HC Deb 25 May 1849 vol 105 cc990-6

The report of Committee of Supply (Navy Estimates) having been brought up and received, and the vote of 138,214l. for the Admiralty Office being proposed.


begged to call the attention of the House to the Motion of which he had given notice, for the reduction of salaries in the Admiralty Office. He proposed to try the free-trade system a little in the Government offices. There were no fewer than six Lords of the Admiralty, though there was but one Commander-in-Chief; and, though he felt the highest respect for those gallant officers, he thought there was truth in the saying, "too many cooks spoil the broth." He hoped, therefore, that without impairing the efficiency of the service, the number might be reduced by two. The First Lord of the Admiralty had 4,500l. a year; and he proposed at first to take off 500l. only, which, he thought, was very moderate and very handsome on his part. Then there were two Lords, one at 1,200l., and the other at 1,000l. a year, whom he proposed to knock off altogether. There were also a secretary, a surveyor, an accountant general, a storekeeper, a comptroller, and a director general, at 1,000l. each; from all of whom he would take off 10 per cent, that would be 100l. each. There was also that most expensive of persons, a solicitor, who had 1,600l. a year, and to him he proposed to apply the same principle of reduction, and take off 150l. He would not interfere at all with the clerks, who were the working men, and generally very ill paid. He had promised his constituents to enforce economy, and he would redeem his pledge. He felt the greatest admiration of our naval service, and in the Motion which he now made his only object was to save the pockets of the people. The hon. and gallant Member concluded by moving that, instead of the sum of 138,214l. for the expenses of the Admiralty, the vote should be for 132,753l.


concluded that the hon. and gallant Member was not serious in pressing such a Motion. He would, however, take advantage of it to make a few observations on a totally different subject, admitting, in the first place, that no department of the Government was so hardly worked and badly paid as the Admiralty. What he wished to call the attention of the Board and the House to, was the petition which had been presented by 331 of the 428 masters in the service, with respect to their rating and retirement—a most excellent body of men were placed in a most anomalous position. Nominally, the masters ranked with the lieutenants, but in reality they took rank after the junior lieutenants, and before the midshipmen. He really thought the Board should take some steps to place them in a better position, and to carry out the prayer of their petition. But he begged to call the attention of the Board to the regulations with respect to the retirement of lieutenants and commanders. A petition had been presented to the House by the former, stating that many had been removed from the list without receiving additional pay, and that the rest of the list was filled up by those who were called "commanders." It might be asked, from what fund adequate retirement for many of these excellent officers could be provided? He thought he could point out a source whence a large revenue was derivable. Their present system of freights was one which called loudly for change. Mexico complained that our ships were employed in smuggling specie, and had taken steps to prevent it, while the bondholders and others had undoubtedly been defrauded of their dividends in many instances. But what he complained of was, the sums paid as freightage to the admirals of the station and the captains of the ships. No less than 27,000l. had been paid in this way in two years, and in ten years he found it amounted to 1,344,705l. Here then was a fund which might at once be applied to the retirement of officers and the relief of their widows. He hoped the Board would direct their attention to making some changes in the regulations with respect to the pensions of officers' widows who married a second time.


said, he was desirous of asking the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Admiralty, whether, in the face of events passing abroad, it was the intention of the Government to continue these reductions in the Navy? It was not his own opinion alone, but the opinion of the entire public press, and of all those who had turned their attention to forign affairs, that even if a general war were not inevitable, it was likely that the whole of the Continent would soon be involved in hostilities. He asked the Government whether they deemed this to be the proper moment for carrying out reductions, which he admitted at another time might be reasonable and just? In 1792, Mr. Pitt had built upon a fifteen years' peace, but it had been terminated in six months. Looking at the recent declaration of the Emperor of Russia, and the events which were passing around us, he asked the Government whether they did not think it was unwise and injudicious to continue a course of reductions which, should danger come upon us, would have to be made good at a double cost to the country?


said, that with respect to the remarks made by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Brighton on the relative ranks of lieutenants and masters, and as to the regulations respecting them, he could only reply, that it would be perfectly impossible to comply with the request which had been preferred. Lieutenants served five or six years before they got their promotion; masters, on the other hand, might be taken into the service almost immediately. It was perfectly useless to give masters the same rating as lieutenants. At the same time he must say, there was no more worthy or deserving class of officers in the service than the masters. Several of them had been appointed captains for distinguishing services, and he hoped would be so appointed in future. Captain Hall, for instance, had risen to the rank of post-captain entirely through his own merits. But no Board of Admiralty could place masters on a footing with lieutenants.


