HC Deb 13 August 1881 vol 264 cc1821-35

in rising to move— That, in the opinion of this House, it will promote good conduct and sobriety among the men and boys of the Royal Navy if the spirit ration were henceforth discontinued, and some equivalent given, equal to the value of the spirit ration, in the form of improved dietary or in-creased wages; said, that he was anxious to state his case as briefly as possible, in consideration of the state of Public Business. Intemperance was the great cause of insubordination in the British Navy, and he could not do better than begin by reading an extract from The Western Morning News, one of many similar cuttings he had made from the newspapers, in regard to a court martial which had been held on a private of the Royal Marines for drunkenness and assault. The only defence the man made was that he had taken "an extra tot of grog," and that he did not know what he was doing. He was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment. He (Mr. Caine) took that as an illustrative case of the evils arising from the habit of intemperance, induced by the supply of a daily spirit ration. Another cause of drunkenness, strange as it might appear, was the existence of so many teetotallers on board of every ship in the Navy. This arose in the following way. The money given by the Admiralty to the men in exchange for the rum ration amounted to 1¼d. for two days. The selling price of the rum on shore would be about 1s. 6d. The consequence was, that men who did not draw their spirit ration sold it for what they could get to those members of the mess who were in the habit of drinking. The cook of the mess got considerably more liquor than was contemplated by the naval authorities, being paid for his trouble by each of the other members of the mess giving him a small portion of grog, amounting in the agregate to over two pints a-day. Another cause of drunkenness was the habit of saving drink for a birthday or some other occasion which it was desired to mark as a special festivity. This was of too frequent occurrence, and sometimes a whole mess would get into difficulties through excessive drinking, after having saved their rations for a week or 10 days. Another evil of the system was that the spirit ration was frequently given to petty officers to overlook certain small offences. He quite agreed that they were bound to make their sailors as comfortable as possible on board their ships, and to give them the best scale of diet which was available for them; but he contended that rum was not food, that spirits were not in any way food, that they were bad for the morals, and bad for the health, and ought to be discontinued. He would not detain the House, as in other circumstances he might have done, by quoting the testimony of distinguished medical men on that point. It was now, he thought, clearly proved that spirits were not necessary; but, on the contrary, that they were dangerous as an article of diet. He contended that the discontinuance of the spirit ration would not in the least interfere with the efficiency of the Navy; in his opinion, it would improve it. He could quote many cases to show that sailors who had to serve in very hot climates found that they could do their work better without the spirit ration than they could do with it. In the Cunard Mediterranean Service, where the men had to endure great heat during summer, the spirit ration had been discontinued. He recollected the case of a gunboat which was sent out by the Indian Government to the Bed Sea for special service. By some strange mistake, which, he was sorry to say, did not more frequently happen, the supply of rum was omitted from the ship's stores. That was not discovered until after the ship had set sail. The commander did not think it right to put back; but he put in at Aden and took in a plentiful supply of coffee and sugar. The men had hard service, being frequently employed in rowing in open boats in the hottest weather. They had an unlimited supply of coffee and sugar, and they did their work exceedingly well. When the ship got back to Bombay they were compelled to take the regulation ration of rum, and a petition, signed by every man on board, was presented to the captain, asking that they might have coffee and sugar instead of the rum ration; but the Regulations of the Navy at that time did not allow of it. He had a great many other instances to show that men could do their work in hot climates better without rum than with it. In the Arctic regions, where sailors had to endure great extremes of cold, it was found that they did their duty as well without the rum ration as with it; indeed, evidence was readily forthcoming that men were healthier and better without spirits than they were where spirits were being served out. He would read a short extract from the diary of Sir John Ross, regarding his expedition of 1829–33, which he (Mr. Caine) regarded as of the more value as at that time temperance principles were not so popular as they were now. He (Sir John Ross) narrated how he stood the cold better than any of the men under his command who used tobacco and spirits. When they were obliged to leave the vessel, and left the stores behind them, he said— It was remarkable to observe how much stronger and more able the men were to do their work when they had nothing but water to drink. To come to another point, he (Mr. Caine) found that teetotallers were constantly distinguishing themselves above their fellows. Officers of his acquaintance told him that teetotallers were men chosen for special service, because they could be so much better trusted than other men. The first man who reached the top of Majuba Hill was a teetotaller of the Naval Brigade. He lost his life from the fact of his being first up the hill. In 1877 the Army and Navy Challenge Cup at Wimbledon and the first prize for the Army and Navy were secured by the same man—the first instance of the sort on record. That man was a lifelong teetotaller in the Navy. In 1878 the Army and Navy Challenge Cup was again won by a teetotaller. There were several other instances in which teetotallers in the Navy had distinguished themselves in musketry practice, all of which went to show that there were excellent precedents for the practice which he recommended. The spirit ration had been abandoned in the American Navy for 17 or 18 years with the most beneficent results; and they had a great many instances of sailors in their Merchant Service doing their work more effectively without the spirit ration than those who got the spirit ration. It had been intended that this Motion should have been seconded by the hon. Member for Carnarvonshire (Mr. Rathbone), if he had been able to be in his place. He would have been able to give important evidence of his experience as a member of a firm who, for 30 years, had sailed their ships without giving grog—a practice which had now been adopted by the best Ship-owning Companies. He would have been able to state that even during the Crimean War, when ships were detained for a week or ten days waiting for crews, owing to the scarcity of sailors, neither his firm nor any other firm not allowing grog on board had to wait for a single day for a crew, though the men had to sign articles that they were not to receive any grog. Messrs. Lamport and Holt, managing owners of the Brazil and River Plate Line, with 40 steamers, and trading to a very hot country, said, in reply to an inquiry, that It had been the rule with them for many years, except in cases of sickness, not to allow intoxicants of any description to be served out to the crews of their steamers. This rule, they said, was was adopted by other Steamship Companies, and it did not in any way deter men joining the service. Messrs. Ismay and Imrie, who possessed, in addition to their steamers, a very large fleet of sailing vessels going to all parts of the world, their steamers being engaged in the Atlantic trade, which was a most difficult and exposed voyage, said that all their crews signed articles without any grog clause, and no intoxicants were permitted to be served or sold to them on board. They could testify from long experience that this rule had neither prejudiced nor prevented good crews being freely obtained. For some years grog in their service had been altogether abolished, with satisfactory results in the performance of their duty by the crews, and improved discipline, and, consequently, greater safety of the valuable lives and property intrusted to their care. But perhaps the most remarkable testimony was given by reading the instructions issued in 1875 by the Pacific Steam Navigation Company, one of the largest Steam Shipping Companies trading from Liverpool to the West Coast of South America. He (Mr. Caine) wished it to be noticed that the Directors took the matter under their consideration, and did not leave it to the chief purser. The instructions said that a case of drunkenness on board the Royal Mail Steamship Britannia, on her last homeward voyage, having been proved, they decided to abolish the allowance of spirits to seamen, firemen, bakers, and cooks in future. The stipulation on the articles of "no grog allowed" had to be strictly adhered to, and care must be taken that it was properly explained to the men on signing articles. Previously the seamen, when at sea, were not to have more than three glasses of grog, the fireman three glasses, and cooks and bakers two glasses each; and when in harbour the seamen received two glasses, and the firemen two glasses, and the cooks and bakers one. Even that moderate allowance resulted in so much intemperance on board their ships at sea that they were obliged to rescind this order. Messrs. Smith and Son, the largest owners in the East India trade, and Messrs. Allan Brothers, Liverpool and Glasgow, whose vessels went perhaps the most severe voyages during the winter months, did not allow spirit rations. He knew that the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Admiralty (Mr. Trevelyan) had given his earnest attention to the subject; and he hoped before long to see these stupid, absurd rations got rid of, greatly to the advantage of Her Majesty's most important Service. He would conclude by moving the Resolution of which he had given Notice.


