HC Deb 17 February 1871 vol 204 cc455-76

rose to draw the attention of the House to the condition in which the administration of Naval affairs, both in and out of Parliament, was now placed; and to ask for explanations from the First Lord of the Treasury. He hoped that it was unnecessary for him to offer any apology for introducing this subject, nor could it be necessary for him to state that, in the course he felt it to be his duty to pursue, he was actuated by no hostility to the absent First Lord. No one could feel deeper sympathy than he did for the right hon. Gentleman under the accumulation of misfortunes that had befallen him. The great calamity of last autumn—the loss of the ship in which he had taken such interest, and with it the loss of his son—was sufficient to secure the sympathy not only of his private friends, but of his poetical opponents. But such feelings must give way in time of great national crises; and it was the opinion of himself and of those who acted with him that the time had come when the attention of the Government should be drawn to the state of our naval administration, and when it was felt to be impossible to accept as an excuse the absence of the First Lord, however unavoidable. Another circumstance which induced him to invite explanations from the Secretary to the Admiralty or the First Lord of the Treasury was, that on the first night of the Session, while the state of the Army was fully entered into—indeed, a prominent paragraph on the subject was inserted in the Queen's Speech — the condition of the Navy was passed over with only a slight reference—the right hon. Gentleman merely said that the power of our Navy was generally admitted. Now, he (Lord Henry Lennox) was not the person to deny that we now possessed a powerful iron-clad Navy; but he could not help fearing, from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, that he thought that what we had already done in the shape of building iron-clads was sufficient, and that there were no naval problems awaiting solution. He thought the Army Reserves had obtained undue prominence in the councils of the Government. No man could recognize more fully than he did the importance to England of having an efficient Army of Reserve; but, after all, the Army was only the inner line of defence, and that the outer line of defence of the country must always be the Navy. The importance of this had been proved on many occasions. It was sufficient to look back to last autumn, and to the feeling of satisfaction which pervaded the country, when they were assured by the First Lord that we were in possession of good and powerful ships, to be assured that England's main arm of defence must be on the water, and not on the land. It was the right policy of this country to be strong, not only in iron-clad sea-going vessels, but also to have an abundant number of those ships, which were specially suitable for the defence of the coast; for if it was known that we were in a position that rendered invasion an impossibility, England could make her voice heard in the councils of nations with effect, and we should be free from those sudden and unseemly panics which were too characteristic of this country. Then came the question of details, what class of ships would be most effectual for this purpose, their number, and where they should be placed so as best to defend the great centres of our wealth and commerce. But, in the present state of the Admiralty, to whom were they to apply for a solution of these vitally important questions? He would not for a moment be supposed to depreciate the business ability or aptitude of the hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Baxter). Circumstanced as he had himself been, he did not suppose there would be much difficulty in the Secretary for the Admiralty moving the Navy Estimates. It was not the hon. Member for Montrose, it was the system now in effect at the Admiralty that he impugned. Since the present First Lord had been in Office the Secretary to the Admiralty had, in point of fact, discharged few or none of the duties formerly attached to the Office; his functions had been little more than those discharged by the Financial Lord in old times. The Secretary to the Admiralty, under the present First Lord, had not been in any way associated with the naval policy of the Government, or its shipbuilding policy; the present Secretary was no more responsible for such matters than Sir Sydney Dacres was responsible for the stores. Indeed, it seemed to him that the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Baxter) was simply in the position of head of the purchase department. When this subject was about to be referred to last night in "another place" by a noble Duke (the Duke of Somerset), Lord Halifax requested that the discussion should be postponed, because neither he nor Lord Camperdown was prepared with the necessary information. Now, the constitution of the old Board of Admiralty, as he had repeatedly said, was not perfect in various respects; but it had at least this great merit—that the proper prosecution of the business of the Department did not depend upon the health or energy of any one man; while the new system had that radical defect. The present First Lord had always said, in the most explicit manner, that the whole undivided responsibility rested with him—that he was solely responsible to the country, and all his colleagues and subordinate officials to him. So long as the right hon. Gentleman retained his health and energy, and so long as he was willing to bear the entire responsibility of the failures as well as the successes of the Department, the system worked well enough; but the moment that his health failed, or that he began to shirk his responsibility on to the shoulders of other men, the whole machinery he put in motion necessarily ceased to work. He defied anyone to say that that was not a