§ The EARL of HARDWICKE
rose to move, according to notice, for a Return of the Supplementary Estimate for the Retirement of Naval Officers. The noble Earl said, he made this Motion with the view of calling the attention of their Lordships to the plan recently proposed for facilitating the retirement of naval officers, and for decreasing the number of naval officers on the active list. The state of the naval profession was a subject of undoubted importance, and the attention of all recent Administrations had been directed to various suggestions for inducing naval officers to retire from active service, with the view of lessening the burdens borne by the public. The efficiency of the Navy was a subject which was justly dear to the country; and various suggestions had been adopted, which had been to a certain extent successful in effecting a reduction of the dead weight. In 1846, the last plan was established for the reduction of the Navy by retirement, and that system had ever since continued in operation. The two principal features of that plan were, first, that the retirement should be voluntary; and, next, with reference more to the discipline of the service than to the system of retirement, it was laid down that officers who had attained post-rank should serve at sea for six years, to make them eligible for their flag. Those who had not so served were put on the retired list some years ago; but this regulation was thought to bear hard on many Lord 580 efficient officers, and they were in consequence restored to the active list. But if the new plan for rearranging the system of retirement should be sanctioned by the Treasury, the Executive would have the power of at once causing officers to retire summarily from the service, without the right of choosing whether they would do so or not; and officers who arrived at the head of the captains' list, and who had not served their six years, would be compelled to retire, and would no longer be permitted to be called upon to serve the Crown. The first operation of this system would be that every officer on the admiral's list who had been permitted to take his place on the active list, but who had not served his six years in command of a ship as captain, would have immediately to quit the active list to be placed upon the retired list, with the permanent half-pay of a rear-admiral for the rest of his life, and could never again be called into the service. No doubt there were many officers who would be satisfied with this arrangement; no doubt it would clear the way for the promotion of many young officers, and it might even be beneficial to the public service; but what he contended was, that it involved a breach of faith and an injustice towards the 42 or 43 officers who had not served their six years, but many of whom, being on the active list, and still eligible to serve the Crown, would wish to have an opportunity of doing so; and many of these when the list had been voluntarily cleared off, would find themselves within reach of a vice-admiral's flag. It was also proposed by the now arrangement to ask for the Government, that the First Lord of the Admiralty should be entrusted with 1,500l. a year, to be divided into ten pensions of 150l. each, to enable him to make an offer of 150l. in addition to their half-pay, to certain officers if they would go upon the retired list. By this summary process the list of admirals would be reduced to a hundred. No doubt many officers might be glad to see a large portion of officers struck off from the admirals' list, and so many admirals who stood in their way bought off by the country; but this mode of dealing with the senior officers might not be so agreeable to such of them as were still hale and active, and ready to go into any part of the world on the service of the Crown. The next step was to reduce the list of Captains, and the mode taken was equally summary. Every captain who came to the top of the list was to be asked if 581 he had served six years at sea in the rank of captain; and if the answer was in the affirmative, he would be placed upon the active list; but if he had not served six years, he would be told to go out by another door, and he would receive, upon the retired list, the rank and half-pay of a rear-admiral for life. He wished to point out to their Lordships how this regulation would operate. He would suppose that Captain A, Captain B, and Captain C, came before the board. The first, Captain A, might be asked a few questions by the Secretary of the Admiralty, and would admit that he was certainly a little old, sixty-five, or perhaps even seventy; that he was rheumatic in bad weather, and that there was something not quite right about the optic nerve; but if he had served six years afloat, though it might be twenty years since he was on salt water, he would be placed by the regulation on the admirals' active list. Another, Captain B, would also have served six years, in the packet service at Southampton, not at sea be it observed, and he also would be placed upon the active list of admirals. But then came Captain C, an officer who had not served six years afloat, but who nevertheless had been recently employed, was healthy, and in the prime of life, he was anxious to serve again, but cannot obtain employment. He, however, according to the regulation, must be put upon the retired list. That was precisely the way in which the regulation would work if Parliament permitted its adoption. The man who had a right to claim retirement and to repose under the shade of his laurels, and who was perhaps too old to require more, would be placed, by the operation of this rigid rule, upon the active list, while, by the working of the same rigid rule, the officer who was fit and anxious for active service in his profession would be placed on the retired list. He apprehended that this plan of the Admiralty would work in a way directly the opposite to that which was intended. Their Lordships would desire to see the retired list made an honourable retreat for those officers who had served the Crown, and were disabled for further exertion; but he was sure they would not wish to see it filled up by men who were yet strong and active, and who were perfectly qualified to serve their country. There was another way in which these regulations would work a gross injustice. A rigid rule was laid down that every captain should serve sis years afloat before he 582 should be considered as eligible to his flag. But how many captains had been offered the opportunity of serving for the prescribed period? The position in which the country had been placed for many years past had been such as to make it impossible for many officers to serve their full time at sea; and because they had not been enabled to serve, the Admiralty would turn them out of their profession—for he called placing a man on the retired list, who was fond of his profession and fit for it, turning him out of the