HC Deb 03 August 1881 vol 264 cc720-32

, in rising to call attention to the regulations for the admission of Cadets into the Royal Navy; and to move— That, in the opinion of this House, Naval Cadets should be appointed at a more advanced age, and that if they are chosen by competitive examination, such competition should be open, and not limited for the purposes of patronage, said, that the boys were now chosen at too young an age, and although this selection was supported by professional men, it was opposed to the experience and custom of all Navies in the world. Why should this country set itself against the universal practice and experience of other civilized countries in this matter? The second objection was that the competitive examination was extremely injurious to these young boys, because of the numerous and very heavy subjects they were required to be proficient in. He knew there was a differ- ence of opinion on the subject; but he believed the weight of the testimony supported his assertion. One of the gentlemen who were engaged in instructing the boys for examination purposes admitted that the required amount of mathematical knowledge could not be "crammed" into the head of a lad of such tender age without doing permanent harm to his intellect, and greatly impairing his constitution. Such a system was fatal to proper education; and he might observe that there was no public school in the Kingdom which subjected boys to such a rigid examination at so early an age. The next objection he had to urge against the present method of training cadets was the badness of the Britannia school. Lord Dalhousie, when a Member of that House, stated that while he was commander of the Britannia it was a very bad school. All our great public schools now submitted to an annual inspection by the joint Syndicate of the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge; and he should like to know whether the Admiralty would be willing to subject the Britannia to inspection and examination at the hands of this Syndicate? This was a fair challenge; and if the Admiralty would not accept it, perhaps the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Trevelyan) would say why they could not submit to such an ordeal. The next objection to the present system was that the boys were not sent to sea. It was not until they had left the Britannia and had passed into the Navy, at the age of 15 or thereabouts, that they were sent to sea at all. They might be educated in the ordinary schools of the country, instead of being cooped up in a ship, in which they learned nothing of sea life. Again, he wished to know why admission to the Navy should be a matter of patronage? There was no patronage now in the Army; and it was only in the Navy and the Diplomatic Service that the disagreeable and antiquated system of patronage survived. Some people talked about the importance of having a class of educated gentlemen with good connections to serve as officers in the Navy; but he would ask whether the officers of the Army were, in regard to social status, one whit inferior to the officers of the Navy? All patronage of this kind, if it were not useful, was unjust. Why should a lad be debarred from serving the Queen in the Navy simply because his father or his friends held obnoxious political opinions? Considering that a Liberal Government was in Office, and that the Office of Secretary to the Admiralty was held by a Gentleman whose opinions on this subject were so well known, it seemed strange that a Conservative Member should be standing there pleading to the House of Commons for the abolition of patronage. The circumstance showed that a system of this sort, after having been long established, could not be done away with in a moment, even by the most Liberal and advanced Government that ever was in Office. If the House should prefer that the Navy should be open to everyone by public competition, without patronage, he knew the Secretary to the Admiralty would be very glad, and the passing of the Resolution would materially strengthen his hands. The hon. and learned Gentleman concluded by moving the Resolution of which he had given Notice.


, in seconding the Resolution, observed that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ripon (Mr. Goschen), when First Lord of the Admiralty, as were also some of his distinguished Predecessors, was in favour of the abolition of the Britannia, and held the opinion that boys intended for the Naval Profession should be educated at public schools, and afterwards learn their profession at sea under commanders who were well qualified to impart to them the necessary technical knowledge. In that opinion he entirely concurred, and he hoped it would be adopted by his hon. Friend the Secretary to the Admiralty. One result would be to secure equally efficient naval officers at a much smaller cost than at present, and another would be to get rid of a most obnoxious system of patronage. Under the present system, if a gentleman wished to have his son nominated to a cadetship he wrote to a Peer or a Member of Parliament requesting that he should apply for a nomination to the First Lord of the Admiralty, and if he did not succeed the first time he wrote again and again to other Peers or Members of that House. He had himself known that process repeated 30 or 40 times, and it was time that the patronage system was abolished. In the ordinary training ships boys were well trained, but the only prospect they had before them was that of being ordinary seamen, or, at the utmost, becoming petty officers. At Greenwich School there were about 100 boys receiving technical and other education; but they had no chance of receiving commissions as cadets or otherwise, and their highest prospect was to become petty officers, or, perhaps, stewards on board Her Majesty's ships. The whole system needed revision, and, for his part, he was in favour of affording the clever boys in the ordinary training ships, and at Greenwich, means of attaining a superior education, which would enable them to compete with the Britannia boys. He hailed with pleasure the opinions which had been expressed by the hon. and learned Gentleman.