§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Sir G. Hennessy.]
§ 11.0 p.m.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
An Order-in-Council, dated 25th July of last year, was issued at the end of last summer in regard to Parliamentary candidatures and the issue of election addresses by certain officers and men of the three fighting Services. It was confined exclusively to that purpose. It affected the Parliaments of this country, of Northern Ireland and of Malta, so that officers and men are free, as far as I can see, to contest seats in the Dominions and in India. This Order-in-Council was followed by a Fleet Order. I do not know whether the Order-in-Council appeared in the "London Gazette." I have known Orders-in-Council which have not appeared in the "London Gazette," and I do not know any hon. Member of this House who is specially interested in or usually looks inside the "Gazette." The result is that these Orders-in-Council get smuggled through without anyone in the House knowing anything about them. The Fleet Order was suddenly issued after Parliament was well out of the way, and that Fleet Order not only claimed power to curtail the Order-in-Council, but also vastly to extend it. The hon. Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) raised the matter a few days ago, when he pointed out that the Order-in-Council, which was applied to officers and men of the fighting Services, was not to be applied to certain privileged classes on the top of the tree.
I have 21 leaders in the Cabinet and I think 16 too many. I regret that any of them should be so inept as to play 741 into the hands of our friends the enemy, who are always contending that we are on the side of privilege and they are on the side of the under-dog. I object strongly to ammunition being furnished for them. If the Admiralty had their way they would say that the Admirals of the Fleet are the only privileged persons who can evade this Order-in-Council. The Admiralty have made this extension of the Order, that they have laid it down that no officers on half-pay—it only applies, really, to the Navy, because you do not get half-pay in the other Services—are to be allowed to take part in any political activities whatsoever. They may not be on election committees; they may not show themselves at public meetings, and so forth. I wonder what will be the position of a naval officer whose wife gives a political tea party. I find that the Admiralty do not even understand their own Fleet Order. When the First Lord of the Admiralty was answering questions in the House on 16th November, 1927, he had in front of him the typed answer to the question on the Paper. His answer was as follows:In reply to the first part of the question, the Fleet Order deals only with candidature for Parliament, and gives effect, so far as the Navy is concerned, to the provisions of the servants of the Crown (Parliamentary Candidature) Order in Council of the 25th July last."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th November, 1927; col. 1016, Vol. 210.]In answer to supplementary questions, he said more than once that the Admiralty were not responsible for the Order-in-Council and that all they had done was to "give effect to it as it stands as regards the Navy." The Order-in-Council deals only with candidature for Parliament, whereas the Fleet Order prohibits both officers and men from taking any part whatsoever in any form of politics.
I come now to the question of jurisdiction which is rather an important point. The Admiralty claim jurisdiction over half-pay officers. They have not yet given us the opinion of the Law Officers of the Crown. As a rule, we cannot get the opinion of the Law Officers at Question Time, although it has been frequently given in the past in connection with Courts-Martial, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman is going to give it on this 742 occasion. But we do know this, that the First Lord of the Admiralty has practically conceded the fact that they have not jurisdiction, because he says they cannot bring half-pay officers before a Court-Martial. I then asked him in what way could they deal with the naval officer. The Navy Discipline Act is the Act of Parliament, and all your King's Regulations depend for their force on the Navy Discipline Act. It is in virtue of the Navy Discipline Act that you control the Navy. If the right hon. Gentleman thinks that he can make Regulations which are not sanctioned by the Navy Discipline Act, he is vastly mistaken. Half-pay officers are not subject to the Navy Discipline Act, and, if an officer who is on half-pay indulges in political meetings, he will be well within his rights, doing a perfectly legal act, and the right hon. Gentleman has no power whatsoever over him except what he uses by right of some Order-in-Council which was given for a totally different purpose.
