HC Deb 29 July 1861 vol 164 cc1768-77

Order for Second Reading read.


, in moving the second reading of this Bill, said he had been asked to give some explanation of its provisions and the necessity existing for such a measure. In any debate which might follow his remarks he was sure his brother officers of the Navy would join with him in avoiding any observations which could be construed offensively towards the merchant service, as remarks, made unintentionally he was quite sure, in "another place," had given great annoyance to this excellent and gallant body of men, whose co-operation they sought to obtain in the defence of the country. The officers of the mercantile navy proposed to enrol themselves as officers of Naval Volunteer corps, formed on a principle somewhat similar to those which had been so successfully carried out on land; and the Admiralty had accepted their patriotic proposal with a warm desire, which he had no doubt was shared by the public, to avail themselves of the services of the gentlemen composing the officers of the merchant service. For this purpose Her Majesty's Government had prepared a Bill which he had now the honour to propose, enabling those gentlemen to enrol themselves, so that in the unfortunate event of unforeseen war they would assist the officers of the Navy, either in large ships of war under the command of captains or commanders, or in charge themselves of smaller vessels. It was right he should state that there was not a single word in the measure, or in the regulatons which would accompany it, which could be taken by the officers of the Royal Navy as in the slightest degree infringing on their dignity or interfering in the slightest degree with the flow of promotion. The Bill simply empowered Her Majesty to receive the services of these officers, and provided for the footing on which they should be placed while at drill or on actual service. Some time ago the Admiralty issued a form of regulations under which officers would be eligible for the Naval Reserve. A great meeting of officers in the merchant service followed; and, having been invited to express their opinions, they raised certain objections which he believed had been entirely obviated in the amended regulations which he should be happy to lay on the table if any hon. Member would move for them. At their request the rule requiring that no masters should be admitted as lieutenants of the Naval Reserve who did not hold extra certificates under the Mercantile Marine Act of 1850, or the Merchant Shipping Act of 1854, had been modified, and a much less stringent qualification was now required, though sufficiently strict at the same time to ensure that the officers in question would be men of sufficient education and experience to undertake the duties imposed upon them. The only other point to which the masters of the mercantile marine objected was that of rank, holding that it would be unjust for an officer who might command, for instance, one of the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Company's fleet—a vessel of equal value and requiring as skilful handling as a ship of war—to be placed under the command of a very young lieutenant of the navy. Such a contingency was one that could very rarely occur, as the number of officers in the merchant service commanding vessels of that class must he limited, and in case of war they would probably receive command of some small vessel—of the class, he meant, which would ordinarily be commanded by a lieutenant in the navy. But it must be apparent to all that masters in the mercantile marine could not expect to take rank above commissioned officers in the Navy; in such a case the latter would have fair ground of complaint. The rule with regard to corresponding rank was followed in the Volunteers and the Militia, and it was impossible to suppose it could he departed; from in the Naval Reserve. Practically he did not believe such a contingency as that referred to was likely often to arise; but in case it should ever do so in actual warfare officers of the mercantile marine would be swayed by motives of patriotism, and would not, he was confident, stickle on this point of dignity—there could be no clashing whatever between the two services. The lieutenants of the Reserve would rank with, but after, the lieutenants of the Royal Navy, and merchant officers might, in his opinion, be well content with the honourable post of holding commensurate rank with lieutenants of the Royal Navy. The question of rank, as he had stated, was the only point of difficulty. It had been said "in another place" that there was no necessity for this measure, and that if a war broke out we could easily find officers. He (Lord C. Paget) said it was a measure of absolute necessity. We had at this moment something like 850 lieutenants, yet there was scarcely at this time of peace one unemployed who was able to go to sea. What would occur if a war broke out to-morrow, and that in the event of casualties we had no means of reinforcing the fleet with young lieutenants? In these days gunnery was absolutely necessary. A lieutenant who knew nothing of gunnery was absolutely useless. What was proposed was to give the merchant officers of the Royal Naval Reserve an education in gunnery. They would have to take a course of gun-drill on board the training ships. They would read the various books on gunnery, and make themselves thoroughly acquainted with gun-drill. What he hoped was the Admiralty would then place on board the large merchant ships officered by these men a gun or two, and ultimately every man in the merchant service would become a gunner. He might be sanguine, but he looked to that day when they might have on board these large merchant ships a system of gun-drill under their own officers, and that thus when war broke out the officers of the merchant navy would bring with them large bodies of their men already drilled and made efficient. He was not prepared to say that they could have educated more sailors of the Royal Naval Reserve than they had done. The training ships had been fully employed with the 5,000 and odd men who had come forward, and if they had come forward more largely he did not know that they could have accomplished more than had been done; but it would be most important to educate the officers of the merchant service in order that they might in turn become the instructors of their own men on board their own ships. Then, if they got this great Navy Reserve they would be able, in some degree, to reduce the vast expenditure of the navy. If, at this moment, there had been a reserve of 30,000 officers and seamen, they might safely reduce the great amount of the Vote No. 1, in the estimates for men. He, sincerely hoped officers of the navy would favour this scheme; and, on the other hand, that officers of the merchant service would come forward like their fellow-subjects and devote themselves, as it might become necessary, to the service of their country. He could not sit down without alluding to an establishment now formed for the education of officers in the merchant service, and which he thought would be of very great importance in the future as regards the naval resources of the country. He had gone down to Liverpool some weeks ago to inspect a school established by the Mercantile Marine Association for young officers for the merchant service. He found there 100 young gentleman admirably educated, of the highest respectability, preparing as officers of the merchant service on board the Conway. He was bound to say they were entirely equal, in every respect, to the cadets at the Naval School on board the Britannia at Portsmouth. They were being instructed not only in the higher branches of astronomy and navigation, but in gun-drill, and he saw with pleasure a vast body of young officers who would by-and-by be perfectly fit to take part in vessels of war, and whose services would be invaluable to the navy. He looked forward to the time when these schools would be established at all the principal ports; so that the young men from the merchant service would he perfect gunners; thus, in the event of war, largely increasing the means of manning our fleets and assisting us most usefully in officering the navy. He trusted the old standing antagonism between the merchant service and the Royal Navy would now be broken down, and that the distinguished officers of the merchant service would, as on former occasions, even when they were pressed men, acquire great glory in the naval service of the country. It was also to be remembered that after service those officers were qualified to become officers in the Royal Navy itself. He trusted if ever the time came when these men were called on many of them would become distinguished officers of the Royal Navy. He begged to move that the Bill be now read a second time.


