HL Deb 30 June 1865 vol 180 cc975-80

in rising to call the attention of the First Lord of the Admiralty to Claims of Captains on reserved half-pay under the Orders in Council of the 25th of June, 1851, and the 30th of January, 1856, said, the Order of 1851 stated among other things that, while the Lords of the Admiralty had recommended the abandonment of brevet promotion in future, they were nevertheless desirous of giving consideration to the claims of those officers who looked to their promotion as the reward of their past services more than in the expectation of future employment. In order, at the same time, not to fill the active list with officers who could not long continue fit for service, their Lordships had determined to promote by selection a certain number of commanders to the rank of captains, who would be placed upon half-pay. Under the system of brevet promotion, for which these officers were no longer eligible, they would in the natural course of things have advanced to 12s. 6d., 14s. 6d., and ultimately 25s. a day. If, however, this Order in Council were construed, as it unfortunately appeared to be, these officers would receive 10s. 6d. a day, and be eligible for no further promotion or increase of pay, and such an arrangement it would be almost a mockery to term a reward for long and faithful services. Certainly every one of the officers who acceded to the arrangement, as set forth in the Order of Council of 1851, did so under the impression that they were eligible for service in case of emergency, and that they would still receive all the advantages which they would have derived under the system of brevet promotion. In this opinion, too, they were naturally confirmed by the form of the commission which they received, because that commission was that of a captain on the active list. When some of these officers tendered themselves for active service they were not informed that they were not eligible, but simply that the naval warfare carried on was not such as to require their services. These officers remained under the impression from 1851 to 1859 that they had forfeited none of the advantages which they would have otherwise enjoyed from being placed on the reserved half-pay list; but in 1859, in answer to an application by one of those officers for an increase of 2s. a day, which would naturally have fallen to him, he was informed that he was no longer entitled to it. That statement excited the utmost surprise and consternation among these officers, eighty-nine of whom signed a memorial on the subject. Seven additional names came in afterwards, making ninety-six, there being only 100 officers on the list. In the Order of Council of 1851, which conferred the supposed advantages which he had mentioned upon the officers in question, there was a paragraph to the effect that the number of commanders on the active list would be reduced to a number not exceeding 450, by placing on reserved half-pay all commanders who had not served afloat or in the packet or revenue services within twenty years, or who were physically incapable of serving, and by continuing from time to time to remove such officers from the active to the reserved half-pay list. It was added that those thus placed on the latter list "shall be allowed to enjoy all the advantages they now enjoy of rising in pay and rank." He did not know whether the attention of the noble Duke (the Duke of Somerset) had been called to that portion of the Order in Council, but it appeared to him to be decisive with regard to the claims which he was advocating. It was but fair to state that in the year 1860 each of the captains on the reserved list who had served not less than fifteen years was to be entitled to 2s. a day additional pay, and that that afforded some evidence of the existence of a feeling that injustice had been done; but the redress given for that injustice was, at the same time, very insufficient, because the highest pay to which those officers could, under that Order in Conncil, attain was 16s. 6d., whereas if they had been treated property they would have been on the reserved list of Admirals, and have been in the receipt of 25s. a day. But the noble Duke would, no doubt, ask what remedy was to be applied in the case. He believed that remedy was very easy. The list of which he was speaking was now closed, and it contained many officers who were advanced in life. A sum of £2,000 a year, would, therefore, so far as he could ascertain, satisfy the claims for which he was contending, and the demand, it should be borne in mind, was one which would be likely to diminish from year to year. There was no good reason, then, as far as he could see, why the noble Duke should hesitate to do that which after all was but a simple act of justice.


thanked his noble and learned Friend for having so clearly brought the claims of those deserving officers before the House. He thought a great injustice had been done them. He hoped the Admiralty—especially taking into account the small sum which would be required to satisfy their demand—would reverse its former decisions in their regard.


