LORD HENRY LENNOX
rose to move for a Select Committee to inquire into the circumstances which led to the dismissal of Vice Admiral Sir Spencer Robinson from the post of Third Lord of the Admiralty by the Prime Minister. The noble Lord expressed a hope that it was unnecessary for him to make any apology for bringing the subject under the notice of the House, though he regretted that he must do so in the absence of the late First Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. Childers), both on account of the cause of the absence of the right hon. Gentleman, and because he should have been glad if the right hon. Gentleman had been present to answer certain facts which he should bring forward. Still the House of Commons and the country would agree with him that while much sympathy was due to that right hon. Gentleman, and to the causes that led to his absence from that House, some sympathy was also due to that gallant officer, who considered that his character rested under a grievous slur, through the summary dismissal of which he complained. The unprecedented nature of the case was one reason among others why it should be brought before the House, and he believed that never at any time before had it been found necessary by any Minister to dissolve any Admiralty patent in order to dismiss an Admiral from the service of the Crown. That officer was dismissed in a summary manner from the public service, and yet he was no ordinary servant of the Crown, for he had received the most complimentary and flattering letters from his Chief at the Admiralty, which had lately been made public, as to the value of his services, and a brilliant testimony to his powers and public services had also been delivered in that House no longer ago than in June last by the Prime Minister. Sir Spencer Robinson felt—andhe (Lord Henry Lennox) agreed with him—that he could not have en- 1281 trusted his case to any Member of the House who sympathized with his political opinions as to himself, whose views on political subjects were widely divergent from Sir Spencer Robinson's, and with whose opinions on the administration of the Navy he (Lord Henry Lennox) had also frequently differed. He therefore approached the subject uninfluenced by any party or personal considerations. He was only anxious to lay a statement before the House which should relieve a gallant officer from what he considered to be a most unjust slur upon his character. Before becoming Controller of the Navy, Sir Spencer Robinson had effected great and excellent reforms with regard to the steam reserve at Devonport, and the right hon. Baronet the Member for Droitwich (Sir John Pakington) would, had he been now present, have concurred in the statement as to the beneficial course adopted there by Sir Spencer Robinson. Ten years ago the Duke of Somerset appointed Sir Spencer Robinson to the office of Controller of the Navy, and he (Lord Henry Lennox) might here briefly describe the progress that has been made in their Navy since then. At that time they had four iron-clads—two built and two building—the iron of the thickest armour being four inches and a-half, while the armour did not extend along the whole length of the water-line from stem to stern. When Sir Spencer Robinson was dismissed he left for the public service 50 iron-clads built or building, and the armour, instead of being only four inches and a-half thick, was 12 inches thick, and extended along the water-line from stem to stern. When Sir Spencer Robinson became Controller the heaviest gun was less than six tons, and when he left the position the heaviest gun was 35 tons. Nor had our progress in unarmoured vessels been less remarkable. In 1861 the Government possessed only two vessels whose speed was 13 knots; but Sir Spencer Robinson left a large class of sloop corvettes whose speed was over 13 knots, and he introduced frigates whose speed was 16½ knots, and, while our old corvettes were calculated to have a speed of 11 knots, our new corvettes reached a speed of something more than 15 knots. The same relative increase had occurred in our armaments, for whereas the armament had, on the average, been doubled, the average speed 1282 had been increased from 10 to 13 knots. He did not for one moment wish—nor would Sir Spencer Robinson wish, if he had a seat in that House—to deny the full meed of praise that was due to that most able naval architect, Mr. Reed, who—unfortunately for the country as he (Lord Henry Lennox) thought—was, unhappily, no longer Chief Constructor to the Navy. To Mr. Reed's designs and abilities they owed most of these changes; but much was equally due to Sir Spencer Robinson, who appreciated those designs, and on every occasion—as he could personally testify during his own three years' tenure of office—pressed them with untiring energy upon succeeding Boards of Admiralty. Such were the services that Sir Spencer Robinson rendered to the country; but there was also another class of services which commanded from the late First Lord of the Admiralty, and the Prime Minister, a large amount of consideration. When the present Government came into office one of its great cries was the re-modelling of the Secretary's Department at Whitehall, and the introduction of rigid economy in our naval administration, and all through the changes that took place in consequence of that policy the late First Lord admitted freely his great obligations to the energy and services of Sir Spencer Robinson. It must not be supposed that, when he said that, he himself approved of the changes then made, because he believed that many of them were productive of anything but good; but whether good or bad, it was certain that the action of the Government in the matter was materially aided by Sir Spencer Robinson, who had enabled the Prime Minister to lose no opportunity—both in the House and out of it—of glorifying the late First Lord as having succeeded in solving the problem of Admiralty reform; and, therefore, Sir Spencer Robinson had a right to expect that in their dealings with him they would exhibit proper consideration and kindly feeling. But how was he treated? To make the case clear, he would divide it into four separate periods—The first being from March to June; the second from June to November; the third from November to December 14, 1870; and the last from December 14 to January 31, 1871. It was after 18 months of confidential relations that, in March last, an Order in Council appeared in regard to retire- 1283 ment in the naval service, and by that scheme four gallant and distinguished Admirals—including Sir Spencer Robinson—were mainly hit. If that Order was to be carried out on June 2, those four Admirals would have been retired. The scheme was proposed by the First Lord, the first Sea Lord, and the Junior Lord of the Admiralty; but it was never communicated to the gallant Admirals, whose interests it so materially affected, and they had no knowledge of it until they saw it in print. That was a scandal which could not have occurred under the old system, when the Admiralty Board met for the discussion of the Admiralty policy—a system which enabled each naval and civilian member to give an opinion of the policy propounded by the First Lord, or by any other Member of the Board. As soon as this Order in Council appeared Sir Spencer Robinson appealed to the Government, stating that he felt much aggrieved, and that he hoped he should be enabled to hoist his flag before the 2nd of June, in order that he might be retained on the active list. He was met by repeated statements of the wish of the Government to meet his views; and as he coupled his case with that of the other three distinguished officers named, the Government stated that they were anxious to make a special Order in Council to prevent them coming under the penal effect of the Order in Council of the 2nd of June. It was proposed that two turret-ships, the Monarch and the Captain, should be sent on their trial cruise, and Sir Spencer Robinson again applied to the Admiralty to allow him to hoist his flag on the Monarch, and to report on the seagoing qualities of the two vessels. He proposed to hoist his flag alternately on the Captain and Monarch, which would enable him to give valuable information to the Admiralty, and at the same time to preserve his position in his profession. That request was refused by the Admiralty; but he continued firmly to believe in the repeated assurances of an exception being made in its favour. He ultimately sailed as a passenger in the Monarch. On the 23rd of May he again repeated his wish to hoist his flag, for it would be impossible for him to hold the office of Third Lord of the Admiralty, according to the new regulations made by the First Lord. Then came the 2nd of June. On the 1284 4th of June there was a letter from the First Lord, telling Sir Spencer Robinson that a special Order in Council had been obtained for him, and he was offered the command at Sheerness to hoist his flag there. Sir Spencer Robinson looked upon this very naturally with some hesitation. He had all along associated his case with that of the three other Admirals, and he felt disinclined to obtain an exemption and an advantage which were as due to them as to himself. In making the offer, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Pontefract, then First Lord of the Admiralty, coupled it with some very strong expressions, to induce him to forego his professional life in the Navy. Mr. Childers, in a letter to Sir Spencer Robinson, dated the 14th of June last, assured him of his entire confidence, and urged him to continue to give his advice and assistance in the discharge of those duties in which he had displayed such conspicuous ability. In addition to that, Sir Spencer Robinson received a letter of entreaty from the Prime Minister to remain; and, very unwisely, as he thought, listening to the charmer, he did remain at the Admiralty as Controller of the Navy. Giving up his professional prospects, he devoted himself to the civilian duties of the Admiralty. On the 27th of June the Prime Minister came forward and added his public testimony to the written testimony of his colleague, and said he was happy to announce to the House that he had persuaded Sir Spencer Robinson to remain at the Admiralty, where he would continue to give those services which he described as so valuable and almost indispensable to the Navy. Sir Spencer Robinson was only mortal; and, therefore, listening to these compliments, believing in the sincerity of feeling which dictated them, he remained as Controller of the Navy. He now came to period No. 2—from June to November—and he must really beg the attention of the House while he endeavoured to place before them when a change of feeling first appeared. From June to November all went on as smoothly as possible. Sir Spencer Robinson, perfectly satisfied by all that had been said in public and private, forgot, or, at all events, forgave, the injustice done to him by the publication of the Order in Council by his colleagues, and gave himself to the discharge of his 1285 arduous duties. But Sir Spencer fell ill, and feeling his strength unequal to his duties, and wishing to act with the most perfect fairness to the First Lord, he went to him and stated he was going to spend Ms holiday in recruiting his health; and, lest he should be unable to return to his duties, the First Lord being apprised so long beforehand, would not be taken by surprise, but should look out for the best person he thought to succeed him. Sir Spencer went for his holiday in September, and remained away for two months. During that time he received letters from the First Lord on official business, and continued to be on the best terms with him. Then occurred that most fatal disaster that ever occurred to the British Navy—namely, the loss of Her Majesty's ship Captain. As the Government would not tell Sir Spencer Robinson why he was dismissed, the public were obliged to inquire into the causes which led to the dismissal of this officer, whose services had been so highly appreciated. He regretted that the Prime Minister was not in his place, because he was obliged to refer to his letter of dismissal, telling Sir Spencer quietly, and apparently as if it were of no consequence whatever, that he need not argue the matter, for his dismissal was "a foregone conclusion." What he wanted to know—and what every member of the Civil Service felt was vital to be known—was when that foregone conclusion was come to, and what led to it. He had stated that during the absence of Sir Spencer Robinson nothing but friendly letters passed between him and the First Lord. At the end of two months he returned. During the month of October, and well into November, some communications passed between him and the right hon. Member for Pontefract respecting the deplorable calamity that had occurred to the Captain. Sir Spencer's advice was asked, and a direct appeal was made to him for his sympathy and assistance in gauging the cause of the disaster. Under the peculiar circumstances of the First Lord's bereavement, the sympathy and assistance sought were given most ungrudgingly by Sir Spencer Robinson. Up to the 23rd of November he believed that assistance and advice were warmly recognized by the First Lord. There had not been the slightest difference between them up to the middle of No- 1286 vember as to the causes which led to the Captain's disaster, or the persons mainly responsible for the destruction of that most noble ship. The First Lord and the Controller did not at that time see much of each other, for the former was absent from ill-health and affliction; but the letters that passed between them were of a friendly character. His