§ MR. SEELY (Lincoln)
Mr. Speaker—I rise to call attention to certain recent changes which have been made in the administration of the Admiralty, and to move the following Resolutions:—That it is desirable that the Board of Admiralty should be discontinued, and that the offices of Controller and Superintendent of Her Majesty's 1446 Dockyards be held by persons who have special knowledge of the duties they have to discharge, and that their tenure of office be not limited to a term of five years.I need scarcely remind the House that on various occasions I, and several hon. Friends of mine, have called attention to what may be termed abuses in the administration of the Admiralty. We have complained that where the Admiralty were concerned purchases were made in the interests of the seller rather than of the buyer, and that sales on the contrary principle were effected in the interests of the buyer rather than of the seller; that old wooden ships were repaired at a cost greater than that for which they could have been bought new; that the number of dockyards was too great, thereby increasing unnecessarily the cost of superintendence; that the accounts could not be understood; that the Board of Admiralty was a cumbrous and inadequate machine for managing such a large Department, and that incompetent persons were placed in positions of great trust and responsibility. But some of the things of which we complained have been rectified. The system of accounts has been improved, and is in process of further improvement. We no longer complain that purchases are made on principles other than those which would guide an ordinary private firm in the transaction of their business; two dockyards have been discontinued, thereby reducing the cost of superintendence from £120,000 to £93,000; and the Admiralty no longer repair their old wooden ships at a cost greater than they could be purchased for new. But, Sir, the reforms in the administration of the Admiralty are still incomplete, and incompetent persons are still intrusted with the management of business in that Department of the State about which they know but little. I regret that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Pontefract did not seize the great opportunity he had for putting an end to the Board of Admiralty. That the right hon. Gentleman did not like the Board of Admiralty is evident, but still he did not abolish it. In addressing this House, the right hon. Gentleman stated that the other members of the Board must be looked upon rather as his assistants than in any other light, and that the Board itself must be considered rather as departmental than as 1447 in accordance with the usual machinery of a Board. In support of this view of the subject, I may mention that in 1870 the Board met only thirty-three times; that their meetings only lasted a few minutes, and that no business of any importance was transacted at those meetings. According to the evidence of the permanent Secretary, Mr. Lushington, the Board met only to register the decrees and decisions that had been already arrived at; and Admiral Robinson, in giving evidence before the Duke of Somerset's Committee, stated that the First Lord had directed that no Board should be held in his absence. Mr. Lushington stated before the same Committee that he was not aware whether the Board sanctioned the Navy Estimates or not. It is evident, therefore, that as regards the present system the Board is of no advantage for counsel, and that, I apprehend, is the only value of a Board; but if it is of no real benefit, it is not by any means free from evil. Thus, the First Lord has not that complete power which a man, who assumes the responsibility he does, ought to possess. It is evident from the discussion that took place in this House with regard to Sir Spencer Robinson, that the First Lord did not feel that he could deal with Sir Spencer Robinson as a mere subordinate, and that he looked upon him somewhat in the light of a colleague, and that I consider not quite in accordance with the responsibility he claims. It is stated by Sir Spencer Robinson, in his evidence which he gave before the Duke of Somerset's Committee, that the patent by which the Lords were appointed, and the Order in Council of 1869 clashed—nay, more, he stated that if the patent was legal, and was the only document that ought to be acted upon, then the Lords of the Admiralty, during the two years in which they had been in office, had been committing, day by day, some illegal act by issuing orders and decrees signed by one of themselves instead of two as the patent required. But although of no value in itself, the Board serves as a cloak to screen the individual Lords of the Admiralty, because Orders are issued in the name of the Board for which only one individual Lord is really responsible. Then, again, the Order in Council fixes the duty or duties which devolve upon each Lord; but no man who has had anything to 1448 do with business would ever have framed a document like that. The hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Baxter), in answer to a Question put by Lord Houghton, in the course of his examination before the Duke of Somerset's Committee, said—"I think it is a simple waste of time to keep up this Board;" and Mr. Lushington said—I am distinctly opposed to boards as Governing Bodies, and therefore I very much prefer the now system; but I should like the new system to be simple and homogeneous. I do not like any officer having a name which does not really indicate the function which he performs; and if I might offer a criticism upon the recent re-organization, I should say that it has not gone far enough, and that there are many old fragments of the ancient régime remaining which simply encumber and obscure the procedure. For instance, in my opinion, the Board at present is not merely valueless, but absolutely detrimental to public business — a Board which really does nothing, and which takes no responsibility, but in the name of which the order is finally given.I am aware that in this House it would be of no value to appeal to the merely theoretical, and that unless I can show that the working of the present system is defective I cannot hope to carry my Resolutions. The question therefore is, does the present system work well? Now, the business of the Admiralty may be divided into two great branches—the material and the personnel. The Controller is supposed to have the control of the material branch; but the truth is that the limits of responsibility are not properly defined. In the evidence that was given before the Duke of Somerset's Committee, it was stated that the First Naval Lord had said that the fancies of the Controller, with regard to the building of a particular new class of frigates, ought not to be considered, and that the opinions of the Controller, Chief Constructor, and of the Director General of Naval Ordnance had been over-ruled, and the views of others adopted in their place. If I might refer to the late lamentable loss of the Captain, by which 500 brave men's lives were sacrificed, it will be found that up to the present hour we do not know who was responsible for that unfortunate occurrence. With regard to the personnel of the Navy, the First Sea Lord is supposed to be responsible; but it was curious to consider what his responsibility, according to the meaning of the Admiralty, signified. The First Sea Lord was responsible for providing officers and men; for the movements of 1449 the Fleet; and for the discipline of the service. It is not a satisfactory state of things that so important a branch of the service as the officers of the Royal Navy should be in a chronic state of discontent; but that this discontent exists I do not think can be denied. Upon this point there is a witness who is entitled to speak with some authority—namely, Sir Spencer Robinson, who, in the pamphlet which he has just published, says that—The dissatisfaction amongst officers remains unabated, and there reigns throughout that body a general feeling of discouragement as to the future prospects of all ranks.There have been of late years four Orders in Council altering the flow of promotion in the Navy. On the 1st of August, 1860, there was one issued; on the 9th of July, 1864, another; on the 24th of March, 1866, another; and on the 22nd of February, 1870, another; and before long, doubtless, there will be another yet. All this is exceedingly unsatisfactory, and I put this forward as a proof that the general management of the Navy is not what it ought to be. Having dealt with the officers in the Navy, I will come to the case of the seamen. The First Lord of the Admiralty, not long since, in moving the Navy Estimates, stated that the Admiralty had endeavoured to obtain, since last September, 450 blue-jackets without success, having only obtained 50 in that period; that we had now 500 too few blue-jackets, which was a very serious fact, and no doubt it is so. And it is a matter for much astonishment, considering the large Mercantile Marine we possess, that we should only be able to obtain 50 blue-jackets in the space of six months. We had, in 1865, in our Mercantile Marine—including seamen, stokers, and others—197,643 men; of whom 72,058 were able seamen. In 1865 there were about 20,000 ordinary seamen, of which number I am assured upon authority equal to any in this House, that 5,000 might be reckoned as able-bodied seamen; about 20,000 apprentices and boys, of whom about 5,000 might be reckoned as ordinary seamen; and about 20,000 foreigners, of whom 5,000 had been so long in our service that they might be fairly depended upon for our employment. In the year 1870 I find that we had 153,000 fishermen, which, taken altogether, would give us a 1450 Reserve force of about 230,000 men available for the Navy, and yet there was a difficulty in obtaining even 450 men in six months. This was another instance of the Admiralty management not being exactly what it ought to be. This subject of manning the Navy is one which has often occupied the attention of the House of Commons. The question was brought under the consideration of this House a few weeks ago by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Liverpool (Mr. Graves), and on that occasion the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty met the hon. Member's Motion by promising that the subject should be considered during the Recess, and he expressed a hope that he should be able to devise some plan