HC Deb 10 April 1876 vol 228 cc1518-28

, in rising to call attention to the position of the Royal Marine Corps, especially as regarded the stagnation of Promotion and the comparative inadequacy of the Pay of the Officers, in respect of which he had given Notice of a Motion for inquiry by Royal Commission or otherwise, but which by the Rules of the House he was precluded from moving, said, he need not remind the House that the Royal Marines, though in point of organization they were a military body, were an essential part of Her Majesty's Naval Force, constituting from one-third to one-fourth of its natural strength. It was the misfortune of this corps to occupy a peculiar position between the Army and the Navy. They had the arduous duties of both, but the collateral advantages of neither. They had never got the Governorship of a fortress or a province; they had never had any Staff appointment in India, and never an Adjutancy of Militia. Having no employment out of the pale of their own corps, the block of promotion was so great as to become almost hopeless. There were in the Royal Marines seven senior lieutenant-colonels of 35 years', and the youngest lieutenant-colonel had 30 years' service; the senior captains had 30 and the junior captains 17 years' service; and the first 61 subalterns had an average of 15 years' meritorious service, yet they were receiving only £1 a-day. It must, therefore, be admitted that there was something very exceptional in the arrangements as to promotion in this corps, and that those arrangements operated very unjustly on those gallant officers. One cause of the block was, as he had said, that there were no outlets for promotion at the top of the tree in the Governorships and other appointments which officers of the sister Service got. Another cause was that the generals did not retire until they were 70 years of age, while officers of corresponding rank in the Navy were retired at 65, and rear-admirals—corresponding in rank to major-generals—at 60. By the adoption of the same limits of age for retirement as in the Navy one cause of the block in promotion would be removed. An exceptional injustice was done to the colonels second commandants. They were full colonels on the Staff of the Army, yet their pay was only £1 a-day, which was less by a third than their pay was in 1812, although their work now was greater, and the cost of living was infinitely greater. There were several captains who had been 29 or 30 years in the Service, and in addition to there being no rank of major to which they could be promoted, there was the further hardship that 46 Marine captains had, by the abolition of the Woolwich division and other changes, been placed on the Reserve list to step in when a vacancy occurred over the heads of officers who had earned promotion by long service. By that means the promotion of lieutenants was retarded by five years. There were 16 senior lieutenants, averaging 17 years service. Their maximum pay was only £136 17s. 6d. per annum, only equal to the pay of a clerk in a first-rate shop or bank, and they could not expect any promotion for three years longer service. He was informed on the best authority that so great was the discontent among the officers in the Royal Marines, induced by these disabilities and disadvantages and long neglect of their claims by successive Governments, that the prospect of supplying vacancies in that corps had become very serious indeed. As regarded physique, discipline, and tout ensemble, the Marines were second to no other corps in the Service; and it was highly disadvantageous to the Service that the existing feeling of discontent and hopeless disgust should be allowed to continue among them. It was stated on a former occasion by the right hon. Gentleman that he was waiting for the Report of the Royal Commission on Army Promotion and Retirement. But this was not a satisfactory reason for delay, be- cause there was no representative of the Marines upon the Royal Commission, and no question was allowed to be asked respecting them there. Moreover, the position of the Marines differed so entirely from that of the Army, that to deal with the Marines upon the rules applicable to the Army would be unjust. His suggestion was for an inquiry into the stagnation of promotion existing in the corps, and the inadequate pay of the officers. Such an inquiry would not take long, and would not cost much, for the witnesses were all on the spot. Further delay was cruel, and one or two things might be done which would give sensible and immediate relief—for example, he would suggest that the Government might extend to the Marines the temporary scheme of August, 1873, and give to about 20 captains £75 per annum over what they were entitled to, as an inducement to them to retire. That would partly remove the block of promotion, and be received by the junior officers with great satisfaction. If they gave 6s. per day to the four colonels second commandants it would only cost £1 4s. per day, or about £460 a-year, which could be easily given by a Treasury that could find £500 extra for a Commissioner's salary without inquiry. If the Admiralty were in earnest on this question, he did not believe that the Treasury would refuse to do justice to brave and meritorious men who had done nothing to deserve injustice.


