HC Deb 22 July 1869 vol 198 cc493-8



said, it would be admitted that, looking to our colonies abroad, it was absolutely necessary not only that our small Army should be furnished with the best weapon we could place in their hands, but also that their ammunition should be the best this country could manufacture. He wished to direct attention to the two points comprised in the Question he had put on the Paper; and first, with regard to the Committee which might or might not at present be sitting at the War Office. He understood from his right hon. Friend (the Secretary of State for War) the other night, that the Committee to which he alluded had been broken up, and was no longer to exist. That Committee had been composed of most distinguished men—Lord Spencer, Colonel Fletcher, and other gentlemen of equal ability and uprightness. He did not east any blame upon that Committee, but he did upon the orders which had latterly been given to them. A Committee to inquire into the arms of this country ought to be perfectly free and unfettered, and it ought to be a judicial and in no way a constructive Committee. Now the Committee to which he had just referred was, he believed, as free as most Committees of that kind could possibly be, and he certainly had no fault whatever to find with it. But, in future, we ought to have a Committee on which we could thoroughly rely, composed of scientific persons totally unconnected with the trade, including one or two scientific Members of Parliament. He had brought this question forward, because at the recent meeting at Wimbledon there had been in competition with the Henry-Martini rifle one or two other weapons, which had been proved to be nearly, if not quite, as good. The Duke of Cambridge's prize was not won with that rifle. He trusted therefore that his right hon. Friend would consent to the appointment of a Committee to decide what arm was the best for the service— giving all arms that might be brought forward a fair and impartial trial. An arm for our service ought to be tried not only in this country, but in India, in Canada, and on board ship; and he might here mention that a manufacturer had authorized him to state that he was perfectly prepared to send at his own cost to India, or any other country which the right hon. Gentleman might name, 200 stand of arms and 200 or more rounds of ammunition for each arm, in order that the weapon might have a fair trial. Mr. Westley Richards' gun, he might remark, was nearly a pound lighter than the Henry-Martini. As to ammunition, he had heard that the old Boxer ammunition was used, and certainly the country had amply paid for it, because the gallant gentleman having been allowed to patent that ammunition, received from the country a very large reward for it, besides obtaining a royalty on it from the trade. He had been informed, however, that that ammunition had signally failed in the East Indies, in consequence of galvanic action having taken place between the metals used. Surely, in the general interests of the service and of the general public, the matter ought to be thrown open to the trade; and, in order that this might be done, it was necessary to appoint a tribunal in which implicit trust could be placed. If such a system as he now suggested had been adopted throughout, we should not have spent so enormous a sum of money without arriving at any satisfactory result. In the event of the Government coming boldly forward when they wanted a new arm, and offering even £30,000 for it, he believed that manufacturers would readily come before a proper tribunal, and that the result would be most satisfactory. In conclusion, he asked the Secretary of State for War, If it is the intention of the Government to make any and what alteration in the system hitherto adopted of appointing permanent or special Committees to choose new Arms for the Service, when modern requirements render it necessary to adopt Arms of new pat- tern or improved principle of construction; and, if it is the intention of the Government to sanction the expenditure of Public Money by Officers at the head of Government Manufacturing Departments in trying experiments, for which, if successful, they are permitted to take out Patents, thereby levying a Tax upon the trade created by the article being adopted by the Government, the Public Purse being saddled with the expenditure if the experiment be unsuccessful?


was of opinion that the Patent Laws ought to be abolished, if this country were to compete on equal terms with the continental nations.