next period extended from the first days of November to the 14th of December. On the 2nd of November the late First Lord of the Admiralty and Sir Spencer Robinson had an interview, at which the First Lord hinted to the Controller that he thought it might be advisable to appoint a Royal Commission to inquire into the character and efficiency of our iron-clad Navy. The discussion was most friendly, and Sir Spencer Robinson said—So anxious am I to bring out the truth in this matter that I will either remain Controller of the Navy and give evidence before the Royal Commission, or, if you prefer it, and think it more advantageous, I will resign my post as Controller of the Navy and serve you as a member of the Royal Commission.Nothing could be more friendly than that interview, and on the 5th of November there was another, at which it would appear that the idea of a Royal Commission had been given up, and instead a Committee of 16 gentlemen was to be appointed to undertake the revision of these iron-clad ships of the Navy. To that Sir Spencer Robinson most certainly was opposed, and most justifiably, after the eulogiums which had been passed by the then First Lord and by the Prime Minister upon the ships with which Sir Spencer Robinson had provided the Navy, for those ships which were to be relegated to the tender mercies of the Committee of 16 were the very ships in recognition of the great merits of which a most unusual grant of £5,000 had been voted to Sir Spencer Robinson. It therefore came to this, that the First Lord was going to appoint a Committee of Inquiry with reference to the very ships the builder of which he had already rewarded by a special grant. If there were in the circumstances of the Captain anything that would justify even the smallest amount of alarm with regard to the remainder of the iron-clad ships in the Navy, there might have been a justification for resorting to a Committee; but the case was totally and entirely 1287 distinct. The Captain had a low freeboard; the Monarch, which was to be inquired about, stood out the gale in which the Captain foundered, and had made a voyage across the Atlantic in rough weather with the remains of Mr. Peabody on board. The Monarch was a high freeboard turret-ship, and the other low freeboard turret-ships which were to be inquired about, the Devastation and the Thunderer, were not to have masts and yards, whereas the Captain was masted and rigged. The other class of vessels which this Committee were to inquire about were not vessels of the turret design at all; they were broadside vessels, and had high instead of low freeboards. Therefore, the class of vessels which it was proposed this Committee should inquire about was quite as distinct from the one which had met with this fatal disaster as it was possible for one class of ship to differ from another. Therefore, Sir Spencer Robinson did not think he should be justified in assenting to the proposal that these vessels which had been so much praised and lauded, should be, for no reason that he could see, subjected to the verdict of a Committee of 16 gentlemen. During November differences of opinion occurred on the subject. There were differences as to the composition of the Committee and as to the instructions to be given to it; but these differences were not of a nature to endanger Sir Spencer Robinson's friendly relations with the First Lord. After a time the First Lord spoke to Sir Spencer Robinson with reference to his views as to his future position if he differed from the Committee which the First Lord was determined to appoint, and this was one of the things which lay at the base of the matter. On the 23rd of November Sir Spencer Robinson was asked a direct question, and he then said, what he repeated on many occasions afterwards, as was notorious in all the clubs frequented by his friends—"I should consider it a dereliction of my duty to abandon the Constructive Department until the case has been fairly and truthfully placed before the public, and therefore I still remain and will not leave until the Committee has reported." At the same time he assured the Government that if they wished him to resign, his resignation was in their 1288 hands, and he also added that if the Committee reported against him, he should, as a matter of course, at once make his bow without consultation with the Admiralty at all. Through the early part of December there was no ill-will between the First Lord and his colleague. Early in that month Sir Spencer Robinson had received numerous letters all breathing a kindly and a friendly tone. On the 7th of December, when the First Lord was about to nominate the Committee, Sir Spencer Robinson wrote his final protest about what was contemplated, and stated his views fully. On the 9th of December he received from the First Lord a reply couched in more than ordinary friendly language, saying that he bore Sir Spencer Robinson no ill-will because he opposed the appointment of the Committee, and adding an expression of his pleasure that the differences with his colleagues did not destroy his harmony with them. Sir Spencer Robinson would not have received that letter if he had known that at that time the First Lord had affixed his signature to that now celebrated Minute on the loss of the Captain which charged this very colleague, with whom he wished to live in harmony, with the most frightful responsibility any public officer was ever charged with—namely, that through neglect and want of outspokenness he was plainly responsible for the loss of a splendid ship, which had cost the country £600,000, with the more valuable lives of the 500 British sailors on board. Now, if the right hon. Gentleman had wished for harmony it would surely have been more desirable had he informed Sir Spencer Robinson that the document was in existence, and was hanging over his head. He now came to the 14th of December—the critical and historical day—out of which all these circumstances had arisen. On that day the right hon. Member for Pontefract again adverted to the question, of Sir Spencer Robinson's resignation, and he repeated, what he had already said in a letter, that he should remain and defend his ships until the Committee had reported; if that Report was adverse to his ships, he would resign; and if it were not, he would place himself in the hands of the Government. He added—and one must concur with him—that while there might be circumstances which would absolutely necessitate the 1289 immediate resignation of a subordinate, there might also be cases, and this was one, in which the subordinate was bound to remain in order to defend his own work; and Sir Spencer Robinson was called upon to justify the eulogiums which had been passed upon him in this House by the two leading Members of the Government, and to defend his ships from criticisms of a hostile character. This interview was on the 14th of December, and we had since learnt that it was on the 14th of December that the dismissal of Sir Spencer Robinson was finally decreed in the mind of the right hon. Member for Pontefract, for it was published on the 15th, and on the 16th he was presented with a copy of the Minute simultaneously with the appearance in the great journal of the day of an elaborate criticism upon it, showing that a document reflecting upon the Controller of the Navy had been in the hands of the writer several days before it was sent to the person who was principally inculpated by it. No one in the House would believe if he were to pretend to affirm that Sir Spencer Robinson's feelings were not deeply wounded by such conduct on the part of a colleague; indeed, it seemed almost incredible that they could have sat at the same Board as colleagues, members, and friends, and could have been engaged in discussing grave matters affecting the public service, and could have been in daily communication at the very time that this Minute existed, and as incredible that the right hon. Gentleman should have given the widest publicity to, and should have allowed it to be sold at 7s. a copy as a Parliamentary Paper during the Recess, a document charging a colleague with the gravest responsibility, when he had not previously told him of its existence nor led him to suspect that anything of the kind was impending. On the 31st of January the Prime Minister came prominently on the scene, and was thenceforward the leading personage in the drama. Sir Spencer Robinson in one of his letters rather touchingly alluded to his feeling of astonishment at learning that for six weeks his dismissal had been a foregone conclusion, and that during that period he had been allowed to go on discharging his duties at the Admiralty, while he was wholly unaware that his dismissal was pending. It was not until the then First 1290 Lord of the Admiralty, who unhappily broke down in health, had left the shores of England that the thunder of the Prime Minister was directed against Sir Spencer Robinson, who was told in a short letter on the 30th of January that his term of office had expired, and that in accordance with an agreement arrived at between himself and the First Lord of the Admiralty, which agreement was recorded in a certain memorandum, he would cease to hold his position at the Admiralty. Sir Spencer Robinson was naturally very much surprised at this announcement, and the more so because the agreement supposed to have been entered into between himself and the right hon. Member for Pontefract was not mentioned nor acted upon until after the right hon. Gentleman had left Devonport in the Enchantress yacht, when, of course, the two parties to the agreement could not be brought together in order that it might be ascertained whose recollection of what had occurred was correct. On the 30th the Prime Minister wrote as follows to Sir Spencer Robinson:—My dear Sir S. Robinson,—Mr. Childers has placed in my hands a memorandum of his conversation with you on the 14th of December, by which I find it was then finally arranged between you that you should, at the expiration of your term, which I believe is on the 7th of February, quit the office in which you have earned so much distinction as a public servant.To that letter Sir Spencer Robinson replied on the 31st of January, repeating his astonishment at the Prime Minister's letter, expressing his belief that the right hon. Member for Pontefract had misunderstood him, and after stating that he should consider it a dereliction of duty to leave the Admiralty before the Committee had reported, he requested the Prime Minister to allow him to remain until then. No grace, however, was given him, for on the very day that this distinguished public servant sought for permission to remain a short time, the Prime Minister wrote to say it was quite impossible for him to depart in any degree from the ground taken by the right hon. Member for Pontefract in the memorandum to which he had referred, and on which his recent letter had been founded. The Prime Minister went on to say he could not allow Sir Spencer to remain till after the Committee had reported, and finally gave him a rough jog by asking how soon he would be 1291 ready to give up his appointment. The next day Sir Spencer sent the Prime Minister a letter in reply, which contained the subjoined passage—I can, of course, in no way question the decision you appear to have come to; but I must again assure you, with all respect, that no such arrangement as that mentioned in Mr. Childer's memorandum to you was ever agreed to between us. On the contrary, the agreement at which he expressed his satisfaction was that I should wait for the Committee's report, and act then as circumstances might render advisable. So far, therefore, as my own wishes and intentions are concerned, I should look upon my dismissal from office at present as a singularly unjust slur upon my past services, which you yourself have been good enough to acknowledge, in June last, publicly and privately.Sir Spencer wound up his letter with a paragraph in which he made a request which everyone must admit to be a fair and just one—I feel (he said) that I am not asking too much in requesting to be informed of the grounds on which I am to be removed from the office I hold.Now, he (Lord Henry Lennox) thought that where there was great divergence of statement between persons who were equally worthy of credit, it would have been common fairness and justice on the part of the Prime Minister had he, in answer to this challenge, either furnished Sir Spencer with the causes why he had been dismissed, or else agreed to let the few weeks elapse for the return of the First Lord, so that they might both have had time to compare their notes as to what had taken place on December 14. Considering that one of the statements was made by the First Lord, and the other by the Third Lord of the Admiralty, it was not asking too much that any definite action should be postponed, or the dismissal less summarily acted upon. If, however, Sir Spencer indulged in any hope of that kind he was signally disappointed, for not only did the Prime Minister decline to state to the Admiral why he was dismissed, but he gave him a more forcible jog in order to get him out of the office he wished to keep him in last June. The Prime Minister said he had no desire to doubt Sir Spencer Robinson's version of what passed at the interview of the 14th of December, but remarked that Sir Spencer relied on his memory solely; whereas the memory of the First Lord of the Admiralty was assisted by notes written soon after the interview. He believed the memo- 1292 randum of the interview had not been forthcoming. It had been carefully kept from public view. [Mr. GOSCHEN dissented.] At all events he had not seen it.
