HL Deb 30 May 1861 vol 163 cc224-33

Order of the Day for the Second Reading rend.


, in moving the second reading of this Bill, said, he wished in the first place to state—because some misunderstanding had arisen from the circumstance that the officers of reserve were intended to have a special command for a special time over seamen of the Reserve—that the Bill had nothing to do with the Naval Reserve of Seamen. Its object might be briefly stated. Their Lordships were aware that the number of officers in the different ranks of the navy had been limited by Orders in Council. Captains were limited to 350, commanders to 450, and lieutenants to 1,200. It was clear that if the rank of lieutenant were filled up even to the number of 1,200 promotion to the higher grades would be very slow. The consequence would be, either injustice to the officers serving their country as lieutenants, or injury to the public service. Hence it was desirable, if it could be done, to avoid any large increase in the number of lieutenants. In France the number of captains was 110, and the number of lieutenants 680, and, consequently, promotion was much slower in the French navy than in ours, and the slow rate of advancement in that rank of officers was found to act very disadvantageously. When the second expedition to China was resolved upon in France so great was the discouragement in the naval 'profession that the Minister of Marine received in the course of a few weeks fifty-nine resignations, or applications to be allowed to retire from active service. The chances of promotion were greater in our Navy; but, at the same time, any one who looked at the Navy List would see that in case of war we had not a sufficient number of lieutenants for the service. How, in such an emergency, were lieutenants to be obtained? As regarded any immediate necessity our only resource would be to go to the merchant service. He was, under those circumstances, of opinion that it was expedient we should be prepared for any emergency which might arise, and with that view he proposed, by means of the present Bill, to empower the Admiralty to enrol a certain number of the officers of the merchant service with the rank of lieutenants and sublieutenants in the navy. He further proposed, inasmuch as it would be impossible to include the necessary regulations for carrying out that project in an Act of Parliament, to lay them down in an Order in Council, while he should, of course, be prepared to submit to Parliament the details of the scheme. Their Lordships in dealing with the proposal would not fail to observe that the merchant seamen of the present day were a class totally different from those who occupied a. similar position in former times. There were now many men in the service who, having obtained certificates under the Merchant Marine Acts of 1850 and 1854, were eminently qualified for the discharge of the duties which he comtemplated affording them an opportunity to perform. The great Steam Companies, for example, had men in their employment who, from their station in society, their character, and their professional acquirements their Lordships would at once perceive could not fail, if allowed to serve in the Navy as he proposed, to contribute to the maritime strength of the country. The suggestion that they should be allowed to serve had, he might add, originated with the officers of the mercantile marine themselves, who, seeing that it was open to all other classes of Her Majesty's subjects in time of war to come to the aid of their Sovereign and their country, were desirous of learning drill and gunnery exercise in order that they might avail themselves of the same privilege with the greatest possible advantage. What was proposed, therefore, was that officers who had commanded merchant vessels employed on sea voyages should on producing their certificates under the Merchant Shipping Act of 1854 be allowed to be enrolled at the discretion of the Admiralty, forming a species of naval reserve in time of peace. If the intentions and wishes of the Government in this matter were carried into effect much would have been accomplished towards removing that jealousy which formerly existed between the naval and merchant services, inasmuch as men would be attracted from the latter to the former who would naturally regard both with favour, who would he anxious to see the Navy prosper, and who, owing to the position which they would occupy, would be of great use in drawing additional men into the Naval Reserve in times of emergency. As things stood at the present moment we had in the Naval Reserve, as first-class seamen, thirteen men holding certificates of competency as masters, and sixty-nine as mates; there being also thirty-six men serving as mates who had enrolled themselves in the Naval Reserve as able seamen. That officers of the merchant service could, if war should arise, be employed in the manner which he proposed with the utmost advantage there could, he thought, be no doubt; but as the law at present stood it was not competent for the Admiralty to accept the offer of their services. It would not, he might add, be expedient that all who offered their services should be enrolled for the purpose, it being desirable that those first selected should be men who had obtained certificates, or who had commanded the steamers belonging to the large Companies, or been employed on long voyages. By adopting that course a highly qualified class of officers would be secured who would be available in a period of emergency, and who, when that emergency was at an end, would not be a clog upon the service.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2°.


