HL Deb 23 March 1893 vol 10 cc834-49

called attention to the small amount of leave granted to Naval officers, especially on returning from Foreign service; and moved to resolve— That in the opinion of this House it is desirable that the regulations respecting the amount of leave granted to officers of the Royal Navy should be extended so as to apply to all officers, including admirals, captains, and commanders, and should be equalised as far as possible for those who have served on Foreign Stations as well as for those who have been on Home Service. He hoped to persuade their Lordships to pass a Resolution expressing their view that as far as possible leave should be assimilated when officers were on Foreign Service to that which they obtained on Home Service, and that all officers should be included under that rule. He was sure he might claim their Lordship's sympathy and kindly feeling in this matter. Regulations were made in 1867 that, as far as possible, officers on the Home Station were to have six weeks' leave every year, and that officers on Foreign Service were only to be allowed to count two weeks for every year they were away; so that an officer away on Foreign Service for three years would only get six weeks' leave. That regulation not only applied with great hardship to a large number of officers, but it actually left out, for no reason that he could understand, all the senior officers. Admirals, captains, and commanders did not come under it. On the Home Station officers would get six weeks' leave, but if they went away on Foreign Service immediately they returned they were not granted any leave, but were at once relegated to half-pay. In many pamphlets and journals during the last few years it had been claimed that leave ought to be granted to naval officers when on Foreign Service as a right; hut he would not argue the matter for a moment on that basis. If leave were granted, it must only be according to the exigencies of the Service, and if the officers could be spared; though if duty prevented an officer obtaining his leave, it was to be hoped the Admiralty would give it him when those duties had been fulfilled. The matter might be put on two grounds: first, because leave was necessary in the interests of the Navy, and secondly, that it was desirable for the welfare of the officers themselves. Surely it was to the true interests of the Service that officers should at times be enabled to mix with their relatives, friends, and equals on shore. It made him a far better officer in point of general knowledge and attainment, beyond being a good disciplinarian, not to be kept constantly on duty with a stereotyped code of limited ideas and feelings. On broad national grounds, therefore, if our officers were to be trained to command the magnificent ships now being built, if they were to be fitted to meet foreign officers of the same position, and not only to be able commanders, but also at times diplomatists, they should have opportunities of seeing home life and acquiring general information, so as to become good all-round men in every respect. Naval officers should be the very best men it was possible to get— thoroughly able and efficient; and what chance had a man of acquiring necessary general knowledge if he was to be kept perpetually at sea in the round of duty. It was an injustice to keep officers away on Foreign Stations for long periods of three, four, or five years, and then to grant them the smallest possible modicum of leave when they returned home. Formerly this want of leave was not so much felt, but with our increased Navy the officers were more required, and the leave now granted was very small indeed. It was our proud boast that our naval officers were the best and most efficient men it was possible to obtain, and it was a great honour to them that, notwithstanding the small chance they had of acquiring general knowledge, they were such good officers. They could be thoroughly relied upon in time of danger, and absolutely trusted at all times; but still this question of leave was a burning grievance with them. It was a cancer eating into the hearts of many officers throughout the Service. No one acquainted with the inner life on board ship would deny that that feeling of discontent had grown very much of late, and it was to the interest of the country that it should be remedied. Those of their Lordships who had relatives and connections in the Navy would bear him out in saying that officers spoke upon this question with extraordinary intensity. Life on board ship must always be hard, dangerous, and monotonous in the constant round of duty day by day; but only those who had been on Foreign Stations year after year knew what it was to be in the same ship, often in unhealthy climates, longing for the home life and family joys, without which men become more or less uncivilised. He spoke on the subject with some personal feeling, having at one time been for many years on Foreign Stations, and remembered well his feelings on learning, after all he had looked forward to, over a period of five years, on returning home, that six weeks' leave was all he could possibly obtain. He acknowledged that three years' commissions were now the order of the day, but his experience had given him an overwhelming pity for poor officers who only got that short amount of leave. It was a pitiable reward for officers who had