HC Deb 15 March 1927 vol 203 cc1919-26

Order for Second Reading read.


I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

This is an unambitious little Bill, which is rendered necessary to bring the existing practice with regard to the Naval Reserve into line with the law, or, rather, to bring the existing law into line with the existing practice. It is a Bill which should have been introduced a good many years ago, and I do not, therefore, quite understand why it is the intention of the lion. Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon) to postpone its appearance for another six months. It seems to me to be absolutely necessary, and it is just as necessary now as it was when he occupied the post which I now fill. The first Clause in the Bill deals with the question of the bounty which it is proposed to pay to Naval Reservists when they are called up. Under the Royal Naval Reserve (Volunteer) Act. 1859, the reservist, whose services are required on mobilisation, if the period of his service is extended for over three years, is paid 2d. a day in addition to his ordinary pay, and that payment is made applicable to the men of the Royal Fleet Reserve by the Act of 1900; but it was never made applicable to the men of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. After the War it was decided to pay a bounty of £5 on mobilisation to all men of the Naval Reserve, and under the new Regulations in regard to the Reserve that bounty is promised to those who join it. Therefore, what the House is asked to do in this Bill is to sanction this change to £5 on mobilisation to the Reservists in place of the 2d. a day after three years' service paid to certain classes of Reservists previously. I think the House will realise that this is a fair scheme all round, and brings the payment to Naval Reservists into line with the payment that is made to Territorials in the case of the Army.

The next point where it is desired to bring the law up to date will be found in Sub-section (3) of Clause 1 which alters the period of training for Reservists. Under the Act of 1859 a period of 28 days was laid down as the maximum period of training. Obviously that period is too short in these days when technical training is so much more strenuous and difficult than it was in 1859. Therefore, for some time before the War, the period of training service for certain technical men asked for, greatly exceeded the 28 days prescribed by law. At the present time the period of service during which engine-room artificers and certain other classes who join the Naval Reserve are called upon to train is three months in each of the first four quinquennial periods of service, and in the case of newly enrolled engine-room artificers and certain classes, this service is to be continuous; in other cases the service may be in periods of not less than one month. I wish the House to realise that the regulations in regard to that period of training have been in force in the Royal Naval Reserve for a great many years and, even before the War, it occurred to the Admiralty that it might be necessary to get legal sanction for this extension of service. For some reason which is wrapped in the mystery of the past, this legislation was not actually introduced into Parliament. What is desired now is to make it clear that this extended period of service is legal. I desire the House to realise that the period of service now undergone by these reservists is working well and, as far as I know, no con plaints have been made about it. The higher technical training required at the present time necessitates a longer period.

The third and last amendment in the law which is required, refers to the terms of service in the Royal Fleet Reserve. That Reserve was brought into existence by the Naval Reserve Act of 1900. It consists of two classes—A Class and B Class. A Class is composed of Royal Naval Pensioners and Royal Marine. Pensioners who had entered the Service after the passing of the Act and were called upon to serve in this Royal Fleet Reserve as part of their terms of service as pensioners. In their case it was compulsory service in the Reserve and included also in that class are men who were in the Service before the passing of the Act of 1900 and who joined the new Reserve voluntarily. Class B consists of persons other than pensioners who, after service in the Royal Navy or Royal Marine, enrol for service in this Reserve. The difficulty which has arisen is this. The Act of 1900 while providing for the voluntary enrolment of those naval and marine pensioners who entered the sere vice before the passing of the Act and the compulsory service of those naval and marine pensioners who entered after the passing of the Act made no allowance for the voluntary enrolment in this Reserve of men who were in the later class. In practice, disability pensioners have been allowed to join the Royal Fleet. Reserve if they were medically fit and as it has been decided that they were pensioners, although not pensioners coming under this Act, but pensioners for service done to the State, it was doubtful whether they could serve in this Reserve unless they had joined the Service before 1900. It is necessary therefore to amend the law in order to clear up the position of those disability pensioners who are already in the Royal Fleet Reserve.