rose for the purpose of asking their Lordships to reject this measure. The grounds on which he did so were not at all of a party nature; but, as an officer of the Royal Navy, he felt bound to attempt to preserve that service from the inroad which was proposed against it. He did not think the present Bill was at all called for; and if it were, he did not think it was brought forward in a manner which was likely to prove acceptable to the officers of the mercantile marine. He thought the speech of the noble Duke would not have much effect with them, seeing that he had told them that they were to be taken up one day and let down the next—in time of war to be made use of for the necessities of the country, and in time of peace to be quietly put aside. He was as sensible as was any man of the improvement in the character of the merchant service, and it was not from any want of sympathy with that service that he urged his objections to this measure—their character was well and favourably known by those who had served afloat. He remembered the merchant service when it was of a description very inferior to what it was at present; but it must be remarked that the Bill opened an entrance from the merchant service into the Royal Navy, without defining the position of those who were to be transferred from one to the other. The proposal in the Bill before the House would have the effect of admitting anybody who presented himself, and called himself an officer in the mercantile service—whether he had commanded a collier or a small trading vessel—into the Royal Navy. With regard to the great mercantile shipowners, such as Green and others, no one could avoid expressing admiration not only of the beauty of their ships but of the order and discipline of their crews; so that it was not out of any prejudice against the merchant service that he opposed this measure—he opposed it mainly for the purpose of preserving the Royal Navy from an unfair inroad which would be made upon them by the operation of this measure. Up to the present moment no necessity existed for the merchant service supplying the Royal Navy with officers. It appeared there were now no less than 348 captains on the Active List, of whom 116 were employed, and no less than 232 not employed. There were 440 commanders on the Active List, of whom 140 were employed and 300 not employed; and on the Lieutenants' List there were 855, out of whom 612 were employed and 243 were not; besides which there were on the different Reserve Lists 99 commanders and 98 captains. Many of these officers were ready, willing, and anxious to serve, and could do so with efficiency. It was in such a state of things that it was proposed to open the doors of the Royal Navy to the mercantile marine. This was by no means a new question to him; it had been mooted to the Commissioners by two distinguished gentlemen, members of the mercantile marine, who were upon it—Mr. Green and Mr. Lindsay. It was, therefore, no new idea, and it was one that had been cherished in the mercantile marine, because it was of course a great honour and advancement to officers in the merchant service to be admitted into the Royal Navy. But, then, their Lordships must also consider the position of the officers of the Royal Navy—men struggling in the service to get promotion, and many of whom were not employed. Under these circumstances it appeared to him a very great hardship was cast on the officers of the Royal Navy, and it would be viewed by the officers of the Navy in the same light as the attempt made the other day to introduce officers from the Militia into the Artillery, and would give the greatest dissatisfaction. It was said in that case that it was indeed very hard to introduce new blood into a scientific corps, and thereby interfere with the prospects and promotion of those who had studied hard and "well. The case of the Naval service was very similar to that of the scientific corps of the Army. Youths came into the Navy by public competition, and went through a very severe apprenticeship for six years. If any persons desired to know what were the hardships that a midshipman had to undergo they could not do better than read the evidence of one of the witnesses examined before the Commissioners, describing the life of a midshipman: it was a life of education and study on the one hand, and of hard service on the other. Having undergone it himself, he might be allowed to describe it as a life of slavery; and when a youth was promoted from the rank of a midshipman to that of a lieutenant he took the greatest step he could do in the Royal Navy; it was a step from the position of a slave to the rank of an officer. They were now simply proposing to pursue a course that would intercept the progress of these young gentlemen, and prevent their promotion, and introduce into the Navy persons—whatever might be their skill as navigators—entirely ignorant of the regulations carried out on board of a man-of-war, of the discipline, and last, though not least, of the etiquette of the Royal Navy, and who could not be expected to do honour to the service to the same extent as those who had been brought up in it. These appeared to him to be very strong reasons why they should not pass a Bill which placed in the hands of the Crown the power of admitting officers of the mercantile marine into the Royal Navy, there to hold such rank as naval officers as the Lords of the Admiralty might please. Under this Bill that rank might be that of an Admiral or a Captain. Such a course would dishearten the Naval service, and would make them feel at once that this power which was placed over them might intercept at any moment their steps in the way of promotion. Of course, it would be the élite of the mercantile service that would be looked for to join the navy; but it was not likely that they would accept the position of inferior officers. When he first read the Bill he thought it had reference to the Naval Reserve, and that it was deemed advantageous to the Reserve to permit merchant officers, bringing a certain number of men with them, to enter the Reserve service; but it was now stated that there was to be an immediate admission into the Royal Navy of merchant officers, who, on enrolling themselves, were to be ready for service at any moment when the First Lord thought proper to call upon them, and were to compete with men who had entered the profession on the clear understanding that it was a distinct profession of itself, under the protection of the Crown, and that they were to rise in the grades of the profession according to their conduct, ability, and service. He was convinced that the first impression made by this measure would be one of great pain to the officers of the Navy; and if the Bill passed it would be at the present moment quite unnecessary, and extremely detrimental to the interests of the Navy. With respect to the rank of master, that was always open in a time of necessity to the merchant service, and there was no necessity for any Bill to admit merchant officers to that situation. This power dated from old times. When formerly the Crown hired their ships, they hired also the officers and crews, and supplied themselves only the armaments and fighting men, and when they took to building their own ships they retained the practice of employing the masters as navigators. He implored their Lordships not to pass this Bill, and he would move that it be read a second time that day six months.