served long on Foreign Stations, while their brother officers on Home Stations had been in the constant enjoyment of family life. Sometimes it was urged that the Navy should be compared with the Army in this matter, and that Naval officers should have equal leave granted them. That was a wrong and a foolish argument. The Army stood on a totally different basis, as there were naturally more officers in a regiment than were actually required except on service, and it was right they should be allowed long leave. Besides, they were always on shore. They knew nothing of night-watches or the delights of "a good night in" when it could be obtained. The Navy in this matter must stand on its own footing. The profession was a splendid one, but it involved a hard and dangerous life, and deprived those belonging to it to a great extent of home life. But it was equally true that it should be softened as much as possible, and, as far as the interests of the Service would allow, a fair modicum of leave should be granted in it. As regarded married men, of course, the question was difficult. Lord St. Vincent used to say that "a man in the Navy married was a man marred." He would not go so far as that. No doubt the married life of a naval officer had its difficulties, and was ever full of hardships, but the troubles attending it should be softened as much as possible. Think of the poor married man coming home after being away for three or four years, and then being told he could only be allowed to stop for six weeks! The alteration he suggested was very simple. For every year a man was away he should be able to count one month's leave, and that should be cumulative. It was often urged that six weeks should be given for every year, but the Service at present could hardly spare such long leave, and it was not in the interests of the Service that officers should be too long on shore. A very good precedent for this existed. Thanks to the courtesy of Commander Cowles, Naval Attaché to the United States Legation, he had been furnished with the regulations of the United States Navy. In that Service officers on Foreign Service were allowed one month for every year they were away. It was true that they were put on what was called "furlough pay," but in the American Navy captains and lieutenants received nearly double the pay given in the English Naval Service, and, therefore, the question of "furlough pay" did not arise. A very good plan existed, too, in the United States Navy which might well be adopted by ourselves. When officers were in foreign parts they were encouraged to go on long trips on shore through the countries they were visiting, and provided they made a report to their admiral or commanding officer they received full pay, because it was considered their knowledge was thereby extended, and that they were better enabled to do good all-round work. In civil life officers could not be retained if they were not allowed one month in the year from their employments. In all public offices and civil employments a fair amount of leave had to be given. Three arguments were urged against this in the Navy. First came the expense with the bugbear of the Treasury; secondly, that the number of Naval officers was so limited that until it was greatly increased this extra leave was absolutely impossible without serious detriment to the service; and thirdly, that the Navy was so popular that officers could be obtained as required, and, therefore, no extra leave or indulgences need be given. The first objection need hardly be considered. We were now building ships at a cost of £800,000 and £1,000,000 a-piece, and this extra leave would only entail am expense of £12,000 a year at the very outside. As that was the case, it was the least they could do to have the officers serving on those ships not only thoroughly competent, but happy and contented. The noble Earl at the head of the Admiralty had done good service this year in not allowing the Estimates to be cut down, and he had no fear that the noble Earl on considering this question would see his way to overcoming any obstacle the Chancellor of the Exchequer might present in reference to it. In former days, this grievance was not so much felt, promotion was far more rapid; but now, especially in the rank of lieutenants, it was stagnant. That, of course, made officers discontented, and inclined to grumble and feel unhappy on finding they only got this short leave. The second objection of limited numbers was hardly a sound one either. It was true that the officers were few, but arrangements should be made to increase their number. To a certain extent that was being done, for the list of naval cadets had been increased, and in seven or eight years they would furnish a sufficient number of officers for the Service. But this great unkindness could not with justice be allowed to continue any longer. If this increased amount of leave could not at once be given to officers on returning from Foreign Service, surely it would be better to curtail the six weeks for every year on the Home Stations and extend the leave given to those officers when they have performed their duty in distant seas, instead of actually inflicting punishment upon them for having done so, in favour of others who had remained at home. That applied, however, only to the officers under the rank of Commander. Admirals, Captains and Commanders were