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Supply—Navy Estimates

Volume 217: debated on Monday 28 July 1873

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(22.) £847,462, Half-Pay, Reserved Half-Pay, &c., Navy and Royal Marines,

(23.) £167,740, Freight of Ships, &c.

(24.) £12,000, Supplementary sum, Navy (Scientific Branch).

(25.) Motion made, and Question proposed,

"That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £15,000, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the Expense of the increased Rate of Retired Pay to certain Classes of Officers now on the Active List."

in moving to omit the item of £15,000, said: Mr. Bonham-Carter—At this period of the night, I shall detain the Committee as short a time as possible on the subject of the Vote which has just now been proposed. The Committee will remember that not long ago, by the indulgence of the House, I took an opportunity of moving for a Committee to inquire into the discontent which at present exists in the Navy, owing partly to the scheme of retirement, and partly to the great absence of promotion which at present exists. I, on that occasion, had an opportunity allowed me by the House of pointing out the stagnation of promotion, mainly due, in my opinion, to the Retirement Scheme of 1870, and that the public charge which it had been anticipated would be reduced in the course of the past three years had not been so reduced, but remained at the same figure at which it was before with reference to the retired pay, the half-pay, and the reserve pay of the Navy. I had hoped that the inquiry by the Committee for which I moved would, if the House had granted it, have given further information to this House, and would have enabled the Government to make proposals with the view of modifying the present arrangements, and of restoring in some degree that contentment to the officers of the Navy, which at present is so sadly wanting. But my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings (Mr. T. Brassey) thought it bettor to move as an Amendment to my proposal, for a Committee which should inquire into only part of that subject; and the House agreed with my hon. Friend in that course. If that Committee had been appointed—I attribute no blame to my hon. Friend, who explained to the House the reasons why it was not appointed—I believe we should have had an opportunity of inquiring partially into this matter; and the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty, in proposing on the last day of Supply a further grant of £15,000, would perhaps have been able, as I think, to apply it in a better manner than he now proposes. Even supposing the Committee were ready to grant this sum, it might have been rendered unnecessary by making certain changes which I think would be advisable to have proposed to the House, instead of voting a sum of money at this period of the Session after the Estimates have all been considered. Now, the House must remember that when the scheme of Naval Retirement was proposed in 1870, it was stated, in proposing it to the House, that at the end of three years that increased charge would be diminished to the sum at which it then existed. But a Return which is on the Table of the House shows that there is no diminution, and therefore we may assume that this £15,000 will also be a continuous charge for the future upon the Naval Votes. I wish to point out to the House why I think it is unadvisable that they should at the present time grant this additional £15,000 for this purpose. Let me say, first of all, that there are one or two kinds of naval retirement which the House will always sanction. There is, for instance, the retirement of those officers who are too old to serve, and whom it is wise, no doubt, to retire upon pensions for the services which they have previously rendered, but which they are not able to render any more. But the object of retiring these officers is that younger men may be appointed in their place. Now, this scheme is not made with that view. The object of this proposition, as I understand it, is to reduce the Lists to the given number which is supposed to be the number which is right and proper for this House to maintain as officers on the Active List of the Navy. Now, I wish to point out to the House that the number so proposed is far too small for the purpose. It must be remembered by the Committee that it is quite the same to the country whether the pay of the officers is on the Retired List, or on the Active List, so far as the public charge goes; excepting that they cost a little more upon the Retired than upon the Active List, and that, singularly enough, we of all nations in Europe—it is very difficult to explain what we do—we buy men, who are active and efficient, out of the Navy, on condition not that they should serve, but that they will not serve. That is to say, active and efficient persons who have been trained in that profession are given considerable sums of money not to trouble the First Lord of the Admiralty to give them commands or employment. That is the sole object of this proposition. If it were that these men were inefficient, or that they were too old, then one would understand that it would be wise to give them sums of money to go away; but if they were simply inefficient they might be got rid of in a cheaper manner—and that is by court-martial, which would turn them out of the service. If, however, they are too old, it is quite right to pension them; but in the place of those so retired others should be promoted, so as to keep up a proper flow of promotion. Now, I have with considerable trouble—and thanks to a gentleman, whose name I mentioned before—Mr. Hickman—a most competent authority—had carefully prepared the present condition of the Active List, both of its ships and the offi- cers upon it. I am not now going into the question of the Flag List, because I understand this proposition is not for retiring flag officers. Be that as it may, all I am now going to do is to see whether it is wise to reduce the Active List of the Navy as low as it is proposed to reduce it, and whether it is wise to buy out of the Navy efficient officers whose places you will have to fill—I do not say in the event of a naval war, but in the event of any disturbance which obliges you to commission the ships which you have. Now, you have at this moment 88 post ships in commission, and of captains 88 employed; and you have of ships 66—ships which with some repair might be commissioned. (I have carefully excluded wooden line-of-battle ships, which I think ought not to