HL Deb 17 June 1902 vol 109 cc816-8


Order of the day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this is a very simple measure, and I shall not occupy more than a few moments in explaining its purport. When the Royal Naval Reserve was established by the Act of 1859, only those British subjects could be enrolled in the force who were not only seafaring by trade but who were practically domiciled in the United Kingdom or the Channel Islands. An Amending Act was passed in 1896 to extend this provision in respect of domicile, so that, for instance, a man serving on the Canadian Pacific line of steamers could be enrolled in the Reserve. But words were also inserted in the Act, the purport of which was not at the time fully apprehended, to the effect that the men enrolled must be borne on ships registered in the United Kingdom. When Lord Goschen and the then Board of Admiralty wished to extend the Royal Naval Reserve by including Newfoundland fishermen, the point was not brought to their notice that the Act gave them no authority to take such a course. It was only after the men had been actually enrolled and a portion of them trained that it was found that there was no legal sanction for the proceeding. This Bill, therefore, is brought in to cover and indemnify the Board of Admiralty for the illegality they unwittingly committed. But I would ask the House also to take occasion to amend the law, so that in the future any British subjects whom the Admiralty think it would be to the advantage of the country to enrol in the Naval Reserve should be so enrolled, no matter in what part of the Empire they are domiciled, or whether the ships in which they are serving are registered in the United Kingdom or in one of the colonies.


My Lords, I rise for the purpose of drawing the noble Earls attention to one particular point with regard to this Bill. I need hardly say that attach very great importance to an increase in the Royal Naval Reserve. There can be no doubt that to raise up a large force of Reserve men would mean an enormous addition to the Naval strength of the Empire. I, therefore, entirely endorse what the noble Earl has said as to the desirability of legalising the enrolment of the Newfoundland fishermen. I agree that it would be a good thing to enrol the men serving on the Canadian Pacific line of steamers. To the splendid character of these men, I can personally testify, and I am glad that they are allowed to be enlisted in the Naval Reserve. The point I wish to call attention to is this, that the present Bill will introduce an important modification by repealing the provision of the Act of 1896 to the effect that the men serving in this Reserve should be British subjects serving in vessels registered in the British Isles. As far as the Newfoundland fishermen are concerned, I entirely approve of that being done; but there is some objection, if we are to enlist men, and pay and train them, who may be serving in foreign ships. It may not be a serious difficulty, but I should like some assurance or explanation on the point.


As the noble Earl well knows, at present, in respect of the Mercantile Marine the difficulty is not that there are so many British seamen serving in foreign ships, but that there are so many foreign seamen serving in British ships. The purport of this Bill is really to enable the Admiralty to utilise the services of British subjects who have a seafaring avocation but who may belong either to fishing fleets or to merchant ships that are not registered in the British Islands. Such ships may be registered, as is the Newfoundland fishing fleet, at St. John's, or as the Canadian, Australian, and New Zealand ships may be, at Halifax, Sydney, or wherever the colonial port is. That is the real intention of the Bill. Then the noble Lord raised another question, which is rather in the nature of a supposition. He asked us to suppose that the Admiralty found that many British seamen were serving, not in colonial ships, but in foreign ships, or that the Royal Naval Reserve men belonging to a colony, who were trained by the Admiralty, were absorbed into some foreign navy afterwards. I quite admit that the noble Lord has assisted the House in the consideration of this subject by bringing those two possible suppositions forward. I would not go so far as to say that under no circumstances would it be wise to allow a man to be enrolled in the Royal Naval Reserve who was an undoubted British subject and thoroughly reliable as such, and who happened for the moment to be serving in some foreign ship. But it would have to be very carefully safeguarded, and in each case great care would have to be exercised. I think the regulations of the Admiralty which govern the application of this law must be framed with a careful view to the points the noble Lord has brought forward, and I will take care that they are borne in mind.

Bill read 2a (according to order) and committed to a Committee of the whole House on Friday next.