HC Deb 09 August 1855 vol 139 cc2069-83

said he would now move according to notice for a Select Committee to inquire into the Government of the Navy. Though the Motion was for a Committee he did not move for one in expectation that it would be operative during the present Session, but in the hope that one would be appointed next Session. His object was not to detail individual cases, but to attack the system. There were present three right hon. Gentlemen, who had held the office of First Lord of the Admiralty, and all of them must be convinced that the system of promotion at the Admiralty was not satisfactory, and that the pressure of political influence clogged the dispensation of patronage in a way which he hoped they could not approve. For his part, he had long condemned it, and he defied the Government to show that during the time he had occupied a seat in that House he had ever asked for the smallest favour. He might observe that there were in that House only ten or eleven sailors, while there were upwards of a hundred military and militia officers, and about as many lawyers, and he thought naval officers ought to be allowed to call attention to any defects which, in their opinion, existed in that branch of the public service with which they were connected. He was afraid that many hon. Gentlemen advocated Administrative Reform only with respect to the civil service; but such reform was at least as much required in the military and naval services. Within the last four or five years there had been four First Lords of the Admiralty, so that it was impossible the gentlemen who occupied so important a position could have acquainted themselves fully with the duties of the department, or have carried out on an extensive scale any of those reforms which were so much needed. There were at present ten or twelve gentlemen living who had been political Secretaries of the Admiralty, from the time of Mr. Croker to the present Secretary, but they knew scarcely anything of naval affairs; while, during a period of thirty years, there had been only three second Secretaries—that office not being a political one—including the present Secretary, who had held his appointment for a very short time. He must say that merit was not fostered in the navy, although during a war some gallant officers might force themselves forward, and obtain that promotion they so well deserved. Every naval officer, however, was perfectly aware that, under ordinary circumstances, no man in that service could expect advancement unless he possessed family or political influence. Not long ago a noble Lord, who had held high office, expressed his opinion, in another place, that if the military service was conducted in the same manner as the naval service it would be nothing but a system of jobbery and trickery. If naval officers would speak for themselves—which they dared not do—the House would hear enough of malediction of the system. He did not wish to attack the aristocracy, and was quite willing that if an officer had merit the fact of his belonging to the aristocracy should not in the least degree tell against him. If he had not merit, then birth or connection should give him no advantage. With respect to the constitution of the Admiralty, he would refer to some authorities, which he conceived would have more weight with the House than anything he could say. After Sir George Cockburn's decease a paper was found with his will, containing opinions which he never uttered while alive with respect to the system. That gallant officer was a Lord of the Admiralty for seventeen years, and had found himself so shackled that he allowed things to go on as they did without attempting to put them right, but he left his opinions on record, and since his death they had been printed in a pamphlet. Sir George Cockburn therein stated, that he had no hesitation in saying, that he considered the present system of the Board to be most unsatisfactory, and the least efficient for the purposes of the service that could be devised, and he added, that the annoyances he was subjected to while at the Admiralty—from First Lords not understanding naval affairs—kept him in a continual state of anxiety and difficulty, and that it required him to exercise the greatest forbearance in order to remain in the situation. The remedy he (Captain Scobell) would suggest was, the abolition of the Board of Admiralty, the transference of the management of the navy to a naval Commander in Chief, assisted by two naval officers who might or might not be in Parliament. His own opinion was, that they ought not to be in Parliament, but that there should be a Member of Parliament for the controlling of the financial expenditure of the navy. When the present Commander in Chief of the army was appointed, he was informed by, he believed, the noble Lord the Member for London (Lord J. Russell) that his duties were exclusively professional, and as no one would interfere with his patronage of the army he would alone be responsible. The first Lord of the Admiralty ought to be able to feel himself in the like position. Dispensing as he did the patronage of a service numbering 4000 officers, he ought to be able to say—what he was afraid he could not—that no political influence was mixed up with his patronage. The noble Lord the First Minister of the Crown was also an authority on the question, because he was sure the noble Lord would not deny that what he had said with respect to the army was equally applicable to the navy. The noble Lord said, and the statement applied in all its force to the navy, that "it would be fatal to the character and spirit of the army that its discipline should be committed to the charge of mere citizens, and that to allow the patronage of the army to be dispensed by the Government was open to grave and serious objections." Now if the noble Lord was prepared to carry those sentiments into full effect, he would as soon as possible divest the Admiralty of its political character, and would not sanction the dispensation of patronage upon the part of the Treasury bench in the case of the naval profession. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli) had also stated in that House that— He saw no reason whatever why we should apply to the navy rules different from those which were acted upon with reference to the sister service; so far from it, he was of opinion that everything should be done to make the navy as efficient as possible. The right hon. Gentleman had gone on to assure the House that the attention of the Derby Government had been directed to the subject, and that they were only waiting for the Report of the Committee to take more active steps with respect to it. The question was one, therefore, the importance of which had been admitted by very high authorities in that House; and having said thus much upon that point, he should now proceed to state to the House what the result of the present system of naval administration was, so far as the officers were concerned. He should commence with the admirals, of whom, in the year 1800, there were ninety-nine, when we had 167 sail of the line. There now being only forty sail of the line, we had 272 admirals and 40,000 seamen and marines, instead of 120,000, which was the number in the year 1800. Now, of these 272 admirals, almost all were from sixty to eighty years of age. Since the 1st of January, 1850, there had been thirty-seven captains made active admirals, and many of them were old men when they had got their appointments. Since the same date 113 captains had been made retired admirals because they had not gone through those six years' service as post captains which was required, it being impossible from want of interest they could have complied with the regulation. Such was the result of the present system so far as the admirals were concerned; and he could assure the House that it had been felt to act in many instances with considerable severity. To take individual cases of promotion in the navy, he might mention that the late Captain Christie had been thirty-one years in the service before he had attained the same rank as that at which Admiral Dundas, now in the Baltic, had arrived in nine years. Now, to refer to the captains' list, he should inform the House that during the years 1847, 1848, and 1849, there had been fifty captains promoted, and of that number thirteen had served a period of from two to five years only as commanders. During those very three years, however, he found that there were others who had served as commanders from ten to twenty-six years. Now, was not that, he would ask, an instance of the hardships to which officers in the navy were subjected, and which ought to induce the House to institute an inquiry into the facts upon which the inequality of promotion, which he had just pointed out, was based? There was no corresponding inequality in the system of promotion in the army. In that service, at all events, men advanced, though slowly, by seniority in the regiments. There was at the bottom of the captain's list another list, which was that of the retired captains. They consisted of 100 officers, whose half-pay in the first instance amounted to 10s. a day; and would the House believe that when they retired they received only 6d. a day in addition to that sum, although they ranked with colonels in the army? He should next take the commanders, of whom there were, in the year 1800, 386. Now, there were 549 active commanders, and of that number 220 had been from forty to fifty years in the service; while we had 570 retired commanders of about fifty years' service, and many with medals, making a total of 1119. Of the active commanders there were 196 employed, while 353 were upon half-pay. Hon. Members could not fail to see how the present system worked when we had such a large number of half-pay officers upon the list. The fact was that there was no encouragement held out in the navy; and his belief was that there was more of pining and of heart-burning among the officers in that service than among any equal number of men in the Queen's dominions. He should next advert to the lieutenants, whom he should contend were the most ill-used body in the navy. He had known men who through political or family influences had obtained high rank in the service before they could possibly be fitted to discharge the duties of that rank; while, upon the contrary, he was aware that there were crowds of lieutenants who had been in the service for thirty or forty, and even fifty years, who perfectly understood their business, and yet who never had been enabled to obtain the promotion which upon every ground they deserved. Of those who were lieutenants in the year 1840, there were thirty-two who still retained the same rank, while others, of the same year, who had not entered the navy until long after, were now post captains. At present there were 1713 lieutenants upon the retired list, notwithstanding that they were the class of officers whose services were now most required. Three lieutenants had lately been promoted for gallant conduct in the Sea of Azoff; but when men were promoted for gallant conduct, they were usually placed upon the half-pay list, and their services, from not having family interest, became lost to the country. Of these three officers to whom he referred, one had been twenty years in the navy, and the others had each served twenty-five years. There were now about twelve first lieutenants of line of battle-ships who have been longer in the navy, and seen far more service, than some political favourites who are post captains. He thought he had made pretty