relegated at once to half-pay, and, therefore, no such reason existed. There was nothing equal to it in any foreign service. Some years ago, when Mr. Childers brought in his great Naval Retirement Scheme, one of his intentions was to do away altogether with half-pay as being an entire mistake, because officers should be given as much employment as possible, and that they should be allowed on shore a fair modicum of pay so that they might devote themselves to acquiring knowledge, either in this country or abroad. Unfortunately, although that retiring scheme had worked well in many ways, it still required much to be done for its completion. The last objection, he felt sure a very wrong and unkind one, that officers can be easily obtained, would not be urged by the noble Earl. A young man on entering the Navy became rivetted to the Service, and very few indeed were able to leave it for another profession. They were bound to remain in it, and, therefore, it was unfair to urge that argument. As he had once argued in that House, if the age for entering the Navy were increased to 18, the difficulty of keeping officers in the Navy would be enormous, and the present system would soon have to be reverted to. Undoubtedly, grave discontent existed in this matter throughout the Service. Naval officers were not of course going to act foolishly—he did not mean that; but every one who knew anything of the matter would agree that as this was an evil which must be remedied, it should not be allowed to continue a day longer than necessary. One other point was sick-leave. Plenty of sick-leave was granted to Army officers coming home invalided. Unfortunately, Naval officers did not get that amount of consideration which they thought themselves justly entitled to in that matter, and he sincerely hoped the noble Earl would look into that matter. The general question of leave, he assured their Lordships, was a question of absorbing interest, and the grievance was felt very much. He trusted the noble Earl would be able to see his way to do something to remedy it, and at any rate that he would give the matter his grave consideration. He hoped their Lordships would pass the Resolution he had the honour to move.

Moved to resolve— That in the opinion of this House it is desirable that the regulations respecting the amount of leave granted to officers of the Royal Navy should be extended so as to apply to all officers, including admirals, captains, and commanders, and should be equalised as far as possible for those who have served on foreign stations as well as for those who have been on home service."—(The Lord Sudeley.)


said, but few Members of their Lordships' House possessed practical experience on the subject, and he was not among them; but this was not a question requiring naval knowledge, it was one of simple justice and common sense. No one could fail to be struck by the different measure meted out to the two Services in respect of leave. Military officers, especially above the rank of field officers were able to have their families with them at home or abroad, unless on active service; and when they returned home they got a reasonable amount of leave without being exposed to deduction of pay. But the case was very different indeed with naval officers. No naval officer on sea-service could enjoy the society of his family, and if he were above the rank of staff-commander, he was placed on half-pay immediately on his return home from Foreign Service, although he might have been serving for several years without any regular leave. A naval officer at home could not expect the table and other allowances which he received on board ship, but for a limited period of leave he might be granted the full pay of his rank. Among the lieutenants and junior officers the case was harder still. For some incomprehensible reason, it was always found necessary to keep the number of lieutenants low, while the ranks above were unusually full. Lieutenants were consequently always very much in request, and a lieutenant was by no means certain that he would not be called away on service before even his six weeks' leave had expired. Such a state of things could not really conduce to the efficiency of the Navy. It was a penny-wise-and-pound-foolish policy, and if there were a few more lieutenants on the list the Service would be no worse while the country would be the better for it. The amount of money involved in this question was not large, and value for any extra expenditure would be received in the increased zeal and energy fostered in the officers of the Naval Service, who had never been wanting in either. That there was very wide-spread discontent among all ranks on the subject required no naval experience to be fully aware, and if with due regard to the requirements of the Service, the cause of this grievance could be removed, it would be a good work done. The question was not a new one, but it was brought forward and discussed under difficulties, because any one closely connected with the Navy who spoke on the subject was supposed to be not altogether uninspired by some one with whom he was connected in the Navy. He was not open to that charge. He would be sincerely thankful to the noble Karl if he could see his way to investigate the matter and to give some hope of more liberal treatment being accorded to those who felt, they were not quite fairly used at present.


