HC Deb 09 May 1862 vol 166 cc1469-77

said, he rose to ask the Secretary to the Admiralty, To lay upon the table of the House a copy of the form of commission promoting the first-named ninety officers on the reserved list of Her Majesty's Navy to the rank of captain; and also a copy of the form of commission promoting the last two officers on that list to the rank of captain, with any explanation there may have been for the necessity of changing the form of commission; also a return of the names and pay or other emoluments of the first sixteen captains on the reserved list; and to move that the case of the reserved captains be referred to the law officers of the Crown? His reason for asking for the production of these papers was, that in 1851, the retired list of the nary being overcrowded, and a great difficulty experienced in promoting younger officers to the rank of captain, the then First Lord of the Admiralty (Sir Francis Baring) framed a new reserved list and persuaded certain officers of old and distinguished service to accept that promotion. There would have been no difficulty in placing those officers on the retired list of captains if they had been inclined to go there, and there would have been no difficulty in promoting such officers; but they were of too great an age for the country to expect much benefit from their services, although at the same time they were entitled to claim promotion from their long and faithful service. An Order in Council was issued which induced those officers to accept this promotion. All those officers were men of distinguished service, and had claims to the consideration of the country. There were two forms of commission in the navy. One was for officers on the retired list, who were not entitled to expect promotion or increased pay, and one for officers on the reserved list, who were entitled to expect promotion up to the rank of captain, and all the advantages accruing to officers of similar standing, except service afloat. The latter had a right to expect the increase of 2s. per diem which was granted to officers of their standing after a certain length of service; but the Admiralty had not admitted their claims, although, with the exception of two or three officers who had accepted commissions under a reserved form, the commissions of these officers upon the reserved list were identical with those of officers upon the active list. He wished to have a return of the pay and emoluments of the first sixteen officers upon the reserved list, because they were entitled, not only to 2s. a day additional, but also to be placed upon the retired list at 18s. per diem; while, in fact, of those sixteen officers, none received more than 13s., and some only 10s. 6d. a day. A case had been brought under his notice, to which he would direct the attention of the House. The widow of Commander Bowden claimed the pension to which she was entitled, but was refused by the Admiralty. The answer she got from the Admiralty was, that her husband being a lieutenant on the retired list of commanders, she was not entitled to a higher pension than had been awarded to her. Now, how a lieutenant could be on the retired list of commanders, he (Sir J. Hay) could not understand. However, upon urgent representations being made, the noble Lord the Secretary to the Admiralty at length did this lady justice, and she was now in the receipt of the pension. The noble Lord was tenderhearted to the widow, but he still refused the claims of the ninety officers which had been urged by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Droitwich and others of authority. All he (Sir J. Hay) required was, that the question should be referred to the law officers of the Crown to decide the matter, and he trusted that the Government would place a generous construction upon the terms of the arrangement made with those deserving officers.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "in the opinion of this House, the case of the Reserved Captains of Her Majesty's Navy should be referred to the Law Officers of the Crown, —instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


said, he would second the Motion. On the two occasions last year when he brought the question under the notice of the House, the Secretary to the Admiralty opposed him; but he hoped that the noble Lord would be inclined now to take another view of the matter. It was a case simply of justice, and it was not well that impressions should get abroad that officers had been led to make an arrangement prejudicial to their interests upon a statement of the Admiralty which was liable to misconstruction.


would entreat the noble Lord, the Secretary to the Admiralty, to reconsider the vote which he had given on the last occasion that this subject was brought forward, and do justice to these unfortunate officers. As a civilian he felt some diffidence in saying anything on that which might be considered purely a naval question; and as it had on so many previous occasions been brought under the consideration of the House, and rejected by such trifling majorities, it was quite unnecessary for him to go into its merits. It was simply a question of justice or injustice to a hundred naval officers, who had served their country well in the hour of her need, and who had accepted the commissions which they now held with the full impression that they should lose nothing, either in pay or promotion; in fact, that they would rise by seniority to the flag. The commissions of these hundred Captains on the reserved list were identical with those on the active list, and in the majority of instances their rank has been conferred for very distinguished services in time of war. The only way in which they differed from the post-captains on the active list was their non-liability to be called upon to serve afloat, except under extraordinary circumstances—threatened invasion, &c. A precisely analogous case to this had taken place in the army. Two years ago, the hon. and gallant Member for Wigan had moved for a Committee to inquire into the question of pay of a number of officers of the army, who, hav- ing retired upon half-pay, were placed on a retired list, simply for the purpose of making room for others, and having obtained promotion in course of time, were refused the pay of their increased rank. Their extra pay had since been granted, and this should be considered a precedent in favour of those meritorious officers whose interests they were now advocating. He (Major Edwards) hoped the Admiralty might be induced to pursue a similar course upon the present occasion, which would obviate the necessity for these repeated remonstrances on the part of a large section of the House as to the gross injustice under which the gallant body of men were at present suffering.


