HC Deb 17 June 1863 vol 171 cc1008-17

Order for Second Reading read.


, in moving the second reading of this Bill, stated, that its object was to restore to naval officers the right of appointing agents to take charge of their interests in regard to prize money and bounties, of which they were deprived in the year 1854, when the duty of protecting them was cast upon the Accountant General. It was at that time alleged that the interests of officers and crews would not be so well protected by that officer as by agents whom they themselves appointed and whose remuneration would depend upon the amount of prize money recovered. To prove the soundness of that objection, he would contrast what was done in the case of the capture of St. Jean d'Acre with what had occurred with regard to the kertch prize money. St. Jean d'Acre was captured in the year 1840, an agent was appointed by the captors, and the Government, to avoid going into the Admiralty Court, at once paid over a sum of £70,000, out of which the agent received a commission of 3 per cent. With regard to the Kertch prize, in the year 1857 there was great difficulty in getting the case taken into court, owing to there being no provision for the payment of the agent. Finally, himself and Commodore Wilmot, who were afterwards joined by Captain Mends, asked Mr. Ommanney to take the case into court. Mr. Ommanney did not see his way to any remuneration but out of personal friendship to them he endeavoured to take the case into court; but he did not succeed. Last year the Government was, by the action of the House, compelled to allow the matter to be brought before a court, and in order to avoid foreign complications and save money, they offered to pay £85,000. Mr. Ommanney, who had been actively engaged on behalf of the captors for six years, made a claim to be allowed 2½ per cent. The Treasury, however, said that they could not give away the money of the captors, but the Admiralty offered to give Mr. Ommanney £500 for his remuneration Even though himself, Commodore Wilmot, and Captain Mends were to give up their own shares in this prize—about £200 each—there would still remain £1,000 due to Mr. Ommanney for his commission, which they could only raise by writing letters to 10,000 or 12,000 of the individual captors, Last year, when this subject was before the House, he was informed by the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitehead) that the Government were not prepared to bring in any Bill; but that if he would frame a measure, they would examine it. The Bill was drawn, and after communication with Mr. Romaine, Mr. Rothery, and other officials, alterations were introduced into it. At the request of the noble Lord the Secretary of the Admiralty, who himself promised to introduce a measure, he postponed the introduction of this Bill until after Whitsuntide, and it was then read a first time without opposition. He now found that the Admiralty entertained some objections to certain provisions of the Bill, and he had given notice of Amendments in Committee to meet some of those objections. He understood that some of the legal officials objected to the title, "A Bill for facilitating the distribution of Prize Money," because they said that no such facilities were required. This he certainly could not admit, but he should not refuse to amend the title of the Bill. The Admiralty were anxious, that until distribution took place, the money should remain in the hands of the Accountant General unproductive. This, he thought, was undesirable. In some cases the interest of money which had been invested had paid all the expenses and left a small sum over; and as his measure provided that the money should only be invested in the public funds or stocks in Great Britain and Ireland, he did not see that any valid objection could be raised to it. The officers of the Admiralty were very anxious that the sale of prizes should be left to the Marshal of the Court of Admiralty. In his opinion the interests of the captors would be better attended to by the agent, to whose advantage it would be to get as large a price as possible; and as the money would never come into his hands, but would be paid immediately to the Accountant General, there could be no reason why the whole matter should not be left to him. He could mention many instances, besides that of Kertch in which captors had suffered under the existing law. He believed that every one would admit that this Bill, with, the Amendments which he was prepared to introduce into it, would be a step in the right direction. He therefore trusted that this measure would he allowed to pass, in order that it might stop the gap until the Admiralty Bill was produced, and that the interests of the navy might not be allowed to suffer for want of legislation, which the Admiralty ought to have undertaken, but in regard to which they had neglected their duty.

