HC Deb 16 March 1866 vol 182 cc467-72

Supply considered in Committee—NAVY ESTIMATES.

(In the Committee.)

(1.) £892,865, New Works, & c., Naval Establishments, agreed to.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £12,656, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the additional Charge for Half-Pay, Reserved Half-Pay, and Retired Pay consequent upon altering the system of Retirement of Officers of the Royal Navy, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1867.


said, that this Vote was intended to secure a better flow of promotion in the Royal Navy by extending the system of compulsory retirement, including the flag list. The scheme had already been laid before the House in detail, and he need not therefore advert to it at any length. The object of the scheme was to retire the flag officers who had hitherto been exempt from the system of compulsory retirement. It would not, however, deprive them either of the pay or of a rise in rank from that of rear to full admiral. Although in certain cases there might be honourable and distinguished officers in the navy who might feel that their position was somewhat damaged, yet he felt satisfied that such was the public and honourable feeling of those officers that they would not stand in the way of a proper flow of promotion which would enable young and active officers to rise to high grades in the service. He believed that for the benefit of the naval service those officers would not object to retire when they came to ages which would include them within the scheme of compulsory retirement.


said, that this was a scheme to effect acceleration of promotion in the navy, by making room at the top of the list. Although he did not object to it, he was anxious to call attention to another class of measure which might be adopted for the same purpose, but affecting the other end of the list. He thought that the object of quick promotion in the navy might be attained by not admitting so many into the junior ranks of the service. In the army there were no more officers taken on than there were occasion for, but that was not the case with respect to midshipmen in the navy. In a first-class vessel the proper complement, he was told, was sixteen midshipmen, but twenty-four were always taken. He should like, therefore, to hear some official statement from the noble Lord as to what was the rule of limitation as to taking midshipmen.


said, that several hon. Members wished to make remarks on the Vote for new works which had come on unexpectedly, and had just been carried sub silentio, to the astonishment of himself, his hon. Friend near him (Mr. Samuda), and others. Perhaps his noble Friend would give some explanation in regard to the docks at Malta, a subject in which some hon. Gentlemen opposite took a good deal of interest. With regard to the present Vote it was, he thought, to be regretted that the navy was a close profession. No matter what a boy's taste might be for the navy, unless he obtained the patronage of an admiral, a captain, or some Member of Parliament influencing the Government of the day, he had no chance of entering the navy. There ought to be some method of open competition or otherwise, by which a certain number of young gentlemen could enter the navy every year. At a time when they were opening the Engineers and other branches of the public service to public competition, it was to be regretted that the system adopted in the navy shut the door of the most popular profession of the country against all except those who had naval or Parliamentary interest.


said, that on the contrary, he believed there was a great improvement as to the chances of promotion in the lower ranks of officers. Such a thing now was almost unknown as an officer remaining a sub-lieutenant move than two or three years, and very few men were found languishing as lieutenants anything like the time they did ten or fifteen years ago.


said, he wished to call attention to the number of officers in the navy, particularly of admirals on the active and retired list. There were already 190 admirals, vice-admirals, and rear-admirals on the retired list. He had been told that only four of these had served their full time as captains. They cost the country not less than £81,510 a year. He made no objection to the amount of their pay, but when he looked at the number of ships in commission, and contrasted it with the number of admirals on both the lists, active and retired, he found there were 148 ships in commission, 190 admirals on the reserved and retired list, and 103 admirals on the active list. That gave more than two admirals to every ship in commission. He could not but regard this state of things as an unnecessary expense to the country and an injury to the naval profession. The case of the flagship Edgar showed the expense thrown upon the country by having on board of our ships an excess of officers over the full complement. The number of officers on board the Edgar, in one year and a half, over and above the full complement, was upwards of seven upon an average, causing an excess of cost of pay of £721. The total amount of the pay for the officers of the Edgar during the period taken for his illustration was £1,439; whereas, if the complement had not been exceeded, the sum would have been but £718. Thirty pounds a year each for provisions must be reckoned for those extra officers, making £337, so that the country paid no less a sum than £1,058 for overstocking the profession in the flagship Edgar. More midshipmen were admitted than was necessary, as shown by the smaller proportion of ensigns in the army admitted. This was to the detriment of the profession and the injury of the nation.


said, that the Edgar was a flagship, and that the excess over the complement of other ships was usual.