sure that the House would take some interest in that body of men. He had no wish to fix the form of inquiry; if a Commission was preferred to a Committee of the House, he should have no objection to it, as all he wanted was to see the facts inquired into. There was another point he must draw attention to before he sat down, and that was that too many cadets were allowed to enter into the navy, because, under the existing system, out of the large number that entered every year, those only with interest could get on. His objection, on that head, applied as much to what was the practice before the war began as to the present time. The entries were vastly disproportioned to the promotions, and that was one of the great causes of the evil. He had troubled the House with figures, but he believed they were the best arguments for his case; and he hoped, as they were so irresistible, the Government would say that a Committee shall be appointed next year. At all events, he had no alternative but to leave the matter in the hands of the House in the full hope that ultimately some remedy would be applied to those evils, either in the way of limiting the mode of promotion to merit and service, and by extending the system of retirement with a step of rank, as in the army, with the half pay of that rank, and there should be an age fixed, varying in the different classes of officers, at which they should necessarily pass to the retired list. The safety of England depended upon the command of the sea, and, therefore, it was of vital importance that her navy should have fair play, which it could not be said to have had for a long series of years. He was an advocate for an efficient but a small army, and with such assistance the navy would always be able to defend the country against her enemies.


said, he should second the Motion. He hoped that the House would assent to the proposition of his hon. and gallant colleague, for it was of the greatest importance to the country that the navy should be upon a satisfactory footing. Upon a subject of such a technical nature it was hardly possible that he should go into any detail; that, however, was not a matter of importance after the statement which his hon. and gallant Colleague had made. An opinion was growing up in the country that the Minister in whom the superintendence of the navy was vested ought to be chosen independently of political exigencies; to discuss that, however, would raise a great constitutional question into which that was not the time to enter. He trusted that the Government would make no objection to the Motion, for much benefit would, doubtless, accrue to the country from it. The House would recollect that, in 1848, a Committee, known as Lord Seymour's Committee, inquired into the matter, and the result of that Committee's Report was admitted on all hands to be highly satisfactory.

Motion made, and Question proposed— That a Select Committee be appointed, to inquire into the Government of the Navy, relating to the lists of officers, patronage, promotion, and the efficiency of the Service in all the grades belonging to it.


said, he was prepared to do full justice to the motives of the hon. and gallant Gentleman in bringing such a subject under the consideration of the House. But, while he honoured the motives which had actuated the hon. Gentleman, he was not prepared to consent to the Motion which he had brought forward. The subject into which the hon. and gallant Gentleman proposed to inquire had already been most fully considered by as able a Committee—a Committee presided over by the noble Lord the Member for Totness (Lord Seymour) as had ever been appointed. That Committee had offered certain suggestions, all of which had been carried out with the exception of one, which was that power should be given to the Government to appoint Admirals by selection instead of by seniority. If old officers were appointed to posts of authority, then the complaint was made that the talents and energy of younger men were overlooked, but if younger men were appointed, then the outcry was that the old and meritorious officers were slighted. The problem to be solved was how they could best promote the efficiency of the service, coupling that with the regard which was due to the claims of old and deserving officers. Now, no persons could form a sound opinion upon the question unless they looked at the state of the Navy Lists from the time of the last war. His hon. and gallant Friend (Captain Scobell) said there was a great number of old and meritorious officers who had been passed over. That was perfectly true, but it was quite inevitable. The House of Commons was very apt to take at one time a view totally different from that which it took at another. At one moment it could not do enough for the members of the naval profession; great promotions were asked for; and, consequently, great charges entailed, while some time afterwards the House of Commons would, perhaps, complain of those charges, would call, perhaps not unnaturally, for their reduction, and would require the Executive to check the number of promotions. At the end of the war there were 855 captains, 816 commanders, and 3,982 lieutenants. That was an immense number of officers—more, of course, than could possibly be employed, but fifteen years afterwards, there were 851 captains, 905 commanders, and 3,580 lieutenants. The House of Commons naturally took exception to so large a number, and complained that after fifteen years of peace the list of officers should be as large as it was at the end of the war. The promotions during that time had of course gone on just as if the war had continued, and the House complained very justly of the heavy charges entailed upon the country. Yet, notwithstanding the promotions had been kept up in that way, there