HL Deb 02 July 1875 vol 225 cc861-8

, in rising to call attention to the subject of Promotion and Retirement in the Royal Navy, said, that as their Lordships were aware, great alterations had recently been made in the system of officering the Service, and that system was still in the process of development. The change effected was a change of principle—the details were very far from being worked out, and would require to be watched most carefully by the Admiralty and Parliament for years to come. The first object which the Admiralty must have in view was, of course, the requirements of the Service, but it was also necessary to take into consideration the position of the present officers under the system which formerly existed. The evil of non-employment in the Navy was felt so forcibly previously to the year 1870, that in that year the Government then in office brought forward a scheme of retirement which had, he believed, on the whole, worked successfully. Comparing the Navy List for the 1st of April, 1870, with the List as it stood on the 1st of June, 1875, which were the latest Returns, he found that while at the former time there were 81 flag-officers unemployed there were now only 38. At the former period there were 199 captains on half pay; now there were only 88. There had been a reduction in the number of commanders and lieutenants also. These figures were satisfactory, except in respect of the last-named grade; but the truth was the lists of the junior officers were very much over-crowded in 1870. They were much less so now, and in these lists he hoped there would be a further improvement. He found that whereas in 1870 there were 1,134 sublieutenants and officers of other junior ranks; now there were only 755. It might, perhaps, be thought that those lists had been too much diminished; but it was not difficult to show that such was not the case. As regarded lieutenants, there was no reason to suppose that for some years, at least, the list would be reduced under 700. That, however, was a point for the future, and he was fully alive to the fact that the lieutenants were the backbone and strength of the Navy, and preferred looking forward to the list as it might be some years hence, rather than dwell on its present position. Some two years ago, Mr. Goschen devised a scheme for the employment of lieutenants in navigating duties. He set aside a number of them to be employed in those duties, with the idea that at a future time it might be possible to abolish the distinction between them and the class of navigating lieutenants. He would like to hear from his noble Friend opposite (the Earl of Malmesbury) how the experiment had worked, and whether the present Board of Admiralty had any intention of abolishing the distinctive rank of navigating lieutenant? There was another point to which he desired to direct attention. As it was necessary to reduce the number of officers on the Active List, it would be necessary that as many as possible of those retained on the list should be combatant officers, and he could see no reason why the duties of secretaries and paymasters should not be discharged by combatant officers, as in the Army. He could not but think it was desirable to reduce, as far as possible, the non-combatant branch of the Service. Besides the system of retirement one of promotion was inaugurated, in 1870. The latter could not be applied to the higher grades of officers for years to come; and, till this was the case, the Admiralty would have to contend with crowded lists of officers in the superior grades. It appeared that in the year 1873, five captains were promoted to the rank of admiral; seven commanders to that of captains; and 18 lieutenants to that of commander. In 1874, three captains to be admirals; eight commanders to be captains; and 15 lieutenants to be commanders. In the period of 1875 already-expired, 4 captains to be admirals; four commanders to be captains; and 14 lieutenants to be commanders. The working of the new system had, therefore, produced some good; but he was prepared to admit that with the present lists there was a great want of promotion in the Navy, and that want of promotion tended to produce discontent among the officers. He believed it had been stated in "another place" that the Admiralty had another scheme for the mitigation of the evil under consideration, but thought it was not quite time to promulgate it. He hoped that whatever they might do they would not interfere with the principle of the scheme of 1870. All things considered, he did not think the promotion under that scheme had been very inadequate, but he thought that something should be done with reference to commanders and captains. He believed it to be desirable that there should be a minimum of promotions for the present to the ranks of commander and captain. In the same ratio as there was an addition to the promotion in those ranks there would be a greater want of employment, but it appeared to him that of the two evils a want of promotion in those ranks was the lesser one. He was, however, aware that if the rank of navigating lieutenant were abolished it would be necessary to some extent to increase the establishment of commanders and to a slight extent the establishment of captains. With regard to the permanent measures to be adopted, he hoped the number of cadets would be kept down. He thought that up to the present time the present Board of Admiralty had exercised a wise discretion in this respect. This year they had entered more than they did last; but for that he thought he could see reasons—but the inevitable tendency was to enter too many cadets, and this ought to be guarded against. He hoped the Admiralty would continue, as a permanent measure, to permit lieutenants to retire from the Service irrespective of age. It might at first sight appear to be a rather extravagant plan to allow officers to retire after only eight or ten years' service; but he thought it was for the interest of the public, as well as of the Service, that it should be allowed. Their Lord-ships would remember that it was proposed that the number of lieutenants should not be at any time less than 600. The number of commanders would not be more than 200. How were 600 lieutenants to be promoted into those 200 posts? It was impossible that they could all come to the rank of commander, and there was still less chance of their reaching that of captain. By allowing retirements a better chance would be left for men who were determined to remain in the Navy and make it their profession. He was completely in favour of the abolition of the privilege of "haul down vacancies." The promotions which used to be made under these privileges were much better in the hands of the Admiralty. He was convinced that in a short time it would be necessary to introduce selection in the making of Flag officers. Only within the last three or four years, two or three officers possessing high claims had been lost to the Service because that system was not in force. He would quite admit that even under a system of selection good officers must occasionally be lost; but he contended that seniority alone ought not to determine who was to be an Admiral, and that whether a man should be Admiral of the Fleet ought not to depend on the age at which as a captain he attained his promotion. He further believed that in course of time the feelings of the officers themselves would be in favour of selection. There was a dislike on the part of officers to go on the Retired List. That disinclination arose from a commendable feeling, and had its origin at a time when there was scarcely such a thing as a Retired List; but now that retirement in all branches of the public service had become a necessity, and that some of the most distinguished officers were on the Retired List, and that the change from the Active List to the Retired List was only one in name, there was no longer the good reason for that feeling which existed at a time when retirement was justly regarded as a reproach. He felt obliged to their Lordships for having listened to his statement; but he felt that in their Lordships' House no apology was necessary for having brought forward such a question as promotion and retirement in the Royal Navy.