which would meet the views of the hon. Gentleman. But the First Lord, if he had not been quite so reticent, and if he had taken the House move into his confidence, could have told them that this subject was actually under consideration at that very time—that there was an official Committee then sitting to inquire into the subject of manning the Navy—and that that Committee was composed of a colonel in the Engineers, a captain in the Royal Navy, and a colonel in the Marines. That Committee was about to make their Report, but after the debate that took place in this House it was suddenly dissolved, and its Report cancelled. This is the explanation I have received of the matter; but I do not know how far it is accurate. I merely allude to the circumstance as a proof that my assertion is correct—that the subject of manning the Navy is one which has been frequently under the consideration of this House and of the Admiralty. But, Sir, not only have we found a difficulty in obtaining men, but also in keeping them. A Return, No. 118, dated March, 1871, has been published, entitled the "Cruise of the Flying Squadron," from which it appears that the Flying Squadron went to various places, and that at almost every place it touched at it lost some of its men by desertion. Thus, at Rio, it lost 12 men; at Monte Video, 12; at the Cape, 12; at Melbourne, 158; at Auckland, 41 broke away from the boats, while 14 took forcible possession of the Phœbe's cutter, and escaped. This desertion of the men was endeavoured to be stopped by allowing none but good-conduct men to go ashore. 1451 The result of the cruise was, that of 2,605 men, borne upon the books of the Flying Squadron, 321 deserted, of whom 21 were recaptured, leaving a balance of 300 men actually lost by desertion during this cruise alone. And there is rather an ominous paragraph in page 8 of Sir Spencer Robinson's pamphlet, which, although not very distinct, alludes to something even worse than desertion. It is all very well to have this state of things in our Navy so long as we are at peace; but if we pay £10,000,000 per annum we want a Navy that will be effective in time of war, and such arrangements ought to be made that if we want 500 men 5,000 should offer to join. Now, there are many ship companies in this country which have no difficulty whatever in getting men, or, when they have once got them, in keeping them. I might mention the Cunard and other lines, but I would allude more particularly to the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company. They have 68 ships afloat and 8,250 men. They have no difficulty in obtaining any men they require, and they are subject to no desertions. The fear of dismissal operates as the greatest punishment and most effectual check upon insubordination; and instead of there being anything like discontent among their officers, or disloyalty among their men, this is what the chairman of the company said at their last meeting:—He begged to say distinctly that the highest spirit of unanimity and loyalty pervaded the whole of their service, both at sea and on land. They had most able and enthusiastic servants, who did the utmost in their power to promote the company's interests. They could not be better served than they were; they hoped always to continue to be as well served.I bring this matter forward, Sir, with the hope that we may be able some day to say the same of the Royal Navy. I think it is a disgrace that a wealthy country like England should not get picked men to serve her, and when she has got them should not be able to keep them. Here, Sir, I would mention what was told me by my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings (Mr. T. Brassey). He said there are 7,000 seamen on board of different yachts at this season of the year. There are no desertions from those yachts, and the owners have no difficulty in getting, or in retaining, any 1452 number of men they require. Again, take the police force throughout the country. They are upwards of 40,000 in the United Kingdom. There is no difficulty in getting men for the police, and, though the discipline is strict, there are no desertions. Why cannot the Admiralty tell the same tale? It is alleged as some reason why the Admiralty do not manage their business well, that it is very vast. The First Sea Lord, in his evidence before the Duke of Somerset's Committee, said he had more to do than one man could possibly accomplish; and Lord Grey, in the draft Report presented to that Committee, spoke of the enormous business of the Admiralty, while the Duke of Somerset used very similar language. Now, I should like, Sir, to look at these things, divesting them of all mystification if I can. What, then, is this vastness of the Admiralty business, as compared with that of other establishments? Take the amount of money spent. Though large, it is less than £8,000,000 sterling for the effective service, deducting the half-pay and pensions. The Peninsular and Oriental Company have nearly £4,500,000 of expenditure; and we must take into account their revenue also, because it involves as much trouble to manage as their expenditure. Then take the late Mr. Brassey, the father of the hon. Member for Hastings. In the course of a year he occasionally turned over £5,000,000 or £6,000,000, and he employed 80,000 men. Why, the Admiralty do not employ 80,000 altogether. Their seamen, marines, clerks, and dockyard labourers do not make up that number. [An hon. MEMBER: Yes; more than that.] Well, I stand corrected if that be so. My impression was that it was not 80,000; that there are about 61,000 seamen, marines, &c., in the Fleet, and between 12,000 and 13,000 dockyard artizans. That would give a total of some 73,000; and I cannot see where the others are to be found. Be this, however, as it may, the illustration I offer is at any rate tolerably pertinent; and we must bear in mind, too, that the Admiralty employ about the same number of people year by year, whereas the late Mr. Brassey had occasionally to reduce his number to 25,000 or 30,000, and then suddenly at times to run them up to 70,000 or 80,000, which every man of business knows to be a very difficult 1453 matter. Then take the case of the London and North-Western Railway Company. They have 1,100 miles of line, with one general manager to superintend the line; they have 250 stations, 25,000 men, 3,000 carriages, 30,000 waggons, and 1,200 engines; while their expenditure is £4,500,000 a-year. And I would make this observation as to that Company—that they and all the other railways in the kingdom communicate to each other the amount of their working expenses, and the cost per mile of coal, oil, &c.; while the Admiralty, unfortunately, shut themselves up within the walls of Whitehall, and refuse almost to hold any communication with the outer world. ["No!] Well, if their business is not well managed, it is not because enough money is not spent in its management. The cost of the Office at Whitehall for Lords, clerks, messengers, &c., is £163,000 a-year; whereas the Peninsular and Oriental Company pay for directors, clerks, &c., £30,000 a-year. And alluding to the case of the messengers, I must ask the First Lord how it happens that they want £9,723 for messengers at Whitehall? They pay £5,040 a-year for permanent messengers, and a further sum of £4,683 for temporary boys, commissionaires;, &c.; making together the sum of £9,723. The sum paid by the Peninsular and Oriental Company for messengers is only about £390. I would also mention that in the Navy Department of the United States there are 79 officials, clerks, messengers, &c., at a total charge per annum of only £28,000. Taking all these matters, then, into consideration, I come, Sir, to the conclusion that the present system is not satisfactory, and that we must either go back to the old Board with all its faults, or go forward and abolish the Board altogether, and have a single Minister of State instead. The argument for a Board may be briefly put thus:—The First Lord requires advice, and I should be the last man to argue against that proposition. We very rarely have First Lords who know much about their business. We occasionally have First Lords who know very little about their business, and sometimes First Lords who know nothing whatever about their business when they enter upon their office; and therefore I should be extremely sorry to say anything that would prevent them from obtaining advice. 1454 The question is, whether a Board is the best means of giving the First Lord advice? I hold that it is not; and for these reasons:—If there be an official Board, I apprehend it would hardly be consistent for the First Lord to seek other advice before the Board met; and when the Board did meet and had come to a decision, the First Lord would scarcely be acting in accordance with etiquette if he went and sought for other advice to counteract the decision to which his Board had come. Now, what are the questions which the First Lord has to solve? He has to determine upon questions relating to the officers, to the supply of seamen, to discipline, and so on. Suppose one of these questions comes before the Board? The First Sea Lord is there, and perhaps a Civil Lord is there, too. What said Lord John Hay before the Duke of Somerset's Committee on this matter? Why, in substance — I do not quote his exact words — that the First Sea Lord is such a very great man that there could be no freedom of discussion between him and the other members of the profession, and that the opinion of the First Sea Lord was almost invariably taken. Of what advantage, then, would it be to put one of these questions before the Board? Would it not be far better at once to have some power of consulting on these questions with members of the profession who do not happen to be official personages at Whitehall? But even in the Department of the First Sea Lord he would obtain very valuable advice. I might instance another case—say on a question of accounts. Suppose such a question to be brought before the Board. The Board may sometimes be constituted of persons who, I am not going too far in saying, have perhaps scarcely ever seen a ledger in their lives, and yet they would have to determine this question of accounts. If the First Lord was not satisfied with the explanations of his officers, the Accountant General, or the sub-Accountant General, what should prevent him from going into the City and getting the opinion of competent men there on the