HC Deb 16 May 1845 vol 80 cc491-5

Question put. Mr. Speaker left the Chair. House in Committee of Supply.

Mr. Corry

moved that 129,092l. be granted for salaries and other expenses of the Admiralty Office.

Mr. Hawes

complained that the Post Office was charged with the expenses of the packet service previously borne by the Admiralty, which caused an apparent loss of revenue under the penny postage system of 113,000l. It was an unfair mode of dealing with the case; and he desired to know whether, in future, the cost of the packet department should not be deducted from the Postage Returns. If it were, there would no doubt be an annual increasing revenue apparent in the Post Office.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that he had stated on a former occasion, that the revenue derived from the penny postage would be very small; but it was obvious that all the charges incident to the collection of the postage revenue should be deducted from the gross amount. It was thought better that the Admiralty should carry the mails; and consequently the expense transferred to that branch of the service. The Returns objected to by the hon. Member was intended to show the total expense and the balance. He had not, and did not mean to deny, that the Post-office revenue was an increasing revenue.

Mr. Hawes

argued that the statement was no answer to his objection. The Return had created a false impression; and no doubt the object of it was to show that the penny postage system had failed.

Sir R. Peel

said, that he had no notion the hon. Member meant to refer to a conversation which he had with a deputation two years ago; but certainly the hon. Member had wholly mistaken the communication which he had made on that occasion. That deputation had pressed on him the necessity of more frequent deliveries, and he did not, in answer, say that there ought to be no improvements; certainly, nothing was further from his intention than to draw any conclusion unfavourable to the penny postage. He had done all in his power to carry it into effect, as soon as Parliament had sanctioned it, and he should rejoice at its success; but when that deputation had said to him that the receipts of the Post Office amounted to 600,000l., he replied that they were quite mistaken, for that the net revenue was not above 110,000l.; and he pointed out to the deputation that they did not set against the receipts the expenses of the packets employed in conveying the letters: he had made it quite clear to the deputation that he was not instituting any comparison between the new and old systems. Rejoicing at the increase in the Post Office revenue, he must still contend that they could not ascertain the net revenue without deducting from the receipts all the charges incurred in the conveyance of the letters.

Sir Charles Napier

said, he would take advantage of the Navy Estimates being before the House to refer to the constitution of the Board of Admiralty. Its present form arose from his right hon. Friend the Secretary for the Home Department having abolished the Navy Board; and since that change had taken place, he (Sir C. Napier) had repeatedly objected to the constitution of the Board of Admiralty as it now stood. It was his firm conviction that no good could be obtained through the Board while it remained constituted as at present. The responsibility was nominally thrown on the Lords of the Admiralty, each of whom took a different department of the service under his care: but every one knew what that responsibility consisted of. He had been always opposed to the system of having the Navy ruled by a civilian; but if it were to be so he would wish to know why the same system should not prevail in that department which existed under the Ordnance Board. They had the Clerk of the Ordnance, the Surveyor of the Ordnance, and the Storekeeper, all of whom were controlled, or at least, ought to be controlled by the Master General of the Ordnance. Now, they had a Surveyor of the Navy as well as a Surveyor of the Ordnance; an Accountant General of the Navy, whose office corresponded, he believed, with that of the Clerk of the Ordnance; they had also a Storekeeper General in each department of the Navy and the Ordnance; and what he wanted was, that the rule which was applied to the one class of officers should be extended to the other. He would wish to see the Lords of the Admiralty made really responsible. He would place one Lord as a Comptroller of the Dock Yards, and another as a Comptroller of the Medical Department. He did not wish to have them at all, but if they were to be continued, he was for making them responsible for the duties which they undertook to superintend. It was impossible for the right hon. and gallant Admiral at the head of the Board of Admiralty to perform all the duties that were imposed upon him. He had more duties to attend to than mortal man could get through, and the consequence was, that the work was badly done. ["Oh, oh."] He did not know what hon. Members meant by crying out "oh, oh." What he alleged was proved by the evidence of every day. He therefore trusted that the House would establish a more efficient control over the Navy Board than at present existed, and that the officers of that Board would be made responsible for the offices which they held.