LORD HENRY LENNOX
In answer, the Prime Minister replied that he did not feel himself at liberty to accede to the request that he should state the circumstances which led to the decision arrived at, as it would only revive a painful discussion. Then the right hon. Gentleman wound up with the courteous intimation, "I return to the inquiry with which my two former letters concluded, as the time approaches for the appointment of your successor," &c. That was the courtesy Sir Spencer received for merely asking the reasons which had led to his dismissal, and the withdrawal of the confidence formerly reposed in him. When there was a great divergence, as in the present case, between the statements made by persons of undoubted credit, the probabilities on either side ought to be taken into consideration, and he confessed that in his judgment the probabilities were all on the side of Sir Spencer Robinson. It was no new decision that was come to. Sir Spencer had never changed nor varied his argument as to what course he should take in regard to the appointment of the Committee, and it was not likely, therefore, that on the 14th of December he should veer entirely round and falsify every statement he had made since the Committee was first spoken of. Again, had Sir Spencer agreed to resign his place on the 7th of February, the publication of the Minute on the 15th of December would have completely cancelled any agreement which might have been entered into. Sir Spencer Robinson must have felt that the charge could only have been answered by him as a colleague of the First Lord of the Admiralty. He had no wish to criticize too harshly the unfortunate lapse which the Prime Minister committed when, before laying the Papers on the Table, he asked Sir Spencer Robinson to date them subsequent to his removal from office. He had no intention to charge the right hon. Gentleman with anything more 1293 than taking a course which was greatly to be regretted. Whether for good or evil, there was a profound belief in this country, when Papers and Correspondence were asked for and published, that these documents bore the dates on which they were written. He thought there was much to be regretted in this matter. Had Sir Spencer Robinson agreed to the requirement of the Prime Minister, he would have placed himself at a great disadvantage in answering the challenge of the First Lord of the Admiralty. Instead of the Third Lord answering the First Lord, it would have been the answer of a discharged servant, who would not have been looked upon as an impartial witness in such a matter. Another reason why he regretted the letter of the Prime Minister was that it added greater force to his idea and that of Sir Spencer Robinson, that the real cause of his dismissal from office was his connection with the loss of the Captain, and his determination to answer the charges which had been brought against him. Sir Spencer said—It is painful to me to be obliged to refer to the melancholy loss of the Captain as the real cause of Mr. Childers's desire to remove me from my present position.That being the case, the impression in Sir Spencer Robinson's mind must have been greatly strengthened, not only by the fact of the interview the day before the publication of the Minute, and the haste with which they wished to get rid of him, but also by the fact that it was represented to him as an inconvenient precedent that such a statement should be made by a subordinate to the head of his Department. He agreed with the Prime Minister that such a Minute from a subordinate to the head of the office involved an inconvenient precedent; but that precedent did not begin with Sir Spencer Robinson. He thought it was as inconvenient a precedent, if not more so, for the head of the Department to issue and publish that Minute reflecting upon his colleague and friend without informing him that such was his intention. He had to apologize to the House for claiming its attention at such length. He had no party, and still less any personal interest to serve. When he first saw that Sir Spencer Robinson had been dismissed from the Controllership he felt surprised, because, although he had always differed from the gallant officer 1294 in politics, yet he had served the country so faithfully during the time that those around him were in office that he had been recommended by his right hon. Friend the Member for Droitwich (Sir John Pakington) for the distinction of K.C.B. During that time Sir Spencer's politics had never wavered, and he had never allowed them to interfere with the performance of his duty. He had remarkable opportunities of knowing this from his position at the Admiralty, for the Dockyard appointments and promotions were in the hands of the Secretary of the Admiralty on the nomination of the Controller. At that time there was an internecine war between the Liberal and Conservative Dockyard men, and nothing would have been easier than for Sir Spencer Robinson to push forward the cause of those with whom he sympathized. But during his three years of Office he had never found Sir Spencer Robinson doing anything of this kind. When he asked a question of the Prime Minister whether it was true that Sir Spencer Robinson had left the public service, he replied that it was quite true—that Sir Spencer Robinson had not resigned his office as Controller of the Navy, but that his term of office as Controller had expired, and that in his office of Third Lord of the Admiralty he had been superseded. Feeling that this was a rather remarkable answer, he took more than usual pains to ascertain the facts of the case, and what were the views of the profession of which Sir Spencer Robinson was so distinguished a member. His reason for bringing the question before the House was that he was anxious, beyond everything, that the discussion should elicit from Members on both sides their opinion that Sir Spencer Robinson had been unjustly used. He hoped, moreover, that he should not appeal in vain to the First Lord of the Admiralty, since he was unable to appeal to the Prime Minister, whose absence he deeply regretted. What he mainly objected to was the way and manner in which this distinguished public servant had been treated; and, considering the way and manner in which this Correspondence had been signed and carried on by the Prime Minister, he regretted that the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government had not done him the honour to remain in his place and listen to the 1295 charges which it had been his duty to prefer. All he asked for was inquiry. He might be told that inquiry into these circumstances was quite unprecedented; and he was glad that it was so. He hoped that the whole of the circumstances connected with the dismissal of Sir Spencer Robinson were unprecedented, and that we should never have a Prime Minister or a First Lord of the Admiralty in future, who would adopt the policy of the First Lord of the Treasury in dealing with a valuable servant of the Crown. His mind was firmly persuaded of this—after carefully remarking the reticence of the Prime Minister's letters—after finding that he refused to state the grounds of the dismissal, or to show the memorandum on which it was based—his conviction was that the reasons were not such as would stand without condemnation at the bar of public opinion, or could be avowed by any Prime Minister with credit either to himself or to the Government to which he belonged. With these remarks he begged to move for the Select Committee of which he had given Notice.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the circumstances which led to the dismissal of Vice Admiral Sir Spencer Robinson from the post of Third Lord of the Admiralty by the Prime Minister."—(Lord Henry Lennox.)
§ MR. GOSCHEN
I am sure that the House will believe me when I say that this is a painful matter—as painful for the Government as for the noble Lord opposite (Lord Henry Lennox) who has just spoken; but on one point I hope I shall have the concurrence of the noble Lord, as I am sure I shall have the sympathies of the House, when I say that it cannot be treated, and will not be treated, as a question of veracity between two gentlemen, both of high honour and character—but that the reputation of both those gentlemen, between whom these differences have existed, and their honour are equally dear to a great part of the public of this country. We feel sure that the matter will be so placed before the House that it will be seen that, while we repudiate any slur that may be cast upon the right hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers), at the same time we do not cast any slur upon the gallant Admiral whose separation from official life has led to this discussion 1296 to-night. I entirely concur in the remarks made by the noble Lord with regard to the great services rendered by Sir Spencer Robinson to the country. The noble Lord has enumerated those services, and shown their great value, and with all that portion of the noble Lord's speech I cordially agree. The noble Lord alluded sometimes in an almost sarcastic tone to the laudations pronounced on Sir Spencer Robinson in June, and I can only say that the praises then awarded to that gallant Admiral were perfectly sincere, and that by every word that was said then we are prepared to abide. His services had been of immense utility and benefit to the the country, and his separation from the Admiralty does not result from any want of confidence in his ability. I also repudiate in the most emphatic terms the supposition that his dismissal had anything to do with the loss of the Captain. The whole gist of the noble Lord's speech, as seen in his concluding remarks, was to put a question not of hypothesis, but of fact—what were the cause of the gallant Admiral's separation from the service? That cause the noble Lord assumed hypothetically, because he could find no other reason for it, was the loss of the Captain. Now, I think it is most desirable that there should be no misapprehension upon that point at all. It was not the loss of the Captain which led to the separation of Sir Spencer Robinson from his position of Third Lord of the Admiralty. And let me point out that the noble Lord gives rise to an erroneous view when he speaks of the gallant Admiral being dismissed from the service. Sir Spencer Robinson's appointment as Controller of the Navy did not terminate until the 6th of February, and it was not from his office, which may be called a Civil Service appointment, as Controller of the Admiralty, that he was dismissed. His time had expired, and he was not re-appointed. Sir Spencer Robinson first received the appointment for five years, and his tenure of office was then further extended for another five years, which period came to an end on the 4th or 6th of February. The action then taken was as regarded his position as Third Lord of the Admiralty, and not as Controller of the Navy; and there is a great distinction between the two. The noble Lord spoke as if the question was one 1297 between the Government and what is sometimes called the permanent Civil Service. The Lords of the Admiralty may be called political appointments, it being in the discretion of the Government whether they will retain their services, and therefore a certain portion of them continually change office. There is, therefore, no parallel as between the Government dismissing a Civil servant; but it is as if a Secretary of State were to separate himself from the Under Secretary of his Department, who also holds a political appointment. The Lords of the Admiralty are part as it were, of the political branch of the service; the service of a Third Lord does not entitle him to a pension, and the case cannot be made analogous to that of the Civil Service itself. I think the House will see that that constitutes a very grave difference in this matter. The question resolves itself, not into the dismissal of what I say is usually called a permanent Civil servant, though I believe that every member of the Civil Service really holds "during pleasure," but into the separation of the Government from one who was attached to them politically. I fully grant that the noble Lord is entitled to inquire what were the grounds of the separation of the Third Lord of the Admiralty from his colleagues; but he is not entitled to put it on the same footing as if it had been the case of a member of the Civil Service. Now, what were the grounds which made it impossible that Sir Spencer Robinson should continue in his position as Third Lord of the Admiralty? I said it was not the loss of the Captain. The noble Lord divided the time over which his remarks extended into four periods. He alluded to the manner in which Sir Spencer Robinson had been dealt with as regards the retirement scheme, his complaint being that, practically, no exception had been made in favour of four gallant Admirals who had been connected with the Admiralty, by means of which exceptions they would have been placed on a better footing than the service generally. Now, it would, no doubt, have been very agreeable to my right hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract to have made an exception in favour of his colleagues. He did not, however, think that to do so would have been consistent with his public duty. He was of opinion that the same measure should 1298 be dealt out to the service generally, and that exceptions should not be made in favour of those who happened to have been connected with the Admiralty. The House will, I am sure, give my right hon. Friend credit for the course which he took in this respect. The House naturally feels sympathy with Sir Spencer Robinson; but it is, I think, only fair to my right hon. Friend, who, with great assiduity and ability, laboured at the scheme of retirement, that hon. Members should consider how he could have faced the service if he had made the exceptions which the noble Lord says he ought to have made. It would have been far easier for my right hon. Friend to have smoothed over the difficulties in his own office, and to avoid the party attacks which have been made upon him by hon. and gallant Gentlemen opposite by taking the course which, the noble Lord has pointed out; but he did not deem it to be consistent with his duty to do so, and in this, the first point of difference between him and Sir Spencer Robinson, I think the House will be of opinion that my right hon. Friend was animated by fairness and public spirit. I deeply regret that my right hon. Friend is not here to defend himself upon this point. It is not his fault that he is not able to be here to be the champion of the policy which he carried out with great advantage to the public service; and I regret that the noble Lord opposite, who began in so conciliatory a spirit, should have used such expressions as that the right hon. Gentleman had "turned his back on the country" in regard to certain of these matters. The noble Lord may say that he did not mean anything by the phrase; but it is an unfortunate phrase to use, and no one could be placed in a more painful position than my right hon. Friend. I can conceive no position more entitling him to the sympathy of those who know him than to find himself attacked in this way, and then to feel himself too ill to appear his own advocate in this House. As for me, my task is, indeed, difficult, and while I have the greatest desire to place before the House what I conscientiously believe to be the strong and overwhelming case of my right hon. Friend, I do not wish to fall into the error which the noble Lord, no doubt unwittingly, has committed, by saying anything that could give pain to Sir Spencer Robinson in 1299 this matter. As I said before, the first point of difference between my right hon. Friend and him arose out of the question of retirement. Before that, the noble Lord says, things went on smoothly in the office. I do not know what is the noble Lord's authority for making that statement. The great abilities of Sir Spencer Robinson have been always acknowledged; but it is not always that the possession of great ability enables men to get on smoothly together, and there were some difficulties in conducting the business at the Admiralty which every effort was made on both sides to remove. I do not wish to dwell on this point of the case; but I feel bound to demur to the assertion that everything went on smoothly. Considerable difficulties continually arose in the Department, and though they were minor difficulties they rendered cordial co-operation less easy. There were, no doubt, continual reconciliations, because both parties were inspired by the natural and generous desire to endeavour to remove the differences that arose. But the tone of the noble Lord would lead the House to suppose that there was some sort of hypocrisy practised, and that my right hon. Friend, while exceedingly conciliatory at one time, was preparing at the same time to level a blow against Sir Spencer Robinson. Now, that is an insinuation which I repel in the name of my right hon. Friend in the strongest