Moved, That the Bill he now read a second time.—(Sir John Hay.)


said, he would give his hon. and gallant friend the greatest credit for the zeal and industry which he had displayed in preparing this Bill, which showed that he was as good a lawyer as he was a sea captain, and for which the navy generally would be very grateful to him. He should have been very glad to support the Bill with certain Amendments, if he had not been assured by his legal advisers that it would he injurious to the public interests that a Bill dealing with a small portion of naval prize business should be thrown on the top of a vast number of Acts of Parliament with which it might possibly interfere, and which, in dealing with the subject, ought to be very carefully examined, especially when the legal advisers of the Admiralty were preparing a Bill with the view of putting the important subject of prize on a satisfactory footing, repealing certain of these Acts and consolidating the others. To show that the matter was attended with great difficulty, he would refer to a Report made by Mr. Rothery, the Registrar of the Court of Admiralty, on the 20th of May last, in which that gentleman stated that "the Acts relating to the subject were exceedingly numerous, ranging from the reign of Queen Anne to the late war with Russia," and that many of them had unquestionably expired, spent, or otherwise obsolete, while in the case of others it was extremely difficult to say what provisions were in force and how far they might safely; be repealed. As an instance of the latter class of Acts, Mr. Rothery referred to the 45 Geo. III., which had been partially repealed, and re-enacted by a great number of other Acts passed in the same reign, and in the reigns of George IV. and William IV., thus producing a state of confusion which rendered the work of consolidation one of great difficulty. At that moment there was no immediate necessity for legislation upon the subject. If they were at war, he could understand that it might be desirable to pass this Bill; but, under existing circumstances, he thought it would be more for the convenience of the service itself, instead of passing a Bill which was to remain in force for only six months, and which would not reach the foreign stations until it was about to be repealed, to wait for the general measure, which he had no doubt would be ready at the beginning of next Session. He wished that the lawyers could be made to carry a little more sail; but, nevertheless, it was eminently a legal question, and he did not think that it was safe for his hon. and gallant Friend, however eminent might be the legal gentlemen who had assisted him, to press on the measure, when the work had been undertaken by the Government, who were as anxious as he was that the law should be amended. He would not enter into a discussion of the details of the measure, although he was informed that there was hardly a single clause in it which would not require alteration. The Bill could not affect the question of the remuneration of Mr. Ommanney, or the distribution of the Kertch prize money; and he hoped that the assurance which he had given to his hon. and gallant Friend that the Admiralty were endeavouring to push forward their Bill, and that he had every reason to believe that it would be laid upon the table immediately after the meeting of Parliament next year, would induce him not to press the measure, but rather to go to the Admiralty and assist them in the work which they had undertaken.


said, that he did not know much about the subject, but he certainly was not satisfied with the remarks of the noble Lord. It was admitted that the law was in an unsatisfactory state as regarded the captors of prizes, there being great delay in the captors getting the money to which they were entitled. The manner in which the distribution of the Kertch prize money to the soldiers and sailors was delayed was not at all creditable to this country. The measure appeared to him to be a very simple Bill, and one the value of which was in no way affected by the observations of the noble Lord, Its object was simply to adopt the natural course of enabling captors to appoint an agent, and to provide that he should be remunerated by a payment at the rate of 2½ per cent, out of the funds which he received. He trusted that the House would not be deterred from reading the Bill a second time by the promise of a consolidation of the law upon the subject. The work of consolidation would not be impeded, but rather facilitated, by a declaration in favour of the principle that the captors of vessels should be entitled to appoint an agent who might act for them. Consolidations, too, were often attended with many delays, and a promised consolidation ought not to be allowed to interfere with such a measure as this, which was a simple remedy for a simple grievance. The noble Lord said that the Bill would not come into operation in time to produce any advantage. It was, however, possible that before the meeting of Parliament next year the navy might be called upon to make captures; and as the provisions of the measure referred to bounties as well as to prizes, it would at once apply to all bounties payable for the capture of slavers. He hoped that the House would agree to the second reading of the Bill.


