HC Deb 24 February 1854 vol 130 cc1310-20

Sir, I shall now proceed, if the Committee pleases, with the Navy Estimates, and shall state very shortly what is the result of our calculations for the year. On a former evening the Committee consented to vote the first three items, which are the largest in point of amount. The increase in the Navy Estimates generally may be stated at 1,200,000l., the increase upon the three first votes which have been already passed being 711,000l. It will be satisfactory to the Committee to hear that the entire sum voted for the Navy Estimates this year is by no means the largest sum which has been voted within the last ten years. I think in the year 1848–49, the entire sum voted for the Navy Estimates amounted to nearly 8,000,000l.; this year it is under 7,500,000l. At the same time, you will bear in mind that the number of men for whom provision is made in the votes which have been already passed amounts to 58,500, whereas in 1848–49, when a larger sum of money was voted than in the resent year, the number of men was only 42,500, so that, this year, a less sum of money was required, and a larger number of men is provided for. The increase in the remaining votes is under 500,000l. Last year the Committee somewhat objected to the diminution effected in the scientific branch of the service, namely, the fifth vote, and, notwithstanding the large expenditure which it will be necessary to make with reference to the anticipation of warlike operations, I thought I should best consult the wishes of the Committee by not continuing the reduction upon the scientific branch, and this year the Committee will observe there is a very considerable increase made in the amount of the vote. I will now state the particular services in which that increase arises. In the first place, as I have already announced, in answer to a question put to me the other night by an hon. Friend of mine with reference to meteorological observations, we propose a vote of 1,000l. in con- sequence of the conference which took place at Brussels. Observations have likewise been directed to be made and recorded daily in Her Majesty's ships of war; and, in concert with my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, I have arranged for the taking of similar observations in the mercantile marine. These records will be carefully kept, the statistical information will be properly digested, and I have no doubt the advantage to science will be considerable. In the second place, my noble Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs has thought it necessary to send an expedition to Central Africa for the purpose of making a survey of the river Tchadda, with the view of opening up the interior of that vast continent to our commerce, and the cost of that expedition will be 5,000l. It is also necessary to provide for sending a supply of provisions to the Arctic regions, both to Behring's Straits and the extremity of Wellington Sound. The Committee will probably be aware of the announcement which the Admiralty has thought it necessary to make, that, considering the little prospect there now is of the return of Sir John Franklyn and his gallant comrades, it is not intended, after the present year, to send any further expeditions upon that hopeless search; but for the present it will be necessary to make provision for the ships already employed in that distant and hazardous service. The next vote to which I will refer shows an increase of 200,000l. as compared with the estimates of last year. That increase is owing to the high price of provisions, and to the increased duties to be performed in the dockyards within the shortest possible time. The artificers employed in those establishments are now working extra hours, and their pay has consequently to be increased, in addition to the expense attending the employment of a larger number of additional labourers. The next increase is upon the naval stores; it amounts to 119,721l., and arises chiefly from the high price paid for articles principally consumed in the dockyards, such as coal and other commodities, the consumption of which is very large. The next item to which I shall refer is an increase of 115,000l. upon new works. This increase principally arises from the expenditure at Keyham, in the immediate neighbourhood of the arsenal at Devonport, where a considerable sum will require to be expended in the present year. It is proposed to give a sum of 60,000l. to complete the two docks and basin; 45,000l. will be requisite for the commencement of the works for the repair of steamships of war, and 10,000l. will be expended upon the tunnel between Devonport Dockyard and Keyham. The only remaining sum to which I shall allude is Vote 17, in which the increase is 72,000l., which is connected with the Army and Ordnance, and which is the sum taken for the conveyance of troops within the year. I may state to the Committee that, upon the whole, my confident expectation is, that the entire sum which I now propose to be voted will cover the expenses of the present amount of the forces, with the exception, perhaps, of two particulars. I am not quite sure that another vote may not be necessary, under the head of No. 2—for provisions—the price of which keeps perpetually rising. I am inclined to think, also, with respect to the expenditure under Vote 17, for the conveyance of troops, that a larger sum will be necessary at a subsequent period of the Session. Now, Sir, I know not that it is necessary for me, before going into the discussion of the votes separately, to address any further observations to the Committee. I certainly do not think it expedient to make any vainglorious boast in regard to the state of preparation in which we now find ourselves; but, in justice to my predecessors, you must allow me to state that I found the affairs of the department in admirable order, all the branches in good working condition, and all the servants zealous and efficient. One great change is in progress—I mean the change caused by the application of screw power as an auxiliary to sailing power. I think it just to my predecessors to state, that the first application of this new power took place under the administration of Lord Haddington, whose secretary I see opposite. This great auxiliary principle was applied to ships of war in the face of great opposition. The principle was carried out under the authority of the Admiralty, which proceeded slowly and prudently as experiments led the way; but the officer, who is now the Surveyor of the Navy, deserves the greatest credit for the efforts he made and the timely advice which he gave, for, being confident of the excellence of the principle, he persevered till he succeeded in overcoming every opposition. My right hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth (Sir F. Baring) is also deserving of the thanks of the country for the efforts he made while at the head of the Admiralty, to increase the efficiency of our naval forces; and I should be guilty of great injustice to the administration of the Duke of Northumberland, if I did not say that to his Grace, acting upon the advice of Sir Baldwin Walker, we owe the application of the screw principle to a large number of ships of war. Whatever may be said, therefore, of the state of preparation in which our naval forces now are, the praise is to be distributed among my predecessors, who have introduced great and decided improvements into all the branches of that department of the public service. The result is, Sir, that without over-confidence I may assure the Committee, that I believe the British Navy will be found more efficient than ever it was before, and ready and prepared to maintain the honour and independence of the country. I now beg to move a vote of 138,467l. for the Admiralty Office.