He says that he can censure him. We can all censure; and we can all laugh at censure if it be unjust. But he gives three other ways in which he says he can deal with him. He says that the Admiralty can refuse him employment, that they can retire him forthwith; and that they can strike him off the list—that is, disgrace him. These are all bullying threats of dismissal to which I could apply a very strong term. I believe these powers were given to the Admiralty for a totally different purpose. Certainly it is the case that some time ago the Admiralty got an Order-in-Council giving them rights over the pensions of officers, and, when we asked them what those powers were, they said that they were to deal with very special cases of immorality of the most flagrant character; and for no other purpose whatsoever. They have this power and can use it for another purpose. The House realises that the Admiralty do not use their powers unjustly, but if they propose to use these powers against an officer performing a perfectly legal act, that is, taking part in political meetings when he is on half-pay, is a private citizen and not subject to the Navy Discipline Act, then I say that it is a misuse of those powers, and only proves that when you give too 743 much power to a Minister he is in a direct line of descent from the Stuart Kings.
I want to give plenty of time to the right hon. Gentleman to reply, and I will conclude after making one more point. It is often contended that this House has far too many lawyers in it—I believe there are 150. If you are going to prevent civil servants from coming into the House, if you are going to prevent all three fighting Services on the active list from coming into this House, you drive the House more and more into the arms of the lawyers. From the purely ethical point of view, I could argue that of all the professional elements in this country the law ought to be kept separate altogether from party bias, more so than any other profession.
But there is another point. I do not contend that the active list naval officer is an indispensable element in this House. I am quite willing to acknowledge that in the past the record has not always been a happy one. The records of Vernon and Dundonald, and the Keppel-Palliser controversy in the past, were not happy ones. But I do contend that on certain special occasions active list naval officers have rendered priceless service in this House, and I will give only one instance. In the old days the Sea Lords were all Members of this House—up to about the sixties, when Sir Cooper Key, who was appointed First Sea Lord, refused to contest a seat. Before the Crimean War Admiral Berkeley was a Member of this House, and was a Junior Sea Lord, and he devised a scheme for training boys for the Navy, which was the foundation of our long-service system. The Government, for reasons of economy, suddenly turned round and turned down the scheme. Admiral Berkeley immediately intimated that he would resign and explain his reasons on the Floor of the House. The Government then surrendered. Had he not been a Member of the House, the Government would never have surrendered. I do not think it is stretching the imagination too much to say that the long-service system, which supplanted the former system of the press gang—a system which brought on the war with America in 1814—is what saved us in the late War. We owe it to Admiral Berkeley.
§ Rear-Admiral BEAMISH
I am sorry that the hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone (Commander Bellairs) should have taken up the attitude he has taken, because I think it is not a justifiable attitude. I cannot agree at all with any thing, except his historical researches, which are of great interest. I cannot feel that the House or the country was the gainer in any sense of the word by the activities of the active service officers in the past. Judging by the questions and answers that have passed on this subject, it seems that a sort of mésalliance has been made between the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) and the hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone to champion what I would call a non-existent grievance, because my experience tells me that this grievance does not exist.
Very shortly I will run over the history of half pay. Times have changed to an enormous extent. When I first joined the Service, the Regulations were totally different from what they are to-day. In many respects half pay was regarded as something to be looked forward to, and was very much appreciated, partly by the Treasury and partly by the Admiralty, and to some extent by officers, who felt completely free to do anything they liked during the period of half pay. But times have changed. In those days an admiral was put on half pay and could remain on it without being removed from the Service, for a period of no less than 10 years. A captain could remain seven years, a commander and a lieutenant could remain as much as five years without severing connection with the Service. What do we find to-day? First of all, the Service has enormously improved as a more permanent profession for everyone concerned, and officers spend their time much more definitely in pursuit of the profession itself. Instead of the long period of half pay that they used to have, we find now that three years may be taken as the maximum period for which an officer can be on half pay, and in certain circumstances it is so low as two years, in the case of a commander and lieutenant-commander. Further than that, the actual practice is that officers are not placed on half pay—not commanders and lieutenant-commanders—unless they go there at their own special request in order to make a long journey abroad or for 745 some private and particular reason. Only in exceptional cases do they ask for half pay in order to take up a political career. The desire for half pay in order to take up a political career is not displayed in His Majesty's Navy. If these officers are allowed to take up political work while on half pay the result is an extreme condition of unfairness as between officers and men. You cannot put the men of the Royal Navy on half pay, and therefore it is perfectly fair, just and proper that officers ought not to be allowed to take up political activities while on half pay.