matter? If there was a Board, its opinion must be taken; the question must be discussed at the Board, although half its members know nothing of the question before them. Moreover, the Board is constantly changing; it is formed and selected upon political considerations, 1455 and not on the ground of competence to discharge the duties that have to be performed. Therefore I say that a Board is not the best means of giving advice to the First Lord. But, further, there is something to be done at the Admiralty besides advising the First Lord. The daily routine business of the Department has to be carried on. Now if there is a Board, the usual, I may almost say the invariable, course is to allot a branch of Admiralty business to each member of the Board. Let us look for a moment at how this will work. The business is divided among members, a great number of whom, it is no exaggeration to say, know nothing of the matters they have to superintend. Take, far example, the Civil Lord. He has certain business to manage. During the last 10 years we have had no fewer than 10 Civil Lords, and three of them did not average three months in office. I need scarcely remark that Civil Lords are, as a rule, selected from the rising young men of the party, whether on this or on the other side of this House, and not from any particular knowledge which they possess of Admiralty administration. There is, therefore, no unity of purpose. These Lords are constantly changing; and, to quote Sir Spencer Robinson, at page 13 of his most valuable pamphlet, in speaking of the Storekeeper General, and of the difficulties which he had to contend with, Sir Spencer says that that officer—Is subject to the ever-varying, ever-shifting views of his superiors, who are necessarily ill-acquainted with buying, selling, and bookkeeping.Now, the result of this state of things is that those gentlemen who know nothing of their business being put over the heads of men who do know something of it, the permanent heads of Departments lose all, or the greater part of their interest in the business they have to manage. If these Lords interfere—and they often think that they are very clever—they take up a great portion of the time of the permanent officers in teaching them the rudiments of their business; and if they do not interfere, I ask what use is there in paying them £1,000 a-year for nothing? Then, again, with regard to those Lords who are generally in Parliament. Why, during the Session, they are obliged to be here at half-past 4 o'clock in the 1456 afternoon when the House is sitting, and to remain, it may be, until 2 or 3 in the morning; and, I ask, is it likely that they can, under these circumstances, manage their business in the same way as the permanent officers do? And when the Session is over they have their duties to attend to at Whitehall; but they naturally then require rest, and must have a long vacation. I say, therefore, that this is not the mode in which a great Department like the Admiralty ought to be managed. Instead of all this, my impression is that the First Lord ought to have a skilled and experienced head to each Department of the Administration, and also a deputy or lieutenant who would have a general superintendence over those heads of Departments, and who would further exercise a good influence in keeping the First Lord from committing serious errors and blunders. We have no Board in the other Departments of the Government besides the Admiralty. At the Colonial Office they have as grave, or even graver, questions to settle than the Admiralty have. At the Foreign Office the questions that have to be settled are graver still; and yet both of those great Departments do without a Board. And I may also remark that several Boards which formerly existed have all been, one by one, abolished — such, for instance, as the Navy Board, the Victualling Board, the India Board, and the Audit Board. Surely some credit is due to experience in these matters, and it is not to be supposed that we should have in all these cases abolished the Board system if that system had been a good one. I may likewise point out, as an objection to the management of such affairs by a Board, that this Board proceeds by very cumbrous methods. I find that from 1859 to 1866—a period of eight years—there were no fewer than 239 Orders in Council in relation to Admiralty matters. I have not been able to get any Return of the Orders in Council with reference to Admiralty matters since the year 1866 and the present time; but the number in the eight years previous was 239, as I have just stated. But even now the most trifling things can only be done by an Order in Council. For instance, on the 4th February, 1869, the offices filled by two foremen were abolished; and on the 29th April, 1870, the post of Assistant Accountant General was abolished. 1457 Well, then, I further object to a Board because there is every danger of us coming to a dead lock. Sir James Graham, in 1861, made use of these memorable words to a Committee of the Board of Admiralty—I admit that the patent and the usage at the Admiralty are at variance, and if they were not at variance I do not think that the system of the Board of Admiralty would work at all.The right hon. Baronet the Member for Droitwich (Sir John Pakington) in answering a motion which I brought forward in 1867, said—I have not in the least changed my opinions which I then expressed (before the Committee of 1861). I do still think that for the administration of a great Department a Board is a most clumsy machine. I still think that from the constitution of that Board there is an absence of that direct responsibility which ought to exist in a great Department, and I cannot say that I think the constitution of that machine is satisfactory or well adapted to the discharge of the important and difficult duties which devolve upon the authority who may be intrusted with the administration of the Navy.The right hon. Gentleman then added—If I continue to hold the office which I now hold without giving any promise, I may say that so strong is my conviction that the constitution of the Board of Admiralty is not convenient to the public service or profitable to the public service, that probably I may hereafter consult my colleagues as to whether some change may not be desirable.The present permanent Secretary of the Admiralty, in his evidence before the Select Committee, said—I object to any Board on the ground that responsibility gets spread over different members of the Board—you cannot fix the responsibility on any one individual.And my hon. Friend the Member for Montrose (Mr. Baxter) when asked by the chairman—"You would abolish the Board altogether?" Answered—"Certainly." "You would carry out the plan completely?" Answer—"Yes." My right hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers) evidently disliked the Board, but rather feared to go the whole length of abolishing it. Our ablest writers have condemned the Board as a system of management, and I may mention, in corroboration of this view, that since 1859 there have been no less than 33 Motions made in this House either for a Committee or a Commission, or expressing, in the form of a Resolution, a decided opinion against the system of managing the Admiralty by a Board. 1458 I hold that this Board system is wrong in theory and bad in practice; and I do trust that the House will put into form the general feeling that exists that it ought to be abolished. Before, perhaps, I put my first Resolution it would be convenient to the House that I should read the second, which states—That the offices of Controller and Superintendent of Her Majesty's Dockyards be held by persons who have special knowledge of the duties they have to discharge, and that their tenure of office be not limited to a term of years.It may appear somewhat strange that I should ask the House for an opinion upon such a proposition as this; it appears almost ludicrous that I should say it is desirable that persons having important duties to discharge should have a knowledge of the matters with which they deal; but when we look at the duties the Controller has to discharge under the superintendence of the Board, and when we consider the regulations which the Admiralty has laid down for deciding on the qualifications of the person to fill this office, I think the House will acquit me of unnecessarily taking up its time in submitting such a proposition. Now, the Controller of the Navy has to settle the designs for ships; he has to see that the materials which are supplied to Her Majesty's dockyards are good; that the materials of ships built by contract are good; that the workmanship in the case of ships built by contract and in Her Majesty's yards is good; and the Chief Constructor is ordered constantly to consult the Controller on all matters. Now, in order to obtain an efficient Controller, the Admiralty laid down four regulations—First, they say, we will have a naval officer; we will exclude all shipwrights, naval architects, engineers, and civilians of all kinds. [Mr. BAXTER: Not necessarily.] I see the hon. Member for Montrose shakes his head; but I interpret the regulations to mean that a naval officer must be selected, and in confirmation of this we have the fact that a naval officer always has been selected of late years. I have understood that the regulation of the Lords of the Admiralty is that he must be a naval officer. At any rate, those who have been selected of late years to fill the post of Controller have been ignorant of the duties they have had to discharge, and in settling the designs of ships especially. 