profession. Although the regulations would give great satisfaction to those who were to rise rapidly in the service by the reduction of the captains' list from 500 to 350, he must say it was a most extraordinary way of thinning the list, to place upon the active list men who were not fit for work, and, vice versâ, men who were well adapted for active service on the retired list. The paper itself, however, in which these regulations were contained, was not very clear in conveying the intentions of the Admiralty, and was so loosely worded that it might almost be thought that it was considered desirable to leave a loophole to creep out of. The paper said—Their Lordships will also observe, that the arrangement includes the creation of ten pensions for admirals, the keeping open the retired list for captains, and an addition to the pay of retired captains and commanders. So far as expense is concerned, their Lordships believe it would be unnecessary to ask Parliament for an increase of the sum now included in the estimates.A proposition was, nevertheless, made to entail upon the country an increased charge of 6,500l. a year, though the Admiralty said that they did not believe that their plan would swell the expenditure beyond the present amount of half-pay. Another passage in the paper seemed to him to be of very doubtful import:—As vacancies occur in the active list of flag officers, the captain first in seniority, who has served for his flag, will be promoted (reserving Her Majesty's undoubted right of selection)"—about which he should say a word by-and-bye. Their Lordships would observe that the words used were "who has served," not "served six years." He took it for granted, however, that the Admiralty meant to require six years' service. With regard to the Crown's power of selection, that right bad undoubtedly always existed, and he should consider it a great misfortune if that right did not exist when an officer was required for any special purpose, 583 At present it was in the power of the Crown to place any admiral in command of a fleet or squadron, or to delegate the powers of an admiral to a captain, with the title of commodore. With this admitted power, however, on the part of the Crown, the Admiralty were now going to ask the country for a sum of money, in order to enable them to commit a great injustice on a deserving class of officers, though for what purpose he did not know. He was ready to allow that the Admiralty would by these means appear to have a well-weeded active list, from which it could select able officers; but the real condition of the Navy would be the same as at present. There would be two lists, and that was all; for looking at the question as a financial saving, there seemed at starting to be but little chance of effecting one. He had thought it right to mention these circumstances to the House; but he disclaimed any intention of doing so in a hostile manner, his object being merely to show how the regulations would work if they were carried into effect.
The EARL of MINTO
had no objection to the return for which the noble Lord had asked; and, indeed, if these regulations were to be carried out, he was not the most fit person to be called upon to defend them. In many of the observations made by the noble Earl he entirely concurred. He agreed with him that there would be much injustice in taking as the best and only test of the capacity of an officer the period of three, four, or five years during which he had been in command of a ship. But he must remind the noble Earl that the prescribed period of six years' service did not originate with the present Board of Admiralty, but was enjoined by an Order in Council made in June, 1827. He thought that a very unfortunate regulation; but lie must be allowed to say, also, that some experience at sea was necessary, and what he considered objectionable was, that six years' service was the only test which was adopted.
§ LORD COLCHESTER
said, that the noble Earl was doubtless right as to the state of the law, but a different impression prevailed in the service.
The EARL of MINTO
again referred to the course which had been pursued since 1827, and said it was most desirable that when officers were worn out in the service, care should be taken to make provision for them.
said, that the remarks 584 of the noble Earl (Earl Minto) had rather strengthened the case laid before their Lordships by his noble Friend. He had heard, with surprise, from the noble Earl (the Earl of Minto) that this plan was rather a recommendation proceeding from the Board of Admiralty than a plan finally determined upon by Her Majesty's Government. Of course, it could not yet have received the sanction of the Cabinet, or the noble Lord would not have been so utterly unfit as he had intimated to defend it. But, with regard to its being merely a suggestion thrown out by the Admiralty, he must say that the paper itself bore a different aspect. He found that this was a paper laid upon the table of the House of Commons as a supplementary estimate for 6,500l., for the purpose of carrying out the plan now spoken of as a suggestion of the Admiralty, and the grounds of the proposed vote were thus stated:—"I have it in command to acquaint you, for the information of the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty—that my Lord's (the Lords Commissioners of Her Majesty's Treasury)—are pleased to sanction the above estimate." The noble Lord's Cabinet information, therefore, came in rather late. He (Lord Stanley) was afraid it was not "a mere sketch put forward by the Admiralty not sanctioned by the Cabinet," for it appeared to have at all events the sanction of the Treasury Board, and likely to be carried into execution, in a short space of time, by the adoption of this estimate by the House of Commons. He should be glad to find, now that the attention of the noble Earl, and the attention of their Lordships, had been called to the subject, that there was yet a locus penitentiœ in that House for the Government. He would not venture to discuss professional details with which he was wholly unacquainted; but he would take upon himself to suggest the wisdom of mitigating one injustice complained of by his noble Friend (the Earl of Hardwicke). The noble Earl opposite admitted that injustice, but defended it on the ground that it would be productive of a future saving at the cost of a present outlay. By the proposed arrangement, captains perfectly competent and anxious to serve their country, were forced to retire upon half-pay, because they had not been actively engaged for six years. The period of six years was fixed upon at a time when there were a largo number of captains afloat; but now that one-tenth, or perhaps not one-twentieth of that number 585 could by any possibility be afloat, he (Lord Stanley) begged to suggest that much of the injustice complained of would be extinguished if the period of six years was somewhat diminished.
