HL Deb 22 July 1856 vol 143 cc1193-200

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.

Moved—That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.


stated that the object of the Bill was to supply for the service of the navy a body of trained seamen who should be ready for any emergency, but which at present they had no means of doing. At the commencement of the last war it was found that it was not possible to raise the required number of men by bounties; and this Bill was intended, in conjunction with other measures, for supplying this great deficiency. He should not wish to see impressment entirely abandoned, but at the same it ought never to be resorted to until every other means had been tried. On the other hand, an increase of bounty produced a ruinous competition with the merchant service. The Bill was calculated to give a great additional force of seamen to the country, and would prepare the way for the raising of a much greater one. It would put the coast-guard in a position to supply a body of trained seamen to the navy when necessary. The coast-guard was transferred from the Customs to the Admiralty, and it would form a complete naval force, subject to the regulations of the navy, liable to be called into active service at any moment. The present number of the coast-guard was 5,000 men, and by the Bill it was proposed to raise the number to 10,000. When on shore they would be made available for the prevention of smuggling along a great extent of the coast which was now entirely without any stations of the coast-guard. Ships of war were to be stationed at different points of the coast for the purposes of instructing boys and men in seamanship and naval gunnery; and there would also be places of instruction in gunnery at stations on shore. A certain number of gunboats would be attached to those instruction ships which would be available for revenue purposes. With the naval pensioners who were available for service there would, therefore, be always a force of 15,000 men, trained sailors, ready for service in the navy, which would, it was hoped, prevent our being again in so helpless a state as we had been for manning the navy in an emergency.


agreed that the present mode of manning the navy was inefficient for the purpose of meeting any sudden emergency, and that it was highly desirable that some steps should be adopted for improving it. With this object, he had no doubt that it would be an advantageous arrangement to transfer the management of the coast-guard from the Customs to the Board of Admiralty. The Bill proposed to introduce an additional number of trained men into the coast-guard as a nucleus for manning the navy; but he did not exactly comprehend how they could get much training on board ships in harbour and gunboats attached to revenue cruisers. What was required in the event of a sudden emergency was, that we should be able to send to sea a sufficient number of officers and men to fill up the complement of ships which were put in commission, who were acquainted with one another, so that they might possess that mutual confidence which was so desirable when a ship's company was going into action. An advisable course would, he thought, be to have something of the French system, where in every port there were a number of seamen registered and liable to be called on to serve on board ships of war.