observed it was rather an invidious task to have to defend one's salary; but he had better explain to the House how the salaries of the Board of Admiralty had been fixed, and hoped he should satisfy them there was nothing peculiar in their case which entitled the hon. and gallant officer the Member for Lincoln to call for a reduction in that department? In 1831, when there was great anxiety for economy, a Committee was appointed to revise all the salaries of the high officers of Government. On that occasion they went through all the salaries, and fixed the proper sum that each officer should receive. They cut off 500l. per annum from the First Lord of the Admiralty, and reduced his salary to 4,500l. The salaries of the four junior Lords were fixed at 1,000l. a year each, and after considerable inquiry it was further resolved that they should be allowed to receive half-pay in addition. The Secretary was not reduced, and the Under Secretary's income was fixed at its present amount. Last year, also, there was a Committee appointed to revise all the Admiralty Estimates; and though he would not say they had looked particularly into the question of salaries, there certainly did not appear to he an impression, on the part of any one, that those salaries were too high. If the House wished him to enter into the general question, he would do so. ["No, no!"] As to individual cases, he hoped they would relieve him from further discussion, and be satisfied with his showing that the sums had been amply inquired into. The officers of accounts, to whom the hon. and gallant Officer referred, were officials of the highest importance; they more than saved the salaries they received to the public by the check they were on waste and expenditure. By the abolition of the Controller-ship of the Navy, and the board attached to the office, a very large sum had been gained to the public. There only remained for him to notice the observations made by the hon. Member for Bridport with respect to the amount of reduction in the Navy. He could assure the hon. Member there was an impression abroad that the reduction was much more considerable than it really was. If he would consider the vote for 40,000 men this year, and advert to the amount of men voted in former years, he would find the present vote by no means inconsiderable. He thought the apprehensions of war alluded to by the hon. Member would turn out to be ill-founded. If, however, we should unfortunately be called upon for active exertion, he trusted the Navy would not be found less efficient than before, and he was sure there would be no shrinking on the part of Government to come down and ask for more money if they should think it necessary. The question of freights would not be lost sight of; but he thought it was one which would be better discussed on some future occasion.


said, though it had been just asserted there was no case for reduction, he thought it would not be very difficult to make out a case. His hon. and gallant Friend's course of proceeding had been objected to as too individual in character; but he really did not see how the salaries of the great officers could be attacked unless they were taken one by one. He believed the salaries were fixed on an understanding that they should be all proportionately reduced if reduction was decided upon. As the free-trade principle appeared to he now applied to every thing, he thought its application ought to be extended to the salaries of the officers in public departments. He was quite aware that no amount of reduction which could be made consistently with the efficiency of the service, would afford any great relief to the country—so he would not hold out any hope that advantage could be derived from such a source; but he would put the question in this form—what would be the moral effect on the country? Now, the people were being told that, owing to the changes of policy and circumstances, every one must look to lose a portion of his income; every income must come down, and every one must submit to reductions. When the trader was told that his profits and property were reduced by the effects of foreign competition, he naturally inquired why the fixed salaries of Government officers were not also to be reduced in proportion. Let them reflect what would be the effect on the people's mind if it became known that Government were allowed to inflict sacrifices on all classes, and yet that they refused to take any share in those sacrifices, or to consent to reduction. [Sir J. GRAHAM: Put their salaries on the corn-rent principle.] That was not a bad plan. If we were determined to go back to old times and old prices, we ought to reduce everything in the same proportion. He was for all practical reduction, and should therefore give his vote for making the reductions proposed by his hon. and gallant Friend.


declared he would be quite happy to take the hon. Member for Warwickshire at his word with respect to the salaries of the Board. It so happened that while the salaries of every other department had been increased, those of that board were the same now as in 1770.


would certainly except the Under Secretary from any decrease of salary. His duty was more severe than that of any other officer of Government, with the exception of the First Lord of the Admiralty, and the Secretary for the Home Department. [The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER: Mine are rather heavy.] Then perhaps he ought to add the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He had intimated to the First Lord of the Admiralty that it was his intention when the report was brought up to bring under the notice of the House the system of promotions. But, considering the short period during which the First Lord of the Admiralty had held that office, he should postpone his remarks on that subject; but he should avail himself of the opportunity to call attention to the position of the marines. The right hon. Gentleman had had ocular demonstration of the efficiency of that branch of the service, was prepared to do justice to it, and would be aware that whenever military operations had become necessary since the Peace, the marines had invariably been selected as part of the force. Such was the case when Sir C. Napier was sent to Syria; and the forces sent to Spain some years ago would have been defeated had it not been for the marines. The points to which he would direct attention were the age of the officers, the seniors having seen fifty-four years' service; the small share of honorary distinctions which fell to that branch of the service, there being no marines of the rank of K.C.B. or G.C.B., and while 100 naval officers held the rank of C.B., only six officers of marines had received that distinction; their exclusion from the benefits of military and naval asylums, no marine officer, he ventured to say, having been admitted either to Greenwich or Chelsea Hospital, or the perquisites of the Military Knights of Windsor. He left the matter in the hands of the First Lord of the Admiralty, confident that the right hon. Gentleman would not be indisposed to give a favourable consideration to the claims of a brave, honourable, and gallant corps.


thought it somewhat singular that when there were so many Gentlemen on the other side who were all for economy and retrenchment, not one of them was to he found in his place. He hoped the Motion would be a lesson to public officers in high stations, who ought to volunteer what he proposed. He would trust to their generosity; but, having done his duty by showing them up, he should not trouble the House by taking a division.

Motion withdrawn.


had intended to call attention to the vote for naval stores; but what he wished at present to know was whether any portion of the amount of 484,788l. from the sale of stores, carried to revenue in the accounts for the year ending March 31, 1849, arose from the sale of naval stores, and whether a detailed account of the items included under the head in question could be made out, so that some means might be taken to prevent the purchase of such a mass of stores merely for the purpose of selling them again?


was afraid the hon. Gentleman misunderstood the statement in the accounts. The item to which he referred included what had been received from the sale of stores of all kinds. There could be no objection to furnishing the details.

Second, third, fourth, and fifth Resolutions agreed to. Sixth Resolution postponed. Subsequent Resolutions agreed to. Postponed Resolution to be taken into further consideration upon Thursday next.