§ EARL TALBOT
was a little surprised to find that the regulations which had been published were not a matured plan, but only a scheme thrown out to be, as the phrase now was, a little ventilated. He admitted the importance of diminishing the dead weight of the country, but he deprecated the policy of effecting it by compulsory retirement, which would operate unjustly with respect to old officers. He hoped that the question would be considered in all its bearings by Parliament before such an injustice was sanctioned. He thought that every officer ought to have at least the option of serving before he was put upon the retired list. There was another subject to which he wished to call the attention of the House, and that was the recent order which had been issued by the Admiralty with respect to the examination of naval cadets. Though the examination was slight, one failure was fatal, no one being allowed to be examined a second time. It was well known that youths, though really well qualified, often failed through nervousness. He was induced to make these observations in consequence of what had happened quite recently to the son of a friend of his, who had failed in orthography, but whom he (Earl Talbot) knew to be well qualified for the profession which he wished to follow. In the Army, a second examination was always allowed, and he hoped that this case would be reconsidered, inasmuch as no notice was given to the young man that the examination would be final.
§ EARL GREY
did not understand his noble Friend (the Earl of Minto) to say that the measure was not one which had been decided upon by the Government. On the contrary, the paper on the face of it showed that it had been considered by the Admiralty, and sanctioned by the Treasury, and an estimate of the expense of carrying out the plan had been laid upon the table by the Government, in the House of Commons. All that his noble Friend meant was that the matter could not be considered as finally settled until the plan had received the sanction of Parliament. With regard to the measure itself, he confessed that he wished his noble Friend had given a little more notice of his intention to discuss the question, and 586 then he (Earl Grey) would have endeavoured to make himself master of the subject. As he had no professional knowledge, he could not be expected to give any opinion on the professional part of the question. But, with their Lordships' permission, he would make one or two remarks on what had fallen from the noble Lord opposite. And, in the first place, he might observe, that no officer would suffer anything in a pecuniary point of view from the regulation alluded to. The gist of the complaints that were made was this, that the feelings of officers were wounded by their being placed upon the retired instead of upon the active list. Now, no one could be more willing than he was to consult the feelings of old and meritorious officers; but, at the same time, he must say, that for the interests of the country, and of the service itself, it was most desirable that the nominal active list should not be swelled by having a large number of officers upon it who were not actually engaged on service. It was known to their Lordships, that in the other House of Parliament there was no topic more invidiously used against the Navy than the large number of admirals upon the active list, more than those who were really on service, and it was therefore most important on all accounts that that number should be reduced. The regulation which required a certain term of actual service from an officer as a qualification for the rank of an admiral, had been objected to. The Navy and Army were machines intended for war, and in time of peace some parts of those machines were liable to get out of order; but so far as the regulation went, he was bound to say he thought it an exceedingly good one. No officer ought to be employed as an admiral who had not had a certain amount of experience in the command of a ship, and no inferior post of command should supersede the necessity for that experience. Whether six years was or was not too long a period to require as a qualification, was a point upon which he would not express an opinion; but, after all, they must establish a point somewhere, and he believed that six years was the term formerly in use in the profession. It had been said, that it was hard to adopt that rule at present, when there was a smaller number of officers afloat than in 1827, when the rule was established. He thought that the noble Lord who made that remark had fallen into error; for it was a fact, that in 587 1827 we had a very much smaller number of ships afloat than we have now; and not only that, but for several years previous to 1827 we had a considerably less number of officers afloat than at the present time. In reference to another point, which had been alluded to by the noble Earl who spoke last, he would say that the regulation respecting the examination of naval cadets was an exceedingly good and desirable one. Because, what was the state of the case? They had a number of applicants for cadetships in the Navy, much greater than could be admitted; for one that was admitted, there were three or four who desired to enter the service without being able to do so. It was therefore right to select the most efficient candidates; and it appeared to him that a person once rejected after a fair examination might he concluded to be not so fit and competent as others. Besides, a rejected candidate might have a fresh nomination, which would entitle him to a fresh examination, so that he was not absolutely excluded from the service by a single failure.
begged to make an observation in reference to what had fallen from the noble Earl, who supposed that he (Lord Stanley) had fallen into error with regard to the relative number of officers afloat in the year 1827, and at the present time. In 1827, the officers who then stood for the flag were captains of the year 1799, and so late down as 1840 the officers who stood next for the flag were captains of 1806; consequently, in 1840, the officers who stood next for promotion were officers who were post-captains from the year 1806 to the close of the war, and had therefore greater opportunity for serving the required time.
§ EARL TALBOT
begged to ask on what authority it had been stated by the noble Earl the Secretary for the Colonies that a candidate for a naval cadetship who had been rejected at a first examination could obtain another nomination, and so be entitled to a second examination.
The EARL of MINTO
was understood to say, that his noble Friend had not made the statement referred to on official authority; but from what he had gathered upon the subject, he believed such would be the case.
§ Motion agreed to; ordered accordingly. (Minutes of Proceedings, 39.)
§ House adjourned to Thursday next.