said, that the Motion of the hon. Member could not, unfortunately, be put to a vote in consequence of the late division, and therefore the House could only discuss and consider it. Having had something to do not only with the official arrangements, but with the Parliamentary inquiry, he might perhaps be allowed to make a few observations. In 1867 the subject was referred to a Select Committee. At that time the Artillery and Engineers were the only non-Purchase corps, and the general opinion at that time was that the Marines should be dealt with, not perhaps exactly on the same lines, but as a non-Purchase corps; but since that time the whole of the Army had become non-Purchase. In considering the claims of the Marines it was necessary to take into account the system of promotion and retirement both in the Army and the Navy. He had entirely concurred, therefore, with the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord when, some time ago, he said it was expedient to see what arrangements were made upon the Report of the Royal Commission upon Pay, Promotion, and Retirement in the Army before dealing finally with the Marines. He was bound, however, to say that he had no idea, when expressing this opinion, that there would be so enormous a delay in preparing the Report of this Commission. Some Members of the Commission were, no doubt, fully employed, but their inquiries had already occupied more than two years, and when he supported the Government in the view they then expressed, he had no idea that that meant a postponement for two years of the claims of the Marines. These claims were carefully considered in 1867 by a Committee of which he was Chairman, and again in 1870, when the scheme of naval retirements was settled; but, in his judgment, some modification was now required in the arrangements then made. He did not speak as to particular details. These would be for the consideration of the Government, after official inquiry. But he thought there were changes which it would be most unjust not to make as soon as possible, and he deeply regretted the great delay which had been caused through waiting for the Report of the Commission. Perhaps one way out of the difficulty would be to make some small changes at once in the position of the officers in the Marines, leaving the general question over until after the Report of the Commission was forthcoming.


said, that it was quite clear that the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty was fully alive to the present state of affairs, because more than once during the last Session he alluded to the extreme urgency of the case, and pledged himself, as far as it was possible for him to do, that measures should be taken to remove the grievance which existed. He regretted the absence of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, because the expression of opinion of the House might have produced some moral effect upon him, and have induced him to lend a favourable ear to any proposition which the Admiralty might suggest, and he hoped the Secretary to the Treasury would report to the right hon. Gentleman the unanimous feeling that existed that some steps should at once be taken with respect to the Royal Marines. It was not desirable to wait for the long-delayed Report of the Army Purchase Commission; but that steps should be immediately taken to put an end to a state of things which was not only unfair and unjust to the Royal Marines, but disadvantageous to the country. It was a grievance to the whole Army that a system should be carried on which had been stated by the First Lord of the Admiralty to be indefensible—waiting for the Report of a Commission which was delayed from Session to Session, and which the House had the authority of the Secretary of State for War for believing would not be presented in sufficient time for any steps to be taken during the present Session. The final settlement of the case of the Royal Marines must, no doubt, wait until the settlement of the whole case of the officers of the Army. But there were grievances peculiar to the Marines. They asked to be placed on the same footing as their brethren, either in the Army or the Navy. They complained that, at the present time, they were in a position inferior to both these Services, and said that whilst waiting for more comprehensive measures they ought to receive more pay, and that greater facilities should be given for promotion, and that they ought not to be kept in their disadvantageous position.


cordially joined in the recommendation of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Childers) that the Government should no longer delay in removing that stagnation of promotion from which the Marines so severely suffered. On mere grounds of economy, this relief should be at once given, for if the Admiralty waited for the Report of the Army Commission, it would be a Parliamentary proof of the intentions of the authorities to apply the Army system to the Marine Corps, and not only likely to lead the country into enormous expense, but certain to do so, for past experience showed that all these inquiries on a large scale invariably led to such results. It should be clearly understood that a proper system of promotion could not be established in the Marine Corps until the grades and numbers in the several ranks of the Marine Corps were assimilated to those of the Army, and until all the other Army advantages were given to the Marines in due proportion. These changes could not be made without adding largely to the numbers of officers in the senior ranks of the Marines, and unavoidably there by increasing the cost of this Corps. That evil should be avoided, and other measures taken to attain the object of relieving the Corps from stagnation in rise, without departing from the present exceedingly good organization in the Marine Corps. The Government should not, therefore, put off the application of remedies which would be sufficient for the existing defects, and make the mistake of waiting for plans likely to endanger its efficiency. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had only to supply the Admiralty with a few thousands of pounds to allow of special retirements being made amongst the seniors of the Corps. A small outlay now would prevent a much greater one in the future, and with the certainty of such consequences he was sanguine that the Treasury would endeavour to remedy the defect which at present existed in the promotion of the Marine officers. Of this he was assured, that if the Government had the least desire to remove this grievance they could very easily do so.


