§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the ADMIRALTY (Dr. Macnamara)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
This is a small one-Clause Bill which I hope will commend itself to the House. It empowers the Admiralty to make orders directing that any officers and men of the Navy, while serving on shore, shall be subject to military law under the Army Act, just as in like case Royal Marines are subject to it to-day. The necessity arises from the fact that we now have men in large numbers borne on ships' books, and therefore under naval discipline, but serving with the Army in the field. Take the Royal Naval Division. I must not be supposed to suggest for one moment that their discipline is other than satisfactory—not at all—nor to 1790 suggest that anything more than a change in the method of procedure is necessary. That would be particularly ungracious after the gallant service they have rendered their country. The fact is that, although borne on ships' books, and therefore under naval discipline, their organisation and training are based essentially on military lines, and they have served so far exclusively with the Army in the field. In such circumstances, should a serious offence be committed, considerable inconvenience would follow. A soldier can be dealt with promptly on the spot. A man on a ship's books, unless the case is one that can be dealt with summarily by the maximum penalty of ninety days' imprisonment, has to be taken down to the base for the purpose of court-martial. A naval court-martial can only be held on board ship or on shore at a port, and there must be two ships present. If there is no officer at the base authorised to issue a warrant for a naval court-martial or a sufficient number of ships to constitute a court, then more delay will occur. The only officers authorised to issue a warrant to enable a court-martial to be held are those who have a warrant from the Admiralty. Such warrants are issued to every flag officer present at the base at the moment. The result of the delay may be and, indeed, it has happened, that the witnesses are not available when the trial is ready to be held. It is to render this contingency no longer possible that this little Bill has been prepared. We first proposed to make it apply only for the period of the War, but since the possibility of employing naval units alongside military units seems more likely to occur in the present day than in the past, especially in regard to the developments of the Royal Naval Air Service and so on, it seems expedient to ask for this power once and for all. That is what we do in this Bill, and it empowers the Admiralty, in any case where it seems to them expedient, to order any officers and men while serving on shore with the Army to be dealt with under the same code of discipline as the Army. In effect it places the officers and men to whom it may be applied in the same position as the Royal Marines on shore. As regards the codes of discipline in the Army and the Navy, there is not much practical difference. The principal difference is in the procedure of adjudication. I think the House will agree as to the expediency of this proposal, and I hope it will also agree that there is no good and sufficient reason 1791 why we should not dispose of the further stages of this small measure forthwith.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
Before I come to deal with the Bill, may I say how delighted the Navy is, and I anticipate the whole of the House, with the honour which has been given to Lord Charles Beresford, and how we shall miss him from our Debates on these occasions? We are fortunate that we shall have a very distinguished admiral joining in our Debates on naval questions in the future—Sir Hed-worth Meux. The question dealt with in this Bill is a very old question, and one which has become accentuated in recent years. It is an inverted repetition of what occurred in 1804, when the Navy had very considerable difficulty with the Army serving on board ship. I have fortified myself with a couple of extracts, showing how that difficulty arose. A number of Artillery officers—very junior officers— were shipped on board our ships under Nelson, and the Navy had very considerable difficulty in dealing with them, because they refused to be subjected to naval discipline, and it was a source of great trouble. What was true of the Navy is true of the Army, and if the Navy serves on shore it ought to be possible to put naval men under military discipline. Nelson on that occasion was so distressed at the trouble which arose with the Artillery officers on board ship that he wrote to Lord St. Vincent:—There is no real happiness in this world. With all content and smiles around me, up start these Artillery boys—I understand they are not beyond that age—and set us all at defiance, speaking in the most disrespectful manner of the Navy and its commanders, etc. With your quickness, the matter would have been settled, and perhaps some of them broke. I am, perhaps, more patient, but I do assure you not less resolved, if my