Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £267,800, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the Charge for the Salaries and Miscellaneous Charges of the War Office, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st clay of March 1894.
§ MR. HANBURY (Preston)
said, he desired to direct attention to what had been called the "Cordite Scandal." Of course he could not say that that was a scandal, for that would depend on the reply given by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War, but he was sorry to say that hitherto the replies of the right hon. Gentleman—written no doubt for him by War Office officials—had been very unsatisfactory, and had led him to the conclusion that there had been a good deal of concealment. The exact complaint he had to make in regard to that matter was one which had been made by private inventors over and over again; it was a complaint of long standing; it had been enforced by more than one Royal Commission and more than one Committee, and the complaint was that War Office and other Government officials were placed in a position which enabled them to practically pick the brains of inventors who came before them, and to apply the results of such operations, sometimes for the benefit of the Government, and sometimes for their own benefit. He ventured to assert that every case in which the inventor was not adequately remunerated was a scandal, whether the benefit accrued to the Government or to one of its officials in a private capacity. A further complaint he had to make was that while officials were professedly securing patents for the Government at home they were, unknown to the Government, securing patents in many foreign countries for their own private purposes. The result was—and this was his third complaint—that we had got a bad smokeless powder. The great difficulty connected with this question was the difficulty of getting full and adequate information. The public themselves 835 were very lax in these matters. They felt that they could trust the officials to do their duty, and in 99 cases out of 100 that confidence was fully justified. He did not, in fact, believe any country was so well served by its public officials as England was. On the other hand, these points generally were of so highly technical a character that it was utterly impossible for the public to take a special interest in them, and in addition to that on these official matters officials, although they might differ from the decisions arrived at by their brother officials, naturally held their tongue. There was, in fact, among them an esprit de corps which prevented them offering criticisms, even if they were free to do so. In the next place, private firms and experts had their mouths closed, for it would not do for them to quarrel with the Government, as if they did they would never get Government orders. On the other hand, he had certain advantages in presenting his case. One was that this certainly was not a Party matter. He was not laying any special blame on the present Secretary of State for War, as undoubtedly the greater part of what he complained happened while the late Government was in office. Of course, if the right hon. Gentleman had carried on the system or had recognised and accepted the results, he had taken upon himself some portion of the responsibility. Still, when both Front Benches were agreed upon a certain course and had accepted the responsibility it became more than ever difficult to arrive at the truth. Again, this was not a personal matter. He would, no doubt, have frequently to mention the names of two men, Sir Frederick Abel and Professor Dewar, but he was not going to contend that they had not done what they were perfectly entitled to do. If the Rules were, as he understood them to be, he only brought them forward prominently as an illustration of a very bad system, and he objected to that bad system, because the public were bound to lose if private inventors were not encouraged to take their inventions to the War Office. This was a matter of public honour, and it was little short of disgraceful that men should be tempted to submit their inventions and ideas to the Government, and that those inventions and ideas should be borrowed, and patents for them taken out in the 836 name of the Government or its officials. But this was a very old story. The grievance arose so far back as the year 1871, when the Treasury issued a Circular to the Admiralty and to the War Office to the effect that no officer in the Civil, Military, or Naval Services of the Crown should be called upon to judge or give an opinion in cases where their own interests might come into collision with those of any other person,Or be permitted to obtain or hold or be directly or indirectly interested in any letters patent for any articles needed for the use of the Government.About a month since he asked a question of the Secretary of State for War in regard to that Minute, and the right hon. Gentleman replied thatAfter the passing of the Act of 1883, which altered the law as to patents, the whole question was reconsidered, and in 1885 the Minute was withdrawn;But he would like to remark in regard to this that the Patent Act of 1883, which enabled private inventors to hold patents as against the Crown, gave no security to inventors who, not having patents, submitted their inventions to the War Office. He was not sure that it gave them protection even if they had patents. The Treasury was to be the judge of the amount of remuneration to be paid them for taking their patents, but it did not prevent them from having their brains picked by War Office officials just as had been done before. It was, indeed, an actual encouragement to those officials to take out patents for themselves, and the passing of the Patent Act rather increased than did away with the necessity for the Circular. That evidently was the view of the Treasury, for in reply to a question put on the 14th July last, the Secretary to the Treasury informed him that—In a letter addressed to the Admiralty and War Office in December, 1871, the Treasury expressed the opinion that it was inexpedient that officers interested in patents should be appointed to judge of inventions. I (Sir J. T. Hibbert) am not aware that this opinion has ever been modified, and so far as I can judge it seems a reasonable one.Thus they had the fact that the War Office and the Treasury were at issue on the point.
§ MR. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
The answer given by my right hon. Friend the Secretary to the Treasury 837 must have been given in forgetfulness of the fact that the Circular had been withdrawn. I ascertained that it had been withdrawn to the knowledge both of the Admiralty and of the War Office.
§ MR. HANBURY
, continuing, said, he would have to press the Secretary to the Treasury further on the point. He quoted the Circular because he had strong evidence to show that it was issued partly as the result of the action of Professor Abel in that year—action exactly parallel to that taken by him in regard to the new explosive, and the subject of the present complaint. Now what was that action? In the year 1865 Professor Abel was a War Office chemist, and he was ordered, as such, to experiment on the safety of various explosives for Government use, the explosives submitted to him including white or German gunpowder, dynamite, nitro-glycerine, lithopacteur, and gun-cotton. What did he do? Having had those explosives submitted to him on behalf of the Government, he straightway, on the 25th April, 1865, patented improvements in the manufacture of gun-cotton for shooting as well as blasting. He did not transfer those patents to the Government, but he sold them in the following year to Messrs. Prentice, of Stowmarket, securing to himself a royalty of l0d. per 1,000 cartridges and £10 per ton of gun-cotton. He took out other patents in 1867 and 1868, as well as in 1869, and he recommended broadcast the purchase of that very gun-cotton from which he was deriving a royalty, of the very firm which paid him that royalty. He was asked to express an opinion upon rival explosives and upon nitro-glycerine, and in spite of the fact that the cordite now being manufactured by him contained more nitro-glycerine than any other explosive manufactured, he reported—I have to express my firm conviction that such appalling accidents as that which occurred in Wales cannot be guarded against by the enforcement of any measure short of an absolute prohibition of the importation, transport, and storage of nitro-glycerine or any preparation of that material.Surely that was strong evidence against his own nitro-glycerine. Again, in 1869, he recommended the Magistrate at Wandsworth to refuse a licence for the manufacture of Schultze gunpowder—another rival product—on the ground of danger. Now he was not complaining of 838 that; he was only pointing out what the system of the War Office allowed to be done. What happened in regard to the gun-cotton which he so strongly recommended? In August, 1871, at the meeting of the British Association, he said—Gun-cotton is now so completely unaffected by high temperatures, one deal box of it might actually burn away in the middle of a pile of similar boxes without exploding.Yet only a week later 10 tons of that very gun-cotton exploded at Stowmarket, blew up the works, and killed 30 men, including two of the partners in the firm. That showed how far Professor Abel's judgment was to be relied upon in regard to the safety of the material he recommended. In the year 1871 various charges were levelled against Mr. Abel in The Mechanics' Magazine, and the only one he replied to was one that royalty was paid on gun-cotton made for the Government. He denied that that was so, but the paper printed a copy of the agreement, which showed that there was no reservation of the kind, the only exception being that he was not to receive any royalty when the gun-cotton was manufactured by the Government itself. That convicted him of an awkward mistake. The War Office at the time did not know that he had taken out these patents, in the same way as it was ignorant that he took out the foreign patents for cordite in 1889. He was called upon to resign either his patents or his position. Naturally he did not wish to resign his position, so he sold his patents, and although they were bringing him in between £3,000 and £4,000 a year, he disposed of them to a Mr. Nicholson, of Dulwich, for £1,000. Would that be believed? Was it a bonâ fide transaction? It did not look like one. And a month or two later the Treasury Circular was issued. In 1888 Professor Abel was again called upon to judge new explosives, and he was appointed on a Committee with two others—Professor Dewar and Professor Dupré. The duty assigned to these three men was clear, and it was conveyed in a short Circular of Instruction which he would read—The Committee is appointed for the purpose of considering questions relating to new explosive agents, or the new application of, or improvements in the production and application of, known explosive agents which will be 839 referred to the Committee by order of His Royal Highness the Commander-in-Chief for consideration, or investigation and report.Anybody reading that Instruction would see that the primary duty of the Committee was to examine other people's inventions; they certainly were not to set to work to invent for themselves. But that was not the view taken by the Committee. It was nominated on the 10th July, 1888, and it sat for the first time on the 20th August. It certainly seemed as if by that time it had made up its mind that it was its duty to invent for its own benefit, and to take out patents abroad, because on the 20th August it issued a Memorandum, or rather it sent one to the Director of Artillery, which did not reach the War Office until the 31st December. This set forth that the War Office claimed—The originating of improvements in the production and utilisation of known explosives, or the discovery or invention of new explosive compounds or preparation was to be regarded as ranking foremost in value, and to the development of it the Committee should prominently devote themselves.They were thus to become inventors. Then followed this strange remark—The Committee will unavoidably come under the stigma of not being impartial judges of the merits of inventions of private individuals, and of profiting by information imparted in confidence in working out subjects which they afterwards put forward as emanating from themselves, and the Committee must make up their minds to be indifferent to such imputations relying confidently upon a proper defence of their proceedings in high official quarters.They were to be allowed to pick other people's brains in fact; hence the concluding words, which read—It would appear to be a fair and equitable arrangement to give to Government officials, whose patents are to be published in the ordinary way, the option of securing foreign patents for such inventions at their own cost.This meant that they were to pick other people's brains, to work out inventions at the public cost, and to take patents out themselves and put the profits into their own pockets. Thus the Committee drafted a now code of morals entirely for their own benefit. It was just as if a Bishop were to swear an affidavit and file it—the effect of it being that he would not be bound by any of the rules of the Decalogue if he broke any of the Commandments, and then, hating committed murder or some other offence, he 840 were to produce that affidavit in his own defence and triumphantly claim an acquittal on the basis of it. It was perfectly ludicrous that they should be able to draw up for themselves a new code of official morals in that respect. But did the War Office accept anything of the kind? It was of no use their saying to the War Office beforehand that they were going to do a certain thing, if they did not tell the same fact to the private inventors who were to come before them. As a matter of fact the War Office knew nothing of that proposal until the half-yearly Report of the Committee was issued five months later. Was official sanction then given to that strange code of morals? The War Office ought to have thrown such a code of morals into the fire, but they covered it over with circumlocution and Minutes, and no reply was given. He was afraid when he questioned the Secretary of State for War on the subject that the right hon. Gentleman would have replied that although no official reply was written there' had been verbal communications, and that in that indirect way the War Office had sanctioned the proposal. But to his relief no such suggestion was thrown out, but had there been any such statement he had in his hands a letter from Sir F. Abel complaining of the action of the War Office, and stating the damning fact that although a reply was frequently asked for, and although the Memorandum was re-presented in the first half-yearly Report, no communication was received by the Committee in reference to it. Thus no authority was given by the War Office.
