HL Deb 02 March 1915 vol 18 cc598-602

*LORD LATYMER rose to ask His Majesty's Government whether they would be willing to approach His Majesty the King with a view to the amendment of the Statutes governing the appointment to the First Class of the Order of the Bath so as to admit thereto officers of the Royal Marines.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, on a recent occasion [November 24, 1914] I drew attention to the disabilities and disadvantages under which the Royal Marines labour in comparison with His Majesty's other Forces, and I then mentioned that one of those disadvantages was that Marine officers are debarred from obtaining the highest class of the Order of the Bath—namely, the G.C.B. On that occasion I alluded to only a few of the disabilities under which the Marines labour. I shall have, I hope, later on, when the present stress and strain is over, some other opportunity of bringing to the notice of the House these manifest disabilities and disadvantages. When I brought forward my request for the appointment of a Committee to inquire into these matters, I was asked to postpone the Motion, and in accordance with that docility with which we are affected on this side of the House I gave way. But, as I say, I hope on another occasion to bring the matter forward again, and to press successfully the Motion for the appointment of a Committee of Inquiry.

But to-day I propose to deal with one particular point only—namely, the exclusion of Royal Marine officers from any chance of ever obtaining the highest class of the Order of the Bath. It seems, on the face of it, an incredible thing that this should be so. I do not know what possible reasons can be adduced for the exclusion. The Royal Marines, as we know, is one of the finest bodies of men that we possess. They are, I believe, the only Infantrymen in the world who are also Artillerymen. They won Gibraltar for us, and they may, for all I know, at this moment be winning Constantinople. Yet Marine officers are excluded from admission to the First Class of the Order of the Bath. Why? I shall be curious to hear the answer. I think every noble Lord who heard the reply of the Government which was given to me on the former occasion was satisfied that it was very inadequate. In fact, the noble Lord who replied took no notice at all of what I had said about the highest class of the Order of the Bath. He did not answer that point in any way. He afterwards had the courtesy, however, to send me a statement upon the matter, the first paragraph of which reads as follows— From the terms of the accompanying Statute it would appear that officers of the Royal Marines are excluded from appointment to the First Class, or Knights Grand Cross, of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath. If there ever was a time when our troops of all kinds ought to be encouraged in every possible way, it is the present. And although this may not seem a very great matter, we must remember that all officers, whether in the Navy, the Army, or the Marines, are most sensitive on such points. What affects Marine officers is not that they cannot obtain this honour, but the slur which is cast upon them by being excluded from it. I therefore urge that the Government should give their attention to this small matter, the putting right of which would, I venture to say from my knowledge of many officers in the Marines, encourage them immensely.

I do not know what the reasons, if any, are why this extraordinary omission from the Statute came to be made. It certainly cannot be alleged that it is due to inadvertence, because at the time of the late Queen's Jubilee a special Statute was passed enabling one particular Marine officer to be made a G.C.B. I venture to say that that exception proves that the rule ought not to exist. For if there was an officer of the Royal Marines who was worthy to have the G.C.B. in 1887, there certainly must be cases of other officers similarly entitled to the honour. As I have said, the exclusion of Marine officers was not the result of inadvertence. There must be some extraordinary reason for it—a reason very much wrapped up, low down, and difficult to get at. As a small encouragement to this worthy body of men, who have gone all over the world and always done their duty wherever they may have been, I ask His Majesty's Government to approach His Majesty with a view to the Statutes in question being amended so as to admit officers of the Royal Marines to be appointed to the First Class of the Order of the Bath.


My Lords, my noble friend who generally attends to Admiralty affairs in your Lordships' House is unfortunately laid up by the prevailing illness and unable to attend, but on his behalf I have pleasure in replying to the noble Lord's Question. It appears that under the Statutes which govern the Order of the Bath, General officers of the Royal Marines are not eligible for the Grand Cross; and as was said by the noble Lord just now, when an appointment was made in 1897 a special Statute was passed for the purpose. That special Statute, however, applied to the particular individual and was not made of general application. The explanation is that until now General officers of the Royal Marines have had, generally speaking, no military command open to them; it is only recently that they have been considered with Generals of the Army in the selection to certain commands, and there is one Royal Marine officer now in command in Sierra Leone. The fact that on the last occasion the noble Lord met with no satisfaction on this point is, I am afraid, due to my noble friend who replied not knowing that this question was going to be raised. He therefore had no information at his disposal without making inquiries into the subject. As it is, His Majesty's Government have no reason to be anything but obliged to the noble Lord for having drawn this apparent anomaly to their attention, and I can assure him that this matter will be considered, together with a whole lot of difficult questions of a similar kind.


My Lords, I am glad that Lord Latymer has brought this matter forward, and it was with pleasure that I listened to the reply of the noble Earl on behalf of His Majesty's Government. It was obvious that when once attention was drawn to this extraordinary anomaly no one in authority would attempt to defend it. It is a commonplace with all of us what a valuable corps the Royal Marines are, and that they and they alone of the King's Forces should be debarred, in the persons of their senior officers, from receiving the highest reward of the Order of the Bath was certainly an anomaly which could not be upheld. I was glad also to gather from what the noble Earl said that there are other questions in connection with the Royal Marines which are going to be considered by the Board of Admiralty.

The officers of the Royal Marines are in a position of quite extraordinary difficulty. After a life spent in valuable service at sea and on land and just as the Marine officer rises to the top of his profession so are all avenues of employment closed to him. It was for that reason that the Board of Admiralty over which I had the honour to preside, when the new scheme of naval training was brought in fourteen years ago, settled that entry to the Royal Marines should be the same as that of officers of the Navy—through Osborne and Dartmouth. By that means, and by that means alone, the Board of Admiralty at that time thought that officers of the Royal Marines could be delivered from that professional cul de sac in which they always found themselves just as they arrived at the height of their experience and power; because the Army naturally did not consider itself responsible for finding employment for the senior officers of the Marines, and the only employment for those senior officers which the Navy had to offer were commands of a naval character for which Royal Marine officers had not been trained. Therefore it was that we hoped, by this common entry of all officers of all branches serving in the King's ships, we should be able to give an open career to the principal and most able officers of Marines just as to the principal and most able officers of the Navy.

Circumstances over which the Board of Admiralty had no control have, however, rather interrupted our intentions, because the expansion of the Navy has been so great that all officers who were educated at Osborne and Dartmouth have necessarily been taken for the Navy and none have been left for the Marines. Therefore entry for the Marines from outside had again to be allowed in order that the ranks of the officers of the Marines might be filled. I am glad, however, that His Majesty's Government are going to look into this whole question of officers of the Royal Marines, and that they have given us a practical pledge that they will, at a time which seems good to them, approach His Majesty with a view to throwing the highest honour of the Order of the Bath open to officers of the Royal Marines as well as to officers of the Navy and the Army.