HL Deb 28 April 1927 vol 67 cc4-8

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, the Bill which is before the House this afternoon can be briefly described as having a two-fold object. It aims at the development of an Indian Navy, from the existing nucleus of the Royal Indian Marine Service, into an instrument which, though primarily designed for Indian local naval defence alone, will also be fitted to take its part as one of the group of Overseas Navies co-ordinated by a common tradition and a common policy of Imperial naval defence. Simultaneously the Bill, by making possible the creation of an Indian Navy will bring Indian naval defence into its proper place within the system of the Indian Constitution. I will not detain your Lordships on the history of this measure longer than is necessary to explain how it realises the first and perhaps the most important of its two objects. The present Royal Indian Marine Service is itself the direct successor of the armed naval forces of the East India Company which continued to exist till 1863. In that year a change was made, the effect of which was to transfer what I may term the militant naval defence of India to the Royal Navy; and thereafter the duties of the marine forces of the Indian Government, now known as the Royal Indian Marine Service, were confined to the conveyance of troops and stores, the service of outlying stations such as Aden, and the tending of lights and light-houses in Indian waters.

During the War the Royal Indian Marine was in the main taken over by the Admiralty. Attention was thus focussed on the system under which India was not in a position to provide for her own local naval defence from her own resources; and after the War the question of re-organising the Royal Indian Marine as a fighting naval force was examined by the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, and later by other naval experts, with the result that a Committee, on which the Admiralty were represented, was appointed in India in 1924 and reported in the following year in favour of the creation of an Indian Navy. My noble friend Lord Reading, who was then Viceroy, was authorised, with His Majesty's approval, to announce, in February, 1926, the intention to adopt the policy recommended by the Committee. India will thus be given the opportunity of taking her place among those oversea members of the Empire who maintain local navies capable of co-operating in a combined policy of naval defence. As your Lordships will observe when the time comes to examine the clauses of the Bill, provision is made to encourage the maintenance of a standard of discipline, and consequently of tradition, which will conform as closely as possible to that prevailing in the Royal Navy. I need, I think, say no more on this aspect except that the general policy of development now contemplated has more than once received the assent of the Imperial Conference.

On the other aspect I may perhaps remind your Lordships that the subject matter of naval defence at present finds no place within the frame-work of the Indian Constitution. Military administration has its place there, and will be susceptible of development within the Constitution as circumstances may permit. But naval defence lies outside the ambit of the Government of India Act. The Government of India have no voice in it, and there is no opening, such as exists in the Indian Army, far Indians themselves to be trained as combatant naval officers in an Indian Naval Force. The effect of the Bill will be to rectify these anomalies, for so I think they must be described. The Bill does not, however, alter the frame-work of the Indian Constitution itself; that I conceive would in such a measure be an anomaly even greater than those it proposes to remove. There is, however, room within the existing frame-work for the introduction of a sphere of administration such as naval defence, and the Bill purports to effect its introduction without disturbing the main structure.

I think it will be for the convenience of your Lordships if I content myself with this outline of the scope of the measure, and make available to your Lordships copies of the Report of the Committee of 1924 which describes in some detail the actual steps proposed for the conversion of the Royal Indian Marine into the new Indian Navy. But I would not wish in bringing this Bill before your Lordships' House to omit a tribute to the fine record and the unsparing services of the Royal Indian Marine through a long and critical period of our history. If it is now to pass, its members will, I hope, find more pleasure than regret in the occasion of its passing, and will follow with pride the career of the Indian Navy which the Royal Indian Marine has alone made it possible to create. I beg to move.

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


My Lords, the criticism which will, of course, be made on this Bill is that in putting it into the power of the Government of India to establish an Indian Navy in addition to the Army which India already has of its own you are opening the door to further expenditure of the Revenues of India on matters of defence. That may or may not be a serious criticism. We cannot forsee what the future will bring forth, but there is another consideration which, I think, outweighs that one. Not only has there been a large body of Indian opinion in favour of this reform, but strategically it seems a very proper one from the point of view of India. It is too little realised in Parliament that for military purposes India is really an island. We cannot come to her succour from the north, and on the east and west and south she is exposed to attack from the open seas. The British Navy may be able to prevent that, but there are times when the British Navy cannot be there and in the days of the "Emden," during the Great War, India had a practical demonstration of what it was to be without any Navy of her own. Similar emergencies may recur in other forms, however devoutly we hope they will not. Therefore, from the point of view of India as a nation, it seems right that India should have some form of Navy of her own. She is an island, as an island she can only be protected by sea power, and some of that sea power should be her own.

If it ever comes to a question of expenditure, then I would ask the Secretary of State to bear in mind what I meant in all seriousness the other day. Examining this question with very eminent Indian military authorities whom I will not name, because their conferences with me two years ago were private, we felt that at least it ought to be considered whether some portion of the armed military forces of the Crown which we keep here at present in their entirety and have to pay for, and should continue to pay for, might not be located in India itself. That would save us sending battalions out to India and it would save India, to some extent—it depends upon how far you came to her assistance—the duty of keeping up as large an Indian Army as she at present deems to be desirable. That is a suggestion which would require very close and careful examination, but it is one of those matters which in the future may come still more to the fore now that it has been decided that India is to have naval power of her own. In those circumstances I make no objection to the Second Reading of this Bill.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

House adjourned at twenty minutes before five o'clock.