§ MR. HANBURY
protested against that, and said it might just as well be claimed that silence gave consent to the breaking of the Ten Commandments. If the hon. and gallant Member would look at the 13th paragraph of the Report he would see that the Committee itself asked for a new Regulation on this matter, thereby implying that they could do nothing without such a Regulation. He ventured to assert that they never had any authority for the War Office either to set up as inventors or to take out foreign patents. Let them remember that there were three Members of that Committee. Professors Abel, Dewar, 841 and Dupré, all accomplished chemists. Was Professor Dupré present at the meeting of the 20th August, when the Memorandum was executed and sent in? It was a startling fact in connection with that subject that M. Dupré, who certainly was not the least talented of the three Members of the Committee, washed his hands of the whole transaction, and no patent had been taken out by him, while patents were taken out simply and solely in the names of Professor Abel and Professor Dewar. What was the next step after sending in the Memorandum which the War Office did not accept. This Committee were as judges to decide on the merits of the different samples of explosives submitted to them. Eight such samples had been sent in before the 10th July, and they were sent in by men who had no information whatever of the tests to which the samples were to be subjected, and did not know who were the men who were to act as judges. Mr. Nobel was one of the inventors who submitted explosives to the Committee, and he had since commenced an action in which he deliberately charged its Members with having infringed his patent. Another inventor, Mr. Maxim, who was invited by the Committee to send in his powder, beat all other competitors in the trials, but his explosive was not adopted because, as the Committee said—They did not believe Her Majesty's Government would accept a smokeless power containing nitro-glycerine as one of its constituents.This inventor had previously taken out patents for forming the explosive in strips or threads. As early as April 2, 1889—six months after they were appointed—Professor Abel and Professor Dewar took out patents of their own. The English patent was obtained for making a new explosive in cords or thread—hence the name "cordite"—which was exactly the form of the patent of Mr. Maxim taken out years earlier. In the same year Professor Abel and Professor Dewar took out three other patents, but one of these was rejected by the Comptroller because it was evidently the pick of another man's brains, and it had to be altered a second and even a third time before it was allowed to pass. That patent dealt with the composition of the explosive, and would it be believed that 842 although Mr. Maxim's powder was rejected on the ground that the Government would not allow a powder to be introduced which had a basis of nitroglycerine, these two gentlemen took out in their own names, and not on behalf of the Committee, patents for cordite, which contained more nitro-glycerine than any explosive known to England or to any foreign Power? He believed it contained 60 or 70 per cent. of nitro-glycerine. Now he came to a further and even more important point. One of the two further patents taken out by the same gentlemen was for the machinery used in the manufacture of cordite, and patents were also obtained in nearly every foreign country. They thus secured a double interest in this explosive. According to their own code of morals, as set forth in the Memorandum he had read, they said that if they were allowed to take out patents at home on behalf of the Government those patents would be made public at once. These were their own words—By taking out patents the Committee will secure to the Government the practical results of their official investigations, and private workers will at the same time have no excuse for complaining that they are kept in ignorance of the operations of scientific officials, who may anticipate them in consequence of the work carried out in secret with public money.Would it be believed that, although the patent for cordite was taken out on the 22nd April, 1889, it was never made public, but that, the Secretary of State for War having certified that it was for the public advantage that it should be kept secret, the patent was never disclosed until May 28, 1892, and therefore inventors had no means of knowing until that time that the foreign patents had been taken out? These gentlemen did not inform the inventors and they did not inform the War Office of what they had done. This was how the Committee carried out the Instruction thatNo foreign patents were to be taken out by any Government official unless they were published in the ordinary course in England.These two Members did take out foreign patents, but they kept them secret.
§ MR. HANBURY
No; he was not informed until two years after the patent was taken out. He was afraid the hon. Member had been misled by the very loosely written defences which had appeared lately in the columns of The Times. By keeping the patent secret they were enabled to take out a patent for the machinery for manufacturing cordite; and they were also enabled to take out foreign patents and to keep them open so that the persons to whom they were transferred should have the benefit of the latest improvements. He wanted to know whether, if they were bound to transfer the cordite patent to the Government for home purposes, they were not bound to transfer the patent for machinery? Then a very remarkable thing happened next. On the 22nd of July, 1889—three months after the application had been made for the patent to make cordite in this peculiar shape—Professor Abel, Professor Dewar, and Professor Anderson (now the Director General of the Ordnance Factories) applied for a patent for machinery for the manufacture of cordite. On the 1st of August, a week later, Professor Anderson was appointed to his present post at Woolwich, and the patent was not completed until six mouths after his appointment. He had received two answers from the Secretary of State for War in regard to that matter. The first was that Professor Anderson was not in the Government employment when he took out this patent. But the fact remained that he entered the service of the Government only a week later, and months before the patent was actually accepted. He was also told that Professor Anderson had no interest in the matter; that he had transferred his interest in it to the War Office. He understood that the statement was not correct, and that the War Office authorities were not the only persons interested in the patent. When the transfer was made to the War Office other persons who were interested in the patent remonstrated, for Professor Anderson was only a shareholder in a limited company. The interest had eventually to be re-transferred, and the Government were now actually paying a Royalty for using the machinery in the manufacture of cordite at Waltham. He ventured to assert that Professor Anderson continued to be deeply interested in the machinery 844 and in the products of the patent after he entered the Government employ. On October 16, 1888, Professor Anderson held 508 shares of £100 each. In October, 1889, he had transferred 50 of these shares to his son, and in December, 1889, he transferred the remainder to his wife and to other members of his family. Therefore, to say that Professor Anderson was not just as much interested in the patent as he was before was perfectly ludicrous. Did the right hon. Gentleman, when he stated that Professor Anderson had surrendered his interest in the patent, know that the shares had only been transferred by him to members of his family? He laid stress on that point, because this was a case in which the men who had to judge what was the best explosive for this country were directly interested in foisting their own cordite on the country. They had not handed over the patent for the machinery to the War Office, and they had, therefore, an enormous interest in recommending an explosive that could be manufactured by their own machinery. He did not think the inventors who were invited to compete with cordite at Walthamstow were told of these patents. He was told that the publication of the three later patents was not disclosed till long after inventors had sent in their samples. But was there any effectual competition? As showing how far these impartial judges would allow any other explosive to come into competition with their own, he knew of two cases in which competitors had applied mouth after month to have their explosives tried and were refused, although they offered to supply everything in the shape of guns and rifles. If the Secretary for War wished he would give him privately the names of those two competitors. But was the competition itself bonâ fide? Competitors were obliged to send in their samples within four weeks of the issue of the invitation, though they knew nothing about the rifle or the cartridges, or about the conditions of the explosive which they were to supply. It was utterly impossible to have a fair competition on that basis. Now he came to the foreign patents. Did the competitors know how deeply their judges were pledged to cordite by the fact of their having taken out the foreign patents? Just as the inventors had been deceived 845 when they entered into a sham competition, the War Office in their turn were deceived. He had in the handwriting of Professor Abel that patents were taken out in Germany on June 16, 1889, nine months after the Committee began to sit; in France on June 15, 1889; in Belgium on June 15, 1889; in Italy on August 24, 1889; in the United States on August 20,1889; in Austria-Hungary in June, 1889; in Switzerland on June 25, 1889; and in Sweden on August 21, 1889. Patents were also taken out in another country, and he wondered that Professor Abel had not mentioned that country, and that was Russia, on August 11, 1889. Surely that was the country to which, last of all, he ought to have sold the patent. Why, he should like to know, was mention of that fact omitted in the published document? If Professors Abel and Dewar had no War Office authority for selling these Government patents and official secrets to Foreign Powers they came within the Official Secrets Act, and ought to be prosecuted for betraying official secrets. It was monstrous that men occupying an official position should betray these inventions to foreign countries. He wanted to know how far the War Office know of this? The evidence was that for two years even the Director of Artillery did not know, and that for three years the Secretary of State for War did not know. Professor Abel, in a letter, said that he was in a position to show that the War Office knew that he and Professor Dewar were taking out these patents. If so, the Committee ought to have the names of the officials to whom the fact was disclosed. Thus, in taking out these patents these two gentlemen did a gross injustice to the War Office, to the inventors who came to compete without knowing that their judges were interested parties, and to the public, because in 1889 they had determined on cordite, which was not adopted in the Service until May 28 of this year. Four years, which might have been profitably employed in finding out a new explosive, were thus wasted. Now he came to the defence made by the War Office for this strange state of things, and on this he would press the Secretary for War to tell the Committee why a distinction was drawn between the cordite patent and the machinery patent, and why the latter was not conveyed to the War Office. In the 846 strange defence that was put forward on the part of Professors Abel and Dewar the aid of the British taxpayer was first called in. It was said that his purse was affected to the extent of £500,000. But it was a remarkable fact that this cordite should be of such value to England, when the result of the foreign patents, according to Professor Abel's statement, was only £828 during all these years. It did not look as if foreign countries viewed cordite as a valuable invention. Then it was said that if this suit were lost the British taxpayer would lose an amount varying from £500,000 to £1,750,000. No doubt it was a formidable lawsuit, but the Patent Act did not deal with the particular case that had arisen. No doubt if a man took out a patent, and if the Government adopted it, the Treasury could decide what reward should be given; but when a patent had been infringed, and a large quantity of cordite had been made, it would not be for the Treasury to say how much should be paid to Mr. Nobel for having his brains picked and his ideas stolen. It would be for a Court of Law to settle that, and that was how the loss of £1,750,000 might arise. It was all nonsense to try to get the aid of the British taxpayer. He did not want to be the receiver of stolen goods. If he was not fairly entitled to these patents it was ridiculous to make appeals to his pocket. The defence went on to say—You must not hamper Professors Abel and Dewar in any way, because this is an important lawsuit, and the dynamite combination is both wealthy and influential.But why should all these inventors be leagued together, unless they felt that they had been treated with gross injustice? Next the defence went on—Do not attack Professor Abel and Professor Dewar. They are your champions. They are bound to defend this patent.Yes, but at the cost of the country. The War Office was going to find the money for them, so that they might defend the foreign patents just as much as the home patents. The writers of the defence seemed to ignore the fact that there was a third Member of the Committee who had declined to soil his fingers by taking out patents. Then it was asked—What are we to do? At once to encourage investors by buying indiscriminately any and 847 every smokeless powder brought to our notice, or take some powder at the inventor's valuation? It was easy, and might have been made a lucrative course to do so.Of that last remark he complained bitterly. Insinuations of that kind ought not to be made.Professor Abel is doing his duty to the country, and through a long public career has stopped many designs on the public purse.If the War Office had that information they ought to have disclosed it; otherwise the statement had no value whatever; and he should press the right hon. Gentleman for an answer as to that. It was to the public interest to know when inventors went wrong just as much as when public officials did., Then it was asked—Why did not these men use their right to oppose the issue of the patent that embodied their ideas?Because the War Office kept the matter secret for three years. How could they object when the specifications had never been made public? It was perfectly ridiculous to put questions of that kind. Next it was said—It is also easy to talk at large of the advantages conferred by an official position for picking brains, but nobody has pointed out where these advantages are to be found.He ventured to assert that the advantage was to be found very easily. Well, he would like to know what private inventor had the opportunity of getting 18 other inventors to go and submit their inventions to him? Mr. Nobel said that he put everything frankly, without reserve, without any concealment, at the disposal of the Committee. A good deal was made in the defence of the assistance given by Sir Andrew Nobel. Now, he did not like to see the Elswick firm drawn into official connection with the War Office because that firm were manufacturers of guns; and if they could give a certificate to the War Office patent for cordite the War Department officials in return had an opportunity of giving them orders for guns. Thus the certificate could have little value in his eyes. It was a matter of fact, however, that although Sir Andrew Nobel was able to give a certificate as to the value of cordite for British Government purposes, the Elswick firm had a different explosive of their own which did not contain nitro-glycerine at all, and which was a French invention. Then the 848 defence went on to say that the Committee were not responsible for cordite being finally chosen as the Service powder. It was explained that—It was selected by the Military Authorities after trials carried out by officials specially deputed for the duty by the Secretary of State.The answer of the Secretary of State for War to that was that the chemical tests and everything involved in judging how far these explosive compounds carried out the requirements of the Government and the War Office was decided by this jury of three men, whose Report was handed to the Director of Artillery, and by him sent through the Adjutant General to the Commander-in-Chief. Eventually, the Secretary for War approved the adoption of cordite. There was, in fact, no Court of Appeal so far as the chemical aspect of the question was involved. There was only one other statement in the defence with which he wished to deal, and that read—The Memorandum published by The Times shows that the War Office was fully cognisant of the intentions of the patentees from the very first.He thought he had disproved that by showing that the War Office had totally ignored the suggestion of the Committee that the Members should be allowed to take out foreign patents. It was further said that no importance ought to be attached to the secrecy of the cordite patent, because this patent was disclosed by the machinery patent in 1890. If so, why did the Secretary of State for War, a week before that patent was disclosed, certify, on his authority as Minister of the Crown, that it was to the public interest that the specification of the cordite patent should not be disclosed, and why was it kept secret for another two years? It was impossible to meet that argument. And what was the good of disclosing it then, when their own machinery patent was taken out? There was another reason still in the background for getting the Secretary of State to certify as he did—namely, that it enabled the patentees to get the benefit of modifications and improvements made in the cordite during; two successive years. He was sorry to have to trouble the House at such length, but there was one other aspect of the case he wished to touch upon, and that was the effect of cordite on rifles. 849 He believed it was fatal to the Maxim gun.
Order, order! I do not think the qualities of cordite can be discussed on this Vote. That matter arises on Vote 9.
