HC Deb 30 July 1845 vol 82 cc1263-70
Mr. Corry

rose to propose that the sum of 7,528l. should be granted to Her Majesty, for half a year's retired allowance of 300 Captains in Her Majesty's Navy (being the Supplemental Navy Estimate), at the rate of 5s. 6d. a day to each, beyond the amount of their existing hall-pay, 15,056l. The right hon. Gentleman said, he felt assured that the explanatory memorandum which had been furnished to them had satisfied the Committee that in the first place it was indispensable that the flag list of the navy should be composed of younger men; and, secondly, that if that were to be effected by means of a retirement, no scheme less extensive than that which he had to propose would be effectual; and he therefore did not deem it necessary to establish the importance of the subject by referring to former history. There were, doubtless, to be found on the present list of flag officers, men who, notwithstanding their advanced age, were yet quite capable of serving with efficiency. Such examples were, however, unfortunately of rare occurrence; and he thought it would be admitted on all hands that it had become necessary that younger men should be brought forward to succeed to the flag than could possibly be the case under the present system. The flag list at present consisted of a hundred and sixty-one officers; of those, forty-six had not served the time necessary to qualify them; of the remaining hundred and fifteen, eleven were between eighty and ninety years of age; fifty six were between seventy and eighty; forty-two were between sixty and seventy; and six only were between fifty-five and sixty. The youngest admiral was upwards of seventy years of age, the youngest vice-admiral was upwards of sixty, and the youngest rear-admiral upwards of fifty-five. Under the existing system that list of flag officers so composed could only be recruited from the first in seniority on the captain's list. On examining the ages of the first hundred on the captain's list, it appeared that thirty were upwards of seventy years of age; that forty-seven were between sixty and seventy; and only twenty-three under sixty, the youngest being fifty-five years of age. Of the second hundred, eleven were between seventy and eighty; forty-two were between sixty and seventy; and forty-seven were between fifty and sixty, of whom only seven were under fifty-five. Of the third hundred, seven only were under fifty, and none of them would have the slightest chance of the flag until the age of fifty-five. He might here observe that during the war, when the success which attended our arms was to be attributed no less to the energy, activity and enterprise of our officers, than to their skill and ingenuity, the average age at which officers were promoted to the flag was, in 1805, forty-two years, and in 1810, forty-five years. Lord Nelson was a rear-admiral at thirty-nine, and he closed his glorious career at forty-seven. His gallant Friend near him was also a rear-admiral at the age of thirty-nine. At the last brevet the average age was sixty-one, and the evil, instead of diminishing, was increasing, for if a brevet were to take place to-morrow, and included the first fifty officers on the list, the average age would be upwards of sixty-seven. The average age of the first hundred would be sixty-seven, of the second hundred, sixty-two; of the third hundred, fifty-eight; and it was not until they reached the fourth hundred that they would find an average age less than that which would entitle officers to admission to the retirement list. Of the first three hundred captains on the list, only seven were under fitly years of age. When these circumstances were considered, he trusted it would be admitted that the scheme which he proposed was not more extensive than was absolutely necessary. As respected the terms on which it was offered, he hoped that they might be regarded as affording a fair and liberal remuneration, and that they would not be looked upon as inconsistent with economy. Every officer accepting retirement would receive 5s. 6d. a day in addition to his present rate of half-pay, and to that to which he would become subsequently entitled had he remained on the present active list. The title of rear-admiral should be conferred on the first hundred in the list, and the remainder should be permitted to assume the same title at the period when they would have obtained the flag by seniority, had they continued on the active list. The widows of officers having the honorary rank of rear-admiral were to be entitled to the same pension as if they were the wives of effective flag-officers, and to the widows of the retired officers it was proposed to allow pensions of 110l. per annum. Those terms were offered absolutely to all captains of fifty-five years and upwards, not