§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY OF TUE ADMIRALTY (LORD BRUNTISITELD)
My Lords, this is the first time that I have had occasion to address your Lordships, and I confess that the task with which I am confronted raises within me all those feelings of diffident uneasiness to which in unfamiliar surroundings the newcomer is prone. Accordingly I would ask your Lordships to be good enough to listen to me for a few minutes in a spirit of patience and forbearance. There has been entrusted to me the duty of answering for the Admiralty in your Lordships' House. That is a duty which carries with it a weight of 1026 responsibility of which I am fully conscious. Nevertheless, perhaps I may be allowed to say that for me this duty is a particularly congenial one. As the son of a sailor, from my very earliest youth I have been imbued with feelings for the Royal Navy which I can only describe as feelings of respectful affection, and with the passage of time (and in recent years due to a close association with that great Service) that sentiment has become even more deeply rooted. And so, when from time to time your Lordships have occasion to seek information or to offer criticism upon naval affairs, it will be my constant endeavour to give that efficient service which both the Royal Navy and your Lordships are entitled to expect
That that task will not always be an easy one I do not doubt, for I know full well that there are among your Lordships several noble Lords who have a long and intimate experience not only of the Navy itself, but of matters pertaining thereto. There are Admirals of the Fleet among your Lordships, there are also several officers now serving in the Navy, and I must not forget the two noble Lords whom I see sitting opposite me, Lords Strabolgi and Winster, who take a lively and sometimes a somewhat critical interest in the Admiralty's conduct of affairs. With this wealth of naval experience and knowledge in the vicinity it is quite clear to me that any one in my position will need to keep his wits about him. Well, I shall do my best, but I feel bound forthwith to point out to any would-be critics that there may be among your Lordships that, though acting as its spokesman, I must not be regarded as the Admiralty's whipping boy; nor shall I be willing on demand to assume the passive and pliant posture which is commonly required of one about to receive corporal chastisement.
The Bill, the Second Reading of which I beg to move, is as simple as it is concise, and its provisions can be explained within the compass of a few sentences. The Bill is necessitated by a peculiarity of the Naval Reserve Act. Under the Royal Naval Reserve Act, 1859, the Reserve can be mobilized by Proclamation for three years, and at the end of that time their service can be extended for a further period of two years by means of a fresh Proclamation. The conditions of service, however, which 1027 apply to the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, are governed by the Naval Forces Act, 1903, and that Act contains no power to extend the period of active service beyond the initial period of three years. This being so, it follows that as the law now stands members of the R.N.V.R. can claim release on completion of three years' active service, and the object of this Bill is to place the R.N.V.R. in exactly the same position as the other Reserves during the present war. A similar Act was passed in 1917 during the last war, and the Bill of course covers both officers and men.
Lest it be thought that the effect of this Bill is to vary the conditions of service which the officers and men of the R.N.V.R. accepted when they joined, perhaps I may be allowed to point out that their rights under the Act of 1903 have really been rendered nugatory as the result of the introduction of conscription. Supposing that, failing the passage of this Bill, an officer or man obtained release after serving his three years, he would at once become liable to be called up under the Military Service Acts. Much inconvenience would be caused in bringing him home, a most valuable, trained and experienced man would be lost to the Royal Navy and, so far as the man himself was concerned, there would in fact be very little change in his position. Therefore, as was done in 1917, we need and propose to put the R.N.V.R. in the same position as that in which other Reserves find themselves. The fact that some of the R.N.V.R. were mobilized in June, 1939, makes it essential that this measure should be speedily passed and put on the Statute Book.
Since this Bill concerns exclusively the R.N.V.R. perhaps it will not be thought out of place if I take this opportunity of making a very brief reference to the magnificent service which these officers and men have rendered since the beginning of the war. They serve in every class of ship from the largest down to the very smallest. Indeed, not only are our corvettes commanded by R.N.V.R. officers but our coastal and smaller forces are officered by them almost completely. And the regularity with which the names of officers and men of this branch of the Navy appear in the list of awards conferred by His 1028 Majesty the King is in itself a tribute to the manner in which this splendid Force does it duty. Some ten George Crosses, 32 George Medals and Bars, 140 Distinguished Service Crosses, 11 British Empire Medals, and 36 Distinguished Service Medals have been awarded since the outbreak of war to the R.N.V.R. Your Lordships will be aware that the entry of ratings into this Reserve was closed on the outbreak of war. Men entering the Navy now are entered as "hostilities only" ratings, and are not included in this Reserve. On the other hand, all temporary Commissions are R.N.V.R. Commissions, and this has had the effect of making the number of officers vastly exceed that of the ratings. This is the reason why there is an apparent discrepancy between the awards granted to the R.N.V.R. ratings which I mentioned just now and the awards to officers. I hope I have said enough to explain to your Lordships the provisions of this Bill, and I trust that the arguments which I have advanced will induce your Lordships to support the measure. Finally, I may say that unless any of your Lordships see some serious objection to the course, I would propose to take the Committee stage of this non-contentious measure to-morrow. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Bruntisfield.)
§ LORD ADDISON
My Lords, on behalf of my colleagues I should like to congratulate the noble Lord on his first intervention in our debates. From my recollection of many friendly encounters—more or less—with him in another place, I am sure that he will maintain his case stoutly, however it may be assailed. It may well be that in the discussions which are to take place to-day there will be some questions regarding the Navy which will be pointed and interesting. So far as the great Service is concerned to which this Bill relates, I am sure every one of us in every quarter of the House would like to associate ourselves with the eloquent and complete tribute that the noble Lord paid to these splendid men on whom we depend for our success in war and even for the maintenance of our lives.
§ LORD MOTTISTONE
My Lords, all of us in this quarter of the House desire to associate ourselves with the noble Lord 1029 who has just spoken in congratulating the noble Lord opposite on his first speech in this House and wishing him every success in the future debates, in which he will no doubt take a distinguished part, and at the same time in applauding to the utmost the gallant Service on whose behalf this Bill is introduced.
§ On question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.