§ MR. HANBURY
said, he would not press that point. But he would like to call attention to a statement made by a gentleman largely prejudiced in favour of cordite, because he had a considerable interest in the manufacturing machinery. He regretted the Secretary to the Admiralty was not present at that moment, because Professor Anderson had made a startling statement in a lecture at Woolwich with regard to cordite, which had been adopted as Service powder for the Army and Navy. The Professor said—It is only this year that we have produced what may be called a Service cordite, and experiments now being carried on by the Ordnance Committee will show more and more what are the necessary precautions to be adopted in it. But the temperature is certainly one, and this has a very important bearing on the ship's magazine. For some reason best known to themselves the Navy put their magazine near their boilers to get them as hot as possible. That will not suit cordite at all. They will have either to shift their magazines or to stick to black powder.They were told the Admiralty had an idea that some preparation could be used to prevent the temperature in ships' magazines rising above 100 degrees. But three years ago they were told it was impossible to prevent that in India, or in ships passing through the Red Sea, apart from the effect of the magazines being between the boilers. Then how impossible it would be to store cordite on their ships unless the magazines could be shifted—which was not possible. Seeing that they had already spent over £200,000 on this explosive, and large quantities had been made for their ships, this seemed to be a very bad look-out. This raised a very important issue. He had adduced some remarkable facts, but there were still more remarkable facts behind which could only be properly brought out on oath in a Court of Law by Mr. Nobel and by those associated with him. He asked the Secretary of State for War to put an end once for all to the rumours of compromises that were going about. He was told that compromise after compromise was being offered to Mr. Nobel, and they knew what the influences at 850 work must be. In March last the Treasury and the War Office offered to abandon the patents after the short period had elapsed for which fees had been paid. There were men connected with the War Office who naturally were only too anxious that all the evidence should not come out in open Court. He knew that even that very morning private manufacturers had received a Circular from the War Office referring to the lawsuit as a friendly suit as between Mr. Nobel and the War Office. Did the hon. Gentleman want the facts brought out in open daylight? This was not only a matter of honour, but it involved a large amount of the British taxpayer's money, and it ought not, therefore, to be checked by way of compromise.
§ MR. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
Perhaps I can save the time of the Committee. The hon. Member's eloquence on this part of the subject is being entirely thrown away. If in any private or official communication I have used the expression "a friendly suit," it is in the sense that both sides are anxious to prosecute the case as quickly as possible, not in a vindictive spirit, but in order to elicit the exact truth of the matter.
§ MR. HANBURY
said, he was glad to hear it, but he was bound to say that he had seen official documents dated as early as March last stating that the Government were perfectly prepared to abandon these patents.
§ MR. HANBURY
said, the intimation did not come from the War Office, but from the Treasury; therefore, he warned the War Office to be on its guard against that Department. He wished to know whether the conduct of the case rested with the War Office or with the Treasury?
§ MR. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
With neither the one nor the other. It rests with the Law Officers of the Crown—that is to say, the Department of the Solicitor to the Treasury.
§ MR. HANBURY
said, he believed the document to which he referred came from the Solicitor to the Treasury. He wished the right hon. Gentleman to be on his guard against a Department that went so far as to say, that it would sacrifice its patents, or only maintain them for the short period during which the fees 851 had to be paid. That was half-way towards a compromise.
§ MR. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
No such proposal will be made to any one without my sanction. When I said the case was in the hands of the Law Department, I meant that they would conduct it, but they will take no important step without my complete sanction, and no such proposal has ever received my sanction.
§ MR. HANBURY
I am very glad to have got that statement from the right hon. Gentleman, who is now pledged that neither the War Office nor the Treasury will compromise the suit.
§ MR. HANBURY
said, in that case he had all he wanted, and he did not regret having brought forward the matter. He had intended asking the Secretary of State for War to appoint a Committee of Inquiry—not into the personal matter, but into the system as a whole, because they had had complaint after complaint from inventors, who said that they were afraid to go to the War Office or to any public Departments with their inventions, because they were never sure that they would have justice done to them, and that their ideas would not be borrowed, patented, and sold to foreign countries by some Government official for the benefit of the country, or, what was worse, for the benefit of his own pocket. In this way the country lost the advantage of much inventive genius. They could not get their best men to come forward with inventions. Rich inventors like Mr. Nobel could defend themselves, but poor inventors had no protection. This sort of thing had been going on for years. Treasury Circulars had been issued against this system, though they were now said to be obsolete, and the Commission presided over by Sir James Stephen reported that it inflicted injustice upon inventors. Therefore, if the pre- 852 sent law-suit did not come to a head, he hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would grant a Committee, in order that all the facts with regard to the system generally might be investigated. The right hon. Gentleman would agree with him that the system was a bad one, and that even if there was no injustice done to the inventors those persons laboured under the idea that there was, and they were backed up by Reports of Committees and Commissions. His object was to see that the interests of the State were secured by securing the benefit of the inventive genius of the country, whether the inventors were rich or poor, and he hoped that the fullest inquiry would be instituted by the country. He begged to move the reduction of the Vote by the sum of £500.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Item A, Salaries, be reduced by £500."—(Mr. Hanbury.)
§ MAJOR RASCH (Essex, S.E.)
said, he begged to support the observations of the hon. Member for Preston. He (Major Rasch) wanted to deal with the question of the applicability of cordite to the British Army. Cordite obtained its name from its similarity in appearance to thread or cord. It was composed of 58 parts of nitro-glycerine, 37 of cellulose or gun-cotton, and 5 parts of mineral jelly, such as vaseline. The basis of the whole composition was nitro-glycerine, which was one of the highest explosives known to science. No one who, like himself, had had any experience of the dynamite explosion in London in 1882 would doubt the power of the explosive. They had to remember in connection with cordite that in India nitro-glycerine could not be handled under a temperature of 70 degrees, and that when frozen in Canada it became an infinitely more violent explosive, and the explosive force exercising its power not in a propelling direction, but in a blasting manner, the probability was that when frozen it would burst the rifle without driving out the bullet.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman is going into the explosive qualities of cordite, which question does not come under the Vote.
§ MAJOR RASCH
said that, under the circumstances, he would reserve his observations on that part of the subject. He would only say that, in his opinion, 853 cordite was not suitable to the requirements of the British Army, seeing that the Army had to serve both in hot and cold climates. As to the way in which cordite was invented, hon. Gentlemen who studied the question would know that in 1888 a Committee was appointed by the War Office to go into the question of explosives in the British Army and British Naval Service. That Committee sat under the Presidency of Sir Frederick Abel. To all intents and purposes, the Committee was Sir Frederick Abel and he was the Committee. Inventors to the number of 17 or 18 exposed their inventions publicly before the Committee, and in about a year's time Sir Frederick Abel or the Committee evolved from the knowledge they had picked from the brains of these inventors a substance called cordite. The inventors who had submitted their various powders and inventions to the Committee got nothing. Cordite was invented by Sir Frederick Abel and his Committee. It was obvious that inventors could not be expected to submit their inventions to the War Office or to the Government if they got absolutely nothing out of the product of their brains; nay, more, if they saw their own ideas patented by someone else, and someone else making money out of them. With reference to the transfer of the patent in 1889, it was assigned to the War Office. He thought he was right in saying that two months afterwards another patent for the manufacture of cordite was assigned to a foreigner named Heitmann, who was resident in Cologne, but who was head of an explosive factory in this country and of several explosive factories on the Continent. What he (Major Rasch) wished to suggest was that even if cordite had been the absolute property of the Chairman of the Committee it would hardly have been according to regulations that the patent should be sold to a Foreign Power. But the cordite which the Committee evolved and produced was not their property at all. It was paid for by the taxpayer of this country, the cost being something like £200,000. Sir Frederick Abel and Professor Dewar had no right to sell the patent, whether they got £840 for it or £500,000. The accredited representative of the War Office at the time stated that the War Office had no know- 854 ledge that this patent had been assigned, and finally the Secretary to the War Office had stated, in reply to a Metropolitan Member, that the inventors were entitled to the profit just as much as any other inventor would be entitled to the profit of an invention sold outside the United Kingdom. He was astonished at the complaisance of the War Office in this matter. He ought to correct himself and say, having served many years in the Army, and some years in that House, that he was astonished at nothing that the British War Office did. Sir E. Hamley used to say that the War Office was an epitome of centralisation gone mad. He was not saying anything against the present Secretary of State for War, for he was sure if there was anyone in the House who wished in the Army the maximum of efficiency at the minimum of expense, it was the present Minister for War. In this case the War Office had surpassed itself. In the first place, it accepted an explosive which a great many people considered absolutely unsuitable for the British Army; and, in the next place, it allowed the patent for the manufacture of the explosive to be sold to a Foreign Power. Under the circumstances, he thought he was justified in saying the War Office had "gone one better" than it had ever gone before.
§ MR. COCHRANE (Ayrshire, N.)
said, he took a considerable interest in this question, partly because Mr. Nobel's factory of Ardeer was in his constituency of Ayrshire. The hon. Member for Preston had, in his opinion, made out a claim for the furnishing of full information to the Committee on this question of cordite gunpowder. If this information was not given, the Committee would know that a grave state of affairs existed, involving the public honour. What they represented to the Committee was that it was to the public advantage that inventors should be treated with common honesty, and that their inventions should not be filched from them. The Minute of 1872 made the matter quite clear, and the case of Mr. Nobel was a very striking instance of the way in which at least one inventor had been treated. The Minute contained the following:—My Lords consider that no officer should be called upon to judge, nor to give an opinion where his own interests may come into collision with those of any other person and that no 855 inducement should be held out to officers employed in any Department of the Public Service to make use of labour or materials entrusted to them for the good of the Service in prosecuting investigations from which they themselves are to derive any pecuniary advantage, since it is evident that the opportunities enjoyed by such officers must suggest to them improvements, and it is only just that the public, by whose resources these improvements have been worked out, should have the benefit of them.It was stated that this Minute had been superseded in 1883, but that fact was not generally known. Mr. Nobel submitted his samples of nitro-glycerine powder to the War Office in accordance with the Circular, which stated that, at all events, the samples would be dealt with in a fair manner. The hon. Member for Preston had referred to the value of the cordite patent, but no doubt the price was influenced by the fact that ballistite, which was another patent of Nobel's, was used abroad, its composition being 40 to 60 per cent. of nitro-glycerine and 60 to 40 per cent. of cellulose. The fact that Italy, Germany, Austria, and other countries used ballistite very largely might account for the small price given to Sir F. Abel for the cordite patent. This case formed a most striking instance of the way in which our inventors were treated. Mr. Nobel was the inventor of dynamite in 1867, and of blasting gelatine in 1875, and it was in consequence of these discoveries that the idea of using nitro-glycerine for propelling purposes was first entertained. After many years of toil and thought, Mr. Nobel first conceived the idea that nitro-glycerine might be used for small arms, and he took out a patent in 1888 for ballistite, which was quite similar to cordite. He was induced, by the Circular of 1872, to place the information before the Committee in the fullest, freest, and most unguarded manner, and he invited every kind of examination which the Committee chose to make of his explosive. The Committee drew up the Memorandum read out by the hon. Member opposite, in which they themselves laid down the principles which they relied upon. The principal paragraph was the following:—Relying confidently upon a proper defence of their proceedings in high official quarters.He hoped the Committee would not have an "official" defence, and that the whole matter would be inquired into on its merits. Every fact should be brought 856 out in an impartial manner before the House and the country. He considered that Mr. Nobel had been exceedingly hardly treated, because no sooner had the War Office obtained his patent than they set to work to make cordite, which was very similar to Mr. Nobel's invention. The Ardeer works in Scotland was the only place where nitro-glycerine was made. After succeeding in getting the patent, the War Office advertised in The Glasgow Herald for workmen as follows:—Nitro-glycerine manufacture. Required for Nitro-glycerine Factory at Waltham Abbey two thoroughly competent and reliable men, who have been specially trained in the manufacture of nitro-glycerine; the pay would be 30s. per week. Application in writing should be addressed to the Superintendent, Royal Gunpowder factory, Waltham Abbey, Essex.There was no other works than the Ardeer Works from which specially skilled workmen in nitro-glycerine could be obtained, and the result of the advertisement was that four or five of the most experienced and skilled men in Mr. Nobel's works were induced to leave his service, and enter that of the Government. That was a scandalous state of affairs, and he hoped the whole matter would be thoroughly inquired into on its merits. If this cordite was an infringement of Mr. Nobel's patent there had been a serious delay in bringing the matter to a decision in the Courts. The damages, he hoped, would be very heavy.
(intervening) said, that was a subject of judicial proceeding, and the hon. Member was not in Order in discussing it.
