HL Deb 12 February 1948 vol 153 cc1035-47

4.5 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.

The FIRST Lord of the ADMIRALTY (Viscount Hall)

My Lords, the Bill of which I am asking your Lordships for the Second Reading this afternoon is, I think, uncontroversial. The Bill has two objects designed to one main purpose, and that is to increase the reserves available to the Royal Marines on mobilization. Although the numbers involved in this Bill are small, I am sure that your Lordships will all recognize that it deals with a very fine body of men. The Corps of Royal Marines was first raised from trained bands of the City of London about 300 years ago. From the outset it was constantly in use for naval purposes, and the first major engagement on land took place in the capture of Gibraltar in 1704. This was the beginning of a long record of gallant service and proud tradition, culminating in the actions of the Second World War in Crete, France, Holland and elsewhere. Many of our famous Service leaders have spoken in the highest terms of the value of the Marines to the country. Admiral Lord St. Vincent actually used the words: If ever the hour of real danger should come to England they will be found the country's sheet anchor. Times change and this can no longer be said of what, for all the glory of their past, is now a comparatively small body of men. Nevertheless, for its size the Corps is now no less a vital component of our Armed Forces than it has been in earlier times, a fact brought about no more by the increased functions lately assigned to them than by the conspicuous gallantry which they have displayed in all those actions in which they have taken part.

As I have said, the purpose of this Bill is to increase the reserves available to the Marines on mobilization. The present system of reserves relies only on pensioners who are over forty years of age and on voluntary entrants into the Royal Fleet Reserve, and we consider that these will no longer be sufficient to meet requirements. The reason is that the functions of the Marines have increased considerably. Before the Second World War their main function was to provide detachments on board ship—and only on large ships—to man parts of the armament and to be used on operations on shore under the Naval Commander-in-Chief. Their functions have now been extended, principally in the all-important field of combined operations. They have now to undertake the manning of assault craft and the provision of commando and special amphibious assault units. In addition, they have duties in connexion with beach communications, beach control and naval bombardment. It is for these purposes that we need an increase in the number of Royal Marines. The Bill therefore provides, as a first object, for the creation of a Royal Marine Forces Volunteer Reserve, on the model of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, the members of which will, when called up, serve as Marines. This means that their terms of pay and conditions of service will be those of the Marines, and that their disciplinary code will rest on the Naval Discipline Act or the Army Act, according to whether they serve afloat or ashore.

The second object of the Bill is to provide for the enlistment of Royal Marines for Special Service; that is, to serve part of their twelve years on active service and the rest in the Royal Fleet Reserve. The actual periods of service are left indefinite in the Bill, for they will be determined by regulation, as in the case of the Royal Navy. For the Royal Navy the periods of active service and service in the Reserve are normally seven years and five years respectively, and it is contemplated that the arrangements for the Royal Marines will be similar. Provision is made for a Royal Marine so enlisted to be transferred to a long-service engagement by mutual consent, thus bringing the engagement systems of the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines into line.

Your Lordships will see that Clause 1 of the Bill is devoted entirely to the first object, and, similarly, Clause 2 to the second. Clause 1 (1) makes it lawful to raise a Volunteer Reserve for the Royal Marines. The number is not limited by law, but for a start we aim at a figure of about 1,500. I cannot say what the ultimate figure will be, but 1,500 is the immediate aim. Subsection (2) places the Reserve in the same legal position as the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, with the proviso that when mobilized its members serve as Marines and not as seamen. This has been done by applying the Statutes which govern the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. Subsections (3) and (4) add the Royal Marine Forces Volunteer Reserve to the list of Naval Reserves in the various Acts and Statutes where they are already mentioned. Subsection (6) repeals the long obsolete Section 2 of the Naval Forces Act, 1903.

