomson, the Director of Transports, who the Committee will remember, the late First Lord of the Admiralty described to the House as one of the discoveries of the War. A representation from that gentleman naturally carries a good deal of weight. He has an even greater load of responsibility than that which rests upon each officer commanding one of these transports. He wrote this. It is in the White Paper presented to the House on 6th March:To-day the crew of a transport deserted. The same thing happened the day before. The firemen go on 2097 board the transports drunk, making it impossible to get up a full head of steam, so greatly reducing the speed and endangering the lives of thousands of troops by making the vessels a target for submarines. The worst cause of the congestion at some of the docks is not a shortage of labour but the fact that the men can earn in two or three days what will keep them in drink for the rest of the week. What is wanted in addition to the proper control of the drink traffic, is a well devised scheme, promptly applied, for bringing the seamen under naval, and other workmen in Government employment under military discipline. In many cases it is now taking three tunes as long to get ships fitted and ready to sail as it did when war broke out Expedition is a thing of the past, and it is obvious that this may at any moment have a disastrous effect on the naval and military operations.I would only call attention to the fact that in this memorandum to the First Lord of the Admiralty there is a specific recommendation that seamen should be brought under naval discipline. That means exactly the same as is contained in the previous memorial that I read, namely, that the Naval Discipline Act should be applied. The Government have decided so far not to proceed upon those lines. They have decided to make what I can only term a bargain with the Seamen and Firemen's Union, which contains, among other things, the provision of a special war bonus. That war bonus of £2 10s. a month is in the ship's articles, and has to be read out to the seamen by the responsible officer of the ship, and when that arrangement was first made the ship's officers themselves were expressly left out of the arrangement and it had to be read out in this form. This is from the actual ship's articles:—And it is hereby agreed that the special war bonus of £2 10s. per month shall be paid to the crew, with the exception of the captain, officers and engineers.I do not think that is calculated to increase discipline on board ship to show that what a man could achieve by bargain with the Government was something altogether beyond the reach of what was in the power of the officers themselves. Later on, owing to representations made to the Admiralty, this or some similar advantage was extended to the officers, but it was not given in the first place. I think the Government might have taken a wholly different course. I feel sure that if anywhere near the beginning of the War, which was the time when the first memorial was sent to the Director of Transports, they had co-operated with the leaders of the men's union and the ship-owners, and pointed out that the very pick of the seamen and the pick of the firemen in the country were none too good—no one could be—to undertake the immensely responsible work of navigating these ships carrying thousands of our 2098 troops and other ships bringing back wounded and invalided from the front, and that they proposed that this honourable service should be regarded as a part of our whole warlike operations, and the men would be entitled to the same war medal that they would if they were serving in the Navy, and their dependants in case of disaster or casualty would have the same pension as if they were part of the Navy itself, their officers would be men of naval rating, or if there were not enough naval officers; to go round they would have officers who had a special rank in the Royal Naval Reserve, which would fulfil the provisions of the Act, we should have had a great response and a great deal of what has actually occurred would have been quite impossible. I do not want to trouble the Committee with details of those occurrences, but when the Admiralty point out, as I think they may, with pride that they have managed to convey our troops without a single casualty they have been fortunate, because they have undoubtedly placed an immense and, I think, an uncalled-for responsibility upon the officers by not giving them sufficient executive authority over the crews. I do not make' that statement without being able to substantiate it in detail. It would not be desirable to go into too much detail. The right hon. Gentleman knows the cases I have in mind. They are not cases of months ago. I have in my possession an actual case, and I will read a portion of it. It is dated 23rd July. It would not be desirable to give the name of the ship, which, I may say, was a very big one. In the report made to the Director of Naval Transports the following statement was made:—The actual number of substitutes we had to engage to replace those who deserted on this vessel were 2 A.B.'s, 11 firemen, 7 trimmers, and 3 stewards.I could give the Committee, if desirable, any number of other cases. We know of hospital ships delayed in their journey back, and we know of cases where firemen came on board at a foreign port in drink, falling about among the wounded and having to be taken charge of, instead of carrying on the proper duties for which they were engaged. I need not go into further details of that sort, but it is common knowledge that the want of discipline has been sadly felt throughout and that it is going on now. As I know that that is the case and that the Admiralty have had the power, and have the power at any time, to take steps to deal with these 2099 matters, I felt that I should not be doing my duty if I did not raise the question in the form of an Amendment to this Bill.
In regard to the Amendment I do not ask the Admiralty to accept it, because I recognise that it is mandatory, and it may be fairly said that if the Committee even considered passing an Amendment of this kind they would be taking upon themselves a responsibility which rests with, and must remain with, the Executive alone. I put the Amendment in that form because I believe it would carry out what ought to have been done and because I feel that I am bound to raise the question. The answers that have been given on this question, which has been raised again and again by me and other hon. Members, lave been a little lacking in candour. The officers feel very severely—
I do not think it can be described as a Second Reading speech, but I am bound to say that I have been alarmed at the magnitude of the subject developed by the hon. Member. It is making me very doubtful whether it is pertinent to an Amendment to this Clause. It goes so much further than the Clause and seems to introduce a wholly new question.
