HC Deb 09 July 1861 vol 164 cc625-30

said, that he was about to ask the House to refer the case of the Captains placed on the Reserved List by Order of Council in 1851 to the Attorney General for his opinion. He felt in necessary to take this step in consequence of the dissatisfaction felt in the Navy with an answer given on a former occasion by the noble Lord the Secretary to the Admiralty. So strong, indeed, was the feeling that a certain class of officers had been treated with injustice that he felt called upon before the House broke up to ask its opinion. He spoke from what he believed to be well-founded information when he said that the late Attorney General had expressed very strong views as regarded the justice of the claims of those gallant captains, and he had no doubt that the opinion of the present Attorney General would be in their favour. Up to 1851 there was promotion by brevet. In that year it was thought advisable by the Board of Admiralty to put and end to that system. It was naturally thought that a great injustice would be done to the officers of the Navy if there were nothing analogous to promotion by brevet; and so strongly was this felt that permission was given to a certain number of captains to have their names placed, not on the Retired List— and this was the point—but on the Reserved List. The stipulation was that they were in every respect to be considered officers on the Active List, with this difference—that they were not to expect active employment except in case of war; but in all other respects—promotion on to the Admiral's List, scale of payment in regard to Greenwich pensions, and so on— they were to be to all intents and purposes on the Active List. Several of these captains afterwards received Greenwich out-pensions, which they could not have done if the view of their position now adopted by the noble Lord were the correct one. After ten years, when they would have been entitled to receive 18s. a day half-pay, they heard all of a sudden from the Board of Admiralty that they were not to receive additional pay because they were not on the "Reserved" but on the "Retired" List. The noble Lord the Secre- tary to the Admiralty had admitted in previous debates that the Order in Council was ambiguously worded, and he added that, "whether these officers thought at the time they were to rise pari passu with officers on the Active List was a matter on which he would offer no opinion." But the very question at issue was, "what was understanding with these officers?" and it would not do to delude them into accepting conditions which were not to be afterwards fulfilled. The noble Lord added, that the Admiralty, "deeming that the Order in Council was rather ambiguously worded, had allowed these officers to count their sea time both as lieutenants and mates." They did not, however, remedy the injustice in a straightforward way, but gave seventy-seven out of ninety-nine a pittance of 1s. 6d. a day; but the remaining seventeen, who were approaching the rank of Admiral, were left without any remuneration at all. He now asked the House to do justice to these men. He should like to ask the noble Lord whether three or four years ago he was not of opinion that these officers had been most unjustly treated? The noble Lord was not only an active and energetic officer, buy who had also been very fortunate in the service, was of another opinion then; but a seat on the Treasury Bench appeared to have changed the noble Lord's feelings and opinions. The noble Lord stated that no great services had been performed by these men; but many of them had performed magnificent services. Take, for instance, a brief summary of the services of Captain John Pearse— M.—Captain John Pearse.—Lord Hotham's action; wrecked; capture of Nemesis and Sardine; action off Cape St. Vincent; bombardment of Cadiz; Lord Nelson's expedition of Teneriffe; battle of the Nile; capture of Civita Vecchia; bombardment of Alexandria; capture of privateers and gunboats; bombardment and capture of Copenhagen in 1807; numerous captures of privateers and Danish convoy and smuggling vessels; meritorious services in the protection of the revenue. Twice wounded. Active service twenty-three years. Captain Spencer Smyth's services were also long and distinguished— M.—Captain Spencer Smyth. — Sir Robert Calder's action; battle of Trafalgar; destruction of three French frigates, 1806, and of two French frigates and brig in 1812; capture of Le Jason and two French frigates in 1814; operations against Martinique and Guadaloupe; employed in protection of the revenue; battle of Navarino, wounded; inspecting commander of the Coastguard; supplied plan by which battle of Navarino was fought. Active service twenty-five years. Captain W.N. Taylor was at the bombardment and surrender of Copenhagen in 1807. Captain Robinson was in Sir Richard Strachan's action. Captain Thompson was at St. Jean d'Acre with Sir Sidney Smith, and with the army on shore, under Sir Ralph Abercrombie, in Egypt. Captain John Hills had been forty years in active service. These officers had been induced by the representations of the Admiralty to accept certain terms offered to them in the belief that they would rise to their flags, and would receive increased pay as if they were on active service. The case of these officers had been laid before an eminent Queen's counsel, and he would, with the permission of the House, read the opinion of Mr. Lush, which was such as to induce him to believe that if the noble Lord would refer the question to the new Attorney General, that hon. and learned Gentleman would be in favour of his view. Mr. Lush's opinion was as follow:— I feel some diffidence in offering an opinion upon the construction of the documents in question, as the matter is not one of legal cognizance, the ordinary tribunals of the country having no jurisdiction as between the Admiralty and the officers of the Naval Service. If, however, the Order in Council were embodied in an Act of Parliament, or were the language of a contract between parties, or otherwise were within the province of a Court of law, I should have no hesitation in advising that the claims of the captains on the Reserved List were well founded, and that they would be held entitled to all the advantages belonging to the rank of captain, except the expectation of further employment. Was it worth while thus to destroy the confidence of the Naval Service in the Admiralty? One by one the Government was taking away from the Navy all the advantages they had formerly enjoyed. This year the increased pay for China and India had been taken away from them. Formerly half the colonial Governorships were given to the Royal Navy, now they had only one or two. He hoped the Admiralty would not add a breach of engagement to the other causes of complaint. He now asked the Government of refer the claims of these captains to the law officers of the Crown, and moved that the case of the captains placed on the Reserved List by Order of Council in 1851 be referred to the Attorney General for his opinion.