plan of conciliation is not attended to. You and I are on the eve of quitting the theatre of our exploits, but we owe it to our successors, never, whilst we have a tongue to speak, or a hand to write, to allow the Navy to be in the smallest degree injured in its discipline by our conduct.The difficulty, Nelson proceeded to point out in other letters, was that you had two sets of discipline on board ship, and you could not have two captains in the same ship, and the same thing is bound to occur on shore. He said, in writing to Lord Melville:—It requires not the gift of prescience to assert, if soldiers embarked in ships of war are not, as heretofore, left subject to the Act of Parliament for the government of His Majesty's ships, vessels, and forces by sea,…that the Navy, which we have all heretofore looked up to, will be ruined. The absolute power must remain; there cannot be two commanders in one ship, nor two sets of laws to regulate the conduct of those embarked in the same bottom.1792 The Bill is a very short one, and I do not think anybody can discover any hidden dangers in it. They will not be able to discover the work of that mythical personage, Lord Northcliffe, nor will they be able to discover that anything but mythical personage who is the Minister of Munitions. It is simply to rectify what the Navy and the Army acknowledge to be an evil. I am glad the Financial Secretary said there had been no cases of indiscipline among the naval forces, seeing that the naval forces have worked alongside the military men without raising the question which the Artillery raised when they were on board ship in 1804. Still, I think both the Navy and the Army would like these forces to be subjected to military discipline when on shore. What the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admirralty said is perfectly true. You have great delays due to courts-martial. There are large bodies of men at the Crystal Palace. If there be an offence against discipline, the offender and the whole of the witnesses have to be brought to a naval port and two ships of war have to be present for a trial by court-martial. That, of course, means great difficulty, and it is far better to have the thing adjudicated on the spot as promptly as possible, so long as at least twenty-four hours are given for anger to cool, and therefore to get lighter punishment. As a matter of fact, under military discipline the men will get lighter punishment because naval discipline at sea, where you are always in the presence of danger, involves heavier punishment. I hope the Bill will pass rapidly.
§ Mr. WING
I am rather struck by the remarks of the hon. and gallant Gentleman as giving an indication that sailors love discipline. I have not found much admiration of it myself amongst those with whom I have mixed. I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman why, in introducing the Bill, he should not have told us what are the conditions governing the Marines. We have here a small measure of one Clause brought in, and from the remarks made by my right hon. Friend in introducing it there seemed very little cause really for its introduction. It is simply brought in in order to bring a certain number of people under certain conditions governing another branch of the Service.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
The Royal Marines when on shore are, by order, under military discipline, and this Bill will provide 1793 that men on ship's books when on shore will be under military discipline.
§ 4.0 P.M.
§ Mr. WING
May I ask if there can be a fuller description of some of the punishments given to these men, as I have had complaints from them saying that they really do not know what offence they have committed. They say they have done something under Section 41, Sub-section (5), but what the offence is they seem to be in some doubt about. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider that a large number of men now serving under orders of His Majesty's Navy are quite unaccustomed to the discipline now imposed upon the Navy, and I would suggest that they should be kept fully informed as to any possible offence that they may innocently commit. These men are rough-and-ready, brave, courageous men, and have had little knowledge in any sense of discipline as we understand it. They have had their own rough-and-ready way of settling matters, and in joining the Navy they find an altogether new form of discipline from that to which they have been previously subjected. I have no desire in any way to delay the Bill, because I realise that the right hon. Gentleman is desirous of carrying out a measure for the greater efficiency of the Navy, but I would suggest, as I suggested on a previous occasion, as recently as last March, when the right hon. Gentleman introduced the Naval Discipline Bill, that there might be some popular form of exposition given to these men in order that they may carry out the laws by which they are governed, and to enable them to be obedient to and not break the laws purely through ignorance of the laws which govern them.
