HC Deb 29 February 1928 vol 214 cc393-8
13. Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

asked the First Lord of the Admiralty whether he has further considered the prohibitions on the political activities of naval officers on half-pay contained in the recent Fleet Order, with particular reference to the cases of those officers who are peers; and whether these prohibitions apply to such officers?


The answers to both parts of the question are in the affirmative.

Lieut.- Commander KENWORTHY

What steps does the right hon. Gentleman propose to take in that case with regard to the Admirals who have recently made speeches—or one Admiral in particular—in the House of Lords?


There is another question on the Paper on that subject in the name of the hon. and gallant Member himself.

14. Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

asked the First Lord of the Admiralty whether Admirals of the Fleet when unemployed are considered as being on full pay or on half-pay; whether the recent Fleet Order regarding political activities applies to these officers; and, if so, to some extent?


Admirals of the Fleet when unemployed are officers on half-pay, but since there is no option of retirement in this rank and no full pay employment except in very special circumstances, it has been decided that except when employed they should be on the same footing, in this matter, as retired officers.

Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY

Would that mean, therefore, that an Admiral of the Fleet who is a Peer has certain privileges which an Admiral or a Vice-Admiral or a Rear-Admiral does not have; and does not the right hon. Gentleman see how objectionable that is?


He is in a different position from other Admirals, who might have a much better chance of going back into active service.

Lieut.- Commander KENWORTHY

Why does the right hon. Gentleman make class distinctions among Flag Officers of the Fleet who are members of the House of Lords and those who are not?


It is not a class distinction at all, but a difference between an Admiral who has no probability of going back into active service and one who has.


If one of these gentlemen is selected for any office of profit under the Crown, does his half-pay still run?


That is quite a different question.

15. Commander BELLAIRS

asked the First Lord of the Admiralty whether there is any precedent for the Fleet Order of the 26th August, 1927, or whether it is claimed to be covered by the Order in Council of 25th July, 1927?


I am not sure that I understand the meaning of the first part of the question. The Fleet Order and the Order in Council are complementary to each other, and taken together carry out the decision of His Majesty's Government that persons in the Naval, Military, Air or Civil Services of the Crown cannot, while on the active list of their respective Services, be permitted also to be actively engaged in the support of a political party.

Commander BELLAIRS

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Order in Council deals only with candidature for Parliament, and that both he and the Prime Minister stated that the Fleet Order is entirely based on the Order in Council?


No. I cannot now give the actual words of my answer, but the Fleet Order was intended to carry out the Order in Council and to make clear the views of the Admiralty as to the activities of officers in this matter.

Commander BELLAIRS

As this question cannot be thrashed out by question and answer, I propose to call attention to it on the Motion for the Adjournment of the House to-morrow.

16. Commander BELLAIRS

asked the First Lord of the Admiralty, in the event of a half-pay officer taking part in a meeting or demonstration for political purposes, acting as a member of a candidate's election committee, in any way actively prosecuting a candidate's interest, issuing a political address, or standing for Parliament, what disciplinary machinery can be employed; and how can he be brought before a Court Martial?


It is open to the Board to deal with a half-pay officer who disobeys the King's Regulations in any of the following ways, according to the deserts of the case:—

  1. (a) He can be censured.
  2. (b) He can be refused further employment on full pay with the consequence that he is placed before long on retired list.
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  4. (c) He can be placed on the retired list forthwith.
  5. (d) He can be struck off the list altogether.
In reply to the second part of the question, a half-pay officer in the naval service cannot be brought before a Court, Martial.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

Is not the whole trouble due to the fact that an attempt has been made to bring the Navy into line with the Civil Service, where no half-pay exists? Does not the right hon. Gentleman feel that a mistake has been made, and will he not have it rectified?


No; I do not think a mistake has been made. The question is not merely one of the difference between a naval officer and an officer in the Civil Service; the question is one between naval officers and naval ratings. Naval ratings cannot be placed on half-pay, and, therefore, if the Order is to be fair to all ranks in the Navy, I think you have to include half-pay officers, because there are no half-pay ratings.


Would the punishment be determined according to the political party of the officer concerned?

17. Commander BELLAIRS

asked the First Lord of the Admiralty whether the Law Officers of the Crown have been consulted as to the legality of paragraph 4 of the Fleet Order of 26th August, 1927, which has been the subject of Cabinet inquiry?


I regret that I cannot enlighten my hon. and gallant Friend, as this is information which it is contrary to practice to give.

Commander BELLAIRS

In view of the fact that the opinion of the Law Officers has often been quoted in the past, especially in connection with courts-martial, would I be allowed, Mr. Speaker, to ask a question as to what the opinion of the Law Officers of the Crown is?


I do not think we ever admit questions asking for the opinion of the Law Officers of the Crown.

Lieut.- Commander KENWORTHY

On a point of Order. With great respect, may I refresh your memory, Sir, as to what happened during what was called the Campbell Debate in the last Government, when the Law Officers were cross-examined in this House?


I am dealing only with questions, not with Debate.

Vice-Admiral Sir REGINALD HALL

Am I to understand that an officer is to be punished for an offence when he is not subject to naval discipline?


That does not follow as a supplementary question.


I tried to ask it before.


It would be better put to-morrow night, when the whole question will be brought up by the hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone (Commander Bellairs).


Arising out of the last answer given by the right hon. Gentleman, is your ruling in accordance with his answer, that it is incompetent to give any answers showing the relative increase or decrease in the Admiralty staffs?


asked the Prime Minister whether he is aware that officers and men of the fighting services were allowed to exercise their full electoral rights by attending political meetings, asking questions of candidates, and, when in mufti, advocating their political opinions and the redress of such grievances as affected them and their families as citizens until the year 1924; whether, seeing that there has been a curtailment of these rights, he will state the reasons which have prompted the Government to take this course; and whether, seeing that the service towns are largely composed of service men and their families, he can grant to voters in the service full permission, when in mufti, to take the same part as other electors during a General Election?

The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Baldwin)

In view of the large numbers of officers and men of the National Army awaiting demobilisation in 1918, special permission was granted at that election to officers and men of all three fighting services to advocate their political opinions provided that they were in mufti. This special permission has since been withdrawn, and I see no reason for its renewal. The general rule in these matters for the three fighting services has now been formulated as a general prohibition of active participation in meetings held for party or political purposes, and the active prosecution of the interests of a Parliamentary candidate. This general regulation, which I see no ground to modify, is clearly incompatible with the practice of, namely, canvassing, whether in uniform or in mufti, or in any other way of openly advocating the interests of a particular candidate. But personnel of the fighting services even in uniform are not precluded by the rules from attending political meetings and asking questions.


Does the right hon. Gentleman recollect that he told me last week that no change whatever had been made in the practice, and, seeing that he now admits that a very fundamental change has been made, I ask why it is necessary to disfranchise the whole of the service towns, and whether he realises how much indignation is felt by service towns at this interference with the exercise of their democratic rights?


I am no more infallible than the hon. Member; I have learned something from giving an answer in a hurry, and it is not to answer any supplemetary questions of this kind without notice.


May I ask whether that ruling covers and prevents Parliamentary candidates who are standing for Parliament circulating their photographs in naval uniform and asking for votes?


In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply of the Prime Minister, may I give notice that next Tuesday I will raise this matter on the Adjournment?