§ [SECOND READING.]
§ Order for Second Beading read.
THE SECRETARY TO THE ADMIRALTY (Mr. PKETYMAN, Suffolk, Wood-bridge)
In moving the Second Reading of this Bill, said that in order that every ship flying the British flag might be furnished with proper papers, and that proper regulations might be made for the government and discipline of the men on board, it was necessary that the provisions of the Merchant Shipping Act should apply to it if it were a merchant ship, or the provisions of the Naval Discipline Act if it were a ship of His Majesty's Navy. A ship to which the Merchant Shipping Act applied must be the property of a British subject. But for the purposes of that Act His Majesty the King was not a British subject; and the law officers of the Crown had, therefore, come to the conclusion that certain ships which were the property of the Crown could not be registered under the Merchant Shipping Act, and, on the other hand, could not be brought under the Naval Discipline Act unless manned by the Royal Navy. The consequence was that certain ships, such as the hospital ship "Maine" and the distilling ship "Aquarius," which were Government ships but did not form part of the Navy, as well as ships in the service of other Government Departments, being manned by civilians, were able to enter only British ports abroad and not foreign ports. The object of the Bill was to remove this disability. Ships owned by Government Departments were the property of the Crown, and the Bill proposed to give to the Crown the privileges which were conferred on British shipowners by the Merchant Shipping Act, and thus enable the Admiralty and the other Government Departments to apply to any ships that were in their charge and were the property of the Crown such regulations as were necessary to enable those ships to obtain the necessary status in foreign ports, and to maintain proper discipline on board. He hoped the House would give the Bill a Second Reading, and then, if there were any points of detail which hon. 686 Members wished to raise they could be dealt with in Committee.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ MR. EDMUND ROBERTSON (Dundee)
said the Bill appeared to raise serious constitutional questions upon which the House would doubtless be glad to hear the Attorney-General. He did not rise to oppose the Bill; but he thought it was a very serious thing to give to the Admiralty power to make regulations in respect to these ships, in other words, to legislate without coming to Parliament at all. He hated legislation by reference, but this kind of legislation appeared to be even more objectionable.
§ MR. PRETYMAN
said he should have explained that it was proposed by the Bill that these regulations were to be made by Order in Council. He was prepared at the Committee stage of the Bill to provide that before these regulations had effect they should be laid on the Table of the House, so that the House might have the opportunity of expressing its opinion upon them.
§ MR. EDMUND ROBERTSON
said that after midnight was not a good time for considering such questions. The Bill appeared to give the Admiralty power to pick and choose from the existing, statutes.
§ MR. PRETYMAN
said that was because there were terms in the Acts in reference to the Board of Trade and so on, which would not be applicable.
§ MR. EDMUND ROBERTSON
said the proposed method of procedure was open to so much objection that he asked the hon. Gentleman to consider whether it was worth while to persevere with the Bill in its present shape. The House ought certainly to have a list of all the ships that would be affected by the Bill. The matter had come on somewhat unexpectedly, and he hoped that the hon. Gentleman would agree to withdraw the Bill for the moment.
§ MR. KEARLEY (Devonport)
said the Secretary to the Admiralty had led the House to suppose that the Bill would apply only to a particular class of ships which were almost part of the Navy, and he mentioned that there was a difficulty about certain ships having proper papers, and that when they visited foreign ports the fact that they were not under the Naval Discipline Act led to inconvenience; but, if anybody looked through the Bill and examined it, they would find that it applied to all ships belonging to Government Departments, which embraced an enormous number of ships manned by civilians and which were not part of the Navy at all. They would have men who were civilians in every sense of the word brought under the Naval Discipline Act, and he hoped the House would not accept this without further explanation. Possibly it would be beneficial that the Admiralty should have power in some cases to apply the Naval Discipline Act, but the Bill applied to all ships employed by Government Departments, including ships employed by the Board of Trade, harbour tugs and so on. If the Bill was to stand as it was he should have to oppose it, because it would cast upon many of his constituents, who were purely civilians, the onerous conditions of the Naval Dicipline Act.
§ MR. PRETYMAN
said this had been carefully thought out, and no man would be engaged except under the Merchant Shipping Act and if it were proposed to place him under the Naval Discipline Act in case of war he would have the option of re-engagement. The whole object of the Bill was to avoid the necessity of employing costly naval ratings in Government ships which were now manned by civilians.