§ Mr. G. LAMBERT
(indistinctly heard): The right hon. Gentleman in introducing the Bill suggested that it was for the better discipline, as I understood him, of the Naval Division. The experience of the Naval Division has not been altogether of such a character as to make it worth while to make a permanent change in the law in regard to them. The experiences of the Naval Division are familiar to all of us, and will be well within the recollection of the House. Their experience at Antwerp and the Dardanelles was not altogether fortunate, and I do not know whether it is worth while to alter the whole law permanently on their account. This measure in a rough-and-ready way makes sailors into soldiers.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
It has taken seventeen months of the War to discover that. We have gone on without this Bill all these years, and if the Bill is brought in for the purpose of assimilating the law simply and solely for the better discipline of the Naval Division—
§ Mr. LAMBERT
I am not at all sure that it will find favour with the whole Navy. I am quite certain that in many naval quarters the Naval Division was regarded with a good deal of suspicion as being outside the purview of the Admiralty. I do not know whether this Bill portends some land exploits on behalf of the Admiralty. I hope not, because the land exploits of the Admiralty have not been particularly fortunate. I hope, therefore, that this Bill is not the prelude to the Navy undertaking great land operations. If that be so, we shall have a repetition of the disasters that we have had in Gallipoli and elsewhere. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to give us an assurance that this does not portend any change of policy in regard to the Navy, and that the Navy will carry out its duties upon the sea, and that it is not intended to engage in any extensive land operations. I think that is rather important, because I observe, according to the Bill:—
"The Admiralty may by order direct that all or any of the officers and men borne on the books of any of His Majesty's ships shall be subject to military law."
§ Mr. LAMBERT
That means that they are subject to military law; in other words, we turn sailors into soldiers. That is a very strong order, and it is permanent. It is not for the continuance of the War only. It is not an emergency measure. Therefore, I do most sincerely hope that its introduction does not portend any new large land developments on the part of the Naval Forces of the Crown.
§ Mr. KING
At any rate it is longer, and when you get a critic out of your own office I think he is worth listening to, and I think the Admiralty ought to reply to him. I shall be sorry if there will not be an opportunity for that to-day. I have down a Motion for the rejection of this Bill, not out of spite or with any intention to obstruct in any way the work which the Government at this time think necessary for the conduct of the War, but I do feel that there are certain points which ought to be met and certain considerations in connection with this Bill which ought not to be so neglected that the Bill passes without any discussion or protest. In the first place, the Bill is not emergency legislation; it is legislation for the whole time. I should have thought, at the present time, that if there was one thing that was uncertain in connection with our military and naval organisations it was the exact relations of the Army and the Navy, and of the War Office and the Admiralty. We shall come out of this War with a great deal of experience, and, I hope, a great deal of determination to reorganise the Services. Why, therefore, when you have pledged yourself only to introduce emergency legislation, take this opportunity of establishing a new principle, by which you are going to hand over men in the Navy to Army authority, and to be entirely under Army control. I should like to see words added at the beginning of the first Clause, "for the duration of this War." It could very easily be done in Committee, and it could be done without any discussion. We can have the Report 1796 stage at once and the Third Reading, and send the Bill along the passage in the space of half an hour, and it would be a greatly improved measure if that is done.
Undoubtedly we must not conceal from ourselves the fact which was quite evident from the remarks the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lambert) that there is in the minds of a number of men who have come into this War, and taken service under the Admiralty, a certain suspicion of their position, certain friction, and a feeling of uneasiness as to how they are being treated fairly, or how they may be treated. I can point out one or two directions in which that feeling has come to my notice. There is no great grievance, and no feeling that they have been unfairly treated, but a suspicion and doubt where they are, what is going to happen next, what is going to be done with them and under what orders or conditions are they going to serve. Take the case of the anti-aircraft men, There have been chop-pings and changings of that service until the poor fellows do not know where they are or what is going to happen. They are fine men. Among them are a large number of clerks engaged in this House, to whom many of us have spoken about the work they have done at night in protecting us in the Anti-Aircraft Service. They have given up their nights again and again, and now they are being put under the War Office, and they do not know what development is going to come. They are uncertain and doubtful about what is going to happen if they are placed under the Army Act. This is a point to which I should like to call the attention of the Solicitor-General, because it is a legal point which I do not think the Secretary to the Admiralty quite appreciates. If these anti-aircraft men are now placed under the Army Act they are also placed under the Army Amendment Act, and the Army Amendment Act is emergency legislation by which the War Office can transfer any man from any one arm of its Service to another. They can take a man out of the Royal Army Medical Corps and put him in an Infantry regiment, or they can take a man out of an Infantry regiment and put him into the Army Service Corps.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
That would be quite impossible as regards the Royal Marines or any naval forces serving on land. They could not do it; they could not transfer men from the Royal Marines or the Navy to the Army in that way. The War Office knows that though the men 1797 may come under military discipline when serving on land, they cannot transfer any man from the Royal Marines or from any naval service to the Army in the way suggested by the hon. Member.