§ Mr. PETO
I endeavoured to show, at the opening of my remarks, that the Clause which this Bill amends gives the Admiralty power, when they so direct, to apply the Naval Discipline Act to certain crews. There is a Clause in the Bill which extends that power. All I do in my Amendment is to say, in effect, they shall exercise that power; they ought to exercise that power. If that is not pertinent to the Clause in the Bill, I cannot conceive what is pertinent. I may have gone in some of my remarks beyond the scope of that, but I have only endeavoured to show reasons why the Admiralty should put into force powers which they actually possess. In doing that I hope I have not been outside the rules of Order. This question has not only been brought prominently but authoritatively to the notice of the Admiralty in the manner I have already mentioned, but it has been brought to the notice of the right hon. Gentleman representing the Admiralty, on repeated occasions; on the first occasion, on 8th February, by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Cathcart Wason), and 2100 again on 9th March, the 6th May, the 13th May, and the 14th July. We have again and again asked that the officers commanding these ships should in effect be naval officers with naval ratings, and should be allowed to wear the uniform of the Royal Naval Reserve, and should be entitled to exercise and should be given some means of exercising proper control.
Again and again we have been told by the right hon. Gentleman that no such alteration as that would effect the purpose which we had in view, because the crews would not be under the Naval Discipline Act, and it was absolutely clear that, in order to put the Naval Discipline Act in force, the vessels in question should either be armed or commanded by officers of naval ratings. It was that second provision which we have been again and again asking for, and which the officers themselves have been asking for. Therefore it would have been only fair if the right hon. Gentleman had pointed out on these occasions, when this matter was raised, that this whole matter was entirely within the discretion of the Admiralty, that at any moment they could have put this Act into force if they chose; but that they had decided, in their discretion, to leave things as they were, and proceed with the method of bargaining instead of pointing out to seamen what special duties they had at the present time, and that they proposed to make them an integral part of our naval and military forces. There is no question that the transport of our troops overseas is absolutely part of our military operations. I cannot see any reason for allowing the crews who work these ships absolutely the same liberty in every respect as they have in peace time, considering the present emergency. The Admiralty, I understand, are depending on certain powers which they have under the Defence of the Realm Act to limit the sale of drink in certain areas. I do not want to go into that matter in detail, and I am not going to mention the areas, because it is not desirable to do so.
I must point out to the hon. Member that he is mixing up two things. Under cover of an Amendment to a legislative proposal he is introducing a great number of administrative matters about which he has asked questions in the House. He must keep to one thing or the other. If he is on matters of administration I must rule him out of Order. If he is on the legislative proposal he must confine himself to that alone.
§ Mr. PETO
I quite recognise your ruling of course, and I bow to it, but I only desire to point out what is the alternative to the legislative proposal which is the subject of my Amendment. But I think that I am entitled to say if the Government do not carry out the proposal contained in my Amendment they must depend on some other method of carrying out this object. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to assure us that the steps that have been taken by the Admiralty will be an efficient substitute for the powers which they actually have had during the whole of this War, under Acts passed as far back as 1866. I shall move the Amendment formally, but I have no intention of pressing it, because I have no desire whatever—in fact, my desire is the exact opposite—to embarrass the Government in any possible way, and I feel it my duty to point out where I think they have taken too weak a course, where if they had really trusted the people and pointed out what the emergency was, and what it was their duty to perform they would have met with a response which I think would have astonished them, so that this Debate, and the questions which really amount to a scandal, would have been absolutely impossible.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the BOARD of ADMIRALTY (Dr. Macnamara)
The purpose of the Clause is a very simple one. Section 90, as my hon. Friend knows, makes provision for the case of hired ships not being wholly manned by men of the Naval Service. Since the beginning of the War we have bought some of these hired vessels, and we must take out the word "hired," otherwise the applicability of Section 90 in that case might be a matter of some doubt. That is all that is done. Upon that my hon. Friend raises the serious consideration that we are to invite the crews of transports if you like, to come under naval discipline. The Clause, as reconstructed by the hon. Member's Amendments, would read:—
"The Naval Discipline Act shall extend and be applied to all vessels in His Majesty's Service in time of war, and all such vessels shall be under the command of an officer in His Majesty's Service." That would, if adopted, leave Section 90, the original Section, unamended, and the word "hired," which we design to remove, would stand and be unremoved.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
This series of Amendments in the name of the hon. Gentleman would leave Section 90 to stand unamended, and the word "hired" would be still there. That is one of the unforeseen results of the hon. Gentleman's Amendments. The next point is that this series of Amendments would put all the ships engaged in our service under the Naval Discipline Act, and Section 90 would still remain, leaving it to the Admiralty to say whether they should be under naval discipline or not. Another point is that all the vessels in our Service would have to be under the command of an "officer of His Majesty's Naval Service." That would mean that a dockyard tug or dredger would have to be under the command of an officer in His Majesty's Naval Service, if these Amendments were adopted. The admiral's barge would become an admiral's barge in a new sense. As far as the ships of the Fleet are concerned, armed auxiliary cruisers, trawlers employed in mine sweeping, and other vessels, these are under naval discipline already. As regards crews they are either active service ratings or men of the Royal Naval Reserve, or the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, or they have signed T124, which brings them under the Naval Discipline Act. In regard to hired transports, hospital ships, and colliers, none of these are under naval discipline; their crews have not signed T124, nor are they in the service of the Navy, they are in the service of the owner of the ships, and the crews would either have to be compulsorily put under naval discipline, or they would have to be invited to cancel their agreement, and voluntarily come under naval discipline. As regards the former, I do not suppose that anybody would seriously entertain that as an Amendment to this Bill. I must not be led into a discussion of the point. I think my hon. Friend will see that you can scarcely introduce a compulsory system by way of an innocent looking series of Amendments to a Bill of this character.