said, he desired to second the Motion of his hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough (Mr. Caine). He believed that the existing arrangements of the Navy really became a temptation to men and boys, and injuriously affected their efficiency. He also believed that they were a hindrance to men in their desire to abstain themselves, and to promote temperance among their shipmates. His own experience as a shipowner was this—that at the beginning of their career they served out grog, but for at least 20 years they had given that up. Their ships were among the ice of the Arctic Seas for weeks. Since they had made the change, it had promoted the good of the men themselves, and had acted most efficiently and well in the promotion of sobriety and good conduct in the crews of their vessels. His experience was all in favour of the recommendation to the Secretary to the Admiralty to take this into consideration, and make arrangements in furtherance of the Resolution which had been submitted to the House.

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, it will promote good conduct and sobriety among the men and boys of the Royal Navy if the spirit ration were henceforth discontinued, and some equivalent given, equal to the value of the spirit ration, in the form of improved dietary or increased wages,"—[Mr. Caine,) —instead thereof.

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


said, he was quite sure that the Navy was not yet ripe for the proposal made. A great deal had been done of recent years in the direction indicated by the hon. Member in his Motion; but there was a number of considerations which weighed against this ration being done away with. Already half of it had been discontinued; but there were considerations with reference to climate and other matters which must be regarded before a ration of this kind was discontinued for those who desired it. Sometimes the water supply on board ship was of a very questionable character, and the medical officers of the Navy were of opinion that the spirit ration was of advantage to the health of the men. He recognized that many of the evils suggested were developed by the spirit ration; but he was quite sure that many other evils would be introduced if it were entirely done away with. For the last 20 years all persons under 18 years of age were not allowed the ration, and a very large proportion of the seamen and marines were members of temperance associations. He thought that the great majority who still continued to use it, and for whom it was useful under certain conditions of service, should be allowed to do so. He could not believe that the Admiralty would prevent this; but that they would go on as they had hitherto done, and endeavour to induce the habit of temperance among our seamen and marines, which had made so much advance of recent years.