Amendment moved to leave out "now" and insert "this day six months."


hoped their Lordships would not agree to the Amendment of the noble Earl, notwithstanding his great authority on the subject. The noble Earl disclaimed any party purpose in proposing his Amendment, and he believed no such feeling existed in his mind. But as all the Naval Lords of the Admiralty and officers of the highest position in the Navy approved of the measure proposed by his noble Friend, he hoped the House would not be misled by the statements which had been made by the noble Earl opposite that the Bill would prove detrimental to the interests of the Royal Navy. The noble Earl said there were only about one-fourth of the lieutenants employed, and three-fourths not employed. That was one of the reasons for passing this Bill. It was desired that promotion in the Navy should not be slackened; and if a large number of lieutenants were added to the Navy, that would stop promotion; while if the services of a certain number of the merchant service were accepted, promotion would go on pretty much as before after the exigency had ceased. At the close of the French war there were nearly 3,000 of these officers in the list, and this was fatal to promotion. He could not admit that the case of the lieutenants of the Navy resembled that of the officers of the Royal Artillery, when it was proposed to incorporate the Tipperary Militia with them. The officers of the Militia had received a superficial training as compared with the officers of the Artillery; while the officers of the Mercantile Marine, whom it was proposed to employ in case of need, would be men who perfectly understood their profession, and who would render invaluable aid to their country. If war broke out, and the Government were obliged to avail itself of the services of the officers of the Mercantile Marine, they would be untrained in the military part of their profession, while by the Bill of his noble Friend, when the emergency arose, they would have acquired training which would render them useful coadjutors in the defence of our shores and the honour of our country. There was no party question involved in this Bill, but their Lordships would take upon themselves a great responsibility if, from the supposed unpopularity of this measure, which was not borne out by facts, they deprived the country of a valuable means of defence in the event of war unhappily breaking out.


explained, that the noble Earl (the Earl of Hardwicke) was under a mistake when he said there were already more lieutenants than could be employed. He had been obliged, owing to the exigencies of the service, to make lieutenants as fast as possible, and when he could obtain from a captain a written assurance that he would take a young officer if he were made a lieutenant, he immediately appointed him to that rank. The necessities of the service made it desirable, in fact, that the ranks of the lieutenants should be increased. Every one who was fit for active service, was employed as fast as possible. There were some indeed, who, from considerations of health and family, asked for temporary rest, who had been in some cases forced into service. He had, indeed, regretted that men who had just returned from unhealthy climates were compelled to go to sea again directly, because there were not lieutenants enough. The operation of the Bill, therefore, in this respect would be exactly the opposite of that indicated by the noble Earl. It was said that to admit officers of the merchant service would impede the promotion of officers of the Royal Navy. Now, if, in case of war, men were brought in from the merchant service and employ- ed in the position of naval lieutenants, a certain number would, no doubt, gain their promotion, and deservedly so. That would be very satisfactory to the Merchant Service. But it was reasonable to suppose that a great many would not even wish to enter the Navy, but would retire with their rank and some mark of distinction for having honourably served their country. The country, therefore, would get the benefit of their services in time of war, and the naval service would receive no injury from them in time of peace. He believed this Bill to be desirable in the interest of the Royal Navy itself.


said, he was not inclined to reject this Bill altogether, believing that a moment might arrive when the Royal Navy would receive useful additions from the officers of the merchant service; but he was not persuaded that any pressure existed for the passing of such a Bill. If war should break out, a measure of this kind could be passed through both Houses of Parliament in a week; but without any urgent cause he did not think their Lordships would sanction a measure which was alarming, certainly, if not injurious, to the officers of the Navy. It must be alarming to young midshipmen anxious for promotion to see officers of the merchant service made lieutenants and put over their heads.