said, he also supported the claim of those officers. He would entreat his noble and gallant Friend, in the name of humanity, for the credit of the service and the honour of the country, to reconsider this subject, and to give the officers in question the benefit to which they were entitled.


said, he had filled the office of private secretary to one of the Lords of the Admiralty at the time when the order was issued, and his attention had therefore been naturally directed to the claim of those officers. He did not, however, regard their claims in the light in which they had been presented to the House by other hon. Members. The description of the list was, he admitted, rather unfortunate; but still it was a stereotyped form, and he did not think that any reasonable construction of it could entitle these officers on the retired list to the advantages which were claimed for them. Moreover, it would be unfair to some officers on the active list, if those on the reserved list were dealt with as the hon. and gallant Member for Wakefield had urged. If they looked at the position and prospects of those officers in 1851, before the Order in Council was signed, they would find that most of them were the old war first lieutenants, and he doubted whether, if a return of their sea services as commanders afloat were called for, it would be found that they averaged twelve months' service. Of these ninety-five officers, he thought only twenty-five had served afloat as commanders. Of these twenty-five only fifteen had been in command; the other ten served as commanders in line-of-battle ships, principally flagships in harbour or guardships of the ordinary; forty-five had served in the Coastguard or in the Transport service, or in what they called long shore berths, such as naval rendezvous for raising men, or in superintending packets; and the remaining twenty-five had never served a single day in any Capacity, either afloat or on shore, since they were lieutenants. The majority of these would be receiving 18s. and 20s. a day, while post-captains on the active list only received 10s. 6d. or perhaps 12s. 6d. a day.


said, that the subject had so often been discussed in the House that he felt he need not then enter into its various details. He had, however, to make a statement which would, he believed, for ever set the question at rest. In consequence of the many opinions expressed as to the claims of the captains of the reserved list, his noble Friend the Duke of Somerset had referred their case to the law officers of the Crown. The law officers had gone very carefully into the whole merits of the case; they had done so in deference to opinions that had been expressed by other high legal authorities, who had given a verdict in favour of the claims of the officers of the reserved list. It was not usual, as the House was aware, to give publicity to the confidential opinions of the law officers of the Crown; he would not therefore read any portions of that opinion, except one short sentence. It stated— In our opinion, the Board of Admiralty have taken a correct view of the position and rights of the commanders promoted to be captains on the reserved list, and such officers are not to be regarded as officers on the active list, so as to be capable of rising to the higher scale of half-pay, provided under the Order of Council of 1851. He felt in a very delicate position with regard to this matter. These gentlemen were brother officers of his own, and he naturally felt a sympathy for them. At one time he felt there was some grievance in their case, but having had the opportunity of going very carefully over the whole of the case, and the correspondence on it, he was bound to say he agreed with the opinion of the law officers of the Crown. Having stated that opinion, he believed the House would think it better he should not go into all the details. It was very desirable that these lists should be simplified, and that there should no longer be such various classes of retirements. But the House should remember that these lists were remnants of the old war, and, desirable as the object was, there were no means of putting them on a better footing as long as the old officers were living. In reply to the question of the hon. and gallant Member for Wakefield, he would state that there was no objection to lay on the table the two forms of commissions the hon. Member had referred to. It had been the practice to give commissions when officers, were either promoted to rank or appointed to a ship, and on each commission an officer had to pay a stamp duty of 5s. In future there was to be one form of commission for each class of officers in the navy, whether on the active, reserved, or retired list. That commission would constitute the officer's legal rank in the navy, and appointments to a ship would be made by letter. That was the history of the late Order in Council respecting commissions, and it had nothing to do with reserved officers as distinct from active officers. His hon. and gallant Friend asked for a return of the names and pay or other emoluments of the first sixteen captains on the reserved list. It would be inviduous to give the first sixteen names, but there would be no objection to-give the whole of the names in the list. It was perfectly true that they were not receiving as much as the captains who had been twenty years on the active list, and, being above fifty-five years of age, were entitled to a retirement of 18s. 6d. a day; but it must be borne in mind that the latter were officers who had served their time as commanders, while most of the officers on the reserved list had not served as commanders at all, and they were not entitled to be put in the same position as officers on the active list. The last part of the Motion he could not consent to, and he hoped the House would support him in resisting it. The hon. and gallant Gentleman and others proposed, on a former occasion, that the case of the reserved captains be referred to the law officers of the Crown. The case had been referred to the law officers, and he had given, as far as he could, a rèsumè of their opinion. He had received a letter from a distinguished officer on the active list, who earnestly entreated him not to accede to the Motion of the hon. and gallant Member, as it would seriously reflect, he said, on many old officers as well as himself. If they were to be in the game position as reserved officers, he hoped that his hon. and gallant Friend would remember, that if by a Vote of the House the reserved officers were put on the same footing with active list, it would have the effect of damaging seventy officers out of the ninety-five who were on that list, because they must cease to receive the extra pay they were now receiving for long service. He was quite sure that, taking that view, his hon. and gallant Friend would do right to allow the question to rest, and not further lead these old officers to believe that they had any just claims to be placed upon an equality with active officers in the service.