§ Rear-Admiral BEAMISH
That might possibly be a solution, but that is not the point before the House. Opinion in the Navy is in agreement in general with the point of view I have put forward. They do not consider a Parliamentary career compatible with the position and the duties of the profession of a naval officer unless he severs his connection with His Majesty's Service.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I wish the hon. and gallant Member for Eastbourne (Sir R. Hall) was in attendance because at Question Time he has been a Member of the "unholy alliance" supporting the hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone (Commander Bellairs) and myself in this matter. The point which he put was that there is no half pay in the Civil Service. This matter arose as an aftermath of the Trade Unions Act, and I hope the hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone is sorry he voted for that Measure. Its result was that the Civil Service was barred completely from politics. I do not go into the merits of that question, but it was felt that this course having been taken with the Civil Service it should apply to the Army, Navy and Air Force. It was extended to these services, and I am quite sure from the statements made—though the Admiralty and War Office are too stupidly proud to admit it—that they have extended this to officers over whom the Admiralty have no jurisdiction, whom they have to put on full pay in order to court-martial and whom they have no right to deprive of these elementary rights of citizenship. In the past we have had great advantage from half-pay officers 746 who have come into this Assembly—I do not say into this Parliament. I came into Parliament on full pay and was then placed on half pay by the Admiralty. The hon. and gallant Member for Uxbridge (Lieut.-Commander Burney) came in on half pay. I am talking however of the past. The late Lord Charles Beresford certainly did service to the Navy by entering the House as an officer on half pay.
Is it altogether healthy for the Navy to divorce from politics, officers, especially those of senior rank, who may be in high command later. Will it not widen their mentalities to know something of politics? May I remind the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord that in Prussia the school of thought which corresponds to his, insisted on the complete divorcement of the Prussian Army from politics. The result was that the Prussian general staff, the most efficient military machine in the world had no political sense and largely owing to that fact, lost the War. Into the question as affecting the men I do not propose to go as the hon. Member for Devon-port (Mr. Hore-Belisha) is raising it next Tuesday. As for the position of the Peers. I think it is an extraordinary anomaly. They have had to fall back on this—that Admirals of the Fleet although on full pay are considered as being retired officers and the regulations applying to officers on half pay are not to apply to them although they are on full pay, but the Admirals, vice-Admirals, rear-Admirals, commanders, captains-commanders and so forth who may be peers are deprived of these privileges. I think the hon. and gallant Member for East Sussex (Rear-Admiral Beamish) must realise that there has been a blunder made.
§ The FIRST LORD of the ADMIRALTY (Mr. Bridgeman)
This discussion is not one as to whether the political activities of State Servants in all Departments should be restricted, which would be a very fruitful subject to debate, but the question to-night is a very narrow one. It is merely a question whether half-pay officers in the Naval Service are or are not to enjoy privileges which are not enjoyed by full pay officers, and to have a position which does not correspond with the position of either Army officers or Air officers or with the Civil Service. That is the only point that is really 747 raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone (Commander Bellairs). Perhaps I might just give the history of this affair briefly to the House.
At the 1918 Election, owing to the fact that demobilisation was going on, it seemed impossible that the restrictions that had existed hitherto on the political activities of Defence Forces should be put into effect, and the result was that for that election they were suspended in the fighting services, and for ours by a Fleet Order. Then nothing happened until, I think, 1923, when the Conservative Government of the day thought it necessary to begin to consider the question, demobilisation being over, whether complete freedom from political activities should be allowed for the Defence Forces, and, if it was to be allowed, whether it would not be necessary to extend it also to the Civil Service. They were, as I say, in course of considering that when the 1923 Election took place, and the Socialist party came into office. In 1924 there was a Fleet Order, which replaced some of the restrictions that had up to then been in abeyance, and the Labour Government appointed a Committee, over which Lord Blanesburgh, who seems to be almost indispensable on important committees now, was Chairman, and to them was referred this question:To inquire into the existing Regulations governing the candidature for Parliament and for municipal bodies of persons in the Service of the Crown, and to report whether any, and, if so, what, changes should be made.In 1925, after the hon. Members opposite had left this bench, the Blanesburgh Committee reported, in effect, that the Defence Services and the Civil Services should be placed under similar restrictions. Nothing was done to carry that out, so far as I have been able to ascertain, until July of last year, when an Order-in-Council was issued to carry out these recommendations, and, as my hon. and gallant Friend rightly says, on the 26th August, when the House was not sitting, a Fleet Order was issued to give effect to the Order-in-Council. He makes a great point that the Fleet Order went beyond the scope of the Order-in-Council, which was only to refer to candidature for Parliament, and that the 748 Admiralty took the opportunity of extending its scope in a very important manner. I think he makes a mountain out of a mole hill about that.