said, he was glad to hear that the Government had under consideration, and had made progress in preparing, other measures ancillary to this, with the view of rendering more efficient the naval service on the outbreak of a war, because taken by itself the present measure would not effect that improvement in the service which we had a right to expect. He believed the question of the management of the coast-guard had been the subject of controversy between the Admiralty and the Customs, probably from the commencement of the two departments, but the Customs, with the assistance of the Treasury, had hitherto succeeded in retaining it. He had no doubt that the Admiralty were capable of making that force more efficient that the Customs; but if the Admiralty were to make it more efficient than it had been hitherto, they must proceed in a totally different manner in the selection of the officers they employed. He had always observed in reading the Navy List that the more aged officers were employed in the coast-guard, and it was only that morning that he had had the curiosity of looking into the List for the purpose of seeing what were the dates of the commissions of some of the officers at present in the service. He found that five of those gentlemen were lieutenants who had had the good fortune of obtaining their commissions in 1814; that twenty-nine of them had obtained their commissions in 1815, and that altogether there were no less than ninety-two who had been lieutenants twenty-six years. Now, in all probability, there was not one of those gentlemen who was less than fifty years old, whilst those who stood at the head of the list must be considerably above sixty. It was well known, in fact, that when an officer entered the coast-guard, he was practically shelved. He either had an intention of marrying or was already married; and no doubt, in a moral point of view, it must be very delightful to him to find himself sitting in a comfortable dwelling with his wife and family around him; but at the same time nothing could be less conducive to professional efficiency. There was no doubt that in the long nights and extremely bad weather which prevailed during the winter—that particular season which was most favourable to the smuggler, and certainly least likely to be attractive to the gentleman with a large family—the launching of a boat through the surf in pursuit of some tight little smuggling craft was not the most agreeable occupation when a half dozen children might be clinging to his knees and a wife hanging round his neck. These things must be reformed. The service could not be rendered efficient without a thorough reform. Still he would not recommend harsh measures with regard to these old officers. Quite the contrary; and probably it would be better to issue a Royal warrant, permitting every one of them who had been in commission twenty-five years to retire on full pay rather than retain them longer in the service; for it was impossible, if they were retained in the service, to have the efficient force that was desired. He approved of the intention to let all the men be borne on the ships' books; for if some were borne on the books and others were not, the practical inconvenience to the service must be very great indeed. Another question of importance was that of the men's pay. The pay of the coast-guard at present was greatly superior to that of the men on board Her Majesty's ships. He wished to know, therefore, whether these men, when they were employed on board ship, were to receive ship pay or coast-guard pay? If they received the coast-guard pay, they had now, and were at any time employed, as during the late war, on board of the same ship with other men who had inferior pay, performing the same duties—and very possibly not performing them on all occasions quite as well as those who had the inferior pay—then dissatisfaction would be sure to follow. In the course of the last war this was submitted to, because the coast-guard men were men of experience, and were useful in teaching the others their duties. Their numbers also were few; but it was impossible that 10,000 men could be employed in the fleet receiving double or treble the pay of their shipmates. He wished to know, also, where the power of the Admiralty was to cease and that of the Customs to begin; because, though the Admiralty might succeed in organising a more efficient corps than we now possessed, they had not the knowledge which would enable them to distribute that force in the best manner along the coast. That was a knowledge possessed only by the Customs. Consequently there must be a constant communication maintained between these two departments, or it would be impossible for the revenue service to be efficiently discharged. In his opinion, the Bill ought to give power to create an officer—call him Director General of the Coast-guard, if they pleased—whose duty it should be to keep himself in constant communication with the Board of Customs, in order to become acquainted with the requirements of the service and the points at which the men might be employed, so as to be of most service to the revenue. Let it be understood, however, that the gain to the service would not be 10,000 men: in fact, the gain would be about 8,000, and some of these would be employed on shore whilst others were on board. Those on shore he was confident would not form an efficient reserve; it was only as long as they were on board ship that they could be properly trained in naval duties. But supposing, then, that the gain would be a reserve of 10,000, the question was, would they get that reserve in the most efficient state for the service? And how was the revenue to be protected under this plan in time of war? Their Lordships must not suppose that the country had never before had a naval reserve. In 1828–9, during the Duke of Wellington's Government, when the war between Russia and Turkey broke out, Lord Melville, who then presided at the Admiralty, said that at a week's notice he would produce twelve ships of the line, fully armed and manned; and it was his (the Earl of Ellenborough's) firm conviction that if they required twelve at that period they required at least twenty-five sail-of-the-line at present. As had been remarked by the First Minister of the Crown, they were now joined to the Continent of Europe by a steam bridge. Almost all the advantages of the insular position of this country were gone; and they should therefore accommodate themselves by increased naval and military force to the new state of things. This country could not be secure unless it commanded the steam-bridge, and this it could not do, unless we were able at any time, to put twenty-five sail of the line in the Channel in a week. He regretted very much to have heard the so-often-repeated statement of the Government that impressment ought not to be had recourse to, for the holding of this opinion by the Executive was calculated to do much practical damage to the power of this country. Circumstances might arise under which it might be absolutely necessary—not after trying other measures but at once—to have recourse to this system for the purpose of manning the ships of Great Britain. He therefore regretted that Her Majesty' Ministers should have taken credit to themselves for not having adopted that system in the late war, and have exaggerated the dangers and objections which attended the exercise of the power of the Crown in that respect. Certainly it was the conviction of the public mind that the protection of the coasts of the country in times of danger would be sufficient to justify impressment. He very much regretted that they had not had some general statement from the Government, not only as to what it was proposed to do with regard to the naval force, but also as to what they proposed to do with regard to placing the country in a position of strength as regarded having a strong military force capable of protecting the shores of this country in case the naval force would not be sufficient—through the accidents of weather or any other cause—to effect that great object. He had at all times thought seriously on this subject; but now he could not but feel that the country had been placed in a new position altogether, and that her rulers must revise all her establishments, and determine, however reluctantly to make England a great military as well as a great naval power. He would not enter into details as to the steps which Her Majesty's Government should adopt for that purpose, but merely make this observation—that the larger they made the bases of their military preparations the safer the country would be. They should extend their system of military instruction, and encourage the disposition to enter into the military service. Then he trusted that no notions of economy would prevent them from maintaining their militia force in a state of efficiency. He trusted not only that the present militia establishments would be maintained, but that the force would every year receive the advantage of drill for a period of not less than two months, so that it would be at any time available for the purpose of national defence. Let them depend upon it that the question of invasion, was one which they must always have before their eyes; and this was not a question that would be decided in weeks, or in months, or in a year, or after long preparation, for which ample time might be allowed to them; but it was a question which if it ever came to be decided would be decided in five days. He, therefore, said that there was no Government deserving of public support or public confidence which did not place this country in a position to march out armed men raised on the soil of England to protect her against invasion in case the British navy, through any unforeseen accident, should not have succeeded in preventing the passage of a hostile army from a broad.