said, that he could not understand why the Admiralty should refuse to concede the just claims of the meritorious officers whose case had been so repeatedly brought before the House. If the question remained as it was at present, it would still continue a bugbear, and the officers would consider that they had not had justice done to them. He wanted to know the reasons on which that justice had been refused. The Admiralty ought to have consulted the law officers upon the question when it was first brought forward; but having at length done so, he did not see why the officers could not be told the reasons why the claim had been refused. If the Motion were pressed to a division, he should certainly support it.


said, he considered that the noble Duke at the head of the Admiralty had taken a very proper course in submitting the matter to the law officers. The fact was, the claim depended entirely upon the construction of the Order in Council. He had always considered that order very doubtful in respect to its wording, and he should have been prepared to have voted for the Motion had it not been for the statement of the Government that the matter had been submitted to the law officers, and they had decided that the proper construction of the Order in Council operated against the claims of the officers in question. He quite agreed that it was contrary to the practice of the House to call upon the Government to produce the opinions of their law officers, which were private and confidential documents; and, indeed, he could easily conceive that such a course would be highly inconvenient. Under these circumstances, therefore, and however sorry he might be for the individuals who suffered by it, he thought his hon. and gallant Friend must arrive at the conclusion that he had done all he could for them, and that the matter must be allowed to rest.


said, the subject was in an unsatisfactory position, and it had not been improved by the speech of the right hon. Baronet. He had heard the right hon. Baronet on several occasions express his opinion that those officers had been ill-treated, and that the construction of the document was in their favour, but the right hon. Baronet now advised them to give way, because the opinion of the law officers had been taken, and their opinion was against them. He had the most profound respect for the opinions, of the law officers, but he should like to see the statement of the case upon which it was based. On the last occasion when the subject was discussed the right hon. Baronet the Member for Portsmouth said his meaning was different from that which had been put upon the order; but it was a clear principle of law, that when any one was induced to act upon a written document, the question was not what was the intention of the framer, but what idea was conveyed to the minds of those who were induced to act upon it. There was a conflict of opinion upon the construction of the document. He believed that his learned Friend Mr. Lush, than whom no one was more competent to give an opinion, was directly opposed to the law officers of the Crown. Any opinion might be obtained according as the facts were stated; and if the opinion of the law officers was to be binding, it should be given upon a case submitted to, and settled by the advisers of the reserved captains. He expressed no opinion of his own; but as these gentlemen could not submit the question to any tribunal, he thought the Admiralty ought not to put their own construction upon the order, and refuse all redress. He suggested that the opinion of the law officers of the Crown should be taken on a statement of the facts drawn up to the satisfaction of the Government and the officers, or, better still, that the case should be submitted to the Privy Council or such other tribunal as might be agreed upon by both parties. The question might thus be finally disposed of.


said, he should not have risen, as he certainly did not intend to take the unprecedented and inconvenient course of entering into a vindication of the opinion given by the law officers of the-Crown. His hon. and learned Friend, however, had rather inconsiderately thrown out an idea that the Government had submitted to the officers of the Crown a garbled statement.


I said nothing of the kind. What I said was, that there might have been the omission of facts which the officers themselves would have wished to have stated.


said, he accepted the explanation, and would state that the course taken by the Government was, to lay before the law officers all the documents which contained the statements of the officers themselves, the Order in Council, and the other papers, upon the proper construction of which their case depended, in order that they might speak for themselves. Whether their opinion was right or wrong, it was formed upon a clear view of the legal meaning of the document on which the retirement was granted.


said, he wished to ask, whether the opinion of the Lord Chancellor had been taken on the point, because he believed that the opinion of that high functionary was wholly opposed to that of the Solicitor General. The officers, who had been unjustly treated, were officers who had seen more service than any officers had seen since the peace of 1815. He thought it disgraceful that the Government should refuse the paltry sum that was claimed.


said, he was of opinion, that after what had fallen from the hon. and learned Solicitor General, the Motion should be withdrawn; but he thought the matter was one which ought to be inquired into by a Select Committee.


observed, that it would be extremely unfortunate for the officers themselves if the Motion was, under the circumstances, pressed to a division. He hoped the Motion would be withdrawn, and it would be then competent to the hon. and gallant Gentleman to call the attention of the Government and the House to the question in some other form.


said, he would withdraw the Motion. At the same time, he wished to announce his intention of moving for a Committee on the subject.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.