1459 Sir Baldwin Walter admitted before the Royal Commission of 1860 that though supposed to be responsible for ships he had to be guided by his officers; and Lord Clarence Paget, before the same Commission, said that the "Controller not being a practical man must necessarily be guided by the officers under him. Then Sir Spencer Robinson, before he was appointed Controller, had been for four years in the steam reserve, for one year, in 1860, he acted as a Royal Commissioner on the Commission on Dockyard Management; and he was Controller 10 years. But if he were asked the question, whether he was competent in respect of the settling of the designs of ships, he would say he was not. He was a man of great ability undoubtedly, of indomitable industry; and I do not think the public ever had a servant that worked harder for the public cause than did Sir Spencer Robinson. It is extremely probable, therefore, that towards the close of his career Sir Spencer Robinson had attained some knowledge of the duties he had to discharge; but, through circumstances into which I will not now enter, Sir Spencer Robinson was dismissed. Whether that dismissal was for the good of the public service may be questioned very fairly. However, another was appointed in Sir Spencer Robinson's place—Captain Hall. I have nothing to say against Captain Hall; but that he is fit for the office I will not assert. He has not had that experience in the position to which he is called corresponding with that gained by Sir Spencer Robinson, whose dismissal, I am afraid, was not for the good of the public service. From what I have said, it will be clear that the Admiralty on selecting a Controller require no special training, and no particular knowledge of the duties he has to fulfil. Now, the First Lord pursues a very different course in selecting officers to command a fleet. The promotion of naval officers is regulated by length of service or experience. A captain cannot take rank as an admiral unless he has commanded a ship seven years; he cannot take rank as an admiral unless he has been commanding afloat during the last seven years; and, except on the retired list, he cannot be an admiral if he has reached the age of 55. Now, these regulations are made in order to ensure something like efficiency. And Sir Sidney Dacres 1460 said, before the Committee of the Duke of Somerset, that "the fact of officers remaining long at the Admiralty destroys their usefulness as sea officers." But notwithstanding the Admiralty lays down these stringent regulations for the command of the Fleet, the same Board says that no experience, and no previous knowledge of the duties is necessary in a candidate for the post of Controller, who is to have the management of five large shipbuilding yards, besides a number of steam workshops and offices. The thing is monstrous and ridiculous. I may further point out how differently we act in many other cases. We have recently sent a Bill from this House to the Lords, in which we pledge the taxpayers of this country to pay something like £8,000,000 for the abolition of purchase, and by that Bill we shall also entail upon the taxpayers of the country a large annual sum for retirement. And why is that done? In order that we may get greater skill and greater aptitude amongst our military officers. Yet you care nothing about getting greater aptitude and skill and knowledge in the man who is to build your ships. Well, then, not satisfied with this, the Admiralty lays down another regulation. The regulation is that the Controller shall be appointed for five years. Now, there are two objections to that. One is that by appointing a man for a term of years you cannot dismiss him unless he does something very gross in the discharge of his duties. Moderate incompetence would not form a sufficient excuse to dismiss him. And when he has come to the end of his term he leaves, as a rule, and leaves just at the time when he is about beginning to know something of what he has to do. You send him adrift when he is getting useful to you, and take on another man to teach at the public expense. The thing is perfectly ridiculous. It is playing with the office, and nothing less. Besides this, we have another regulation, and this deals with the important matter of remuneration. The Board says that the man who is to discharge all these important duties is to have only £1,700 a-year. Why, you cannot get a competent man for that. It cannot be done at the price in the present state of the market. There are many railway managers now in receipt of upwards of £4,000, and even £5,000 a-year. There 1461 are locomotive superintendents receiving £4,000 and £5,000 a-year; and I say you cannot get a man to take the office of Controller at £1,700 a-year, and a pension of £540. In the matter of the pension, I may say that you give the Accountant General of the Court of Chancery £4,200 a-year pension, clearly showing that you act inconsistently in these things, and not for the public interest. It is true you may say we can get, and we do get, men to fill the office for £1,700 a-year; but would they be the right sort of men? You can get First Lords for less than £5,000 a-year. You could get them for £1,000 a-year. The number of First Lords available is enormously greater than the demand. You can pick them up by the dozen; but Controllers are not so easily found. You get a man at a price, and he may or may not be worth more. He ought to be worth more if he is competent, and there is something mean, contemptible, and shabby in a great nation like England paying their servants about a fourth of what they are worth. That is the third regulation then, and there is another. The Board holds the Controller responsible for the management of the five large dockyards, but does not give him the power of appointing his own superintendents, or managers, nor the master shipwrights. The Board keeps these bits of patronage to itself, and I say it is a great shame. It is not only unwise, but exceedingly ungenerous and unfair to hold a man responsible for certain work, and deny him the power of fulfilling that responsibility. Now, every word I have used with regard to the Controller applies equally to the superintendents. They also must be naval officers; they are appointed for terms of years, and have no power over their subordinates. As a rule, they know but little of their business. If they happen to be men of an active turn of mind they may do something, but if they chance to be the reverse they will let things go, as they usually do, without troubling themselves much how things go on. The result of all this is great apathy among the subordinates, and it is not surprising that under such a system there should be extravagance and inefficiency. We have altered, to some extent, one portion of the cost of the building of ships. We get our materials cheaper; we get them now, I believe, at the market price; 1462 but management has much to do with the cost, and the management remains pretty much as it was. At any rate, that is the opinion of the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil. In his opinion, we have certainly not much improved, for in March 1870, he stated in his place in this House that he had been to a dockyard not far from his own works, and greater skulking and greater waste he had never seen in his life. But I am going to quote upon this point an authority of much greater weight than an hon. Member of this House. I am about to quote from a Memorandum put before the Lords of the Admiralty by Sir Spencer Robinson in 1867. He says—The very title of the officer shows the vicious and faulty arrangement of the whole administration. He is called a superintendent, he ought to be a manager. For what is he responsible? He is only the vehicle through which orders pass to the several heads of departments. A work which ought to have been done for £10,000 cost £16,000; he is not called on to account for this excess; he has no responsibility on account of it. … . If accounts are not accurately rendered, if undue delay takes place in preparing them, he is not responsible. … . The orders and letters addressed to him say, in terms, you are to direct the officers; you are to call upon the officers; you are to inform the officers. There is no distinct and direct responsibility for anything, either done or left undone, upon him so long as he duly transmits the memoranda from the Admiralty, the Lords, the Secretary, the Controller .… he has no personal and individual responsibility to the board of management as a whole, or to its numerous component parts, for bad work, for waste of money, for unthrift, for loss of time, or general negligence. He is equally without complete control over those through whose instrumentality he professes to work; he cannot promote . … he is chocked by antiquated instructions. … . The pay and promotion of workmen, and all the regulations concerning them, are taken out of his hands. He is distinctly a superintendent, and what is wanted is a manager. Is it wonderful that, with such an organization, the working of the dockyards is not satisfactory? If there were not waste, if there were not mismanagement, it would be a miracle.[Mr. GOSCHEN: What is the date of that?] 1867; but I have consulted Sir Spencer Robinson; I have read to him what I have read to the House; and, as I understood Sir Spencer Robinson, every word is true now. Further, he agreed with me as to the inexpediency of the present arrangement, under which no civilian can be superintendent of a dockyard. I am authorized by both Sir Spencer Robinson and Mr. Reed to say they both thoroughly concur in the opi- 1463 nions I have expressed with regard to the management of the dockyards. I know it may be said there are things which naval officers alone can do. If there are, let naval men be employed to do those things. My Resolution does not shut out naval officers; it only says let us have the best men, whether they are naval officers or civilians. Formerly it was said it was impossible to manage a hospital except by means of a naval officer; but that objection is now put aside, and a hospital may be managed by a surgeon without a naval officer. It was formerly held that a Fleet could not be provisioned unless we had a naval superintendent at each victualling yard. We have ceased to have that; and yet, according to my hon. Friend the Member for Montrose (Mr. Baxter), the Fleet was never provisioned more quickly and completely than on a late occasion; and he is perfectly satisfied it will be in the future. I hold that the present system not only engenders extravagance, but that it is inevitable it should also involve inefficiency. I ask, whether there is any confidence in our shipbuilding department? Will any hon. Member get up and say that the state of things is satisfactory as regards the building of our ships? What is our position? We have a Controller just appointed who knows but little of his business. ["Oh, oh!] That is my opinion; he knows but little of his business—little about the building of ships. We have no Chief Constructor; we have not had for more than a year. The Admiralty are so extremely fond of a Board that they have put the office of Chief Constructor into commission. There are now three clerks—I am not sure whether there are not five—but, at any rate, I am quite certain there