HC Deb 17 August 1846 vol 88 cc838-44

House in Committee of Supply.


rose to propose that a sum of money should be granted to Her Majesty for the allowance to retired naval officers. He said the proposition he had to make was a renewal of the vote of last year; but a sufficient number of officers not having applied, the money was not used. The subject had been since under the consideration of the Board of Admiralty, and another plan had been adopted for the regulation of the retired allowance to naval officers with due regard for their feelings. As the plan would appear in an official way, he would not enter on the details; but he might say that the vote would be kept to the same amount of money as before, and that as the terms proposed by the late Board of Admiralty were not considered sufficiently favourable by the officers, the present Board were disposed to make more advantageous offers. They contemplated a retirement of 200 captains. They proposed that the vacancies should be filled up by officers of twenty years' standing, who had passed fifty-five years of age, and that the 200 vacancies should be given to the applicants by seniority from the list of captains—those in the first 100 receiving 14s. 6d. a day should have the rank and pay of rear-admirals, with the usual pension to widows. They proposed an addition of 7s. 6d. a day to the two lower classes of the captains' list, making up their pay to 1l. and 18s. respectively. They contemplated a reduction in the number of officers, but could scarcely ascertain which would be the definite number. It was felt that it would act with severe harshness on junior captains and lieutenants if their promotion were restricted; and accordingly good-service pensions might be retained by those till they reached the rank of rear-admirals. They proposed to fix an amount which would not be overstepped, for the great advantage to the public was that extent of the list was to be fixed. The immediate vote would amount to 30,000l. for the year; but if the whole plan were carried out, they hoped there would be an actual diminution of annual expenditure in consequence. It was felt that one cause of the inefficiency of our naval establishment was that men should be charged with the command of a fleet, who, however brave and experienced they might be, were unable to command it from age and infirmity. Promotion was clogged by the number of those who were placed on the lists after the last year. It was vain for us to have fleets of splendid ships, well equipped and manned, if they were under the command of men, who, however brave and skilful, wanted strength and energy. He thought the present plan would confer a boon on the officer, and lay the foundation for a better arrangement in the navy list in future.

On the Vote for 7,500l. being allowed to Her Majesty on account of retiring allowance to Captains, commencing October, 1845,


to the hon. Member for Hertford: "Hand me that paper." [Mr. COWPER: I cannot.] The gallant Officer proceeded to say, he thought it rather extraordinary for the hon. Member for Hertford to bring forward a printed plan, and not allow him to look at it. It was quite true he knew something of the plan, having read it elsewhere, but he might have made some mistake in it. It was rather odd that the hon. Member would not give it to him. [Captain PECHELL: Report progress.] No, he would not report progress, he was too much interested in the question to do so. He had frequently, ever since he had sat in that House, brought the subject before them, and no one had ever supported him; but at last it was taken up by the Admiralty, and last year the Secretary of the Admiralty stated that the time was come for a sufficient retirement in the navy. The late Government brought forward their retirement. It was not so secret as this. Sir G. Cockburn was asked if it were definite or not, and said it was not so; and yet the very next day his plan was promulgated to all parts of the kingdom; and the officers repudiated and refused it. 30,000l. a year was granted for the purpose. The lowest class were to receive 100l., and there was no limit to seniority. The consequence was, as he said at the time, one old officer, who had been promoted but twelve months, and was sixty years of age, sent in his acceptance. But then that was not what he wanted. He wanted to retire the old men at the top of the list, and not the old men at the bottom of the list. That was rejected, and the Admiralty had now been boggling about the new plan since February. This was a different plan. [Mr. HUME: What is it?] He did not altogether know. He thought it a most indecent thing to act as the Government had done. They would not tell the House what the plan was, but surely they had a right to know what they were to vote this money for, and if it were sufficient. He hoped the hon. Member would now hand it over to him, that he might explain the meaning of it to the House. He was most anxious to see out this affair, which had given great discontent to naval officers. They had been treated in a most infamous manner—to use no less a word—by the late Government. They were written to from the Admiralty—when the matter dropped their names were kept there as a rod hanging over their shoulders, so that when any of them applied for employment, the Lord of the Admiralty might say, "What is the use of employing this man—here is he applying to be put on the retired list?" They had been treated in a scandalous, and shameful, and most disgraceful manner by the late Board of Admiralty. As he understood the present plan, the first 100, who were very old captains, were to be put on a retirement of 25s. a day. How inconsiderate that was! If the whole 100 captains took the allowance, they would retain it and become rear-admirals; but if ten of the first 100 only were to take it—[The Hon. F. COWPER: Then it falls to the ground.] Well, that might be an extreme case; but next there were 200 officers on 14s. 6d. and 10s. 6d. a day, who were to receive 1l. and 18s. He had no doubt a great number of officers would accept it. They would retire with the rank of captain; but if they arrived within the time of their flags, they did not get into the position of those of the first class, and never rose beyond 364l. a year. Where was the justice of this? He would make the best he could of the grant of 30,000l. He would give all officers within the first 100, 400l. a year, which he thought was fair to them, if an officer got the rank of rear-admiral; those near the top of the list would not take the retirement alone, but if they got 400l. a-year some years sooner than they could get 464l. a year, and the rank of admiral, they would do so. The Admiralty expected that sixty or seventy would accept the allowance; but would it be fair to punish the remainder of the 100 who would not take it? According to the present plan, the man who wanted a month of fifty-five years of age, would have to remain years before he could get his allowance. If the first list were made 400l. a-year, and the second list 364l., the whole of the money of the grant would be absorbed. There was one insurmountable objection to which he would never give his consent. The Admiralty began by driving officers into retirement. The oldest captains at the top of the list, who might have asked for employment till they were black in the face, were obliged to take the allowance. He knew a case in point: Captain Gordon, who was senior captain, would have to go on the retired list in spite of his teeth. The Admiralty was doing away with the act of a Commission of which the Duke of Wellington was a member, when they restored all the officers on the forced retirement. It was a most illiberal and unwise thing to re-establish the state of things which that Commission had abolished. They were going to make a forced, not a voluntary retired list, and by their conduct to disgrace these officers. He contended that the plan was totally unnecessary, and he would never give it his consent. The country was going to give 30,000l. for a retired list; but was there to be any assurance on the part of the Government that the list would be limited to a certain number? In 1830, there was a minute that there was to be only one promotion in three, and the country understood that that rule was to be rigidly carried into effect. But instead of one in three, the promotions were nearly three to one in some years; and the fact was, that the one in three was given for the private patronage of the First Lord of the Admiralty. If this retirement took place, it would give the First Lord of the Admiralty fifteen promotions in the year from captains to admirals. If the House granted the money, there ought to be an understanding that the vacancies were to be filled up, but that no one should be promoted till there was a vacancy. It was high time there should be some right system in the navy come to with regard to manning the ships, and offering better encouragement to enter the navy. If Mr. Green, a private merchant, having a fleet of twenty-two ships, found it economical and to his advantage to found a seamen's home for his men, why should not the Government appreciate the same advantages to arise from establishing a similar institution, to protect the sailors from the vagabonds who lay in wait for them on their arrival on shore?


