asked the First Lord of the Admiralty (1) whether in view of recent incidents, he will consider the appointment of a judicial inquiry into the administration of naval law and, in particular, the machinery for dealing with grievances;
(2) what leave had been given to ratings on board His Majesty's Ship "Lucia" during the month ended 31st December, 1930; and why the sailing of the fleet was not deferred a sufficient number of hours so as to render it unnecessary to paint ship, &c., on Sunday afternoon?
The Board of Admiralty have now had the opportunity of considering the Minutes of the Court of Inquiry held to investigate the recent incident in His Majesty's Ship "Lucia," and the proceedings of the resultant courts-martial.
The Board regret that it must be concluded from them that the conditions of contentment of the ship's company and sympathy between officers and men which unquestionably exist in His Majesty's Ships generally were very far from being realised in the "Lucia," and that this was due to some extent to want of tact and consideration on the part of the captain and executive officer and incapacity on the part of the divisional officer concerned. It is evident also that the petty officers, who should have been aware of a growing feeling of discontent among the ship's company, took no steps to check it or bring it to the notice of their officers, and further that there were certain individuals among the ship's company who fomented among their messmates.
As a result of these unfortunate conditions, an order which was necessary to meet a Service emergency, which is by no means of unusual occurrence in the Navy, and which is ordinarily met with cheerfulness by all concerned, was made the occasion of a concerted refusal of duty by a body of men—an unprecedented action, which whatever the supposed provocation, cannot be treated otherwise than gravely in a Service whose whole existence and purpose depend upon implicit obedience to orders.
The Board, however, having given full weight to the extenuating circumstances already mentioned, have decided to reduce the punishments awarded by the Courts by substituting for the sentence of imprisonment with hard labour that of detention in the two cases in which the former punishment was awarded, and also reducing the period of detention by one-third in all the four cases. Corresponding reductions have also been made in the summary punishments.
The officers referred to will have their appointments terminated forthwith and will be placed on half pay, with an expression of the Board's serious displeasure for the regrettable state of affairs revealed by this incident, and His Majesty's Ship "Lucia" will he immediately paid off and recommissioned with a new crew of officers and men.
The Board have also carefully considered whether the facts in connection with this incident point to the desirability of any alteration of the new Regulations issued in 1929 on the subject of the procedure for preferring complaints, and have decided that there is no ground for thinking that the Regulations are in any way defective. Some of the evidence, however, showed that insufficient knowledge of the Regulations existed both among officers and men, and, in order to safeguard the position further, steps will he taken to ensure, as far as may be, that no officer or man shall be unaware of the proper procedure. It may he observed, as evidence of the fact that this procedure is not generally misunderstood that applications for redress forwarded to the Admiralty through the Commanding Officer and the Commander-in-Chief are from time to time received.
I cannot accept the interpretation which my hon. Friend gives. I have inquired very carefully during the last few days into the alterations made by the Regulations of 1929. The real purpose of the Regulations of 1929 was to bring them into line with, and in some cases, in my judgment, they are even better from the service point of view than, the Army Regulations.
Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether it is still possible under the revised Regulations for a man to be punished for forwarding a complaint which is not substantiated?
I should think that will follow in every case, but I am not certain at the moment. I think there must be some doubt in the case of the lightest punishments under the summary treatment in which a small number of men were given only seven days cells which has been automatically reduced to a smaller number of days cells, and which will not be entered on their records. I want to be quite sure about the effect of the Regulations in those cases before I answer definitely, but I should say, speaking generally, yes.
Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the previous records of the two men concerned will not be taken into consideration, having regard to the awful punishment in view of the nearness to pension rights?
Is the House to understand that these officers, upon whom grave reflections have been made by the court, will have no opportunity of presenting their case and having a full inquiry made?
It is difficult to say. These officers have been treated in the same way as any officers would be treated where, as the result of a full court of inquiry which has been held, circumstances came to light which in the opinion of the Board of Admiralty rendered them unsuitable for continuing their appointments. I have already, in reply to a previous question, said that if they make a request to the Admiralty, it will be considered.
That is a rather extraordinary way to put the question to me. I am not a lawyer, but I should have thought that it was impossible for the Judge Advocate, sitting on the Committee of Revision in 1929, to assist in the drafting of Regulations which were a contravention of the Naval Discipline Act. I am perfectly satisfied that the Regulations, if they are properly understood and brought to the notice of both the officers and the men, are capable of working in a very much better way than they have done in this instance. I hope my hon. Friends will allow me to proceed in that direction.