HC Deb 12 June 1811 vol 20 cc590-6
Captain Bennet

said, that though the nation was indebted to the late lord Melville for the act which enabled the Navy officer serving on a foreign station, to draw his personal pay at the end of every three months, there was still a great hardship from which they were not relieved, and it was to remove that hardship he brought forward his present motion. What he complained of was, that the officers on foreign stations incurred a loss of from 35 to 40 per cent, in consequence of the rate of exchange; and what he wished was, that they should be put on the same footing with the army in this respect. Many memorials had been transmitted on the subject to the Admiralty, but without producing any effect. Upon the Scheldt expedition they were ordered to be put on the same footing with the army, that the best understanding possible might exist between the two services; and if such a measure was necessary upon that occasion, he did not see why it should not be beneficial as a permanent regulation. He then moved, "That the Act 35 Geo. 3, c: 28, to enable petty officers in the Navy, and seamen, non-commissioned officers of marines and marines, serving in his Majesty's navy, to allot part of their pay fox the maintenance of their wives and families, might be read:" And the same being read; be further moved, "That this House will resolve itself into a Committee; of the whole House, to consider of so much of the said act as relates to the payment of Naval Officers serving abroad."

General Tarleton

seconded the motion, and maintained, that whenever the rate of exchange interfered with the pay of the officer, it ought to be made up to him.

Mr. Yorke

said, that as the House had already refused this motion in the course of the present session, and as the gallant officer had not produced any argument or fact in addition to those which had already failed, he could see no reason for altering his opinion. He allowed that the gallant officer was actuated by the best motives, but it was in general desirable that motions of this description should proceed from the executive government. As to the memorials alluded to, he knew but of one, which was from the officers stationed at Lisbon, at which place the inconvenience was in a great measure done away, nine out of the eleven ships having been since recalled; there were also seven or eight removed from the Mediterranean; and steps would be taken in future to prevent their remaining on their stations so long. It was also deserving of remark, that so far from objecting to the service in the Mediterranean, they made it a matter of canvass and solicitation to be sent to that quarter.

Mr. Lyttleton

said, that the right hon. gentleman had not given a sufficient reason for not going at least into some inquiry. He feared that the expedient of changing situations would not answer, and thought the House and the justice of the country were concerned in making up the pay of the officers who lost so much by the exchange. It was a question of strict and absolute justice. The expences of captains of frigates were great, and this loss must be severely felt by them.

Mr. Whitbread

said, his hon. friend was, in his opinion, strictly regular in bringing forward this motion, and that, notwithstanding what had been alleged by the right hon. gentleman, no decision of the question had yet taken place. The question now to be considered was generally this, that the House should go into a Committee, to take the subject into consideration. The right hon. gentleman, however, objected against dispensing with old rules and customs, because he says there is no knowing where they will stop; and would rather subject officers in the navy to be the suffers they now were, than alter old rules, however injurious to the service. The right hon. gentleman said, would you alter the pay of the officers serving at the Cape of Good Hope? but this did not apply to the present question, for there was not a tenth part so many of our ships on that station as in the Mediterranean. He should be glad to know why the officers engaged in that honourable expedition to the Scheldt, which had also been approved by this House, had been excused from this hardship, and those serving in the Mediterranean should be doomed to endure it? The hon. officer who made this motion had long served on that station, and having heard the complaints of the officers, as well as knowing from experience with what truth and justice they were made, had therefore brought it forward. He did not ask for any specific measure, but only that the question should be considered, and this the House ought to comply with.

Mr. Rose

said, it was hardly possible for an individual to be placed in a more disagreeable situation than this he stood in, compelled as he was to give a negative to this motion. Very soon after he came into the office of Treasurer of the Navy, this question came under consideration. He consulted with several officers on the subject, and found the difficulties numerous and nearly insurmountable. If the measure were to be adopted, it must be general through every station; and in that case great part of the navy would be losers. Those officers who were on the West India and other stations had an advantage in drawing; and he was, from the result of all his enquiries, perfectly convinced, that on the whole the public would lose infinitely more than the officers could possibly gain; for he did not believe they would gain one shilling. He should be sorry it should go abroad, or be understood out of the House, that this motion was resisted merely from a principle of economy; for when the real benefit of the service was in question, economy, merely as such, would not operate on his mind; and this he had evinced by an immediate support of the application for the officers to have their wine duty free.

Mr. Bastard

said he thought the officers of the navy should not be thus unjustly taxed, and he would therefore vote for the motion.

Lord Cochrane

could not sec any greater difficulty in paying the officers of the navy abroad, than in paying the army. With respect to the difficulty of ascertaining the rate of exchange at every place where officers could draw, there were Consuls, or other persons of the same description, who could certify what the exchange really was. The officers on the Gibraltar station were 25 per cent. out of pocket. It frequently happened that an officer was unable, from this loss, to buy sufficient quantity of necessaries to last the proper time.