said, he thought there was no one in the nation who would be more worthy to be a permanent First Lord of the Admiralty than the right hon. Gentleman who now filled the office; but it would be well if they could divest the office of all Parliamentary influence, and apply to it the principle which was laid down in the paragraph used with respect to the dockyards—that merit, and merit only, should be the ground for advancement. He was glad to find that this rule was about to be introduced into the Civil Service, and he hoped the same alteration would soon be made with regard to the Army and Navy, for then the best talent in each of those professions would be brought forward certainly in a greater degree than it had been for the last thirty or forty years. They had 7,000 officers of all descriptions belonging to the Navy, there was about 250 or 260 admirals, and about 400 post-captains. There was no way, in his opinion, to bring the Navy into an efficient state, even in war time, but by at least reducing their active list one-half. In consequence of having so large a list, the officers were four or five years on shore for every one they were at sea; and some of the admirals, when they hoisted their flags, had been a quarter of a century on shore, and when that is the case, however able they may be, they get out of order and rusty. There were 3,000 officers on the retired list, and 1,690 admirals, captains, and lieutenants, of whom a great many would never go afloat again; and the navy list was kept crowded without any good to it whatever. He would glance at an ar- rangement that was made some years ago, but in which it would be now necessary to make some alteration. It was now required that every post-captain should serve a certain number of years after he was posted, or otherwise, when he came to the head of the list, he would be put on the retired list, and would not be employed in active service. Now he thought that the whole of an officer's service should be taken into consideration. Some of those who were set aside had served much longer than the required time as midshipmen, two or three times the required period as lieutenants, and three or four times the period as commanders; but because they had not served six years as post-captains, they were not considered fit to be made admirals. Such men might have been twenty years afloat, when those who were made admirals because they had served the six years might not have been more than thirteen or fourteen years afloat. With regard to the reduction of the active list, he would remind the Committee that the French navy had only two admirals, five or six vice-admirals, and eight or ten rear-admirals, all of whom must have seen service, and must be really good officers. In the American navy there was not a single admiral, and there were very few commodores. He wished to see the Navy more efficient than it had hitherto been; but no systematic improvements could be effected when so many changes took place in the Board of Admiralty. There had been seven First Lords since 1840. He would call the attention of the Committee to another important point. They had voted that night something more than 5l. per man for raising 18,900 soldiers, and it was not fair or equitable not to offer an equal bounty to seamen as they did to the soldiers, and to the marines, who served with the seamen. They wanted 7,000 men for the Navy, and they should offer 5l. per head to come to them. The nature of the sailors was this—they were generally in want of cash, and if they told them there was ready money for them, which would enable them to put on a new suit of clothes, they were likely to accept of it. He must protest against their entering more landsmen than were necessary, for it was very seldom that a grown man could ever be made a good seaman, and they were liable to all sorts of accidents on board ship. He hoped, also, that the landsmen who were entered would not be required to be five feet six inches in height, as by taking a lower standard, they would obtain men who did not come up to the military height, besides which it was well known that a tall man on board ship always found his head in his way. They were told they were on the verge of a war, and he dare say they were. He trusted and believed the Navy would do their duty. They never had such powerful ships, and he only hoped they would have such good crews as they had during the last war. It should be, however, observed, that the best crews did not shake into their places for some months, and they could not expect that ships would all at once be as effective as if they had been in commission for six or eight months. It required time to enable the officers to judge of them, and to put them in their places. Some remarks had been made, reflecting on the conduct of the Ambassador at Constantinople (he would leave him to take care of himself), and also on the conduct of the Admirals in command of the Black Sea fleet. Comments had been made as to why they went here and there; but they should recollect the dangers that must occur in an unknown sea of narrow dimensions, where the fleets of two nations were cruising together; and the best thing to do during the dark nights and bad weather was to do what had been done—to keep up a chain of steamers between themselves and Sebastopol, let the Russians go to sea, and then get between them and Sebastopol and stop them. Some of the Gentlemen who commented upon those matters had never seen a gale of wind. With respect to the Baltic, he had served there three years, and had been at the blockade of Cronstadt. At that time they were at war with Denmark, Sweden, and Russia. The enemy managed to get in, and all they could do was to blockade them. Whether their screws would do more he could not say, but at all events they kept the enemy in, and they never attempted to get out. He hoped for more decided results, however, both in the Black Sea and in the Baltic.