were still during that time complaints of the destitute state of old and meritorious officers, and of the number whom it was impossible to employ. At the beginning of 1814 there were 3,285 lieutenants, of whom 1,600 were employed; in 1817 there were 3,982 lieutenants, of whom 405 were employed; so that in the first of these years one half, and in the second only one-tenth, of the whole number on the list were on service. What on earth could any Government do under such circumstances? Would his hon. and gallant Friend have them commission ships for the sake of employing officers? What would have been the case if employment had been given to those officers in rotation? At the end of 1817 there were in round numbers 4,000 lieutenants, of whom 400 were on service. The ordinary term of a ship's commission was three years, and at that rate it would have taken about thirty years before all those lieutenants could have filled their term of service, and the last 400 employed would have been twenty-seven years on shore. His hon. and gallant Friend could not be of opinion that those would have been men whom it would be for the interests of the public service to employ, and that, therefore, would explain why it was inevitable that a large number of lieutenants should be left unemployed for a great part of their lives. It might, therefore, very well happen, in the way he had explained, that there might be at this moment lieutenants who were at Trafalgar, and who possessed a medal, but whom it was perfectly impossible ever to employ again. At the end of the year 1817 there were 791 commanders on the list, of whom forty-two only were employed; and thus, if the Government had promoted lieutenants, they would only hare been encumbering the ranks of unemployed commanders. How, then, could any Government avoid the complaint that a great number of officers were left on half-pay? Since the time he had mentioned the number of officers had been much larger than could be employed. The Committee presided over by the noble Lord the Member for Totness (Lord Seymour) recommended that the list of lieutenants, commanders, and captains, should be reduced to a certain number, and that until that number was reached the promotions should be limited to one in three. That rule had been adhered to up to the present moment, but neither the list of commanders nor of captains had as yet reached the number recommended by that Committee. He considered, therefore, that it was unnecessary to pursue the subject further. He had already shown the circumstances under which a greater number of officers remained upon the lists than could be employed, and the inevitable consequence was that a large number of officers of the lower rank must necessarily remain in that lower rank. The recommendation of the Committee had been closely adhered to, and it was impossible to prevent a large number of men from remaining unemployed. It was proposed to limit the number of lieutenants to 1,200, and the number of commanders to 450; and it followed naturally that the whole of the lieutenants could never be promoted to the rank of commander. The hon. and gallant Gentleman acknowledged that at the present moment only one-third of the active list of commanders was afloat. There must, therefore, be a certain number of commanders who would never become captains, and also many captains who would never become admirals. In all the higher ranks there must necessarily be a certain number of persons who would never be employed or promoted. If any man could devise a better system of promotion than that which now existed he would be a great public benefactor, for at all times the selection of men for appointments was a most disagreeable and painful duty. Ten or a dozen able men could always be found well qualified to supply any vacancy that might occur, and it was a most painful and responsible task to select from that number one particular individual. In many cases great complaints were made of partiality. No military man thought himself too old for service, and no admiral thought himself too old to go to sea. Entertaining such an opinion, it was natural, when one officer was promoted over another, that the officer passed over should imagine that some other motive than a proper appreciation of the talent of the officer appointed had decided the appointment, and at all times it was very difficult to assign reasons why commander A had been selected and commander B passed over. He had not been very long at the Board of Admiralty, and consequently he had not had many appointments to make, but nevertheless several accusations had already been made against him in regard to the appointments which had been made. The very first appointment that he had made, was the appointment of an officer to command a sloop of war. The officer selected was recommended to him by his hon. and gallant Friend (Admiral Berkeley) and other gentlemen as an old officer of the highest character, and well fitted to command a ship of war. As far as he (Sir C. Wood) was concerned, he had never heard of the officer in question before, but soon after the appointment was made he received a letter, charging him with having appointed his own relation. He was certainly astonished at such a charge, knowing at the time that the only relative he had in the navy was a youth of some thirteen years of age, and on inquiring into the matter, he found that the name of the officer appointed was Francis Wood, which fact alone had been considered sufficient to justify the imputation which had been made against him. A week afterwards he made a second appointment, and a day or two afterwards a letter appeared in The Times, headed, "Another Malappointment," stating that Mr. Haslam, a mate in the Black Sea Fleet, who had greatly distinguished himself, had been rewarded