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "in the opinion of this House, Naval Cadets should he appointed at a more advanced ago, and that if they are chosen by competitive examination such competition should he open and not limited for the purposes of patronage,"—(Mr. Gorst,) —instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


said, he wished to express concurrence in the Resolution of his hon. and learned Friend. He (Sir John Hay) was of opinion that they could obtain as good, if not a better, class of boys by direct selection than by competition. He had always advocated, when he was previously in the House, that the age of the boys who entered as cadets should be raised. In former periods of naval history, when sailoring was a different business than now, the management of a ship under sail, and other kindred matters, required that a boy should be taken very young, and trained up for the purpose; but now, he thought, they did not require boys to be taken for the Navy at an earlier age than for Woolwich. Lord Dundonald, for instance, a most distinguished officer and brilliant seaman, entered the Navy when he was upwards of 18 years of age. That showed that Lord Dundonald had special aptitude for the Service, and what they wanted was special aptitude. There was no reason why a boy who had special aptitude should not be allowed to join the Navy after he had attained the age of 16. In his opinion, they would be quite as efficient officers by taking them at a later period than the age at which the lads were now taken. He believed a process might be introduced, by virtue of which boys might be selected by prizes in public schools, not on the knowledge gained of one day's examination, but of the general character of the boy, and his aptitude for a daring and skilful life. He concurred that the Britannia was not the best process by which to get the best class of boys. It was necessary, he thought, to put them first into sailing ships, because he believed they would thus obtain that readiness of hand, and quickness of eye, and special adaptation necessary for a successful and efficient officer. He would be glad to see some change made in the direction indicated by the Mover of the Resolution. Patronage, no doubt, was a very bad process for obtaining the boys; but he was of opinion that if it was bad for those who were admitted by such means, it was also equally bad and unpleasant for those who exercised it. He did not believe the Admiralty desired to continue the system of patronage, and his opinion was that the changes introduced by the late Mr. Ward Hunt were for the public interest.


said, that, heartily concurring, as he did, in the views expressed by the right hon. and gallant Admiral who had just spoken, and knowing the just weight that would be given to any observations or suggestions made by him, he (Sir Henry Holland) would not have interfered in the debate had he not been requested by several persons to say a few words in support of the opinion that naval cadets should be appointed at a more advanced age. He certainly thought that the necessity of choosing the Profession for boys of such tender age was objectionable in itself. He thought that it was much better that young lads should go to school and learn a little for themselves about the different professions and chances of life. It did not, of course, follow that the parents should fall in with the wishes of the lads; but the lads themselves would, at a more advanced age, and with more knowledge, be able to appreciate the reasons for choosing this special Profession, and they would be more likely to take to the Profession than they are now. It would tend to lessen the discontent which, he feared, was felt in many cases in the earlier stages, at all events, of the Profession. Nor could he see how in any way the interests of the Navy would suffer from such a change. If prizes were given at public schools, or if cadetships were offered to the boys at such schools, special attention would be given to subjects which would fit the boys for the Naval Service, such as mechanics, mathematics and engineering, geography and languages, and such like subjects. The actual naval work, the special knowledge of a ship, and how to handle it, and so forth, could be learnt in a short time after a lad had joined his ship; and the right hon. and gallant Admiral had pointed out that he entertained no doubt on this point, looking to the difference between the sailing vessels of the former days and the steamers of the present day. He (Sir Henry Holland) would not delay the House by urging further reasons in support of this view; but he desired to press upon Her Majesty's Government that part of the Resolution of the hon. and learned Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst) which related to the appointment of naval cadets at a more advanced age, and which, he believed, would advance the interests of this great Profession.


