HL Deb 19 August 1881 vol 265 cc347-53
THE EARL OF LONGFORD (on behalf of Viscount SIDMOUTH)

asked the First Lord of the Admiralty, Whether any steps were about to be taken to accelerate the promotion of lieutenants of the Royal Marines, and improve the position of the non-commissioned officers of that corps with reference to the recent Army Warrant?


My Lords, I am glad to have an opportunity, before the Prorogation of Parliament, of laying on the Table a Memorandum showing certain changes which the Board of Admiralty propose to make in the Regulations affecting the Royal Marines, and of giving a short explanation of those changes and the reasons for them. The Royal Marines possess a history of which they are justly proud. Marine regiments were raised along with the first regiments of the Army, and, indeed, many of the most distinguished of the latter owe their origin to, or stand in the place of, the old regiments of Marines which from time to time were incorporated with the Army. Among these I may mention the Buffs, the Coldstream Guards, and the 31st and 52nd Regiments. The Marines were placed under the Board of Admiralty in 1747, and have distinguished themselves upon many memorable occasions, especially at the defence of Acre under Sir Sidney Smith. The Corps has been subject to many vicissitudes, and has been dealt with by numerous Orders in Council, the last of which was passed in 1878. Under that Order, it consists of four Divisions, one of Artillery and three of Light Infantry, with a total strength of about 14,000. I can confidently assert that the present condition of the Corps as to training and discipline is highly satisfactory, not only from the periodical inspections held under the Board of Admiralty, but from the favourable opinion which His Royal Highness the Field Marshal Commanding-in-Chief has been good enough to convey to me. Your Lordships are aware that of late years great changes have been made in the conditions of enlistment in the Army. A system of short service and Reserves has been introduced, which has required a considerable increase in the number of recruits, and has made it necessary to improve the prospects of the soldier. At the same time, the abolition of Purchase has made it necessary to introduce into the Army new systems of promotion and retirement, in order to maintain a reasonable flow of promotion among the officers. There has not been the same reason for altering the system, either as regards officers or men, in the Royal Marines. The system of short service has not been applied to them, nor is it desirable that it should be, while the Corps of Royal Marines has been a non-purchase corps for more than 100 years. In 1879 the strength of the Corps was reduced by about 1,000 men, and the Board of Admiralty of that time entertained an opinion in favour of abolishing the Marine Artillery, and appointed a Committee of Naval and Marine officers to consider the measures necessary for the purpose, as well as to propose a revised establishment for the reduced strength of the Corps. The Committee had just made their Report when the change of Government took place last year, and it became the duty of the new Board of Admiralty to consider it. The Members of the Committee differed considerably in opinion, and their Reports showed that great difficulty would be found in abolishing the Marine Artillery. The policy moreover, of its abolition appeared to me to be very doubtful. The Corps is in a high state of efficiency, and would be of great value in time of war, for reasons which I need not detain your Lordships by explaining at length. We, therefore, decided not to abolish the Artillery, but to consider what could be done to meet certain complaints which had recently been made, and which seemed not to be without foundation. These complaints were prominently brought before us at the inspections held last year. There was one from the lieutenants, who represented the very slow rate of promotion to the rank of captain, and another from the non-commissioned officers of Light Infantry, who complained of the inferiority as to pay in which they were placed compared with similar ranks in the Army. We considered that it would be right to apply some remedy to both these complaints; but, as changes in the Army were contemplated by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War, it was obviously desirable to await the completion of those changes, which would certainly affect the questions we had to consider. Accordingly, we waited until the Royal Warrant for the Army was issued, and the promotions made under it were announced in The Gazette of the 1st of August last.

I will now endeavour to explain shortly the changes which we propose to introduce. We make no change in the pay of the men. The pay of the private of Marines while on shore was originally the same as that of a soldier; but when afloat he received a free daily ration, which gave him substantially 6½d. a-day more than the soldier. In 1873, when the daily stoppage of 4½d. for the ration of bread and meat was abolished, and his pay fixed at 1s. a-day, the pay of the soldier was increased by 1½d. a-day. The Board of Admiralty, when my right hon. Friend Mr. Goschen was First Lord, carefully considered whether the change should be applied to the Marines. To have introduced the Army rate of pay on shore and afloat would have been detrimental to them, and it was therefore decided to make no change. In 1876, when deferred pay was given to the soldier and the pay of the non-commissioned officers of the Army was increased, the question whether those measures should be applied to the Marines was considered by the Board of Admiralty; and the right hon. Gentleman my Predecessor (Mr. W. H. Smith) decided that, bearing in mind the advantages which the Marine possessed, it was not necessary to do so. In my opinion the decision was sound, and the grant of deferred pay appears to me to be obviously unnecessary, because the Marine has the privilege of serving on for a pension. We propose, however, to give 1d. a-day gunnery pay, while serving afloat, to Marines of the Light Infantry who qualify as trained men of the Navy, and we also propose to give a consolidated allowance of 6d. a-day for lodging, fuel, and light to non-commissioned officers or men who are allowed to marry, and are not entitled to a higher scale of allowance. The present lodging allowance is 4d. and 2d. a-day, which is less than that received in the Army; and I ascertained when at Chatham, the other day, by personal inspection and inquiry, that the present allowance is inadequate. This increase of allowance will be rather a heavy charge, as a larger proportion of the Marines are allowed to marry than of the soldiers of the Line. In regard to the non-commissioned officers, it seemed to us that it would be right to extend to them the same advantages which have recently been conferred upon the non-commissioned officers of the Army. The analogous ranks will be promoted to be warrant officers; and of the other non-commissioned officers, those who never serve afloat will receive the same pay as in the Army, while those who serve afloat will, in consideration of the free ration they receive while so serving, receive a pay which, like that of the privates, will be 1½d. a-day less than that in the Army. The quartermasters will receive the same pay as that fixed for the Army, and will be placed under the same Regulations in respect to retirement.