with a lieutenancy, and soon after appointed to the command of a ship on the coast of Africa. The letter concluded by saying, "How long will the people of England suffer such atrocious mismanagement to degrade them before all the world?" That officer had distinguished himself in the Arctic expedition, and the inquiries he had instituted satisfied him that he was a gentleman of the highest character. The appointment was made simply on the ground of merit, yet he (Sir C. Wood) had been accused by the public Press, of having been guilty of the most atrocious abuse of his patronage. It was very easy to make charges of that kind, but he was anxious to show how utterly unjust they were in many cases. He had been told the other day by an intimate friend that a noble Lord had complained that he (Sir C. Wood) had refused him a naval cadetship, and that the appointments to those cadetships were made upon political grounds. He did not remember having received any application from that noble Lord, and on referring to his letters he could not find such an application. He then looked at the list of naval cadets who had recently been appointed, and he found that of eight, six had been appointed in consequence of their connection with distinguished naval and military officers, and only two upon the recommendation of Members of that House. One of those Members sat on the opposite side, and he believed had never given a vote in favour of the present Government. A complaint was made by his hon. gallant Friend (Captain Scobell) that young men sometimes obtained promotion very rapidly. Undoubtedly that was the case, but the consideration which weighed with the Admiralty in making those promotions were how the country could best be served, and if it was desirable that officers should attain the rant of admiral at a comparatively early period of life, it was indispensable that young officers should be promoted for distinguished services. The Committee, which was known as Lord Seymour's Committee, had stated that the efficiency of the naval service must depend, in a great measure, upon the mental and bodily vigour of the officers who were intrusted with commands, but as a general rule that union of mental and bodily vigour was only to be found in men who were comparatively young; and unless, therefore, young officers were promoted it was impossible that they could have admirals who, according to the opinion of the Committee, would be fit for active service and for important commands. In 1851 the right hon. Member for Portsmouth (Sir F. Baring) established what was called the reserved list, upon which officers were placed after a certain period of service. No doubt, as his hon. and gallant Friend had stated, that regulation operated with some inequality, for there were admirals on the reserve list who Were perfectly capable of rendering service to their country, and there were others on the active list who were utterly unfit for active duty. He did not think it would be advisable to adopt the plan suggested by his hon, and gallant Friend—that all admirals should be removed from the active list at a certain age, for no two men were equally strong, and some were more vigorous at the age of sixty than others were at fifty-five. It appeared from the Report of 1848 that there were at that time only six admirals under the age of sixty upon the active list, but there were now seventeen under that age upon the list, and of these nine were below the age of fifty-five. In reply to the statement of his hon. and gallant Friend that all naval officers who were promoted early in life owed that promotion to family, or political, or Parliamentary influence, he might observe that, although three of the nine admirals under fifty-five might possess some aristocratical or political influence, he must deny that such was the case with regard to the other six. If they took the aristocratic names in the navy it would be found that, with the exception of Lord Dundonald, they were almost exclusively on the retired list, while the great majority of persons actively employed possessed neither family nor political influence. The rule laid down some years ago by his right hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth had worked admirably with regard to admirals, and had been the means of enabling them to get younger men for that part of the service, and he must say that in the case of the lower ranks something might be done, though the subject was attended with very great difficulties. Twenty years ago, when he was Secretary to the Admiralty, a suggestion was made whether, in order to obviate the evils which existed, it would not be wise to introduce a system of sate and purchase in the navy. It was obvious that the system of purchase, such as existed in the army, offered facilities for young men entering the service, but it was doubtful how far such a system was practicable in the navy, and, if it were so, whether it would receive the sanction of that House, in which complaints were not unfrequently heard of the existence of the practice in the army. He must again deny that family or political influence had that weight in regulating promotion as had been alleged by his hon. and gallant Friend, and the fact that every service had been performed in a manner which conferred credit upon those employed and glory upon the country was the beat answer to any assertion which might be made that merit was not sufficiently acknowledged. Not a Russian vessel dared to show itself in the presence of our navy, the recent services it had rendered in the Sea of Azoff had been properly acknowledged, and he must again repeat that there was no rank in the service, from that of admiral down to that of cabin boy, but was equal to the execution of every service which it was called upon to perform.