said, he wished to address the Committee in reference to the affair at Sinope.


said, that it would be irregular to submit a Motion of that subject on the question of a Vote for the expenses of the Admiralty Office.


said, that in that case he would bring the subject forward on the Motion for going into Committee on a future occasion. His object in wishing to discuss that subject now was that he wished to avoid a general discussion of their Eastern policy.


said, this was a question of great importance, because it was just possible that there might be a difficulty for the future in obtaining seamen. Good seamen were scarce, and he hoped Government would not hesitate, if it should be found necessary, to increase the pay of the sailor, who was required for the service of his country. Whilst every class of labourers and artisans were receiving an advance in their wages, it was only right the Navy should participate in the rise; and he trusted there would be some attention paid to this point by the department whose especial duty it should be to look after it. True, a great improvement had taken place in the quantity and quality of the accommodation provided for men who entered the Navy, and he had no doubt that if the same spirit of liberality were extended to the pay, but little difficulty would be found in securing an ample and efficient number of volunteers for the future requirements of the Navy.


said, that some short time back the House had consented to a considerable increase in the pay of the sailor, and also that the Board of Amiralty had reconsidered the question of secondary punishments, and the result had been that they had thought it desirable to mitigate their severity, and he was glad to be able to state that crime was on the decrease. The result of the endeavour to raise additional seamen had been most satisfactory. Notwithstanding the general rise in seamen's wages, and the emigration from all parts of the United Kingdom, the royal service had become so popular that since November, 1852, 7,000 additional seamen and 1,800 marines had been entered, showing that there was no necessity at the present time for any bounty. The hon. and gallant Member (Captain Scobell) was in error in supposing a bounty of 5l. would only involve the sum of 85,000l. for the 7,000 fresh volunteers. By a just law the Admiralty would be bound to give the same bounty to the seamen already entered, and that would amount to at least 200,000l. The spirit of the seafaring population was above all praise, and, as a proof of the alacrity with which the men came forward, he was happy to say they had in the month of February entered no less than 900 men by voluntary enlistment alone, and volunteers were still coming in as quickly as they could desire.


said he fully agreed with the right hon. Gentleman (Sir J. Graham) that there was no fear of any want of seamen, neither did there appear any necessity for giving a bounty to induce seamen to enter. They had waited to see if the Emperor of Russia was really in earnest, and now that they saw a good chance of active service, they had come forward. He was glad that the experiment of calling the coast guard men into service had been successful, and he thought that that circumstance might lead to defects being pointed out which ought not to exist. It was intended when the coastguard service was established that it should consist of sailors who received good characters from ships just paid off; but he feared that there were at present men in that force who did not even know how to sling their hammocks. He had the strongest hope, and, indeed, he firmly believed, that in the impending struggle the ships and seamen of this country would do their duty, for there was no period in the former history of the country at which its Navy was in such an efficient condition. With regard to the injustice of placing post-captains who had not been six years at sea, when they came to the head of their list, on what was called the reserved list, and not upon the list for active service as admirals, the subject had been fully discussed in the other House of Parliament, though he had not observed it stated that sometimes the captains got better situations, and did not apply for any appointment to ships in commission. It was a great advantage to the service that such strenuous attempts had been made to abolish corporal punishment, and, indeed, at the present day, any officer whose books showed that a very great amount of punishment had been inflicted on board his ship would suffer in his future career. The First Lord of the Admiralty had given them reason to believe all the ships would be required to perform services in the Baltic and Black Sea, but he hoped some attention would be paid to the suppression of the slave trade, which could only be done effectually by a blockade of the coast of Cuba. He hoped the Admiralty had taken such precautions as to leave a sufficient number of ships for the purpose, for be observed the present captain general of Cuba was determined to prevent the importation of slaves—