language I can find. There was nothing of the kind. My right hon. Friend, who had serious differences with Sir Spencer Robinson in June upon the subject of the retirement scheme, was anxious to do away with those differences if possible. The differences between them were not differences of policy; but I can well imagine that two men, both able and both public-spirited, may sometimes find that they cannot reconcile their differences of opinion. In this state of things the loss of the Captain occurred; and on this part of the case the noble Lord wished to induce the House to believe that Sir Spencer Robinson was in entire ignorance of the preparation of the Minute in reference to that event. I do not know whether the noble Lord stands by that representation; but it was not so, and the noble Lord had the best opportunity of knowing that it was not so, because the question between Sir Spencer Robinson and my right hon. 1300 Friend is stated in the Papers which have been laid before Parliament. Sir Spencer Robinson asked whether he would be shown the Minute, and my right hon. Friend told him that he should see the narrative part of it, and I understand that Sir Spencer Robinson did see the narrative part of it when it was in preparation. The noble Lord, notwithstanding this, tells us that a blow was being struck behind Sir Spencer Robinson's back of which he knew nothing. This Minute was published, as the noble Lord correctly stated, on December 15; but there were important and serious matters which happened before that date, and which were omitted when the noble Lord touched upon the appointment of the Committee on Designs. I wondered, when the noble Lord was stating his case, whether the House would not from his statement come to the conclusion that the origin of the difficulty which ultimately led to the resignation of Sir Spencer Robinson—as my right hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers) contends—lay in the appointment of this Committee, which was to investigate the designs and the ships of the Admiralty. My right hon. Friend considered it to be his public duty to appoint that Committee, to whose appointment Sir Spencer Robinson was strongly opposed. He was not opposed to it in every form; but when it was ultimately appointed he put his objection to it in very powerful language. He did not wish his fleet of iron-clads to be overhauled by that Committee, and the noble Lord's statement shows that that really was the origin of the strong feeling which arose in Sir Spencer Robinson's mind. There was one very material portion of the case which was not stated by the noble Lord. It was that Sir Spencer Robinson had already said at that time that he would resign. Verbal conversations are variously interpreted by different men; but there is no question of this—that from the time when that Committee was appointed the impression upon the mind of my right hon. Friend was that Sir Spencer Robinson had said, not that he would leave after the Committee had reported, but that he would leave at the end of his time, and the position that my right hon. Friend would be prepared to assume was this, that the separation of Sir Spencer Robinson from the service was initiated by himself. 1301 There were several proposals as to the appointment of that Committee. The noble Lord spoke of the readiness with which Sir Spencer Robinson was prepared to become a member of the Commission or the Committee; but as I have been informed his proposition was to undertake the conduct of that Committee, which was one of inquiry into the merits of the ships that had been built, and the designs that had been prepared by the Admiralty. My right hon. Friend thought the public would not be satisfied with an inquiry presided over by a gentleman about whose designs an inquiry was about to be made, and that Sir Spencer Robinson's proposal was one which, in the interest of the public, he could not accept. Sir Spencer Robinson then proposed a modification, which was that the Committee should be composed of naval architects and scientific men only, while the First Lord was of opinion that it should also include some naval men. On every point of this controversy, therefore, there were differences of opinion between the First Lord and the Third Lord of the Admiralty. The noble Lord says that the Third Lord of the Admiralty was prepared to resign when the Committee had reported; therefore the difference between the two reduces itself to the difference between resignation on the Committee's reporting or resignation or separation from the service on the 6th of February. Having arrived at that point, I may say that the Government lament that the country should be deprived of the services of Sir Spencer Robinson, for to his great ability as a ship designer they have rendered full justice on every occasion. There was, however, this serious difference of opinion between Sir Spencer Robinson and my right hon. Friend as to the appointment of the Committee, the result of which was that Sir Spencer Robinson offered, as he himself says, to resign when the Committee had reported. My right hon. Friend, however, maintains that the agreement which was come to at the interview on the 14th of December was that Sir Spencer Robinson should retire at the end of his time, and upon this matter it is exceedingly difficult to prove who is in the right. That which my right hon. Friend now contends was his impression at the time is shown by what he wrote immediately after the interview—namely, that Sir Spencer Ro- 1302 binson had said that he would be prepared to leave at the expiration of his period of office as Controller on the 6th of February. The noble Lord has asked why the Premier should on the 31st of January be in a hurry to dismiss Sir Spencer Robinson; but the impression on the mind of my right hon. Friend was that it was arranged at the interview that Sir Spencer Robinson should on the 6th of February separate himself from the public service, and there was, therefore, no precipitancy. There might have been a misunderstanding; but I will show the House that there were other reasons why the resignation of Sir Spencer Robinson could not be delayed. The noble Lord has not mentioned the circumstances which led to that interview on the 14th of December. The memorandum which my right hon. Friend made for his private use directly after that interview, in order that he might have a record of what had occurred, states that Sir Spencer Robinson had complained that it was impossible he should at the same time be able to attend to the vast amount of work that had been placed upon him by the appointment of this Committee and also to the current work of the office. The First Lord was placed in this difficulty—the Estimates had to be prepared, but Sir Spencer Robinson had said that he could not attend to the current work owing to the labour that had been cast upon him by the appointment of a Committee against his wish. It naturally follows that if the work of the Department was to go on the existing state of things could not be allowed to continue until the Committee had reported. The members of that Committee had not yet nearly concluded their task; and what would have been the condition of the office from February to April? That was a question of public importance. It would have been far more agreeable to the feelings of both the Premier and the First Lord that, if possible, Sir Spencer Robinson should have continued in office for some months longer; but the public interest could not permit such an anomalous state of things. The noble Lord has admitted that, to whatever cause it may be due, there existed such relations that Sir Spencer Robinson could not continue in office side by side with his colleagues. [Mr. BOUVERIE: Colleague.] I am not sure about that. 1303 I am sorry that my right hon. Friend has interrupted me. I used the word "colleagues" advisedly, not wishing to dwell on this point; but I am greatly mistaken if the relations between Sir Spencer Robinson and others of his colleagues were not as "difficult" (to use a French term) as were the relations between him and the First Lord. I do not say it was his fault, but the relations of Sir Spencer Robinson with some of his colleagues were such, as to interrupt and retard the course of public business, and the Government had to ask themselves whether it was compatible with the interests of the public service that a gallant Admiral, however distinguished might be his ability or high his character, should remain in office under such circumstances. I have desired to explain to the House the precise circumstances which rendered necessary, not the dismissal of Sir Spencer Robinson as an Admiral, nor as Controller of the Navy before his time had expired, but the separation of him from his colleagues at the Admiralty. The House will see that no slur was cast upon the character of Sir Spencer Robinson, and I must again repudiate the idea that he was dismissed in consequence of the loss of the Captain. It was in consequence of the relations which had been established by the appointment of the Committee, which Sir Spencer Robinson regarded as a personal insult to himself; while the differences of opinion which existed in reference to these public questions rendered co-operation impossible between Sir Spencer Robinson and those who had not only been his friends, but who, notwithstanding all controversies, continued to entertain a friendly feeling towards him. I repudiate, on behalf of my right hon. Friend, any suggestion that he wished to spite Sir Spencer Robinson. Such an idea never entered into his head, and I trust that my narrative will show that there has not been any concealed motive, but that the present state of things has been brought about by causes which are deplorable, but are not discreditable to either of the parties, and owing to affairs having reached a point at which it was impossible for them to be conducted with advantage to the public service. The noble Lord has said there would have been no objection to produce the memorandum of my right hon. Friend if it 1304 had not contained "reasons for the dismissal" which were not creditable to Sir Spencer Robinson. It contained nothing of the kind; the memorandum being merely notes which my right hon. Friend had taken in a rough way to refresh his memory, and the Premier did not feel himself justified in producing it without consultation with the writer. The noble Lord does not seem to be aware that after the return of my right hon. Friend those notes were shown to Sir Spencer Robinson, and that I sent him a copy, together with a letter which was not marked "private," although the document was originally considered confidential, there being in it expressions which a man would only use when writing with the object of refreshing his memory at some future time, and which he thought might possibly wound the feelings of the gallant Admiral. But my right hon. Friend thought it right, and we thought it right, that when the document was asked for Sir Spencer Robinson should see it, and he has seen it. The views taken by my right hon. Friend and by Sir Spencer Robinson as to what passed in the interview to which that memorandum relates are not identical; they do not agree upon several important points; and all I can say is that I believe they both most conscientiously believe that which they say. I see a right hon. Gentleman opposite laughs; but I believe that neither Sir Spencer Robinson nor my right hon. Friend would maintain that which they knew was not accurate. I am as anxious for the reputation of the one as for the reputation of the other; but I must point out that my right hon. Friend took the precaution of placing his impressions of this interview upon record, in order that he might not have to rely solely on his memory. This interview lasted an hour and a-half, and therefore all will admit that there must be points upon which two men equally anxious to give a correct impression would differ from each other. So far as we know we agree with the impression of my right hon. Friend (Mr. Childers) that Sir Spencer Robinson gave in his resignation on that day, and that impression is borne out by subsequent events. The noble Lord said that, judging by probabilities, he did not think that Sir Spencer Robinson would have acted as it is alleged he acted upon the occasion. 1305 But I do not go by probabilities at all; I go by declarations which were made at the time by my right hon. Friend, and which were repeated to others in the Department on the instant and after the conversation. In a matter of this kind it is exceedingly difficult to rely upon verbal communications, and therefore the Government do not wish to rest their case at all upon what passed at that interview. They do not wish to say that because they had the impression that Sir Spencer Robinson would resign they were determined to pin him to his resignation and not allow him to withdraw it. But they maintain this, that it was impossible for them to continue Sir Spencer Robinson in office after all that had taken place, with the relations between them and their colleague in the position in which they were at that moment. That is simply a statement of the case. To my right hon. Friend the case is exceedingly painful, as every Member in this House will believe, and everyone who takes an interest in Naval matters must also feel a sincere regret at the turn which the matter has taken as regards Sir Spencer Robinson. With every desire to have cordial co-operation it was impossible for the two men to continue together in office, and it became a question which of them must leave the service. Sir Spencer Robinson has left the service of the Government; but he has not left the Civil Service; he has not ceased to be Admiral. He was superseded in his political appointment on account of differences of opinion between him and his colleagues which rendered it impossible for them to continue to work together in that harmonious way which is absolutely necessary for the well-being of the service. I would fain hope that, though the friends of the gallant Admiral may differ from the view of the Government, they will see that we are anxious that it should be understood that it is this difference, and not any default in public duty on the part of Sir Spencer Robinson, that has led to the result that we ourselves sincerely regret. Such is the answer which I give to the narrative made by the noble Lord as to the causes which have led to the retirement of Sir Spencer Robinson. I trust the House will not think it to be its duty to agree to, but, on the contrary, will reject the Motion of the noble Lord for the appointment of a Committee 1306 to inquire into the causes which led to the supercession of Sir Spencer Robinson in his office. It is impossible for the Government to undertake to be responsible for these large Departments unless they can have the choice of the men who are to act in them. The Government wish to be as explicit as possible on this point. They very respectfully submit to the House that, notwithstanding the concluding remarks of the noble Lord, it would be a precedent detrimental to the public service to appoint Committees of Inquiry into the reasons why the Government are obliged to separate themselves from some of their colleagues. I can assure the House, most earnestly and conscientiously, that there is nothing whatever to hide in this matter. I have told the simple story, and the House, I think, will see the reasons why it was impossible to continue Sir Spencer Robinson in office. There is really nothing that has to come out of the proposed inquiry. If it should even be proved that my right hon. Friend (Mr. Childers) was mistaken in believing that Sir Spencer Robinson had consented to resign at the expiration of his time as Controller of the Navy, there would still remain the question whether it was for the interest of the service that he should remain until the Committee had reported. I trust the House will not think it necessary to establish a precedent which would be most inconvenient, not to one Government, but to all Governments, and to the House itself. If the House were to tie up the hands of the Government in any Department, they would afterwards throw the miscarriage of that Department on the House. The House must hold the Government themselves responsible. It must hold the heads of a Department responsible for the acts of those who are working with them. The Third Lord of the Admiralty was subordinate to the First Lord, and the First Lord felt he could not be responsible for the proper conduct of the Admiralty if the Third Lord did not retire. The Government hope the House will take this view of the matter. I repeat most emphatically there is nothing to hide. Every Paper relating to this case may be produced. What we wish is that we should be held responsible for the conduct of our colleagues, and that the House should not relieve us of that responsibility which really belongs to us, 1307 by appointing a Select Committee to see that we have discharged our duties.