Clause 2 (1) allows Marines to be entered for Special Service on the lines I have indicated. Subsection (2) is technical. The Royal Marines Act says that at a certain point in his service a man may do certain things. For example, he may re-engage for service or he may have certain things done to him; he may be brought home from abroad. This subsection provides that for a Special Service Marine the: date to which those things are related will be the end of the active service part of his engagement, rather than after his completed service which, legally, includes his period with the Reserve. It is made clear that a Royal Marine may transfer from Special to Continuous Service. There is a similar provision in the Royal Navy. In conclusion, may I repeat that the Force for which we now desire to form a Voluntary Reserve, and to provide for Special Service enlistment, has a splendid tradition of action and gallantry. There can, I think, be no possible doubt but that the men required will come forward, and that in emergency they will follow honourably and with distinction in the footsteps of those who have made the title "The Royals" what it means to the world to-day. I feel sure that your Lordships will welcome this Bill and it is therefore with confidence that I ask for a Second Reading. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Viscount Hall.)

4.11 p.m.


My Lords, we on these Benches are very grateful indeed to the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, for moving the Second Reading of this Bill, for his clear and detailed explanation of what it involves. He may have no doubt hut that we welcome this Bill. We on these Benches yield to no one in our admiration of the fine traditions and the magnificent work of the Royal Marines through the centuries. We do not dispute that it is absolutely right to bring the arrangements of the Royal Marines in the matter of reserves into line with the rest of he Forces, and we are particularly pleased to notice the proposal to bring them into line with the Royal Navy in regard to the Volunteer Reserve, the Regular Service and the Special Service which the noble Viscount has mentioned.

That, I am sure, is absolutely right. It is not only right, but it is extremely important, because of the decision which was confirmed again by the noble Viscount that the Forces necessary for Combined operations, for the commandos, and so forth, are to be raised from the Royal Marines. I take it I am right in thinking, from what the noble Viscount said, that the war-time expansion of the requirements for combined Operations and commandos are to be met by the expansion of the Royal Marines as and when necessary. If that is so, your Lordships will see at once that it is most important that the manpower arrangements for the Royal Marines should be Properly conceived. That must be done, not only in the way in which this Bill sets out to do it but also from the point of view of the likelihood of getting the, Proper number of personnel to fill the Royal Marine units, both of Volunteer Reserve and Special Service.

There are one or two points upon which I would like to touch, because I think Your Lordships will all agree that the special duties connected with combined operations require a state of much greater readiness than perhaps is necessary with other sections of His Majesty's Forces. Combined operation units are no good, in fact, unless they can be maintained in a high state of readiness for war. It is easy to be under an illusion regarding the state of readiness of a Volunteer Force. I imagine that the Royal Marine Forces Volunteer Reserve will cover all Marine service; that is to say, Marines who go to sea with the Royal Navy and also the commandos. Presumably the Special Service men from that Reserve will be training with their counterparts in the Royal Navy, and presumably also there will be units of the Royal Marine Forces Volunteer Reserve as a nucleus of the commando units and beach groups.

I do not know whether any decision has yet been taken as to where these R.M.F.V.R. units will be located, and whether they are to be located elsewhere than in main centres of the Royal Marines. If they are to be more widely spread, I wonder whether any attempt has been made to co-operate with the Territorial Associations. I am quite sure that such co-operation could be extremely useful to newly-formed units, besides being very necessary for the avoidance of overlapping in the country districts, and so forth. Another point I wish to make is that I hope His Majesty's Government, having taken the decision to establish a Royal Marine Reserve, will see that there is no cheeseparing and no skimping the job. That job is so important that we feel it must not be skimped; but no doubt the Admiralty will live up to the traditions which it has always maintained in the past in such matters. So, my Lords, we welcome this Bill, and we support it. I am not saying that we wish this infant a long life, although we like to be here at its christening. The reason that I do not wish the Bill a long life is because I hope that, before very long, when it becomes an Act, it may be consolidated into a bigger measure, and we need not have these small Acts lying about on the Statute Book. With those words I welcome the Second Reading of this Bill and I support it.

4.15 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to say one word in support of this Bill, partly as to its merits, and partly because I am one of the two Regular Marine officers in your Lordships' House.

The noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, speaking in relation to the Parliament Bill a day or two ago, defined members of your Lordships' House as highly qualified experts or normal citizens. The other ex-Royal Marine Artillery officer is number one in that categor—I refer to my noble friend Lord Hankey, the qualified expert. I am, as I trust, merely a normal citizen, being the other of those two ex-Royal Marine Artillery officers—the Royal Marine Artillery because some years ago the two branches of the Royal Marine Force were joined and became the Royal Marines. I thought that that was a good thing, although I know my brother officers in the Royal Marine Artillery did not agree with me in that, and I was not surprised that they did not.

The main reason why I want to support this Bill is that for many years it has been a piece of traditional knowledge among the Royal Marines Force that our strength resembles the teeth of a saw. When a war comes, up goes the curve of numerical strength of the Royal Marines, and directly that war is over down comes the other edge of the teeth of the saw; we diminish in numbers, and we diminish in expenditure upon our training and strength until we reach the bottom of the valley. Then another war, or fear of war, comes along; again, up go the teeth of the saw and we strengthen our numbers. That is entirely inefficient. It is quite inefficient to expect to train to the highest pitch of efficiency in a few weeks or months the numbers required for this Force to carry out the duties placed upon its shoulders with this minimum of training. For that reason, I welcome this method of evening up the numbers available for the work to be done. I think it is a wise precaution. Just as in industry efficiency is secured by joint consultation, by combination of management and workers, so, in all Service operations, I think we will get much greater efficiency by the use to an increasing extent of combined operation of the three Services. That, I think, will be facilitated by this Bill. For that reason I would like to add my word of support and welcome to its introduction.

4.20 p.m.


My Lords, as a naval officer who had a great deal to do with the Royal Marines in combined operations in 1942 and 1943, I also would like to offer my word of congratulation to the Government for bringing in this Bill. In those years, as your Lordships will remember, we were concerned in building up the amphibious Forces by which ultimately the offensive was taken; and, naturally, a large part of the burden fell upon the Royal Marines. They had to expand beyond all expectations; they had to train their gun crews for anti-aircraft work and men for support craft duties for combined operations. All this was in addition to their normal other duties relating to ship detachments and training, and to forming new commandos at that time. It was always amazing to me how the Royals—as the First Lord has said—in the short apace of training time available were able to maintain that high state of morale, efficiency, discipline and smartness for which they have always been renowned through the centuries of their existence. This great variety of duties, which commenced then, has now come to stay, and it will require a great deal more diversified training, ranging from boatwork with landing craft to work with support craft and the manning of many different types of guns, as well as training in fighting ashore as commandos.

I am doubtful only as to whether this number of 1,500 contemplated will be sufficient, and I was glad to hear the noble Viscount, the First Lord of the Admiralty, say that this is only the beginning. I hope that he will not hesitate to increase these numbers if he can, for surely without doubt the experience of this recent war has shown the importance of all those units connected with combined operations. Naturally, at the moment, we have sufficient reserves. I quite appreciate that. But as the years pass, the reserves will naturally become smaller in numbers and less efficient. I should like to ask the First Lord, therefore, whether he feels that he will be able to obtain those 1,500 for the Volunteer Reserve if in the future the national service men are to be almost entirely absorbed by the Army and Air Force, as it seems may be the case. Nevertheless, this Bill is a step in the right direction, and it is a well-merited recognition of the fine work of the Royal Marine Corps in the last war. I am sure that your Lordships will wish to give warm support to this measure.

4.25 p.m.