Dr. Bowring

objected to the Navy Department having the power of receiving as well as of expending funds, and said that the consequence was, that nearly seven millions of money escaped Parliamentary control. In his opinion, it should have no power as a board of outlay, except by direct Parliamentary grant.

Captain Pechell

said, the gallant Commodore had told them that the consequence of the present constitution of the Board of Admiralty was, that the work performed by it was very badly done; and an instance of the truth of that fact was afforded by the case which he now, pursuant to the notice given by him, brought before the consideration of the Committee. He alluded to the petition of the paymasters and pursers of the Royal Navy, which had been presented by him on the 2nd of April last, and which had been printed with the Votes. A Committee of eminent naval officers had recommended that their pay should be increased 1s. per day; but that recommendation had never been fully carried out, the additional shilling having been given to a part only; and the petitioners being of from thirty-one to thirty-six years standing, had found their juniors constantly put over their heads in this as in other respects. The Government had received large sums from the Pursers' Fund, which had never been accounted for, What had been done with this money? Where was it? The arrangement of the Board of Admiralty had worked badly, and why should they not now accede to the wish expressed by the Naval Commission in favour of a body of old and deserving officers? A second memorial had been addressed to the Admiralty by them—but they had received no answer, and they felt this neglect deeply. If the gallant Officer admitted the injustice, and had applied to the Treasury to obviate it, all blame would be removed from the Board of Admiralty, but then it must fall upon the Treasury. These officers only amounted to one hundred in number; and though the Government received 4,000l. a year from their profits, yet it refused to give them what they themselves had voluntarily surrendered to their more unfortunate brethren. The gallant Officer concluded by saying, that he would never leave the Chancellor of the Exchequer quiet until he had taken the case of these officers into his consideration, and had required an explanation from the right hon. and gallant Admiral at the head of the Board of Admiralty as to why the recommendation of the Navy Commissioners had not been carried into effect.

Sir G. Cockburn

said, that in a very few words he would explain how this matter stood. He would place it in its true light. In 1814, these officers had been first put upon half-pay. In 1842, there were nearly 1,000 at 5s., 200 at 4s., and the remainder at 3s. They had then proposed that their profits should be reduced, and the Government of that day had accepted their proposal. In 1844, the bargain for an increase of 1s. a day was made, and they had for a time received that additional 1s. When, however, the Military and Naval Commission had sat, they had recommended that some of these officers should retire at the advanced pay of 8s. 6d., and that the remainder should have 7s. 6d. and 5s.; by which means by much the larger number would have a higher rate. The Treasury had then requested, as the condition of their consent, the Admiralty to revise the scale. By that revised scale, there were thirty pursers at 8s. 6d., seventy at 7s., and 320 at 5s.; so that a large majority had gained the benefit of the advance, and the Treasury had refused to give the advanced rate to the remainder. They had all to some extent benefited by the arrangement; and though he did not deny that there were some thirty or forty pursers surviving who had not received the advance, yet they had gained some benefit under the arrangement proposed by the Commission.

Sir C. Napier

would be glad if the gallant Admiral could inform him when the retired list of captains would be placed on the Table.

Sir G. Cockburn

replied, that he was unable to give an answer as to the period when it would be made public; but the list was now under the consideration of the Government.—Vote agreed to.

On the Motion that 11,668l. be granted for the charge of the General Register and Record Office of Seamen,

Sir C. Napier

hoped that the Enlistment or Register Act would be amended. The Bill gave a bounty of 10l. to able seamen on entering on board a man of war, and on the issuing a proclamation in the declaration of war, a further bounty of 10l. was to be given; this he thought unnecessary.

Vote agreed to.

Some other Votes having been agreed to, the House resumed.

Committee to sit again.

House adjourned at one o'clock.