That point had not been ignored by me, but I would point out that in the wording of the first part of this first Clause the Admiralty are going to be able to order that all officers and men of His Majesty's ships whilst serving on shore shall be subject to military law under the Army Act. I suggested in a conversation which I have had with the Secretary to the Admiralty that he should make it quite clear by putting in the words "for military purposes be subject to military law." Apparently he is unable to accept that suggestion.
§ Mr. KING
That is a different matter. Why not put it in twice and make it quite definite and clear? Then I should be satisfied. Possibly my argument is not of sound value. I do not mean to say that it is a profound legal argument that will hold water, but it is an argument which has been represented to me by two members of the anti-aircraft service, both of whom I believe were quite independent of one another, and both have come to the same sort of suspicion or idea. I think it ought to be made quite certain that this is only for disciplinary purposes. I know that is the intention, but it is very often the case, and it has occurred once or twice during this War, that the War Office or the Admiralty or some other Government Department have found that they are armed with powers they had not recognised or did not know about, and they have used those powers which they got inadvertently, and which they were glad to have, in a way which was never intended by Parliament or even by themselves at the outset. I have called attention to this matter so that there might be no mistake. It must be made clear that this is only to be for disciplinary purposes. I hope, too, it will mean that there is going to be increased effort to see that certain branches of the naval service which have been, as it were, under a cloud, or in doubt as to their position, shall be treated in such a way that their confidence can be freely gained, and their utility in the great service they render to the Crown be ensured.
I would remind the Government in respect of a Bill of this kind that there was an engagement, indeed something in the nature of a contract, not to be broken, that none save emergency Bills were to be introduced, and the Prime Minister asked private Members to refrain from introducing Bills, in view of the fact that the House did not want, under stress of the War, to discuss private Members' measures. In regard to this Bill which is now before the House, nobody can say that it will have any influence upon the War. It may be a proper thing that men serving in the Navy when on shore should be under discipline, but that is a domestic question, rather one of police or local administration. I do not see why the words suggested by the hon. Member for Somerset (Mr. King), "for the duration of the War," should not be put in. It might well be that the Government, having had experience of this measure, might want to continue it in an amended form, and in that case they would be bound to come to the House in order to perfect it. Therefore, I do not see how the Government can justify the introduction of this measure after the repeated undertakings given by the Government, unless it is limited to the duration of the War. If that be done it will ease the passage of the measure very considerably. Those words have been inserted again and again in legislation of this kind. I do not think there is really any hostility to the Bill, and I confess myself, after the observations of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert), and in view of the fact that grave apprehension is entertained by many Members of the House in regard to this proposal, that we ought to have something said of a reassuring character, which I am sure would be accepted.
§ Mr. HOGGE
I desire to ask the right hon. Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty a question before he replies to the discussion upon this Bill. I hope the Navy will understand that the House, though sparsely attended, has yet great interest in what happens to that branch of the national services. Since the War broke out there have been added to the Navy for naval purposes a great number of extra aids, such as the Royal Naval Division, and I understand that the Crystal Palace, where they are lodged, is known as His Majesty's ship "Crystal Palace," and that when the men get leave from the "Crystal Palace" they go on 1799 shore. That ship, of course, is on shore all the time, and I want to know from my right hon. Friend how these men are to be affected by this Bill. Will they be directly under the Admiralty at such a place as the Crystal Palace; will they be directly under Admiralty discipline, or come in any way within the four corners of this measure? That ought to be made quite plain, at any rate, to those men who are only serving in the Navy for the period of the War. They have done it extremely well in many parts where we have been fighting, and I think that they should understand precisely what is their position, by whom they are to be controlled, and whether this is to be a temporary measure.
