HL Deb 28 July 1915 vol 19 cc762-4

Order of the Day for the Second Reading Read.


My Lords, I regret that it is necessary so soon to again ask your Lordships to consider the question of naval discipline, but I hope to satisfy you that the alterations which we propose to make in the Naval Discipline Act are in the interests of the country. Clauses 1, 2 and 3 are the result of experience gained by the war, and I shall refer ill detail to them in a moment. Clauses 5 and 6 are general and necessary for any Act of Parliament of this character. Clause 4 is one to which we have given considerable thought and attention, and in it we have taken the opportunity to remedy a point which in the Opinion of most of us ought to have been met before.

The first clause of the Bill amends subsection (3) of Section 56 of the Naval Discipline Act. Under that section the officer in command of the tender is invested with the full power given to one of the captains of His Majesty's ships. The employment of a large number of small vessels under the command of warrant officers has made the work under this section of considerable difficulty during the war. Generally warrant officers are not accustomed to discipline, and have not the same ideas of enforcing discipline as those who are more acquainted with the facts and traditions of the Service. The proposal in this clause is to place the imposition of punishment in the hands of the commissioned officer who may be in charge of one of these various groups of small vessels. This is considered to be in the interests of the Service and also in the interests of the men who are serving on board these vessels. The second subsection of Clause 1 deals with a grammatical error, and is purely of a drafting character.

Clause 2 provides for the establishment of a new Court to try officers for disciplinary offences as it is found extremely inconvenient, especially during time of war, to assemble a Court-Martial. This clause is to be operative only during the war. The new Court is only proposed to be established for the trial of certain minor offences, and the Court is to consist of not less than three nor more than five officers, of whom one must be not below the rank of a commander. It has been found during the war that there are a large number of men who are employed as skippers of trawlers and drifters, and there are occasions upon which their behaviour has had to be dealt with in a summary fashion. It is proposed that this Court should be established to try these minor offences. The highest penalty which can be inflicted is dismissal from the Service. Incidentally this brings in another matter by which still further punishment can be inflicted. Practically none of the men to whom this would apply are regular members of the Service. Therefore dismissal from the Service would entail no penalty. But the Merchant Shipping Act gives the Board of Trade power to suspend certificates of officers in the mercantile marine if it is shown that they have been convicted of an offence, but in order to be convicted of an offence they have to be tried before a statutory tribunal. The establishment of the tribunal under the clause we are now considering will remedy this. Accordingly if the case were one which in the first place warranted dismissal from the Service by the Admiralty, it would be possible, if the case deserved it, for the man to receive punishment at the hands of the Board of Trade.

As to Clause 3, a new point has arisen, because Section 90 of the Naval Discipline Act provides for discipline on hired ships. During the present war a certain number of ships have been bought, and there are some doubts as to whether the provisions of Section 90 apply to those ships. This amending clause is introduced in order to do away with any ambiguity on that point. Clause 4 is the one to which I alluded just now, and it stands in a somewhat different category in so far as it is not due to the war. We have taken the opportunity of making an amendment in the general law which we think to be desirable. I am not going to say that the Cases are likely to be larger, but still it is a power which we think it desirable to have. The power we seek to obtain is in its essential respects the same as that conferred by Section 145 of the Army Act. That Act enables deductions to be made from the pay of men who have failed to obey orders in affiliation cases. This puts in many respects the Navy in the same position as the Army, but there are two important differences necessary to be observed for purely naval purposes. Owing to sailers being absent at sea it may not be possible for them to attend and answer a summons, and it is proposed that the power of making a compulsory deduction from their pay shall only apply if the authority which has to order the deduction is satisfied that the individual has had a reasonable opportunity of defending his case before the magistrate. The only other difference from the Army Act is that we do not propose that the power should be extended above the rank of chief petty officer. In other respects it brings the Act in conformity with the Army (Annual) Act. There are not many cases which may occur under it, but we think it is a power which it is desirable we should have. Those are the features of the Bill, and I hope it will be passed into law during the present sittings.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Duke of Devonshire.)

On Question, Bill read 2a.

Committee negatived: Then (Standing Order No. XXXIX having been suspended) Bill read 3a, and passed.