HC Deb 02 April 1886 vol 304 cc605-6
MR. HOWELL (Bethnal Green, N.E.)

asked the Secretary to the Admiralty, Whether Mr. White, the Director of Naval Construction at the Admiralty, is still in the employ of, or retains any lucrative position in, the firm of Sir William Armstrong and Company; and, if so, whether he will be retained in the service of the Admiralty, considering the onerous duties of Constructor to Her Majesty's Navy; and, whether he will lay upon the Table of this House the terms and conditions of Mr. White's appointment to the post at the Admiralty he now holds, with the amount of the salary attached thereto?


In reply to the hon. Member, I have to say that a telegram has this day been received from the Director of Naval Construction, who is on an official visit to the Dockyard at Devonport, to the effect that he is not in the employ and has no lucrative position in the firm of Messrs. Armstrong and Co. The salary attached to the present holder of the post of Director of Naval Construction is £2,000 a-year. I am unable to lay any official Papers upon the Table. There are, however, certain communications of a private nature which passed between the late First Lord and Messrs. Armstrong, which, perhaps, the noble Lord may not be unwilling to explain.


said, he would put a further Question on the subject.


As I was mainly responsible for the appointment of Mr. White, and as I am the only person cognizant of all the facts of the case, perhaps I may be allowed to supplement the answer of the Secretary to the Admiralty. When Sir Nathaniel Barnaby resigned his office last year on the ground of ill-health I had to carefully consider who was the most competent designer to succeed him; and, in the opinion of all those in whom I had confidence, Mr. White was unanimously recommended to me as being the most capable person for the post. He had a varied and almost unique experience. He was for 17 years at the Admiralty in the Constructor's Department, where he obtained a very high reputation, he had a thorough knowledge of the whole details of the administration of the Dockyards, and for the last two and a-half years he had been manager of a portion of the warship building yard of Sir William Armstrong & Co., and his success in that position had added to the reputation of the firm. But there were two obstacles to obtaining his services—first, that Mr. White was in receipt of a salary far in excess of anything the Admiralty could give; and, secondly, he was under an engagement to continue for some years longer in the employ of Messrs. Armstrong, and it was improbable that the Directors would give up their claim to his services. I entered into negotiations with Mr. White and the Directors, and was met in the most straightforward and generous spirit. Mr. White agreed to give up his lucrative post and accept a lesser salary in Government employ; the Directors, while admitting the difficulty and embarrassment which the loss of Mr. White might entail on them, felt the force of the appeal made to them, and on patriotic grounds waived their legal right to his services. One stipulation they pressed, which seemed to be a perfectly fair and reasonable one, and to which I assented. It was that, inasmuch as Mr. White had designed several ships, some of which had been laid down and others were about to be laid down, if any questions arose in respect to the building they might consult with Mr. White. But Mr. White's connection with the firm was actually to cease, and no services which he gave in that respect were in any degree to interfere with the discharge of his duties to the Admiralty, or to be inconsistent with the position he occupied under the Government. I see that the Question suggests that Mr. White's services should be dispensed with. I can only say that, high as was the estimate of Mr. White's capacity conveyed to me by those who previously knew him, it was in no sense exceeded by the personal view which I and the late Board of Admiralty took of him; and at this critical period of naval reconstruction I would add my belief that the loss of his services would be most detrimental to the interests both of the Navy and of the nation.