HC Deb 20 January 1931 vol 247 cc148-56

Order for Second Reading read.


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

This Bill has already passed another place and, small as it is, it is not nearly so large as it actually appears. In the main it is a consolidating Bill, and I hope it meets the legitimate complaint that generally consolidating Bills have been legislation by reference. On this occasion we have brought in an entirely new Bill, which will have the effect of repealing the Acts of 1865 and 1909 and embodying just two new provisions. Briefly, the Acts of 1865 and 1909 empower the legislative government of any colony to provide vessels of war and raise seamen and others to serve in such vessels, including volunteers in case of emergency. But these powers are conferred on colonies singly, there being no power for two or more colonies to combine in order to provide the necessary vessels and their complement of crews. Further, there is no provision in the Acts of 1865 and 1909 whereby the training of such crews and volunteers can take place outside territorial waters. This is felt to be rather absurd and the Bill proposes to meet that position. These two points are the only fresh points in the Bill. In fact, there are less than 20 lines of new legislation. For the rest this Bill repeals the Acts of 1865 and 1909 and presents them in a form that is more easily understood. Anticipating possible criticism, I would say that the London Naval Treaty is binding on the Empire as a whole, and that there is no suggestion that this Bill will afford any loophole for getting outside that Treaty by increasing our naval forces by means of the Colonies or Dominions.

Commander SOUTHBY

When I read the title of the Bill, I hoped that we would have an opportunity of discussing the question of contributions from the dominions and colonies towards naval defence. But, as the hon. Gentleman has said, this is only a consolidating Bill. I would like to congratulate him and the Government on having for once avoided a vice to which they appear to be somewhat prone, namely, legislation by reference. I cannot help thinking that the Bill is a piece of long overdue legislation, and for that reason I welcome it. It was an anomaly that under the two old Acts it was impossible for a colony to combine with another colony for mutual employment of such vessels as they might provide, and it was an absurdity that men raised by a colony could not be sent home to England to be trained, if they were raised under those Acts. I am glad that both those anomalies have been put right.

A point on which the hon. Member touched very lightly was the question of the Bill being read in conjunction with the London Naval Treaty. That is a matter which will require very careful consideration—that what ships are built and employed and operated by a colony should be such as will fit into the picture and be suitable for the naval needs of the Empire as a whole. I hope that when any question, of ships is raised by a colony, that matter will be taken into very careful consideration. It is true that the colonies are restricted by the Treaty as to the class of vessel they may build or operate, but I do not think that the same restriction applies so far as personnel is concerned. I speak subject to correction, and if I am wrong I hope the hon. Gentleman will say so, but I think the colonies would be entitled to raise and train men for the naval service in such number as they think fit without any reference to any agreement we may have with another nation. I welcome that idea because it will provide an opportunity for the training of the necessary seamen for the defence of the Empire in waters in which they might be particularly required in time of war or emergency, and that will be all to the good.

It is essential to have an efficient and well-trained personnel scattered throughout the world, a personnel on which we can draw if occasion arises. The generosity and loyalty of the colonies are well known. This is a fitting occasion to remind the House and the country of the splendid efforts which have been made by the colonies in the past to help the Mother country in the provision of war vessels. The provision of the Malaya by the Straits Settlements might be mentioned as an example. Long may that spirit continue! There is one further point about the Bill. As introduced in another place Clause 3 referred to the payment of expenses "in so far as this House should make provision." I am glad to notice that an Amendment was accepted whereby the word "Parliament" was substituted for "this House." Experiments by draftsmen in changing the word "Parliament" into "House of Commons" are to be deprecated, and I am glad that we have reverted to the old custom of calling Parliament Parliament and not pretending that it means only the House of Commons.

Rear-Admiral BEAMISH

I, too, very much welcome this Bill. It is something like 20 years since this subject was discussed in this House, and in the interval we have had great troubles, which have given many of the Colonies an opportunity to show that they are prepared to do their utmost to provide defences, and very efficient ones in many instances. This is an opportunity for increasing the popularity, and even for increasing the knowledge of the names, of many of our Colonies, which to-day are not sufficiently well known in this country. Subjects like this seem to be dealt with very quickly in this House. That must be either because of the apathy of the people or because of their unshakable belief in the sufficiency of the Admiralty. I think it is the belief in the Admiralty. I may not be believed when I say that people do not know very much about the Colonies. It is on record that a Royal Commission suggested even the giving up of the whole of the West African Colonies not many years ago. I am glad to see that the Bill gives the Colonies an opportunity of providing themselves with a defence and of combining in that admirable project.