supported the claims of the Marines, who, he said, had been too long neglected. As a Member of the Committee which sat in 1867, he would remind the House that its inquiries related chiefly to promotion and retirement in the non-seniority corps—the Royal Artillery, the Royal Engineers, and the Royal Marines. The Committee recommended a variety of changes; and in the two former, the rank of major had been restored, but nothing whatever had been done for the Royal Marines. If that rank of which they were deprived many years ago were restored, it would greatly aid the flow of promotion, and go far to remedy an injustice which was deeply felt by the Royal Marines. He thought it was injurious to the public service to continue to treat this meritorious body of officers with neglect.


said, the Marines had been too much neglected by the Governments of both sides of the House. It was absolutely necessary to do something in the matter in order to relieve the corps from the lamentable condition into which it had fallen. He contended that the advantages that had been obtained by the Corps of Engineers and the Artillery might, as a matter of justice, be granted to the Marines.


said, the right hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers) had spoken in favour of doing something for the Royal Marines, but not a word to explain why, when in office, his Party had done nothing. There were at the present moment a large number of Marine officers who might retire on certain fixed allowances. Thus there were two colonels-commandant who were eligible to retire on £600 a-year, eight lieutenant-colonels on £450, and 21 captains on £300. For reasons of their own they did not choose to retire, and the money for those pensions must at the present moment be provided for and in the Treasury. He begged to suggest that, as they did not choose to retire, the privilege should be extended to officers junior to them. A temporary relief every year would thus be provided for some anomalies; and the privilege ought to be extended to quartermasters, which would affect the ranks of the non-commissioned officers. There had been no vacancy at all in the quartermasters for the last seven years, and the promotion of non-commissioned officers was thereby stopped. He suggested, too, that by garrison duty increased employment might be found for the Marines. For instance, Gibraltar was won by the swords of the Marines, and now that the Suez Canal diminished the importance of the fortress as a depôt for troops on the highway to India, it would be a great act of grace to allow them to garrison it.


concurred in the views generally taken by hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House on the subject, and he trusted that the Government would relieve the Royal Marines from the grievance of which they so justly complained. Great dissatisfaction prevailed among the corps, and the time had now arrived when something ought to be done without further delay, and without waiting for the Report of the Commission.


said, the Marines were suffering under great disadvantages, and he hoped the Government would give the case immediate attention.


said, that he should not like the debate to close without being allowed to say a few words in support of the Motion, as he had held a brief during the two previous Sessions on behalf of the gallant corps now under discussion, and he had in his hands at the present time numerous letters from distinguished members of the corps, who justly complained of the grievances under which they continued to suffer. He urged that the time was come when Her Majesty's Government should address themselves in right earnest to the removal of those grievances which had been so fully detailed in the speech of the hon. Member for Plymouth (Mr. Sampson Lloyd). It should be recollected that the sea service of the officers of Marines ceased when they had passed the rank of captain, and the majors, colonels, and generals were obliged to remain and languish at home, without any hope or prospect of promotion, at an age when active service was most desired by them in order to obtain professional distinction. In the meantime, all the higher honours and coveted appointments of the Army were altogether withheld from them. This was manifestly unjust, and required a remedy. They had been advised to wait for the Report of the Royal Commission on Army Retirement; but the fact was they had no representative of their corps on the Commission, no evidence had been or would be adduced on their behalf, and the Report would have no reference to the Marines whatever. They appeared to be nobody's child. There it lay between two stools, on one of which sat the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War, while on the other sat his right hon. Friend now before him, the First Lord of the Admiralty. Neither of them would stretch out a hand to pick the child up. The stool on which the First Lord sat was quite strong enough to support him, and he (Sir Eardley Wilmot) hoped that he would no longer hesitate to take the child up and place it in his ample bosom, where he had no doubt it would be well fostered and cherished. To speak seriously, full justice had already been done by many who had spoken to the noble and distinguished services of the Royal Marines, and not least by his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Oxfordshire (Colonel North). There was no quarter of the globe which did not bear record to the feats and exploits of this gallant corps, and especially because, from the peculiar nature of their services on board our ships, they were frequently called upon to act at times and in places where the Regular Army had not the same opportunities of action. He was glad to hear that his right hon. Relative the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers), though he had not the good fortune to be in the House when he spoke, strongly deprecated further delay in remedying the grievances complained of by the Marines, and the testimony of the right hon. Gentleman was the more important because he had previously advocated delay. The right hon. Member for Pontefract could not but feel sympathy with the Royal Marines, as he quitted office in 1871, having proposed a scheme for the Navy, but having left the Marines out; and, in consequence, that force had been left out in the cold ever since. At the same time, he (Sir Eardley Wilmot) felt convinced that no one had the interests of that corps more at heart than the First Lord of the Admiralty, and the real difficulty in the way of redress appeared to be the question of pounds, shillings, and pence. Surely, in order to do justice to a noble corps, which had deserved so well of their country, a wealthy nation like England would not grudge the expenditure and outlay of a few thousand pounds in order to stop the complaints—the just complaints—of a distinguished arm of the Service, and to set forward the flow of promotion, now completely dammed up and stagnant. He had very great pleasure in giving his cordial support to the Motion of the hon. Member for Plymouth.