Sir C. Pole

stated, that not being in the House when this subject was discussed on a former night, he was not able to take advantage of the arguments used on that occasion, but from all that had been advanced now either by the hon. mover of this question or by the right hon. gent. opposite, he was more and more grounded in his opinion, of (which he had often presumed to express to the House) the urgent necessity of an immediate inquiry into the state of the navy, with the hope that if it did not produce an immediate increase of the pay and amelioration of the situation of the officers, it would at least impress on the minds of the House and particularly on the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the necessity of due economy in all branches of Government, to enable them to do justice to the officers serving by land and sea. He was the less inclined to enter into a partial and limited inquiry, as it appeared to him that much evil arised to the service, from the frequent recurrence to temporary measures or expedients called for at particular moments. He confessed he was not one of those who were disposed to pay every tribute of applause to the act of the 35th, commonly called the Allotment act. He believed it to be an act pregnant with mischief, he believed it to encourage desertion, and still further, he believed it would hereafter occasion much discontent to the seamen, or the alternative of creating great expence to the country. He disapproved of this act, in as much as it was at variance with the principle and salutary regulations of the act of the 38th of Geo. 2.—Having long taken this view of the act of the 35th of his present Majesty, which was now proposed to be strengthened and enforced, it would not be deemed extraordinary, that he should propose an amendment which might have the effect of calling on the House to go into a Committee on the state of pay generally; it might be asked, if he had long entertained this opinion, why he had not during the session proposed some question to the House, to which he could honestly reply, that his confidence in the right hon. gent. who presided at the Admiralty, had induced him to believe that he would do all in his power as first lord to obtain justice for the officers of the navy, which had prevented his volunteering to trouble the House. But being now called on to give his vote, he had no difficulty in stating his sentiments, that the most proper measure to adopt, was to enquire generally into the important subject of the pay of the officers of the navy, and not to confine their enquiries into so limited a portion as that of the officers serving abroad.

Admiral Harvey

seconded the amendment.

Lord Cochrane

aid an increase of pay to the seamen in the navy would be of little advantage to them, so long as the present system continued. He had in his hands a list of ships of war in the East Indies. The Centurion had been there it years—the Rattlesnake, 14 years, came home the other day, with only one man of the first crew—the Fox frigate, under the command of his brother, had been there 15 years—the Sceptre 8 years—the Albatross 12, &c. Not one farthing of pay had been given all that period to all those men. He had made a calculation on the Fox frigate, and supposing only 100 of the men returned, there would be due 25,000l to the crew, not including the officers. What became of these sums all the while? The interest ought to be accounted for to Government or to the seamen themselves. The Wilhelmina had been 10 years, the Russel 7 years, the Drake 6 years, of which the men would be exiles from England for ever, and another vessel 4 years. Nothing would be of greater service than the frequently changing the stations of ships, which might be done without any inconvenience, and even with much advantage to the East India Company's ships. The seamen, he said, from the want of their pay, had no means of getting many necessaries of the utmost consequence to their health and comfort. The seaman drew less prize-money under the existing acts than formerly. He instanced a vessel, the proceeds of which came to 355l.; by the present mode of distribution, the seaman would receive 13s. 5½d.; by the old mode he would have received 15s, 1½d. From the officers' share there was deducted in all 75 per cent. allowing only 10 per cent. for the prize courts. The minister had exultingly asked, what was become of the commerce of France? But he would undertake to shew him, before he was 48 hours on the coast of France, as least 200 sail of the enemy's vessels. If they were to pay more liberally the Judges of the Admiralty Courts, and operate a proper reformation in them, he would undertake to say that they might score off at least one-third of the present ships of the navy. Ministers said there were no vessels on the coast of France; but he said there were; and if they would go with him, he would shew them how they could be got at.—He rather thought that the inattention of the government to the profligate waste of the public money, arose from their unwillingness to believe any thing contrary to their own crude notions on these subjects. He stated, and he begged the House to attend to it, for it was as important as the subject of Mrs. Clarke, that in the reign of James the 2d the pay of a captain of a first rate was 80l. more than at present. King William, when he came over with his Dutch troops, whom he was much more anxious to attend to than he was to attend to his subjects here, took up his pen and cut off one half of the pay. So much for foreign troops—but still taking the advance of prices into view, king William left it far better than it was now.—His lordship then again called the attention of the House to the extent to which the French coasting trade was carried on, and observed, that it could not be checked, unless greater encouragement was given to the captains. If he commanded a ship on the coast of France, by keeping at a good distance he might go to sleep, but in order to intercept those coasting vessels the captain must be on deck watching all night. But it was impossible they could do this, merely to put money in the pockets of those who practised in the Admiralty court. They were certainly not worse than other men, there were many valuable officers stationed on the coast of France, but they were men, and would be actuated by the feelings of men.

Mr. Yorke

said, that at this late period of the session it would be impossible to enter upon a subject of such detail as that which was now brought before the House. As to ships being detained so long upon foreign and distant stations, it was much to be regretted, but it was often unavoidable. He was happy, however, to state, that in consequence of the success of his Majesty's arms in India, a considerable part of the naval force on that station had been already recalled.

Captain Beresford

said, that the noble lord (Cochrane) who had latterly been lounging over the world in quest of grievances, did not appear to have duly appreciated the exertions of the officers employed off the coast of France: although they were not always running vessels under batteries to get hold of a few crazy boats that were worth nothing, they wanted no stimulus to do their duty. The fact was, that the noble lord was too much on the watch; his own brother had desired him (captain B.) to put him to bed; and he had so done when he was in Basque Roads, or the noble lord would have been, overcome by the extreme fatigue, which he went through previous to that gallant exploit.

Lord Cochrane

, in explanation, said that he had not charged those officers with any want of exertion; but merely stated that a proper stimulus was not held out.

Captain Bennet

, in reply, stated, that he had had several conferences with the Admiralty on this subject, and had wished very much that the business should have originated with them. He therefore could not be charged with bringing forward this measure from any desire of popularity in the navy. In the course of the last war, the marines at Malta received the dollar at 6s. 10d. while the army took it at 4s. 6d. In the expedition to Walcheren, the army and navy were put on an equality in this respect, and he did not see why they should not in other instances.

Mr. Rose

said, that the inconvenience to the public would be greater in this arrangement than the advantage to the navy. A noble lord had stated that 5 millions annually might be saved to the public with respect to prizes. He would assert, that one thousand pounds could not be saved; and he would defy the noble lord to put his statement on paper in such a manner as would convince one human being.

The House then divided,—For the motion 14. Against it 54. Majority against it 40.