§ MR. BOUVERIE
I regret that there were so few Members in the House when the noble Lord made his clear and able statement, because many hon. Members cannot, in consequence, contrast his statement with that of my right hon. Friend (Mr. Goschen). I think, however, that my right hon. Friend has not answered the greater part of that statement. My right hon. Friend pleaded on the part of an absent Colleague; but, whatever our opinion of his administration, we must regret his absence on this occasion. The right hon. Gentleman made one or two statements which, before I go into the case, I will take the liberty to controvert. He stated that Sir Spencer Robinson was not to be regarded as one of the permanent Civil servants of the Crown. In my opinion that is contrary to every view which ought to be taken of Sir Spencer Robinson's position. He had served under three different Boards of Admiralty; he had served under two different parties in the State, and he had afterwards, as Controller of the Navy under the new arrangement, become a Lord of the Admiralty. I think the mere fact that he was called upon to leave his office at the termination of five years' service as Controller shows he was not a political officer, but was really a Civil servant. I am not aware that a political officer has been called upon to serve for a definite period. These personal questions are often very odious; they are always unpleasant in this House; but sometimes they are unavoidable; and this question really is one which it seems impossible to avoid considering. I own the reluctance with which I enter upon a case of this kind. I should never have thought of having anything to do with it if I had not felt that a very distinguished officer, with whom I had not the slightest acquaintance, and whom I did not know by sight six or seven months ago, has been treated unjustly and ungenerously. I wish to say on the part of Sir Spencer Robinson that, while he has this feeling as regards the treatment of himself, he does not desire the appointment of a Committee of Inquiry. He rather wishes that upon the facts of the case, as stated by the noble Lord, and as they may be supplemented, perhaps, by myself, the Gentlemen composing this House—the first body of Gen- 1308 tlemen in Europe—may form their judgment of his treatment, and that through them his fellow-countrymen in the United Kingdom may form a judgment upon his case. Of course, the view he takes may be wrong. He thinks the tribunal to which he should appeal is not a Committee of this House, where his position and reputation may be the subject of a chance majority of 15 Members, got together from both sides of the House at haphazard; but that the tribunal to which he should appeal is this House and the public opinion outside of the House. I will repeat briefly the state of the case. Here is an officer of the highest possible distinction—an officer of very eminent and remarkable ability, as I am informed by those who have means of knowing, which I have not more than the public at large. He has served with great distinction under three Boards of Admiralty, and he has primâ facie, at any rate, every claim on the consideration of the Government, and of the country in whose service he has been engaged. More than that, this is the officer who presided at the creation of that great iron-clad fleet which is our pride in the present day. He had a still more special claim for consideration. Sir Spencer Robinson felt so strongly the injustice that was done, not only to himself, but to every officer in the same position, by the Order in Council for retirement issued by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers) last year, that he resigned his office at the time, and in doing so wrote to the right hon. Gentleman, his official chief, to express his sense of that injustice. The right hon. Gentleman entreated him not to persist in that resignation, and actually offered to make a special exception in his favour by Order in Council, and to give him a command—a thing which my right hon. Friend (Mr. Gosehen) said his Colleague (Mr. Childers) could not possibly do consistently with his duty. If he did not accept that alternative, which he besought him not to do, he urged him to remain at the Admiralty, and continue his services as a Naval Lord.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
said, that the offer of the command at Sheerness was not an exception in Sir Spencer Robinson's favour.
§ MR. BOUVERIE
AS I understand the matter, he would have had to retire, 1309 and could not have a command, by force of the Order in Council of the 2nd of June. I have the dates here. On the 4th of June, after the date of the Order in Council requiring him to retire, Mr. Childers wrote to Sir Spencer Robinson, offering him the command at Sheerness, under a special Order in Council to be issued in his favour, as one alternative. Mr. Childers, in offering him the command at Sheerness, or his continuance in his present office, wrote to Sir Spencer Robinson as follows:—I need hardly say that to me it would be most agreeable if you accepted the latter proposition, because the entire confidence placed in you by Her Majesty's Government, and by no Member of it more than by myself, justifies me in anticipating great public advantage from your continued advice and assistance in the office of Lord of the Admiralty and Controller of the Navy, the duties of which you discharge with such conspicuous ability and success.Mr. Childers hoped that Sir Spencer would continue to hold his office at the Admiralty after the expiration of his 10 years' service. Sir Spencer Robinson felt so strongly on the subject that he declined the offer of a special exception in his favour, and like an honourable and upright officer would not rest the matter on his own case, but on what was fair and just to the other officers in the same position as himself, and, refusing the Sheerness command under a special Order in Council, he persisted in his resignation. Mr. Childers again wrote on the 14th of June—I have repeatedly assured you, both before and since this controversy arose, that you had my entire confidence, and that I hoped you would continue to hold your present office should I remain First Lord of the Admiralty after the termination of your 10 years' service.And on the top of that letter of the 14th there was the letter from the First Minister of the Crown on the 23rd of June, in which there was this paragraph. I should, however, first explain that every endeavour seems to have been made—and very naturally, because of the due value that was attached to his services—to induce Sir Spencer Robinson to remain at the Admiralty. Well, here is an extract from the letter of the Prime Minister to Sir Spencer Robinson on the 23rd of June—I desire also to assure you that, in my opinion and that of Her Majesty's Government, your service at the Admiralty have been most valuable to the nation, and that their cessation would be very 1310 injurious to the public interest. I trust, therefore, that your disapproval of that portion of the Order against which you have so strongly protested will not induce you to resign the duties of the important office which you now occupy.Thus the strongest possible persuasion was employed by my right hon. Friend at the head of the Government to induce Sir Spencer to waive his resignation at that time. Well, I think it is most unfortunate that Sir Spencer Robinson did waive his resignation. If the gallant Admiral had asked for my counsel and followed it on that occasion, I should have said—"Persist in your resignation; if you have been once ill-treated I think you may, perhaps, be ill-treated again. It is always best to take the first occasion for getting out of a difficulty of this kind." However, Sir Spencer Robinson, the best judge of his own honour and character, decided—probably from a laudable desire to continue his valuable services to the public—to remain at his post in the Admiralty. Then let me point out to the House that Sir Spencer Robinson has another ground for complaint. Not only were those letters written to him first by his official chief and then by the Prime Minister, but he had an Admiralty official letter written to him at the same time, containing all sorts of inducements and persuasions to him to remain at his post; and, if it is not detaining the House too much, perhaps I may be permitted to read this letter. It is from the Board of Admiralty to Sir Spencer Robinson, and it says—Sir,—I am commanded by my Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 6th inst., having reference to your retirement from the active list of flag officers under the recent Order in Council. In reply I am to acquaint you that my Lords, after giving the most careful consideration to all the arguments urged by you, regret that they are not prepared to submit for the consideration of Her Majesty in Council that the Order should be modified in the sense suggested by you;"—that was that the four Admirals should be relieved from the Retirement Order—but when you may ultimately retire from the office you now hold, my Lords will urge on the Treasury to give full consideration in settling the amount of your pension, not only to the highly valuable services rendered by you to the Government and the country, but also to the whole circumstances of your appointment, and to the consequences of your compulsory retirement under the Order in Council of the 22nd of February, 1871.—I am, Sir, your obedient servant,1311 Now, Sir, if that was not a distinct engagement on the part of the Admiralty that they would do their best to secure an adequate pension to Sir Spencer Robinson in addition to what he might be entitled to under the ordinary Superannuation Act in consideration of the sacrifices he had made by remaining in office, I do not know what a distinct engagement is. Well, this officer, whose valuable services are undisputed, whose great abilities are admitted, and whose integrity is unimpeached, is seven months after these communications summarily and, as he thinks, ignominiously dismissed, and, extraordinary to relate, put upon the smallest pension under the Superannuation Act, without the slightest reference to that consideration of his peculiar claims which the Admiralty had distinctly promised to urge upon the Treasury. I hope, Sir, I am as jealous a guardian of the public purse as my right hon. Friend at the head of the Government; but I must say I think this was shabby treatment of Sir Spencer Robinson. Early in the evening I heard my right hon. Friend protest against generosity, but there are such things as justice and goodfaith as well as generosity; and I maintain that a distinct engagement which was entered into in this case by a great public Department with a distinguished public officer has never been fulfilled. The real point as to Sir Spencer Robinson's dismissal reduces itself, as my right hon. Friend below me has said, to the question of whether he agreed to go when the Committee on iron-clad ships came to the conclusion of its inquiries, or when his 10 years' term of office expired in February last. That was the whole point of the matter in the eyes of Sir Spencer Robinson, who felt that as he was practically the father of our great iron-clad fleet, as he had presided over its conception and its birth, sat by its cradle, and watched over its progress—as he was more familiar than anybody else in office with all the details connected with its being built, fitted, and sent to sea, unless he remained in office it was impossible to do justice to the Department to which he belonged before a Committee appointed practically to inculpate that office. Let everybody look at the terms of the appointment of that Committee on iron-clad ships which are before the House; let him examine the phraseology 1312 and say whether it was not intended to question the soundness of the judgment which the Admiralty itself had exercised in respect to the ships that had been built. Why, that was the whole object, as I read it, of the appointment of that Committee. I doubt the wisdom of that step. It was taken in consequence of the alarm created by the loss of the Captain; it was an inquiry into the safety, the proper fitting, and the general construction of our iron-clad fleet. And when that Committee was suggested to him by Mr. Childers, Sir Spencer Robinson felt that its mere appointment was by its terms an inculpation of his Department, and that he was thereby bound as by a chain to his post, because, unless he remained there, there would be nobody who could properly lay before the Committee the designs, plans, and other details relating to the construction of that fleet. As no sailor myself, but a man of plain common sense, I must say I think that was a most reasonable view for Sir Spencer Robinson to have taken. My right hon. Friend would lead us to suppose that after this affair of the retirement had been disposed of there was a constant scene of bickering and controversy going on between Sir Spencer Robinson and the Board. Now, of course, I was not behind the scenes myself, but I have had several conversations on this matter with Admiral Robinson, and I must say I never came across a more straightforward, plain-speaking, or apparently more truthful gentleman, and, as far as I am informed, there was nothing whatever of that kind until Sir Spencer returned from his leave of absence obtained in September. He had been two months away, having been so unwell as to be unable to work, and he had talked to his official chief of retiring from office, because he thought he might be unequal to the adequate discharge of his public duties when he came back from his leave, and his official chief requested him not to think of it. On his return on the 1st of November, Sir Spencer Robinson found his chief deliberating on the question of appointing a Commission or a Committee, the sad catastrophe which had thrilled every heart having befallen the Captain on the very day when Sir Spencer left the Admiralty on leave of absence. And here I desire to correct the mistake—an 1313 unintentional one, I am sure—made by the right hon. Gentleman who thought Sir Spencer Robinson saw the Minute about the Captain which was prepared by Mr. Childers. Sir Spencer Robinson assures me that that is not so—that he never saw it until after it was published and sold, for a few shillings, in all the booksellers' shops. On Sir Spencer Robinson's return he had some conversations with Mr. Childers about this Commission or Committee. As these conversations have a very material bearing on the point in controversy between these two gentlemen as explaining the views taken by each of them, I quote the substance of them as written down from memory by Sir Spencer Robinson. I should state that during the Recess many important letters had passed between them, letters which I have seen, and that nothing could be more cordial than the tone of those communications, showing that up to the 1st of November the relations of these gentlemen were of the most friendly description. The following is an outline of the conversations to which I refer:—THOS. WOOLEY.On the 2nd of November Mr. Childers asked my advice as to the Minute he contemplated writing, as to his answers to Reed's letters and publications, and as to the appointment of a Royal Commission, or some Committee not described, to inquire into the wants of special ships for our iron-clad Navy. I suggested a Royal Commission of which I should be a member. He said my being in office would be an objection, and I replied that I thought if the inquiry were a thorough and honest one I could do more out of office and as a Royal Commissioner than in my present position. The conversation was renewed next day. He objected to the Royal Commission, which he said would undoubtedly be hostile to the Admiralty, and also to my proposing to leave office to become a member of it, for he said, 'that would look as if you left on account of the Captain's disaster.' I explained that what I contemplated was a Royal Commission appointed after Parliament had met, when my retirement from office, after being Controller of the Navy 10 years, would be a natural and unexceptionable reason for my going. He said, 'I did not understand that you proposed to defer leaving till then. But a Royal Commission is not considered advisable by the Government, and we will have some further conversation about the appointment of a Committee.'I may here remark how truthful all this appears to be. The à priori probability is all in favour of Sir Spencer Robinson's statement, and how reasonable are his replies to the suggestions made to him. He goes on to say— 1314When these further conversations had occurred, and all the efforts I had made, verbally and in writing, to dissuade him from taking this step had proved fruitless, sometime towards the middle or end of November I made a final attempt to get a different turn given to the action of the Committee, which led to his observing, 'Well, you know where such strong differences of opinion exist the best, and, indeed, the only course to follow is that people should part.' I quite agreed, but I pointed out that