be considered efficient men-of-war.) I have taken ships, which without any considerable repairing or expense are at the disposal of the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty, and which he would be required to commission in the case of the slightest naval disturbance. The names of these ships which I have taken are entirely at his service—I hold them in my hand—but at so late a period in the evening I will not trouble the Committee by going into that detail. I hope they will believe that this Return is accurate. Well, there are 88 captains in ships in commission. There are of ships in the Reserve a very small number fit for service—namely, 66. These together make 154 captains who would be required if these ships were commissioned. It is proposed to reduce the number of captains to 150. Now, that is to say, that we should have four captains less than the ships in which we require to put them. But surely it is necessary to have a margin for, men who may be ineffective—for men who will require leave; and therefore it cannot possibly be right to reduce the number below the number of ships which in three months time it may be necessary from political exigences to find captains for. I have no doubt the right hon. Gentleman will answer—"I will promote commanders;" but what will be the effect of that? There are at present 110 commanders' commands, and there are 49 commanders employed in the Coastguard, making 159. There are 76 commanders' ships in the Reserve, which would make the total required for ships and the Coastguard, 235. The proposal is to reduce the commanders' list to 200. We should therefore—unless we took all the commanders out of the Coastguard, which under the circumstances would have to be done—be 35 commanders short. What we should be required to do would no doubt be to take commanders out of the Coastguard. In that case you would have a surplus of 14 commanders. But then you would have no commanders in the Coastguard, and no Reserve commanders, and would have to fall back upon the lieutenants' list. Let us see how the lieutenants' list stands. There are now afloat 485 lieutenants employed actively, and there are required for these 66 captains' commands and 76 commanders' commands, 369 lieutenants. The ordinary complement—I am not speaking of the extraordinary complement for war, but only the complement for these ships as at present regulated—so that the number of lieutenants actually required would be 854, if we were to commission the very small number of ships which we at present have, and without looking to the necessity for hiring ships in the event of a great naval war, or the thousand and one duties which lieutenants have to be employed in, in the event of actual hostilities. It is proposed to reduce the lieutenants' list to 600, leaving 254 lieutenants short in the event of a naval disturbance. Now, it is no discovery, for hon. Gentlemen who have taken the trouble to read the Reports of Royal Commissions or of Committees of this House which have inquired into this subject, will have found that the lowest number of lieutenants ever put by any First Lord was 900. Some First Lords put the numbers as high as 1,200, and 1,000, and there were then 900. Some naval officers examined before a Committee of this House, presided over by the right hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Spencer Walpole), put the number at 800 and 700; but the Duke of Somerset, who was then First Lord, said he would not be responsible for the Navy with less than 900 lieutenants. Now, that is a calculation which I confess I have never made so carefully before, but I have had it carefully made for me by Mr. Hickman, who gives the names of the ships in commission and reserve, with the number of officers actually in them and their different ranks, showing that if you reduce your captains' list as you propose to reduce it, you will be four short; that if you reduce your commanders to 200, the establishment proposed, you will have 35 commanders short, and that if you reduce your lieutenants to 600, you will be 254 lieutenants short. Now, I do not propose to go through the other ranks, nor to delay the Committee by a long discussion upon this point; but it does seem to me that it will be very disadvantageous to the Navy if we grant this money for the purpose of persuading active men to go out of the Service; and I think it is a most wasteful expenditure of the public money to buy efficient men out of the profession, and not keep them in some reserve where you could call upon them to serve in case their services were required. It may be said that there are a considerable number of junior officers whom it is desirable to promote into these ranks. Well, I confess I look with some alarm on the very large number of junior officers. The Return which was laid on the Table very lately has shown that there are between 900 and 1,000 officers below the rank of lieutenant, and at the present rate of promotion they may be 50 years in that rank; but if the lists were made up to the number required, if new promotions were made so that you should have at least 200 captains, at least 250 commanders, and at least 900 lieutenants, you would have a due and proper flow of promotion at once in the Navy, and relieve the right hon. Gentleman from the difficulty under which he labours with regard to these junior officers who have been admitted to the Navy, and for whom at present in these reduced Lists there seems to be no prospect of advancement. Now I say this also, that if the Committee intends to give grants to the First Lord of the Admiralty for this purpose, and to the Government, it would be desirable that the half-pay of the Navy should be increased and not the retired pay. Either you are going to buy out the best men and to give them an increased salary for going away from your service, or you are going to reward worse men by giving them higher pay for leaving, than the good men whom you wish to retain on the half-pay list. The course I have suggested would certainly ensure the most prudent application of the public money. The numbers of the Navy ought at least to be adjusted so that ships if commissioned may have fit and proper officers put in them; and if the House is generous and about to grant this money to the Admiralty, it should be applied in raising the half-pay of the good officers of the Navy whose services you desire to retain, and not in buying out those who either do not wish to serve or whom you do not wish to retain in your service. I therefore, Sir, move to reduce the Vote by the sum of £15,000.

