HC Deb 20 September 1893 vol 17 cc1746-9
MR. E. J. C. MORTON (Devonport)

called attention to the grievances of the warrant officers of the Navy, and pointed out that the Navy was the only Service in the country in which there was an absolute wall across the line of promotion, preventing the continuance of a man's advance to commission rank. He could best explain the grievance under which warrant officers in the Navy suffered by relating an instance within his own knowledge of three brothers, sons of a farmer. One of the brothers by energy and ability obtained a Scholarship at Cambridge, and was now a Professor in connection with the University. Another brother enlisted in the Army, and obtained a commission. At present he was a captain, and might some day arrive at the rank of colonel. The third brother entered the Navy, and at the age of 25 became a warrant officer, and that was the highest thing he could look to in the Service for the rest of his life, the only other advance possible being the nominal rank of sub-lieutenant, which he would be entitled to on retiring from active service at the age of 55. This case was a remarkable one, owing to the extraordinary ability and services of this warrant officer. So great was the ability he displayed that in the Burmah Campaign in 1885 that he was placed in command of a gunboat patrolling 100 miles of coast. In the course of this service he had a severe encounter with pirates, and although the pirates had a much superior force he defeated them; and so valuable were his services that he was specially complimented by the captain of his ship on the quarter-deck, and he also received a special letter of reward from the authorities at Whitehall. Then, again, when the Howe was stranded, the captain of that vessel based his statement on the estimates made by this same warrant officer, who further distinguished himself during the time the Howe was on the rocks by superintending the construction of 15 copper dams in a manner which called forth the special commendation of the officers of the Howe and of the Salvage Company. Could nothing be done to reward this warrant officer, whose services in the Navy were of such value that the Admiralty awarded him a sum of money in recognition of their merit? He presumed it was competent for Her Majesty to give a commission to any seaman of the Navy, but, as a matter of fact, only two seamen in the past 80 years were so rewarded. These two instances occurred in 1887, when two men were selected on the ground of valour, which he might remark was not a special ground for promoting men to commission rank. For many years there had been a continued cry, amongst naval officers for more Lieutenants in the Navy. Warrant officers were sometimes entrusted with Lieutenants' work, and as long ago as 1885 the Minister then in charge of naval affairs stated that if the difficulty of education could be removed, and if warrant officers were able to pass the examinations that Lieutenants had to pass, the chief difficulty in the way would be removed. Upon that hint the warrant officers, at their own expense, instituted classes, and got themselves instructed in navigation and other matters, and they were now ready and willing, numbers of them, to submit themselves to an examination of the same character as that passed by Lieutenants. It seemed to him that the promotion of warrant officers to some form of commission rank would not only be just in itself, but would save the nation money, because these men had great experience, and if they were promoted the great cost of training men for the position of Lieutenants would in some measure be avoided. Warrant officers did not demand that they should have continuous promotion. All they asked was that a new rank or line of promotion should be created for them corresponding to the position of Quartermasters and Riding-masters in the Army. To do this would costmoney, but it had been calculated—and the calculation had not been contradicted by the Admiralty—that the total cost would not exceed £3,000. Although no exact promise had been made with regard to these officers, he would point out that extreme sympathy had been expressed by previous Ministers, and the late First Lord of the Admiralty in the year 1891 held out strong hopes that their case would be met—hopes so strong that men not altogether unreasonably took it for a promise. He hoped, therefore, that the Secretary to the Admiralty would be able to hold out some further hope that the case of these men would be dealt with, and that the warrant officers of the Navy, who were not less able nor less efficient than warrant officers in the Army, would as soon as possible be put on an equal footing with the Army warrant officers in respect to promotion to commission rank.


, in reply, said, the grievances of the warrant officers had been under the consideration of the Admiralty, but, although some points might be further considered, the Board did not see how to overcome the great difficulties in the way of creating a new grade or rank. With regard to the declaration of the late First Lord, the Admiralty were desirous of opening appointments in the Ordnance Establishments to warrant officers. When the Ordnance Department was taken over from the War Office the officers of the Establishment were, of course, also taken over, but it was intended as vacancies occurred to promote warrant officers to those positions which are now held by commissioned officers. He could only add, on behalf of the Admiralty, that they felt great sympathy with the warrant officers in the want of promotion at a certain stage of service, but they must recognise that there was also stagnation in some other branches of the Service, and it was very difficult to avoid. To remove it might cost more than could be justified. The interests of this extremely deserving and valuable class of Her Majesty's Service would always receive careful attention at the hands of the Board of Admiralty.