HC Deb 05 May 1870 vol 201 cc277-9

said, he would beg to ask the Secretary of State for War, If he will read to the House the private Minute of the late Secretary of State for War with regard to Colonel Boxer's claim for reward for his invention; and, if he will explain the discrepancy between that Minute and the official Letter of the Director General of the Ordnance, dated 4th January 1868?


This Question, Sir, relates so much to me that my right hon. Friend (Mr. Cardwell) agrees with me that it would be more fair, both to him and to myself, that I should give the answer to it. I have brought down to the House a copy of the Minute, and since I have been in the House my right hon. Friend has very kindly placed in my hands the original. In answer to the first part of the Question of the hon. and gallant Member, as to whether my right hon. Friend would read the Minute, I have to say that after what fell from me on the subject last Friday the Minute, in fact, became public property. I have not the slightest wish to withhold it, and if I had any such wish I should not have a right to exercise it. I am, therefore, perfectly willing to read the Minute, or if the hon. and gallant Gentleman would think it more satisfactory, that every Member of this House should read it for himself. ["No, no!"] As it seems to be the wish of the House, I will read the Minute. It is in these words— This question of pecuniary reward to Colonel Boxer involves a decision between the two principles so clearly described in the Minute of General St. George—namely, whether on the one hand, as stated by Colonel Boxer, the 'duties of a Superintendent of a manufacturing department are confined to the manufacture of approved articles,' or, on the other, as contended by General St. George, that 'ingenuity and talent are among the qualifications for which a Superintendent is selected, that a certain salary is attached to the office which is presumed to be adequate, and that by such payment the Government becomes entitled to all the time, talents, and exertions of the officer.' I agree with General St. George and the Reward Committee, and I therefore approve of their Report. The latter of the two principles stated above seems to me to be sound, and I do not think any Government would employ an officer who avowed his intention to act upon the former. But while I reject the principle that a Government officer is entitled to assess at a money value every improvement which his professional know- ledge may enable him to introduce into his department, I do not wish or intend to lay down that Government officers who originate useful inventions are in no case to receive pecuniary reward. We have many precedents for such rewards; Colonel Boxer has himself received them. But I think they should be reserved for inventions of conspicuous merit and public advantage, and given in each case only after careful consideration and inquiry by the Secretary of State. J. S. P., 28, 12, '67. That is the whole of the Minute, and my right hon. Friend asks me to explain the discrepancy between it and the official letter of the Director General of the Ordnance, dated the 4th of January, 1868. General St. George wrote the following endorsement upon my Minute:— Draft a letter to Colonel Boxer embodying the decisions of the Reward Committee as that arrived at by the Secretary of State. Express at the same time Sir John Pakington's sense of the value of Colonel Boxer's services in his position as Superintendent. J. ST. G., 31, 12. Before I refer further to this endorsement, I may perhaps be allowed to say that I am very glad of this opportunity of removing a misapprehension which, exists in some quarters, to the effect that words which have been made subject of question were improperly introduced by some clerk in the War Office in the interest of Colonel Boxer. I feel bound to say there is not the slightest ground for any such suspicion. I am sure my right hon. Friend will agree with me when I say that there is not in the War Office a gentleman of higher character than he who was intrusted with this matter. He is, I may say without fear of contradiction, above suspicion of any unworthy conduct; but, irrespective of that consideration, I beg leave to state that in this case there really was no room for suspicion. The House will have observed that in General St. George's endorsement reference is made to the decision of the Reward Committee; and here I should state that, in consequence of the numerous applications made to me for money rewards by inventors, I formed a committee within the War Office of some of its highest officers, and I called upon this committee to report to me their opinion upon these various claims for rewards for inventions, and upon Colonel Boxer's among the rest. The committee reported against the gift of any such reward, and with respect to two of the claims they grounded their refusal on the fact that Colonel Boxer had taken out a patent. Under the circumstances to which I have adverted the draft of the letter in question was written. That draft was passed by General St. George, who also signed the letter itself. General St. George is not in England now, or he would, I have not the slightest doubt, endorse my belief that there was not the slightest design in the words which have been made the subject of comment, because they appeared to him to convey the meaning I endeavoured to convey to the House last Friday—namely, that, although we could not for a moment allow Colonel Boxer to derive profit from Government supply, we could not, so long as he held the patent, interfere with arrangements he might make respecting the supply either of Foreign Governments or the public in this country. I have now stated the whole of the facts; and I have only to add that there is not in the War Office a single Paper connected with the subject which, as far as I am concerned, this House and the public are not quite at liberty to see.