said, it had more than once been the fate—he might almost say the hard fate—of the present Board of Admiralty that, when they had devised and carried through a reform which they fondly imagined was a bold one; when they had reasoned away the opposition which existed inside the Service, and had screwed up their courage to facing the opposition which they presumed to exist in the House of Commons, then, to their astonishment, they found themselves met, not with the charge that they had gone too far, but that they had not gone far enough; that, so far from being praised as reformers, they were regarded as unprofitable servants, who had not even done as much as it was their duty to do. If censure came in that form, he should be the last to complain, and especially when it came from the opposite Benches. The present Board of Admiralty had made a great change—a change which was eagerly advocated in this House during the years between 1875 and 1880, and persistently refused by the Boards which then held Office; and now that the thing was done, it was a subject, he thought, rather of congratulation than complaint that the first effect was to elicit from the hon. and learned Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst) a demand for still more extensive reforms, and an interesting speech on the much vexed and all important question of the education and selection of our naval officers. He thought the House was not quite aware of the great importance of the change which the present Board had made; and the hon. and learned Member for Chatham seemed to underrate altogether the practical result of that change, and to attribute to it defects and dangers which he believed to be quite imaginary. What Government had done was this. There were two theories as to the selection and education of naval officers. One was to take them young, and, after educating them, partly at the public expense, to give them a long knocking about on board ship while still boys. The other was to take them at a more advanced age, when they had completed all except their strictly technical education outside the Service, to give them that technical education, and nothing else, and to send them to sea as young men rather than as boys. This last might be said to be the Continental system, which prevailed in Italy, Germany, France, and the United States. The other system was, and always had been, for good or for evil, the English system; and, though he did not say there was not a better, still that system, as far as it was properly worked, had produced out of British lads as fine a body of naval officers as ever existed in the world. But this system, as worked between 1875 and 1880, and before 1869, had very grave defects; and the present Board of Admiralty saw, or thought they saw, the method of remedying those defects; and, without entering on the question of whether the system should be abandoned and another introduced, they made, or rather revived, a reform, very simple in its character, by which the received and existing national method of officering our Navy might be made as perfect as it was capable of becoming. The system of pure nomination, which existed before 1869, and which was revived by Mr. Ward Hunt, had two very serious defects. When the authorities in whose gift patronage lay could appoint any lad whom they chose to be a naval cadet, if only he passed a test examination, the temptation to appoint more than the interests of the Service required became, in the long run, irresistible. It was resisted by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Westminster (Mr. W. H. Smith), and he (Mr. Trevelyan) firmly believed it would have been resisted by Lord Northbrook. But it had, in past days, been yielded to by First Lords of both the great Parties in the State. It came to this—that, for some years together, three times as many cadets were entered as the Service of the Navy required, so that all the avenues of promotion were blocked up, and a ruinous expense inflicted on the taxpayer. That was the first defect of our old system, and of that defect the scheme of the present Secretary of State for War, as revived by Lord Northbrook, had afforded a complete and permanent cure. The most self-interested and unscrupulous dispenser of patronage would never care to multiply offices when, by so doing, he did not increase the chance of his own nominee getting one. For every fresh cadetship three fresh boys would have to compete. The chances were three to one against any given boy, whether there were 10 cadetships or whether there were 100; and whatever else might be said for or against the system of limited competition as conducted at Greenwich, this, at any rate, might be safely affirmed, that it was an absolute specific against the fatal tendency, which formerly existed, to over-officer the Navy. But the reform which had been set on foot was intended to do much more than this. He was not without hope that many of the objections which Lord Dalhousie, in his very striking speech of last year—a speech so striking that those who heard or read it had never ceased to regret his removal from among us—brought against the present system, and the objections which the hon. and learned Member for Chatham had brought against it would turn out not to be inherent in that system, but to have been actually remedied by the measures which the present Board of Admiralty had thought it right to take. The old system produced a large number of as fine officers as anyone could wish to see; but it admitted, likewise, a cer- tain number of young fellows of capacity inferior to what the public had a right to ask for in those who served it. It was those young fellows who were the weak part of the Naval Service at all periods of their career, and at no period more than during the educational period to which the hon. and learned Gentleman's Resolution related. One great evil complained of was that the boys on the Britannia spent their time in painfully grinding through subjects in which they took a very small intellectual interest. Another complaint was that, as soon as they left the Britannia, many of them dropped those subjects, and forgot all about them with extraordinary rapidity. Now, those were just the boys who were kept out by limited competition. People were very apt to talk of the competitive system as if it was an elaborate machinery for getting a service composed of senior wranglers, and asked whether a man who came out at the head of a class was sure to make the finest officer. That was not the contention of the advocates of competition. Their contention was—and he maintained that it had been fully borne out by experience—that the effect of competition was to guarantee that none of the servants of the public should fall below a very respectable standard of intelligence. No test competition that ever was invented had ever, in the long run, secured that end. The facts that now were before them proved that it was from the disuse of competition that the evils complained of arose; and it would be from its revival that they would, in great part, cease. Let them take the system as it was under Lord Northbrook, and as it was during the last five years. Now-a-days, if a boy who was not very sharp was offered a nomination, his parents made up their mind that he had no chance in the competition, and left him to continue his ordinary school course, where he got the usual training of a boy destined to civil life. But when a boy got a nomination under the old system, whether he was clever or stupid, it was worth sending him to a crammer and taking the chance of his passing the test. In the words of the President of the Royal Naval College— It was possible by a forced and