What is the approximate cost of this Bill?

Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM

I shall come to that point in a moment. We shall require a Money Resolution.


No amount is mentioned either in the Resolution or in the Bill.

Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM

It is almost impossible to say what the cost of the Bill will be; if the hon. Member will for give me I will finish the points with which I am now dealing and will then turn to the difficulty of estimating the exact cost. I have explained the position in regard to the disability pensioners. The other point which it is necessary to make clear is that the Admiralty have now decided as a measure of economy not to make it compulsory for pensioners to join the. Royal Fleet Reserve. As from 1925 onwards pensioners will not be compelled as a condition of their service to join the Royal Fleet Reserve. We are anxious, therefore, to make it clear that men who join, arc not joining any longer on the old basis—that is to say they join the Royal Fleet Reserve voluntarily, and the number who so join depends upon the number required by the Admiralty at any particular time. It is no longer a condition of service. The holding of a pension no longer makes it necessary for certain classes of men to belong to the Royal Fleet Reserve.

These are the three changes in the law which this Bill proposes. They are all necessary in order to carry into effect what the Admiralty is already doing, and has been doing for some time. As I said in my earlier remarks, this Bill ought to have been introduced a good many years ago. It has not been introduced, for reasons over which I do not think the Admiralty have much control, and I take it that, although the difficulties existing were apparent before the War, the coming of the War and the muddle and confusion during the War, took the matter entirely out of the hands of the Admiralty and left it more or less in the hands of successive Governments. I ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading because it is absolutely necessary in the interest of the Naval Reserve. I should like to answer my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford (Sir F. Wise) as to the probable cost. As far as I can see, the effect of the Bill will be a reduction in expenditure, not immediately, but in the future, because the automatic increase of the Royal Fleet Reserve will not continue. We are limiting its numbers, so in that case I suppose there will be a reduction. With regard to what the effect will be of extending the £5 bounty instead of giving the 2d. a day extra pay now given after three years' service, I must leave it to the far higher skill of my hon. Friend to work out exactly what the cost will be to the country. The numbers of the Reserve are put down on the Paper, and it seems to me that if you calculate £5 per head for each man, you will more or less get the charge that might be necessary if all the reserves were called out at the same time, which is hardly likely and will not, I hope, occur. But whether we save money or not will depend upon the duration of the war.


I can relieve the feelings of the hon. and gallant Member who has just spoken right away by telling him that I placed the Amendment on the Order Paper because at first it was not quite clear what was the purpose of the Bill, but since then he has issued an explanatory White Paper with the Financial Resolution, and we have heard his statement just now. There are, nevertheless, one or two points that I would like to raise, and one has been raised already by the hon. Member for Ilford (Sir F. Wise). I do not think it would have been quite so difficult to give us some idea of the cost if only we had been informed of what has been the cost hitherto under the old system, and whether or not one expects there will be any reduction in that direction. That would have given us at least some lead in the matter. The particular part of the Bill with which I am concerned is Sub-section (3) of Clause 1. I understand from the hon. and gallant Gentleman that the Government are now seeking legislation in order to cover, not illegal, but extra-legal practices that have been carried on by the Admiralty for some time. Am I right in gathering that the three months' period of training, instead of the 28 days, that is now legally in operation is rather concerned with artificers and those engaged in what one would call the more technical work of the modern navy, and will not be applied rigidly with regard to A.B.s' and ordinary seamen? The reason why I put that question is because representations have already been made to me with regard to people who follow the avocation of fishermen, and who might find it difficult to get away from their calling for a three months' training.

Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM

The point is that this extension of training to longer than 28 days is not for all classes, but it is in operation already, and has been for some years past, and, therefore, any difficulties or inconvenience that may have arisen, are there already and have nut to be anticipated in the future.