correct description of the Board of Admiralty as it now existed. But further, he said deliberately that there existed now, and that there had existed for some time past, the greatest dissatisfaction in the naval profession at the way in which affairs were carried on. That dissatisfaction arose from many causes, but, chiefly, because they felt that all their professional and private interests were handed over to the despotic will of one man, and that man a civilian. Naval officers might accept much that was unpalatable if they knew that it was advised as beneficial for the service by distinguished and competent members of their own profession; but they knew that in the present administration of affairs by the Board of Admiralty the naval element was, if not altogether annihilated, yet almost completely absorbed. That was a great misfortune, respecting which he hoped to be able to question the First Lord as soon as he returned to his seat; and in case he should not return—and even while the point was doubtful—he would appeal to the First Lord of the Treasury, whether he could not manage in some way to have in that House some competent naval authority, who should be able to explain and to defend the naval policy of the Government—such as it was. At present naval officers felt that they were only represented at the Board by an admiral, who might perhaps grumble out a mild protest, but who, remembering that discretion was the better part of valour, oftener remained silent. It might, perhaps, be said that the absence of the First Lord was not unprecedented, and that, as a Member of the late Administration, it was ungracious in him (Lord Henry Lennox) to bring forward a complaint on the subject, seeing that the Conservative First Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. Corry) was absent during part of the last Session in which his Government held Office. But he could not imagine two cases more entirely distinct, both in respect of time and of attendant circumstances. In 1868 his right hon. Friend the Member for Tyrone was in his place at the opening of the Session. He was then absent for a period; but at the end of April he had returned, and he fully explained the naval policy of the Government in a most exhaustive speech of three hours and three-quarters. Moreover, during the time that his right hon. Friend was absent through illness he left on the Treasury Bench no less than four Colleagues competent to defend his policy. Two of these were members of the Board—the hon. and gallant Member for Stamford (Sir John Hay), who was a very distinguished authority on all naval matters; his gallant and lamented Friend Admiral Seymour; the right hon. Member for Lancashire (Colonel Wilson-Patten); and himself (Lord Henry Lennox), who was then Secretary for the Admiralty. Besides this, the absence of the First Lord in 1868 took place when Europe was in profound peace, and when this House was preparing for the rush of the coming dissolution. The absence of the present First Lord took place under very different circumstances. He was absent now, when the House was asked by the Government to adopt very large Estimates in order to provide for a large amount of Army Reserve; and that was itself evidence of the critical state of Europe. Therefore, to compare the absence of his right hon. Friend at the end of a Session with the absence of the present Lord was to compare two things which were totally dissimilar. Let him point to another thing. At the time the right hon. Member for Tyrone (Mr. Corry) was First Lord he left ample plans and Estimates at Whitehall. He also left Sir Alexander Milne, to whom such a marked tribute was paid in the House last night. He had also left Sir Sydney Dacres, who for 12 or 14 years back was Secretary of the Admiralty, and knew the thoughts and opinions of the First Lord. There were also Sir Spencer Robinson, the Chief Controller of the Navy; the Chief Constructor of the Navy (Mr. Reed); and Mr. Ronayne. And at that time the head of the Admiralty and his subordinates acted together in complete harmony. There might be, and there probably were, occasional divergences of opinion; but the divergence never interfered with the carrying out of what was necessary for the country. They had now in the House, as the only representative of the Admiralty, the hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Baxter), who would no doubt give them all the figures connected with that Department with a clearness that could not be exceeded by the First Lord himself. But there was this great objection to any statement which he might have to make—that he would be propounding to the House a policy in the drawing-up of which he had had no hand. He could only give, at second-hand, the shreds and patches of what he had heard it was the intention of the First Lord to do. But there was another objection to any statement which he might have to make at second-hand—namely, that at this day there was at the Admiralty none of the harmony which made the working of the Department so pleasant when he was in Office in 1868. He thought it could hardly be said that harmony reigned at the Admiralty just now. While on that point he wished to say a few words about the dismissal of the Chief Controller, Sir Spencer Robinson. When the late Government took Office they were told that it would be impossible for them to carry on the business of the Admiralty, the Controller of the Navy being a violent political opponent of theirs; he must, however, do Sir Spencer Robinson the justice to say that during the two years they had been in Office he never knew him to allow his political opinions to interfere with his public duties, and he had invariably worked with them for the benefit of the country. There had, however, been published during the last few days a most remarkable correspondence. When, the other evening, he (Lord Henry Lennox) ventured to say