said, he fully appreciated the motives of the hon. and gallant Officer, between whom and the Admiralty there was no substantial difference. The only question the House had to consider was, as to the best mode of attaining the object which both had in view; whether it would be better to pass the Bill, which the hon. Gentleman himself said was a mere stop-gap, or to wait until the next Session in order that a well-considered measure, consolidating all the former Acts, might be passed. Almost all the difficulties which were now experienced in regard to legislation arose from the practice of passing stop-gaps. Not only were there in existence, as Mr. Rothery had said, fifty or sixty statutes upon the subject; but when Mr. Riley, the gentleman who prepared Bills for the Admiralty, examined the subject, he found that there were a great many other Acts, all of which would have to be considered with a view of ascertaining whether they were obsolete or repealed or still in existence, and it was that circumstance which had prevented Mr. Riley, with all his diligence and industry, from preparing that year a Bill which would be satisfactory to the House and to the country. The measure before the House was in some respects consistent, in many inconsistent, with previous Acts. If it were passed into law, questions must continually arise as to how far those Acts were virtually or actually repealed. The hon. and gallant Gentleman seemed not to have considered sufficiently the extent to which the jurisdiction of the Admiralty Court would be affected. He proposed to put the cart before the horse; to pay over the proceeds of the sale for distribution among the captors before the Court had decided whether the ship thus sold was lawful prize or not. Clause 26 deprived the Admiralty of the power of ordering the investment of the prize-money, except upon the application of the agent for the captors—a change for which he was unable to discover any valid reason. These and many other clauses would require minute criticism if the Bill ever got into Committee, But he was disposed to believe that it ought not to be entertained by the House. It was a mere stop-gap, forestalling and taking the place of comprehensive legislation on the whole question. He was not answerable for the course which had been adopted; but when the responsible advisers of the Government, able and experienced men, who were actually engaged in the preparation of a measure, said that it was impossible without further consideration to digest and consolidate into a perfected scheme the various Acts already on the statute book, he must say the independent legislation which was now pressed on the House for its adoption reminded him of the proverb. "The more haste, the less speed."


said, he thought it hard that his hon. and gallant Friend should be accused of haste, when he had pointed out that it was not till after repeated promises by the Admiralty and repeated delays on their part, that he had taken the initiative in introducing a measure to Parliament. Four objections had been taken to the Bill, the first being that it was merely a stop-gap, and had reference only to a particular point. He was quite prepared to go along with the noble Lord in desiring the introduction of a measure to remedy all the abuses in the distribution of prize-money, for he had heard officers of experience declare that in any future war it would be difficult to maintain the same discipline which had hitherto prevailed, and to restrain the men from indiscriminate plunder, because they had no longer any confidence in the distribution of prize-money through the legitimate channels. But it was no answer to say, that because they could not do everything by a particular Bill, nothing whatever should be done. He wished to speak with all possible respect of the Gentleman (Mr. Riley) on whose authority they had been told that fifty or sixty Acts of Parliament must he studied before legislation on the question could be approached. But would the learned Gentleman who had just sat down, or anybody else on the Government benches, point out in what way any one of those Acts of Parliament would be affected by the present measure? The Bill did not propose to repeal any Act of Parliament; it did not even contain the clause, so fertile of doubt and difficulty to be found in many acts of Parliament, repealing any portions of previous Acts which might be inconsistent with itself. To the principle of the Bill no objection whatever had been made; and as to verbal criticism on such points as the substitution of the word "Paymaster" for "Accountant General," he gave his learned Friend all the benefit to be derived from them. He ventured to say, that instead of embarrassing Mr. Riley in his preparation of a general measure, it would be an advantage to the draughtsman to have a distinct expression of the opinion of the Legislature on one branch of the subject. Then it was objected to the Bill that there was no probability of war. He was glad to hear the noble Lord express his willingness to enter into securities to keep the peace with all the world; but, unfortunately, he could not always control circumstances. Besides, questions of salvage and bounties would arise under the Bill, and there was some prospect that under the recent treaty with the United States captures of slavers would become more numerous. The fourth objection to the Bill be had been really astonished to hear. It was said, the details of the measure could not be made known on distant stations for a considerable period. Was the large Government Bill, when carried next year, to fly out with any greater rapidity? The noble Lord must have been very hard pushed for objections when he resorted to such a transparent argument. He hoped the House would not refuse to apply a practical remedy to a clear grievance, and that, if it could not aid their soldiers, it would, at least, do justice to their sailors.