Under the Regulation of 1924, the full-pay officers were prevented from taking any part in political activities such as supporting a candidate, or serving on a committee, or making speeches for him and so on. That was already in existence. The Order-in-Council last July brought in half-pay officers under the same restrictions as full-pay officers in regard to candidature for Parliament. It would be ridiculous if the full-pay officer could neither be a candidate for Parliament nor take part in political activities, and the half-pay officer could not be a candidate for Parliament but could take part in other political activities. Nobody could defend such an anomaly.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that for over a hundred years that anomaly existed.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
No. Full-pay officers had the rights too. The hon. and gallant Gentleman is not old enough to remember it, but I remember when the restrictions did not apply to either of them. My point is that all we did by that Fleet Order was to extend the restriction to half-pay, officers, not only in regard to candidature, but in regard to taking up any political activity, so as to bring him into line with the full-pay officers, which was the obvious intention of the Order-in-Council. The object of these restrictions, whether they be right or wrong, was to make the same conditions apply to the Army, the Navy, the Air Force and the Civil Service. The Civil Service had no such thing as half-pay, and the Navy is the only service that has that particular kind of pay. That half-pay, even in the naval service, does not extend to naval ratings, and if a naval rating wished to be a candidate or take part in political activity, he would have to take his discharge or go into the Fleet Reserve.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
As it is under the present Regulations, he cannot, nor can the officer, but my argument is that it would not be fair for a half-pay officer to have privileges if no corresponding privileges are to be had by naval ratings, who cannot have half-pay. Therefore, you are bringing half-pay officers into the same position as the full-pay officer, and the same position as the naval rating and the Civil Service.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
I do not suppose we should put any obstacle in the way if he had the laudable intention of serving the country in some other capacity. My hon. and gallant Friend below the Gangway is perfectly right in saying this question of half pay is a totally different question from what it was a few years ago. Then flag officers were likely to be on half pay for ten years and captains for seven years. Now the ordinary officer is not on half pay more than a year, very often, and never more than three years without being retired. Therefore it is no hardship on him to say that if he wishes to take part in political activities he should retire then and not try to serve both the Navy and the House of Commons or the House of Lords. The hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull makes it a great grievance that Admirals of the Fleet should not come under this particular restriction, but there is very good reason for that, and it is that they are merely technically on active service. There is no probability of their being called back to active service, as there would be in the case of a junior officer, and, what is more, they are put on exactly the same footing as field marshals or air marshals in the Army or in the Air Service.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that both Sir Henry Wilson and Lord Fisher were called back, and that Admiral Beatty is very much younger than either of them?
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
War does not seem very imminent, and I do not think there is a very great probability of that occurring, and, at any rate, if you did make the change, you would have to make it apply to field marshals as well, and I do not think it is a very important point. It may be thought desirable, but I do not think there is much in it. One question that was raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone was that it was a monstrous thing for the Admiralty to exercise any sort of punishment on half-pay officers who disobeyed the Regulations. In that matter we act under the prerogative of the Crown, and we have a perfect right to do so. Even now, if a half-pay officer disobeys the Regulations, he can be retired, he can be dismissed, and there are many things that can happen to him. The real fact, however, is that I have not heard one single complaint from anybody in His Majesty's Navy, or from any half-pay officer. The hon. and gallant Gentlemen who have ventilated this grievance are ventilating a grievance which is not felt by anyone but themselves, and they are not subject to the hardships to which they suggest these other people are subject.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
It was brought to my notice by an Admiral on half-pay, of the right hon. Gentleman's own party.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
That may be so, but I have heard nothing of it, and say that this grievance does not exist, and that, on the whole, naval officers would not wish to have any privilege which is not shared by the other Forces or by the Civil Service.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-nine Minutes after Eleven o'Clock.