that he considered the dismissal of Sir Spencer Robinson as a step prejudicial to the public service, the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government, who was generally so kind and lenient in his remarks upon him, took him to task and charged him with want of caution. He accepted that rebuke, coming from such a high authority, with his best and gravest thanks; but on reflection he saw nothing in the matter to prevent him from reiterating, in the strongest terms he could, his opinion that the dismissal of Sir Spencer Robinson at the present moment was an injury and prejudice to the public service, and one much to be regretted by those who had the good of the service at heart. However, as a Committee had been appointed in "another place" to inquire into the matter, he would not now enter upon that point, but defer such observations which he had to make in respect to it until that Committee had fairly and fully reported upon it. It was, however, extraordinary that an officer who six months ago had been so highly eulogized by the present Government should be now dismissed under the circumstances disclosed in the correspondence to which he had referred. There was another thing besides harmony which had disappeared from Whitehall, and that was all sense of personal respon- sibility. Another point which he wished to press upon the attention of the House was the appointment of the Committee presided over by his noble Friend Lord Dufferin on the subject of the Coast Defences. Three years ago the then First Lord came down to the House and asked them to sanction the construction of two ships of a novel character and of great power, two of which, the Devastation and the Thunderer, of 4,000 tons each, were to be built the first year. As the House was not a professional assembly, evidently they could take such ships or any other only upon the responsibility of the First Lord. Now, it was generally understood that when the First Lord made such a proposition he did so entirely on his own responsibility; but he did not undertake that responsibility until he had submitted the drawings received from the Constructor's and Controller's departments, with every detail, to his professional Colleagues and advisers; but in the case of these ships the case was stronger still, for in respect to these the First Lord had also taken the opinion of a scientific committee, by whom the designs had been fairly tried and approved of. Some exceptions were taken to the proposal by some of his political Friends; but, for his own part, he (Lord Henry Lennox) did not make any objection to them, being unwilling to say or do anything which might seem to take away from the First Lord any portion of his responsibility. Those vessels had been for 18 months in course of construction when the operations upon them were stopped. The progress of the Fury, a still larger vessel, of the same class, was also stopped, while the drawings, specifications, and designs of those ships, voted by the House on the responsibility of the First Lord, were to be revised by a Committee of 16 Gentlemen. He could not but think that that was a great abrogation of the responsible functions of the First Lord. That was another point which he would have wished to press upon the attention of the House, if there had been sitting on the Treasury Bench anyone who avowed himself the naval organ of the Government. There was another point which struck him forcibly, and it was the last with which he would trouble the House. It was the grievous want of anything like proper and due concord between the two great spending Departments of the country—the War Office and the Admiralty—as to what should be our coast defences and where they should be. The War Office was building certain fortifications on land, and the Admiralty was building gunboats and turret-ships to defend the approaches to our harbours, but neither took counsel together on the subject. It was true the Defence Commission was sitting; but although it had been sitting since 1861, the Chief Controller had never been asked to come forward and give evidence upon the subject. That was a point which he would press upon another occasion; but the chief fact with which they had now to deal was that important fact that they had been for the last six months without any naval administration whatever, and at this time a period of six months might be pregnant with the most colossal events. How long, he would ask, was that interregnum to continue? How long was the chaos and confusion and weakness now patent to all in the councils of the Admiralty to be endured by Parliament and the country? If, when the House met, half the chaos and the weakness visible at the Admiralty had existed at the War Office, there would have been a panic from one end of the country to the other. Yet, in his opinion, such a chaos and such a confusion at the Admiralty were far more likely than at the War Office to compromise the position of England. He wished to awaken the right hon. Gentleman from the dream that because we had a powerful Channel Squadron all naval problems were solved. On that side of the House they might well be proud of the squadron, seeing that the principal part of the iron-clads were provided for in the Estimates of the late Board; while as to the Flying Squadron, one of the glories of the present Board, the first-class frigates composing it also appeared there. Those Estimates were the same which were denounced with so much vigour and eloquence by the present First Lord, the Secretary of the Treasury, and the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government. To these points he had felt it to be his duty to allude in the absence of the First Lord of the Admiralty, and to press Her Majesty's Government for an answer, because he felt that, in the present state of affairs, some steps in connection with these matters ought at once to be taken.