§ MR. COCHRANE
said, he thought the relations of Mr. Anderson, director General of Ordnance Factories, with regard to the patent for the machinery used in the making of cordite required explanation. Recently specifications had been issued to the makers of explosives inviting them to manufacture a certain quantity of cordite for the Government. Those specifications, however, were worded in such a manner that manufacturers making cordite were obliged to use the process and apparatus which these gentlemen had patented. The Specification to govern Manufacture and Inspection, approved 14th August, 1893, was in these terms—1. Composition—the percentage composition of the cordite should be as follows;—Nitro- 857 glycerine 58 per cent.; gun-cotton, 37 per cent.; mineral-jelly 5 per cent.2. Ingredients.—The whole of the ingredients and materials used in the manufacture of cordite are to be of the description, and to have passed the tests, laid down in the Specifications in Appendices B to K.3. Manufacture.—The manufacture of cordite from the weighing out of the ingredients to the final blending of the finished cordite is to be carried out in all its details in the same manner as at the Royal Gunpowder Factory, Waltham Abbey.Such a state of things would require a great deal of explanation before the public would be perfectly satisfied. Men in positions like that of Director General of Ordnance Factories should be above suspicion; it certainly wag undesirable in the public interest that they should be able to send out specifications which induced manufacturers to think their manufactures would not be used unless they employed machinery which was patented by the gentlemen who would have to approve of the products. He did not wish to pursue this further. He should like to be informed what were the terms of the Report, which induced the Government to make cordite a Service powder. Why did not a Committee test the effect of cordite upon small arms before the powder was accepted, seeing that it had been two years before the War Office? Was there any other powder which wore out small arms with greater rapidity than cordite?
§ MR. WEIR (Ross and Cromarty)
said, that many inventors were put to shifts in order to develop the conception of their brains, and it was very hard lines when their ideas were stolen from them. For 25 years he had had a good deal to do with inventors, and he had always warned them not to submit their inventions to the British War Office if they expected remuneration or reward. The House ought to do its best to protect the honest inventor. He wanted to know whether Sir Frederick Abel and Professor Dewar were the honest inventors of cordite powder? He had very grave doubts about it. The hon. Member for Preston had produced documentary evidence to show that the whole transaction was of a very shady character indeed. They could not allow a high official to have a stigma of this kind upon him. The matter ought to be thoroughly inquired into. 858 These things happened not during a Liberal Government, but during a Tory-Government, and he thought the hon. Member for Preston deserved the thanks of every Member for the pluck with which he had revealed the misdeeds of his own Party. The present Secretary of State for War was not responsible, but it would not do for him to burke the question now that he was in Office. There had been a good deal of trying to cover it up. He (Mr. Weir) had endeavoured to get some information in regard to cordite powder, but had got no satisfaction. The Secretary of State for War was a universal provider of war material for our forces, and as the British public paid high prices they had a right to expect a good article. It appeared to him (Mr. Weir) a shady mode of conducting business to keep the public ignorant of the patent for cordite powder for a couple of years, whilst they allowed the secret to be made known by permitting their experts to take out patents in foreign countries. The War Office said the invention must be kept secret, and yet Professors Abel and Dewar took out patents in several other countries. If the Government wished to keep the invention secret it ought not to have been patented at all, and certainly not in any other country. There were too many wooden-heads in the War Office, or they would have told Professors Abel and Dewar and Dr. Anderson that they would not allow them to carry out the policy they had adopted. If the officials of the War Office had been sharp business men they would have retained the secret and process of manufacturing cordite for themselves. He trusted that the Secretary of State for War would appoint an impartial and efficient Committee who would make an exhaustive inquiry into the subject.
ADMIRAL FIELD (Sussex, Eastbourne)
remarked that men of great distinction had been most unfairly and unjustly attacked by his hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mr. Hanbury), and he was afraid there was a likelihood of the Committee being led away into a false issue. The Committee had nothing to do with rival inventors. All they were concerned with was whether his hon. Friend had made out his contention that certain distinguished men had contravened the Regulations under which they were serving. He admired the hon. Member for Preston; indeed, he had a 859 kind of political affection for him. His hon. Friend was a strong man all round. At the same time, a War Office official was to his hon. Friend very much what a red rag was to a certain animal. The moment a man entered the War Office his hon. Friend was ready to go for him, and to think he was incapable any longer of doing an honourable thing. His hon. Friend saw fraud or omission of duty in every act of such an individual. He (Admiral Field) had always been ready to act on another principle, and to believe that those who were in the Public Service were honourable men until they had been proved to be rogues. These chemical experts were appointed not on their own motion, but by the late Secretary of State for War (Mr. E. Stanhope). His hon. Friend (Mr. Weir) seemed to foe wild with anger with these distinguished men because they invented cordite. Why, that was the object of their appointment. They were appointed to invent a smokeless powder which would meet the requirements of the Public Service.
§ ADMIRAL FIELD, said that was just what it was; the moment the invention was made by these distinguished men a patent was taken out and transferred to the War Office. One of the complaints of the Members of the Committee was that, having been appointed to suggest a smokeless powder, they received no definite instructions for their guidance. They wore put in a position of difficulty, and instead' of having anathemas hurled at them they really deserved sympathy. For his own part, he was satisfied that they had done their duty honourably and fairly. It was not the case that they had analysed all the compounds submitted to them. The inventors simply appeared before them and stated their inventions without submitting samples. It was perfectly true that Mr. Nobel explained his invention. He (Admiral Field) was a Member of a War Office Committee on Explosives 20 years ago, and he then formed a very high opinion of Mr. Nobel. The Committee, however, had nothing whatever to do with the rival claims of Mr. Nobel and Sir F. Abel. All it could do was to see whether there was any 860 foundation for the charge that the Members of the Committee had been guilty of breach of trust. His hon. Friend (Mr. Hanbury) stated that the Committee examined the inventions submitted to them, and reported upon them. That was just what they did not do. All the experiments were carried out by a Committee of officers down at Woolwich, the Members of the Scientific Committee not being present. The Committee of officers reported that cordite was the most valuable of the compounds submitted to them. Sir F. Abel's reputation was European, and everybody who knew that gentleman knew he was incapable of picking the brains of other men. As early as 1872 Professor Abel invented and patented the very first smokeless powder in the form of cartridges for rifles. At that time the Navy and Army did not care so much about smokeless powder as they did now, and nothing came of the invention. Mr. Nobel was the only inventor who made his nitroglycerine powder really known to the Committee. In 1890 Sir F. Abel, in a lecture on smokeless powder, gave Mr. Nobel all the credit of being the first to bring nitro-glycerine powder to public notice, but said Mr. Nobel's invention did not fulfil all necessary requirements. Professor Abel looked further into the subject, and he and Professor Dewar patented a modification of Mr. Nobel's invention. If there was a dispute between Sir F. Abel and Mr. Nobel the proper place to settle it was a Court of Law, and not a Committee of the House of Commons. Not long ago War Office officials were able to patent their inventions, even against the Government. His hon. Friend (Mr. Hanbury) was very angry with Sir F. Abel and Professor Dewar because they patented their invention in foreign countries. If they had not done so, Foreign Governments would have been in possession of the patents. It might be said that the Government ought themselves to have patented the invention abroad. If they had done this, his hon. Friend would have come down to the House with another wild charge against the Government for interfering with private trade. The charge hurled against these men was perfectly unjust. He was assured that they acted quite openly as far as their official superiors were con- 861 cerned, and actually communicated with the Director of Artillery verbally from time to time, and were told to take out the foreign patents. In April, 1889, Sir F. Abel had a discussion with the Director of Artillery concerning the securing of foreign patents.
§ MR. HANBURY, interrupting, said, if Professor Abel was able to prove that he informed the Director of Artillery in April, 1889, that he had taken out these patents, that would be a complete answer; but he could not prove that, because at that time he had not taken them out.
was informed that in April, 1889, Sir Frederick Abel had a discussion with the Director of Artillery concerning the securing of foreign patents, which eventuated in his receiving from the Director of Artillery verbal authority to take out certain patents. Therefore, seised as he (Admiral Field) was with this information, he felt very strongly that this attack of his hon. Friend was most unjust and most unfair. It was a very serious matter to drag eminent men on to the floor of this House, who could not answer the charge except by deputy, or through the officials of the Departments with which they were connected. If they were allowed to appear at the Bar of the House, they would, no doubt, be able to convince every honest man that the charges had no foundation. He knew his hon. Friend would not bring these charges forward if he did not believe them; but his hon. Friend's mind was poisoned by rival inventors, and they all knew how they felt towards one another. He believed Sir Frederick Abel, Professor Dewar, and their confrères were as incapable of any dishonourable action as his hon. Friend himself, and that was saying a good deal. He objected to such charges being brought forward, and these gentlemen termed, in a scornful way, "implicated officials," when they could not be there to answer charges for which he was convinced there was no foundation.
§ MR. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
My hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mr. Hanbury), in opening his case on this cordite question, used an expression which has only been too common during the last few, weeks. He spoke of it as "the Cordite Scandal," and I think, in consequence of some remonstrance by word 862 or gesture from me, he said that he would not call it a scandal till it had been proved to be so. I wish other people had acted on that principle, because I do think that it is very little creditable, and certainly not to the advantage of the Public Service of the country, that we should see on newspaper placards and elsewhere, in large letters," The Cordite Scandal," when avowedly only one side of the case has been stated, and when that has been stated in an obviously ex-parte and partisan spirit. No one can doubt, Sir, the immense importance of the question raised—importance not only as it affects the result to the Public Service of the acceptation of cordite as a Service store, but as affecting the general character and practice of Public Departments. And I am very glad the duty of bringing it forward has fallen into the hands of the hon. Gentleman, who always does, to say the least, ample justice to any case of this sort, and in whose hands it will certainly lose nothing in point of vigorous demonstration. Turning to myself, I have been not accused, but a complaint has been made of the answers I have given to questions on this subject, and my hon. Friend the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Weir) especially complains of evasive answers. I am afraid I cannot give the answers my questioners would wish to have on all occasions, and when I fail to give the answers they desire they say I give an evasive answer. My effort has been to state the facts on every occasion. I have not been asked any question as to the rights or wrongs of any point, or as to the policy or justice of a case, but merely as to dates and facts. I took immense pains in order to make sure that I was correct in the answers I gave, and, having ascertained what the correct answers were, I gave them.
§ MR. HANBURY
Might I give one instance? My right hon. Friend told me distinctly that as soon as Dr. Anderson joined the Service he ceased to have any connection with the firm of Easton and Anderson. I think nobody, having heard that answer, would have thought he had simply transferred the whole f his shares in the company to his we and family.
§ MR. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
I understand that what happened in that instance is what happens in many cases. 863 Easton and Anderson is a limited company, and one of the rules of the company is that the shares must not be sold in the open market. If he had to denude himself of his shares, to whom could they go?
§ MR. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
His interest was not personal to himself, and what more could he have done than to take the course he did of handing them over to those to whom alone he could transfer them. It was the utmost he could do towards divesting himself of these shares, and there was no evasion at all in the answer. But, so far as I am concerned, the Committee will understand I have no personal responsibility whatever for any of the events that are under discussion. Everything in this matter, except my formal acceptation of cordite as a Service store, occurred before I came into Office. When I came into Office very naturally I made some inquiry into this case of cordite. I was almost immediately assailed by rival inventors who had other smokeless powders very much better than cordite, and were only longing for a more intelligent Secretary of State for War than had previously occupied that position in order that the enormous advantage of their powder should be at once established. I made my inquiries as to cordite—that is to say, as to the opinion and experience of the military officers around me of the results of cordite; and having ascertained that it had answered all that was expected from it; that the results had been better than had been expected from it in every respect; that all the tests it had been subjected to had resulted in its favour, and, above all things, that its stability was well established, and that it did not change under climatic influences—having ascertained that, and knowing that this prolonged and elaborate inquiry had taken place, and that, as my hon. Friend has said, £200,000 had been spent on plant and works to produce it, I say I should have been unworthy of occupying the position I hold if, because it was new to me, I had said—"Here are some people who say they have a better powder; let us throw the whole thing into hotchpot and have a fresh inquiry and fresh experiments for another half-dozen years." I say so long as I was satisfied with the 864 opinion of my military advisers that it answered their purpose, I was bound to stand by it until there is reason to believe that a much better powder than it is available. That is my position on the general question. You, Sir, have ruled that we are not to discuss the qualities of cordite, but if it had been open to do so I have here all the particulars I could have given of it. That was the judgment I came to on the evidence submitted to me, that it perfectly answered its purpose, and therefore it was I shut the door to these clamorous inventors, and on some day last spring I accepted cordite as a Service store. So much for that part of the question. As I have said, I have no responsibility for the events, and I think I shall best consult the convenience of the Committee and my right hon. Friend and predecessor the Member for Horncastle (Mr. E. Stanhope) if I leave it to him to answer all the detailed points that have been urged by the hon. Gentleman as to the events of the past, as to which I have only secondhand information. Whilst that is so there is one thing I am responsible for. I may very well be asked: Surveying all these past transactions, do you think that the practice of your Department in these matters is right? As to that, I admit fully my responsibility and the obligation I am under to give my opinion. The hon. Member for Preston began his story by disclaiming any intention to say anything personally obnoxious of anybody, and yet I am bound to say that, although all through his speech he was telling what men of honour would do and would not do, he at all events succeeded in making it evident that in his opinion all the officials connected with these transactions are villains of the deepest dye. My hon. Friend said at the beginning he was attacking no one personally—
§ MR. HANBURY
What I said was this: that I should describe what these men had done; that I believed it was a thoroughly wrong thing to do, but that it was quite compatible with the system permitted by the War Office, and they were not transgressing the Rules. I said then what I say now—that I do not think they ought to have done what they did.