§ Mr. RADFORD
I think the House will regard with very proper jealousy any measure which on the face of it is not intended for the present situation, but is really to be of a permanent character. I do not speak in the interests of private Members as did my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Booth), but in the interest of the legislation of the country. I think that, unless there is good reason for this measure, it would be a misfortune on the present occasion, in a House which is thinly attended, and not largely fortified with naval authorities, to adopt this permanent change in the law relating to the Navy. Of course, it is natural that an able and zealous Minister should seek to effect what no doubt he believes would be a permanent improvement in the law which he has to handle; but there seems to be very great doubt as to whether that is really the case. My right hon. Friend the Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert), at any rate one of the naval authorities at present in this House, appears to have some misgiving which is shared by other hon. Members who heard him in regard to this Bill. Under the circumstances, I venture to join in the protest which has been made by various hon. Gentlemen, and I suggest that, whatever becomes of this Bill, it should be limited, like other Bills of the kind which have been passed, to the duration of the War. I do not think that we should now consider a permanent change in the law relating to this subject. It is quite true, as has been already remarked, that when the War is over—and I pray God that time may be soon—there will be a great deal to reflect over, and probably a great many changes to make. I do not think it is desirable 1800 that a change should be made in what I may call a habit in a hurried and, after the remarks made by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Molton, reckless manner, but that we should defer what may be necessary to be done to effect improvements in the Navy and Army until the War is over, when these matters could be deliberately considered.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
(indistinctly heard): I tried to make my explanation of this small measure clear and to the point, so far as I could, but apparently doubts have arisen amongst some hon. Members as to its scope and purpose. My hon. Friend the Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Wing) has some anxiety in regard to minesweepers, who, he says, do not know very much about Navy or Army discipline, being quite new to this work. I would point out to my hon. Friend that this Bill does not affect mine-sweepers in any way whatever; it is a measure which affects men who are on ships' books, and who may be engaged with land forces, with soldiers on land expeditions, if the Admiralty so direct.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
I will read the Clause once more, and then the hon. Member will see in what circumstances men of the Navy will be engaged in operations on land with land forces; he will see what are the circumstances which would justify the Admiralty in directing that they should be for a time under military discipline. I can imagine no circumstances under which mine-sweepers would be engaged with land forces. My right hon. Friend the Member for South Molton, I must say quite unintentionally, seriously misrepresented what I said about the Royal Naval Division. It must not be supposed that I have suggested for one moment that the discipline of the Royal Naval Division is other than satisfactory, and I suggest nothing more than a change of the method of procedure which is considered to be necessary. These men have rendered excellent service to their country.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
The point I made had reference to men of the Naval Division coming under military discipline.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
There is a large number of men on the ships' books, and they have been acting on land in military service, and that is really the reason why a change of this sort is necessary. There are other cases which might arise where 1801 it would be necessary for them to serve on land, and it was thought that it would be well to deal with the whole matter at once. I have stated that the immediate reason for this Bill was the fact of the existence of the Royal Naval Division, and I am quite sure that my right hon. Friend does not wish that anybody should think that this change was necessary because the discipline of the Royal Naval Division was other than very satisfactory.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
I objected to the Naval Division, which is under the Admiralty, going from Admiralty control to work under military control upon land.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
My right hon. Friend holds that view consistently with his equal conviction that they have rendered excellent service when on land?