Sir, in reply to the speech of my noble Friend (Lord Henry Lennox), I will begin with the portion which is most agreeable to myself—I allude to his very kind reference to myself. But let me assure him that I did not in the slightest degree object to his entertaining the opinion that the removal of Sir Spencer Robinson has been an unwise and injurious measure; but I did object to his deviation from usage in conveying that opinion through the medium of a Question which related to a dry matter of fact, and was put for the purpose of eliciting information. But with regard to the immediate subject of discussion, I am extremely sorry that my noble Friend has appealed to me personally to know whether the course he has adopted is a reasonable one or not. Having made that appeal to me, I must say—and I say it without intending any offence—that I cannot but regard it as both unreasonable and unfair. Indeed, I have never known any precedent, or anything like a precedent, for the course my noble Friend has adopted. It is the first instance of the kind that has come under my observation in the course of a long Parliamentary experience, and I hope it will be the last. But with regard to the explanation asked of me, I will give it very briefly. The noble Lord says that there is no one on the Treasury Bench as the avowed naval organ of the Government. Now, my hon. Friend near me (Mr. Baxter) is ready to answer any question which may be put with regard to naval affairs, and when he has proved himself incapable to discharge his duty—which up to the present time he has not done — that will be the time for the noble Lord to exhibit his incapacity to the world. My noble Friend says that we have been six months without any naval administration. Now, that statement I beg to contradict in the most emphatic manner. Until about three weeks ago, when Mr. Childers went away, the administration was no less efficient than it was before; for when a Department has been managed with the skill and ability which my right hon. Friend has exhibited, it is not the momentary absence of its Chief which deranges its proceedings or destroys the character of the Department. Of course, I should not dream of denying that the absence of the First Lord during any portion of the Session of Parliament is a public misfortune and a public inconvenience. No one feels it more than we do; no one laments it so much. But the question that has arisen is this—Early in January the indisposition to which Mr. Childers has been subject from time to time became extremely severe, and it was the desire of my right hon. Friend to resign his Office. He urged upon me more than once the acceptance of his resignation. We, however, believed that his resignation would be a greater public evil and inconvenience than his possible absence from his place during the first two or three weeks of the Session. For that decision I alone am responsible, and by that responsibility I am perfectly willing to abide. I believe, moreover, that no man holding the position I do would have come to any other decision. That decision would, I believe, have been come to in the case of any First Lord; but, in my opinion, and I think also in the opinion of the House, my right hon. Friend has not been an ordinary First Lord. ["Hear!"] It is natural that you should put your own interpretation upon that sentiment. By all means do so. But my right hon. Friend came into Office a little more than two years ago, and in the two Naval Estimates which he prepared he has offered to the country relief to the extent of one and three-quarter millions of taxation, while at the same time it is our contention that he has done so not by weakening, but by strengthening, the condition of our Navy. [Sir JAMES ELPHINSTONE: No, no!] It is nothing new to find the hon. Baronet disagree from me. And now, if I understand him, he boldly denies that the Estimates were reduced. [Sir JAMES ELPHINSTONE: No, no!] Well, I think it fortunate that the hon. Baronet agrees with even one-half of what I say—for the other half I must trust to the judgment of the House. Now, I confess that, during the whole of my Parliamentary experience, I have never before known a discussion upon our naval affairs raised upon the eighth day of the Session. My noble Friend says that he has adopted that course because of the critical times in which we live. But I do not admit that the time is critical with regard to the condition of the Admiralty. I am willing to admit that there are very grave questions—especially with regard to con- struction—that are not yet satisfactorily solved, and that fact might have absolved Mr. Childers from much of the criticism to which he has been subjected. But there is no question of re-construction with regard to the Fleet or Navy in the slightest degree analogous to the question of the Army; which, with regard to the critical condition of Europe is a pressing consideration. Indeed, I confidently assert that there never has been a