Sir, I must disclaim all feeling of illiberality in the few remarks I may offer in relation to the Bill now submitted to the House to enable Her Majesty to accept the services of officers of the merchant service as officers of Reserve in the Royal Navy—quite the contrary—I desire to profess what I truly feel, a high respect for their character and profession, but I am at a loss to understand how this Bill can work with advantage to the object designed, directed as it is to the admission of 130 masters and 270 mates, under the qualifications stipulated for their admission. Let me ask how can you place confidence in having the command of the services of these officers at the moment you necessarily will require them on the immediate outbreak of a war, when probably the greater number will be absent from England on foreign voyages or otherwise not forthcoming? I am, therefore, constrained to observe, looking to a certain provision and wise caution, it were far more prudent than to rely on a source so hazardously uncertain for officering your fleet, to establish year by year a regular supply of cadets equal to the demand contemplated and which must occur, to offer certain employment and the opportunity for distinguished service to the officers of the Royal Navy, who, at all times, have been found ready to devote the best portion of a man's life to the profession, and to surrender the most attractive opportunities of acquiring wealth to the realization, of an honourable renown in the service of the country. The noble Lord observed that these officers of Reserve might be employed in small vessels of war in sole command, but it is right he should bear in recollection that it is this very description of vessels, and in gun and mortar boats, that the lieutenants of the Navy rely upon selection for command, in war time, affording the most certain means by which they may secure promotion and acquire honour—permit me, like wise, to observe that the Naval officer entered the service in his earliest youth. He had to submit to a severe course of study and a most rigid examination to qualify him for high rank, having to obtain a practical knowledge of seamanship, navigation, gunnery, and steam. He was subject to be sent to all climates, and was liable to all contingencies of service, being oftentimes separated for a considerable number of years from his family, and having to perform continuous service in unhealthy climates, whilst his sole encouragement lay in chance-promotion to high rank and the acquisition of a distinguished name. The officers of the Mercantile Navy were placed in far more independent circumstances, and had far greater opportunities of securing a competence both present and future. They were not subject to the same risks, the same dangers, or the same deprivations, nor had they to serve so frequently or so continuously in unhealthy climates. If these officers of Reserve were to be placed in the service, the masters to take rank immediately after lieutenants, and the mates to sublieutenants, in what position, may I ask, were the masters in the Royal Navy to stand whose rank invariably had been with lieutenants, but subordinate in command to them? a most meritorious class of officers who ought not to be deprived of the rank they now hold next to lieutenants. In the event of a war our commerce would be immensely restricted, when we should experience no lack of officers of the merchant service or of merchant seamen, in number as they wore nigh of 200,000, and I am confident, in such a crisis, if England be threatened from them, our seafaring population will spring up a host of Volunteers to the Navy to uphold its ancient reputation, and the honour and glory of the country. I shall not oppose this Bill, but I do most earnestly entreat that in carrying out its provisions the just claims and feelings of the officers of the Royal Navy will be scrupulously regarded.