exceeding 300 in number; discretionary power, however, was vested in the Admiralty to extend it to officers between fifty and fifty-five years of age, who were suffering from bodily infirmity. No fresh appointments were to be made until the number should be reduced by death to 100, which number was to be permanently maintained by filling up every vacancy as it should occur. Should 300 officers retire, the effective list would be reduced to 414. To prevent that redundancy the list was to be further reduced, by continuing the system of one promotion for every three vacancies, till it should be reduced to 400, at which number it should be permanently maintained. It was also proposed to apply the same principle of one promotion for every three vacancies to the flag list, till it should be reduced from 161 to 150, at which it should be maintained by continuous promotions. It was not, however, intended that the limitation of the captains and flag lists should interfere with the immediate promotion of officers for gallant and deserving services; but in such cases (as also in the case of general promotion), the lists were again to be reduced to the limited number, by resorting to the restricted promotion. As the number of captains would thus be reduced from 714 to 400, it was only reasonable that a corresponding reduction should be made in the numbers of those in the receipt of the higher rates of half-pay. The 14s. 6d. list, therefore, would be reduced from 100 to 50, and the 12s. 6d. list from 150 to 100. That gave the same proportion in the receipt of the different rates of half-pay, whilst the prospects of each were much improved by a nearer approximation to the flag, and increased chances of employment on the reduction of the list; and he regarded it as being scarcely less important than the principal object of the plan, for it was impossible that officers could be qualified for high command without that experience which alone could be gained in active service; and at present the opportunities of employment were so few that since the peace not one-tenth of the number of officers on the list had ever been commissioned at the same time; and out of the seventy-one captains, only ninety-five had served the necessary time to qualify them for foreign employment as flag officers, of whom only six were under forty-five years of age—the average age of those who actually hoisted their flags during the war. This proposed plan of retirement, would give a greater share of employment to every officer remaining on the effective list, whilst it would give it to comparatively young men, which was undoubtedly a great advantage. He had thus attempted shortly to explain the details of his proposed plan of retirement, with the collateral changes on the effective list. He trusted that the terms proposed would prove sufficiently liberal to ensure the reception of the plan; and though, no doubt, there were many old officers on the list who, actuated by the honourable ambition of serving their country, would be unwilling to accept retirement upon any terms on which it could be offered, yet it could not fail to have occurred to them that when the Government had undertaken this extensive scheme, their chances of employment must, to say the least of it, be very much diminished. If the number required should not accept the offer made to them, it was obvious that any small retirement would be of no avail; for it would only impose a burthen upon the country, without any corresponding benefit, and it would become the duty of the Government to consider what other measures could be adopted to secure the efficiency of the flag list. Should the plan prove fully successful, the additional cost occasioned by the retirement of 300 captains would amount, in the first year, to 30,112l.; but that amount would annually diminish, till the retired list should be reduced by death to 100, when the permanent charge would amount to something more than 10,000l. Against that charge, however, must be placed several reductions of expenditure which the proposed plan would occasion in the active list. The first would be an annual saving of 7,000l., resulting from the limitation of the flag list to 150. A saving of 5,000l. would also result from the readjustment of the rates of half-pay, and a further saving of 5,000l. would also result, at the end of the 16th year, from the non-promotion of one in three on the 200 officers being removed from the retired list without being replaced. A further saving would also follow from the reduction of the list of flag officers to 150, and the general result of all would be (alter a few years) an excess of saving over the cost amounting to many thousands per annum. Feeling confident that the Vote would be agreed to, he would not trespass longer on the time of the House.