time when our country has been so secure in our naval supremacy. But the noble Lord, only eight days after the Session has commenced, has felt himself irresistibly compelled, from the twinges and prickings of conscience, to bring the state of our naval administration under the consideration of Parliament. When my noble Friend himself moved the Estimates, in a manner which I think did him infinite credit, he did so, not on the eighth day of the Session, but on the 14th of March. Well, let us see whether by the 14th of March the First Lord may not be in his place. I quite agree that the absence of my right hon. Friend cannot be indefinitely prolonged. Indeed, I am afraid that the term must be a very short one in which we must judge whether we can press or urge him further—because it will depend upon pressure or urgency from us—to continue in the service of the Queen; but I must confess that it seems to me to be altogether strange and without precedent that such notice should be taken of this circumstance. The noble Lord might have remembered that in the case of his own Government the First Lord was absent from the middle of March to the end of April, and that with that arrangement the noble Lord and his Colleagues were perfectly contented. I do not question my noble Friend's motives. I daresay he has felt the necessity of raising the subject in this unusual manner. But we do not share his alarm, and we think his comparison with the War Office a needless one. We do not admit that the Admiralty is paralyzed. I contend that the current business is proceeding as it ought to proceed. The preparation of the Estimates in every essential particular was completed by my right hon. Friend the First Lord, before he reluctantly felt himself bound to take that course which I may say I almost compelled him by my pressure and remonstrance to adopt. And my noble Friend says that the Navy is now for the first time subjected to the despotic will of one man. I never heard such a doctrine. Does the noble Lord really think that any question ought to be decided by a majority of the Board, and that the First Lord ought to be liable to be out-voted by his own Board? Why, he knows his own First Lord, and every First Lord who is worth a sixpence, has ruled upon his own responsibility; and, therefore, this despotic rule of one man has always been the rule at the Admiralty. Would the noble Lord have a dual government established in every Office and Department in the State — dual government with real effective dualism, so that there shall be two chiefs to a Department always bound to agree in everything, and yet differing on details? The noble Lord has spoken of the Naval Lords as grumbling against the decisions of the tyrannical First Lord. Is that a becoming description for a former Secretary of the Admiralty to give with regard to the two gallant Admirals who are at this moment members of the Board of Admiralty, and who were members of that Board at the time when the noble Lord himself was connected with it?


There is only one of the Naval Lords who has been on the Board under both the late and the present Administrations. I must also correct a mistake into which the right hon. Gentleman has fallen. I did not say "grumbled at the decisions of the First Lord." I said they "grumbled out a mild protest."


As there is only one Lord who has served under both Governments, the noble Lord's description must be especially meant for that one. That is the manner in which my noble Friend, in his zeal for the public service, thinks it seemly to describe the public spirit and personal conscience of a gallant Admiral with whom he has himself served. I have taken upon myself the responsibility of inflicting on the House and on the public a considerable public inconvenience, and I have done it for a reason that often obtains in this imperfect world—on the chance, by embracing a lesser evil, of avoiding a greater. The noble Lord will not think it is out of any want of respect for him that I do not now touch on those purely administrative questions which have been raised. No doubt they are fair subjects for discussion, and they will come on in their own time; but, in the meanwhile, I hope I have shown the House that the Government has a true sense of the state of the case; and I hope that before my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty returns and is called upon to take the decision—which must now be taken almost in a few days—that the right hon. Gentleman will be allowed a little interval in order that he may act as best fitted for the public service. There is no likelihood of my right hon. Friend being governed by any other consideration, and no doubt the House will afford him that indulgence, so that he may be ready to state the grounds and reasons of his own conduct when he shall be properly in tune. I only ask for that to which my right hon. Friend is entitled, and which, up to this moment, has never been denied by the House of Commons.