§ MR. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
It is very small salve to anyone's feelings to have a general statement of that sort 865 proclaimed at the beginning, and then have a series of accusations brought against them with a constant commentary as to what men of honour would have done in the circumstances. Let me say this of Professor Abel and Professor Dewar: You may search, not only this country, but the world, and not find two men more qualified to decide any question such as was submitted to them in regard to this cordite. I should also include Mr. Dupré, whose name the hon. Gentleman did not introduce. Professor Abel, especially, is held by universal consent to be the highest authority on all military explosives. My right hon. Friend and predecessor had to appoint a Committee on explosives, and does anyone suggest he could have appointed better men than Professor Abel, Professor Dewar, or Mr. Dupré? Let me say this of Professor Abel: He has served the War Office and other Departments of the Government with the greatest fidelity and success for many years, and his reward has been exceedingly small when we think what he would have earned if, instead of accepting Government employment, he had started on his own private account, and reaped all the advantages which an eminent man like him would have been sure to have reaped. My hon. Friend went on to argue that they were appointed only to judge of the powders that were sent in. That is to say, they were to judge of the half-dozen, or dozen, or two dozen kinds of powder sent in, and if no individual powder came up to the requirements that were supposed to be necessary they were to bundle it all out, and say—"We will have none of this," and sit there with arms folded, and the Department was not free to apply—
§ MR. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
The hon. Gentleman proceeded to say they had invented something in order to enable the Department to get the best powder they could have. Surely their duty was to apply their great powers to endeavouring to assist the Department in obtaining that powder; and if that was not what they were to do, then persons of less eminence would have been sufficient to conduct experiments, and have been fit to accept or reject individual 866 powders submitted to them. They were picking men's brains, we are told. Whose brains? Let me separate Mr. Nobel at once, and I separate him because he is distinctly capable of being separated from anyone else. It has always been acknowledged, not only by the Committee, but by the Department and everyone concerned, that Mr. Nobel deserves the greatest consideration. Undoubtedly we owe very much to him for the main idea of these powders, and, therefore, I say I am as anxious as my predecessor was—and the Committee acknowledged it again and again—that he should be treated, as he deserves to be treated, with the greatest consideration. He alleges the definite point that by using cordite—by the manufacture of cordite—we are infringing his patent. That our legal advisers, learned in these matters, deny. His advisers assert that we are. What are we to do in these circumstances? Obviously a friendly suit at law is the best solution. I say friendly on purpose, because we have no hostility to Mr. Nobel, and I believe he has none to us. But he makes this assertion, and if he can prove this assertion we are bound to stand by the result and give him that compensation which is required. I do not touch in the least upon the merits of the case which is to be tried at law. The right hon. Gentleman opposite, I believe, set his face against any proposal to compromise or do anything except decide a great matter of that sort by a Court, and that not only for the main reason that the question was so important in itself that it deserved such treatment, but also that it would be an exceedingly dangerous thing for any Secretary for War to consent to any large pecuniary compensation in a case of that sort unless he had the definite authority of a Court of Law to do it. What the decision of that case may be we cannot tell. As I said, our technical advisers are very positive he has no case, and his advisers say he has. Let a Court of Law decide it. I can only repeat what I said interjectionally in the course of the hon. Gentleman's speech, that there is no desire whatever to compromise that action, and, on the contrary, the War Office has done everything it could since I have been connected with it to hasten it on. Before I leave this question of Mr. Nobel I 867 should like to add a few words. I was asking who had his brains picked. Which of the inventors of smokeless powder, on a gun cotton basis, all of which have been discarded? Has anything been stolen from them? Not a thing; not an idea. And in the great majority of cases these were patented powders. The very meaning of the word "patent" excludes the idea of a secret. If a man has patented an invention anyone can go and see the specification and ascertain all about it, and there is no picking of brains or filching of secrets whatever about it. No one has alleged that in cordite there is anything stolen or borrowed from all the powders that were not on a similar basis to cordite.
§ MR. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
It is rather breaking my own rule and trenching on the domain of actual facts, but the truth is that what Mr. Maxim invented was the passing of a plastic mass through holes in a cylinder in small threads for the purpose of expelling the air from it, and when that had been done it resumed the solid, or at any rate compact, mass in which it had originally been. He did not invent anything which left the explosive in cord form after passing through the cylinder. I do not wish to enter into the details of particular points. What I want to say is that we admit Mr. Nobel's claims to consideration. Notwithstanding what the hon. Member for Ayrshire implied, we have endeavoured in every way to treat him with that consideration. The little question about the employment of labourers, and so forth, had, I thought, been settled between his company and myself. I do not think any grievance or soreness exists on either side regarding that transaction. We a wait with patience, and I may add with hope, the result of the issue that is going to be decided between us. Now, as to patents—and I am reviewing all this from the point of view of the War Office, not from the point of view of the actual events—Professor Dewar and Professor Abel took out patents, and forthwith assigned them to the Secretary for War.
§ MR. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
Yes; that also was assigned. There was some hesitation or discussion about it between the firm and the War Office and 868 Dr. Anderson, but it was assigned to the Secretary of State for War.
§ MR. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
No; it was not re-assigned back, but, as I have said, there was a controversy about it at first. It is the rule now in the Public Service with regard to patents that, if any public servant takes out a patent, he must obtain for that purpose the consent of the head of the Department, and then must assign the patent to the head of the Department. And why? Because the whole matter being in a state of activity, anyone else who forestalled by a day that patent could immediately establish a claim for compensation from the Secretary for War; therefore, the moment anything was invented which was likely to be beneficial by a person employed by the Department, it was the most natural thing to patent it and assign it to the Secretary for War. They did not put a penny in their pocket by that transaction. It is alleged that, although it is not objectionable to take out a patent at home and assign it to the Secretary of State for War, yet it is a terrible thing to take out foreign patents. The War Office has nothing whatever to do with, and have no interest in, foreign manufacture we are not going to manufacture any powder or buy any powder abroad, and, therefore, it is immaterial to us whether we have patents abroad or not. In that sense we have no interest in it. These patents were taken out abroad by these gentlemen at a time when anyone else might have taken their ideas and patented them abroad; and if it is alleged that they ought to have in that case also assigned the foreign patents to the Secretary of State for War I have to ask why should they do so, and what was the Secretary of State for War to do with them when he had them assigned to him? It was much better for the Secretary of State for War to steer clear of the whole matter, and have nothing to do with the foreign patents. As a matter of fact, it is well known that little profit was made or makeable out of this foreign patent. But I quite admit that, to my mind, it is an arguable matter what course should be taken with regard to foreign patents. I do not take the strong line of my hon. Friend. I 869 think there is a good deal to be said on both sides. Let me again say that I am dealing with these matters from the point of view of the practice of the Department. I can only say it is a matter upon which I have an open mind. I have no strong opinion one way or the other; but excepting these foreign patents, which is an arguable point, at all events I am not aware of anything these gentlemen have done which can be said for a moment to have brought profits to themselves. Therefore, when we are told that they picked the brains of the inventors in order to make profit for themselves, I am sure they did not pick the brains of the inventors, and I have shown, so far as this country is concerned, and probably other countries too, there was no profit in this country, and very little probably in any other.
§ MR. HANBURY
My point is this: that whilst this process was kept secret in England, unknown to the War Office, they disclosed it to Foreign Powers. They took out these patents in 1889 long before it was made public in England in any shape.
§ MR. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. E. Stanhope) will no doubt explain. I do not think the hon. Member is right as a matter of fact. But, at all events, if a patent is taken out there is no secret. The hon. Gentleman talks about selling the secrets of our Government to Foreign Powers. There were no secrets to sell. The patents were open to all the world, and, therefore, Foreign Powers had every knowledge of our patents and all about them. There were no secrets. We have few secrets in this country, and those we have were disclosed by this transaction. I have not entered, and do not intend to enter, on all the details of dates and facts mentioned by the hon. Member. But I have dealt with the main issue, and on the main issue I find, first of all, that these eminent gentlemen were justified in inventing a powder for the assistance of the Government; secondly, they did not pick the brains of anyone; and, thirdly, where the idea or the general conception of the powder could be brought home to anyone, as in this case to Mr. Nobel, the War Office authorities had always felt that Mr. Nobel should be 870 treated with great consideration. In taking out their patents these gentlemen were merely acting according to the authorised practice of the Government Departments in order to protect the public interest, and not to protect themselves, and having taken out the patents they were assigned to the Secretary for War. I ask the Committee confidently where is the justification for the assertions of a cordite scandal? The scandal is that such accusations should be brought against the Department, and against men who have loyally and successfully served the public, on such a very small basis of foundation.
§ MR. E. STANHOPE (Lincolnshire, Horncastle)
I think the right hon. Gentleman has dealt fairly with this case, as he has dealt with every matter that came before him since he has occupied the Office of Secretary for War. I may say, in answer to the hon. Gentleman behind me, that, so far from desiring to keep the Committee in the dark as to the transactions with regard to cordite which took place during the time I was in Office, I shall be happy to afford all the information as far as I am personally concerned. I regret, Mr. Mellor, that owing to your decision I am prohibited from going into the merits of cordite, because I am sure it would be a great satisfaction to the country to learn the opinion of those who are responsible to the country for cordite as to the merits of cordite as an explosive. But I may be allowed to say a word as to the stability of cordite in answer to that portion of the case presented by the hon. Member for Preston. The stability of cordite is a subject of great importance. More than three years ago the War Office sent a specimen of cordite to India and to Canada. The authorities directed that an experiment should be tried in heat and in extreme cold, and under every possible condition of damp and other circumstances likely to affect the stability of the explosive. At the time when I left the War Office the Reports as to the behaviour of cordite, under these conditions, were exceedingly satisfactory. It is perfectly true, as has been said, that cordite labours under certain disadvantages when exposed to an extreme temperature. But to that temperature 871 cordite need never be exposed, not even in India; and on board ships there is no difficulty in keeping down the maximum temperature of the magazines to 100 degrees. Therefore, cordite is practically unaffected by heat. I pass from that to the general question of the right of public servants to take out patents. Originally there was a Treasury Minute practically prohibiting Government servants from taking out patents. Everyone felt, however, that the Act of 1883 relating to patents altered the position of affairs, and it was thought that the state of things in regard to Government servants should be altered. A Committee was appointed consisting of representatives of all the Departments of the State who were connected with these questions. The Committee at that time recommended that permission should be given to take out patents by persons employed by the Government. The Circular of 1873 was rescinded and permission was accordingly given under certain conditions to persons employed by the State to take out patents, though it was recommended that when these patents were taken out they should be assigned to the Secretary for War. At a later stage, however, he was not altogether satisfied with the investigation to which this Order was exposed, and I called upon the Committee representing the various Heads of the Departments to re-assemble. The Committee again met, with the result that they were unanimous in their opinion to allow persons employed by the State to take out patents with the consent of the Heads of this Department, and to assign them to the Departments. That Regulation has since been acted upon. Why was that recommendation made? First of all, because you cannot practically prevent these patents being taken out. A. B., a public servant, makes an invention. You may say that A. B. shall not take out a patent; but what is to prevent A. B. going to C. D., who is not a public servant, and getting him to take out the patent in his name, a course which would even more injuriously affect the Department and the State? Secondly, it is of great importance that the Government itself, when an invention is made in its Service, should be protected against someone outside taking out a patent and immediately claiming a royalty from the State. The object of assigning the 872 patent to the Government is to prevent royalties from being claimed against the Government in this country; and that, I submit, is an important consideration. But to come to the particular case under discussion, I must say that no more ridiculous charge has ever been brought against any public man than the charge made against Mr. Anderson, Director General of the Ordnance Factories. It is said that this gentleman has used his position in order to advance the interests of the private firm with which he had been connected. Now, what really happened? A member of a private firm makes a valued invention; that private firm has been accustomed to manufacture machines for the purpose of carrying on this kind of work for the Government, and it was, therefore, natural that those concerned in the invention of cordite should have turned to this firm in order to make a machine for the manufacture of cordite. That was done. Mr. Anderson invented a machine; application was made for the patent; and not long afterwards I, as War Minister, offered Mr. Anderson the position of Director General of Ordnance Factories. I made inquiries in every direction, and I found that Mr. Anderson was the man best qualified to fill one of the most responsible posts in the Service of the State. That opinion of mine has been more than justified, for it is now universally admitted that no better official has ever been appointed. Mr. Anderson has effected enormous improvements and economies in the conduct of the Royal Arsenal, and the opinion which has been formed of his abilities has been more than justified. Because Mr. Anderson was appointed to this post, I do not see on what ground the firm with which he has been connected should lose all right to manufacture machines. It would be absolutely ridiculous to make such a condition. Mr. Anderson has nothing to do with placing the contracts—more than I have at the present moment. The person who places the contracts is the Director of Contracts, and he came to me in the most straightforward manner and said—"I should like you to know the facts. Easton and Anderson are likely to have these contracts, and as Mr. Anderson was lately a member of that firm I wish to know do you assent? "I said that a firm which had done so much in 873 the interest of the public had a right to the contracts. The firm, therefore, has a share, but only a share, in the supply of these machines.
