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Naval Discipline Bill Lords

Volume 155: debated on Friday 16 June 1922

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Order for Second Reading read.

I beg to move "That the Bill be now read a Second time.

This Measure is, I submit, an entirely non-contentious one. At any rate, it did not cause any controversy in the other House. The various Amendments to the existing Naval Discipline Act which it brings forward are all of them, in the opinion of the Admiralty, desirable or necessary, but only one or two of them are of special importance or urgency, and I should like just to say a word or two about those. First of all, Clause 6 makes it clear that officers and men of the Royal Navy, when serving with Dominion naval forces or in Dominion naval establishments, are under the naval discipline of those forces. It is obvious that it would be extremely inconvenient if that were not the case, and in fact some small inconvenience has been felt by the Dominions, and they have pressed us on more than one occasion, particularly Canada, that we should pass this small Measure. I may give the House the sort of instance which can occur. Officers and men of the Navy on their way to or coming home from Bermuda, in the absence of direct steamers, may have to spend some days in Halifax. They are allowed to be put up and spend their time in the naval barracks there, and it is obviously undesirable that they should be in those barracks alongside Canadian naval men without being subject to any discipline, and it is simply to remove that slight anomaly that we are introducing this Amendment, which has not only been pressed for by the Dominion but has been agreed upon with them.

The other important Amendment is in Clause 7 and the object of it is to bring the position in the Navy in a line with that in the other Services with regard to compulsory deductions from pay for the maintenance of wife or children or illegitimate children in pursuance of an order of the Court. It is, of course, obvious and commonplace that the scale of such deductions which was reckoned sufficient, though I think none too sufficient, before the War, has become altogether inadequate in view both of the increased cost of maintenance of the child and also of the very substantial increase in the pay of the Services. This matter with regard to the Army and Air Force has been settled in the Army and Air Force (Annual) Act passed last year, and the present Clause simply brings us into line with them. The rates of deduction for the lower ratings are brought up now from 6d. a day for wife and legitimate children and 4d. for illegitimate children to a possible maximum of 2s. for a wife and legitimate children and 1s. 6d. per day for illegitimate children, and proportionately higher in the better paid ratings. There is a further feature, in which respect we are also following the example of the Army and the Air Force, in the provision in the same Clause which is to protect a naval rating who has had deductions made from his pay from being imprisoned on landing on the ground that his payment did not cover the whole of the payment imposed by the Court and that he is in arrear. It gives a man a reasonable time in which to show that he has been in a position to earn enough money to pay those arrears. Those are really the only two important Clauses.

Clause 1 brings naval courts into harmony with the position of other courts competent to award a sentence of penal servitude, namely that it allows a naval court, in accordance with the Penal Servitude Act of 1891, to award a minimum of three years instead of five years, as is provided in the original Naval Discipline Act. Clause 2 simply regularises the position of Lieutenant-Commanders on a court-martial. When the original Naval Discipline Act was passed, there was no such rank as Lieutenant-Commander, and the name Lieutenant-Commander was not inserted in the list of those competent to sit on courts-martial. This is simply formally to rectify that omission. Clause 3 deals with a matter of convenience of administration of courts-martial. Under the existing Act they must sit from day to day. The Amendment provides that if it is for the convenience of the court or in the interest, as it may often be, of the prisoner, a short adjournment, not exceeding six days, can take place. Clause 4 brings the Naval Discipline Act into line with the existing position. Ever since the Criminal Lunatics Act, 18844 removal from prison to an asylum in this country of all offenders, whether in the Navy or not, has been in the power of the Home Secretary, and this is an Amendment simply to recognise that fact, reserving the position of the Navy with regard to persons at the moment outside the jurisdiction of the Home Secretary. Clause 5 is again a formal Clause. The object is to make clear what we have already done for some time in practice, that the position of the marine warrant officer is the same as that of the naval warrant officer, at any rate as regards class 1 of marine warrant officers Whom we are henceforward treating in every sense as officers wherever there is a distinction made in the two categories of officers and men. On the other hand, it excludes a small and rapidly disappearing section of warrant officers, class 2 of marine warrant officers, who are not as a matter of fact employed at sea. Finally, Clause 8 makes it possible not only to print these Amendments, but the Amendments of any subsequent Amending Act in the main Naval Discipline Bill, which is for the convenience of the House and the general public.

I understand the only effect of Clause 1, which substitutes three years for five years, is that a minimum of three is substituted for a minimum of five. Is that right?