§ MR. KEARLEY
pointed out that other Departments than the Admiralty had 688 been taken into consideration, and it was the intention of the Bill that ships owned by any Government Department should, at the option of the Admiralty, be put under the Naval Discipline Act. The "Maine" and the "Aquarius" were doubtless manned mainly by blue-jackets and naval artificers. His case was that, unless these powers were curtailed, very important civilians would come under the Naval Discipline Act. If the Secretary to the Admiralty would assure him that that would not happen, he should not be so much disposed to oppose this Bill. At the present time many of the men employed in his constituency readily stated their grievances, but under this Act they would scarcely be allowed to open their mouths.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
said they had been told that the groundwork of this Bill was the discovery that had been made that His Majesty the King was not a British subject. He should have imagined himself that anything open to be done by British subjects was most certainly open to His Majesty the King to do. The hon. Gentleman said that a British vessel must necessarily be owned by British subjects, but there were plenty of British ships flying the British flag which were owned by foreigners. This Bill gave the Government power in regard to any ships under the control of any Government Department, not merely to put them under the Naval Discipline Act—and that would be hard enough although it was a considered system of naval discipline, and so was the Merchant Shipping Act—but it proposed to allow the Government to take whatever it liked out of the Naval Discipline Act and the Merchant Shipping Act, and leave what it liked, and to do this without the authority of the House, except the general authority given by this Bill. Under the Naval Discipline Act the men could be deprived of all civil rights, and, therefore, a measure of this kind should be watched with the greatest possible jealousy. To allow a Department to pick and choose in this way was a proposal which he wondered could be seriously made. They must know what the rules were to be in detail, and they should make certain that no wrong would be done to the men. This measure 689 placed the whole thing in the hands of the Executive Government, and he strongly objected to it. What he objected to most was the power given by this measure of making new rules. This Bill was contrary to all constitutional principles. If the Government wanted to impose regulations let them bring them down to the House, and put them into a schedule. He did not think they ought to give the Government such enormously unlimited power as was proposed in this Bill.
§ SIR ROBERT REID (Dumfries Burghs)
thought the objections which had been raised to this Bill were not at all unreasonable, and this was not the first time that his hon. friend the Member for King's Lynn had stood up for constitutional principles in opposition to the revolutionary proposals of the present Government. It was a cruel thing that instead of proposing the conditions and rules they were now proposing under this Bill that the Government should be able to declare what conditions should apply to these men. The Bill said that the Government were to be limited in making these regulations, and Clause I said—For the purpose of prescribing the papers to be carried by these ships, and regulating the employment of persons on board these ships, and the discipline of persons so employed.Therefore, it was clear that the Department was to make rules in regard to the terms of employment and discipline, and the hon. Member for King's Lynn was in error in supposing that they must be taken either from the Naval Discpiline Act or the Merchant Shipping Act, for they could take any set of rules they liked.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
said he quite understood that, for they would be able to take out what they liked, and they might take other rules.
§ SIR ROBERT REID
said that that was a very remarkable power to be given to any Department. If those two Acts did not suit them they might bring in something which was not in the one Act or the other. It was quite true, as the hon. Gentleman had said, that the provisions had to be laid before Parliament, 690 but as a matter of fact the value of that requirement was not very great. In regard to what subjects was this great power to be given? In the Naval Discipline Act, and the Army Act, Parliament year after year enacted the regulations which applied to sailors and soldiers, and now it was proposed that for the vessels to which this Bill applied any regulations might be made law by Order in Council. Surely that could not be right. It was no good saying that the opponents of the measure were conjuring up an evil, and that they knew that these powers would not be abused. If there was any constitutional precedent for what was now proposed it ought to be stated. The fact was that the Government proposed to regulate the terms of employment and the discipline of persons on board a particular class of ships, and they ought to tell the House what they proposed. What were to be the terms of employment and what was to be the discipline? Then they would know whether they should assent to the Bill or not. They ought not to assent to the making of laws in this matter by Order in Council. He hoped that hon. Members on both sides of the House would indicate to the Government that this was not a good constitutional principle.
§ THE ATTORNEY-GENERAL (Sir ROBERT FINLAY, Inverness Burghs)
said he had listened with great interest to what his hon. and learned friend had stated as to the principles of the Constitution. He wished to state why this Bill should now be carried to a Second Reading, and any matters of detail left to the Committee stage. The Merchant Shipping Act, of course, contained a code of regulations for vessels which did not belong to His Majesty, but there was no provision to meet the difficulty that had arisen. If the vessels were not to be under the Merchant Shipping Act, the only alternative was that they should be under the Naval Discipline Act in its entirety. It might be said, why not set out in the Bill those portions of the Merchant Shipping Act and the Naval Discipline Act it was desired to apply? But the Merchant Shipping Act consisted of 748 sections.