it was impossible for me to leave office with this Committee appointed to make the inquiries which he had directed them to undertake; that I was unfortunately chained to a post; that I could not leave my reputation and the character of the Department undefended; that as soon as the Committee had reported my course was clear—if unfavourable I should go as a matter of course; if favourably, I should propose to Mr. Gladstone to remain in office, or to leave it as he might think best, and quite in a friendly spirit he agreed that this was the right course to pursue. I can therefore say that there was no threat of resignation ever used by me since the arrangement come to in June. On the 29th of August I showed him a letter from my doctor, and on the 4th or 5th of September, when Mr. Childers was on the point of leaving England himself for his health, I told him how ill I was, how doubtful I felt whether I should be able to continue my work in a satisfactory manner to myself, and that if I was not better I should feel obliged to leave office. On the 2nd and 3rd of November it was a discussion in quite a friendly and intimate manner as to the best mode of quieting the public anxiety, which led to the mention of my going out of office. Towards the end of November the suggestion of leaving came from himself, and on the 14th of December he made a resolute effort to induce me to agree to leave office on the 6th or 7th of February, which I answered in the way already described.These statements of Sir Spencer Robinson are of great importance. [Mr. GLADSTONE asked to see the document.] Certainly, the right hon. Gentleman shall have an opportunity of seeing this Paper, and for the satisfaction of the right hon. Gentleman I can assure him that I do not say these things in any hostility towards Mr. Childers. I am merely dealing with the affair as a difference existing between two gentlemen, and Sir Spencer Robinson having asked me to lay his view of the matter before the House I trust I shall be permitted to do so. I should say that in the Minute of a further conversation which is referred to by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) in his subsequent correspondence with Sir Spencer Robinson, which has been laid before Parliament, I find references to previous disagreements with Mr. Childers, and I asked Sir Spencer Robinson what they referred to, and he replied that he was not aware of any 1315 such disagreements except those which related to the appointment of a Commission or Committee. I asked him if he could state what these were, and he replied, "I will endeavour to the best of my recollection to set down what took place," and this is the memorandum I have already read to the House. But then comes the Minute relating to the Captain. I am aware that the noble Lord the Member for Chichester (Lord Henry Lennox) proposes to raise a debate upon the question of the loss of the Captain, and therefore I shall not enter upon that very serious topic at the present moment further than to say that that Minute appears to every man of fair mind to be an attempt to shift the responsibility which justly attaches to the great officer of State who was at the head of the Department upon the shoulders of subordinates. That is a subject, however, which we shall have to discuss hereafter, and therefore I will not further touch upon it now. Let us bear in mind the importance of dates. Sir Spencer Robinson never saw that Minute, but the House is aware that it was published on the 15th of December. Now, on the 14th of December Mr. Childers sent for Sir Spencer Robinson, and on that occasion the conversation arose which is referred to in the Correspondence. Of that conversation Sir Spencer Robinson made the following memorandum. It is rather long; but as is essential to Sir Spencer Robinson's case that the House should hear it, I trust that I shall be indulged so far as to be permitted to read it. I should state that Sir Spencer Robinson has very recently, through the kindness of the present First Lord of the Admiralty, been favoured with a sight of the memorandum of this conversation, made by Mr. Childers, which he had not seen before. I have both of these memoranda in my hand, and having carefully compared them I find they agree substantially as far as it is possible for two accounts, written on two sheets of paper of a conversation which lasted one hour and a-half, to coincide, with the exception of one point, which is really the material point of the whole case—namely, as to what Sir Spencer Robinson agreed to do. The House will bear in mind that this is not merely a case against the late First Lord of the Admiralty, but rather one against the First Lord of the Treasury 1316 for having dealt somewhat summarily and hastily with Sir Spencer Robinson in taking as accurate the statement of one gentlemen with reference to the substance of a conversation which had arisen between himself and another. When the First Lord of the Treasury found that there was this difference between the recollection of the two gentlemen, he should have waited until Mr. Childers had returned before taking any decided course in the matter. The course taken by the right hon. Gentleman, however, has led to all this turmoil and trouble, Sir Spencer Robinson and Mr. Childers had a conversation on the 14th of December, the day before the publication of this Minute, which casts all the blame of the loss of the Captain upon the former—a most unpleasant feature of the case. The following is Sir Spencer Robinson's account of that conversation:—My recollection of what passed in the conversation with Mr. Childers is as follows, and as I repeated it the same day to a person of most accurate memory, who confirms every part of it, I have the fullest reliance on being strictly correct as to the essential parts of it. The conversation began by a reference to more than one Minute which I had placed on papers, recommending that a certain course should be pursued on the advice of the Director of Naval Ordnance, and stating that I had not had time (being occupied in preparing for the Committee) to satisfy myself personally on the subject. Mr. Childers stated that he could not accept that position; further, that he must have a responsible adviser; that he intended to relieve me from all ordinary duties, that I might attend to the Committee, and give temporary charge of the office to some one else, as the work was too much for me. I explained that I did not complain of the ordinary work being too much for me, but that if he objected to take my recommendations in the manner I had made them on the Minute adverted to, I would postpone the preparation of the work for the Committee and not allow it to interfere with the office work. He then said, 'You have often spoken about your retirement from office. I wish to know precisely what your intentions are?' I replied, 'As 1 have already told you, under the circumstances of the appointment of this committee, I have no choice whatever. I must remain until the Committee reports; if it reports unfavourably, of course I go at once; if it reports favourably, as I cannot doubt it will, I shall think it right to place my office at the disposal of the Government, to go or remain as they think best.' He said, 'Yes, but you have said a great deal more than that. You have said that you did not wish to stay an hour, and so are anxious to go at once. Now, I want to know your intentions?' I replied, 'May I ask Mr. Childers, whether you make this assertion from anything I have said to you in this room, or where does it come from?' (I had never said anything 1317 like this to him.) He then, with much warmth, said that my manner was disrespectful, and that both my language and manner were most improper in our respective positions. I replied that I was quite unconscious of anything of the kind, and 'I at once apologize if I have said anything which could properly give you offence.' He added, 'Pray, don't say another word on the subject.' He again reverted to my having repeatedly said to him in conversation that I wished to leave office at once, to which I said, 'I decline to be bound by your recollections of what you supposed I said, I have already told you what I intended to do. As our conversations have often led to misunderstandings I shall be much obliged if you will put this question (as to my intentions of leaving) in writing, and then I will give you an answer in writing, and there will be no mistake.' He continued to press, and I continued to decline giving a verbal answer, and he was evidently extremely angry at my doing so, saying that he should write or not, and that he should see about it. Some more conversation took place as to the unusual position he was placed in by my refusal to admit that what might have passed in private conversation was to be considered as official, and I again explained that I could not admit the accuracy of his recollections. On his continuing to remonstrate about the request I had made for the question to be in writing, I said, 'I am so sure now that I shall not be misunderstood that if you will take this verbal answer I will give it you, that my intentions as to the time of my retiring depend entirely on the report of the Committee, as soon as they have reported. I have told you what I shall do; at the same time if you would rather have this in writing I will put it on paper.' He then said, 'I am quite satisfied.' A long conversation then followed on the reasons I had for not wishing to remain in office under present arrangements, after the Committee's report. I stated fully all I had to complain of, dwelling much on the absence of fair and open dealing from which I had suffered. His reply, at great length, was most conciliatory. He expressed the deepest regret that any differences or any misunderstandings should exist between us; the extreme pain and regret that he felt at perceiving that our intercourse was not so friendly and intimate as it had once been; that these circumstances had filled him with the deepest mortification, &c. I said but little to all this. I asked him some question connected with the Naval Estimates, which he was not prepared to answer, as no decision had been come to about them, as he wanted some information he had not got which I offered to supply. Some few remarks were made about office work, and as I was going away, in answer to a question I expressed my intention of giving him all the assistance I could while I remained. He said, 'I am very glad we have had this conversation; it is entirely satisfactory to me, as, indeed, I was quite sure it would be.' I expressed my regret, if, during the warmth of discussion, I had used unintentionally any words which were disagreeable to him. Here the matter ended, as I thought.The difference between one memorandum and the other is that whereas Sir Spencer Robinson says he agreed to go, on an adverse Report from the Commit- 1318 tee, Mr. Childers says he agreed to go at the end of his term. It was on the basis of the latter that my right hon. Friend acted in the absence of Mr. Childers, and, as I am bound to say, I think acted somewhat hastily. My right hon. Friend made one of those mistakes into which we are all apt to fall. He took the statement he happened to have before him absolutely and alone, and acted upon it without reference to the statement of Sir Spencer Robinson. Of course the head of the Government was entitled, upon good grounds, to tell Sir Spencer Robinson to go, but unfortunately my right hon. Friend put the dismissal upon the ground of a memorandum the accuracy of which Sir Spencer was able to deny. What has been the real cause of this difference between these two gentlemen of great ability? It is nothing more complicated than incompatibility. They could not get on together. Something had arisen between them which made it impossible for the public service to be carried on satisfactorily with these two men in the same office. It is not for me to say which was to blame. Mr. Childers was the chief of the office, and as long as he was so he was entitled to insist upon having subordinates who would obey; but Sir Spencer Robinson has served with perfect satisfaction under two other Boards and under two other chiefs, and I believe I could call on his colleagues at the time to certify to the fact. The hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread) is among the number, and I think I may also refer to Members of the present Government, the President of the Poor Law Board (Mr. Stansfeld) and the Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Baxter), for instance, to say he was not a colleague of extreme incompatibility if properly managed. He was a man of genius and irritabile genus, as such men are apt to be, but he was as ready and able to get on well with his colleagues as his colleagues were to get on with him. Now, it has happened that he was got rid of at a time when it was extremely improbable that Mr. Childers would return to the Admiralty, and, inasmuch as he has not returned, my right hon. Friend, instead of getting rid of one incompatible member of the Board, has managed to get rid of two, and has left the Board stranded, with scarcely an experienced man upon it. This is the point I want the House to weigh 1319 well. The public service has been the loser by this act. What is the plight of the Admiralty now? Under the Order in Council of two years ago, the Board of Admiralty is magni nominis umbra; it is a name; the First Lord is a sort of Lord High Admiral; he consults the other members of the Board when he likes and as he likes. There is no Board as there used to be. The fact that we have a civilian at the head of a great Department, such as the Admiralty, is always an extraordinary anomaly in itself. Take the present one. My right hon. Friend (Mr. Goschen) undoubtedly possesses great ability and distinction, and has displayed those abilities at the Poor Law Board, where he learnt a good deal about rating, but I do not suppose he has learnt how to rate a ship's crew or to box the compass. Probably he knows as much about Admiralty affairs as any other lay Member of this House, and probably he is not able to do much more than distinguish between the stem and the stern of a ship. Now, what is the remedy for such an anomaly? Obviously, that the First Lord should be supported by a Board of skilled men who should give him sound professional advice, while he would rely upon himself alone to decide upon vital points of administration. But what is now the case? The late First Lord is gone; the third Naval Lord is gone; the Controller of the Navy, who has for 10 years carried on the construction of our iron-clad fleet, has gone; the Constructor who advised upon all these ships has gone; the Secretary, who laid about him with such vigour as regards contracts and supplies, has gone; and there is my right hon. Friend the sole head of that great Department with these millions of money to dispose of, and this enormous naval administration to carry on, with only one skilled, experienced adviser by his side in the shape of the First Naval Lord. Now, that is a public misfortune, and not a state of things which the First Lord of the Treasury should have contemplated with anything like satisfaction. This is the place where the shoe really pinches. It may be a question whether wrong has been done or not to Sir Spencer Robinson—he and his friends think so—but there is no question that grievous wrong has been done to the public service by getting rid of these two experienced administrators, Mr. Childers and Sir Spencer Robin- 1320 son, at the same time. The health of Mr. Childers has forced him to resign. Sir Spencer Robinson's health and vigour held out a promise of long continuance of service, and considering he was really one of the permanent members of the Civil Service, though he held office only from term to term, his dismissal maybe attended with very disagreeable consequences to the Naval Service. Let me add one word in conclusion. Not only is the Civil First Lordship of the Admiralty an anomaly, but the whole of our system of Civil administration is an anomaly. Men are taken at haphazard in this House, some because they can talk glibly, some because they are troublesome, and are put at the head of great Departments. Some distinguish themselves as administrators, but it is not the case with all. The mainstay of the administration of the country is the permanent Civil Service, and unless that permanent Civil Service is in a sound, wholesome, contented condition, the administration of the affairs of the country will not go on comfortably for a week. I must say I regret that I have observed, during the last two or three years at least, a strong disposition on the part of heads of Departments to bear somewhat harshly on the Service. It may be done in the way of economy, but it sometimes seems to descend to parsimony, which is not that wise frugality which saves to live. I would, therefore, urge upon the House to pause before endorsing anything like harsh, cruel, or unjust treatment of those who so admirably discharge the duties they have undertaken as the permanent Civil servants of the Crown.