said, he was the last person in the world to say anything harsh or inconsiderate of his right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty, whose absence from the House and the reason for that absence, he sincerely deplored. He trusted that absence would be continued but for a short time longer; but the non-representation of the Admiralty in the House of Commons had already been the subject of much serious comment, and the matter demanded attention. When the right hon. Gentleman the First Minister of the Crown complained that there was no precedent for the course taken by his noble Friend (Lord Henry Lennox), he must remind him that a time when the Admiralty was not represented in the House of Commons was also unprecedented. The right hon. Gentleman the First Minister of the Crown had told them that the Secretary to the Admiralty was to be found in his place in Parliament to give any information on Admiralty questions; but it should be borne in mind that at the present time the Secretary to the Admiralty was only Secretary in name, and did not now perform those functions which in former times he (Mr. Corry) had discharged himself. He should not have said a word on this point had it not been that the right hon. Gentleman opposite had drawn a parallel between the absence of the First Lord of the Admiralty at the present time and the absence which he (Mr. Corry) was compelled to take, from ill health, when he occupied the same post in 1868. He was most grateful to the House for the indulgence which it then showed him; but he felt bound to point out that the two cases were not quite parallel. In the first place, his (Mr. Corry's) supervision over the naval administration never ceased during the whole time he was absent. When he went to Dover, and afterwards abroad, he never ceased to exercise that general supervision over the naval administration which it was necessary to exercise. Every paper of importance was invariably sent to him; and to show that his supervision was not merely formal, he might mention that when on one occasion the Board of Admiralty met to consider the question of the construction of some turret-ships of the Captain class, according to the proposal of the Controller of the Navy, based upon the strong expression of opinion which had been previously given in this House in favour of building ships of that type, he came up from Dover, although very ill at the time, in order to put his veto on the carrying out of such a proposal until the Captain itself should have been tried. And there was a still greater difference between the circumstances of the absence of the present First Lord of the Admiralty and his own absence in 1868—namely, that while he (Mr. Corry) was away the Admiralty was represented in Parliament by the hon. and gallant Member for Stamford (Sir John Hay), the gallant and lamented Admiral Seymour, and by another member of the Board also; while now, for the first time almost in the history of Admiralty, the Civil Lord was a Member of the other House, and there was not a single member of the Board present in the House of Commons. That showed that there was a very material difference in regard to the representation of the Admiralty in the two cases. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) had spoken of the enormous reductions made by the present administration; but he seemed to have forgotten that some £600,000 or £700,000 of those reductions were effected by his predecessors in Office; and besides this, certain substantial results of good administration had been transferred by him (Mr. Corry) to his successor at the Admiralty. It was also the fashion to say that the present Administration had increased the strength and efficiency of the Navy; but the fact still remained that they had reduced the number of men in the Navy by 5,000. As to the number of ships, the late Administration added no less than 10 armour-clad vessels to the Navy, which would really represent an additional power of quite 20 of the vessels which were built before. What had the present Government done in that direction? It was true they had ordered some gigantic freeboard ships; but in consequence of the grave suspicions excited as to the safety of those vessels various modifications had been proposed by the Admiralty themselves, and the whole matter was now before a Committee to be reported upon. The question of the constitution of the Board of Admiralty was a most serious one, and he should be sorry to enter into it in the absence of the First Lord; but all he could say was that unless the principle on which it was constituted was reformed and revised some serious calamity might be brought about.


said, he thought the House and the country were greatly indebted to his noble Friend the Member for Chichester (Lord Henry Lennox), for the very able way in which he had brought forward that subject, and also for doing it at the right moment. The Prime Minister had made a most remarkable statement, accusing his noble Friend of introducing an unreasonable and inappropriate discussion. He could only infer from that that the right hon. Gentleman was entirely ignorant of what was going on in the country and of what was the public feeling. Had he not heard that during the Recess the state of our armaments was a great cause of anxiety to the country generally, and did he suppose that that anxiety applied only to the military departments? Why, if he did he was under a complete misapprehension. Quite as much uneasiness existed about the state of our naval defences as about that of our military defences, and, he might add, with much greater reason. The right hon. Gentleman must have been living in some Elysium of his own if he did not know what had been the constant and general subject of conversation and discussion during the last few months in every part of the kingdom. It was, he thought, not only the right but the bounden duty of his noble Friend, as a former Secretary of the Admiralty, to call attention to that question. The prevailing impression among the public was that our naval defences were at present inadequate to the requirements of the country. One of the first changes now required, both by the public feeling and by the real necessities of the country, was a complete revision of our naval system. He did not think that the remark of the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government — that his noble Friend ought not to have brought forward this subject in the absence of the First Lord of the Admiralty—was quite justified. He was sure nobody more sincerely regretted the absence of the First Lord of the Admiralty than his noble Friend did; but there were national emergencies that overrode all personal considerations; and, if ever there was a moment when it was incumbent on the House of Commons to go into the question of our naval defences, it was the present one. He had been mixed up for many years with the discussions of the Board of Admiralty; and much as he himself had always felt the necessity of a complete revision of the system of the Board of Admiralty, he was never more thoroughly convinced of it than he was now; because, whatever was wrong with it formerly, the former faults seemed now to be aggravated to a ten-fold degree. As he had said before, he regretted the enforced absence of the First Lord; but there were subjects which must override all personal considerations. The civilian element in the Board had been too strong before, and if there was too little responsibility before there was less now; and now it was notorious that the present First Lord had entirely ignored the naval element of the Board, and had announced himself to be solely responsible for all its proceedings. A state of things more dangerous or more anomalous than that inaugurated by the present First Lord of the Admiralty could not well be conceived. Such was the extent of the interference by the First Lord and the civilian members of the Board that officers who had held high commands had, at the termination of those commands, refused to fill still higher positions because they felt they would be so hampered and tormented by the interference of the civilians in the present Board that they would not undertake to serve under it. Only last autumn two distinguished admirals in succession refused the offer of the command of the Channel Squadron. It was perfectly well known why that offer was declined. Distinguished men in the naval service would not subject themselves to the kind of inquisitorial proceedings instituted in the Board of Admiralty, and, in fact, the command of the Channel Squadron went begging. Never was it more desirable than now to have an efficient and harmonious Board of Admiralty, and nothing was more likely to create what was called a panic in the country than a knowledge of what was the present position of that Board. As his noble Friend had truly said, one of the first essentials at the Board was harmony among its members. From what they had seen of the very remarkable correspondence published the other day between the Prime Minister and the Controller of the Navy not only was there not harmony at the present Board, but it would appear as if a distinguished admiral had been treated with some harshness. In conclusion, he hoped they would have the earliest possible opportunity of entering into the whole question of whether or not they now had a Board of Admiralty fitted to be entrusted with its functions.


