§ 71 and 72. Mr. Keeling
asked the First Lord of the Admiralty (1) the conditions upon which officers and men of the Merchant Navy are eligible for naval decorations;
(2) why Captain Capon and other officers and men of a merchant ship which beat off a large number of aircraft that attacked her for four hours continuously, were recommended for the Civil Division of the Order of the British Empire instead of for Naval decorations?
As has recently been stated, the policy is that officers and men of the Merchant Navy should receive Naval decorations when engaged in operations which amount in effect to sea battles, as for instance special convoys to Malta and North Russia. In such cases Naval decorations are given according to the same standards as those applicable to Naval officers and ratings. The action fought by Captain Capon's ship, although demonstrating great gallantry and spirit, would not fall within this definition and was essentially defensive in character. The honours given were chiefly in recognition of the excellent service in saving the damaged vessel, services which if the vessel had been one of His Majesty's ships would appropriately have been rewarded by appointments in the Order of the British Empire.
§ Mr. Keeling
Will my right hon. Friend state precisely whether it is a condition of the award of naval decorations to the Merchant Service that the ship was under naval orders at the time?
I do not want to lay down a hard and fast rule like that at all, and I do not think the House would wish me to do so. We want to be able to judge the merits of the case even when a ship is sailing individually, if it carries out operations of the kind I have described.
§ Captain Godfrey Nicholson
The right hon. Gentleman said that if it had been a naval ship the award would have been the Order of the British Empire. Does he mean the Civil Division or the Military Division?
The difference between the Civil and Military Divisions is entirely one of occupation. In the case of naval officers and men it would be a military award.