said, he entirely concurred in the closing remark of his noble Friend; but their Lordships would bear him out when he said that promotion and retirement in the Navy were very old themes. The want of employment in the Navy and the consequent discontent among the officers were also very old themes, and had been many times discussed in that and the other House of Parliament during a great number of years. From the time of the Battle of Waterloo, which gave us 40 years of peace, till the war in the Crimea, Parliament heard constantly of the discontent of naval officers, arising from the same cause. After the close of the Crimean War, the same cry commenced again; and though successive Ministries had attempted to grapple with the difficulty and had devised various schemes for putting an end to the discontent, he must own that it existed at the present moment, and in all probability would continue to exist after any other scheme that might be devised hereafter. To show their Lordships for how long a time and how constantly this subject had been discussed in Parliament, he might mention that as far back as 1833 a Committee was appointed to consider it; in 1840 there was another such Committee, presided over by no less a personage than the Duke of Wellington; and in 1863 there was another. But of these several Committees nothing very practical had been the result. But to come to 1870, in this latter year a scheme was promulgated by the late Government which it was very natural that his noble Friend should praise, and which, it was promised, was to have relieved us very much from the complaints to which he had referred. Nobody would have been more glad than himself if he could say that the scheme of 1870 had proved entirely successful, and that the discontent of the officers of the Navy and the want of employment in that Service had ceased; but he was sorry to say that was not the case; and Her Majesty's present Government were again obliged to consider whether any better arrangement could be made. They were actively directing their attention to the subject—of that he could assure their Lordships—but he was not prepared to say what their scheme would be. They had not only to contend with the difficulties arising from the grievances of the officers, but also with the difficulties of the financial aspect of the question. Whether in respect of the arrangements for the Army or of those for the Navy, finance was an element which the Government of the day must ever keep in its consideration. One thing at least was certain—that if there were increased facilities of promotion there must be an increased military expenditure in time of peace. The calculation which the Government had made as to the progress of promotion was certainly not promising. At the present rate the list of captains could not be brought down to 150 before the year 1885, and in the lower ranks the progress of reduction would be still slower. He entirely concurred in what his noble Friend (the Earl of Camperdown) had said as to selection in the case of Flag officers. Of course it would be impossible to convince officers who had been passed over that the promotion had been given to better men than themselves; but promotion by selection was inevitable in the Navy. It must be so in the Army too, now that the non-purchase system had been adopted. In a time of peace the country could not pronounce its verdict as to the results of selection; but if war should break out it would require that the best men should fill the important posts. What it would require was that apparently the best men were selected, and he believed that whatever Party might be in power, the Government of the day would, without favour, appoint the men who appeared to be best fitted for the duties they had to perform. The question put by his noble Friend as to the appointment of combatant officers to discharge the duties of Secretary and those of Paymaster was one which he could not answer without notice. He agreed with what his noble Friend had said about cadets; but if the Admiralty did away with navigating lieutenants a few more cadets must be entered. He said that the noble Earl had done good service to the Navy by drawing attention to the subject, and by reminding Her Majesty's Government of some points which the Admiralty desired should be carried out.


said, he hardly knew what object his noble Friend below him (the Earl of Camperdown) had in calling attention to this subject at the present moment, seeing that he approved the course which was now being pursued. For himself, he had no fault to find with the course which Her Majesty's Government were pursuing. He desired to point out that it was impossible for Parliament to lay down the number of captains and commanders and lieutenants who should be on the establishment at any given time. That must be left to the Department. We had made great alterations within the last few years. When he was at the head of the Admiralty we had a "little war "with China; and when he sent out vessels to take part in that war there was a want of lieutenants; consequently he was obliged to increase the number of cadets in order to bring in lieutenants. Since then a few large iron-clads had been substituted for a greater number of other vessels, and by reason of that change fewer lieutenants were required. It was impossible to lay down what must be the number of officers in time of peace. We must have too many officers in time of peace in order to have officers enough in time of war. Wars sometimes broke out suddenly, and a lieutenant could not be made under five or six years. As it was impossible to avoid a superfluity of officers at all seasons, so at some we must have a certain amount of discontent and dissatisfaction. That was an unfortunate thing, but it could not be avoided. All the Admiralty could do was, from time to time, to devise some scheme to provide for the redundant officers. He did not believe that any scheme of the kind would last for very long, and he thought it would be idle for him or anybody else to lay down any self-acting scheme with the idea that it could be made permanent. It must be left for the Admiralty of the day to deal with the difficulty they found on their hands, and to devise such schemes as the occasion might require.


said, he agreed that the noble Earl had done good service by drawing attention to this important subject; but he did not quite agree with him that it was desirable to offer great encouragement to retirement. If it really were the case that retirement was merely a change in name, he would concur with the noble Earl (the Earl of Camperdown) that officers might adopt it without repugnance: or if it was a fact that an officer on the Retired List might be called on in time of war, then no harm could be done by retirement; for it was impossible in the present experimental state of the service to fix the exact number of officers that might be required. The time must come when we should have a large force of gun-boats, and these would afford considerable employment. He hoped, however, that care would be taken to prevent those boats from going to not when they were not on active service. About 200 were built at the time of the war in the Crimea; but they were scarcely ever heard of after. Looking at what had been done by the gallant Gentleman who established the Corps of Commissionaires, and who by his private efforts found them employment, he would suggest whether the Government might not, in the Civil Service, find something to do for officers who were on the retired lists of the Army and Navy.