Mr. W. Williams

opposed the Vote. An actuary would tell the Government that this would really be equivalent to a vote of half a million; it would take that sum to buy such annuities; and already, during a thirty years' peace, the navy had cost on an average 3,500,000l. a year. The half-pay of our navy was rather more than the expenditure of the whole naval department of the United States. Had the Government ascertained that 300 captains of fifty years of age would accept the proposition? Only those who had no interest with the men in power would do so. And why not apply the principle to lieutenants and commanders? If this Vote were granted, there would be other claims, though he would do the officers of the army in that House the justice to say, that while those of the navy had been continually pestering the Government for money, the others had never uttered a word of discontent with their condition.

Captain Pechell

regretted that any comparison had been drawn between the officers of the two services, and language used tending only to excite animosity between them. The navy did not grudge the army anything it had. The proposed plan was well intended, and the Government were taking a step in the right direction. It would remedy some grievances, of which the hon. Member himself (Mr. Williams) complained. He thought the plan could not succeed, on account of the smallness of the additional pay. The plan being contingent on its acceptance by a sufficient number of officers, he presumed it was still open to revision. Was it intended that officers should forfeit their good service pensions, or give up their salaries as Queen's naval aides-de-camp?

Sir C. Napier

, as a naval officer, returned his thanks to the Government for having at last given the navy such a large retiring allowance. It appeared from the very clear statement of the hon. Secretary to the Admiralty that it was utterly impossible for the service to go on in its present state. He did not agree with his hon. and gallant Friend, who had just addressed the Committee as to the disinclination of officers to accept the retiring pay. In point of numbers and amount of money, the plan was as much as the navy had at present a right to expect; but he thought there should be a juster division of the grant, in order to make it more acceptable to the old officers generally. If it were desired to remove the old admirals from the top of the list, they ought to be properly remunerated, or they would not give up their prospects of being appointed to the dockyards or other of our naval establishments. For the purpose of inducing them to accede to the plan, he would suggest that their pay should be 400l. a year instead of 364l. There was another thing he could not agree to—namely, that the limited list should be gradually reduced by recourse to the principle of promotion. If another promotion, such as that on the birth of the Prince of Wales, should take place, they would have to stop promotion for four years altogether. If the vacancies were regularly filled up, it would be quite sufficient to keep the lists healthy. He thought also when they gave this promotion it ought to include all promotions for meritorious services. When it was said that these were one in three, he should be glad to know in what year that was. With respect to special vacancies, the First Lord of the Admiralty could make them when he pleased. The Paper wound up with a menace which he was sorry to see in a public document. He believed it would be impossible for the Government to make a selection. He wished the Government would take the opinion of the officers as to the relative merits of his and their proposition, and adopt that which they thought most advisable. The hon. Member for Coventry said it would be time enough to do this when we went to war. He said that would be too late, for a sense of honour would then prevent many disabled officers from retirement. However, he thanked the Government for this boon to the service, and all he asked for more was, that they would give it in a manner that would be generally acceptable.

Admiral Dundas

considered the sum now proposed sufficient, but regarded the plan as unsatisfactory and abortive. It was said that the admirals' list was very large; but it was smaller by twenty than in 1800.

Sir G. Cockburn

said, it was clear, for the reasons stated by the gallant Commodore, that if the list was to be cleared in this manner, it must be done in time of peace. With respect to the sum, it was a difficult thing to settle, some thinking it too much and some too little; but they had endeavoured to fix it at the proper amount as far as they could ascertain it. It remained to be seen how far the proposal would be acceptable to the service. If any other arrangement should be thought better, it would be open to the Government to adopt it. He thought it, however, too much to say that if it were adopted they ought in such cases as that which had lately occurred at New Zealand to be debarred from making special promotions. With respect to the objections made to this great scheme, he did not think them sufficiently important to prevent it. He had laid before the House the general principles on which it was based, but if minor alterations would give more general satisfaction, no doubt they would be made accordingly. He thought the proposition was a very liberal one, and hoped that it would give satisfaction, or at least that it would show the Government were inclined to afford, in time of peace, an honourable pretext of retirement to disabled officers. With respect to the good service pension, it was of course intended, notwithstanding this proposition, that any officer who possessed it should retain it.

Sir R. Peel

said, he had well considered the subject, and was of opinion that the retirement of 100 captains, while it would be attended with a loss of money, would be no remedy for the evil. If they did anything, he conceived it would be better to submit to an increased pecuniary loss, and provide an effectual remedy in the retirement of 300 captains. Notwithstanding what had been said about the principle of seniority, he did think that in certain cases the Crown should have the power of availing itself of the services of distinguished men having the confidence of the Crown, irrespective of that principle. As a general rule, he admitted that promotion ought to be by seniority; but if the country was willing to submit to a pecuniary sacrifice, he must put in a claim on the part of the Executive Government, to consider whether an occasional departure from that rule, in such cases as that of Lord Nelson, who died a vice-admiral, might not be admissible, in giving to captains the rank of rear-admiral, and to rear and vice-admirals, that of admiral, accompanying the selection with every precaution, and with every guarantee to the profession of its being made on the ground of merit, and merit only.

Vote agreed to.

House resumed. Resolution to be reported. Committee to sit again.