I have nothing further to say on that, but I do not know what the actual meaning of Clause 8 is. It says:

"Every enactment and word which is directed by any Act amending this Act to be substituted for or added to any portion of this Act shall form part of this Act in the place assigned to it by the amending Act. and this Act and all Acts which refer thereto shall, after the commencement of the amending Act, he construed as if that enactment or word had been originally enacted in this Act in the place so assigned, and, where it is substituted for another enactment or word, had been so enacted in lieu of that enactment or word, and as if this Act had been enacted with the omission of any enactment or word which is directed by the amending Act to be repealed or omitted from this Act, and the expression this Act' shall be construed accordingly."
I suppose there is no harm in it?

It makes it possible in future, when there are further Amending Acts, as no doubt there will be in course of time, for them to be automatically reprinted with the main Act without special Parliamentary provision having to be made on each occasion that they should be so reprinted.

I should like to find out why these limitations are placed upon the amount which can be recovered from the various ratings. I understand, for instance, that a magistrate has power to order a man, even if he is an agricultural labourer, to pay 40s. a week, in the case of desertion, to his wife and children, but I understand the magistrate takes into account the wages that the man is likely to earn. The restriction that is placed here is certainly much smaller than the discretion which is given to a magistrate. It seems to me that here the law is giving extra protection to the service man as compared with the civilian. There may be some very good reason for it, but it is a principle that has not been accepted in this House for some time. It seems to me that there is no reason why the service man in this respect should be treated differently from the civilian, provided that there is not the fundamental objection that he cannot pay.

The language does not seem to be quite clear as to the amount that can be deducted. Paragraph (1) of Sub-section (2) says:

"in respect of a wife or children 4s. a day."
Assuming there is a wife and three or four children, does this mean that there can be a deduction for each child, and that in the case of a wife there can be this maximum, but no higher maximum, whatever the number of children may be?

Will the right hon. Gentleman make it clear whether there is any difference whatever in the scale as compared with the other services of the Crown, the Army and the Air Force?

The position is exactly the same. We are raising the scale in exactly the same proportion, as near as may be, as in the Army and Air Force, in view of the changed conditions. The hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Murray) is a little mistaken as to the legal position. Under the law, the Court may assign such and such payment to be made in respect of wife or children, but it has no power to compel the employer to deduct any sum from the wages for that purpose. When a man is outside the jurisdiction of the Court and in the jurisdiction and under the control of the Admiralty, the Admiralty is empowered by this Act, as by previous Acts, to make such deduction as, in all the circumstances of the Service, they consider is a maximum which can reasonably be deducted for the purpose for which it is intended. The same condition applies in all the Services, and the alteration is made now because the maximum has been increased. The maximum covers the family. In the case of an able seaman whose basic rate of pay is 4s. a day, you could not subtract more than 2s. a day for the maintenance of his family, however many children he had.

In Clause 7 it states that a sum not greater than 3s. a day may be stopped in respect of a bastard child. So far as I am aware, no greater sum than 10s. a week can possibly be stopped from anybody in respect of a bastard child. Why is a sum of 3s. a day put in this Bill, when is. 6d. a day is the outside sum? The sum of is. 6d. is mentioned in the case of any other naval rating in paragraph (iii). There is a proviso which states:

"Provided that no such deductions from pay in liquidation of a sum adjudged to be paid by an order or decree as aforesaid shall he ordered unless the Admiralty are, or the person deputed by them is, satisfied that the person against whom the order or decree was made has had a. reasonable opportunity of appearing himself, or has appeared by a duly authorised legal representative."
3.0 P. M.

How does that work out in practice? A woman goes before the Court and gets an affiliation order against a sailor. How is she to satisfy the Admiralty that the putative father has had a chance of appearing before the Court? If this Bill is going to throw any onus upon her, or, in the alternative, any onus upon the Court official, it will be one more bar and one more difficulty in the way of the unfortunate mother getting the proper effect of the order which the Court may make in her favour. Perhaps my right hon. Friend will tell me why the sum of 3s. a day can be stopped in respect of a bastard child, when no greater sum than 1s. 6d. can possibly be called for, and, secondly, can he assure me that the proviso will not militate against the chances of the unmarried mother in getting the money paid to her when she has obtained an order from the Court?

I think the 3s. would cover more than one bastard child in the case of the higher ratings. While every consideration has to be given to the claims of the mother, it is also necessary to give the man reasonable protection, and to see to it that he has a chance of attending the Court. Special arrangements are made to enable the man in such a case to attend the Court or to be able to secure legal representation. I do not think there is any question of the rights of the woman in the case being prejudiced by this Bill.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.