HC Deb 01 August 1872 vol 213 cc284-94

SUPPLY—considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

(1.) £459,116, Steam Machinery and Ship building by Contract.

(2.) Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £716,091, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the Expense of New Works, Buildings, Machinery, and Repairs, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1873.


moved that the Vote be reduced by £10,000, being the sum proposed to be granted for alterations and repairs of Greenwich Hospital. He reminded the Committee that the building was intended to be used as a Naval College, and went on to refer to the fact that the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government, when rejected by South Lancashire at the last Election, retired to the borough of Greenwich, but for the first three years of his representation did not favour his constituents with any public appearance. However, "when three long years were over, and some long tedious days," the right hon. Gentleman thought it necessary to propound his policy on Blackheath. ["Oh!"] Hon. Members might cry "Oh!" but he was determined to state the opinions which he held with regard to these things, and no interruption which could possibly proceed from them would affect that determination. Having assembled a large army of police for his protection, the right hon. Gentleman thought it necessary, for the purpose of maintaining that order and quietude necessary for his sentiments to be heard, to assure the inhabitants of Greenwich that he was going to do something for them. Accordingly, he addressed them in these terms— Of your local interests, strictly so called, I will now say but one word, because it refers to a point of almost national interest—I mean with respect to the noble Hospital of Greenwich. I had the honour of stating to a deputation, formed without any distinction of political opinion, the views with which the Government approach the consideration of the question connected with that truly national building. Since that time the matter has had the attention of my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty, and I am sanguine in the belief that when his plans are matured you will find it will be, as I hope, in our power to apply the Hospital to a purpose which will be satisfactory to you, the inhabitants of Greenwich, and satisfactory to the country; nor do I despair even of this—although it may be premature to say so—that it is also a purpose which will revive and renew the glorious traditions of that building. Previously, his right hon. Friend opposite had appointed a Commission for the purpose of improving the education of the Navy; and he thought education might be extended to some Members of Her Majesty's Government, for one right hon. Gentleman, in a debate on the Navy Estimates, recently stated it was very rare in England for a sailor to be at the head of the Admiralty. He found, however, that during 56 years of the last century sailors ruled the Admiralty, and that Walpole and Chatham, whenever they had work to do, put a sailor at the head of the Admiralty. The Commission appointed by the right hon. Gentleman consisted of three naval officers, two schoolmasters, and a lawyer. The three naval officers were in favour of Portsmouth as the place for the College, and the three civilians were in favour of Greenwich. At the same time the right hon. Gentleman issued a Circular to the officers of the Navy, asking— What, in your opinion, would be the relative advantages and disadvantages of moving the Naval College, as a place of higher education for naval officers, from its present position at Portsmouth to Greenwich, or elsewere? The result of the inquiry showed that 14 admirals, 20 captains, 3 commanders, 3 naval instructors, and 1 secretary to the Royal Navy—41 in all—were in favour of Portsmouth; 5 captains and 2 commanders were in favour of Greenwich; and that 5 captains and 1 naval instructor held neutral opinions. He had the authority of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Tyrone (Mr. Corry), for stating his opinion of the impolicy and impropriety of the proposed alteration. The advantage of Portsmouth for a Naval College over any other port was its immediate access to a field for exercise and station for training vessels all the year round. In 1863–4 the Admiralty of that day discussed, and he believed sanctioned, a similar scheme to the present, but with this difference—that the College was to be built at Anglesey. The advantages for gunnery at Spithead were very great, but Shoeburyness was by no means equal to it. He had been there when an hour had to be lost before a barge could get out of the line of fire. Greenwich was also objectionable on account of its proximity to London, and the attractions which the metropolis held out to young men who had been absent at sea for three or four years. When he was a young man at sea his day and night dreams were of a cruise in London and visiting the Opera. The united testimony of the officers in the Royal Navy, except five or six, was in favour of Portsmouth for the establishment of a Naval Training College. He looked upon the establishment of a College at Greenwich as a political ruse for the purpose of doing something for that constituency. He should take the opinion of the Committee upon what he denounced as a great political job, and an injustice and an insult to the Royal Navy. It was a mean and an unworthy act, and impolitic to the service. The proposal to turn Greenwich Hospital into a Royal Naval College was contrary to its original foundation—that of sheltering persons who had been wounded, or who were worn out in the service. It would have been far better to have turned it into a naval Hampton Court for the widows of deserving naval officers. He moved the reduction of the Vote by £10,000.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £706,091, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the Expense of New Works, Buildings, Machinery, and Repairs, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1873."—(Sir James Elphinstone.)