understood the noble Earl who had just spoken not to object to the principle of the measure. If that were so he would submit to the noble Earl that, if the country was likely to want these men during war, it would be better to prepare them for their duties during peace. It appeared from the statement of the noble Duke that promotion in the Royal Navy was now going on as fast as possible, and that if war broke out every man would be wanted, and, if fit, would obtain promotion. It would be an advantage to the Navy to avoid throwing a great additional number upon the half-pay list, and this Bill would prevent the necessity of making any extraordinary addition to the Naval service. Therefore, instead of stopping promotion in the Royal Navy, the Bill would have just the contrary effect. It was well known that there wore in the merchant service officers of the highest qualifications. In the great mail packet companies, for example, there were officers who kept up the highest discipline on board their ships, and who were, perhaps, more capable of putting a ship into any position in which it might be required, especially a steamship, than even the officers of the Royal Navy. It must be highly desirable that the country, in case of a war, should be enabled to avail itself of the services of officers possessing such high qualifications. The Government, on their responsibility, came to the House and asked them to pass the Bill as a measure that would contribute to the efficient defence of the country. Were their Lordships prepared to take upon themselves the responsibility of throwing out a Bill which was thus recommended, and against which so few objections were raised?

On Question, That "now" stand part of the Motion?

Their Lordships divided:—Contents 59; Not-Contents 56: Majority 3.

Campbell, L. (L. Chancellor.) Chaworth, L. (E. Meath.)
Chesham, L.
Cleveland, D. Churchill, L.
Devonshire, D. Cranworth, L.
Newcastle, D. Dacre, L.
Somerset, D. Dartrey, L. (L. Cremorne.)
Cholmondeley, M. De Mauley, L.
Lansdowne, M. Ebury, L.
Elgin, L. (E. Elgin and Kincardine.)
Airlie, E.
Caithness, E. Foley, L. [Teller.]
Camperdown, E. Harris, L.
Chichester, E. Hatherton, L.
Clarendon, E. Hunsdon, L. (V. Falkland.)
De Grey, E.
Granville, E. Lyveden, L.
Grey, E. Methuen, L.
Minto, E. Minster, L. (M. Conyngham.)
Saint Germans, E.
Spencer, E. Monteagle of Brandon, L.
Eversley, V. Mostyn, L.
Stratford de Redcliffe, V. Overstone, L.
Ponsonby, L. (E. Bessborough.) [Teller.]
Sydney, V.
Torrington, V. Rivers, L.
Skene, L. (E. Fife.)
Carlisle, Bp. Stanley of Alderley, L.
Down, &c, Bp. Stratheden, L.
London, Bp. Suffield, L.
Sundridge, L. (D. Argyll.)
Abercromby, L.
Boyle, L. (E. Cork and Orrery.) Taunton, L.
Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Calthorpe, L. Wharncliffe, L.
Camoys, L. Wodehouse, L.
Brandon, D. (D. Hamilton.) Exeter, M.
Normanby, M.
Manchester, D. Salisbury, M.
Marlborough, D. Tweeddale, M.
Richmond, D.
Rutland, D. Amhurst, E.
Bantry, E.
Bath, M. [Teller.] Belmore, E.
Cardigan, E. Boston, L.
Carnarvon, E. Castlemaine, L.
Coventry, E. Chelmsford, L.
Derby, E. Conyers, L.
Ellenborough, E. Delamere, L.
Graham, E. (D. Montrose) De Ros, L.
Digby, L.
Hardwicke, E. [Teller.] Dinevor, L.
Harrington, E. Farnham, L.
Hillsborough, E. (M. Downshire.) Moore, L. M. Droqheda.)
Lonsdale, E. Polwarth, L.
Malmesbury, E. Raglan, L.
Manvers, E. Redesdale, L.
Mayo, E. Saltersford, L. (E. Courtown.)
Pomfret, E.
Rosslyn, E. Saltoun, L.
Shrewsbury, E. Silchester, L. (E. Longford.)
Stanhope, E.
Stradbroke, E. Strathspey, L. (E. Seafield.)
Vane, E.
Wilton, E. Templemore, L.
Winton, E. (E. Eglinton.) Tredegar, L.
Walsingham, L.
Hutchinson, V. (E. Donoughmore.) Wynford, L.

Resolved in the Affirmative; Bill read 2a accordingly: and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Monday next.