observed that, in 1827, when he exposed in that House various abuses which existed in the navy, an order was made that for every three deaths there should be one promotion. An order of date 28th of May, 1838, had put it into the power of the Admiralty to promote when they pleased. The House ought to have a list of the retired admirals, with their services, before voting the grant. With the present prospect of peace before him, the Chancellor of the Exchequer had better not call upon the House to agree to this half-prepared measure, respecting which the Government admitted they had not quite made up their minds.


said, he should not be sorry to save any money; but he thought the Government could not in justice accede to the proposition of the hon. Member for Montrose. For himself, he never attached any great value to any plan of retirement; but a promotion to the value of 30,000l. had been promised to the naval service. The present Government found the promise given; they had had but a short time to consider the plan; but, although they were of opinion that some of the details might be improved, they thought it would not be fair if they did not fulfil the promise made to the service by the late Government. He did not consider the House or the Government pledged to the details of the scheme, and he had left it open to amendment, after hearing the opinions of the hon. and gallant Commodore and other Members of the House. Of all the difficult subjects he had ever had to deal with, nothing approached the promotion of officers of the army and navy, but especially the latter.


heard with great satisfaction that the present Government were favourable to a well-considered plan of naval retirements. He would not find fault with the plan proposed by Government, though he did not think it so great an improvement on the plan of the late Government as the right hon. Gentleman seemed to consider.


thought it extraordinary that on one side it was said the compulsory clause ought to be insisted on, on the other that it ought not. It was said that no man ought to be made a flag-officer who was not fit for service; but there were men on the list who could not be passed over: he would mention names—there was Sir J. Pechell, who, from ill-health, was incapable of service; yet what Board of Admiralty would venture to pass him over?


said, they ought not to agree to this vote without having some distinct plan laid before the House; the Chancellor of the Exchequer had scarcely given any explanation of it. He would do the late Government the credit of saying, that they never asked for money without being prepared to state the reasons for the vote; now, for two successive nights they had been asked for two important votes without having had any knowledge whatever of them. He thought this was treating the House of Commons with contempt. If a plan was laid down for a retirement, with a limit fixed for promotions afterwards, there might be some advantage in such a plan. He had heard that the Duke of Wellington objected to the present proposition—["No, no!"]—he had heard it from good authority. The Duke said — and with sound reason—if they promoted the navy in this way, they must give him the power of promoting the generals of the army also; and there was nothing unreasonable in the demand. He did not see how the House could resist it from the Commander-in-Chief. Without some specific plan before them, he could not vote the money, and should divide the Committee against it.


hoped the hon. Gentleman would not persist in dividing the Committee against the grant. It was very well to say he would not consent to the vote till they had some plan before them; but if one was proposed, would the hon. Gentleman support it? The proposition was in the nature of an offer to those officers who would accept it, and with this condition it was impossible to lay down an absolute plan.


said, the House was still in the dark with respect to the material parts of this plan, which remained unexplained. They were in the dark as to the reasons which induced the Government to give to two classes of captains only 7s. 6d. in addition to their present pay. The late Government said they should retire 300 officers; the present Government said only 200. It was said the fund they had was small; but why not apply the 1½ per cent paid for the freight of specie on board ships of war to a fund of this description?


said, that the hon. Member assumed that the Government had no plan. He, on the contrary, affirmed that the Government had a plan. Technically speaking, the House of Commons had nothing to do with plans which the Executive devised, or were to carry out. That which the House of Commons had to do was to vote or to refuse money.


wished to know if officers who had good-service pensions were to be permitted to retain those good-service pensions after becoming admirals, under the proposed arrangement.


said, that the good-service pensions of captains were derived from a fund applied solely to captains, and the good-service pensions of admirals from a fund applicable only to admirals; and it had been the custom when a captain was promoted to the rank of admiral that the pension was not derived afterwards from the captains' fund.

Vote agreed to.

The House resumed, and adjourned at half-past Twelve o'clock.