As regards the other proposition that the men should be invited at the close of their present agreement voluntarily to come under naval discipline, that could be adopted, no doubt, if it was thought expedient. I would not be frank if I did not say that the proposition has been seriously discussed, but we have not 2103 adopted it. In the meantime no one knows better than the hon. Gentleman that we have given the question of the transport service very great care and consideration indeed, and everybody knows, and he would be the first to admit, that a great deal of very good work has been done by all parties concerned in transport work, and that without that we could not have made, as we have done happily, great transporting in supplies and troops since the War began. I will not deny that there have been difficulties, that there are difficulties, which have given transport officers, I agree, no little anxiety. I do not know that I need elaborate that in detail, but my hon. Friend knows that we have taken certain steps and I will mention two. We have secured an Order in Council under the Defence of the Realm Act making regulations which secure that failure to join, desertion, absence without leave, or joining a ship in a state of drunkenness, is an offence against the regulations, and the maximum penalty is six months' imprisonment. There have been cases for the past month of absence without leave and desertion, and the penalties ranged between a fine of 40s, or fourteen days' imprisonment, and three months' hard labour. They have not been without result. An Order in Council has also been secured giving the competent authority power to prohibit the introduction of liquor into docks controlled by the Admiralty, with right of search, and to make such an offence against the Regulations. There is, then, the important question of the work which is being done and projected by the Central Control Board (Liquor Traffic), and which I need not go into. I think my hon. Friend will admit that good results may be anticipated from operations of that kind. The Munitions Act contains a Clause under which the Admiralty can declare dock areas controlled establishments if necessary. I hope the Amendments will not be pressed. The matter has received and is receiving daily attention. Great achievements stand to the credit of all those who contributed to this transport work. It has had its difficulties, I admit, but my hon. Friend may rely on the taking of effective steps, if any arise in the future, and under those circumstances I hope the Amendments will not be pressed.
§ Mr. HEW1NS
I can only say, after listening to the right hon. Gentleman, that 2104 we ought to be extremely grateful to my hon. Friend (Mr. Peto) for putting down these Amendments. It appears that this Bill which the Government are introducing is really introducing a modification of the full scope of the Naval Discipline Act.
§ Mr. HEWINS
I do not want to raise any controversial question. I can only say, as far as I myself and Friends are concerned, we shall have to consider very carefully what the right hon. Gentleman has just said as to the Amendments of my hon. Friend and to take matters into consideration before the Report stage.
§ Mr. HEWINS
Yes, I think we shall. I very much object to the Report coming on at this time of night. We have been here weeks extremely idle and now we are asked to go through these Bills very rapidly without full consideration and not aware of the consequences they involve, and I can only express my regret that that is so.
I think that if I had myself appreciated the extent of these Amendments, reading the series together— they so transform the Clause—I should have ruled both the Mover and the right hon. Gentleman out of order. It is an administrative matter which ought to be dealt with on some other opportunity.
§ Mr. PRATT
I also object to the small amount of rime w e have for discussing this very important matter. The hon. Gentleman opposite and the right hon. Gentleman have both enlarged upon a very important question—the question of the effect of drink and drunkenness on the transport service. It is all very well for the right hon. Gentleman to shake his head. This question is creating a great deal of serious concern in all parts of the country. We heard at the beginning from the then First Lord of the Admiralty that the work of transport had been done in a very satisfactory way.
§ Mr. PRATT
I was about to say that it has been emphasised again to-night by the? right hon. Gentleman. This is the question I want to put. We are asked to be- 2105 lieve that there is a great deal of drunkenness among a certain section of those engaged in transport work. What has been done in these dockyard areas to reduce the facilities for drinking?
I have just said that that is an administrative question which must not be discussed on the Bill.
That is true. I am bound to say I have been misled, both by the Mover of the Amendment and by the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ Bill reported, without Amendment; read the third time, and passed.