rose to order. The Chairman had prevented the hon. Member for Evesham (Sir H. Willoughby) discussing the affair at Sinope. Surely the slave trade of Cuba was quite as irregular.


said, the hon. and gallant Member for Brighton was connecting it with the administration of the Admiralty.


said, he considered the interruption of the noble Lord very unnecessary, and really thought the hon. Baronet (Sir H. Willoughby) might have discussed the dreadful catastrophe at Sinope, as the Admiralty had sent a fleet to the neighbourhood, without appealing to the Chairman at all on the matter. Perhaps some discussion of that subject would have been of advantage in preventing the recurrence of so great a calamity. It was satisfactory to find that the screw propeller was now to be applied to all the vessels of the Royal Navy. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman (Sir J. Graham) would not forget the subject of the freight-money receivable by officers in the Navy. He wished to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether that valuable article, marine glue, so useful in the construction of the masts of line-of-battle ships and of the larger class of vessels generally, was still made use of in the Navy? This glue also enabled them to get rid of the process of caulking, and the use of pitch on board of our vessels, which, in tropical climates, was a very offensive nuisance.


said, he would begin first with the glue. He had the greatest pleasure in telling the hon. and gallant Member that, so far from the use of that article being discontinued in the Navy, it still proved a very efficacious and excellent material, which was used very largely, and effected a great saving to the public. The practice with regard to freight-money, to which the hon. and gallant Member referred, had been superseded in a great degree by the course of events; and he was not aware that any instance of it had occurred for a considerable period. There was another observation of the hon. and gallant Gentleman, which he could not allow to pass unnoticed. It would be very undesirable that it should be supposed in Africa and Cuba that, on account of the naval exertions this country was called on to make, we had the least intention of relaxing our efforts in suppressing the slave trade. He (Sir J. Graham) had great pleasure in informing the Committee that he had not withdrawn from the African station a single ship, and he had no intention to do so. The flagship would be replaced by a most efficient screw steamer; and the directions of the Admiral were to keep a close watch, the earnest resolution of the Government being, that the efforts and vigilance of the squadron in suppressing the slave trade should not undergo any diminution.


said, he gave the right hon. Baronet credit for not having increased the number of clerks in the dockyards, notwithstanding the great increase of labour which had taken place in those yards, but he could not help calling the attention of the Committee to the fact that there were no less than 243 clerks employed in the Admiralty, and sixty-seven messengers, being one messenger for every four clerks. That was monstrous.


said, he must express his regret that the Chairman had decided against hearing the hon. Member for Evesham (Sir H. Willoughby) on the subject of Sinope. He thought the hon. Baronet was in order in referring to that disastrous affair, especially as they were about to vote money to pay the salaries of the servants of the Board of Admiralty; but he bowed to the decision of the Chair. He did not think there would have been any objection to such a discussion after the patriotic speech of the noble Lord, which was worthy of a Minister of that great country, and of the leader of that House—not shrinking from stigmatising the Emperor of Russia in terms that were deserved—and followed as he was, in the same spirit, by his noble Friend the Secretary for the Home Department. After hearing these speeches with reference to the prosecution of the war, in a manly, vigorous style, worthy of the country, he was willing to give the Government his most earnest, cheerful, and decided support. While he was on his legs, he would like to put it to the First Lord of the Admiralty whether it would not be desirable, in order to make the naval service more popular, to abolish the practice of impressment.


said, he wished to know from the right hon. Baronet whether there was any truth in he rumour that our sailors were to be armed with Colt's revolvers? Having seen it stated that the Russian sailors on board the fleet in the Black Sea were armed with these weapons, he believed it would be very satisfactory to the country to feel that our sailors were no less efficiently equipped.


said, that there was no intention on the part of the Ad- miralty to supply Her Majesty's ships with Colt's revolvers, neither did he think that British sailors would require them.

Vote agreed to.

House resumed.