said, that the subject now brought before their Lordships by the noble and learned Lord (Lord Chelmsford) had been a frequent subject of discussion in the other House of Parlia- ment. The present Board of Admiralty were not responsible for the Orders in Council to which the noble and learned Lord had called attention. As regarded the terms of the commission, it was true that the commission granted to the first eleven officers who were placed upon this list were the same as those of officers upon the active list; but the error was discovered, and in all future commissions the words "on the reserve half-pay list" were added. The observations of the noble and learned Lord upon this part of the subject would, therefore, apply only to the case of the eleven officers who were first placed upon this list. The question really was, were the officers deceived by the Order in Council, or did they, when they accepted this retirement, know what they were doing? In 1856 an officer wrote to the Admiralty a letter, which had since been laid upon their Lordships' table, asking whether if he accepted reserved rank he would afterwards rise in pay. The answer of the Admiralty was clear and decisive, that he would not be entitled to any increase of half-pay. That reply was sure soon to become pretty well known throughout the service, and therefore since 1856 none of these officers could have expected that their half-pay would increase. Sir Francis Baring, who was First Lord of the Admiralty in the year 1851, when this mode of retirement was adopted, had more than once stated in his place in the House of Commons that he did not intend that the half-pay of these officers should rise; and the Board of Admiralty in 1856 put a similar interpretation upon the Order in Council. Was the present Board of Admiralty to have reversed both these decisions? It appeared to him to be impossible that they should do so. More than this—of the eighty-five officers who were on this list, fifty-two were ineligible for promotion on the active list as captains, because they had not served the necessary time as commanders. These were ample reasons for not interfering with the existing state of things. But, in order that he might not seem to treat these officers with hardness, or with anything but the most perfect fairness, he had submitted the case to the Law Officers of the Crown, from whom he received a long and carefully drawn opinion stating, that there was no foundation for the claims which were now put forward. There was, then, against this claim the decision of the Board of Admiralty in 1856; the declaration of Sir Francis Baring; the usage and practice of the service, according to which, if this demand was conceded, fifty-two officers who were ineligible for the rank of captain would go on rising through that rank, whereas if they had remained on the active list they would not have so risen; and, besides all these, the opinion of the Law Officers of the Crown that there was no foundation for these claims. He did not think that he could be accused of having acted unfairly to these officers by adhering to all these opinions and decisions. It would, of course have been more agreeable to him to say, "This is only a small matter, let us give this boon;" but he could not overlook the circumstance that a few thousands spent upon one list and a few thousands upon another would grow into a large sum of money, and that it was constantly necessary, and would continue to be necessary, to incur additional expense in providing new means of retirement for old officers. He hoped that in future no such misunderstanding as this would arise. There ought to be only two lists, "the active" and "the retired." The Admiralty had, he believed, taken the best course that could be adopted. They had closed these lists, and therefore the number of officers upon them would gradually decrease, and the lists themselves would eventually disappear. In conclusion, the noble Duke said, that upon looking over the list of eighty-five officers he found that eighteen or twenty of them received under the Warrant of 1860 a higher rate of pay than they would have been entitled to if they had remained upon the active list.


said, he thought his noble and learned Friend fully justified in bringing the case forward, but admitted that the noble Duke had stated the real difficulty of the case. The only excuse that could be made was that under various Governments and different Boards of Admiralty, according to the feelings of the time, these lists had been created, and when looked upon with reference to the services of officers upon them, no doubt cases of great injustice were shown. The only means by which justice could be done was by breaking up the separate lists and amalgamating them. If that amalgamation did not take place the injustice so much complained of could not be remedied. On the list of 1851 there were officers who had probably seen more service than any who were not on the active list, and yet they were only receiving 10s. 6d. a day, while other officers were receiving 16s., 20s., and even 25s. a day. He thought the condition of the lists generally inflicted great injustice, not only upon the officers, but upon the country generally. The country required young and active men for its service, and if the service was carried on on the present system young and active men would never reach a high rank. The present system had resulted in a deadlock, owing to the old (and he said it without the least disrespect), useless gentlemen who blocked the way of the younger men to promotion. Those old gentlemen, who had long served their country with honour, were now unfit on account of their age to serve it any longer, and some steps should be taken to enable them to retire, and so enable the younger men to rise in the service. He did not blame the present Government for the deadlock which existed, as it had arisen naturally from the system into which the service had fallen, but he hoped that the noble Duke opposite would endeavour to provide for the more rapid advancement of the younger officers.