would before the noble Earl replied say a few words in support of the Resolution. He desired particularly to support what had been said by his noble Friend as to the unnecessary length of time during which ships were kept in commission on Foreign stations. He was satisfied that the liability to be called upon to serve for terms of three or four years abroad had a prejudicial effect upon the Navy, for it induced many officers who had been trained at very considerable expense for the efficient discharge of their professional duties to take their retirement at an early age, and it also induced many seamen to retire at the end of their first engagement instead of continuing in the Service. The general regulations on the subject were the remnant of other days, when communications with foreign stations were not what they now were and when there were no steam vessels, and he earnestly hoped the subject of undue length of time for ships being kept on commission would be considered. It was certainly a matter which demanded reconsideration and revision.


said that, speaking from personal experience on the subject of leave, he considered Naval officers had great grievances as compared with the officers of the Army, for when the latter had done their duty they could go and see their friends, whereas with the former, on sea service, of course it was otherwise. Even officers in the Army, in India, could run home and see their friends nearly every year if they wished to do so, although formerly that was not the case, and officers had to remain out there for years. In fact, officers of the Navy said that the times had changed, but that the Navy had not changed with the times. He trusted the First Lord of the Admiralty would see his WHY to meet the views of the officers of the Naval Service.


My Lords, my noble Friend has introduced a very interesting subject, and I will begin by assuring him that in my reply I wish to show complete sympathy with the officers whose interests he has taken up. My noble Friend has stated that he made his appeal for increased leave not as a question of right. No doubt, as one trained in the Navy, my noble Friend is aware that this question has always been rather a question of indulgence than of right, and I therefore rejoice at the tone he has adopted in bringing forward the matter. Another point I noticed was that my noble Friend has admitted that it is not necessary—in fact, that it is almost impossible to compare the two services in various par- ticulars. I must also support that view. We often hear of comparisons between the Army and the Navy, but it must be recollected that the conditions of the two Services are absolutely different, and that those who enter the Navy enter it with a full understanding of what they will have to do, and that the Service is much more confined than that of the Army in consequence of their having to serve on board ship. At the same time I fully admit that we ought to do what is just and fair to the officers on whom we rely so much for the efficiency and discipline of the Navy. The question concerns two classes of officers. Flag officers—namely, Admirals, Captains, Commanders, and I will add those whom my noble Friend has not referred to, Paymasters, who are secretaries on flag ships—form one class. The other class is formed of all the other officers. But the two classes stand with regard to leave on a different footing. My noble Friend has alluded to that, and he pleaded in favour of both classes. As to the first class, the great distinction between them and other officers is that they are appointed for particular purposes, a particular command, and a particular time, and they do not serve continuously. Therefore one of the reasons which my noble Friend has urged on behalf of either class falls to the ground. One of his reasons for asking for more leave is that it is very important that officers in the Navy should be brought in contact with men and manners and institutions at home in order that they may be equal to the highly responsible diplomatic and other duties they have often to perform abroad. I quite agree. The noble Lord also said they had a claim to go to their families. I certainly concur in that, but these higher officers who have not continuous service when they come home can easily go to their families and mix in public life. Therefore on that ground there is no real argument in favour of giving these officers an extension of leave when they come home. They have to a certain extent more latitude, for when they take up a command they have full pay before the full responsibilities of command are on their shoulders, and therefore they have less duty than other officers. With regard to this class of officers it is entirely a question of in- crease of pay. I am quite aware that these officers would not parade any grievances, but that they feel from the position they hold they are bound to accept the situation without bringing forward any grievances. I admit that is no reason for not remedying any injustice, but I hardly think there is any very serious grievance among them. There is always the grievance, which is not confined to naval officers, that they have not as much income as they would like, and they would like higher pay than they now have. A distinction may be made between Commanders who have not taken up the