HC Deb 24 May 1921 vol 142 cc112-7

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £580,600, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Expenses of the Royal Naval Reserve, the Royal Fleet Reserve, and the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, etc., which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1922.

Viscount CURZON

I wish to raise one or two questions with regard to the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. It has been promised by the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor on at least two occasions that men serving in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve should not be worse off than men in the Territorial Army. I believe the position of the two forces is very analogous, though I do not know much about the Territorial Army. The scheme on which the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve is now founded was practically entirely based on that of the Territorial Army. The latter provides that no man should be put to any personal expense through attending drills, inspections, and so on. The Territorial Army has the Territorial Force Association, which has certain funds at its disposal and which are used in the interests of the force. I believe that in certain cases these funds are used to defray the travelling expenses of men attending drill. I wish to ask whether the £5 grant, which is made to every man of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve under certain conditions, is intended to cover his expenses for travelling, or whether a special grant will be made for this purpose? It would be very unfair that the men in one force should suffer through having to pay their travelling expenses whilst those in another force got those expenses.

With regard to the question of rating, the right hon. Gentleman said something about the rig of petty officers in the Navy. I am sure he would not wish any distinction to be drawn between petty officers in the Navy and the various reserves when they go to sea. It is very important that they should be on the same basis, and that the petty officers in the Reserve should be able to go into the petty officers' messes on board ship and that no invidious distinction should be drawn against them. A request was made to the Admiralty some time ago that the petty officers should be allowed to wear fore and aft rig on the same basis as the Active List. It is hoped that this privilege, which has been granted to the Navy, will be granted to the Reserves, subject to the conditions and qualifications laid down by the Admiralty. Another matter, very important from the point of view of all reservists, is the question of boots. The Admiralty have refused to make any issue of boots to the Royal Naval Reserve. This is very unfair indeed, because when these men go to sea they go in the ordinary private boots, and you have only got to get your private boots into an inch or two of salt water and they are pretty well ruined. The men have nothing else to wear unless they pay for boots out of their own pockets. Supposing they had to turn out with the men in the Navy, who are wearing service boots, there would be a very unfair distinction, and it would lead it to be said that these men were not smart. It would also prejudice recruiting for the Navy, because, although there are distinctions in uniform between them and the men on the Active List, ordinary persons cannot draw a distinction. I hope the hon. and gallant Gentleman will give us some assurance about this matter. It is very unfair to put these men to very great expense in order that they may serve their country.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

I would like to ask what truth there is in the statement which appeared in the papers yesterday, made in a speech by the hon. and gallant Member for Mid Down (Sir J. Craig) that there is to be a drill ship stationed in Belfast Lough, and that a corps of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve is to be established there. No doubt the hon. and gallant Member opposite has some knowledge of this. What strikes one at first, and what surprises me very much to hear is the fact that there is no Ulster Division of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. Is this going to be the beginning of the Irish Navy which we have held up to us as a terrible bogy in case of certain eventualities. I do not wish to discuss legislation, but this is a matter of administration, and it would be desirable to know if the North of Ireland Parliament is going to be allowed to form its own naval force, are they going to pay for it, and will the same course be adopted in regard to the Southern Parliament?


The sum mentioned in the Estimate is proposed to be granted by the Imperial Parliament and not by the Parliaments in Ireland.

Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will inform us whether this Vote is to be relieved of any charge in accordance with this new policy which has been explained to the electors of Mid-Down by his predecessor in the Admiralty. I am sorry to say I will have to disturb the harmony of this very pleasant discussion by pro- testing against the heavy expenditure involved in the calling up of the Royal Naval Reserve in connection with the present crisis. I have done this before, and I take the opportunity of doing it again. During the Recess I visited one of the defence force units, and I found living with them a number of naval ratings. They all seemed very happy and contented, and to be having a very good time indeed, but the calling out of the naval reserves in connection with the present industrial dispute has cost the country a great deal of money, and it is a use of the Navy the objections to which I have previously urged and must repeat. A case might be made out for calling up the army reserves when there is unrest in the country, but the naval reserves stand on a totally different footing. I would like to know from the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is it to be part of the regular policy of the Government in future that in the case of industrial disputes the Royal Naval Reserve and the immediate class of the Royal Fleet Reserve are to be called out? If so, it should be explained to the men before they join. The Royal Fleet Reserve are bluejackets, and the understanding on which they join is that they are to be called up only in case of the danger of war. Therefore I go so far as to say that it is a breach of faith to call them up on an occasion like this. When a protest was made before against this unprecedented use of the Navy, the hon. and gallant Gentleman had the temerity and boldness to explain that because naval ratings had been landed to put down riots among the negro population in some part of Western Africa it was justifiable to march them through colliery districts in Wales on the occasion of an industrial dispute. I daresay that when there are no other forces available the Navy may have been used abroad to put down trouble in colonies, but when you have a military force able to back up the civil authority I do not think the Government is justified in bringing the Navy into the matter at all. A man enlisting in the Army knows he can be called upon to assist the civil authority, but that is not the case in the Navy. Before the War we had definite instructions from the Admiralty on this matter. I was commanding a ship before the War, and I remember that we received instructions not to intervene in industrial dis- putes at all. Now, every time there is a great strike or the threat of a strike, the first thing the Navy knows is that all leave is stopped. I mentioned that I saw during Whitsuntide a party of these men, and that they all seemed very cheery. They came from a cruiser which was refitting at Chatham, and the time a ship is refitting is the time which the officers and men have for a little well-earned leave. In this case here they were kicking their heels with nothing to do except to take part in concerts, but with the possibility of having to do the most unpleasant work a disciplined man can be put to, and that is putting down trouble among the civil population, with the consequent estrangement of the Navy from the general mass of the people. I hope the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will think of some better excuse for this misuse of the Royal Navy than the fact that in the past landing parties of sailors have been employed in the West African Colonies to put down trouble among negroes. There may have been an emergency on the present occasion, but will he give us an assurance that in the future men who join the Royal Navy Reserve and the Royal Fleet Reserve will be employed to defend the country and not the interests of the right hon. Gentleman's class?


I need not say that I demur very strongly to the suggestion contained in the closing words of the hon. and gallant Member. As to the particular question he raises, which has been discussed at considerable length already, I will only say, as I said on a previous occasion, that it is the duty of every citizen to help in the maintenance of the law and it is more particularly the duty of those who by virtue of their discipline are better able both to enforce the law and to observe that restraint which is so necessary in dealing with occasions of civil disturbance. There is no question as to the undesirability of using the Army or the Navy or any of His Majesty's Forces in industrial disputes. It is only when, as in the recent case, a situation arose which involved not a dispute between one class and another or one section or trade and another but which threatened to involve general lawlessness and serious trouble that the Government felt bound to call at once for the preservation of order on those best fitted to maintain order, and in view of the magnitude of that crisis, to call not only upon the Army—which is naturally called upon first to support the civil power, as it is usually the means most at hand—but also to call upon the Navy. As I have said before in other parts of the world where soldiers have not been readily available or available in sufficient numbers, the Navy have come forward and performed this very distasteful duty willingly and readily. I trust most sincerely that emergencies of the character which we have just come through will not occur again and that it may never be necessary again to call upon the Navy or even the Army to intervene in these matters, but certainly no Government could give a pledge that it would refuse to make use of all the disciplined elements at its disposal if the need arose. The hon. and gallant Member has also referred to a matter of which I have so far no official cognisance and which I have only read about in the Press, namely, the suggestion made by the hon. and gallant Member, my predecessor in this position. He has put forward a request that a training ship should be placed at Belfast. As the Government of Ireland Act is drawn, there can be no question of such a training ship or of any military or naval establishment being set up by the Northern Irish Parliament. It is simply a question whether it is desirable for the Imperial Government to have a training ship in that part of the United Kingdom. That matter will no doubt be duly considered by the Board of Admiralty entirely on its merits from the point of view of the training likely to be given and the class likely to come forward to receive that training. The hon. and gallant Member for Battersea (Viscount Curzon) raised a number of points as to the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, and undoubtedly I agree with him that it is most desirable that men who give patriotic service should not be the losers. I am not sure if he can have read the Admiralty monthly orders issued in March dealing with the various items of pay and allowance connected with the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, but sooner than detain the Committee now I propose to write to him and inform him on those points.

Question put, and agreed to.