are three who are now filling the office of Chief Constructor; and these three clerks, who are now settling the designs for ships for the Royal Navy of England, are paid the munificent salaries of £600 a-year each. Then, if you go to the dockyards, you have superintendents who know nothing whatever about the business of shipbuilding. And this is your arrangement for getting the best type of ships! A little light has recently been thrown upon this matter. In "another place," a few days ago, something was said upon this question; and an Admiralty official, Lord Camperdown, said— 1464As to shipbuilding, a naval officer superintended the construction of ships, consulting the First Lord, who in turn consulted the First Naval Lord.And this is the arrangement by which we are to get a proper type of ship! We have now been discussing for three or four months Army re-organization; and we have voted away millions for Army re-organization—that is, for our second line of defence; but we have not given five minutes consideration to the question of the construction of our ships—our first line of defence seems to be nothing compared with Army re-organization. What I contend for is simply this—Whatever branch of business we have to manage we ought to get competent men. I do not care so much whether we have a Board or a single Minister of State, provided we have in the several branches of Admiralty business, skilled, experienced, and competent men—in the strict sense of the term, competent. By competent I do not mean merely men of great ability, like the First Lord. I should say that even the Lord Chancellor of England is not fit to settle the designs for ships, nor to manage a dockyard. By competent men I mean men who know their business, and neither more nor less; and I hold that, until you get competent men, you will never have in Admiralty management anything but vaccillation, extravagance, and inefficiency. I know not what course the First Lord may now take. He may meet me as the right hon. Baronet the Member for Droitwich (Sir John Pakington) did in 1867. He may, in accordance with the example of other of his predecessors, defend everything as it is, believing that it is best. I have seen abuses defended by the very men who have afterwards come forward to reform them; and I remember, in 1868, I moved for a Committee to make scientific inquiry into the construction of our ships of war. I was seconded most ably by the practical Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Samuda). That Motion was opposed by the then officials, and by the late officials of the Admiralty; and it was opposed on the ground that to adopt my Motion would be a reflection upon those eminent men—Sir Spencer Robinson and Mr. Reed—and on the further ground that it would relieve the Admiralty from the responsibility which ought to attach to them. In consequence 1465 of the weight of official influence that Motion was rejected; but nearly all the Members for large constituencies voted with me, and the Motion was defeated by the narrow majority of 10. But that which was opposed in 1868 was done in 1870, when a Committee was appointed to inquire into the designs of ships of war that had been built, and that Committee is now sitting. Therefore, whatever ground the First Lord may take, I am hopeful that the Board of Admiralty cannot long continue, and I am also hopeful that we shall obtain competent men to fill places of trust and responsibility. The hon. Member concluded by moving his Resolutions.
§ MR. T. BRASSEY
, in seconding the Motion, said, the first Resolution was not so absolutely incontrovertible as the second. It appeared that that which was the great objection to a Board, the want of individual responsibility, had been to a great extent overcome by practice, for it had been found necessary to give the First Lord predominant influence to such an extent that he must be regarded as exclusively responsible for the policy of the Admiralty, and therefore a usage had been established which differed from the theoretical constitution of the Department, and theoretical difficulties had been overcome by common sense and discretion. Recent changes at the Admiralty seemed to offer an opportunity for re-modelling the Department and bringing its theoretical constitution into harmony with accepted usage. The evidence of the Duke of Somerset before the Committee of 1861 supported the argument that the usage was different from the theory. The constitution and practical working of the Board might be fairly tested by the results of its administration during the last quarter of a century; and, to take one subject, its failure to deal effectually and completely with the manning of the Navy had recently been demonstrated. Professional prejudice, which sometimes marred the judgment of naval men, had had a disastrous effect in the matter of manning the Navy, and it had, he feared, prevented the enlistment of fishermen in the Reserve, notwithstanding that those men would form the best possible reserve for the defence of the coast. A tendency to neglect the efficiency of the service and to regard economy in naval administration had been exhibited in 1466 too many instances by the Board of Admiralty, an illustration of which had been afforded by the Return recently obtained by the hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Graves) relating to the engines recently ordered for the service of the Navy. During the past year the total horse-power of marine engines ordered was 4,760; but of these engines to the extent of only 970 horse-power were constructed on the most approved scientific principles. Compound engines effected a saving of 30 or 40 per cent as compared with the former consumption of fuel. The Vote for fuel for the Navy amounted this year to £71,000, and a saving of 30 per cent in that sum would be a very important economy, besides adding greatly to the efficiency of our vessels of war, as it would allow a steam ship which could now only carry four days' consumption of coals to carry six days' consumption, and that difference might sometimes lead to important results in the conduct of maritime war. Such an obvious neglect to make use of recent inventions would not, he contended, have been shown by a Board of men who were appointed to conduct mercantile matters. There had been a tendency shown by the Board to oppose naval reform on many professional questions. There had long been a controversy in the Navy as to the employment of a special class of officers for navigation, and the recent disaster which had occurred to the Agincourt in the Bay of Gibraltar showed that there might be some improvement in the system now in force for the navigation of Her Majesty's ships. The plan of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers) needed some modification, especially as to investing the office of First Lord with a more definite supremacy. It had been said that railway and other companies were always managed by Boards, and that circumstance was adduced as evidence of the fitness of Boards to discharge administrative duties; but it ought not to be forgotten that to a great extent the management of such companies was concentrated in the hands of the chairman, and the decision of any important matter was usually left to him and one or two of the leading members. The reform of the Admiralty Department would have been more complete if the plan of government by a Board had been abandoned 1467 and a competent naval staff had been created in order to carry on the business and to afford the necessary advice to the First Lord, for any attempt to dispense with that advice must cause serious disaster. On such a naval staff there would be an officer as commander-in-chief, under whose direction the personnel of the Navy would be governed, and under him there would be an admiral and a third officer to give the necessary advice. As regarded the matériel there should be a Chief Constructor and departments charged with the supervision of stores and gunnery. An interesting Report was published not long ago by the Secretary of the United States Navy, which Report was unfavourable to the designs, construction, and condition of the United States Navy. And that state of things was attributed to the neglect which had too long prevailed in the naval administration of the United States to make use of professional advice. The experience of the foreign navy went to establish the wisdom of the principle formerly adopted by the administration of this country, which had always recognized the necessity of following professional advice on all professional questions. He should have been glad if much of the talent that was now engaged in the merchant service had been attracted into the Royal Navy, which would in that case have led rather than have followed in naval affairs. Some objection had been raised to the patent under which the Board of Admiralty was constituted; but that was sufficiently answered by Mr. Sidney Herbert's remark that—Whatever the patent might be, the Minister who held the purse-strings and represented the Department in the House of Commons would always have the power in his hands.The recent history of the Board of Admiralty proved that a too hasty attempt had been made to alter the organization of a long-established department, and it was to be regretted that so many experienced officers had left the public service in so short a space of time. Another error that had been committed was making the Department depend too exclusively upon the First Lord, which was the more objectionable on account of the frequent changes in office which our Parliamentary system involved, and under such a plan it was impossible that our affairs could prosper. He trusted 1468 that in the statement about to be made by his right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty they would find that most incontrovertible proposition laid down, that when an officer had been found adequate to the duties imposed on him, he should not be removed in obedience to a red-tape rule, involving a change of office within a fixed term of years.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That, in the opinion of this House, it is desirable that the Board of Admiralty be discontinued; and that the offices of Controller and Superintendent of Her Majesty's Dockyards be held by persons who have special knowledge of the duties they have to discharge, and that their tenure of office be not limited to a term of years."—(Mr. Seely.)