commands of ships and those who have independent commands. Their case has from time to time been before the various Boards, and the decision has invariably been that it is impossible to grant full-pay leave to those officers. As to the other class of officers they have something like continuous service. I quite admit the complaint that we have not at present a sufficient number of these officers, and we are, as my noble Friend has pointed out, endeavouring to increase the number by passing more cadets through the Britannia. But with the present number of officers there is considerable difficulty in even carrying out the pressing duties of the Navy, and the pressing exigencies of the Service are such that it would be impossible to give them the full amount of leave my noble Friend has asked for. These officers come home, have their leave, and, as a rule, they are on half-pay for a very short time, as they are appointed to Home services in preference to being sent abroad again. There are some patriotic and energetic officers who will do everything they can to learn their duties, and who the moment they come home are most anxious to go abroad again. All honour to them, but they do so purely on their own account; and as I say the almost invariable rule is that officers of this class have their six weeks' leave and have the advantage of obtaining Home appointments on full pay, and of getting the benefit of the leave which officers at home get. Therefore I do not think that is a very serious grievance. The noble Viscount opposite wonders why there were so many more lieutenants than captains. The reason is, that in every ship there is a considerable number of lieutenants, whereas in no ship is there more than one captain. As to sick-leave, I have had that question very prominently before me, and I understand that officers on full pay are granted one month in addition to any leave due on account of foreign service. I will inquire whether there is any hardship in regard to such leave, but so far as I know it is not a subject of particular grievance. I admit that if there are real and serious grievances to be redressed, the question of finance ought not to stop the way; but I am not quite sure that my noble Friend has rightly estimated what the expense would be. My noble Friend has estimated it at £12,000 a year, but I should hesitate to adopt that estimate. At the present moment the full-pay leave in the Navy, at the six weeks' rate, is reckoned at £7,500 a year. My noble Friend proposes to double that sum, which makes £15,000 a year. I am not quite sure whether, if the noble Lord has taken the whole of the full-pay leave, he has not rather under-estimated the amount. If he only takes the additional six weeks I think my noble Friend has somewhat under-estimated the sum. This question of expense is not wholly contained in the figures that my noble Friend has given, or that I have submitted in regard to it. If there is an increase in the amount of full-pay leave to those officers who now receive it, we must very considerably increase the number of officers in the Navy, and beyond the number that the Admiralty would hope to bring them up to with the cadets who are now going through the Britannia. This involves a serious undertaking, because we should have to increase the number of officers receiving pay, and then we would have all the contingent expenses of pensions, which would amount to a very large sum indeed. Again, if we increase the number of those officers, promotion in the ranks will be oven slower than it now is. Noble Lords forget that one of the grievances in the old days was that there was a great deal too much half-pay, and if we increase the number of officers and the amount of leave there would probably be eventually some increase of half-pay, which I do not think is at all desired in the Navy. Reference has been made to the United States Navy. I am not familiar with the rules which exist there, but the United States have a small navy compared with that of this country; and I scarcely think that what could be done in America is always feasible in our Navy, considering all the requirements of the Service. Then there is the question as to the length of commission of ships. The time for the commission of ships has been somewhat decreased. In old days a ship was commissioned for four or five years; now the time is almost invariably under three and a- half years. I do not think it would be for the convenience and the exigencies of the Service to bind the Admiralty down to a particular time. The present term of service is not, I think, too long for complete efficiency and working together, and there are other considerations connected with the subject which would make it a question of serious difficulty if we tried to reduce the commission of ships to a shorter time than at present. I repeat what I said at the opening of my speech, that I regard this subject with complete sympathy, but I cannot help thinking that the best time for reviewing this question will be when we have a larger number of officers, which will happen in a few years. I will undertake to carefully consider this matter, but I cannot lead my noble Friends to think that the Board of Admiralty are in a position to grant what is asked. The Government cannot accept the Resolution which has been placed before your Lordships.


