HC Deb 11 March 1875 vol 222 cc1628-30

rose to call the attention of the House to the present unsatisfactory position of the Warrant Officers of the Navy. The hon. and gallant Gentleman said, those officers performed duties that were both onerous and responsible. In years gone by they used to rank next to the captain of the ship, and at present, they took sole charge of the ship during the watch. The Commission on the Manning of the Navy, appointed in 1859, had spoken of them in eulogistic terms. The warrant officers had been described on very high authority as being the backbone of the Navy, and it was, therefore, very desirable that their position should be made satisfactory to them. The subject was really more important than it appeared on the surface, because it was related to the larger question of manning the Navy. By improving the position of the warrant officers, a considerable check would be placed upon the desertion of our seamen to another English-speaking nation. It was well-known that great difficulty was at present experienced in getting the best men to become warrant officers, the principal reason being because there was not sufficient inducement held out to them. What they required was increased pay. At present on being appointed they received 5s. 6d. per diem, and during the whole of their service did not receive any addition to it: and what they asked for was 6s. a-day to begin with, with a rise of 1s a-day at the end of every five years' service up to the 18th year, when they would retire with the rank of chief gunner or chief boatswain. There were several reasons why, independently of the good effect it was likely to have upon the Navy, these requests should be complied with. In the first place, when on shore they were no longer employed on harbour duty, which they regarded as a kind of pension. It should be remembered, too, that since the present scale of pay of the warrant officers was fixed the price of the necessaries of life had risen some 45 per cent. and that the petty officers who in our Navy received £40 a-year, received £62 in the American Navy. Their position, too, relatively to the other officers was not a comfortable one. The commissioned officers could not associate with them, and they could not associate with the petty officers, so that the three officers on board a ship-of-war were limited to their own society. On some ships there were only two, and should any disagreement arise between them, each would be in an isolated position; and he knew that good seamen refused to go in for their warrant because of this seclusion. He complained that the Royal Warrant of 1853, which provided for the promotion of warrant officers to the rank of lieutenant, with a donation of £100 for outfit, had never been carried out. He would like to see that warrant acted upon once or twice a-year, and would recommend that the officers so promoted should be put in command of gunboats, or have appointments in the coast service. There would be more than a mere "bubble" in the reputation to be gained by such promotion, as it would render the sons of the warrant officers so advanced eligible for positions to which they could not otherwise aspire. He might mention that as between the present year and the year 1870 there was a reduction in the number of warrant officers from 1,063 to 860, and a saving under the head of £10,000 in the Estimates of this year; while the number of seamen in the Navy had been increased by over 1,000. The men desired to retire from the service at the age of 45, but he, himself, thought they ought to serve until 50. He was sure Her Majesty's Government felt the importance of the subject, and regarded it as one which merited their consideration.


concurred in the views expressed by his hon. and gallant Friend, and observed that the expenses of the warrant officers were now considerably greater now than they formerly were. It ought not to be forgotten that the warrant officers were the backbone of the Navy. Upon their efficiency and trustworthiness the discipline of the ships, under the control of their superior officers, rested; and it was, therefore, of the utmost importance to secure the services of a trustworthy, intelligent, and steady class of men. The inducements now held out for that purpose were not, in his opinion, sufficient. If the Navy was called into active service, the ranks of the warrant officers must be filled up by men who would require great care and exertion on the part of those placed over them to bring them rapidly into a state of efficiency. It was of much importance that the position should be made sufficiently attractive to induce the best men to look forward to attaining it. He trusted that the Admiralty would feel justified in taking the case of these warrant officers into their favourable consideration, and he felt certain that in so doing they would receive the support of the House.