It now remains for me to explain the changes it is proposed to introduce in respect to the promotion and retirement of the officers. It is obvious to anyone who considers the organization and duties of the Royal Marines that the same considerations which have governed promotion and retirement in the Army are only partially applicable to the Marines. While in the Army it is necessary to provide such a flow of promotion as will secure active and efficient lieutenant-colonels of battalions and major-generals, there is no opportunity in the Royal Marines for the employment of general officers on active service; and as there is no permanent battalion organization for tactical purposes, when a battalion of Marines is employed on shore, it is made up, as regards both officers and men, in such manner as may be most expedient, and there is no difficulty in selecting active and efficient officers for commands. It, therefore, appears to us to be unnecessary to make any considerable changes in the Regulations affecting the higher ranks of officers in the Marines. We propose to allow colonels-commandant to receive full pay retirement after the expiration of their term of service of three years, or on reaching 60 years of age to give the rank of colonel to the second commandants who are now lieutenant-colonels, and to provide that they shall retire if not promoted to be colonel-commandant in their turn. We propose that lieutenant-colonels shall retire after six years' service in that rank, instead of at 54 years of age, as at present. I may observe here that the constitution of the Royal Marines makes it impossible to adopt the system of unattached lists which has been introduced into the Army, and that, while generally endeavouring to give to officers of the Royal Marines a fair prospect of promotion as compared with the Army, it is impracticable, and would, I sincerely believe, be contrary to the interests of the Marine officers, to attempt to adopt all the provisions of the recent Army Warrants. Majors will be promoted by selection to the rank of lieutenant colonel, and will be required to retire at the age of 48 on £300 a-year, as at present. In dealing with promotions from captain to major and from lieutenant to captain, the difference between the organization of the Marines and that of the Infantry of the Army has been taken into consideration. As I have observed before, there is no battalion organization for tactical purposes in the Marines, and the same necessity does not exist for securing rapidity of promotion to the rank of field officer. The organization of the Marines has, in fact, more similarity to that of the Royal Engineers than to that of the Infantry. Accordingly, we propose that the system of promotion which has been applied to the Engineers by the late Warrant shall be adopted to regulate the promotion of lieutenants to the rank of captain in the Marines—that is to say, that a lieutenant will be promoted to captain after 12 years' service, if he has not previously received his promotion in a vacancy. This arrangement will remedy the stagnation in the promotion of lieutenants, which is the most serious grievance now existing among the officers of the Corps. I should have been glad if we could have also followed the new Regulation under which captains of the Royal Engineers will be promoted to the rank of major after 20 years' service; but to do that would add so many majors to the present number as to be out of all proportion to the work they have to do. We have, therefore, been only able to add six majors to the present establishment for the Artillery, and 18 for the Light Infantry. We do not think it necessary to maintain the system of compulsory retirement for captains now that the promotion of lieutenants will be assured to them after 12 years' service, and we propose that all captains who are qualified under the Regulations shall be promoted to the rank of major, so that every officer who enters the Royal Marines will be assured of becoming a captain after 12 years' service, and of rising to the rank of major in his turn, the first compulsory retirement being from the rank of major, at the age of 48, on £300 a-year, as at present. I have had actuarial calculations made of the probable effect of the proposed organization by Mr. Davey, of the War Office, and I have every reason to believe that it will work fairly for the interests of officers. The promotion will be somewhat slower than in the Army, but the compulsory retirement will not be so great.

I have only to add that these changes will entail a considerable increase of charge. I wish that I could advise an addition to the Navy Estimates sufficient to bear the increased expense; but I am bound to say that, looking to the more pressing demands of other branches of the Service, especially the necessity of pushing on somewhat faster the building of line-of-battle ships, we are unable to appropriate to the Marines a greater annual sum than at present. I am obliged, therefore, to meet the increased charge by some reduction of establishment, which will be carried out with care, and so as to enable the strength of the Corps to be raised without difficulty if the occasion should arise. In laying the Memorandum of the proposed changes on the Table before carrying them into effect, I am following the course which, I think, was very wisely taken in regard to the Army by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War. In such matters as these, which involve many details, there is an obvious advantage in obtaining any suggestions which may be made by those concerned before changes are finally made; and I must guard myself, in conclusion, by adding that the pressure of time has prevented us from obtaining the formal concurrence of the Lords Commissioners of the Treasury in the measures we propose to adopt; but they follow so much upon the lines of the recent Army Warrant that I cannot anticipate any serious divergence of opinion between us.

Memorandum showing certain changes in the pay and promotion of the Corps of Royal Marines: Presented (by command), and ordered to lie on the Table.

House adjourned at Six o'clock, to Monday next, Three o'clock.