said, he was glad to hear the admission that there were 66 ships in command of captains fit to go to sea in three months. The fact was that there were 21 captains in command of peace or non-fighting ships, and the same remark applied in proportion to the number of commanders and fighting lieutenants. There were a large number of junior officers coming up, and thus a constant supply of lieutenants would be maintained. What was wanted was to ensure more constant employment of captains and commanders than at present, and the Admiralty had made one or two alterations in the scheme proposed by his right hon. Friend (Mr. Childers), in order to meet the views of officers of different ranks if they would retire at once. The captains above seven years' seniority would receive a minimum retired pay of £450, or £100 in addition to the retired pay to which they were now entitled, but not to exceed in all £600. The captains under seven years' seniority would receive £400, or £100 in addition; but also not to exceed £600. The commanders above three years' seniority were to receive £300, and under three years' seniority £260, or £100 in addition to retired pay, but not to exceed in all £400. The lieutenants were to receive £75 per annum in addition to retired pay to which they were now entitled, but not to exceed in all £300. The sub-lieutenants would receive 5s. a-day. The scheme would be a temporary one. The opportunity of retirement would only be left open for a given time, and only 70 captains, 100 commanders, and 80 lieutenants would be allowed to retire. The object was to reduce the list in order to give more frequent and constant employment to those who remained—a point to which, the Government attached the greatest importance, both as regarded the position of the officers and the efficiency of the Navy.

expressed his strong disapproval of the plan. In a financial point of view the scheme was preposterous, and would in no way satisfactorily remedy the extreme disproportion which existed between the senior and junior officers.

thanked the First Lord of the Admiralty for his concessions. He differed with his hon. and gallant Friend, and cordially approved of the plan proposed by the Admiralty. It was most important to have at all times a sufficient number of officers to meet any emergency that might arise, and he considered it a great advantage to keep them employed, and give them an increased chance of promotion.

Question put.

The Committee divided:—Ayes 69; Noes 30: Majority 39.

(26.) £142,901, Greenwich Hospital and School.

House resumed.

Resolutions to be reported To-morrow at Two of the clock.