§ MR. GOSCHEN
said, he had had several successions of acute regret as he listened to the speech of his hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Mr. Seely). He was sorry that his hon. Friend, in the course of his speech, should not have given more prominence to the very great changes which had been made in the Admiralty — changes, too, which had been in a certain sense made in the direction which he himself had advocated. He was also sorry that the speech had not been delivered in "another place," in reply to the criticisms on the conduct of his right hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers), and that his hon. Friend should have made remarks calculated to wound the feelings of many efficient public servants. Nothing, he felt sure, could have been further from the intention of his hon. Friend; but in what he said, he did much to depreciate the merits of some who had performed efficient public service. His hon. Friend, for instance, had accused the Admiralty of placing in the position of Controller of the Navy, Captain Hall, a gentleman who, according to the assertion of his hon. Friend, possessed no special knowledge whatever. But the fact was, that Captain Hall had for years occupied the post of Dockyard Superintendent, and had superintended the building of many of our large ships. He had given eminent proof of his qualifications for years past, and it was exactly for the possession of this special knowledge that Captain Hall had been selected. Again, his hon. Friend had, in his opinion, most unfairly described the gentlemen who 1469 performed the duties of Chief Constructor of the Navy as mere clerks. These gentlemen were men of very great ability—two of them particularly were men of considerable genius as shipbuilders—but the description given by his hon. Friend would leave the public to believe that they were unfitted for the performance of the duties which were attached to the offices they filled. It was true these gentlemen were working at comparatively moderate salaries; but he would venture to assert that they were thoroughly efficient public servants, and not only capable, but worthy of filling the posts which they occupied. Then he regretted that his hon. Friend, whom he was glad again to welcome as a critic of the Admiralty, had failed during the last two or three years to assist the Department with his criticism. His right hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers) had, during that time, made some very important changes—changes which had been much criticised by the Press and throughout the country; but in that criticism his hon. Friend had had no share. His hon. Friend did not allude to the fact that there was at present sitting a Committee of Designs who were examining that very important question—the construction of our ships. He (Mr. Goschen) thought it would be wiser to suspend any appointment to the post of Chief Constructor of the Navy until that Committee had reported. And he must confess his surprise, too, at the fact that his hon. Friend had not in any way discussed the celebrated Order in Council, by which so many of these changes had been effected. He had fancied, from the terms of the Motion which had been submitted to the House, that his hon. Friend had intended referring to some of the results of these changes; but he had not even mentioned the fact that those changes had entirely altered the constitution of the Board of Admiralty. His right hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract had established to a degree previously unknown, or at least had endeavoured to do so, the personal responsibility of the First Lord of the Admiralty. It was one of the cardinal points in his right hon. Friend's scheme, and one in which he entirely concurred, that the First Lord of the Admiralty should not avail himself of the Board to relieve himself of his personal responsibility. His hon. Friend 1470 had quoted from a Paper written by Sir Spencer Robinson, 1867, as if it had described the present state of things; whereas it described a state of things antecedent to the changes which had taken place. In asking his hon. Friend for the date of that Paper, he understood his hon. Friend to say, that he know from Sir Spencer Robinson that it described the existing state of things. But anyone who had read it would see that that able public servant referred to matters which had been materially improved within the last two or three years, and to circumlocutions which no longer existed. His hon. Friend seemed to attribute every shortcoming in the Navy to the presence of the Board. He supposed his hon. Friend to mean that if the Board had been abolished our sailors would not have been found serving in Australia, and that the dissatisfaction which existed among the officers was due to the fact that the naval element of the Board had not been abolished. Now, he (Mr. Goschen) had understood that the great complaint of the naval officers was that the naval element was not strong enough; but he thought that objection had been sufficiently answered by the Seconder of the Motion. The hon. Member for Lincoln had suggested that if there had been no Board we should have been able to recruit a larger number of seamen than we had done. [Mr. SEELY said, that was not the purport of his remarks.] He understood that to be the substance of his hon. Friend's remarks in pointing out the causes of the short supply of seamen. But his hon. Friend the Member for Hastings (Mr. Brassey) went further, and appeared to think that if there had been no Board of Admiralty everything would have gone right. Still, the speech of his hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln was, he thought, partially answered by the speech of his hon. Friend the Member for Hastings, who had pointed out that the real question was, in what form could the best professional advice be secured to the Board of Admiralty? A good deal had been said about the necessity of having special knowledge. Now, he concurred in so much of what had been said that he did not contend that the Board ought to be used simply for the purpose of relieving the First Lord of the Admiralty of any portion of the responsibility properly belonging to 1471 him. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Lincoln had alluded to the frequent changes in the person of the First Lord, and his consequent want of experience of the special duties with which he was charged. That was rather an argument in favour of than against a Board, because if the First Lord was without special knowledge he must look for high professional advice, and ascertain what were the opinions of the profession. The administration of the Admiralty was not the administration of a manufacturing department, and could not be compared with the administration of the Peninsular and Oriental Company, and the North-western Railway Company. But these large establishments were managed by Boards, just as the Admiralty was managed by a Board, and he therefore did not see the force of the argument of his hon. Friend. The Admiralty had to deal with men and officers as well as the construction of ships. With regard to the question of economy and efficiency, and the construction of ships, he agreed with his hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln. They must be constructed in the cheapest manner compatible with efficiency, and according to the rules of commerce as far as possible; but it should be borne in mind that in dealing with the personnel of our Fleets there were hundreds of questions brought under the notice of the First Lord of the Admiralty and his colleagues which would not require consideration by a private firm. The Lords of the Admiralty were responsible, not to themselves only, but also to Parliament and the country, their conduct being regulated by statutes of the realm, and this constituted an enormous difference between them and private employers. Speaking of the appointment of subordinates by the Controller of the Navy, his hon. Friend had said it was a shame to hold him responsible without giving him the patronage; but this was precisely what his hon. Friend proposed to do with respect to the First Lord of the Admiralty and his colleagues. Now, the Lords of the Admiralty felt that they were responsible to the House for every shilling they spent, and that they could not shift the responsibility on to their subordinates as the head of a private manufacturing establishment could. For example, he should certainly be at once questioned in the House if some distinguished naval 1472 officer had his salary doubled, while the salaries of the other officers were not increased, and here he might remark that the First Lord of the Admiralty spent much of his time in preparing himself for the frequent interpellations of Members of Parliament, who examined and cross-examined him on all kinds of subjects connected with his administration. He thought that his right hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract had rendered most eminent services to the country by introducing to a great extent the commercial element in the purchase of stores, and all the departments of the Admiralty where it could be properly applied. He had been attacked for having done so, but could be defended on every point, and it could be shown that very few public servants had rendered more eminent services to the country. He entirely concurred in the spirit of the hon. Member for Lincoln's remarks when he spoke of the responsibility of the First Lord, and if the abolition of the Board simply meant the establishment of that responsibility no great difficulty would be experienced. After all, this was a question as to the best plan for securing that professional advice of the highest kind which everybody admitted to be necessary. He understood the hon. Member for Lincoln to say that it could be done by the appointment of permanent officers specially acquainted with the Department. He wished, however, to ask whether it would be possible to secure the services on such terms of the most distinguished of the admirals—of men who had risen to the highest honours of the profession? Could such men be asked to join the Admiralty in the position of permanent officers in the subordinate posts which the hon. Member proposed to assign to them? Every Member of the House would agree that when they had to deal with such important questions as the discipline of the Fleet and the contentment of the officers and the general attraction of the service, they ought to be able to take on such points the opinion of the most distinguished men of the profession. It had been suggested, indeed, that when he had a special difficulty to meet he should write to some distinguished admiral to ask him to call upon him; but he ventured to think that that would not be a satisfactory method of proceeding. They wanted more than that; they required re- 1473 sponsible advice, given to them by men who were responsible for it. He did not for a moment wish to weaken the responsibility of the First Lord when he said that; but it must be borne in mind that they required advice that was not only good in itself but which would carry weight with those who would be affected by it. If they abolished the Board of Admiralty to-morrow, they would considerably weaken the confidences felt in the Admiralty by the service generally; because the service liked to know that, side by side with the responsible Minister, there were others quite conversant with the details of the profession, and who gave advice under a sense of responsibility. The issue before the House was this—Was a Board — with a certain amount of modification to be admitted—the best system, or could a better one be devised. For Executive purposes he believed a Board to be a very bad machinery; for consulting purposes he believed it to be necessary, when the head of the Department was necessarily ignorant of certain professional points. Since the reforms introduced by his right hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract the business of the Admiralty had been managed departmentally, and the executive functions of the Board had ceased. The business was now distributed among the different Lords. The First Naval Lord was responsible for the personnel, the Third Lord for the matériel, and the Civil Lord for a number of matters, such as pensions, while the Junior Naval Lord