HL Deb 26 July 1916 vol 22 cc918-20

LORD BERESFORD had the following Question on the Paper—

To ask His Majesty's Government whether, in view of commissioned rank in the Navy being open to all seamen, engine-room, and carpenter ratings, and to royal marines, 874 commissions as assistant paymaster, Royal Naval Reserve, having been conferred since the beginning of the war on men from the shore without examination and with no previous naval experience, and a large number of assistant clerks, Royal Navy, having been entered for permanent service, no commissions having been conferred on members of the writer class during its 50 years' existence, 52 commissioned warrant and warrant writers being now engaged on similar duties to commissioned accountant officers (vide Art, 1338 (6) King's Regulations and Admiralty Instructions), and 213 chief writers with from 14 to 24 years' service, being strongly recommended for promotion by their commanding officers, repeated applications from Flag officers, captains, and others for the promotion of these men, and the wish of the Admiralty to treat all men in whatever branch they may be serving as fairly as possible to make the prospects of promotion as fair as possible all round, to give an equal opportunity to ail to rise in the Service and to maintain an even flow of promotions, they will extend the privilege of commissioned rank to the writer class.

The noble and gallant Lord said: My Lords, when I raised this subject on July 5 the noble Duke the Civil Lord of the Admiralty suggested that I should put down another Question dealing with the point as to the giving of commissions to the writer class in His Majesty's Navy, and I have accordingly put down this Question. I should like to point out to my noble friend that the official replies in Parliament relative to this subject are contradictory on one matter. My noble friend told me that the total number of chief writers recommended for warrant rank was 213, but on March 8 Dr. Macnamara stated in another place that the number was 234. It is a pity that these discrepancies occur, because we do not know exactly where we are when we ask questions of the Admiralty. My noble friend stated, when he replied to me on the last occasion, that there were a few more entries from the shore still being made. He did not say that there were 124 entered in the first six months of this year. I should like my noble friend to give me a distinct answer as to whether the amateurs who join from the shore and receive commissions are to return to civil life at the end of the war, or whether any of them are then going to be transferred to the permanent list of the Navy. The fact of the matter is that the writers are so valuable in their present position that the Admiralty do not want to promote them. I think that is most unjust and unfair to these men. They should be promoted the same as other branches of His Majesty's Naval Service are promoted from the lower deck. No reason has been given why these deserving men should not be given commissioned rank as well as the other branches to which I refer. Not one of these men has received a commission since this class was instituted over fifty years ago. I want to know what is the influence at the Admiralty against giving these men what is their due. Further, I would like again to ask whether there is going to be any increase in the number of commissioned warrant writers. I would remind the noble Duke that a commissioned warrant writer is not a man who holds a commission. Yet commissions are given to these amateurs who come from the shore. The writers in the Service have to teach these men their duties; yet from the moment the amateur joins and while he is learning his duties he is superior to the writers. This is a caricature of justice and is causing great discontent in this branch of the Service, whereas we all realise that in order to have the Service thoroughly efficient there should be contentment everywhere. Will my noble friend tell me definitely whether the Admiralty intend to continue to prevent these men getting the commissions which I maintain are their due? The men think they are suffering under a great injustice, which I have explained twice in this House, and I entirely agree with them.


My Lords, I have very little to add to what I said in reply to my noble and gallant friend on July 5. I have again to point out that the present time is not considered opportune for making any further alterations, but no doubt after the war the whole position will be reviewed. My noble and gallant friend has far greater experience in relation to commissions than I have, but I think there is some misapprehension as regards the change introduced in October of last year. In consequence of that change five warrant writers have been promoted to commission warrant rank, and I understand that this commission—I have it in my hand—is similar in form to all other commissions issued in the Navy. The question whether promotion should not be granted to the writer branch at an early age on the analogy of mates in the seamen and engineering branches was discussed by the Committee on Accountant Officers in 1914, but was not recommended; and the writers themselves have not even asked for such a concession. In this respect I think it is well worth consideration whether young writers of about twenty-five should not be selected and promoted to commissioned rank; but, as I have already stated, that must be thoroughly thrashed out at the end of the war when the whole question is reviewed.


I thank the noble Duke for his reply; but the information which has been given to him is inaccurate. A commissioned warrant writer is not a man who has a commission; it is totally different.