HL Deb 26 June 1903 vol 124 cc646-9

called attention to the case of the few remaining officers of the old navigating branch of His Majesty's Navy, now on the active list of staff captains and staff commanders, and asked the Government if they would take into account their long and valuable services, and the lack of recognition they had received in view of the way in which other branches of the naval service had been treated. He asked the Government whether they could see their way to grant the staff captains, fifteen in number, the same retiring allowance—£500 a year—as the officers of similar rank received in the engineer branch, and permit them to assume as a right the title of captain, instead of being gazetted as now, "permitted to assume the rank of captain." In the case of staff commanders—also very few, only seven in number—he asked that they might be granted £450 a year on retirement, if they had served the necessary time at sea, instead of £400, which they now received. He hoped their Lordships would support him in his endeavour to secure better consideration for the remaining officers of the old navigating branch of the Navy. He felt that he had rather a hard task, as his noble friend the First Lord of the Admiralty—although with regard to another branch of the Service he was overflowing a short time ago with the milk of human kindness - seemed to have hardened his heart in respect to the claims of the old navigating officers of the Navy. He hoped, however, that the noble Earl might be persuaded to reconsider the matter in a favourable light. Prior to 1867 there was a distinct class called the navigating class. They went through the same course as the other officers, with the one exception that instead of taking gunnery they took pilotage in their examination. But whereas the other officers could rise to the position of Admiral, the officers in the navigating branch had no chance of getting higher than staff captain. A regulation was, however, passed at that time that three of the navigating class should in each year be absorbed into the executive branch. That was over thirty years ago, and he believed that not a single officer had been so absorbed. Naturally, the branch was now dying out—there were fifteen staff captains and seven staff commanders. Their grievances were, first, the inadequacy of the full pay; and secondly, the small amount of the retired pay. If their Lordships compared the retired pay of a staff captain with that of officers holding relative rank in other branches, they would see that the grievance was a just one. The retired pay, for instance, of an inspector of machinery was £500, but the retired pay of a staff captain was only £450. He did not think the noble Earl would deny that the old navigating officers had done as good service as the members of other branches of the service. Their third grievance had reference to increase of rank. When they retired they were gazetted as "staff captain, with permission to assume the rank of captain." They felt this to be a slight, especially as all other officers when they retired were permitted to assume a higher rank than that in which they had been serving. A captain, after long service, might retire with permission to assume the rank of rear-admiral, and, even after his retirement, he might become a vice-admiral. In the same way, in the engineering branch, an inspector might retire with permission to assume the rank of chief-inspector, or under the new regulations, the rank of engineer rear-admiral. But captains of the navigating branch were retired with permission only to "assume" the rank of captain, a rank which they had held for many years. The fourth grievance was that the officers of the navigating branch were omitted from the honours list. Of all the officers who received honours on the occasion of His Majesty's Coronation, only one of the old branch was included, and he was, to all intents and purposes an Admiralty official. The cost of bringing the retired pay of these officers up to that of officers of similar rank in the engineer branch would not exceed £2,000 a year, and in view of the valuable services of this splendid body of officers he hoped the First Lord would give the matter his favourable consideration.


My Lords, I entirely agree with what my noble friend has said as to the valuable services rendered by this class of naval officers. Nothing that he has said in their praise will I for one moment dissociate myself from. But I must decline to join with him in discussing the honours which His Majesty thought fit to bestow at the time of his Coronation. As regards the specific questions which the noble Lord has asked, in the case of the staff captains I see no reason why there should be granted to a small number of officers privileges with respect to their retired pay which have been withheld from similar officers for many years past, and the granting of which would raise a grievance among all staff captains on the retired list. I must therefore say, without any hesitation, that that question cannot be reopened. As regards the particular manner in which these officers are gazetted on retirement, I am obliged to the noble Lord for having drawn my attention to the peculiarity of the words used. The words complained of shall not occur again, and these officers will be gazetted on retirement in the ordinary phraseology. As to the third point, I would emphasise the fact that the seven staff commanders now on the list will, if they continue to serve, reach the rank of staff captain, and will then be entitled to the retired pay of staff captains, which is £450. That being the case it does not seem necessary to consider whether any change should be made in the retired pay of staff commanders.