said, he could not congratulate the House upon their having entered upon the Navy Estimates through the portal of an unusually interesting discussion—a discussion which had done credit to the interest of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Scarborough (Mr. Caine) in the principles of temperance, and to his eagerness to apply those principles to the welfare of our Navy. He (Mr. Trevelyan) might venture likewise to thank the hon. Member for having stated the arguments against the abuse of spirits in the Navy at a moment when, for the first time for 20 years, the Admiralty were going to do something noteworthy to check it. What that something was he proposed to explain to the House—to state why it was that the Government considered it more expedient to deal with the question in that way than in the way proposed by the hon. Member. The hon. Member's efforts were singularly well-timed. It was only within that very week that the punishment of flogging had practically been abolished in the Navy by Admiralty Order; and the Members of the Board which had issued that Order were bound to ask themselves what could be done to diminish the temptation to the faults and crimes for which flogging was once the recognized punishment. As to the cause of those crimes, there was no doubt whatever that it was drink—the direct and indirect effects of drink—to which most of the misconduct that existed in the Navy was due. In the year 1850 this was so manifest that a Committee of 11 eminent officers—admirals and post captains—was appointed, who found that— The evening grog is the source of those evils which render discipline irksome, and give to the Naval Service a character for harshness which it does not deserve. In consequence of their Report the allowance of rum, which then was a quarter of a pint per diem, was reduced by one-half, and many excellent alterations were made in the system of diet, which conduced much to the bodily comfort and moral welfare of our seamen. The present state of things stood thus: At 7 the sailor had his breakfast, with his cocoa; at 12 he dined, and then he had his half-gill of rum, which was served out in the shape of diluted grog; at half-past 4 he had his supper, with tea and sugar as a beverage, and that was his last meal. One feature of this arrangement was its extraordinary cheapness to the country. The Admiralty purchased the spirit in bond. The rum ration, which, with the duty added, would be worth 2½d., only cost the country the third of 1d., and the entire cost of the rum issued to the whole Navy all the world over was last year only £14,500; and this year, with the rise in spirits, it was £18,000. But the Admiralty, in case a man forewent his rum, thought it right to break through its usual rules, and to allow him far more than the value. A man might take in place of his rum an extra ration of tea and sugar, which was worth a third more than the rum; or savings in money, which were pretty nearly twice the value of the spirits. And it was a rule in the Service that no one, whatever his rank, might draw his spirits if he was below the age of 18. He was not going to try and persuade hon. Gentlemen that a sailor who drank his rum and water with his dinner, and never exceeded that dose, was likely to be much the worse for it. That was not the question. The question was two-fold. In the first place, their young sailors acquired a taste for spirits, by getting them daily at an age when they were quite as well without them. And, in the next place, there was such a quantity of spirits going a-begging on the lower deck, that a man who liked to exceed found it easy to get more than was good for him. Officers who had the means of knowing believed that a sixth of our crews were teetotallers. They certainly were so in some vessels. And yet of the 38,000 seamen and marines afloat, only 2,000 or 3,000 took money or tea in lieu of rum. The plain fact was that whereas the Government gave, and could give, a little over ½d. in place of the ration, the ration itself sold for 2d. and 3d.; and they all knew what that meant. The man who did not drink his rum preferred to sell it to his comrades, rather than sell it to the Government. And, again, rum was issued to officers as well as to men. It was issued, but comparatively seldom drunk; and there could be no doubt that a great deal of it was given away, and went to the lower deck. Dr. Macleod, the retired Inspector General, one of the most trusted and experienced of our medical officers, said that in the different ships in which he had served all serious accidents could be traced to the men who were at the time more or less excited by spirits; and he wrote— It cannot but have a pernicious influence on young men to have a daily ration of spirits served out to them as part of their diet, as it must tend to engender in them eventually a desire for the stimulant, and assist from the first to lay the foundation of disease in whatever organ of the body may happen to be constitutionally weak. But, if it was bad for young men to drink spirits, it was bad for them to go from 4.30 P.M. to 7 A.M. without any food at all, exposed for half the time to the fatigues and rigours of a night watch. Under those circumstances, the Admiralty had come to the following conclusion, under the original impulse of his right hon. Friend the First Commissioner