Although I know the names of all our Colonies, I am not sure whether all of them come within the scope of the Bill. I do not know whether there exists a Parliamentary definition of a Colony, and I shall be glad of information on the subject. There are all sorts of small places and some very large places with immense revenues. There are smaller Colonies like the Bahamas, Barbados, British Guiana, Trinidad, the Leeward Islands and Mauritius; then in West Africa there are Nigeria, Gambia and Sierra Leone; and there are places like the Straits Settlements and Ceylon. I would like to know whether the Federated Malay States are in fact a Colony or not. If so they are in a very strong position to help towards the expense of providing naval defence. Clause 1 of the Bill refers to the expense of maintaining and using vessels of war. The Straits Settlements have a revenue of nearly £7,000,000; Hong Kong, £2,750,000; the West African Colonies, Nigeria, Gambia and Sierra Leone, have between them an annual revenue approaching £12,000,000; and even Trinidad and British Guiana have about £3,000,000.

If we can impress on the Colonies the necessity for their own defence, and how welcome would be their aid in the event of the Empire getting into trouble, we shall do a great deal of good by discussing this Bill. At the present time something like 25s. a head is paid for the naval defence of the country, but in many of our Colonies vast sums of money are made by people who live and have their business in those Colonies and in most instances do not pay anything directly towards the defence of this country. and of the Empire and of the Colony in which they live. I am delighted to see in this Bill the two provisions which have been mentioned, one empowering the Colonies to combine and the other in regard to the training of naval ratings and officers from the Colonies. I think that those parts of the Bill are altogether to the good.

I wish to put one or two questions upon the actual terms of the Measure. I am anxious to know what are the limits of the conditions mentioned in Clause 1? What are the conditions which would not be approved? Are they actually laid down or is this merely a wide expression which has to await events before being brought into play? I should also like to know whether there has been in fact any actual combination of Colonies in connection with the question of their mutual defence and, if so, what Colonies have made such combinations? I also hope that the hon. Gentleman will be able to give us some indication of what sort of ships are kept by the Colonies at the present time and the numbers of men and officers which they have enlisted for manning those ships.

Clause 2 dealing with Colonial naval forces opens up the vast question of the naval defence of the territorial waters of some Colonies. In the case of the Straits Settlements, for instance, if carried to its logical conclusion, the question of the naval defence of the Colony, albeit within its own territorial waters, is a very large, important and technical subject which I trust is being carefully studied. Such a matter might easily include the provision of torpedoes, aircraft, wireless telegraphy, booms and even submarines. That I hope will be borne in mind by the hon. Gentleman, realising the great scope which this Bill gives to the Colonies.

I have one small doubt about paragraph (b) of Clause 2, Sub-section (1), as to whether or not this means that the officers and men belong to the Colony, or whether the "establishments or other places" belong to the Colony. I think the Bill is not only timely, but useful, and I would congratulate the hon. Gentleman and the First Lord and the Department on introducing it. If the Bill has the effect of making the Colonies realise that it is their duty to combine for their mutual defence and to standardise methods, material, personnel and equipment and also if it will infuse into the people of this country a greater knowledge of and interest in our possessions, then it will have served a great purpose and will redound to the credit not only of the hon. Gentleman who has introduced it, but of the Department with which he is connected.

10.0 p.m.

Major ROSS

I should like to add a modest contribution to the bouquets which have been so admirably bestowed by my hon. and gallant 10.0 p.m. Friends on the Government in general and the Admiralty in particular for having brought this Bill before the House. I am all the more ready to congratulate the Government on this Bill in that my opportunities for congratulating them do not appear likely to be numerous for some time to come. As to the substance of the Bill the hon. Gentleman who introduced it did so with great lucidity, but he treated the matter in a rather academic way. I should like to inquire what practical results, if any, will flow from the Bill? To begin with, I assure the hon. Gentleman that we on this side need no undertaking from the Government that they are in any way trying to make the British Navy too strong. In fact our criticism may be directed in a contrary sense. Therefore, as to the only point of criticism which the hon. Gentleman seemed to anticipate, he need have no qualms as to criticism from this side.