said, he entirely agreed with the hon. and gallant Gentleman that the only object the War Office should have was to get the best weapon and ammunition at a moderate price for the public service. About ten years ago the heads of the establishments at Woolwich were members of the Ordnance Select Committee, but at that time the Committee was re-constituted, and those gentlemen ceased to be members of it. His right hon. Friend who preceded him in the War Office (Sir John Pakington) dissolved the old Ordnance Select Committee, and it was the intention of the right hon. Baronet to substitute for it a small Committee which should sit at Woolwich. It appeared to him (Mr. Cardwell), however, that a Committee sitting at Woolwich "was not what we wanted. He thought there ought to be a closer connection with the War Office and with Parliament in the Committee that should advise him; consequently, he constituted a Committee to sit, not at Woolwich, but in Pall Mall. Of that Committee his noble Friend the Under Secretary for War was president, and Ms hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Truro (Captain Vivian) was a member of it, as was also the Director General of Ordnance, the Controller-in-Chief, the Inspector General of Artillery, the Inspector General of Engineers, the Inspector General of Naval Ordnance, and other persons who were above the suspicion of being actuated by any desire but that of promoting the interests of the public service. When a special Committee was required to examine any particular article they appointed such a Committee, and he trusted that this statement would be satisfactory to his hon. and gallant Friend, and would prove that he (Mr. Cardwell) had been walking in the direction that the hon. and gallant Gentleman desired. As to the Henry-Martini Committee, that was constituted before he came into Office, and its Report was presented very soon after he took Office; but he believed that a more able, independent, or trustworthy Committee could not have been possibly nominated. Colonel Fletcher was at the head of it, the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland sat upon it, and all its other members were persons in every way calculated to inspire respect. His hon. and gallant Friend had said that every Committee of this kind ought to be judicial and not experimental, but that must depend upon circumstances. As far as awarding prizes was concerned the Committee was judicial, but the object of securing the best weapon for the public service could not be attained unless experiments were instituted. They had instituted experiments to ascertain whether any one of the weapons brought before them, or whether the combination of a part of one weapon with a part of another, would be the best for the public service. The result of those experiments was that they adopted the breech of one inventor and the barrel of another, and they recommended the Henry-Martini rifle. The course taken by the Government was to have the Henry-Martini rifle tried at the late Wimbledon meeting. He had not yet received the official Report of that trial, but he believed he was only stating what everybody knew when he said the result had been very successful. That weapon could not be immediately adopted because it must first be tried in India, where some specimens of it were to be sent out for that purpose. With regard to ammunition, the ammunition of Colonel Boxer was generally very satisfactory. It was quite true that there had been recent reports from India which showed that No. 5 ammunition in that country was not in a satisfactory state. He was not yet sufficiently informed of what the extent of the deterioration had been, or whether the cost of destroying any considerable portion of it would be entailed on the Indian Government; but, at all events, the whole amount of the loss would be much less than had been represented to his hon. Friend. But a remedy had been found; the means of excluding chemical action and moisture had already been adopted. With respect to the system of patents, he might say that he had never been a friend or admirer of the Patent Laws, which appeared to him to he open to many of the objections urged against them with great ability in a late debate in that House. But, however that might be, as long as they existed the question would arise whether persons employed in the public Departments, as the heads of public establishments, should be allowed to take up patents. He knew that patents were not binding against the Crown, and that, therefore, no cost need be incurred for them by the public service; but he quite agreed that it was very doubtful whether a public servant at the head of a public manufacturing establishment should be permitted to take up any patent. That opinion he entertained in common with his right hon. Friend at the head of the Board of Admiralty, who had been in correspondence with him for some time on the subject, and they proposed to issue instructions in accordance with that opinion.


said, that he had known a good deal about these arms in former days, and he had heard something further upon the subject from Birmingham. The great object was to have a tribunal that would satisfy inventors that they would have justice as between each other, and that they would not be exposed to the piracy of their inventions on the part of any of their judges, or of any persons employed by their judges. He had known cases of great hardship, and he had to represent them to predecessors of the right hon. Gentlemen opposite, in which cases there had been direct piracy of inventions submitted to the Government for improvements in arms. But a remedy for this was found. General Peel appointed a Committee of officers to give a preliminary judgment upon the arms submitted to them. Now, officers were the proper judges; a soldier ought to know what soldiers wanted. A man who had seen active service was the most likely to know which arm would endure the wear and tear, and what ammunition would be most likely to resist rain, and snow, and heat. If the right hon. Gentleman would revert to that system of General Peel, he would find that the best commencement for establishing an impartial and unsuspected tribunal. He had never known satisfaction so fully given as by the tribunal appointed by General Peel.


said, that a great amount of discontent existed among the private manufacturers, and he was glad to hear from the Secretary of State for War that in future the taking out of patents by officers or persons connected with the public manufacturing departments would be put an end to. He also hoped that those officers would be prevented from making trials at the public expense in any way for their own advantage. When private manufacturers made discoveries and improved weapons they ought to have some security that the benefit of their discoveries and improvements would not be taken from them.


said, that in his opinion the moment the Secretary of State parted with the direction of a matter of that sort and handed it over to a Committee composed of members of the constructive departments of the War Office or of any one of the great spending Departments of the State, that moment the right hon. Gentleman and the country were placed in a false position. A question that required a clearer answer than had yet been given to it was this—whether it was possible, seeing the manufacturers were dissatisfied with the judgments of persons interested in the constructive departments of the Government, an independent Committee should not be formed, composed in part of Members of that House?

Motion, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.