of Works (Mr. Shaw Lefevre), though his scheme had been considerably enlarged since that. In the case of those who should in future enter the Navy, they would withdraw from all men and boys of every rank below the age of 20 their spirit ration. In the working out of this the Admiralty had been considerably strengthened by the Motion on the Paper in the name of his hon. Friend (Mr. Caine). In place of rum, in addition to tea and sugar, they would give a ration, of soluble chocolate and sugar, which sailors, who were keeping midnight or morning watch, might use as the material of a very well-timed and much-needed meal, which was a change from their cocoa, preferred by many, and which was less liable to disagree with the few delicate stomachs in the Navy. It was cheaper to the Government, besides being more palatable. It had been carefully impressed on the commanders of ships that the sailors, if inclined, should take this cocoa in the shape of a hot meal during the night watch; but if the sailor preferred—and this was the most recent addition to the Government scheme—instead of taking cocoa he was to be allowed largely to increase the allowance of sugar, which was really the most popular of all the rations on board ship. At the present time, the allowance of biscuit was l¼b., and that would be changed into an allowance of 1 lb. biscuit and an allowance of¼ lb. of flour. This ¼lb. biscuit was never taken up. It was quite astonishing to observe the quantity of biscuit which was left in store, and it was evidently a part of the ration the men did not care for. Old sailors would know that with this ¼ lb. of flour they would make the composition they greatly preferred—namely, duff. The belief of the Admiralty was that when the young sailor had reached 20, and had experienced the comfort of this extra meal in the night, and this large allowance of sugar, he would prefer not to draw his grog, but would continue to take the more healthy ration, and what by that time would be, he thought, a more palatable diet. The Admiralty likewise proposed to discontinue the issue of rum to officers. The rum which was issued to officers' messes was not drunk as a beverage at dinner; it was drawn in large quantities at a time, and might be said seldom or never to be consumed with any moral or physical profit to the consumer. A great quantity went in presents to the men of the servant and artificer classes as a sort of easy payment for small services; and spirits given in this manner in general went to someone who got more than was good for him. When the ration of rum was reduced by one - half in 1850, no compensation was given to commissioned officers; but the Admiralty did not propose to take this course on the present occasion. A sum of money equivalent to the savings price of rum would be contributed to the mess in aid of the mess funds. And, in another respect, the Admiralty had done something for the cause of morality and discipline, and had, he believed, proved that they understood the laws of health better than they were understood by some of the Admiralties of the past. In order to meet the exhaustive effects of labour in the stoke-hole under a tropical climate, extra grog was permitted to be served out to the men in the engine-room in hot latitudes; and that permission, as the nature of things was, was rapidly turned into a custom. In the Indian troop-ships, some 10 or 11 years ago, extra rations of porter were given to the men, and claret to the engineer officers, and the idea was encouraged that an increased dose of alcohol was the best prophylactic against effects of an enervating climate. But courts martial soon began to show that that idea was a perilous one to start on board ship; and "tropical grog" was the institution to which more than one poor fellow owed his downfall. The present Board—their hands, he gratefully acknowledged, strengthened by the action of the hon. Gentleman and the spirit which it denoted—abolished the whole system of extra issues of alcohol in any shape or form, and substituted for it beverages like limejuice and sugar, and oatmeal and water, which, if not very exhilarating to read about, were much more innocent and salutary in their effects, and which, he had no doubt, would in the long run do more to cheer the stoker under his arduous labours in the tropics, sweetened as those labours were by the large extra pay by which they were very deservedly rewarded. Having stated what the Admiralty proposed to do in order to promote temper- ance in the Navy, he must turn to the proposal of his hon. Friend, and state why the Government could not ask the House to adopt it. In the first place, that proposal touched the habits of men who had entered the Navy on the existing conditions of service, and touched them with no gentle hand. Every man now in the Navy came in on an understanding that he should have his grog; and to send him off on a three years' cruise without the possibility of getting a drop of what he had been accustomed to, and that when he, perhaps, was a man of 35 or 36, was what he did not think they could or ought to do. It was true that the great Ocean Lines had abolished the issue of grog, and he (Mr. Trevelyan) was very glad of it; but if it had suddenly been done half-way through a voyage, when the men had no choice but to go without their grog or jump overboard, he