HC Deb 20 May 1957 vol 570 cc989-93
Mr. T. G. D. Galbraith

I beg to move, in page 58, line 5, at the end to insert or under the laws of the States of Guernsey, entitled the Illegitimacy Laws, 1927 and 1955. The purpose of the Amendment is to correct a slight error in the Bill and to enable the courts of Guernsey as well as those of the Isle of Man to make use of the special arrangement provided by Clause 101 for serving a process on sailors in affiliation cases. With this explanation, I hope that the House will accept this small, technical Amendment.

Mr. W. Wells

I would only ask whether the Amendment also covers the position in Sark.

Mr. Galbraith

I understand that there are no affiliation cases in any of the other Channel Islands.

Amendment agreed to

10.2 p.m.

Mr. T. G. D. Galbraith

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

We are very glad in the Admiralty that the Naval Discipline Bill should now have reached this stage. We are all of us in this House most grateful to the Select Committee, under the chairmanship of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens), for their hard work in preparing the way for the Bill and also for the co-operation which it has received from all parts of the House. Actually, I doubt if any Measure so closely affecting the efficiency of the Navy could ever have become a party matter, but it is, I think, a mark of the Select Committee's outstanding success that the Bill should have proved so uncontroversial.

That is not to say, of course, that we have not had some entertaining debates. I shall always remember with equal gratitude the efforts of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Horncastle (Commander Maitland) on behalf of the ancient phraseology of the present Act and the eloquent praise of the Navy by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), who I am sorry to see has just left the House.

The Bill will be of the greatest possible benefit to the Navy, and I hope that after its easy passage here it will have a passage equally swift and uneventful in another place.

10.5 p.m.

Mr. W. Wells

I am very grateful to the Civil Lord for his kind words about the Select Committee, of which I was a very insignificant member. I think this Bill has filled a very important gap. It was high time that a new Naval Discipline Bill was introduced and much of the dead wood was cut away. I think that that object has been successfully achieved.

For myself, I cannot pretend that there are not one or two features in the Bill that I would have wished to see rather different. I still think it is a pity that the Bill has a Preamble. Modern Bills do not have Preambles, and this is a modern Bill. If there was a case, perhaps, for preserving the Preamble—

Commander J. W. Maitland (Horncastle)

Although this is a modern Bill, it is dealing with a very ancient institution.

Mr. Wells

This House is a very ancient institution, but we should not be discharging our duty if we did not attempt from time to time to bring our Measures up to date.

I was saying that while there is a case, which I appreciate, for keeping the Preamble in its original form, if it were at all realistic to do so, it was realised on all sides that this was not possible. With due deference to the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens), I feel that this Preamble is a rather weak and almost flabby substitute for the robust and vigorous language of the Preamble to the former Act. For myself, I would have wished to see the provisions as to public worship more closely safeguarded than they have been.

Having said these things, I must add that I feel that the Bill as a whole is a thoroughly good one. It has been conducted both in the Select Committee upstairs and on the Floor of the House, with the utmost good will on both sides, and I am sure that it has testified to the high honour and esteem in which this House holds, and always will hold, what is the senior of Her Majesty's Services.

10.8 p.m.

Sir Patrick Spens (Kensington, South)

May I say a word of thanks for what has been said about the work of the Select Committee on this Naval Discipline Bill? Tonight, we are closing another chapter in the history of the disciplinary Acts of all three Services. I hope that this is to be the last chapter in this House on this occasion, and that, as my hon. Friend the Civil Lord hoped, another place will not go out of its way to make Amendments.

The work started rather more than five years ago, when we entered upon the revision of the old Army Act, and each of the three Measures—the two Acts and this Bill—has its own distinctions in certain Sections, having regard to the special circumstances affecting the different Services. In this Bill, there are perhaps more special requirements than in either of the other two, because the difference between service at sea and service on land and in the air is somewhat greater than that between service in the Army and service in the Royal Air Force.

But, there is running through all three Measures a great chain of similarity, both in regard to offences, punishments and the manner in which they are tried or disposed of. That seemed to me, and I think to Members of the Select Committee, very necessary in these modern times, when so frequently, year by year and month by month, operations are more and more combined operations between the three Services, in which it is absolutely essential that similar offences should be treated, punished and dealt with on similar lines. We hope, therefore —or I hope—that the Bill, like the other two Measures, will prove to be a useful piece of legislation.

It is noteworthy that some of the provisions of the Army Act and the Bill date back about three hundred years at least. We are preserving still, I am glad to say some of the most ancient of the provisions. It has taken us five years to do the whole job, and as the period has come to an end there has been general talk of an integrated defence force. If that comes about in the near future, someone or some Select Committee will have to set to work on an integrated discipline Act for the new defence force. Therefore, I scarcely think that our attempt in this century is likely to last as long as the Army Act and the Naval Discipline Act have lasted up to date. I very willingly hand over that future task to another person or to another Select Committee.

10.11 p.m.

Mr. W. A. Wilkins (Bristol, South)

I would detain the House for a few moments to say how much I welcome this effort to revise certain aspects of the Naval Discipline Act, and that undoubtedly we are indebted to the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens) and his Committee for the work they put in in revising those Acts for us.

It is not only a matter of the way in which we amend Service Discipline Acts, but also of the administration of those Acts. I should like to have a word privately some time with the right hon. and learned Gentleman, because I still have reservations to make about the minor punishments which are imposed upon naval ratings in particular, as I knew to my cost during the time I was in the Service.

I have come to the conclusion upon reading Clause 6 that I must have been extremely fortunate. I recall that I had been in the Navy only a short time in 1917. I had been drafted to a ship which I think was called the "Diadem" and which was in the harbour at Portsmouth. I went to the engine room to do my first middle watch. I had never been up before between the hours of midnight and four a.m., and so I had not been on the watch very long before I fell asleep. The chief petty officer came along, nudged me in the side and said, "What's the matter, old chap? Can't you keep awake?" I answered. "No." He said, "Walk up and down". I think that is where sailors get the habit of walking up and down. I walked up and down, but when I sat on the rail I again fell asleep. The officer took compassion on me and said that I had better turn in.

I thought I had got off rather lightly until the next day when I saw that I was being punished by being put on a torpedo boat in the Solent to fire it for the rest of the day. I still feel that I was very fortunate when I notice that the term of imprisonment to which I had rendered myself liable was not less than two years. Fortunately for me there must have been some compassion in the heart of the chief petty officer, because I escaped with a very much lighter sentence than that.

I mention this incident to illustrate that it is not only what we put down upon paper that matters but the way these Services are administered. We can only hope that the officers who are responsible for the administration of naval discipline will continue to show the good sense, leniency and understanding that they have shown in the past.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.