said, he was sorry that the earlier part of the evening had been so long occupied with another debate that a matter of so much importance as the present one had been delayed till an hour when hon. Members naturally began to be impatient. No question raised since the delivery of the Queen's Speech more deserved the grave consideration of the House than that introduced by his noble Friend (Lord Henry Lennox). It was an extraordinary thing for the Prime Minister to be obliged to get up and answer for the Admiralty, that Board having no other representative in that House but the Storekeeper of the Navy. The right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government said that our fleet was in a proper condition; but Her Majesty's Speech recommended them to gather lessons in regard to their armaments from the experience of the last few months. What was the light of that experience? The recent reports of the French admirals were fruitful in such lessons. The French admirals proceeded to the Baltic with a fleet of heavy draught, analogous to our own Channel Fleet, and they reported to their Government that they could do nothing. They had 20,000 troops on board, which they might have landed on their enemy's coast if they had used small vessels. The moment the Prussians saw the French fleet they snapped their fingers at it, and General Von Falckenstein was enabled to take part in the campaign with 150,000 men; whereas if the French had employed gunboats they might have ravaged the whole length of their enemy's coast from Pomerania to the Elbe, and detained so vast a portion of the Prussian force there that the war would never have gone beyond Sedan. England had to guard some seven or eight great focuses of its trade, and to employ many vessels of war in protecting its commerce. At the present moment England had not a sufficient number of ships to guard her commerce; and if she went to war with any country that had a shelving shore, it would be impossible to land munitions of war upon her shores on account of the large tonnage of our ships of war. The hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Samuda) recently assured his constituents, on the authority of the hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Baxter), that the fleet was quite sufficient for the requirements of the country during many years to come; but what were the facts? Simply, that in the whole Navy there were no two ships exactly alike. No two vessels were of the same speed, there were not two topsail yards of the same length, and when a ship went into harbour to refit, the whole of the masts, spars, &c., had to be made specially to suit its peculiar build. Vessels were sailed not according to their speed, but according to the rank of their commanders; the consequence being that very frequently different ships belonging to the same fleet were under great risk of running into each other. He felt that in discussing these questions he was much embarrassed by the calamity they all deplored. In the face of the dreadful bereavement which had fallen upon the First Lord of the Admiralty, through the loss of the Captain, and of the fact that the right hon. Gentleman was absent from the House by reason of illness, he could not speak with the same freedom he should otherwise have exercised. He trusted the right hon. Gentleman would soon be back in renewed health; but he must ask what the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government would do in case the First Lord of the Admiralty was unable to resume duty? Would he bring back the octogenarian Peer who had lately been keeping warm the eggs of the Admiralty? Why, the right hon. Gentleman had not in his whole phalanx a gentleman fit to be First Lord of the Admiralty. [A. laugh] The right hon. Gentleman laughed—but let him show the man. The other day 2,500 tons of food had to be sent to Paris for the support of the inhabitants; and it was stated by a representative of the Government that the getting this amount of stores on board the transports in from 15 to 20 hours was a feat of the greatest possible dexterity, showing the enormous resources of the Navy. Yet this amount of food was just 17 days' provisions for the men and boys voted for the Navy. Why, he remembered that in 1842 two line-of-battle ships, in Portsmouth and Plymouth respectively, were completely rigged and loaded in 24 hours. Although they would have another opportunity of discussing the dismissal of Sir Spencer Robinson, he wished now to say that, as the affair struck him, it seemed that the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government had made a scapegoat of that gallant officer; but Sir Spencer was one of those goats who would not be driven just as the First Lord of the Treasury desired. He had no love for Sir Spencer Robinson, for he had done more harm to his (Sir James Elphinstone's) constituents than any man who ever breathed; but he never saw a man down without picking him up if he thought the man had been wronged, and he thought Sir Spencer Robinson had been ill-used. There would, however, be other