superficial process of preparation—by cramming, in short—to pass boys into the Service who would have no chance whatever of competing successfully. But the evil did not stop there. Having been got into the Britannia, it was necessary that, at all hazards, they should be got through it; and the time of the naval instructors was consumed in pushing and hustling boys through a course of subjects which they never more than half understood, and which they worked at solely against the grain. And these were the boys who, when they went to sea, dropped their painfully, but superficially, acquired knowledge as completely as if they had never acquired it at all. These were the very boys whom limited competition kept out of the Navy. When limited competition was exchanged for nomination in 1874, the average of ability fell in a marked manner. The 450 cadets who entered under competition before 1874 obtained, on an average, 60 per cent of full marks at their final examination. The 235 cadets who entered by pure nomination obtained 53 per cent. The young midshipmen who entered by competition obtained in their first examination afloat an average of 811 marks out of 2,600. The midshipmen who entered by pure nomination obtained 685 marks; and, what was very significant, the number of cadets who obtained first-class certificates on leaving the Britannia under competition amounted to 20 per cent, and under nomination only to 10 per cent. Some curious statistics taken by an officer of high rank for his own information proved that it was from the boys who had taken these first-class certificates that our distinguished and successful officers were, to a large extent, derived. It might fairly be said that, of boys who took a first-class certificate on leaving the Britannia, 50 per cent became captains and commanders, while of boys who took a third-class certificate, only 20 per cent reached that rank. So that what the revival of pure nomination did was practically this—that out of every 100 boys who entered the Navy, it diminished the exceptionally able boys, who were likely to grow into really first-rate officers, by exactly one-half, and replaced them by as many boys who were below the standard which the Service of the country required. But by the restoration of limited competition the Britannia henceforward would be a school composed entirely of boys for whose conduct and abilities there was a real and solid guarantee. Now that the best had been done for the old system under which our officers had been educated for so many years, he should be inclined to ask the House to let that system work a little longer without at once pulling it to pieces and building it anew. As to the fears expressed by hon. Members of the effects of competition at this tender age, he was firmly persuaded that, under the examination as at present conducted, those fears were illusory. A boy might be crammed to pass a test examination which he would not have passed otherwise; but if a competitive examination was properly conducted he could not be crammed so as to enable him to beat a boy better taught and naturally cleverer than himself. What cramming would enable a boy to do unseen passages of French and Latin, with the aid of a dictionary, better than another boy who had a real and solid acquaintance with those languages, and who had superior mother-wit to himself? The best testimony to the manner in which the examination last June was conducted was afforded by the only letter which he had seen giving the account of the reason of a boy's failure; and in that letter the parent said that the boy had been over-coached the night before; and everyone who knew what a good examination was knew that the worst possible preparation for it was to cram up to the last night. He firmly believed that the competition which they held at 13 was just as innocuous to health as that which the hon. and learned Member proposed to hold at 16 or 17. But hon. Members must not think that he wished to meet this Resolution with a hard-and-fast negative. He had the greatest sympathy with the general objects of the hon. and learned Member. He had the keenest sense of the defects of our present system which the hon. and learned Member exposed; and for months past he had been studying in every way in his power the different solutions of the problem of naval education which had been so ably put forward in various quarters. He felt most strongly the very great discomfort and disadvantage to our midshipmen of becoming officers in Her Majesty's Service before they had got rid of school. It appeared to him that to minds of that energetic and resolute class which we especially valued in our Navy, it might be almost a mental torture to be distracted between rather elementary book learning in the abstract sciences and the acquisition of the practical duties of a profession. To alternate between being a captain's aide-de-camp in a naval brigade and reading algebra with a naval instructor; to go from gun drill, and inspection, and the charge of boats to old school room learning that had been rubbed up and forgotten ten times over was a life of such waste of intellect and energy that he did not despair, and he was farther from despairing than ever, of finding some corrective for it. Young or old, when a lad went to sea, he ought to go as a sailor; and so strongly did he hold this that he would not hesitate to recommend a pretty bold recasting of our system in order to attain this desired end. His own firm belief was that if a young man had three years at sea without having his attention distracted by school work he would learn more seamanship and more seamanlike qualities than he learnt in the five years that he now served afloat in a capacity something between a schoolboy and an officer. If that were carried out, it would give him a year or a year and a-half to continue his general studies before he joined the Service. There is much to be said likewise on the question of open competition. There is much to be said for drawing closer the connections between our great public schools and the Navy by giving nominations for competition to the head masters of such schools as Eton, Harrow, Winchester, Cheltenham, Marlborough, and any school that might desire to enter the lists. Nor, if the House of Commons so wished it, would they consider that the Navy would be ruined even if the principle of open competition was imposed upon them by Resolution of the House. The introduction of open competition into the Indian Civil Service, and into the Public Offices at home, was intimately connected with two names in which he had the strongest and the closest interest, and the first years of his public life were spent in urging the change from purchase in the Army to the open competition which at present existed. He supposed he was one of the last men in that House likely to regard open competition with dread. But he hoped that the House would leave them alone for the present. The Admiralty had this year made a very great change in their method of first appointment; and if it were merely for the purpose of making sure their ground and obtaining data to guide their further progress, it was really important that they should be allowed some time to see how the change would work. In the interests of the Service, and speaking as one who had his mind open—widely open—to the possibilities of reform being needed, he would be heartily glad if they were allowed time to deliberate very carefully indeed on their experiences of the reformed system before they were bound by a vote of Parliament to exchange it for another to which it was, in some important respects, an approach and an advance.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.