My Lords, as a naval officer of an older generation than that to which my noble friend who has just sat down belongs, one who saw service with the Marines in the First World War, I hope that I may be allowed to intervene for a few moments in this debate. I would very much like to echo what the noble and gallant Earl, Lord Beatty, and my noble friend Lord Marley have said about this splendid Corps. It is a very remarkable thing, in a way, that this Bill gives the Marines a new lease of life by introducing a Volunteer Reserve. I am old enough, and so is the First Lord or the Admiralty, to remember the important reforms which were introduced by that great seaman and administrator, the late Admiral of the Fleet Lord Fisher—Jackie Fisher. He did wonderful things for the Navy, but one of his proposals was to abolish the Marines, and it was only the resistance of naval officers who knew their worth from first-hand experience that eventually fought off this proposal. And here we are, with the Marines again covered in laurels and glory gained in the two greatest wars of all time. We all know that their record in the two great wars of recent times has fully entitled them to all the praises which they have received from so many speakers. My noble friend Lord Marley referred to the amalgamation of the Red Marines and the Blue Marines. I was one of those who fought that in another place. At the time I thought it a mistake. My noble friend tells me that it was not. I hope that we shall hear what my noble friend Lord Hankey has to say on this question I always thought' that we lost more by destroying the tradition of the Blue Marines—-the Royal Marine Artillery—than we gained as a result of administrative economies. But no doubt that it a matter on which opinion may vary.

I wish to ask my noble friend this question, which I am sure he will be able to answer, though I did not give him notice of it. It refers to the numbers of recruits now volunteering for the Royal Marines as long-service men. I am sure that all your Lordships who have knowledge of these matters will agree with me that the Royal Marines are essentially a long-service Corps. How one can make an efficient Marine—that is, a man who is both soldier and sailor—in twelve months, I really do not understand. If my noble friend really thinks he can do it, and does it, then he will prove himself a far greater administrative genius than any we have ever had at the Admiralty before. As I say, the Royal Marines are essentially a long-service Corps. I would like the noble Viscount, the First Lord, if he can, to tell me how many volunteers for long service we are getting. I presume that for the Royal Marines we can get all we seek. I hope so, and I hope that no attempt has been made to take more than the minimum as conscripts under the present Service Acts. My noble friend referred to the Marines as the "Royals." We used to know them by much more affectionate names; we called them either "bullocks" or "leathernecks." They were the butt of many jokes among other Service men—quite undeserved of course—about their supposed credulity. My experience of them—and I know that it is the experience of every other officer who served with them—was that they were a splendid body of men in any emergency; they were utterly reliable during the long, humdrum, trying days of peace and in dull routine operations in war. With those few words I also gladly welcome this Bill.

4.28 p.m.


My Lords, as the other Royal Marine officer in your Lordships' House, I must say a few words on this Bill. It has warmed my heart to hear all the tributes that have been paid to the grand old Corps in which the best years of my life were spent. I thank the First Lord warmly for his remarks, and I also thank all the other speakers, particularly the officers of the sister Services with whom I have always lived—indeed, the Royal Marines have always lived—on terms of the greatest affection. I was asked just now to say a word about the Blue Marines and the Red. I differ from my noble friend Lord Marley in this respect. I fought very hard for the retention of the Blue Marines because, of course, of the question of tradition and esprit de corps and the magnificent record that both services had. It is no exaggeration to say that in the year I joined the Corps, when I knew very little about it, they won almost every event at the Royal Military Tournament; they won many naval prizes for gun firing and musketry and many other trophies. But still the thing has been done and the grand old Corps preserves now the magnificent tradition of both Services. I would like to mention one point in the history of the Royal Marines, even though to do so is wasting your Lordships' time. One of the first reasons why the Royal Marine Artillery was raised was to man rocket ships (a weapon we consider to be the most modern of all) in the Napoleonic wars. They were used with considerable effect in the Straits of Messina.

I was particularly glad to hear what my noble friend, the First Lord of the Admiralty, said about the use of the Marines for combined operations. I prefer another term—amphibious warfare—because the function of the Marines is wider than the important function of providing the spear-head of a landing operation. I fought for this amphibious warfare for years. The first public reference to it will be found in a Blue Book of 1904, about the question of the efficiency of the Royal Marines. I then urged that they were being misused, and that they would make a magnificent force for amphibious warfare. I did not win my way then, and I did not win it for a great many years. I had the rather exasperating experience during the Washington Naval Conferences of 1921-1922 of being taken by the American Marines to the United States Marines Base at Quantico on the Potomac, and seeing that they had realized all the schemes I had advocated. Latterly amphibious warfare has been used to the full—a good deal in the First World War and even more in the Second.