My Lords, I am sure none of your Lordships will grudge the time which had been spent upon this most interesting discussion. It seems to me the tone of the noble Lord who brought it forward was eminently conciliatory, eminently calculated to put the case of the officers which he has taken up in the best possible light, and that he did so in a way of which no one could possibly complain. I do not think any one who has listened to the speech of the noble Earl can be otherwise than convinced that he has given a difficult matter most careful consideration, with the desire to arrive at a satisfactory solution if one can possibly be found; but at the same time it did seem to mo that the last sentences of his speech were calculated to administer rather cold comfort to those whose posi- tion he had been considering, and there were one or two points made by the noble Lord opposite the importance of which it does not seem to me the noble Earl fully appreciated. I am satisfied from the communications which had reached me that there is upon this subject a very strong feeling indeed, more especially among the junior ranks of officers in the Navy. They are not a class who can, even if it was right that they should do so, take overt means of expressing their grievances. They are necessarily, by discipline, and from their own natural feelings, not desirous of parading their own grievances in an undue spirit, and that being so, I think we should pay all the more attention to them when they are brought before us in a constitutional and proper manner. I am bound to say that I thought as between the senior and junior ranks of the Navy the noble Earl's reply, as regards the senior officers, had a great deal of force in it. As regards the junior ranks, if I may venture to say so, I do not think he made out quite so good a case. I cannot see why a similar indulgence should not be granted to officers of the Navy who served abroad as to those who are serving upon the Home stations. Something was said by one or two of the noble Lords who have spoken, making a comparison between the conditions of service in the Army and in the Navy, and the privileges given in the one Service and the other. As far as making an absolute comparison is concerned, it does not seem to mo that is a fair and wise line of argument to take. The conditions of the Services are essentially different; but what we ought to do as regards the officers of the Navy is not to encourage them to think that they can be put on a similar footing to the officers of the Army, but to convince them that as much as possible is being done under the conditions necessary to their service to make it as easy as it is right in the public interest it should be made. On that point I think there is some room for believing, even after listening to the Speech of the First Lord of the Admiralty, that the conditions of leave granted to officers on Foreign Service might be made more satisfactory to them than at the present time. I am bound to say that the question of money was treated in a very proper spirit, both by the noble Lord who brought the subject forward and by the First Lord of the Admiralty, but the impression left upon my mind, knowing absolutely nothing about it except what has been said in the course of this discussion, is that taking it even at the extreme amount at which the First Lord put it, there is nothing in the question of money which ought to stand in the way of the reform asked for. I think, probably, the best thing for those who have taken up the cause of the officers of the Navy would be to rest satisfied for the present with the assurance given by the First Lord that he will reconsider what has been said on this occasion, and to entertain the hope that some arrangements will be made whereby the undoubted grievances which exist will as far as possible be remedied.


was sure the First Lord's words of sympathy and feeling would have a good effect in the Navy, but hoped he would not think the question could be put off in the interests of the country until the Service had more officers. To a certain extent it was true that the higher officers could not be placed in the same category as the junior grades, but there could be no possible reason for saying that while Captains and Commanders on the Home station wore to get six weeks' leave every year, officers returning from Foreign Service were to have no leave, but to be at once put on half-pay. No reason existed why they should not be treated like the other officers. Half-pay must always be spoken of as something to be deplored. However right it might be as regarded the finances of the country, officers should not be kept on half-pay doing nothing more than necessary. There must be some on shore, but, if possible those officers should be employed in acquiring information which they could not do if kept on half-pay. Four-fifths of the Navy in the junior ranks were on Foreign Service, excluding those in the Home ports. The noble Earl asked how he made out the £12,000 a year. He had gone carefully into the matter and thought that was about the right amount. The first thing to be done beyond everything was to make the Navy contented, and he assured the House there was much greater feeling on the matter than the noble Earl thought. He thanked the noble Earl, however, for the way he had spoken in the matter, and for his promise that he would take it into his serious consideration. He did not know whether the noble Earl thought his hands would be strengthened by the Motion being put to the House.


I said I was opposed to it.


said in that case he would, after the kindly speech made by the noble Earl, ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave of the House, withdrawn.