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
About two-thirds of the machines are made by the Government themselves. I think that a very slender basis on which to found a charge of malversation against one of the most eminent of our public servants. I believe Mr. Anderson to be absolutely incapable of what has been alleged against him, and I venture to say that the Committee will require much stronger facts than have been yet alleged to induce them to condemn a man who has so ably served the public. Then there is the case of Sir Frederick Abel and Professor Dewar. When the question arose of choosing a smokeless powder, the person responsible was the Director of Artillery. The Director of Artillery came to me and said that he was absolutely incapable of choosing a smokeless powder by himself, and asked that a Committee of chemists might be appointed to report as to smokeless powder in general. A Committee was appointed—Professor Dupré, Professor Dewar, and Sir Frederick Abel. These gentlemen arrived very quickly at the conclusion that there was at that time no smokeless powder suitable for the Public Service, though they thought that one particular powder, composed mainly of nitro-glycerine, was the one which afforded a basis upon which the Committee might hope to achieve more satisfactory results. They communicated with Mr. Nobel, who was the inventor, and they asked him to continue the experiments with the object of making the powder suitable for the Public Service. After a certain time the Committee, who continued their own experiments, arrived at the invention of cordite. They believed that cordite was a powder thoroughly suitable in every respect for the Public Service, and they applied for a patent. That application came before me, and I granted leave for cordite to be patented in this country, the patent being assigned to me as Secretary of State for War. There were three patents taken out. Two of these were not kept secret at all. One was the process for manufacturing cordite, and the second was the machine for making cordite. The patent 874 that was kept secret for a time was the patent which described the manner in which the material was drawn into threads or cords. I recollect that at the time there was a good deal of discussion between the Director of Artillery and myself as to whether it was desirable to observe secrecy. I wanted to make a secret of the whole matter, following the practice of foreign nations. I very soon found that it was impossible to keep the process of manufacturing cordite secret, and the reason why a portion of the patent was sealed was that at the particular time one of the officials of the War Office, who had been concerned in the experiments made by the Explosives Committee, was trying to sell their methods to an outside firm with the intention of using them against the Government. Within the next month the whole affair was made public. The machinery was patented, and everybody knew how cordite was to be manufactured. The hon. Member's charge of secrecy is based on the fact that, while everybody knew how cordite was manufactured, it was not until my attention was called to the matter that the decision to keep part of the patent sealed was rescinded. A great deal has been said about the time that has been wasted. There has been no waste of time in the matter. The British Army has to operate in countries of varying temperature, and, therefore, experiments extending over two years had to be conducted in Canada and in India, in order to make it clear that the stability of cordite was assured in intense heat and intense cold. The person responsible for the trials of cordite was the Director of Artillery, and he reported that cordite possessed better qualities than any other powder. In 1891 the Explosives Committee came to an end; but experiments are still being carried on, not by people interested in the patents, but by the Ordnance Committee, which is composed of military officers of the highest experience, with a view to deciding whether or not cordite should be continued in the Public Service. I desire to say a few words about the foreign patent. Sir Frederick Abel in August, 1888, submitted a Memorandum on the subject to the Director of Artillery, which got into the newspapers. We have never been able to get an explanation of that circumstance from Sir 875 Frederick Abel. The Memorandum certainly never reached me in that shape. At any rate, I should like to say, in justice to Sir Frederick Abel, that that does not affect his position. The Memorandum was included in the half-yearly Report, and no complaint was made of the Memorandum, so far as I know, up to the present time. I quite agree that a great deal can be said as to whether or not it was desirable that a patent should be taken out abroad. But there is no ground for accusing Sir Frederick Abel and Professor Dewar of selling secrets to a Foreign Power. There was no secret for them to sell.
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
I think my opinion on the subject is worth a little more than that of the hon. Member. I know that there was no secret whatever for them to sell, and, that being so, the charge against them on that point falls to the ground. The question may be put whether it is desirable or not that the patent should be taken out abroad? Again I ask, is it possible really to prevent it? A. B. having invented something in this country may tell the secret to C. D., who could immediately go abroad and patent it, and try to get the benefit of it. Again, the War Office cannot be expected to take out patents in all foreign countries in order that the benefits of the patent might be secured to this country; and if the inventor himself is not to be allowed to take out patents in foreign countries, what is there to prevent anyone borrowing the idea from the specification published in this country and patenting it abroad for his own benefit? I do not want to express any very positive opinion on the subject; but, having gone fully into it, I think it is not fair or just to cast these imputations on Sir Frederick Abel or Professor Dewar. I think I have now dealt practically with all the matters before the Committee. I felt that after these allegations of scandal and corruption it was the bounden duty of the right hon. Gentleman and myself to give such answer as we could to them. I must say I do think that in this country we ought to be very careful how we listen to the cries of disappointed inventors. They always find fault with the Government that rejects their inventions. It has been always so in the past, 876 and will be so in the future. Let them, if they like, abuse the Government and say that their inventions are better than the one adopted, but do not let them without absolute proof charge against the officials of the Government that they have been corrupt in the manner in which they have discharged their duties, or guilty of scandalous action in connection with the manner in which a particular warlike material has been adopted. I have a belief in our Public Service, and some considerable experience entitles me to express it. I think that no body of public servants in any country is more entitled to respect than the public servants of this country. Do not let accusations be cast upon them gratuitously and without adequate proof which it is very difficult for them to answer, and which are listened to with an attention they do not deserve in foreign countries. At any rate, let careful inquiry be made into any case that may be preferred against them before they are stigmatised by the names these gentlemen have been stigmatised by. I have only one other word to say with regard to the action by Mr. Nobel which is now pending. I have from the very first, so far as I am concerned, deprecated the idea of compromise, though I admit I have been approached on the subject. Publicly and privately, while I was Secretary of State for War, I have met with reproach from many inventors, and have very seldom been left alone; but I have always held that the question should be tried in a Court of Law. I rejoice that the right hon. Gentleman opposite endorses that opinion, and I heartily support him in it.
§ MR. HANBURY
said, he thought the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for War rather misunderstood what he said as to the matters the Committee set themselves to investigate. They were to test the various explosives, and then, in the last resort, to invent on behalf of themselves. But they reversed the process, and within six months of the Committee being appointed they actually took out a patent for an invention of their own. Then there had been no explanation offered as to the fact that Professor Dupré had had nothing whatever to do with these patents. The patents were professedly taken out by the Committee, but they were only taken out by two of the Committee. With 877 regard to Professor Anderson, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Horn-castle had put into his mouth words he did not use. The charge he made was that a week before he was appointed Director General of Ordnance Factories he took out a patent, and that, although that patent was assigned to the Secretary for War, a portion of it was subsequently transferred to Messrs. Easton and Anderson. He admitted that the main charge was that referring to the foreign patents. As to that, he still maintained that it had not been met. In the first place, it had not been denied that these gentlemen took out those foreign patents and received royalties for them. He did not complain so much of that, because they might say the War Office knew of it, though, as a matter of fact, they knew nothing of it for two years afterwards. But what he complained of was this: that while this cordite patent was a secret in England, while the Secretary for War was carefully keeping it a secret and certifying up to May, 1892, that it was to the public advantage to keep it a secret, the patent was disclosed to nine Foreign Powers in 1889.
§ COLONEL NOLAN (Galway, N.)
expressed regret that the Secretary for War had been precluded by the Forms of the House from going into the merits of cordite. If the right hon. Gentleman had given an opinion to the House it would have received publicity. He believed they were making, to a certain extent, a leap in the dark as to the merits of cordite, and they ought to have some opinion on the subject. He could not think that it was a proper policy for the War Office to pursue to advertise for inventors to bring forward the best powders they could, and then, as soon as they got the ideas of the inventors, to take advantage of them and go on inventing on their own account. That was not a large and generous view to take. He thought it was a weak point in the argument of the Secretary for War that he approved of the question being wholly determined in the Law Courts. In an action the War Office might succeed in their facts, and yet the general idea of the patent might have been taken from someone else.
§ MR. BARTLEY (Islington, N.)
, who was met with cries of "Divide!" said, this was a serious question concerning 878 the Public Service. He deplored attacks made upon men in the highest position in the Public Service, who could not answer for themselves. His hon. Friend had levelled a number of charges against those men, and when the matter came to be examined the charges came to nothing, so much so that he did not believe his hon. Friend would divide the House. That Members of Parliament should take up superficial newspaper attacks was a most unfair thing towards those who could not answer in the House for themselves, and the House ought to defend old public servants from such scandalous attacks.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
, who also was interrupted by cries of "Divide!" said, the Committee had always expected attack. In their Memorandum of August, 1888, they said that they would inevitably come under the stigma of not being impartial Judges, andthey must make up their minds to be indifferent to such imputations.But it appeared they were not indifferent to such imputations now. They said that they mustrely confidently upon a proper defence of their proceedings in high official quarters.They had now had a defence from both Front Benches, high authorities; from the hon. Member for Islington, a still higher authority; and from the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Admiral Field), the highest authority, who had shown himself as good a lawyer as he was a seaman. He much regretted that the Secretary of State for War had not been allowed to go a little further into the subject of the merits of cordite. He must point out that the Admiralty officials were at this moment stating that it was "an unstable compound," and he would like to know whether the right hon. Gentleman's opinion of cordite was as favourable as formerly?
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
could not understand, then, how it was that all the official scientific lecturers were preaching the doctrine that it was an unstable compound. He himself very much doubted the merits of cordite, and believed that before long they would have to give it up and go back to black powder.
§ Question put, and negatived.