assisted the First Naval Lord in his duties in reference to the personnel of the Navy. The hon. Member for Lincoln had not put the case quite fairly when he suggested that the Civil Lord of the Admiralty was intrusted with a portion of the naval duties; the truth was that the Naval Lord dealt departmentally with naval matters, and the Civil and Financial Lords with the civil and financial parts of business. That was the great change which had been introduced by his right hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers.) His right hon. Friend had been attacked on the ground that he had done away with the opportunity of the Lords meeting together and consulting on the business of the Admiralty; but he was prepared to maintain that the system of individual responsibility to which the House attached the highest importance had been 1474 carried out. Her Majesty's Government were considering at the present moment what alterations it might be desirable to introduce into the existing system. His right hon. Friend had always dealt frankly with the House, and had never concealed the fact that the reforms he introduced were progressive, and that it was necessary to proceed tentatively. But it was unjust to argue that they should now be altered or abolished because they had not fulfilled all the expectations that had been formed of them. Sufficient time had not yet elapsed to test their full efficiency. Many of the reforms that had been at first most vigorously attacked were now admitted to be effectual by all persons, and he did not think that it would be right in him, after he had been only three months in office, to submit to his colleagues plans for proposing important alterations in the other reforms of his right hon. Friend, and which his right hon. Friend had elaborated with great care and labour. He must say that he thought rather hard justice had been dealt out to his right hon. Friend, who had introduced the new system under some circumstances of great difficulty arising out of personal matters, and who was now unable to be present to defend his work. He appealed to those hon. Gentlemen especially who had approved these changes when they were first introduced to give them a fair trial. The members of the Admiralty were now working harmoniously together, and as long as that was the case it mattered very little whether the Admiralty was called a Council or a Board. As to the second Resolution—That the offices of Controller and Superintendent of Her Majesty's Dockyards be held by persons who have special knowledge of the duties they have to discharge, and that their tenure of office be not limited to a term of years,he wished to say that the Government were always anxious to secure persons with a special knowledge of the duties they had to discharge. He denied that men without special knowledge had been appointed. Did his hon. Friend mean that they should take the manager of a private firm—for instance, that of his hon. Friend the Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Samuda) — receiving £2,000 a-year, and offer him £3,000 to assume the management of our dockyards? He maintained that the best manager of a private firm might not be 1475 the best for a public dockyard, the condition of things in each was so different. He was perfectly ready to admit that if a civilian who was better than a naval officer could be secured for the post he should be taken. He was not aware that there was any regulation that a superintendent should be a naval man. It had been the practice that he should, but there was no regulation to that effect, and the naval men who had filled the office had been selected from the belief of their special administrative capacity. They took one officer and gave him the command of a ship because he seemed to have the qualities of a good commander, and they took another for the management of the dockyards because he possessed administrative capacity and understood shipbuilding and the management of stores. It was quite fair that this should be an open question. If we had got naval men who, in regard to business capacity, were equal to civilians, his hon. Friend himself would hardly say that they should not be appointed. The Controller of the Navy might be a civilian—there was nothing to prevent it—and the remarks which he had made with regard to the superintendent held good with respect to the Controller also. If a man in every respect capable of being a Controller were found he might be appointed to the office whether he was a civilian or a naval man. But there were great advantages in having naval men appointed if they fell in with the civilian view of naval administration, which in many cases was essential to the proper discharge of the duties. Many naval men were of great experience, their own lives and the lives of others under them depended on the efficiency of the Fleet, they were deeply interested in the matter, and if they were as capable as others there were some advantages in employing them. He would be sorry to assent to any Motion requiring that the Controller of the Navy should always be a naval man or that he should always be a civilian; but he had no objection to say that he should always have special fitness for the office. There were many gallant Admirals who had devoted themselves to the study of shipbuilding and had great knowledge of the subject, and what he wished to impress upon the House was that we should not get into the habit of setting the civilian element against the naval, but admit the 1476 value of both. While anxious for the efficient administration of naval affairs, it was of the greatest importance that we should not do anything which should lead naval men to think that their views in those matters were entirely ignored. He trusted that the House of Commons would maintain at any cost that the Navy should always be administered from a civilian point of view. But while that was so, it was of great importance that the confidence of the Navy should be secured. Sir Spencer Robinson, and other gallant Admirals, had been able to appreciate the civilian point of view, and to render services which the House of Commons valued most highly. He trusted his hon. Friend would not press his Motion to a division, or ask the House to abolish a system which had worked well without saying what was to be put in its place. As regarded the second part of the Motion, it was a truism to say that only persons having special knowledge should be appointed.
said, that he had heard only a very small portion of the debate, but he understood that the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty had stated in the course of his remarks that the late First Lord had introduced the system of his own complete responsibility, and that former First Lords had been too much guided in their decisions by their Boards. Now he, on the contrary, maintained that the late First Lord had done more to undermine the individual responsibility of the First Lord than anyone who had previously filled the office. Although that right hon. Gentleman had brought forward all his changes with the idea of vesting all responsibility in the First Lord, the moment a great calamity happened—the moment the Captain went down—he immediately sought to relieve his own shoulders from all the weight of responsibility and to throw it on his subordinates. Under the former system all the circumstances connected with the Captain, and her stability, would have been discussed at the Board of Admiralty in the presence of the First Lord, who would have heard the opinions of his four naval colleagues, and could not have exonerated himself from the responsibility. There was no point upon which the late Sir James Graham insisted more constantly than that the First Lord of the Admiralty was entirely responsible. If he 1477 might be allowed to do so, he would illustrate the matter by his own case. When he was appointed First Lord of the Admiralty in 1867, the programme of the year had been determined by his predecessor, his right hon. Friend the Member for Droitwich (Sir John Pakington). In that programme provision was made for the building of a large frigate—a second Inconstant. For various reasons upon which he need not now enter, he decided upon setting aside the plan of his predecessor, and building a lighter class of vessel, the Volage, whereby he obtained the means of building an additional iron-clad. That was done by him on his own responsibility, although he had the assistance of the same Board of naval advisers as his right hon. Friend. He gave that instance to show that the responsibility of the First Lord under the old system was complete. He would now say a few words as to the abolition of the Board of Admiralty, which was the main proposition of the hon. Member for Lincoln. He thought the whole of the evidence taken before the Committee, presided over by the Duke of Somerset, pointed to the absolute necessity of a consultative Board to advise the First Lord of the Admiralty, and a great part of the admitted evils of the new system was attributable to the discontinuance of such a Council. He should be sorry, more especially in the absence of the right hon. Member for Pontefract, to say anything which might cause him pain, but he believed that under the old system the Captain would not have been lost. Under the old system such information would have been given to the First Lord of the Admiralty by his naval colleagues as would have led to such a degree of caution as would have avoided that great disaster. Under the present system the First Lord of the Admiralty was the only person cognizant of the business of every department, and the other Lords were, by the Order in Council of 1869, reduced to the position of mere heads of departments. Under the old system every member of the Board knew perfectly well what was the whole policy of the Board, and when one was absent another was thoroughly competent to undertake his duties. That advantage had been entirely lost under the new system. To those who had had experience of Admiralty administration the idea of doing away with a Board was absurd. The 1478 government of the Navy required special knowledge which no civilian could have. He could not understand how these affairs could be carried on in an efficient manner without a Board, not only advising the First Lord, but undertaking his duties in his absence. He was very glad to hear that the First Lord of the Admiralty had under consideration certain reforms of the present system, because he (Mr. Corry) was sure that, if it was allowed to continue, they would come to grief, and indeed they had come to grief enough already. That was a question with which he would deal on a future occasion. With regard to the question raised by the hon. Member for Lincoln as to the superintendence of dockyards, anyone acquainted with the subject knew that the superintendent of a dockyard had not merely to superintend the repair and building of ships, the repair of engines, and matters of that description, but that one of his chief duties was to make suggestions to the Admiralty respecting rigging, armament, the fitting of magazines, and other such subjects—in short to see that everything was done to make the vessels fitted under their superintendence thoroughly efficient as vessels of war. No civilian could be competent to perform these duties, but the superintendents of dockyards being naval officers of experience, were able to give very useful advice to the Admiralty in these respects. Having had 30 years' experience of these matters he knew that there was no jobbing in these appointments, and that these officers were invariably chosen for their efficiency. He hoped, therefore, that the First Lord of the Admiralty would not give way to the cry for appointing civilians to such posts. As to the Controller of the Navy, he should be disposed to agree with Sir Frederick Grey, and some other witnesses before the Duke of Somerset's Committee, and to think that the office might be abolished, and the construction department placed under a civilian under the old title of surveyor with a Lord of the Admiralty having the general superintendence of the dockyards. Without pledging himself to that view, however, he thought improvements might be made in the present arrangement. He earnestly hoped that the Motion for the abolition of the Board of Admiralty would not be adopted.