said, he was glad that his hon. and gallant Friend (Captain Scobell) had brought forward the subject now under discussion, inasmuch as it had afforded the First Lord of the Admiralty an opportunity of defending his conduct in connection with the department over which he presided. Sir George Cockburn had complained that he was overruled during his services at the Board, and that his recommendations had not been attended to; but the fact was that that gallant officer had never submitted any project to the House, and had opposed the Motions of Sir Charles Napier and other gallant officers when they were submitted to the House. He could not imagine who had overruled Sir George Cockburn at the Board, and the only hon. Member now present who could enlighten the House on that subject, was the hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. FitzRoy). The present Board of Admiralty was a vast improvement over former Boards, when the majority were of the lay and civil class, and when naval officers were almost excluded. There was nothing to complain of now with respect to the Board, except the system. With respect to patronage he believed that political influence was too powerful, and that some change ought to take place. He could recommend that the sum paid for the conveyance of treasure should be brought to the public account, and applied under the direction of the Admiralty. In regard to the employment of Admirals on the retired list, when he applied for a ship he was informed that the timber was not cut to build the ship, nor was the sheep killed whose skin was to supply the parchment on which to write his commission. Many officers were unable to obtain ships, and thus to comply with the regulations required to be fulfilled before they became admirals, because they had no influence to enforce attention to their wishes. With regard to the coast-guard service, he must complain that, while the officers employed on that service were certain of promotion if they were so fortunate as to come in contact with smugglers and kill half a dozen of them, they received no promotion at all if they had saved lives and property from wrecks. As to the Motion of his hon. and gallant Friend, the First Lord of the Admiralty had certainly made a great many explanations which it was well should be known, but it would be very satisfactory to the service if the right hon. Gentleman would concede the inquiry asked for.


Sir, I will not detain the House at any length, because it occurs to me that the arguments which have been adduced for and against the Motion before it, have been fully sufficient to enable the House to arrive at a right decision; and, moreover, were I to enter into detail of my own views and opinions they would approach in many particulars to a recapitulation of those already spoken. If the hon. and gallant Member for Bath determine to press his Motion to a division, I shall be found in the same lobby with him, satisfied, as I am, that if a Committee were appointed the decision would be beneficial to the service, and most certainly could not be injurious. The First Lord of the Admiralty had said that any man would be a public benefactor who would devise a means by which the present system of patronage could be got rid of, and it occurred to him (Admiral Walcott) that he could point out a means by which a more beneficial system could be introduced—namely, by constituting the Naval Lords of the Admiralty, in fact, and reality the responsible Counsellors of their Political Chief with regard to the employment, promotion, and decorations of honour given to naval officers, as those best fitted to sympathise and to encourage, to deal gently with the disappointed, and to award justly the successful; in a word, to propose to themselves but one motive of thought and action to secure the welfare of the whole profession, and to consult without partiality for every individual member in it. If such a system were adopted great satisfaction would be given, and the service would feel full confidence that merit would be its own patron, and good, gallant, and meritorious service the only effectual recommendation to employment, promotion, and recommendation to the Sovereign for decorations of honour. The hon. and gallant Admiral, the Member for Brighton, had animadverted in terms of disparagement in the selection of a naval officer to preside at the Admiralty in the Derby Government; I cannot but regret his having done so, nor will I forbear to offer my tribute to that naval officer (the Duke of Northumberland) for the able and energetic manner in which he endeavoured—and with success—to provide for the efficiency of the service; in so doing I but speak the testimony, in that particular, offered to the House by his successor, the right hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle, and the feelings of many gallant officers.

Notice taken, that Forty Members were not present; House counted; and Forty Members not being present,

The House was adjourned at a quarter before Eleven o'clock.