I agree with what fell from my right hon. Friend who has just sat down at the commencement of his speech with regard to the disadvantageous nature of a discussion of this kind; but I also agree that that is certainly not a conclusive reason against such a discussion. It must not be supposed, therefore, that I make a charge on this account against the noble Lord (Lord Henry Lennox) for having introduced the subject. But these discussions upon the dismissal of a public officer by the Executive, whether politic or not, are always attended with circumstances most painful, and to a Government they are attended with peculiar disadvantages. The duty of their assail- 1321 ants is undoubtedly to speak with great respect of one party in the case, while they are perfectly free to deal with the other; the Government, however, must endeavour to show the same consideration and respect for the person placed in antagonism to them as they desire should be shown to themselves. We all know it is very difficult to make a full and complete statement of your own case without appearing to imply more or less that it is disadvantageous to the person with respect to whom you are put on your defence. What am I to do under these circumstances? I will do this. I will take for my rule to say knowingly not a single syllable that can hurt the feelings of anyone connected with Sir Spencer Robinson, and if I offend against that rule—which I trust I shall not do—I beg the House to believe it is entirely unintentional and against my will. My right hon. Friend who has just sat down has said this is a Motion inculpating me more than the late First Lord of the Admiralty. Be it so. At the same time, I need hardly say, as I was not the First Lord of the Admiralty, and was not engaged in the business of the Department, the source of knowledge, the original, authentic, and only competent source of knowledge, to which we can turn for meeting the statements that rise in the debate, as will necessarily happen, without our being aware of them beforehand, is my right hon. Friend the late First Lord. My right hon. Friend who has just sat down and my noble Friend opposite had every opportunity and the most perfect means of communicating with Sir Spencer Robinson. We, on the other hand, are compelled to argue the case with regard to which we are put on our defence with the only original and full knowledge of the whole case in the possession of an absent man to whom we cannot refer. This is one disadvantage which we labour under; but there is a greater disadvantage still, and it is this, that this is one of those cases in which no Government has an option as to the course which it shall pursue. There are many issues of a more general character with reference to which it is in the power of a Government without dishonour to submit itself to the judgment of the House of Commons. Now, do not let it be supposed, on the present occasion, that I question for one moment the power and the right 1322 of the House of Commons to institute a Committee to inquire into the circumstances under which a public officer, be he a Civil servant of the permanent Staff or a political servant, has been removed from office. I admit that right perfectly and unreservedly. But, at the same time, the House will acknowledge that there are certain rules and precedents which have directed and controlled the conduct of every Administration, and one of the most undisputed of them is, that they must maintain their exclusive responsibility for the continuance in office of all Civil servants holding during pleasure, and those who hold during pleasure in order that the Government may be responsible to the House of Commons for their conduct, but more especially for the conduct of those Civil servants whose office partakes of a political character. The House will, therefore, understand that I admit they have a perfect right to condemn me and the whole Government, and everybody connected with me for my conduct in this matter; but they will not think it disrespectful if I say that I am not the man, my right hon. Friend near me is not the man, nor are my colleagues the men to allow any new practice, which they think vitally affecting the responsibility of Ministers, to be introduced without taking the most emphatic and conclusive steps at their command for the purpose of preventing it. I spoke of the disadvantage we were under on account of not having the power of reference to my right hon. Friend the source of knowledge on this subject. I do not say the guilty man, because my right hon. Friend has transferred the guilt to me, and so far I am obliged to him. But I will illustrate the disadvantage from my right hon. Friend's own speech. My right hon. Friend began his speech with a temper I cannot too highly praise. But what did he do at the end? Why, he launched into a general impeachment of personal incapacity against the whole Board of Admiralty. My right hon. Friend at the close of his speech declared that he had no confidence in the Board of Admiralty. I claim for my right hon. Friend near me (Mr. Goschen) that he shall be judged by his own acts. My right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Bouverie) had, no doubt, listened to the statement of my right hon. Friend the 1323 First Lord of the Admiralty in introducing the Navy Estimates the other night. Did he find any fault in it? Did he find in it any trace of defective information? Then, why come forward to condemn my right hon. Friend and his Board of Admiralty before they have committed any act to justify censure or criticism?
§ MR. BOUVERIE
I beg my right hon. Friend's pardon, I never used the expression. At all events, I do not insist on it.
Well, it is entirely immaterial if my right hon. Friend disavows the words. I only wish to set aside all discussion about the general merits of the Board of Admiralty. My right hon. Friend was not quite correct in his statement of the facts. My right hon. Friend said we had got rid of the Naval Constructor by some act of our own. We did not by any act of our own get rid of him. Mr. Reed, the late Naval Constructor, removed himself, as he was perfectly entitled to do, thinking that his call and duties lay elsewhere. My right hon. Friend said that no Naval Lord was left at the Board but one. Is Lord John Hay no Naval Lord? But he is about to go. We had nothing whatever to do with that, and we were not cognizant of the going of Lord John Hay at the time Sir Spencer Robinson was called on to retire. My right hon. Friend introduced a matter not mentioned in the speech of the noble Lord, as to which I had no previous information whatever. My right hon. Friend, therefore, placed me at a disadvantage; but I contest the whole of his proposition. He said that the Admiralty had made an engagement with Sir Spencer Robinson to obtain for him a special pension, and that not only was there no special pension given to him, but the whole of the contract was forgotten or disavowed, and that nothing was awarded him except the minimum of what was allowed under the Superannuation Act. Now, the truth is, that the Admiralty recommended the Treasury to give him everything they could in respect of pension, and it is also true, in diametrical opposition to the statement of my right hon. Friend, that the 1324 Treasury did give Sir Spencer Robinson everything they could. The judgment of the Treasury, which is the responsible authority in matters of this kind, was that Sir Spencer Robinson under the Superannuation Act was not entitled to a single farthing. That was the judgment of the responsible Department; but what did they do? They said, "Though five years' term of office does not entitle Sir Spencer Robinson to a single farthing, yet in consideration of the implied contract, which was fully recognized at the time, and which is undeniable, we will give him the largest sum in our power." They, therefore, awarded him the sum given for 10 years' professional service under the Superannuation Act, a thing which, unless by a special discretion, it was utterly impossible for them to do. So much for the question of pension. My right hon. Friend says that Sir Spencer Robinson was a permanent Civil servant. It is not perhaps necessary to dwell at any great length on this point, because I am not prepared to admit that there is an essential distinction between the case of permanent and political Civil servants. The only difference that I know is that while very great consideration is due to political Civil servants, still greater care and circumspection are due in the case of the permanent Civil servants of the Crown. But as regards maintaining the great Parliamentary principle that the Executive Government is to be responsible to the House of Commons for the conduct of their Civil servants, that principle applies alike to the one and the other. But Sir Spencer Robinson was a political Civil servant, and the fact that in certain cases a Lord of the Admiralty is passed on by the Treasury to a new Board of Admiralty only proves that in certain cases continuity of office is granted, even as continuity of office is often granted in what are known to everybody to be political offices, as, for instance, when Lord Clarendon was asked over and over again to continue in the office he held as Foreign Secretary. Well, my right hon. Friend says that Sir Spencer Robinson and his friends think that he has been unjustly and ungenerously treated. Now, that is a very grave question for discussion. It is a question, however, in which I believe general opinion must assume the ultimate arbitrament, for I do not admit that it can be brought to a Parliamen- 1325 tary issue by a Government which continues to remain in office. It is no doubt a very heavy responsibility which is incurred in the dismissal of an officer of the State of any kind. No one who has ever been concerned in such a proceeding will hesitate to admit that it is a thing which rarely occurs, and that it never should occur but for the gravest reason—that reason being that if it did not occur greater injury to the public service would be the result. That is the principle by which we desire to be tried. I am obliged to pass over again a considerable portion of my right hon. Friend's observations, in which he said that we were not to discuss the Minute of Mr. Childers as to the deplorable loss of the Captain, while, at the same time, he proceeded to discuss it in terms of the severest censure which any man could pronounce on an absent person, when he stated that Mr. Childers evaded responsibility and sought to throw the blame on his inferior officers. That is a grave issue, and one which, in my opinion, ought not to be introduced incidentally on an occasion when it was not intended to be discussed. My right hon. Friend has made a charge against myself, but in a manner I have nothing to find fault with; but I will endeavour to contest his argument. He says that in the multiplicity of my cares and troubles I cannot fail from time to time to make mistakes, and I have no doubt that that is true. I am not, however, able to see the mistake which has been made by me in the present instance, and I contend that my right hon. Friend has not proved the occurrence of any such mistake. He contends that my error was that I acted on an ex parte statement, which I ought to have reserved to be fought between Sir Spencer Robinson and Mr. Childers, and that to delay was the proper course for me to pursue. Now, I am not prepared to admit, as between colleague and colleague in the Cabinet, the statement of Mr. Childers ought to have been regarded by me as ex parte. That statement was not the only one in my possession on the subject. Mr. Childers, independently of it, made known to me the general grounds on which it was necessary in his judgment—and he convinced me of the necessity—that Sir Spencer Robinson should cease to hold his office at the Admiralty. Much other evidence was in my possession which 1326 entirely convinced me of the accuracy of Mr. Childers's statement as to what had taken place at the interview on the 14th of December. As here I am setting up the statement of Mr. Childers against that of Sir Spencer Robinson, I would observe that we all of us are liable to those differences which arise out of differences in point of memory. I would, however, add that it appears from the documents before us that the memory of Sir Spencer Robinson is not unimpeachable. I do not wonder at it. I think that any man filling a laborious public office is liable to have his memory overcharged, and I should be sorry to be severely judged on a point of memory myself. I merely refer to the matter now for the purpose of sustaining my case. I find that one of the versions which Sir Spencer Robinson gives of what he said is that he came to the determination that he wished to remain in office until the Committee on Designs had reported, and that if that Committee reported unfavourably to him he should go at once, and if not, that he should place himself at the disposal of the Government. That is one statement; but according to another statement Sir Spencer Robinson entirely varies one of the essential articles contained in that which I have just mentioned. In that other statement he says he wishes to remain until the Committee reported; and that if the Report was favourable to him he would wish to continue in office; but that if