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
This change which is proposed does not affect the question of their discipline, for everybody knows how excellent the discipline of the Naval Division is. But, as I stated, I will read the Section as it stands, in reply to my hon. Friend below the Gangway:—
"The Admiralty may by order direct that all or any of the officers and men borne on the books of any of His Majesty's ships shall, whilst serving on shore, be subject to military law under the Army Act, and, while such an order is in force, the officers and men to whom the order relates shall for disciplinary purposes be subject to military law under the Army Act in like manner as officers and men of the Royal Marines when so subject."
That is all that is intended. A large number of the men, as I have said, are borne on the ships' books, and, when they act on land, they will be under military orders and not under naval orders. That is all the Bill does. My right hon. Friend the Member for South Molton seems to see some portent of more land exploits on the part of the Admiralty, and he asks if that is to be the case. Not so far as I am aware. There is no arrière pensée connected with this Bill, and my right hon. Friend can accept my assurance that it is simply an administrative change. I repeat that so far as I am concerned it does not portend any more land exploits at all. It is simply a piece of administrative improvement, and nothing more, and I am sorry that so small a matter should have 1802 raised such ideas. The hon. Member for Somerset (Mr. King) and the hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Booth) said, "Why do you want to make this permanent? Why do you not deal with it as a piece of emergency legislation?" Indeed, the right hon. Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) said the same. I say quite frankly, as I have said, that we at first did propose to make this a piece of emergency legislation, and take these powers to make an Order as set forth in the first Clause for the period of the War; but it seemed so good a thing to do in the circumstances, and so likely that for purposes of training and so forth that it might happen that men on ships' books were working with soldiers, that it might be well to do it once for all, and to obtain permanent power to secure that these men should be under Army discipline. But if there has been any understanding—I understand from the hon. Member for Pontefract that there was some pledge— that nothing but emergency legislation should be taken, I am quite sure, although I do not know—
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
In any case, I am very glad to meet the convenience of the House. I must confess that I am sorry that we should have to make two bites at the cherry, but if there is a feeling that we should apply this to the War only, of course I think it a pity and we can only do it again, but I have no objection to making the first Clause read:—
"The Admiralty may, during the present War,"
putting in the words "during the present War."
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
The understanding is that if I accept the principle of dealing with this for the period of the War, or such period after as may be expedient, and I get those words put in in another place, getting all stages of the Bill now, that will meet his case. I am sorry, because it is a useful piece of legislation, and nothing more than an administrative matter, and there are none of these rather serious things in it that the hon. Gentleman seemed to imagine. The hon. Member for Somerset said, "Why have you not 1803 the words 'only for disciplinary purposes' in the first Clause? Why does it read,
"The Admiralty may by order direct that all or any of the officers and men borne on the books of any of His Majesty's ships shall, whilst serving on shore, be subject to military law.'"
He asked, "Why do you not put in 'only for disciplinary purposes? "He ought to have read a little further down. We propose to make an order, and officers and men to whom the order relates shall "for disciplinary purposes"—the words he desires to see in are in effectively lower down, and I can assure him that their presence there covers the whole field of their operation, and there is not the danger he apprehends. The hon. Member referred to the Anti-Aircraft Corps. If members of the Anti-Aircraft Corps are transferred to the War Office, then obviouely they will be subject to the whole of the Army Act if they are transferred. They will then be subject to the whole of the Army Act, and, therefore, to the disciplinary provisions of that Army Act. If they are not transferred to the War Office, then if you give us this Bill it will remain for the Admiralty to direct whether or not there is a proper case to put the powers of this Bill into an Order and say that they shall be subject to military law for disciplinary purposes as officers and men of the Royal Marines are so subject. I think I have covered all the points raised, and I hope I may now get the Second Reading of the Bill, and that having explained all the purposes of this simple piece of administrative machinery, we may pass it through all its stages.
§ Question, "That the Bill be now read a second time," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read the second time.
§ Resolved, "That this House will immediately resolve itself into Committee on the Bill."—[Mr. James Hope.]
§ Bill accordingly considered in Committee.
§ [Mr. MACLEAN in the Chair.]