We have here a Bill which, for the first time, gives power to the Colonies to combine and to pool their resources in producing some degree of naval defence and naval force. I suppose this provision is not merely academic and that there must have been, in the minds of those who drafted and promoted the Bill, some combination of Colonies which might be expected—of course one cannot speak with complete certainty—to relieve this country of some small share of its naval burden. I am sure the House is anxious to know what result in that direction may be expected to follow the passage of the Bill. At present the Navy maintains a considerable force of sloops in the neighbourhood of some of the Colonies and such ships would be peculiarly well adapted to be maintained by the Colonies themselves. Their work is in the coastal waters of the Colonies and they could, no doubt, be manned by crews habituated to those climes who would suffer less than crews from these islands, while local naval forces would be very well able to understand not only local navigation, but such questions as from time to time might come within the authority of the naval forces on the spot.

On the African station four sloops are maintained at present. May we hope that some combination of the African Colonies will relieve us of manning and maintaining some of those sloops. Again, in the West Indies there are two sloops, the "Heliotrope" and the "Scarborough." Is it expected that any of the West Indian Colonies, or any combination of those Colonies, will be able to suggest relieving the Royal Navy of that local duty. Of course, the seamanship that will be required is as great there as anywhere, but it might be economic that the duty of the local patrols, which are, in effect, nautical police rather than serious fighting forces, might well be undertaken by such forces as the Colonies themselves can raise, and by this Bill provision is made for uniformity. I certainly, in the straitened condition of affairs, particularly as regards the Navy, would very much hope that the hon. Member can give us some encouragement as to the prospect, if this Bill is passed, of some slight degree of relief being extended to this country as regards the local naval forces in the neighbourhood of these Colonies.


With the permission of the House, I will try to answer one or two points that have been raised by hon. and gallant Members opposite. The hon. and gallant Member for Epsom (Commander Southby, raised just two points. In regard to the training of the personnel with the Fleet, that would largely be with the squadrons in their particular home waters; and as to the point he raised with regard to the introduction of the word "Parliament," I think he indicated in his speech that he already knows that in the first place there was a draftsman's error which had eliminated the word "Parliament," which was in the Act of 1865. That has been reinserted in another place, and is now presented in the Bill in this form, thus preserving the integrity of Parliament.

Commander SOUTHBY

I raised the question of the personnel which the Colonies would be allowed to raise. They are limited in materiel by the Naval Treaty, but I asked if I was right in assuming that they are not limited in any way in the numbers of the personnel that they may raise, train, and maintain.


They are not limited in so far as they would be raised for their own defensive purposes, and for use in their own home waters. If they had to be used more widely, authority would have to be obtained for them in the ordinary way, but there is no limit in that particular respect. With regard to the point raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes (Rear-Admiral Beamish), he asked how far this Bill applies. It applies to all the Colonies, as distinct from the Dominions, including the Crown Colonies.

Rear-Admiral BEAMISH

Will it apply to Tanganyika Territory, a mandated territory with a great port of Dar-es-Salaam, or a Protectorate like Kenya?


It applies to Kenya Colony. The hon. and gallant Member then raised a point with regard to the Sub-sections (1, b) and (1, c) of Clause 2. Sub-section (1, b) is a new provision of the Bill, and under certain conditions allows the personnel to train with the fleet outside their own home waters. Sub-section (1, c) merely repeats what was in the Acts of 1865 and 1909, and has reference to the Royal Naval Reserve and the Royal Volunteer Reserve, giving authority to raise them in the ordinary way as in this country. The last speaker asked what practical results are likely to follow from this Bill. It is anticipated, or rather hoped, that one of the practical results that will accrue is that West African Colonies will be able to combine together as a unit in order to raise forces, and that Kenya and other places also will decide in like manner to raise forces.

Rear-Admiral BEAMISH

Will the hon. Member answer the question whether there has been any actual combination at all?


Up to now there are no Colonies which have either ships or personnel, but we hope that, coming out of this Bill, that may actually happen, giving them the facility where desirable to combine together in order to provide both the necessary ships and personnel for their respective defence forces. It is also anticipated that Ceylon and the Strait Settlements may come into this scheme, though not as a combination. Sloops are not within the limits of the Naval Treaty and would be suitable for the particular Colonies to raise. I think I have answered all the questions put to me, and I trust we may now have the Bill.

The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.

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