§ SIR ROBERT FINLAY
said he differed profoundly from his hon. and learned friend with regard to the number. If they were to set out in the Bill all the sections it was desired to apply, it would certainly make the Bill a very long one and might lead to protracted debate. All they wanted was power to make reasonable regulations for the government of these ships which would enable them to visit foreign ports without putting them under the white ensign. Hitherto when these vessels had visited foreign ports they had been put under a commissioned officer and had been subject to the Naval Discipline Act. They thought that unnecessary. There were a number of vessels of this kind in regard to which it was not necessary that they should be under the Naval Discipline Act, and some provision must be made for them. The right thing was to give power to His Majesty by Order in Council to make such provision for the government of these vessels as seemed fitting and proper. Every point which could be taken in Committee as to restricting the power to make these regulations so as to prevent the possibility of abuse would be most fully considered; but he hoped the House would not be led by any of the phantoms which had been conjured up to refuse a Second Reading to a measure which, he was quite sure, would in every way prove beneficial.
§ SIR ROBERT REID
said the hon. Gentleman who moved the Second Reading stated that the object of the Bill was to allow these ships to go into foreign ports, but the proposals went beyond that. It was a Bill for regulating employment and discipline in these ships.
§ SIR ROBERT FINLAY
said he himself had never stated that the only object was to enable ships to visit foreign ports. Difficulty had also been felt as to the enforcement of discipline on these vessels to which the Merchant Shipping Act did not apply. Did anybody desire that powers should not be given to the Government 692 in that matter. Some provision must be made, and they would welcome any reasonable precautions to prevent the possibility of abuse.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
asked the hon. and learned Gentleman if he had any objection to put in a schedule to the Bill the particular regulations that would apply.
§ SIR ROBERT FINLAY
said that matter would be considered, but he thought that, in determining what regulations should apply, very minute and prolonged examination would be wanted. Experience might show from time to time that it was desirable to vary the regulations, and it would, in his judgment, make the measure less valuable if they had a cast-iron framework of regulations in an Act of Parliament that could not be altered except by passing another Act.
§ SIR ROBERT FINLAY
said he did not know; but he would undertake to bring the regulations before the House when they were framed. It was very necessary that such a power should be contained in this Bill.
§ MR. BLAKE (Longford, S)
said he agreed with his right hon. friend below him that the power asked for was a power not applicable to the Merchant Shipping Act. Why should not this careful and prolonged examination to which the Attorney-General referred be made, and the result submitted to the House? Parliament was asked to accord an absolutely unlimited power of regulating the discipline as well as the employment of persons on these vessels. The right hon. Gentleman the Attorney-General said it would be much more convenient not to have cast-iron regulations in an Act of Parliament, but to allow modifications to be made from time to time by an Order in Council. But that might be said of any Act which interfered with the liberty of the subject. He did not see that there was any special, case for giving this extraordinary power in this particular instance.
§ SIR J. FERGUSSON (Manchester, N. E.)
said he could not understand the right hon. Gentleman opposite when he talked about the liberty of the subject, for no man was to be compelled to go under the regulations. He suggested that the Bill might be read a second time, and the regulations brought up and inserted on the Committee stage.
§ MR. RUNCIMAN (Dewsbury)
said he was unable to imagine what had taken place that ships of this class should suddenly be put under new regulations. The House was entitled to some explanation as to any difficulties that had arisen in controlling the crews of these vessels. These vessels used to sail under the white ensign. When they did that in what way were they distinguished from the ships belonging to the Royal Navy?
§ MR. PRETYMAN
Purely as a matter of economy. The object is that the expense of the present system may not be continued.
§ MR. RUNCIMAN
said that when the hon. Gentleman came down and said that he wanted this Bill because of the economy which would arise from it, surely he did not mean to say that a large number of men employed on these vessels had been disrated.
§ MR. RUNCIMAN
said that the reply of the hon. Gentleman showed more than ever why the Bill should be carefully considered. There was a large number of civilians on board these vessels who probably did not want to be brought under the Naval Discipline Act, and these new regulations came in somewhere between the Naval Discipline Act and the Merchant Shipping Act. Why were not these new regulations placed before the House? They ought to be discussed with the Bill and in connection with 694 the Bill. The Government apparently wanted the House to vote this Bill in the dark. They were going to alter the status of a large number of British subjects who, up to the present, were under the ordinary law. The case for the Bill, he believed, had been exaggerated. The difficulties which had arisen in the past had been got over; they very seldom arose. These men would be very amenable to discipline, and would be as well under the control of the officers if rated under the Merchant Shipping Act as under regulations of which they knew absolutely nothing. Really, to ask the House to pass a Bill to authorise the King in Council to alter the status of men in civil employment who did not wish to come under the Naval Discipline Act, without the Admiralty having first drawn up the new regulations, was a totally improper proceeding.
§ And, it being half-past Seven of the clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed upon Monday next.