a censure was passed, then he would consider it his duty to resign his post. Now, these two accounts of the same transaction are not, I contend, consistent with one another; but they are inconsistent exactly in the way in which when we are dealing with a question of memory such differences may arise. The real question, however, is whether, practically, we were right or wrong in the course which we adopted rather than the abstract proposition with respect to the authority of the memorandum of Mr. Childers? My right hon. Friend's contention is that, instead of acting on Mr. Childers's statement that Sir Spencer Robinson had agreed with him with regard to his resignation, I ought to have waited till Mr. Childers returned, and then allowed the matter to be discussed. My right hon. Friend, however, fails to see that although undoubtedly Mr. Childers stated to me, 1327 and I fully believed, as I still believe, that Sir Spencer Robinson on that day had been a willing party to the arrangement for his resignation, yet that it is an entire mistake to suppose that we vindicate his removal from office on anything that has reference to the expression of his willingness to go. My right hon. Friend says I ought to have postponed the whole matter for the purpose of inquiring whether Mr. Childers or Sir Spencer Robinson was right upon the question of the latter's resignation. [Mr. WHITBREAD: You decided the grounds.] I did not decide the grounds at all. My hon. Friend the Member for Bedford raises another point, and to which I am sorry I am obliged to advert. Does my hon. Friend really think that I, not being First Lord of the Admiralty, and having only a secondary knowledge, through Mr. Childers, of the actual state of things in the Department, would have acted either wisely or justly in taking upon myself the whole official care, as if I had been the First Lord? It would have been impossible for me to have done that. Sir Spencer Robinson, in answer to my statement that Mr. Childers had arranged with him for his resignation, expressed his own desire, which was that he should remain in office until the Committee had reported; but to say that I then fell back on the statement that he had agreed to resign and should go, is entirely erroneous. My letter, in answer to Sir Spencer Robinson's first letter, did not state that he should go, because I was determined to hold him to his bargain. There is, indeed, a previous historic precedent for a case of this kind in the saying of the Duke of Wellington to Mr. Huskisson, in 1829—"There is no mistake, there can be no mistake, and there shall be no mistake." But, in the present instance, I find that the Committee to which Sir Spencer Robinson referred was not likely to report for several months; and my right hon. Friend is entirely in error when he supposes that the state of the relations which had for some time existed between Sir Spencer Robinson and the Department had nothing to do with the decision at which I felt it to be my duty to arrive in the matter. What becomes, then, of the charge of my right hon. Friend, that I acted with precipitancy? Knowing that we were not proceeding 1328 substantially and exclusively upon the supposed consent of Sir Spencer Robinson, knowing also that relations existed in the Department which we thought should not continue, how was it possible for me, on the ground of what was little better than a verbal quarrel, to postpone a question which I knew was entirely irrelevant to the main question? Two grounds were stated in the memorandum of Mr. Childers. One was that Sir Spencer Robinson had agreed to go. One was, that the relations existing in the Department made his remaining incompatible with the interests of the service. How could I postpone the question of his retirement on account of this difference of recollection between Mr. Ohilders and Sir Spencer Robinson, when, as I told Sir Spencer Robinson, his relations in the Department made it impossible for him to remain? And what becomes of the charge of precipitancy, or the multitude of occupations which devolve on me—an excuse kindly made for me by my right hon. Friend to account for my deficiencies in this painful business? Besides, was there nothing said before this by Sir Spencer Robinson himself upon the question whether it was desirable he should remain in office? I will not refer to the suggestion that this question should remain over to greet my right hon. Friend (Mr. Childers) in his first days of returning strength. But what said Sir Spencer Robinson himself? According to the memorandum of Mr. Childers, he told Sir Spencer Robinson—That after the Minutes which he had recently written, it was quite clear he was unable to carry on the usual duties of his office, and, at the same time, give the attention which he described as necessary to the work of the Committee.Happily, we are not at conflict here upon the two recollections, because Sir Spencer Robinson himself said he had not time to do this and transact his ordinary duties. Thus, we have a distinct declaration by the First Lord that Sir Spencer Robinson said it was impossible for him to carry on the arduous duties of his Department, and, at the same time, discharge the duties imposed on him by the sittings of the Committee; that statement is not contradicted on the part of Sir Spencer Robinson. And yet my right hon. Friend said it was precipitate in me, because I did not, under these circumstances, insist on Sir Spencer 1329 Robinson's remaining to discharge the duties which he himself said he could not discharge. How can my right hon. Friend found an accusation upon grounds such as these? He says this was a case of incompatibility. I cannot agree in that statement. If I thought it was a case of incompatibility of temper, it might be necessary to make that avowal; but it would be a very painful one to make, because it would certainly seem to imply very great fault on the one side or the other. But, as has been said by my right hon. Friend near me (Mr. Goschen), although it was not the loss of the Captain itself, it was the measures which grew out of that loss which led to the rise of most grave practical disagreements between Sir Spencer Robinson and not only the First Lord but other colleagues upon the Board which, in the judgment of Mr. Childers, and in my judgment upon his appeal to me, were incompatible with the advantageous transaction of public business. Let it be again understood, therefore, that there is no reproach upon Sir Spencer Robinson. These differences of opinion constantly arise in the course of history, even among those who are colleagues in the Government, and often require the retirement of one or the other, but imply no fault, unless it be one of those purely intellectual faults, on the one side or the other, which are inevitable, but do not expose anyone to the slightest degree of moral blame. I understand that the noble Lord opposite found fault with me because I was not here during his speech. Now, 11 continuous hours without any remission of public duty did make it necessary for me to withdraw myself for one hour from the House, especially with the prospect of three or four hours longer attendance here. I had no idea that what was done by me was likely to form a material part of the statement of the noble Lord. I fear I have occupied the House too long; but let me refer for a moment to what is called the alteration of the date of Sir Spencer Robinson's letter. I do not complain that it is described as the alteration of the date, because I have called it so myself. Let me explain what it was. In reason and in substance there was no alteration of a date at all. Sir Spencer Robinson's letter was a letter which first acquired an official character when it became an offi- 1330 cial document. Until then the date was a date perfectly immaterial. Sir Spencer Robinson's letter had been written and had remained for some time in the possession of the Registrar or Secretary in the Admiralty, without being made an official document; and, as it had not been made an official document for a considerable time, I suggested that the date should be postponed till the time when it was so made, which was after the removal of Sir Spencer Robinson. I suggested this alteration because I saw no disadvantage thereby entailed upon Sir Spencer Robinson, while, on the other hand, there was an advantage, because it is not possible for any Board to admit as official documents contested minutes among its own members. I did not wish to refuse to produce this document. On the contrary, I thought Sir Spencer Robinson was entitled to have it produced; but, on the other hand, I did not wish to create an inconvenient precedent adverse to the discipline of the Department. Once more, I hope it will be clearly understood that the ground communicated to me by Mr. Childers was a double ground—the one being that Sir Spencer Robinson had himself agreed to resign, and the other that relations had sprung up in the Department wholly independent of that consent, which made his retirement desirable. With this explanation I leave the matter in the hands of the House, fully admitting the title of the House to take into its hands the examination and adjudication of any matter in which it is of opinion that one of Her Majesty's subjects has been aggrieved. I not only admit that the consideration of such an alleged grievance is a fair subject of discussion, but I also frankly admit that if the noble Lord thinks Sir Spencer Robinson is aggrieved, he is only discharging a public duty in bringing it under the notice of the House with all the freedom of criticizm he thinks fit to employ.
§ MR. WHITBREAD
said, the right hon. Gentleman, with his quick ear, had caught an observation made by him to the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock not intended for the hearing of the First Minister, to the effect that the only ground assigned to Sir Spencer Robinson before his dismissal was a Minute of Mr. Childers, left by the right hon. Gentleman. He had felt keenly and 1331 bitterly, as an old colleague, the treatment which Sir Spencer Robinson had received, and he also felt that they were now fighting with foils with the buttons on, the real question not being before the House. The real source of bitterness was the subject of the Captain. He had felt also that it was impossible for him to speak in the absence of Mr. Childers. He could not consent to say what he should like to have said on this subject unless the responsible Minister were present. The right hon. Gentleman said that reasons were communicated to him by Mr. Childers, convincing him that it was impossible that Sir Spencer Robinson could remain in office. The House, however, had never heard those reasons, and he doubted whether they ever were communicated to Sir Spencer Robinson. He attached little blame to the Prime Minister in this transaction. Rather, if he did attach any blame to the right hon. Gentleman, it was of a very slight nature, and it was that he acted too loyally to his Friend and Colleague. If only time, that great healer of all ills, had been allowed, he (Mr. Whitbread) believed that a good many differences would have since been explained away. As to saying that the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock had brought a charge against the present First Lord of the Admiralty in any way, there never was a greater mistake. All that he (Mr. Whitbread) desired was to give Sir Spencer Robinson fair play, and he believed that Sir Spencer would have had this fair play if he had been allowed to remain longer in office.
§ ADMIRAL ERSKINE
asked to be allowed to state two facts. Sir Spencer Robinson had always expressed to his friends—he had also so stated to himself—that he had no intention of resigning his office after the Committee was appointed to examine into the ships, till the Committee had made its Report; and Sir Spencer Robinson was supported in this determination by his own friends. The second fact was, that never till that night had he heard, a single word of complaint from Sir Spencer Robinson with respect to the amount of his pension.
LORD HENRY LENNOX
, in reply, said, he would only trouble the House with a very few remarks. The First Lord of the Admiralty, he was quite sure unintentionally, misrepresented him 1332 on almost every point; and several of the mistakes had been cleared away by the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock. It had been stated that the Government had a perfect right to choose what officers should be employed to carry on the service of the country. He (Lord Henry Lennox) had never stated to the contrary. And in June last the Government did select Sir Spencer Robinson as Controller of the Navy. He had placed on the Paper of that night his Notice of a Motion for the appointment of a Committee to inquire into the question, because it was the only way in which he could raise the question in the House. He was quite willing to agree in the suggestion of the Prime Minister, that the case of Sir Spencer Robinson, and his summary dismissal from the service, should be left to the arbitrament of the country. It was not his intention to give the House the trouble of dividing on the question; and, with permission of the House, he would withdraw his Motion. ["Divide!"]
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 104; Noes 153: Majority 49.