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ MR. JESSE COLLINGS (Birmingham, Bordesley)
wished to call the attention of the Committee to a detail of administration by the Secretary of State for War which had inflicted a great hardship upon many workmen of the artisan class in Birmingham, the dismissal in unfair proportions of workmen employed at Sparkbrook Factory. There were two Small Arms Factories, the one at Enfield the other at Sparkbrook, and the claim he urged was that the men in either place should be equally treated in the amount of work. Of course, when the demand for rifles had decreased, there must be reduction in the number of employés engaged in the manufacture, and the late Government had faithfully followed the principle of dividing such orders as there were equally between the two factories. The falling-off began during the time of the late Administration, and there was 20 per cent. reduction all round in the number of men employed, but the present Government had made a reduction at the rate of two to one against the interests of Sparkbrook. In June, 1892, there were 2,100 men employed at Enfield, and in July, 1893, the number was 1,987, so that 123 men were discharged during the 12 months. At Sparkbrook the reduction during the same period was 198—namely, from 657 to 459. In answering a question upon this matter, the Financial Secretary, in justification, said the Enfield men were working five days a week instead of six, while, he understood, the Sparkbrook men were working full time. Upon this last point the hon. Gentleman was misinformed, and, as a matter of fact, the men at Sparkbrook, especially those on piece, were in some cases working four days, or at least less than a week. But, even accepting the statement of the Financial Secretary, and taking off a sixth of the number of men discharged at Sparkbrook, it would make 165, allowing for the short time at Enfield. On that basis, if the Sparkbrook men were reduced at the same rate as the men at Enfield, then there should have been 38 discharged from Sparkbrook instead of 165. If they took the men who should have been discharged at Enfield in the same proportion that they had been dis- 880 charged from Sparkbrook, then there should have been 500 discharged from Enfield instead of 120. That showed it was an unfair proportion. In answer to a question a week or two ago, his hon. Friend admitted the excess there was of discharges at Sparkbrook, but said there were greater chances in Birmingham of men getting employment. But his (Mr. Jesse Collings') answer to that was that it was well known that trade of the particular kind to that upon which these men were employed was very bad just now, and the result of the policy of the Secretary of State for War was that, instead of these men—who, in his opinion, had been very unfairly treated—being able to get other employment, they were now walking about the streets reduced to the condition of non-employment, with all the necessary evils attendant upon it both to their wives and families and themselves. As a justification of their policy the Government said that more work was given to Bagot Street. That answer was not sufficient. Bagot Street was a place where arms were specially repaired, and there was only an apparent increase at Bagot Street. The year before the present year there was an abnormal lowering of the Estimate, and all that the Government had done now was to place Bagot Street in the position it was in before that lowering occurred, but he wished to point out that Bagot Street had nothing whatever to do with the question. They might as well have said, in justification for discharging the men from the Small Arms Factory at Sparkbrook, that they had given more employment to men who were making glass bottles in some other factory. The two factories were under different Votes and sub-heads, and his hon. Friend might as well have said they had given more employment to Enfield because they had increased the Vote for war purposes. His hon. Friend said that the fact also ought to be taken into account that there were a variety of other articles made at Enfield which were not made at Sparkbrook, and, therefore, more men were employed. That was no answer at all, because when the factories were in full swing, and double the money was voted to what was voted at the present time, the turn-out of swords, lances, and machine guns—which were not made at Sparkbrook—was very 881 small, and he questioned whether the whole amount of such articles would come to £10,000 all told. Therefore, that was no answer; but even if it were, they were speaking of the working men employed in the two factories, and what they contended for was that they should be treated fairly and upon an equitable basis. He hoped the answer they would receive would be a promise that these men who had been unjustly discharged from Sparkbrook should be reinstated to the extent that they should be brought up to the same proportion as those employed at Enfield. That, he thought, was a very moderate and fair request—onefounded on justice, and one that would remove a great deal of indignation on the part of these men. Another point on which he wished information was whether it was the intention of the Government to close the Sparkbrook Factory as a manufactory and to turn it into a mere repairing shop? If that was what the Government were going to do it was a very serious policy; and from an answer to a question, he understood that such a policy was at any rate in contemplation. He was told, in the answer to his question the other day, that Sparkbrook was originally acquired as a repairing shop. He would not go into that question now, as he had previously shown that that was not the case—that the Sparkbrook Factory was bought for a mere song, something like £60,000, on the express understanding that it should be retained as a manufactory for small arms; and if the policy of turning it into a repairing shop was entertained, he thought there would be a serious blot on the Army administration of this country, and that in a time of danger very great difficulty might arise owing to the policy that had been pursued. What was the position of things? The factory at Enfield was exposed, and had no resources of minerals, whereas the factory of Sparkbrook was situate in the Midland Counties, surrounded with minerals, was a first-class factory, filled with the best machinery, and fulfilling all the requirements set forth by the Royal Commission. Sparkbrook had an area of 21,000 square yards, with a large amount of land that could be obtained at a moderate price adjoining, and which could be used to increase the factory if it should be thought advisable to remove the repairing shop from Bagot Street to Sparkbrook. What he wished to know 882 was whether the Government were going to abolish one of the two Royal Arms Factories, or whether Sparkbrook was to be partially abolished? On the grounds of economy, on the grounds of national defence, on the grounds of good administration in Army matters, he hoped there was no truth in the idea that the policy he had indicated was to be carried out. The next question was whether the right hon. Gentleman would rectify the injustice that had been done to the working men of Bordesley, and whether they would be restored, but only in the proportion that would put them upon the same level with the other Royal Institutions? At present, as he had said, the discharges had gone on at the rate of four times the proportion of those at Enfield, and that, he thought, was not fair. He hoped they would get a satisfactory reply from the Government, and he could assure the Secretary of State for War they would not be satisfied with anything less than a promise to reinstate the men in the same proportion as the men who were employed at Enfield. He would not move to reduce the Vote, as it was not his object to reduce the salary of the right hon. Gentleman, but he had felt bound to call attention to the matter, and he hoped to obtain a satisfactory reply.
§ THE FINANCIAL SECRETARY TO THE WAR OFFICE (Mr. WOODALL,) Hanley
hoped his right hon. Friend would permit him to reply, as he was charged with the administration of the Manufacturing Departments of the Army. Though he was not sure that he should be able to satisfy the right hon. Gentleman, he hoped to be able to make such a statement that would show they were acting in a spirit of perfect fairness between the two factories. During the 10 years ending in 1891 the number of workmen employed in these factories had been more than trebled, and the expenditure had been proportionately increased, but now they were forced to go through the extremely unpleasant and uncomfortable process of bringing back the expenditure to something like its normal condition. His right hon. Friend had pressed him from time to time with regard to the claims of the two rival factories, Enfield and Sparkbrook. He had told the right hon. Gentleman that the numbers at Enfield and Sparkbrook had been reduced, but he would like to call the right hon. 883 Gentleman's attention to the fact that on the accession to Office of the present Government the number of men employed both at Sparkbrook and Enfield were considerably increased. So reluctant were they to bring about any diminution in the employment that the numbers were kept up, and the maximum amount of wages was paid all through the winter, until the close of the month of January. Now, his right hon. Friend said they were starving Sparkbrook unfairly in proportion to what was being done at Enfield. If a comparison was to be made between the two factories, it must be between the manufacture of rifles at Enfield and Sparkbrook, and they were bound to leave out of sight those employed on other implements of war. But he was willing to dismiss that consideration and give his right hon. Friend the figures he desired. He (Mr. Woodall) had prepared a calculation showing the number of men employed in the two factories in the corresponding months of last year and this year. For instance, in August, 1892, there were employed at Enfield 2,246 men. That number had been reduced in August of this current year to 1,798. That, as his right hon. Friend would see, was a reduction of 20 per cent. In numbers the actual reduction at Sparkbrook had been 38 per cent., the figures being—men employed in August, 1892, 724; in August, 1893, 449. Then in regard to the actual wages paid, he had obtained the figures, though they bad not been asked for by his right hon. Friend. At Enfield, in August last year, the amount of wages paid was £4,245 per week, and in the same month of the current year it was £2,856, or a reduction of £1,389, which worked out at 32.27 per cent. reduction, or very nearly 33 per cent. But what were the figures at Sparkbrook? In August last year the wages paid were £985 per week, and in August of this year the wages paid amounted to £695, which worked out at 29.44 per cent. reduction. These figures, he thought, bore out his statement that at Sparkbrook the men, as far as possible, were kept on full time, whereas at Enfield they played on Saturday. He could not quite understand his right hon. Friend's objection to the introduction of Bagot Street into the discussion. He knew that Sparkbrook was in the constituency represented 884 by the right hon. Gentleman; but if the right hon. Gentleman would be good enough to recall the statement made by the Secretary for War when discussing the Estimates, he would remember a distinct pledge was given by the Secretary of State to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain) that the diminution at Sparkbrook should, as far as possible, be compensated for at Bagot Street. What were the facts? At Bagot Street the wages paid in August, 1892, were £246 10s. 2d. Those wages increased until, in the corresponding period of the current year, they reached £454 16s. 8d., making an actual increase of 84.5 per cent.
§ MR. WOODALL
said, he should find it very difficult to give offhand everything his right hon. Friend wanted; but if the right hon. Gentleman would follow it up with questions from time to time, he would be delighted to give the figures he desired. Taking the mouth of July last, and comparing it with July of 1892, he found the increase at Bagot Street was 116 percent. Then the right hon. Gentleman went on to say that the men had been unjustly discharged.
§ MR. JESSE COLLINGS
said, he did not refer to individuals having been unjustly discharged, but he said it was unjust to the men as a body that they should be discharged in four times as large a proportion as at Enfield.
§ MR. WOODALL
said, he could not for a moment accept his right hon. Friend's figures. The right hon. Gentleman had talked of its being unfair, of the men being unjustly discharged, and he bad called on the Government to rectify that injustice. He (Mr. Woodall) protested that the War Office had acted in a spirit of the greatest fairness, and that it was a matter of extreme regret to diminish the number of workmen at all. He would promise that during the remainder of the present financial year there would be no further dismissal of men from Sparkbrook, and that those who remained would be kept in full employment as far as possible. He (Mr. Collings) on a previous occasion had assumed that Bagot Street was to be closed, and Sparkbrook converted into a repairing factory; but as nothing yet had 885 been determined in regard to the future of the two Factories, he was not able to afford either satisfaction or dissatisfaction to the right hon. Gentleman in this matter. As the number of magazine rifles required became manufactured employment would, of course, become less and less, and there would be no excuse for keeping on the men. It was impossible for them to undertake to find employment for men when there was no work to be done. He sympathised with the right hon. Gentleman in reference to the matter, and he might add that he, as a Member for a Midland constituency, had some interest himself in the welfare of the working people of Birmingham, and he was not likely to do anything that would go against their welfare. The Government were, however, considering what best could be done to maintain the Sparkbrook Factory. The matter was still sub judice; bat it would receive the most perfect consideration from the Secretary for War, and his intention was to arrive at a decision which should not overlook the interests of Birmingham, while at the same time they were bound to have due regard for the welfare of the Public Service.
§ MR. POWELL WILLIAMS (Birmingham, S.)
said, he thought his hon. Friend (Mr. Woodall) was under some misapprehension with regard to Spark-brook, and he would earnestly press upon him that before disposing of this matter he should pay a visit to Sparkbrook Factory, and see what were its capabilities.
§ MR. WOODALL
I have visited both Sparkbrook and Bagot Street Factories, and seen their condition for myself.
§ MR. POWELL WILLIAMS
said, in that case he thought the action of the Government all the more wanting in excuse. It seemed to him little short of absurd to regard Sparkbrook as a repairing station. It had been fitted up at considerable cost for the manufacture of the magazine rifle, and he strongly objected to the policy of reducing it to a mere repairing station. If it were only a repairing station, why were they to be put to such cost for the manufacture of magazine rifles? A considerable sum had been expended in this direction. Under these circumstances, he thought the Government should continue their old policy, instead of looking at this matter in a new way. Here they had a factory capable of producing 600 rifles per week, and possibly, under pressure, 886 1,000 rifles might be turned out. Why should such a place be regarded as a mere repairing station? Reference had been made to a comparison of the wages paid at Enfield and Sparkbrook, but that did not show the actual state of affairs. The wages paid were no indication of the number of men employed. A larger number of persons were employed in proportion at Enfield than at Sparkbrook.
§ MR. WILLIAMS
Well, all he could say was that the number of persons discharged at Enfield was only 38, as compared with 165 at Sparkbrook. He objected altogether to the policy of the Government in regard to Sparkbrook; but on the point of fairness, he held that the artizans of Birmingham had not been treated as those of Enfield, and he trusted that in any future arrangement by the War Office they should have no reason to complain. He appealed to the Committee on that point, and hoped they would place the men on an equal footing.
§ Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; Committee counted, and 40 Members being found present,
§ MR. DALZIEL (Kirkcaldy, &c.)