said, he did not think there was any great urgency for passing a measure which had been so little considered, and, therefore, he had hoped that the Bill would not have been persevered with this Session. Considering the large number of officers now upon our Navy List, there was, in his opinion, no occasion for such a measure. Upon the Active List for July there were 101 admirals, 343 captains, 445 commanders, 844 lieutenants—the First Lord of the Admiralty said the other night that there were 855—and 126 sub-lieutenants, making a total of 1,859; independent of masters, engineers, mates, and midshipmen. From the masters we might, on an emergency, obtain lieutenants, who would be far more efficient for the purposes for which they would be required than would the officers of the mercantile marine. On the Reserved List there were 97 admirals, 96 captains, 124 commanders, and 408 lieutenants, making a total of 725 officers; or, together with those on the Active List, a grand total of 2,584—a number, he believed, larger than that possessed by all the other nations of the world put together. America had no admirals, 100 captains, 130 commanders, and 362 lieutenants—total, 592. France had 54 admirals, 103 captains of line-of-battle ships, 230 commanders, and 700 lieutenants, making, with a considerable number of aspirantsand eleves, who answered to our mates and midshipmen, a total staff of 2,207. Of our lieutenants, whose number he stated at 855, the First Lord of the Admiralty said the other night that only 150 were unemployed. He had looked at the List, and, as far as be could see, there must be at least 200 in that position; besides which many of them were employed in situations which in time of war might be filled by older men from the Reserved List. Of these 855 officers, 600 were under the age of twenty-six years. At what age did they expect to get those officers of the mercantile marine who were obliged to have been for so many years on board ship in different parts of the world, and to have been for three years master of a vessel of 500 tons? He was afraid they would find it difficult to get such officers to serve in the position proposed for them, or to get them to come for one month to drill. And, in reference to the drill, he must observe that he thought it a very bad plan to have the officers living on shore while attending it. It would be much better to have them aboard ship in the company of officers of the Navy, with whom they were intended to serve in case of war. His hon. and gallant Friend who had just spoken had asked whether they would he sure of the services of those officers of the mercantile marine when their services were required? The master of a merchant vessel might just have concluded an agreement to go on a distant voyage. Would the owner think it just or honourable of him to break that engagement? They were told that he would not only come himself, but bring his crew with him. What would the owner say to that? It was said that this plan had the approval of the mercantile marine. The sentiments expressed at the recent meeting on the subject did not appear to support that assertion. The plan now promulgated was very different from that which had been originally suggested, and on the whole he had never heard a scheme proposed that gave less hope of being satisfactory to any part of the service. The creation of officers of the Naval Reserve would entail a heavy charge on the public funds, for which no equivalent would ever be obtained. The scheme was, no doubt, devised with the best intentions, but ho believed it would prove an utter failure, unsatisfactory both to the Royal Navy and to the mercantile marine. He believed that the most effectual mode of fostering the navy was to provide training-ships for the young, and to free the merchant service from the trammels which had so long been imposed on it.