What I was trying to press was that it has not been rigidly applied to those who are A.Bs., because some of them have put it to me that this will make a difference to them. I am hound to say that the explanation of the hon. and gallant Gentleman, coupled with the White Paper, has put a different complexion on the Bill, and there is no intention of opposing it. I only hope that his expectations will be realised and that it will not impose any hardship on those who form the Royal Naval Reserve in complying with the longer period of training as compared with that already in operation.

Commander WILLIAMS

I welcome the fact that the Government are putting down a definite period instead of the old period of 28 days, which was very often lengthened in the past. It is much fairer to the men themselves that they should have a real knowledge of where they stand, and I would like to say that I think that will be generally welcomed on all hands. As to the necessity for increasing the period, it must be increasingly obvious that, whereas 50 or 60 years ago, in the transition from a sailing ship to a battleship, which was then nearly always itself a sailing ship, it was a very easy thing for a man to learn his duties, but to-day it is necessary that these men, in their own interest and in the national interest, should be thoroughly trained rather than that we should have more men not so efficiently and effectively trained. That is all I wish to say in welcoming this Bill, which, I believe, on the whole, will he thoroughly satisfactory to the men concerned.


I represent a large number of men who serve in the Royal Naval Reserve, and who are very interested in this Bill. I should like to press the point made by the hon. Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon) as to whether it is the Admiralty's intention rigidly to insist upon a three months' training, because I can assure the Financial Secretary that it will not meet with the approval of the fishermen whom I represent. They are quite satisfled with the arrangements that are at present in force, and if it be the intention of the Admiralty to carry on in the same way as in the past, I do not think there will be any great objection, but there will be an objection from the fishermen if it be laid down that they have to do a three months' training, because it will he absolutely impossible for them to do that and to carry on their own avocation during the seasons when they are required for the fishing industry.

On the whole, the Bill is welcome to the men of the Royal Naval Reserve. I regret there is nothing in it, however, to provide for the payment of the gratuities to the skippers and mates on completion of their training rather than, as at present, making them wait till the end of the year before they draw the gratuities, because it must be remembered that these men have to sacrifice a good deal in order to serve in the Royal Naval Reserve. Possibly, they have got to the period of the year when they could be earning considerable money as fishermen, and they have to leave their home towns and go away for the training, and they feel that at any rate some portion of the gratuity ought to be paid to them on the completion of their training. I should like to have a clear answer fin the point raised by the hon. Member for North Camberwell.


I was not at all sure if my information was very superannuated or not when I listened to the hon. and gallant Member explaining the Bill, but I am encouraged to add my voice and reinforce the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon) by what has been said by the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley). I do not know how far the Admiralty are now using the services of the East Coast fishermen in Scotland, but they used to use the services of these men very generally. I am aware that some change has taken place, but if they are still using the services of men who are engaged in the ordinary operations of fishing, it is quite impossible for the Admiralty to impose a three months' training upon those men—absolutely Impossible—and I feel perfectly certain that this House will pause and consider before they give the Admiralty power to impose such impossible responsibilities upon men who wish to serve in the Royal Naval Reserve. I speak with a great deal of hesitation, because I admit that I have been a little out of touch for some time with what has been done, but if these men's services are still being used, and the Admiralty still wish to use their services, we must press upon the hon. and gallant Member to give an answer to those points which will reassure the men and secure us in the enjoyment of their services.

Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM

I am willing to reassure the right hon. Gentleman. It is not the intention of the Admiralty to do anything more than what I have said, and I am afraid I have not made myself as clear as I ought to have done. Broadly speaking, 28 days, which is the old period of training, are only exceeded in training by acting engine room artificers, of whom I spoke. Provisional seamen and stokers have their 14 days' drill and 28 days' training, but the training of the rest of the men is mostly for 28 days, sometimes less. There is no intention whatever of altering the existing Regulations in this respect.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.