seconded the Motion. He had never held but one opinion, that those officers were entitled to the rank and increase of pay which they claimed, though he had no doubt in his own mind that when the right hon. Baronet the Member for Portsmouth drew up the minute in 1851 it was with the perfect conviction in his mind that it was intended to exclude and did exclude them from these advantages. The right hon. Baronet said so, and no one who knew him would question his veracity. The officers who accepted it were not to receive increase of pay or the rank of Admiral. But still there was an ambiguity in the terms of the minute which had misled these officers, and, therefore, the officers were entitled to the benefits of the doubt. After the statement of his hon. Friend he would not trespass on the time of the House by reciting the gallant actions of these men, neither would he now refer to their advancing years and infirmities; but he would ask the House to recognize, by adopting this Motion, the energy, activity, and fidelity with which they had served their country during the long war. Let it not go abroad that art or science or architecture absorbed all the attention and all the interest of the House, and that they held out a niggard hand to those whose gallantry enabled them now to initiate those ornaments of peace.


said, he had moved for a Committee in the early period of the Session to investigate the claims of those officers; but that Committee had never yet been able to meet, and as there was no chance of their now concluding their labours this Session, and as many of those officers were between seventy and eighty years of age, and their commissions would so soon drop in in the natural course of events, he thought it very reasonable that the noble Lord should agree to the Motion of his hon. Friend, and refer the question to the Attorney General for his opinion. The Admiralty said it never was their intention that the officers who accepted these terms should rise in the profession. But these gentlemen themselves thought otherwise—they never had a doubt upon the subject—but they learned to their horror and astonishment, when their time for promotion came, that the Admiralty entertained a different opinion. They then referred the case to an eminent counsel, whose opinion had been read by his hon. and learned Friend. He urged the claims of those officers, because it was the spirit of their legislation to give the benefit of a doubt in the claimant's favour. But there was, he thought, more than a doubt in their favour. Let any man read the minute of the Admiralty, and if he did not come to the same conclusion with Mr. Lush he would give up the case. How the Admiralty could suppose that the officers would shut themselves out from every other advantages than that of active employment was to him an extraordinary thing. Here they were about to pass an Act of Parliament to bring masters and mates of the mercantile marine into the Royal Navy, and these men would not with this case before them trust the professions of the Admiralty; no man among them would believe a word that was said without first taking the opinion of counsel. He believed that an extra £2 or £3 a day was all that was required to do justice to these officers. He hoped the House would agree to the Motion of his hon. Friend, and he thought even the Admiralty could not object to refer the case to their own Attorney General.


said, that the hon. Member had given the best possible reason for not referring this question to the law officer of the Crown, when he read the opinion of the learned gentleman to whom the question had already been referred, and who stated that it was not matter for legal cognizance. He thought, too, that the hon. Member must, on reflection, see that it would be very unadvisable that Her Majesty's Order in Council should be referred for the purpose of having a legal opinion taken on it. The hon. Member was incorrect in his allusion to what had taken place on a former occasion, for he really had not said that the Order in Council of 1851 was ambiguous, but only that in the opinion of these officers it admitted of doubt, and that they claimed the benefit of the doubt. But he never stated in that House that the view which the officers took of their case was correct. The right hon. Baronet the Member for Portsmouth (Sir Francis Baring) had over and over again stated that the intention of the Admiralty of that day was that these Reserved officers should not rise pari passu with the officers on the Active List; and he rested on what that right hon. Gentleman had declared that it was not the intention, and could not possibly be the intention, of the Admiralty to place these Reserved officers on the same footing as officers on the Active List. Any one would see in a minute that it would be fatal to the service to allow officers to accept the Reserved List, and never being called on to go to sea, to have all the benefits of the officers on the Active List. He would not enter into the case further than to say that a very large proportion of the officers of the Reserved List had benefited by the arrangement made by the Admiralty, under which those who had served long and faithfully had got an increase of pay. As the general question of the retirement and promotion of officers in the Navy would come under the consideration of the Select Committee now sitting on the Board of Admiralty, and as the case of the Reserved officers would, no doubt, be also taken into consideration, he trusted that the hon. Member would not press his Motion to a division.

Motion made, and Question put, That the case of the Captains placed on the Reserved List by Order of Council in 1851 be referred to Mr. Attorney General for his opinion.

The House divided:—Ayes 33; Noes 60: Majority 27.