said, he had too high an opinion of officers of the mercantile marine, and knew too well their good sea-manlike qualities and great integrity of character, to utter a word in disparagement of them. He must say, however, that he did not approve this Bill. He believed it would do great injustice to officers of the Royal Navy. The officers of the merchant service had strong objections to the scheme as first proposed; and his noble Friend, in conjunction with the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Lindsay), had endeavoured to make things pleasant by agreeing to all they asked. It was said that there would be no difficulty in regard to the officers of the Reserve being employed under young lieutenants of the Royal Navy, because it would be easy to give them separate commands. But if that were done it would be a great injustice to those young lieutenants to whom an independent command was an object of na- tural ambition. These officers entered the service at an early age, underwent a great deal of severe training and irksome discipline, and received comparatively little remuneration. They ought not, therefore, to be deprived of any of their privileges. Some officers in the mercantile marine—those in the Peninsular and Oriental Company's service, for instance—received as much as £1,000 a year, which, was a great deal more than officers in a similar position in the Royal Navy; and, therefore, it was a great injustice that they should be supplanted in the commands to which they looked forward. He thought it very unfortunate that his noble Friend should have introduced this Bill at so late a period of the Session. Naval questions never got due consideration, for they were always brought forward at the fag-end of the Session. A great many mistakes and much extravagance were the result. He suggested that the Bill should not be pressed forward this Session, and that his noble Friend and his colleagues should endeavour during the recess to devise some effectual plan for manning the navy, instead of bringing in officers who were not wanted at present.


reminded the House that this was a purely voluntary measure, the tendency of which would be to economize the expenditure of the navy. He thought it was the duty of all those who were connected with the mercantile navy to give the Government every assistance in promoting such a scheme. It should be remembered that the force would come into use in time of war, when a number of merchant vessels would necessarily be unemployed, and he had no doubt that numbers of merchant officers would join the Reserve, animated by the same patriotic spirit which had produced the land Volunteer force.


said, they did not yet know whether the scheme met with general acceptance in the merchant service. It appeared that there was a glut of commanders, and a paucity of lieutenants in the navy, and that the object was to recruit the lower rank from merchant captains. He did not think any great inducement was offered either to their ambition or cupidity. The gallant Admiral (Admiral Duncombe) had shown the superiority of the merchant service in the point of pay. The noble Lord, indeed, had compared the officers of the merchant service entering under this Bill to the Volunteers, but it must be remembered that in the Volunteer service all ranks were open. This was more like linesmen exchanging into a lower rank in the Guards, and then being debarred from future promotion. The noble Lord talked of this scheme increasing the good feeling between the navy and merchant service. If that were his object, he (Mr. Cave) thought it would be well to follow the example of Sweden, where encouragement was given to officers of the Royal Navy serving on board vessels engaged in the packet service. He should not oppose the Bill; but if there were any doubts as to the complete success of the measure he thought it would be well to postpone it for more mature consideration.


did not think the discussion had been favourable to the scheme. The fear was that out of the large number of officers in the merchant service who were qualified under this Bill the best would not be obtained. There was also a doubt whether at the end of four or five years they would find themselves in possession of that young blood which it was hoped to acquire.

Bill read 2°, and committed for Tomorrow.