said, there was no charge of undue haste against the hon. and gallant Member. The question was simply, whether the House would think it necessary to enter into the details of a measure, the Board of Admiralty having already under their consideration the details of a much more comprehensive Bill, which they had determined to bring before the House. It was not the fault of his noble Friend that the Bill had not been laid upon the table of the House; it was only recently that the Government learnt it would be unwise to press it during the present Session. The Admiralty were acting solely upon the representations of their professional advisers, and he had no doubt his noble Friend would give a pledge that the Bill should be introduced very early in the next Session. No pressing necessity for legislation at an earlier period had been established.


said, the opposition of the Government had resolved itself into, a struggle, not against the principle of the Bill, but simply; for delay. He believed that there were important interests concerned in the speedy settlement of the question. In addition to the increased capture of slavers which might he anticipated within the next two years, in consequence of the Treaty with the United States for the suppression of the slave trade, they were engaged in suppressing piracy in the Gulf of Borneo, and had eight or ten vessels upon that station. If they could only succeed in putting their hands upon the depots there, the amount of prize-money would he considerable, If the Government were really in earnest in amending the law, they ought to have given the necessary instructions last year, immediately after they promised to bring in a Bill. Instead of that, he was told the instructions did not reach Mr. Rothery till the month of January. Could there be a graver reflection upon the heads of Departments than the fact that they suffered sixty or eighty obsolete Acts to encumber the statute book on a matter of such vital consequence to the efficiency of the navy? In 1854 the Act which it was sought to get rid of passed through the Houses of Lords and Commons with indecent haste. Very shortly afterwards a midshipman of the James Watt brought home a prize, and on landing in London with his crew of fifteen men found himself without means of subsistence. On applying at the Admiralty, he was told that the hunger of the party would be satisfied and shelter provided for them when the proceeds of the prize had been realized. Such were the first-fruits of a naval administration of which, speaking advisedly, he ventured to say, that in the course of its existence it had done more harm to the navy of England than ever was done by the French, A precisely similar case to that which he had just mentioned occurred to an officer and prize crew belonging to the Euryalus. Under the old law the officer in charge would have been consigned to an agent, who would have made the necessary advances. In those cases, supposing the prize to have been disabled by stress of weather, he wished to know on whom a bottomry bond for repairs would be drawn?


said, these were not questions for a Prize Court. Application ought to be made to the Admiralty.


said, he admitted that a prize might he victualled from a guardship, say, at the Cape of Good Hope; but a bottomry bond could not be drawn upon men. Under the old Act the officer in charge would draw upon the consignee of the vessel, as in an ordinary mercantile transaction. In the debate in the House of Lords, in 1854, Lord Brougham bore testimony to the invaluable services of the prize agents, and expressed apprehensions, which the result only too well justified, regarding the change of system. Those agents had sometimes succeeded in establishing the claims of the captors where these were disputed by the Government. The Kertch and Yenikale prize money, which had been so long outstanding, was ultimately got in by an agent, and the Government now refused to allow that gentleman any fair amount of commission which he claimed. He did not think the Admiralty had made out any case for delay. He quite conceded the advisability of removing obsolete statutes, and of going into the Admiralty regulations so as to have them condensed. At present officers were placed in a position of the greatest difficulty, and were often mulcted in their pay for faults of which any one might be guilty. He gave his ardent support to the Motion of his gallant Friend, and advised him very strongly to take the sense of the House upon it.


said, he was at a loss to understand why, when the facts were undoubted, the Government should want six or twelve months more to maunder over old Acts of Parliament. He hoped that the discussion which had taken place might have the effect of calling attention to the abuses in the distribution of military prize money, which were just as flagrant as in the navy. Only the other day he received a letter, extremely well written, from a man who stated that he had been walking about the streets for a week in a state bordering on starvation, although money had been due to him by the Government ever since the Kertch and Yenikale expedition. In many cases prize money remained unpaid for ten or twelve years; whole families sometimes starved before their proportions could be obtained. Burmah, Luck now, Delhi, the Deccan,—not one of these names could be mentioned without recalling scandals of the worst kind.


said, he would not oppose the evident wish of the House, but would allow the Bill to be read a second time, and bring forward his Amendments in Committee. At the same time, he felt bound to warn the House, that it was assuming a responsibility which properly belonged to the Government.

Bill read 2o, and committed for Friday