thought that if the country had such a naval force as it ought to have there would be no necessity for so large an army as the noble Earl desired to see maintained. He hoped that the present Bill would be carried out to its fullest extent. This excellent measure had for years been rejected by successive First Lords of the Admiralty, and the present senior naval Lord at the Board—Admiral Berkeley—had both written and spoken repeatedly in its favour, and to him especially was the credit due for its adoption.


said, it was a great mistake to suppose that the Government had surrendered the right of impressment, which they at present possessed; they only wished to abstain from having recourse to it when all other means should be found to have been exhausted. With regard to the employment of officers the coast-guard who were too old for active service, his right hon. Friend, the First Lord of the Admiralty, had, he believed, already explained in another place, that it was intended gradually to pension off all such officers, and to supply their places with efficient men, who would be at once placed upon the naval books, so that after a time the whole force would be brought under the control of the Admiralty. He believed that there would be no difficulty in maintaining a communication between the coast-guard and the Customs department for the purpose of protecting the revenue. There would be some difference in the pay and treatment of the men afloat and the men on shore; but care would be taken that the whole of the force should be men of high character and efficiency, and, as the ships in which they might be serving were paid off, they would be turned over to the coast-guard until their services were again required afloat, when they would resume their duties on board in the same situations as they had previously filled. The coast-guard would always be available for the protection of the revenue, and when any of their body were taken away for the naval service, their places would be supplied by others.


was at a loss to see how they were to make a satisfactory arrangement as regarded the difference in the pay. Could they have two ships beside each other, and performing the same duties, with the men in one receiving coast-guard pay, and those in the other receiving that of ordinary seamen? He wished to say a word with regard to a new corps which had been attempted to be raised. He believed that corps to which he had alluded was styled the Naval Coastguard Volunteers. There were on its staff six captains and six paymasters. Each captain received £500 a year, with £100 a year for a residence, and £10 a year for stationery, besides, he (the Earl of Ellenborough) believed, some allowance for travelling expenses. Yet there had never, perhaps, been a more absolute failure than that measure of forming the Naval Coastguard Volunteers, though the House of Commons had lately voted £8,000 for the staff. He thought that there should be an amalgamation of the officers of this corps with those of the coast-guard service which it was now proposed to form.


was afraid that the Royal Coast-guard Volunteers had not been so successful as could have been wished, and it was intended to amalgamate the staff of that force with the officers of the coast-guard. He did not think there would be any more difficulty in establishing a different rate of pay for the men afloat from that of the men employed ashore than was experienced now in the case of the men who were employed on board the revenue cruisers. It was also to be recollected that in a great degree the difference between the pay of the naval service and that of the coast-guard was made up by a system of pensioning, into the details of which he need not enter.

Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

Bill reported without Amendment; and to be read 3a on Thursday next.

House adjourned to Thursday next.