HL Deb 21 July 1925 vol 62 cc211-6

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Viscount Peel.)


My Lords, I should like to ask the noble Viscount, Lord Peel, whether he can give the House a little more information than he was able to give on the Second Reading. The Bill makes very great changes in the constitution of this old force, and all we were told on the Second Reading was that the cost, which is now about £600,000 a year, would be reduced by the operation of this Bill to about £300,000. Nothing was said as to whether that economy was to be achieved by reducing the effectiveness of the coastguard or by reducing their emoluments. At the same time the whole force is to be transferred from the Admiralty to the Board of Trade. I think the noble Viscount gave no reasons for that rather remarkable change, but when I referred to the Bill I found that so little confidence had the promoters of the Bill in the efficiency of the Board of Trade that by a later clause they provide for a re-transfer in case of national emergency to the Admiralty. Nothing is said in the Bill as to the discipline of the changed force—as to whether the members of it become civil servants subject to the ordinary rules of civil servants, or whether they remain as part of the naval forces of the country.

Another point which, perhaps, the noble Viscount will explain is this: On what system will appointments be made to the force if this Bill passes? At present appointments, I believe, are confined to naval ratings—petty officers of the Navy. Under this Bill the President of the Board, of Trade could appoint anybody—a superannuated gardener or chauffeur, or anybody without special training. Of course, one would imagine that a measure of this kind would make provision on all these points when dealing with an old and very much respected force like this. I think the public should know something about it. We associate the coastguard with old sailors—men enured to the sea—and if we are going to have anything like a general tariff smuggling might become more frequent and we should require a force with its old traditions rather than a reduced force. In order to meet the point I have put down an Amendment to Clause 1 confining the appointments to naval ranks and ratings. I understand that the view of the Board of Trade is that merchant seamen also might be appointed and that "naval ratings" is too restricted a term. Of course, so far as I ant concerned I have no objection to extending my Amendment, but I hope the noble Viscount will give us some informa- tion about this Bill and the reason for it, and will give us an assurance that the appointments will be made from the ranks of men accustomed to the sea, whether merchant seamen or men from the Royal Navy.


My Lords, the noble Lord has raised two or three points, and I shall be very glad to reply to them, as regards the position of these men and the general finance of the whole arrangement by which the force is handed over to the Board of Trade. I think the first point he asked me was whether the new force recruited by the Board of Trade—of coarse, the old force was recruited almost entirely from naval ratings—would become civil servants. Under the Board of Trade they are civil servants, but if an emergency arises as set out in the Bill, and they are transferred for the emergency to the Admiralty, then I understand that they will come under the Naval Discipline Act. The noble Lord seemed to think that it was some reflection upon the Board of Trade that if an emergency arose the force should be temporarily transferred to the Admiralty, but I think the purpose is quite plain, because if, unfortunately, an emergency did arise, which means, of course, the threat of war, then obviously it is wise that these men in charge of the coast should be transferred to the Admiralty, who have the general superintendence of the defence of the country. I do not think any lack of confidence in the Board of Trade is displayed.

The noble Lord also asked me one or two questions as to the expense. I did explain on the Motion for Second Reading that a sum approaching £300,000 was estimated to be saved by the transfer and dividing up of the force. The whole cost before was about £607,000. Of course, the force maintained by the Admiralty was far larger than the present one—I think over 2,000 officers and men. The new force is about 860 all told—namely, 12 inspectors, 5 district officers, l85 station officers and 659 coastguards. It is plain, of course, that there will be a saving in having a force of only 801 against the old force of 2,046. I think I stated before, that the Admiralty do retain 19 stations, with about 100 men, at a net cost of about £21,000. The whole cost, I think, is £24,000, the remainder being contributed by the Board of Trade. They retain these stations for the purpose of dealing with signalling and other technical matters, which can be better dealt with by those familiar with that subject under the. Admiralty. Then there is a further expenditure of 250,000 for Customs; that is to say, they have increased their cost, owing to the reduction in the coastguard, to the extent of spending £50,000 more upon the prevention of smuggling, and so on. In addition to that, there is an expenditure for this year of something like £85,000 by the Office of Works in repairing buildings and to on. Some of them, I understand, are not in very good condition. That is rather of the nature of a temporary expenditure and certainly will not be so high in the years to come.

Adding these items together—the expenditure of the Board of Trade, £175,000, Customs £50,000, Admiralty £21,000, and the Board of Works £85.000—you get the figure of £331,000 against £607,000. That is a saving of about £276,000, but the saving will be rather more in the years to come. This is an especially heavy year owing to the necessary expenditure of the Office of Works. I understand that the Board of Trade are fully confident that in the next few years the expenditure will be not more than from £4300.000 to £307,000, thereby effecting a reduction of something like £300,000. I had rather hoped that the noble Lord would have been congratulatory instead of critical over this substantial saving. If he applied a saving of 50 per cent. all through the Government services I think there would be a considerable, and almost an appreciable, reduction in the Budget.

With regard to the last point which he mentioned, I think the noble Lord has an Amendment on the subject, but perhaps I may now say a word upon it as he raises it on going into Committee. It concerns the requirement which he would like to impose on the Board of Trade of engaging for the purposes of the coastguard only naval ratings pure and simple. I am going to ask the noble Lord not to press the Amendment because the Board of Trade do not want to be bound by a statutory obligation to employ in this really civilian force for civilian purposes men of purely naval training and rating. The probability is that the great bulk of the men so employed will be men of naval experience. Those who have been recruited already for the force by the Board of Trade have been men not only of naval experience, but also of experience as coastguards; that is to say, a great many of the old coastguards have been taken on. But I think it would be rather difficult for the Board of Trade, which, after all, is the authority that looks after the mercantile marine, to enact by Statute that the only people who should not be eligible for this service of the coastguard should be the very people over whose interests they themselves preside. It also may quite well he that there are several cases in the North of Scotland, for example, where it may be a little more difficult to get the married men. Anyhow, the bulk of the work is looking after the mercantile marine and it does not seem unreasonable therefore that some at least of the force, if necessary, should be recruited from men who have had sea experience in the mercantile marine. I hope that my noble friend will not ask us to stereotype the tale by absolutely excluding the whole of the mercantile marine from any chance of serving in any capacity in this coastguard.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Houses in Committee accordingly:

(The EARL OF DONOTUGHMORE in the Chair.)

Clause 1 (Transfer of the coastguard to the Board of Trade):


After what the noble Viscount has said, I do not intend to move my Amendment that the coastguard should consist of "naval ranks and ratings." I should like to point out, however, that I did not wish to confine the service to the Royal Navy. My view was that the coastguard men should be seamen and I quite see the force of what the noble Viscount said about the mercantile marine, but would he be prepared to give an assurance that so far as possible it is the intention of the Board of Trade to continue to recruit the coastguard force from men who have had experience as seamen, either in the Royal Navy or the mercantile marine, and not to bring in men from outside, from civilian offices, who have had no experience of this work? After all, it is something for a seaman to look forward to, to have a house and a job on shore when he has served his country at sea. I think it is a great pity to deprive the seafaring men of the feeling that they would be preferred to anybody else.


I believe that is fully the intention of the Board of Trade. My noble friend is now arguing against landsmen, and I do not think there is any intention to enlist persons who are bad sailors or who know nothing about the sea. The Royal Navy and the mercantile marine will no doubt form the source from which these men will be taken.

On Question, Clause 1 agreed to.

Remaining clauses agreed to.