HL Deb 01 August 1851 vol 118 cc1804-7

rose to move for "copies of so much of the Orders in Council of June 3, 1747; March 8, 1771; December 19, 1804; June 30, 1827, and August 10. 1840, as relates to the promotion of Captains and Commanders in the Navy; and also of any rules or regulations made by the Admiralty for their guidance in preventing any officers of the Navy from obtaining their promotion; as well as any rules for considering any officer of the Navy eligible for promotion in addition to the active service at sea, according to the Orders in Council." The noble Earl said, his object in moving for these papers was to enable their Lordships to consider the subject of the Orders in Council with reference to the promotion of officers in the Navy, so as to prepare the way for a Motion which he intended to bring forward on a future occasion for an Address to the Crown, praying that these rules and regulations of the Admiralty, which were a great hardship and injustice to the officers of the Navy, as well as a serious detriment to the service, might undergo revision and amendment. Great dissatisfaction existed in the Navy on account of these rules, the effect of which was to place officers on the retired list for life who wished to serve their country, and to give a preference to others who were not entitled to special favour. The noble Earl gave a number of examples of officers who experienced hardship under the existing rules from being put on the retired list. The first was the case of Rear-Admiral Sir Andrew Green, and the next that of Rear-Admiral Moore. There was also Sir John Ross, who, although he had not been employed in a post ship, had yet performed distinguished services for many years in the Polar Seas, and now was in search of Sir John Franklin. Sir George Westphal, and Captain O'Brien, whose adventures in escaping from a French prison were so well known, were other instances of officers on whom these rules operated unfairly. Great stress had been laid by the advocates of the present system of retirement on the fact that this class of officers did not ask for employment; but he knew the case of one officer who had applied no less than eighty times, and yet he was not employed. When these officers were put on the retired list against their will, and Sir William Parker—whose distinguished services he freely acknowledged—was allowed to continue in the perpetual command of the Mediterranean fleet, he thought it was a reflection upon those who were excluded from service. Then, again, there was the case of Captain Martin, who had been for so many years in command of a squadron of frigates; and yet other officers having an equal claim were prevented from having a turn. He said, let every officer have his chance of getting to the top of the tree. He (Earl Talbot) himself had applied to the Admiralty; and could not get employment, but why not he could not tell. He had now been fourteen years on shore, and felt rusty. He thought the Admiralty ought to allow the time which an officer had served as commander to count in his favour, and that the Orders in Council ought to be modified so as to permit officers to serve a certain time within the few years preceding their obtaining a flag, in order to prepare them for active service. He hoped the Government would consent to revise the existing rules, which he believed would be only an act of justice to deserving officers, and would also tend to the benefit of the service.


said, there could be no possible objection to producing the papers moved for; indeed, he believed they were already before both Houses of Parliament. As to the selection of officers for flags, undoubtedly there were such rules; but each Board of Admiralty formed rules for themselves, and they were never reduced to writing; he hoped, therefore, his noble Friend would omit the second part of his Motion. [Earl TALBOT consented to do so.] In that case he (Earl Gray) should not think it necessary to go into the matters alluded to by the noble Earl, further than to say that he did not understand from the Earl's statement what course he wished the Government to pursue. It was undoubtedly very desirable for the interests of the service, to reduce the ineffective list. Out of the large number of admirals, very few could be employed on active service. In reference to the cases alluded to by the noble Earl, he believed not one of these officers had, at the time they entered the service, or for many years after, any better chance of promotion than they would now enjoy. The noble Earl admitted that to qualify a man as admiral, he must not only have served, but have served recently; and that was the very spirit of the recent regulations. He deprecated the practice of canvassing in Parliament the particular grounds on which appointments to high commands were made by the Crown; were this done in every case, the greatest blow would be inflicted, not only on the interests of the service, but on the constitution of the country. The noble Earl had complained of Sir William Parker being so long continued in the Mediterranean; but was it to be tolerated that when the Crown thought the services of a particular officer valuable in certain circumstances, that he ought to be displaced because other officers thought themselves as well qualified? On this principle even Lord Nelson himself might have been removed from his command. This was a principle wholly inadmissible. If any case of partiality could be made out, the case would be different; but he was certain this would not occur with reference to the gallant Officer who had been named.


said, he thought it most desirable that officers should know what were the rules of the Admiralty with respect to promotion, so that they might be aware of what they had to expect. He should therefore propose that the Motion should be left in its integrity.


said, that there were no such formal rules, and that there could be no such formal rules, as those referred to in the latter part of the Motion. He believed there was no objection to grant the former part of the Motion of the noble Earl opposite (Earl Talbot).


, in replying, wished to advert to one point alluded to by the noble Earl (Earl Grey) who had succeeded him in that discussion. It had been observed that he wanted only to promote the interests of the profession, without at all considering those of the public; now he thought he could not substantially advance the interests of the profession without advancing those of the public also.

First part of Motion agreed to; the second negatived.

House adjourned till To-morrow.

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