thought it would have been a step of which the Directors would, perhaps, have repented themselves. Our men were bound to the Service, and great care had to be taken in dealing with their feelings, and even what some, who did not know sailors, were apt to call their fancies, in order to prevent the idea arising among them that advantage had been taken of their situation. Already, the mere report that the grog of the warrant officers was to be stopped—a report which was quite erroneous—had caused a real genuine feeling of anxiety among officers who were no alarmists. He did not like, and hon. Gentlemen who had listened to his answers in the House would acknowledge that he did not like, arguments drawn from the possible discontent and dissatisfaction of our seamen; but he was bound to say that the opinion of naval men in and outside the Admiralty had reminded him that there was a measure in all things, and the hon. Member asked them to proceed further than the Government thought it wise to go. Hon. Members seemed to feel this themselves; for when they sought to abolish the rum ration they, at the same time, in order to make that step palatable to the Navy, accompanied it by financial proposals which the Admiralty could not accept, and which he was convinced that the Treasury would not sanction. Hon. Members proposed that the Admiralty should give the seamen the equivalent of their rum ration in victuals or money. To give the equivalent, and very much more than the equivalent, in victuals—that was, in tea, sugar, and chocolate—was exactly what the Admiralty proposed to do. To give the equivalent in money, and much more than the equivalent for what the rum actually cost the Government, was what the Admiralty did already. What hon. Members meant was that they should give the sailor what he could sell his rum for on board ship, or what he could buy it for at a public-house on shore. And what was that sum? The actual cost of a gallon of rum to the Government was 1s. 5d. last year. It now had mounted to 1s. 9d. The savings price allowed by the Government to the sailor was at present 3s. a gallon. The value of the gallon in the grog-shop would be 15s. The average cost of the rum to the Navy for each year was £15,000 to £16,000. The savings, which were taken by about 2,800 people, came to about £2,032 a-year. The tea and sugar ration, which was taken by about 1,200 people, was about £750 a-year. That was to say, the rum ration and its equivalents at present cost the country about £18,000 a-year, one year with another. The proposals of the Government, which he had detailed in his speech, would, if they were accepted by the whole Navy, cost about £36,000 a-year; but, as the operation of the proposal would be optional and gradual, the burden on the Treasury would be very much less than that. But, while the change for the better, it was hoped and believed, would be very great from the proposal of the Government in proportion to its moderate cost, what would be the result of the proposal? About that there could be no doubt whatever. The proposal of the hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. W. Holms) to make the value of the spirit ration such as would induce the teetotaller to sell it to the Navy instead of to his friends, would entail a burden on the country of over £96,000, and add nearly £80,000 to the Navy Estimates as an inevitable and instant burden. As Secretary to the Admiralty he must say that, if the country was willing to give his Department £80,000 a-year more, there were many ways in which it might be more usefully spent than in raising the pay of the seamen. Our seamen were, considering the rank from which they were drawn, perhaps the best paid and pensioned among the large bodies of our public servants, and the case with which the flower of the population were attracted into the ranks of the Navy proved that to add £80,000 a-year to those attractions would be an indefensible expenditure of public money which was so much wanted elsewhere. Half that sum would enable the Admiralty to set at rest all the personal questions connected with every branch of all the innumerable Services under their control, and to deprive his hon. Friends the Dockyard Members of a grievance for ten years to come. But he must not recommend the House of Commons, for any purpose whatever, however moral and proper, to add at one sweep so enormously to the pay of our seamen. The Government proposed a tentative measure, which made the first step, and a pretty long one it was—indeed, they had been taking it for the last 20 years—towards substituting wholesome and innocent sustenance for ardent spirits. When they had seen how that worked they, or their Successors, would, if necessary, be ready to go further—if possible, very much further, and even the whole way; but this was as far as they thought it safe and wise to go at present. He could only thank the House for listening with attention while he had detailed the arrangements which the Admiralty had put forward, which, long before the hon. Member had this Motion on the Paper, it was their intention, in a modified shape, to put forward—an arrangement from which it was confidently expected, by those who knew the Navy best, that much good would result with as little arbitrary interference as possible with the habits and the susceptibilities of our seamen.


