HL Deb 11 March 1915 vol 18 cc668-72

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this Bill to amend the Naval Discipline Act consists for the most part of emergency provisions, but the opportunity has been taken to add one or two other desirable alterations in the law which are needed at the present time. The Bill was passed in another place with general good will and with only one or two very small alterations. It is entirely a question of detail, and I will explain briefly the various clauses to your Lordships. Clause 1 deals with Section 16 of the present Act. In Section 16 it is provided that if any one in the Navy strikes a superior officer who is in the execution of his office, he is liable to the punishment of death; but if he strikes a superior officer when that superior officer is not in the execution of his office, then he is liable to penal servitude. The effect of Clause 1 of this Bill will be that penal servitude will be the punishment for both offences. As a matter of fact, for the last hundred years no death sentence has been carried out in connection with any offence of this kind, and I think it is generally agreed that penal servitude is a severe enough penalty. There is another advantage. At present, even in a case that is not at all serious, if a man in the Navy strikes a superior officer who is in the execution of his office, he must be tried by Court-Martial, but if this clause is carried it will be possible for a slight offence to be dealt with summarily.

Clause 2 deals with the question of absence. In time of war it is quite clear that absence may be almost, if not quite, as bad as desertion. The utmost penalty at present that can be given, even in time of war, for absence without leave is ten weeks imprisonment, but this clause will enact that imprisonment for two years may be given as a punishment for absence. Clause 3 deals with an amendment of Section 46 of the original Act. Section 46 defines places in which offences are trvable by Courts-Martial, and mentions "Her Majesty's dockyards, victualling yards, steam factory yards, or on any gun-wharf, or in any arsenal, barrack, or hospital belonging to Her Majesty." Modern conditions make it advisable that the places mentioned in Section 46 should be ex- tended. Accordingly it is proposed to add to them the words "or in any other premises held by or on behalf of the Crown for naval or military purposes, or in any canteen or sailors' home, or any place of recreation placed at the disposal of or used by officers or men of His Majesty's Navy which may be prescribed by the Admiralty."

In Clause 4 is reproduced a provision similar to that in Section 158 of the Army Act. It enables a man who has ceased to be subject to the Naval Discipline Act to be tried for an offence committed while he was still under the Act, but it is enacted that the liability shall not, except in the case the offence of mutiny or desertion, extend beyond three months after he has left the Service. Clause 5 and Clause 7 are related. Clause 7 slightly extends the class of officers who can try offences summarily, and Clause 5 will enact that a warrant for arrest may be given not only by the officer in command of the Fleet or the squadron or the captain of a ship or senior officer present at the port, as is now the case, but also by an officer having, by virtue of subsection (3) of Section 56 of the Naval Discipline Act, power to try offences. Clause 6 deals with the power to inflict dismissal in addition to imprisonment. I think this is a very desirable change in the law. In effect, it will not apply to cases summarily tried, inasmuch as by the King's Regulations an officer in command of a ship can only recommend dismissal to the Admiralty. Therefore the effect will be that in cases of Court-Martial the Court-Martial will have the power to add a sentence of dismissal to any punishment that is inflicted.

Clause 8 deals with the places where a Court-Martial may be held. At present I believe a Court-Martial must be held on a ship. This clause will enable the Admiralty or the officer who ordered the Court-Martial in any particular case, for reasons to be recorded on the proceedings, to direct that a Court-Martial shall be held at a port at such convenient place on shore as the Admiralty or the officer who ordered the Court-Martial may direct. That will be a very beneficial change. In the case of Admiral Koppel a special Act of Parliament had to be passed in order that he might be tried on shore. It is obvious that a difficulty may arise and it may be convenient to hold the Court-Martial elsewhere than on board ship. Clause 9 enables the Navy List or Gazette to be evidence of the status of an officer. That is a matter of no great importance as regards most of the officers in the Navy, but there are so many auxiliary ships at the present time that it may be of considerable convenience in the future. Clause 10 deals with the question of two sentences running one with the other. In the case of a man who has been tried summarily and is in detention at the time, if he is tried and convicted for another offence the punishment for his later offence cannot be made to run from the time when the punishment for his first offence cease. In the case of a man who has been tried by Court-Martial it can, but not in the case of a man tried summarily. This clause will remove that difference.

