HC Deb 20 April 1860 vol 157 cc2057-60

said, he wished to ask the Secretary of State for War, are Barrack Masters Military or Civil Servants; if Civil, are they included in the 4th Section of the Superannuation Act of last year?


Sir, in answer to the questions put to me I will first of all say, with regard to the admission to the Armstrong gun factory at Woolwich, when I came into office there was no admission except by special order. But I ought to premise by saying there was no secrecy necessary to be observed, and the object of limiting the admission of strangers was not to conceal from the public that which the public already perfectly well knew—namely, how those welded guns were made, but to prevent the incursion of great numbers of persons anxious to see those guns from interrupting the work going on. At one lime, when the strictness of these admissions was relaxed, there came complaints from the foundry that the number of persons visiting the works was so great that the works and the workmen were interfered with materially. With respect to the particular instance alluded to by the gallant Gentleman (Sir Do Lacy Evans), I will shortly state the circumstances. At that time no man could be admitted without special order. I gave a special order to a person, who, though described as a foreign Prince, was in fact the son-in-law of the Queen of England—I mean Prince Frederick William of Prussia—who had seen all the other works in the public dockyards, and wished to see the Armstrong factory. Accordingly the Prince was admitted, but General Sir Richard Dacres, not having a special order, was not admitted. When I heard of that, I thought it was very improper that an officer holding the position of Sir Richard Dacres, as Commandant of the garrison at Woolwich, should not have the right of admission to the Armstrong factory. The rule that now obtains is this, that Sir Richard Dacres, as Commandant of the garrison, Colonel Bingham, as Deputy-Adjutant General of Artillery at the Horse Guards, and Colonel St. George, Chairman of the Ordnance Commission, should have the power to give orders of admission to inspect the factory to naval and military officers. It is scarcely necessary for me to add that professors of fortifications engaged in giving instruction to officers at Woolwich have always had free access to the factory.

Now, with respect to the question put by my hon. Friend behind me (Mr. Gregory), I confess I could have satisfied him at once if he had put the question to me privately, because certainly I cannot conceive that any hesitation could have existed as to the right of those young gentlemen who had passed their examination and had returned to their homes to have their expenses repaid them if recalled for a second examination. I may as well state the facts of the case as they have come to my knowledge. They are somewhat different from those given by my hon. Friend. General Romilly, the head of the Council of Education, was present when a communication was made by one of the candidates that some of the papers had been surreptitiously obtained by the payment of money or some other means, in order to enable the candidates to get up their answers to the questions that were to be put to them on the following day. The moment that communication was made to General Romilly, he took what I think was a proper and wise course. He instantly, and without waiting for explanations from any one, proclaimed in the hall that all the examinations that had taken place in the hall up to that time were null and void; that the examination papers should be cancelled; and that a new examination should commence on the following morning. On the following day all the candidates were present, with four exceptions. There were only four absent, and one of these sent a medical certificate, so that the inconvenience was not very great. It is not right to say that this irregularity has been general; nor does it appear that it arose in the department conducting the examinations. I believe, so far as I have been able to ascertain, the paper was stolen from the printing-office of Messrs. Eyre and Spottiswoode. The moment the circumstance came to my knowledge I sent to Sir Richard Mayne, authorizing him to offer a reward, and left the matter in his hands. All I can say is that I trust we shall have the means of instituting a prosecution. Whether or not this practice has obtained on previous examinations I cannot say. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gregory) says he is aware that it has, and that he is acquainted with the names of persons reported to have been concerned in these transactions. If he will have the goodness to communicate that information to Sir Richard Mayne he will do a great service to the public. Nothing can be more destructive of the confidence which the public have in these examinations than that such practices should prevail; and I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government will spare no exertion or expense in order, if possible, to bring the guilty parties to conviction, and to put a stop to this very discreditable and mischievous practice.

With respect to the question of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Roscommon (Colonel French), I have to say that barrackmasters are almost invariably military men, or men who have sold out. The situation, however, is not a military one, because civilians can be appointed to it. Barrack-masters, therefore, come under the Superannuation Act, but under the 7th, and not the 4th clause.