opportunities for discussing that particular question. This country was just now in the extraordinary position of not being able to take the sea for offensive operations, because the Navy had no small vessels for the protection of the coast, and we never should be able to do so unless we had 100 smaller vessels for the purposes of cruising, of defending our harbours, and protecting our commerce. So far as the Administration was concerned, they found the extraordinary spectacle of men possessing the highest administrative ability on naval questions answered in Parliament by boys utterly ignorant of the questions with which they were called upon to deal. He had been utterly astounded by finding that in "another place," on the preceding night, a mere youth, possessing no knowledge of naval questions, was put up to answer one of the most consummate naval administrators in the House of Lords. And then they found the First Lord of the Treasury throwing his ægis over an effete Department, where the utmost confusion prevailed along with the greatest animosity among its members, and adopting the hackneyed plan of dirtying his opponent's attorney.


desired to say only a few words. He did not, in the least, complain of any remark made by the noble Lord who introduced this discussion (Lord Henry Lennox), and who had a perfect right to interrogate the First Lord of the Treasury as to the time at which the First Lord of the Admiralty was likely to return to his duties—because it was, without doubt, a matter of very serious inconvenience to the public service for so important an official to be absent when the Estimates belonging to his Department were about to be introduced. As his right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Treasury had stated, the First Lord of the Admiralty was expected back at his post in a few days, and it would then be for the Government to decide as to the future. It would depend upon the decision of the First Lord himself whether he would continue at the head of his Department or retire. He strongly deprecated any discussion just now of the Estimates, which were not yet even in the hands of Members; though several hon. Gentlemen had criticized them without having seen them. He hoped they would be in the possession of hon. Members by Monday next, and that in a week or two his right hon. Friend would be in his place to explain them, and also to state the general policy of the Government on naval matters. During the 16 years he (Mr. Baxter) had been a Member of that House he never remembered a discussion in the first week of a Session similar to that which had just been held, and he must again protest against such discussion not only as unusual, but most inoppor- tune. He would never say one word to lead the people of England to believe that the Administration of the right hon. Member for Tyrone (Mr. Corry), or any other naval Administration, had not properly provided for the defences of the country. He might have thought some former Administrations had not managed the Department as well as might have been expected; but he could never have looked with favour upon the spectacle of Gentlemen going about the country and saying—as had been freely said of the present Admiralty administration—that the Admiralty, when in charge of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Tyrone (Mr. Corry), and of the noble Lord the Member for Chichester (Lord Henry Lennox), was inefficient for the performance of the duties devolving upon it. He could assure the House that the Admiralty was, at the present moment, fully competent to satisfy all the demands likely to be made upon it. Further, he would tell the hon. Member for Portsmouth (Sir James Elphinstone) that he had mistaken his (Mr. Baxter's) position when he compared it to that of a Storekeeper in the Navy. He was responsible for the buying and selling of all naval stores; but that was only a small portion of his duty. He deemed himself responsible to the First Lord for the naval administration of the country, and he was prepared, at the proper time, to answer any questions that might be put to him on that subject. He hoped the hon. Gentleman the Member for Portsmouth would regret the remarks he had just made with reference to what occurred in the House of Lords last night. He was sure there was no man who had attended more laboriously to his duty as a Lord of the Admiralty than his noble Friend (the Earl of Camperdown). He thought his noble Friend answered all the questions put to him in a manner entirely satisfactory. He hoped the House would wait with patience till the Naval Estimates were introduced before they entered upon a discussion of this subject. As the Government had already told the House, in a few days they expected the First Lord of the Admiralty to be in his place, and, until then, he hoped the House would suspend its judgment on matters concerning the management of the Navy.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Original Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," by leave, withdrawn.

Committee deferred till Monday next.