A question which was the subject of a special Bill as applying to the Army, introduced by the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack yesterday and passed through all its stages by your Lordships' House, is dealt with in Clause 11, and I think it will be of particular value in the Navy. The clause deals with two cases. First, the case of a man who, under the stress of war, may have committed an offence. The power of suspension will enable him to have a chance of purging that offence. It also deals with the case of a shirker, a man who apparently prefers imprisonment to going, say, to the North Sea at the present time. It will enable any one convicted of an offence of that kind to be sent to the North Sea before he undergoes his punishment. Clause 12 makes a very small change in the law in reference to the officer who can order a change of place of confinement. Clause 13 is complementary to the Army Act (Amendment) Bill, and deals with cases where naval and military forces are serving together. Clause 14 makes a very necessary change in the law. In the case of an officer in command of a hired ship going away and leaving a man in detention who is to be tried, there are many cases in which no one is left at the port where the man is in custody to try him. This clause will add to the class of people who are able to try a man of that kind. The officer commanding the ship, or vessel, or station in which such person may for the time being be held in custody will, under this clause, have the power to try him.

Clause 15 will replace without any sort of doubt the well-known and beautiful Preamble of the Naval Discipline Act, and it will also revive the definition of the Admiralty which enables two Lords of the Admiralty to act. Clause 16 is a common form in all amendments of the Naval Discipline Act. Its principal effect is that when amendments of this Act are made an authoritative print of the Act with the amendments is immediately published. It is obviously very desirable that an important Act of this kind should be kept up to date in this way, so that those who are interested may know exactly what the law is. I have now described briefly what this Bill purports to do. There are a few small Amendments to be moved, and if your Lordships will agree, after reading the Bill a second time, to put it through the rest of its stages to-day, those Amendments could be moved on Third Reading.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Emmott.)


My Lords, we have not had the time that we should have liked in which to examine the details of this Bill, but I know that in the circumstances that could not be helped. So far as I have been able to follow the explanations of the noble Lord and to examine the details of the Bill, I do not think there is anything in it of which we should otherwise than approve, but if hereafter on further consideration there are points of criticism which arise, we should not feel ourselves precluded from raising them in some future session. I should not like, however, to sit down without expressing my delight that the First Lord of the Admiralty and his Board have had the historical sense to restore that Preamble which, born at the end of the 17th century was temporarily smothered at the time of the revision of the Statutes by some legal luminary who possessed more learning than imagination. I am very glad indeed to see that that act of literary vandalism is now being obliterated.

On Question, Bill read 2a.

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


The noble Earl who has just sat down congratulated Inv noble friend on the successful determination of the Admiralty to save the historic Preamble of the Naval Discipline Act from the ruthless hand of the Statute Law Revision Committee; but, unfortunately, Clause 15 as it stands in the Bill does not do that. The clause as drawn proposes to repeal a supposed repeal of the Preamble. There has been no such repeal. It was part of the policy of the Statute Law Revision Committee to get rid of all unnecessary Preambles. As it could not be known beforehand which were necessary and which were unnecessary, power was taken in the Statute Law Revision Act of 1893 to repeal such Preambles as might prove to be unnecessary. But in so far as the Preamble to the Naval Discipline Act in question was concerned, the Committee never exercised their power. The clause which the Admiralty have introduced into this Bill proceeds on the hypothesis that something has been repealed which has not been repealed, and restores it. What the Admiralty have overlooked is the power to repeal, which remains untouched by the clause in this Bill. Notwithstanding what has been said about lawyers in this House upon this occasion, I come as representative of the law to the relief of the Admiralty to rescue this historic Preamble from the hands of the executioner. I propose to amend Clause 15 in line 39, after "the," by inserting "schedule to the"; and in line 40 by leaving out "repeals" and inserting "relates to." As so altered the clause will run in this way— So much of the schedule to the Statute Law Revision Act, 1893, as relates to the Preamble to, and part of section eighty-six of, the Naval Discipline Act shall cease to have and shall be deemed never to have had effect. What the result of these last words may be I do not know, but as a concession to the outraged spirit of the Navy I propose to insert the words as they will now stand.

Amendments moved—

Clause 15, page 5, line 39, after ("the") insert ("schedule to the")

Clause 15, page 5, line 40,leave out ("repeals") and insert ("relates to").—(The Lord Chancellor.)

On Question, Amendments agreed to.


The Amendment which I have to propose is a merely verbal one. It is to leave out from Clause 16 words which clearly ought not to be there.

Amendment moved— Clause 10, page 6, lines 17 and 18, leave out ("the schedule to").—(Lord Emmott.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Bill passed, and returned to the Commons, and to be printed as amended. (No. 53.)