said, that the officers of the Royal Marines and their claims to promotion had not escaped the attention of the Admiralty, and they had every possible desire to remedy the grievances complained of. Shortly after his right hon. Friend became First Lord he examined the subject, in the hope that he might be able to redress their grievances, especially in regard to the stagnation of promotion. It was, however, necessary to wait for the Report of the Commission on Army Promotion and Retirement. It was thought by the Treasury—and he quite agreed with them—that it would be desirable to proceed pari passu with the Army and the Marines; but no long time would elapse after the Report of the Commission was published before a well-considered scheme for redressing the grievances of the officers of the Marines would be laid before the House. The Admiralty had been urged to take provisional measures; but even if they were desirable there might be found a lion in the path in the shape of the Treasury. He, for one, was opposed to provisional measures, because they were apt to prevent greater improvements. He trusted that his hon. Friend would accept his assurance of the desire of the First Lord to redress the proved grievances of which the Marines complained.


said, it was no part of the duty of the Commission on Army Promotion and Retirement to inquire into the case of the Royal Marines, and he did not believe that their Report would have any bearing on the subject. He hoped that the Government would really do something for them, and would take means to satisfy the legitimate demands of this gallant body of men. The expenditure of a few thousands would meet all that the officers of this much-neglected corps required.


deprecated the course taken by the Financial Secretary to the Admiralty, in saying that there was a lion in their path in the shape of the Treasury. They must deal with these matters as a Government as a whole, and they could not separate the responsibility of the Treasury and the Admiralty. There might have been difficulties raised by the Treasury to a proposed outlay on the part of the late Board of Admiralty; but he never pleaded that he was in favour of a certain course, and that he had been prevented by the Chancellor of the Exchequer from carrying it into effect. If the matter on hand were reasonable, the hon. Gentleman would find that the Treasury would lose its leonine character and become a lamb.


said, he had stated that if the Admiralty were to propose a provisional measure, they might find a lion in their path in the Treasury; but he had expressly guarded himself against being supposed to be in favour of provisional measures.


said, he would not have risen had it not been for the remarks of the hon. and gallant Member for Sunderland (Sir Henry Havelock), who asked what bearing the Report of the Royal Commission could possibly have on the case of the Marines. The view taken by the Treasury was that, the Army being now on the non-Purchase system, it was in all respects the same as the Marines, and no scheme for placing the Marines in a proper position as to promotion could be carried into effect without making arrangements for the retirement of officers of the Army at a certain age. The Admiralty must know at what age officers of the Army were going to retire before they could, deal satisfactorily with the case of the Marines. It was true that the question as to the Marines was not referred to the Commission; but, still, the general considerations which referred to the whole Army would apply also to the Marines. When the Royal Commission was formed with reference to the Army, he considered whether it would not be possible to refer to the same Commission the question of the stagnation of promotion in the Marines, but the Commission had already been constituted, and he saw that the Marines were not likely to have regarded it with confidence, unless they had their representatives upon it. It would not be difficult, however, to lay down a scheme for the Marines on the line of the scheme for the Army, and he hoped before long to be able to put forward a plan for getting rid of the very great grievances under which the Marines at present laboured.

Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.