supported the Amendment. He feared it was impossible at this period of the Session to do justice to the subject, or to induce the Government to re-consider the matter. It was not a local dispute, but a question of national importance. The right hon. Gentleman was proposing what might result in a great revolution in the system of naval education. The question raised was whether the education should be theoretical or practical; and he presumed no one would doubt but a theoretical education only would be perfectly useless. His hon. Friend (Sir James Elphinstone) had referred to the opinion of naval officers on the subject. Those who had expressed themselves in favour of Greenwich had done so in the most hesitating manner, whilst those who were in favour of Portsmouth had declared their opinion without any doubt whatever on the matter, stating that a naval port was the only place where an efficient naval education could be given. It should be remembered that, as in most other professions so in the naval service, a great many matters connected with it could only be taught by combining practice with theory. Mr. Reed, in his evidence before the Committee, stating, for instance, that taking the subject of steam, it was useless to attempt the teaching of that simply by theory. And when asked if a model steam engine would be sufficient, he stated that it would be of no use, because one steam engine differed greatly from another. It might be asked how it was that the Naval College at Portsmouth had not been so successful as was to have been desired; but anyone who looked at the Report would see that the Committee gave most excellent reasons for that. In the first place, the buildings were most inadequate in every respect, and not properly adapted for their purpose. One of the most necessary things for a Naval College was an Observatory, but practically there was none at Portsmouth, for what should be an Observatory was occupied as a store for naval chronometers, and those instruments were too delicate for students to be allowed to go in and disturb them. Then there were no models at Portsmouth, and in the teaching of French the salary of the teacher had been cut down from £200 to £100 a-year, while sufficient inducements had never been held out to officers to study there. An altogether new scheme had, however, been propounded by the Government, and on that subject he might point out that the Committee of Inquiry had unanimously reported that the framing of such a scheme ought to be ruled by considerations as to the best interests of the service, and that though economy should not be neglected, it should not be allowed to have more than a secondary influence in determining so important a matter. Certainly in a profession where a single error might lead to the loss of a ship worth £500,000, the saving of a few thousands in providing a proper professional education ought not to be made a matter of the first importance.


said, he wished to put the Committee right on a matter about which there might be some misapprehension. It was quite true that the Admiralty had proposed a new and comprehensive scheme for providing a naval education, and it was not upon that scheme that the officers quoted by the hon. Baronet opposite had expressed their opinion. The proposal of the Government was not merely to remove the Naval College from Portsmouth to Greenwich, but to found an entirely new establishment at Greenwich, and he knew that officers, who were against a simple removal of the existing College, were distinctly and strongly in favour of the new scheme, which proposed to gather together under one head at Greenwich all the educational establishments which were connected with the Navy, not only for the education of officers, but also for the education of engineers, shipwrights, and naval architects. There had long been a necessity for some such step, and it was hoped now to promote naval architectural science in its widest sense, and to improve the class of highly trained engineers, and to produce men who should be thoroughly competent to deal with all the more important questions connected with the highest branches of science. The scheme, therefore, did not rest upon the narrow basis on which the hon. Baronet had placed it. He would not waste words in commenting on the observations of the hon. Baronet in regard to the connection of his right hon. Friend at the head of the Government with Greenwich. The hon. Baronet seemed always to think that ulterior motives must be at the bottom of everything done by the Government; but not long since he had had to stand up in his place and apologize for asserting that a job had been perpetrated where nothing of the sort had taken place.