(having just entered the House) said, he wished to ask when the noble Lord intended to invite the attention of the House to the plan for the retirement of flag officers which he had mentioned in moving the Navy Estimates.


said, that the matter was before the House then. His hon. Friend (Mr. Seely), the naval Reformer, ought to discriminate between that which was right and that which required correction. Every flagship had a certain number of naval cadets and disposable officers of every grade available for service as they were required in other ships. It was true they had a much greater number of Admirals and flag officers than was necessary for the navy, but there were many gallant and distinguished officers who had fought and bled for their country whom they could not treat unfairly. The Government were moving gradually in the direction of reducing the upper classes in the navy by filling up only two out of every three vacancies, their object being to bring the establishment down to the proper requirements of the service. The captains' list was being reduced. The lieutenants formed the pivot of the whole, and at the present moment they were short of lieutenants. During the past year the entries of cadets of the first class numbered 176; and if they meant to keep up the list of lieutenants they would have rather to increase than decrease the entries into the navy. His hon. Friend (Mr. Otway) had remarked that while the admissions to most other branches of the public service were open to competition, the entries into the navy were confined entirely to choice, and, in fact, it might be said went by patronage. That was a matter which deserved discussion in that House. It was desirable that there should be the means of throwing open a portion at least of the admissions to the navy to competition. A difficulty presented itself to that in consequence of the tender age at which boys entered the navy. A boy might afterwards grow up to be a person of great character, although when only twelve years old he might not have exhibited any striking degree of intellectual development, and it had been thought that they could not apply the principle of a competitive examination to boys of that early age. That was one of the principal reasons which had, of late, at least, prevented the Government from introducing that principle into the navy, although it had been adopted as regarded the Marines. Under the present system nominations were made by the Board of Admiralty with certain exceptions—for instance, flag-officers and captains of ships in commission had a certain number of nominations. The colonies received also a certain number. He could not conclude without expressing the great gratification he felt that it had fallen to his lot to close his official career—for it was not probable that he would again move the Navy Estimates—by proposing a plan for increasing the flow of promotion in the navy, which must redound to the advantage of the profession to which he belonged.


said, it appeared to him that flag officers, according to the proposal of the noble Lord, were to retire after a certain time; but an important exception was made in the case of those officers who had hoisted their flags or been employed in the Admiralty, seeing that by Clause 7 they would not be called upon to retire. There were 112 Admirals altogether interested in this matter, eleven of whom would be compelled to retire, while 100 would remain. He suggested that the noble Lord should postpone the Vote, that the subject might be more fully considered.


said, that he concurred in the recommendation just made.


said, that he wished to express his sense of the importance of the proposal made by the noble Lord. He thought it should have occupied a more prominent place in the Estimates. A great change was proposed, and the House ought to have received notice of the time when it would be brought forward. It had taken him by surprise. He did not wish it to be understood that he disagreed with the plan of his noble Friend. On the contrary, when he left the Admiralty six years ago he put into the hands of the Duke of Somerset a plan similar to that of the noble Lord, involving the compulsory retirement of officers at a certain age. He then entreated the noble Duke not to consider the source whence the plan emanated, but to look at it only in connection with its bearing upon the interests of the service. Seven years had elapsed since that time, and the noble Duke had made various changes in the system of promotion. He was not prepared to discuss the details of the plan now before the House, because he had not known when it would come under their consideration. He had, however, been startled by what had been said by his hon. Friend on the opposite side of the House (Mr. Moffatt) as to the extent of the exemptions. He believed that the principle of retirement according to age was a very wholesome one; but the exceptions were numerous to an extraordinary extent. His plan would not have pressed so severely as the noble Lord's did on flag officers, for he required retirement of flag officers under seventy years of age while the noble Lord required the retirement of rear admirals at sixty-five, and of vice admirals at sixty-eight. His proposal was, that any flag officer who arrived at seventy years of age should not be deprived of his honours, but only that he should not stop the promotion of others.


said, that the scheme had been before the House for a week. He had been anxious that it should be discussed at an early date, because the navy were desirous that it should come into operation as quickly as possible, for there was a stagnation of promotion in the navy. The hon. Member for Southampton (Mr. Moffatt) had not given a fair view of the position officers would occupy under the system now proposed. The plan of the right hon. Gentleman on the Opposition side of the House (Sir John Pakington) met with serious opposition at the time it was proposed, because it included officers who had hoisted their flags and had had an opportunity of distinguishing themselves as flag officers. The scheme now before the House, however, would not affect an officer who had hoisted his flag or had served in the Admiralty. Flag officers on the retired list would rise in pay and rank precisely in the same degree as they would have done had they been on the active list. If his hon. Friend behind him thought that officers who had hoisted their flags, or who had served in the Admiralty, should not be exempted from compulsory retirement, let him make a Motion to that effect. He had no wish to press his proposal now if the Committee were in favour of deferring it.


said, that he thought that little difference would be made by postponing the Vote till the following Friday. Every Member ought to have an opportunity of expressing an opinion on the proposal. For his own part, although he approved its principle, he would not pledge himself to the details. He wished, therefore, to have time to consider it, and he trusted the noble Lord would deem it right to make a statement as to its whole scope.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.