Why I use the larger term is this. The Marines can be used very effectively in small bodies—no more than the detachment from a cruiser. Such a body, often with their naval colleagues, sometimes by themselves, were landed for a thousand operations in the Peninsular War and in the two last wars. They have been used to improvise coastal defences again and again all over the world—in the Mediterranean, in the Persian Gulf, and elsewhere, and they manned the defences of Scapa Flow in both wars. I agree with the First Lord of the Admiralty that their great function is that of combined operations, and I very much welcome that fact. I do not think I have anything to say about the Bill itself. I am glad it was introduced as a separate Bill, so that it gave an opportunity for this debate, which I hope will result in an uplift to the Royal Marines.

4.35 p.m.

Viscount HALL

My Lords, I would like to express to those of your Lordships who have taken part in this debate my gratitude for the appreciation which has been voiced of the work of the Royal Marines. I am sure that those in command and all other ranks will be pleased to know from the mouths of so many noble Lords who have served with the Royal Marines and in the Royal Navy that there is this great appreciation of their services. I am sure that it has been as pleasing to your Lordships to pay the tributes as it has been to those of us who are associated with the Admiralty to hear them: being made. The noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, in a helpful and constructive speech such as he usually makes on occasions when we are dealing with any branch of the Fighting Services, has asked some questions particularly with regard to training. First of all, there was the question of location. We are hopeful that this Corps of reserves will be drawn from a wide field—not only from centres like London and the naval ports, which will provide a substantial number, but from all other parts of the country. Consideration of the training facilities will therefore be necessary.

As the noble Earl, Lord Beatty, rightly said, training must not be confined to one particular branch, but must be spread among the various branches of the service now rendered by the Royal Marines. We are hopeful that permanent centres may be established not only in the places I have mentioned but in other cities. We hope that where we have facilities for the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and where there are facilities provided by the Territorial Associations, arrangements may be made for the training of scattered units. Consultations are proceeding in that direction. I shall be very happy to keep the noble Viscount, Lord Bridge-man, informed on this matter, when the consultations are completed and arrangements can be made. He also asked that facilities should not be scamped. Of course, those responsible for providing facilities would always prefer to say that there is no possibility of them being scamped, but we an: confined to the amount of money allowed to us. Nevertheless, the House can be assured that this new Reserve Corps is not being set up for show, but for use. We shall do all we possibly can to give them the facilities which will be required to enable them to be a very useful Service.

I was pleased to hear the tributes from noble Lords who have actually served with the Royal Marines. I am not go: ng to deal with the old controversy whether the amalgamation of the Blue Marines and the Red Marines was right or wrong. The fact is that the Service has not suffered unduly, or indeed at all, as a result of the amalgamation which took place twenty-five years ago. It was one of the results of the Geddes axe. When we look at the great contribution the Royal Marines made during the course of the last war, I do not think it can be said that they have suffered as a result of this amalgamation. The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, asked me whether I could give the number of recruits volunteering for long service. Of course, Royal Marine recruitment is at present entirely for Continuous Service, and will be until the passing of the present Bill, with the exception, of course, of the entry of national service men. With regard to the latter, we are at the moment, as the noble Lord knows, just taking a token figure for the Royal Navy, and the token figure applies to the Royal Marines as it does to the Naval Service as a whole. Recruitment of Regulars is not quite so good as we would like it to be. It now averages about eighty a month for long service. We could do with a few more than that number, but, in proportion to the other Services, apart from the Royal Navy, the rate of recruitment is not unsatisfactory.

It was very pleasing to hear the noble Lord, Lord Hankey, taking part in this debate. I agree with him that possibly certain of the operations which the Royal Marines now have to undertake could easily be combined—as he so properly put it—in amphibious operations. But the Marine is a very strange chap. He is a handyman. He is called upon to do all sorts of jobs; and, as he has been so called upon in the past, so am I su"e that he will be called upon in the futu: "e—if it is necessary. Your Lordships can be assured that everything that the Admiralty can do will be done to make this Reserve a very great success.


I would just like to say how grateful we are to the noble Viscount for the trouble he has taken to answer the questions we have asked.

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