The job existed; but the individual whom I thought had perpetrated it was not the man.


thought that scarcely any one besides the hon. Baronet would suspect that the foundation of a great educational establishment at Greenwich could have been proposed from such unworthy motives as the hon. Baronet had suggested. The Government hoped to found at Greenwich an establishment worthy of such an ancient and renowned building, and one also worthy of the country. In the exceedingly temperate speech of the hon. Member who last spoke, there were some errors which he desired to notice. In the first place, the establishment at Greenwich was not intended, as he had before stated, for the study of naval officers alone, but for the study also of the members of the various subsidiary professions which were connected with the Navy; and they all knew the advantage which was always to be derived from the concentration of educational establishments, and securing the highest available talent to preside over them. No doubt, the Naval College at Portsmouth had done excellent service, but it was on the smallest possible scale. In December last there were only five captains, 13 commanders, eight gunnery lieutenants, and five marine officers studying there, in addition to the sub-lieutenants who went there not for continuous study, but to "cram" for their examinations; but it was hoped that at Greenwich there would be not only a much larger number of naval officers, but a number of engineers and students from the Architectural School at South Kensington, which had already turned out such excellent shipwrights and engineers. He felt confident that this scheme would possess the greatest attraction for naval officers, and since it had been propounded no remonstrance had been made against it at the Admiralty, and some of the naval officers who had been quoted as being against were entirely in its favour, and showed the greatest interest in the matter. He wished to press on the Committee that this was not a small question. The mere transference from Portsmouth might have been small, for the numbers there were not large; but the establishment of an institution worthy of the country was not a small question. He should regret if such a project should be condemned by a hasty vote, because such a result would be a sore disappointment not only to the students, but also to the naval profession. He regretted also that the time was so short for the discussion of the question; but such speeches as that of the hon. Baronet opposite (Sir James Elphinstone) should not be left unanswered. He (Mr. Goschen) was only speaking his convictions when he said that the greatest practical advantage would arise from this establishment. It would be attended by the younger men to prosecute their studies in the first instance, and also by officers on half-pay, who would go there optionally. These last were men who had been practising their profession for some time, and who wished to gain a knowledge of steam, physics, the properties of metals, electricity, and other subjects which were becoming everyday more important. They hoped to attract the ablest men of the profession to the college, and he begged to commend the scheme to the favourable consideration of the Committee.


, as one of the witnesses examined not orally, but by communication, by the Committee which sat at the Admiralty, was desirous to state that he was not one of those witnesses to whom the right hon. Gentleman had alluded as having changed their opinions. It was extremely inconvenient at that late period of the Session, and without fuller information, to be asked to vote £10,000 for this purpose. It was evident that the only reason why Greenwich was selected was because there was a magnificent building there which could be made available for such an establishment, and because it was surrounded with a halo of naval renown. He had ascertained that the sum required would be much larger than £10,000, and for the same sum expended at Portsmouth there could be greater accommodation secured. The various classes of officers at Greenwich were similar in character to those at Portsmouth, but it was by no means necessary that they should all be educated under the same roof. Those proceeding to sea had not their education neglected, but were trained under skilled naval instructors. [Mr. STONE: The evidence showed that such education was very insufficient.] He admitted that some of it was not what could be desired, but parts of it were of a high character. They afterwards wished to know something of the latest inventions in gunnery, mechanics, and shipbuilding, and Portsmouth was most convenient, as there were no fleets at Greenwich, so that the education imparted there would be entirely theoretical. He should vote against the appropriation of this money till they knew how much in all it was intended to expend upon Greenwich.


said, he had been informed on competent authority that, after careful estimates, £10,000 would cover the whole transformation of Greenwich, including portions of the furniture. No part of the practical information already given at Portsmouth would be withdrawn.

Question put.

The Committee divided:—Ayes 64; Noes 99: Majority 35.


asked the Government when they were going to lay the scheme before Parliament, and whether the House thought it constitutional for the Government to spend money on a public work before it was voted by Parliament? One part of the scheme was to manœuvre in the Thames. He wanted to know how the ships were to get out of the way of the penny boats?


said, that he could not lay the scheme before Parliament before he obtained the Vote. No money had been spent, except such as was necessary to procure a correct estimate.