§ MR. SAMUDA
, after speaking of the necessity for obtaining scientific advice outside the Admiralty, remarked that under the system which existed before the late First Lord (Mr. Childers) went into office, the Controller of the Navy was an officer of the Board, and not a Lord of the Admiralty; and in the position of officer he was compelled to submit to the Lords of the Admiralty all the operations which were passing in his Department, with such Minutes as he and the Chief Constructor thought it advisable to give to the Admiralty to enable them to form a judgment as to the course they should take. If that same system had been persevered in, their reports in reference to the Captain would have been brought before the Board of Admiralty in its consultative form; and if their opinion had been brought before an independent Board, he wanted to know whether any independent Board would have allowed the Captain to go to sea? It was perfectly clear that, whatever advantages were being derived from the change, the whole power of consultation in that Board was destroyed. The Board had been reduced to a number of separate heads of departments, and the First Lord of the Admiralty, by consulting any one, might resist the advice of the Board and fall into the most serious error, because it was absolutely impossible that from his own amount of knowledge he could sift any evidence put before him by the head of the Department. On reading the Resolution of the hon. Member for Lincoln he should have conceived that it meant that it was desirable the present Board of Admiralty should be discontinued. But it appeared to him that the Board had already been discontinued; the present Board, as a Board, did not exist. The second part of the hon. Member's Resolution was to the effect that the offices of Controller, and also of Superintendent of Her Majesty's Dockyards, should be held by persons who had special knowledge of the duties they had to discharge, and that their tenure of office should not be limited to a term of years; but he was not prepared to admit, as a general rule, that those who occupied the offices in question did not possess that special knowledge. As to the evidence given at various times before various Committees by Sir Spencer Robinson, he quite agreed 1480 that whoever was placed in the position of head of the shipbuilding department should have the control of the purchase of materials as well as the distributing of the materials; but that arrangement appeared to have been entirely upset by the late First Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. Childers). He admitted that if the arrangements of the Admiralty were less departmental and exclusive, and if those who administered its affairs were to avail themselves of the knowledge to be found among persons acquainted with naval matters outside the range of Admiralty officials, the result would be greatly to the advantage of this Department of the State; but for the reasons that he had already referred to he could not support the views or the Motion of the hon. Member for Lincoln.
§ SIR JAMES ELPHINSTONE
expressed his confidence that the right hon. Gentleman now at the head of the Admiralty would avoid the errors which his predecessor in office had committed. The former Admiralty administration had committed most desperate mistakes, which had culminated in a catastrophe which had not happened to the British Navy since the loss of the Blenheim in 1807. It was clear that catastrophe was imminent before the Captain went to sea; and had not the Board of Admiralty been practically abolished before that event occurred she would never have been permitted to sail. The loss of that ship and that ship's company lay at the door of the Government of the country. They could not escape from it; and they could not escape from the duty imposed upon them of providing for the widows and orphans who had been left desolate in consequence of that unhappy accident. The country felt so strongly that this duty lay upon the Government that it had been found impossible to raise the money by public, subscription which was necessary in order to support those who had been dependent upon the seamen who went down in that vessel. It therefore became the duty of the Government, as men of honour, to supplement the miserably inadequate fund subscribed for the widows and orphans of the men who were lost in that ill-fated ship. He, for one, objected to Gentlemen who knew nothing at all about the Navy coming forward as Navy reformers, economists, and financiers. They had had a great deal too much of that; they had 1481 had Committees on Accounts, and Admiralty Commissions and Committees on all sorts of matters originated by men who knew nothing about a ship, and the consequence had been to disorganize the British Navy, and do it more harm than could be inflicted by our bitterest enemy. They had seen a most abominable system of jobbery introduced. Under the auspices of the hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Baxter), a large quantity of stocking feet were sold, besides numberless other articles, which on the breaking out of the late war they tried to buy back again at a considerable advance in price. They had sold the catblock of the Royal George, which, he had himself tried to buy, but an old Jew asked him £10 for it, though probably he himself had not paid more than 10s. for it. They also sold Deptford Dockyard, and likewise set to work to negotiate the transport of our troops through private agencies. That, however, he understood, had broken down, like the other operations of the last Board of Admiralty, and like that Board itself. His only objection to the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Goschen) was that he identified himself with his predecessor, who had disgusted the service and brought it to the lowest ebb. There was no analogy whatever between a commercial or private manufacturing firm and the naval establishments of this great country, which must be capable of easy expansion and contraction as circumstances demanded. The House was employed day after day in discussing Bills which had little chance of passing, and the real business of the country was postponed till the month of August, when everybody would be tired out and disgusted with the course of one of the most dreary and fruitless Sessions ever known.
§ MR. KINNAIRD
asked whether any private establishment would thrive if the persons at its head were liable to be constantly changed as was the case at the Admiralty? One Admiral of the Fleet had lived to see 24 successive First Lords appointed, and in the last five years they had had five First Lords. His right hon. Friend (Mr. Goschen) had apologized because he had been only three months at the Admiralty, and it was not to be expected that a gentleman under such circumstances could easily make himself master of all the important 1482 and difficult questions connected with naval administration. The interests of the service ought not to be sacrificed to Parliamentary convenience, and he should vote for the Motion of his hon. Friend (Mr. Seely) as a protest against a system which was most defective and had become almost ridiculous.
§ MR. SEELY
I wish to explain that I referred in the course of my remarks to a Memorandum by Sir Spencer Robinson, dated 1867; and I think a reference to that Memorandum will show that the remarks I quoted are strictly applicable, to the best of my knowledge and belief. The remarks apply to the office of superintendent, and no change has been made since that time. With regard to the Board of Admiralty being a political machine, I may remark that in one sense it may be, but in another it is not. The Board of Admiralty does not determine what the force of the Navy shall be; the Board of Admiralty is simply a department for giving us a proper supply of officers and men and ships. It is a mere matter of business, and I hold that is what the House should thoroughly understand. What I want to impress upon the House is that it is the duty of the First Lord to take care that the most competent men are intrusted with the duty of obtaining those officers, those men, and those ships, and to give inducements to those officers to get a sufficient supply of seamen, and to let the ships be of the best description.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 30; Noes 110: Majority 80.