§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY (LORD LEE OF FAREHAM)
My Lords, this is, I believe, an entirely non-contentious measure. There are really only two matters of importance with which it deals—(1) the discipline of the Royal Navy personnel when serving in Dominion naval ships or establishments, and (2) an increase in the compulsory deduction from the pay of ratings for the maintenance of wife, or children, or illegitimate children. The remaining provisions of the Bill are entirely formal, or comparatively unimportant.
Clause 1 merely brings the law so far as the Naval Discipline Act is concerned into harmony with the ordinary law of the land applicable to all other Courts competent to award penal servitude by permitting a sentence of three years' penal servitude to be inflicted instead of a minimum of five years. Clause 2 merely regularises the position under which lieutenant-commanders can sit on Courts-Martial. At the time the Naval Discipline Act was passed there was no such rank as lieutenant-commander and it is necessary to insert it in the Act. Clause 3 is merely a matter of convenience. Under the present Naval Discipline Act Courts-Martial have to sit de die in diem. This permits the Court at its discretion to adjourn for a period not exceeding six days, if it is desirable to do so in the interests of justice.
Clause 4, again, merely brings the Naval Discipline Act into conformity with the provisions of the Criminal Lunatics Act of 1884, under which a person imprisoned in England can only be transferred to a lunatic asylum by the order of the Home Secretary. It is thought desirable that that should be embodied in the Naval Discipline Act. Clause 5 redresses an anomaly which has been caused by a new nomenclature of naval ranks. Under the existing Act a naval warrant officer counts as an officer, whilst a marine warrant officer does not count as an officer. It is thought desirable, as they both proceed to 754 sea under similar conditions, that they should be in the same boat. This clause, therefore, regularises their position, and provides that marine warrant officers, class 1, shall rank as officers.
The most important clause is Clause 6, dealing with the, status of personnel of the Royal Navy serving under a Dominion, or in a Dominion naval establishment. Under the existing law they are not automatically liable to the Naval Discipline Act of the particular Dominion which they are serving; that is to say, to the law of the Dominion in which they are serving. This has been represented to the Admiralty frequently, particularly by the Canadian authorities, and it is thought desirable that both officers and men—who, after all, volunteer for these services and have the position explained to them quite clearly before they so volunteer—should come under the provisions of the Naval Discipline Acts of the different Dominions in which they are serving.
Clause 7 deals with the payment of maintenance allowances. The scale of deductions which may be made, and which were computed in pre-war times, are obviously quite inappropriate either to the circumstances and needs of the beneficiaries or to the much higher rate of pay which the naval personnel receives. This same problem has been dealt with both by the War Office and by the Air Ministry in the Army and Air Force (Annual) Act, 1921, and all that is contemplated in this case is to bring the Navy into line with the scales adopted in the cases of the Army and the Air Force, and to make them more appropriate to the changed conditions which have resulted since the war. There is one provision which is inserted for the protection of the naval ratings themselves. Under the existing law if there are any arrears of payment when a man leaves the Service, he is liable to arrest by a civil Court because those arrears are unpaid, or until they are paid. It is now provided that a naval rating shall not be imprisoned for arrears unless the Court is satisfied that since he left the Navy he has had a reasonable opportunity of paying up what he owes. This is procedure which has been adopted by the other two fighting Services, and it has been given Parliamentary approval in the Army and Air Force (Annual) Act, 1921. In this case, therefore, we are again only bringing the Navy into line with the other two Services.
755 The last clause, the printing clause, is entirely formal. It enables the main Naval Discipline Act to be officially reprinted, as amended by the present Bill or by subsequent Bills. It is a matter merely of convenience, and we thought it desirable to deal with it once for all in the new measure. I beg to move that the Bill be read a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Lee of Fareham.)
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
My Lords, this Bill seems to me to be a thoroughly reasonable measure. There is one question of principle which I should like to ask. It refers to Clause 6, which provides that the officers and seamen in ships of self-governed Dominions are to be under the laws of the particular Dominion, "provided such ship is not at the time placed at the disposal of the Admiralty." The point is as to the choice of those words. One sees the good sense of it, and I think it is probably what the Dominions would agree to and wish to observe when those ships are the King's ships under the Dominion Minister and Dominion laws. "Placed at the disposal of the Admiralty" is, perhaps, not enough to take them out of that category. If the Dominion Governments have assented to these words, or raised no objection to them, then it is right enough. It is certainly legislation under the powers of the Imperial Parliament, but coming in and trenching upon Dominion powers. It may well be that this has been found the most convenient way of doing it, and that the Dominions have raised no objection. If so, it is all right. Otherwise, it is using the powers of the Imperial Parliament to trench upon a matter which might come under the Dominions.
§ LORD LEE OF FAREHAM
In reply to the noble and learned Viscount, I can only say that this provision has been drawn up in close conversation with the Dominions. It applies, after all, only to Royal Naval ratings, and if the ship in which they serve is no longer for the time being under the control of the Dominion concerned but under the Admiralty, it is surplus.
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
The difficulty is the words "placed at the disposal." You may put a ship at the disposal of the Admiralty quite well, and yet it might still remain a Canadian ship.
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
If the noble Lord says that the words have been discussed with the Dominions I should take it that they have said, as they did in reference to the Copyright Act, "We welcome Imperial legislation as putting everything on a sensible footing."
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.