said, he could not avoid referring to one subject, lest he should seem to be acquiescing in what he strongly condemned. In the year 1864 an important Report, dealing with the question of the Imperial defences, was presented to Parliament, in which there was this simple but comprehensive recommendation as to Cork Harbour— Your Committee feel the full force of the advantage to the fleet of a first-class dock in so western a port as Cork; and they advise the immediate construction of a first-class dock in some convenient site in that harbour. In the year following an estimate was proposed for the work, which, it was distinctly stated, was to be constructed in or about a period of five years. Assuming that the amount now set forth as sufficient to do the work was really enough—which it was not—it would require some 11 years, at the present rate of expenditure, before it was exhausted. The gross estimate was £333,000; and of this sum £122,000 had been voted, and £108,000 expended. The Vote proposed last year was only £20,000, and the same sum was asked for this year. If only £20,000 were thus annually expended, the work would be completed in nearly 20 years, instead of the five originally calculated upon. Now, was this undertaking useful for the public service, or was it not? If it was useful, why not go on with it and finish it without delay, and with such expedition as was consistent with economy? Delay was no economy—starving a work down to the lowest point was extravagance, not economy. The necessity for docks in this western harbour was as great now—greater now by far—than when the Committee reported in favour of the undertaking. Had these works been completed, the Megœra would have been properly examined before being sent to sea, and a disaster avoided which, but for the mercy of Providence, might have been as serious and awful as that in the case of the Captain. There was no reason why these docks should not be pushed on at twice their present rate; for not only was the House willing to vote £50,000 in place of £20,000, but there was in Cork and the surrounding district any amount of skilled labour that could be required. He knew how Departments were anxious to clip and pare their Estimates in certain directions; but he said this was not a direction in which the Admiralty ought to clip and pare and starve. They must not imagine that an emergency might not arise when docks in this western part of the United Kingdom would be of the very last importance to the Navy. We enjoyed profound peace at this moment, and he hoped we might long do so; but in the present state of Europe no man knew what a single year might bring either to this or other nations; and it was the duty of statesmen to look a-head, and not to be found without preparation or protection when the time of peril arose. If the First Lord would consult the highest authorities on such matters upon this subject, he was perfectly assured they would recommend the vigorous prosecution of the work; and he would even venture to say that the eminent officer who commanded in the harbour was of that opinion. He had said so much unwillingly, knowing how valuable time was at this moment; and would only call on the right hon. Gentleman to give some assurance that he would redeem his own promise, and provide sufficient means for completing these docks in a reasonable time.


pointed out the evils resulting from the slow progress of the new works at Chatham, consequent upon their being executed to so large an extent by convict labour.


said, progress was being made with the works at Chatham; but explained that the Factory had not been proceeded with, because the style of shipbuilding had so greatly altered since the plans for the Factory were made three or four years ago. In answer to the Question of the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Maguire), he begged to say that Parliament had from year to year voted large sums of money for the work in question, and all possible progress was made and would continue to be made. The rate of progress must necessarily depend upon the progress made at Portsmouth and Chatham. Year by year the dock accommodation was being increased.


did not think the answer was satisfactory. It was promised that the works at Cork should be completed in five years, but according to the present rate of progress they could not be completed in less than 20 years. He complained of a breach of faith towards himself, and he should take an opportunity of showing his resentment when, on some future occasion, the Government got into a cleft stick.


agreed that the hon. Member for Cork had ground for complaint of the conduct of the Admiralty.


complained that the statements made on behalf of the Government were not of the clear and straightforward character that the public had a right to expect.


was somewhat surprised that the hon. Member for Cork should at this advanced period have a just ground to make the complaint which had fallen from him.


, in reply, said, he had brought forward this question on public grounds, and not solely as the representative of Cork.

Original Question put, and agreed to.

(3.) £70,800, Medicines, Medical Stores, &c.

(4.) £818,626, Half-Pay, &c. to Officers of Navy and Marines.


called the attention of the Committee to the case of Commander John P. Cheyne, R.N. In spite of the gallant officer's appointment for life at the Plymouth Hospital by the Duke of Somerset, he was some few years afterwards retired in accordance with new regulations on half-pay, and without receiving that compensation to which he was fully and fairly entitled. The appointment was given to Commander Cheyne as a compensation to some extent for the severity of a wound received in active service, and the hardship inflicted upon him by such a reduction of pay ought, in his opinion, to receive the favourable consideration of the Admiralty.


said, the question had already been before the House. The whole point was this—that the office held by Commander Cheyne was really never conferred on him for life, but only until the time he was retired.


thought that injustice had undoubtedly been done to Commander Cheyne.


thought the honour of the country required more liberal treatment of Commander Cheyne under the circumstances.


observed that, when in office, he did his best to obtain liberal compensation from the Treasury, and he thought he succeeded, the result being that instead of £182, Commander Cheyne received £275 a-year on his retirement.

Vote agreed to.

(5.) £151,703, Greenwich Hospital and School.

Resolutions to be reported To-morrow, at Two of the clock;

Committee to sit again To-morrow.