said, he had listened with very great satisfaction to the statement of his hon. Friend the Secretary to the Admiralty. No doubt, the conduct of the men had much improved of late years. A drunken sailor, once so common a spectacle, was now rarely seen. He did not understand the hon. Gentleman to say that the allowance of chocolate would be made to the morning watch universally. Such an allowance would be a useful thing for men engaged, as they were, in arduous labour. No doubt, the men, by arrangements among themselves, obtained some food during the interval between half-past 4 and 7; but if the chocolate were served out to all the watch, there was no doubt it would do much to prevent that sense of exhaustion which induced many to have recourse to spirits as a stimulant. He was aware that commanders had authority to order an extra allowance under certain circumstances; but it should be more generally exercised. He thought the ration of chocolate should be issued somewhat more freely than hitherto. Although it would entail a considerable charge, it was just one of those charges which would result in economy in the long run.


thought the proposals of the Government were very satisfactory; but he thought they might be made still more satisfactory if, instead of giving spirit rations to total abstainers, who sold those rations in order to purchase soluble chocolate, the Admiralty would provide them with soluble chocolate, especially as regarded the morning watch.


said, he expressed the feelings of the friends of temperance throughout the country when he said they were satisfied with the large concessions made to them. He expressed his full appreciation of the line in which the Admiralty had embarked, and which he hoped before long would result in the adoption of his Resolution.

Question put, and agreed to.

Main Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."