said, the Secretary of State for War would learn without any surprise that it was his intention, in connection with this Vote, to bring before the Committee the question of the recent selection for the command at Aldershot, and, therefore, he need not offer any apology to the Committee for taking the course he was about to do with regard to it. The appointment of the Duke of Connaught was, he thought, absolutely unique. The Service journals almost without a dissentient voice agreed that it was an unsuitable, regrettable, and unfortunate appointment; and in the daily Press there was practical unanimity as to the unsuitability of the appointment. Indeed, an organ of the Liberal Party, with great candour and courage, had informed the Government that it was nothing more nor less than a discreditable job. In these circumstances, he thought that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War would hail with satisfaction the opportunity he desired to afford him of putting before the Committee all the reasons that could be adduced on behalf of the appointment, which had been received with such expressions of dissatisfaction and alarm. He desired to make it distinctly and 887 absolutely clear that the protest which he would make against the appointment was not actuated in the slightest degree by any feeling of hostility towards the distinguished person who had been appointed; and it was only fair for him to say that, as far as his own observation went and as far as his knowledge of the feelings of military men went, he thought that there were very few of our Generals who enjoyed a greater amount of personal popularity throughout all ranks of the Service than did the Duke of Connaught. This, however, was no personal matter, and those who thought with him wished to consider the appointment purely from the point of view as to whether it was the best appointment that could have been made in the interests of the Army and the public. The view that would be taken of this appointment must be judged entirely by the character of the Aldershot command; and, indeed, had the appointment been one at Devonport, York, Plymouth, Edinburgh, or any other Provincial Military Centre he should not have deemed it his duty to bring the matter under the notice of the Committee. But the Aldershot command was one of the most important that we had at our disposal. In some respects it was equal in importance to the post of Commander-in-Chief. Why was this so? Simply because Aldershot was the great military training school of the Kingdom and the great testing station of the Army, through which from 10,000 to 12,000 men were passed every year, and it might make all the difference between an efficient and non-efficient Army whether or not we had a General at Aldershot who was capable of discharging the duties of the post. His contention was that we ought to have at Aldershot, in the first place, a man who from actual personal experience was acquainted with every detail of every branch of the Service; and, next, a man whose opinion would receive weight not only at the War Office, but throughout the country. In these circumstances, the appointment ought to be bestowed upon the very best man that could be obtained. Was the Duke of Connaught absolutely the best man that the War Office could obtain? If it could be proved by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War that the Duke of Connaught was at the time of his appointment the senior available officer, the case in His Royal Highness's 888 favour would be established, although he quite admitted that the appointment ought not always to be regulated by seniority. He desired to lay before the Committee a few facts which might serve as a useful guide to them in arriving at a decision upon the point. He found that Sir Donald Stewart took 41 years to become a General, Lord Wolseley (whose promotion was hastened by his distinguished services) took 30 years, Sir Archibald Alison took 43 years, Lord Chelmsford 44 years, Sir Peter Lumsden 43 years, Lord Roberts 39 years, and the Duke of Connaught 25 years. He was aware that the Aldershot appointment was only a Lieutenant General's command; but, looking at the question from that point of view, he found that Sir George Greaves took 41 years to become a Lieutenant General, Lieutenant General Davies 39 years, Lord Olive 37 years, Sir Richard Harrison 38 years, Lieutenant General Buchanan 42 years, while the Duke of Connaught had taken only 21 years to become a Lieutenant General. From these facts the Committee would be able to judge how far seniority ought to be put forward as a reason for this appointment. The plea of seniority in the case implied one of two propositions: either His Royal Highness was superior in military capacity to every living or dead General, or that the seniority was spurious and fictitious. Then, when the Duke of Connaught went to Aldershot, every principal officer on his Staff would be senior to him in service and experience. The Assistant Generals would be, one seven years and the other six years, his senior; the Major General commanding the Artillery would be 18 years his senior; the Colonel commanding the Royal Engineers would be 11 years; the Major General in command of the Cavalry 13 years his senior; and of the three officers commanding Infantry brigades two were 14 years his senior and one 13 years. An objection against this appointment was that the Duke of Connaught had not had that active military experience which was necessary for the post. He served with his regiment in Egypt, and since then he had an important command at Bombay; but these eases furnished him with no real active experience. Another objection was that His Royal Highness had not time to discharge the duties of the important post at Aldershot, and he (Mr. Dalziel) con- 889 tended that the man who ought to have been appointed was the man who would have nothing else to think of but the Service, and who would give all his time to the command and live in camp. It was rumoured that a Chief of Staff was to be appointed after the Duke of Con-naught took over the command, but he hoped that rumour would be denied by the Secretary of State for War. The War Office ought to have looked round to ascertain if they could not find a Lieutenant General for the post, but he would probably be told by the right hon. Gentleman that no Lieutenant General was available for the post. If that were so, it would be an extraordinary admission to make—that of all the distinguished Lieutenants General the Duke of Con-naught was the only man who could have been removed from his other duties to take this office? He would presume no Lieutenant General was available, but surely there was ample precedent for making a Major General available. Ho would, however, come to the possibility that only Generals were available, and here he must say a word with reference to the replies given by the right hon. Gentleman regarding a name that had been introduced in connection with this command. He meant that of Lord Roberts. What was the excuse that was given on behalf of the Commander-in-Chief for the non-appointment of Lord Roberts? He presumed it would be admitted that of the two men, Lord Roberts and the Duke of Connaught, that Lord Roberts, with his vast military experience, his great skill, and his personal connection with all branches of warfare, would have been preferable for the appointment. They were told it would have been derogatory to the dignity of Lord Roberts, or of the office of Commander-in-Chief in India, which he had held, to accept the Aldershot command, but it would have been well to bear in mind the saying that, "Your dignity is like your liver; you never know you have any till something goes wrong with it"; and he thought Lord Roberts, who was prepared to accept the appointment, might very well have been left to take care of his own dignity. The right hon. Gentleman knew that Lord Roberts was prepared to accept this command, and he would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether it was more derogatory that Lord Roberts 890 should have placed all his military knowledge at the disposal of his country by accepting the command than that he should have been allowed to knock practically unanswered at the door of the War Office. He thought the point of dignity would not stand examination for a single moment. If the War Office had been anxious to have anybody else than the Duke of Connaught, dignity would have been brushed aside. They had it on the authority of the right hon. Gentleman that there were only three commands that could be taken by an ex-Commander-in-Chief—Malta, Gibraltar, or Dublin. He (Mr. Dalziel) thought Lord Roberts was perfectly right in declining the post at Gibraltar or Malta. He had no authority to speak on behalf of Lord Roberts, and he thought Lord Roberts deprecated the introduction of his name into this discussion; but he had to point out that in considering this appointment they could not leave out the claim of Lord Roberts, and therefore he was compelled to bring his name forward. It was impossible fully to consider this appointment without at the same time considering the claims of Lord Roberts. Malta and Gibraltar had been refused, and only Dublin was available for Lord Roberts. He supposed there was no suggestion that there would be a vacancy at Dublin for some years to come. Until Dublin became vacant the country was not to have the advantage of Lord Roberts's experience and advice. He had said that the man appointed to the Aldershot command ought to carry weight throughout the country. He would read a short extract from a paper which would carry more weight than anything he could say. He referred to that eminently respectable authority The Spectator, which said in a recent article—Who can pretend that the recommendations, suggestions, and earnest representations of the Duke of Connaught would have one hundredth part of the weight which would belong to those of a man of Lord Roberts's standing? In the one case they might be pooh-poohed as the vapourings of a person little better than an amateur. In the other, they must at least be considered. … The country at large could not be got to say. 'The Duke of Connaught asks for this, and he really knows what is wanted; please do it,'—for the very good reason that no one would be persuaded of the truth of the proposition.If he had not some consideration for the time of the Committee he could quote from 20 representative journals, Con- 891 servative and Liberal. The quotation from The Spectator represented the views expressed by a large body of journals throughout the country. He had seen it stated that an apprehension existed below the Gangway that this was only a step towards the post of Commander-in-Chief, and that a satisfactory assurance would be given on that point. He himself was totally unaware of any apprehension on the subject. He could not believe that anyone could suppose for a moment that an assurance on that point would satisfy the protest intended to be made against the appointment. He thought he would be a very bold and a very great Minister indeed who would come down to this House and, in face of the Report of Lord Hartington's Commission, announce the appointment of the Duke of Con-naught as Commander-in-Chief. He knew it was impossible for him, in connection with this Aldershot appointment, to get at the real expression of the opinion of the House of Commons. There was a remarkable number of noticeable absentees amongst the Members of the House who usually took a prominent part in military discussions. He knew, to some extent, what the reason was, and he respected it. At the same time, he thought it unfortunate that the gentlemen who had in private spoken out strongly against this appointment were not now present to express their opinion in public. He could not help thinking that the case would have been different if this appointment had been made by a Tory instead of by a Liberal Government. In that case he was sure it would ere now have been brought before the House as a matter of definite and urgent public importance. He should ask the Committee to say that this appointment was not in the interests of the Public Service, and he asked those who believed that special favour had been shown to the Duke of Connaught to join with him in making this protest, and thereby helping to dispel the notion which was growing in the ranks of the Army and throughout the country that Royal favour was a surer passport to military distinction and responsibility than years of faithful and distinguished service.
§ COLONEL WARDE (Kent, Medway)
said, he would not apologise to the Committee for taking part in the discus- 892 sion, because he never had hitherto taken up the time of the House of Commons. He felt bound to protest against the course pursued by the hon. Member who had proposed the reduction of the Vote, and especially against the statement that the Press of the country was unanimously against this appointment. If the hon. Member had based his objection to the appointment solely on the ground that no member of the Royal Family ought to receive any appointment such an objection might have been understood. Inasmuch, however, as his objection was based on the assumed fact that there were other officers in the Service whose claims ought to have been preferred, and who were more qualified for the appointment, one could not help believing that he must be very ignorant of the subject with which he had attempted so dogmatically to deal. His (Colonel Warde's) professional knowledge, he thought, qualified him to raise his voice on this occasion. He had been nearly a quarter of a century in the Army, and bad served on more than one occasion under the Duke of Con naught. He asserted without fear of contradiction that the position of the Duke of Con-naught was unique, because not only had His Royal Highness served through two grades in the Cavalry, and through every grade in the Infantry, but he had held two appointments on the Staff of the Army, and had also held the unique advantage of serving in both of the Ordnance Corps—an advantage not within the reach of any other officer. His Royal Highness had served his country in the Army for 25 years, and had held no fewer than six appointments as General Officer commanding troops. He had served his country in all quarters of the globe, and altogether he was unusually well qualified to take the command of a mixed body of troops, either at home or in the field. Before the time when His Royal Highness became a cadet he was carefully trained by an eminent officer, whose name had always inspired esteem since he won the Victoria Cross before Sebastopol—Sir Howard Elphinstone. The hon. Member (Mr. Dalziel) either made a slip of the tongue or betrayed his ignorance when he said the Duke of Connaught served with his regiment in Egypt. The Duke did nothing of the kind. He served in command, as a General, of a brigade, 893 and in that capacity had charge of the reserves at the battle of Tel-el-Kebir. The reserves were selected from the most seasoned and highly-trained troops placed under a most careful and reliable General, and in case of a reverse they would be called upon to make a supreme effort to retrieve the fortunes of the day. Therefore, His Royal Highness occupied on that occasion a most responsible and proud position. Supposing the Duke of Connaught was not the senior officer who could be appointed to the Aldershot command, wag it not the case that seniors had frequently been passed over? Objection was taken when Wolfe was selected to command the expedition to Quebec on the ground that he was not the senior officer. It was also represented to George III. that he was mad. "Begad," said the King, "I wish he would bite some of my Generals!" In days gone by, when Lord Wolseley was selected to command an expeditionary force over the heads of his seniors, was his appointment objected to? Lord Roberts—and he (Colonel Warde) yielded to none in admiration for that distinguished officer—was also selected over the heads of several of his seniors on more than one occasion. Was his appointment on those occasions objected to? No; the fact was that the real objection to the Duke of Connaught was because he happened to be a Prince of the Blood Royal.
§ MR. DALZIEL
said, his objections were not against the Duke of Connaught as a member of the Royal Family, but because he believed undue favour had been shown towards him.
§ COLONEL WARDE
regretted that he had misunderstood the hon. Member. He, in common with the hon. Member, when he entered that House, took the oath of allegiance to the Sovereign, and he congratulated himself that the first opportunity he had of raising his voice in the House was for the purpose of protesting against the growing tendency of a portion of the community to belittle the services which any member of our Royal Family might have rendered to the State. He believed it would be a disastrous day for us when our people should cease to encourage the Royal Family to take an interest in or espouse the Service which in times gone by had done so much for the Empire.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Item A, Salaries, be reduced by £ 100."—(Mr. Dalziel.)
§ COLONEL LOCKWOOD (Essex, Epping)
said, he was sure it would be a subject of regret to hon. Members opposite if the Committee felt itself unable to accept the nomination of the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and The Spectator newspaper for the rather important command at Aldershot. He rather thought the hon. Member had protested too much: he had set up a dummy, and then knocked it down again. He seemed to say that there was only one Lieutenant General in the Army—i.e., the Duke of Connaught. He could nut think where the hon. Member got that idea.
§ COLONEL LOCKWOOD
said, he certainly understood that to be the view of the hon. Member; but, of course, he would withdraw the remark. The hon. Member was, no doubt, a most excellent Radical, but, as a soldier, he objected to his making the Aldershot command the cockpit of his political opinions. The hon. Member had stated that he did not make any allusion to the Duke of Connaught on personal grounds, or because he was a Prince of the Blood, but it certainly seemed to many Members of the Committee that the real objection was to be found that the Duke had what was supposed in these days the misfortune to-be a Prince. Had there been in this country a law which, as in France, prevented the Princes of a certain dynasty holding Army appointments the objection might have been logical, but they were bound to bear in mind the fact that the Duke of Connaught accepted service in the Army under the belief that if he properly carried out the duties of any subordinate positions he might fill, and if he showed an aptitude for command, he would be eligible for higher and more responsible posts. The hon. Member for Peterborough made an unworthy insinuation the other day when he asked where was the Duke of Connaught at Tel-el-Kebir. The answer was that the Duke was where he was ordered to be. If ordered to the front he would have been there and done his duty, the same as any other Englishman.
§ MR. A. C. MORTON
said, he had asked how far from, or how near to, the actual fighting the Duke was.
§ COLONEL LOCKWOOD
said that was the gravamen of his complaint, for the insinuation was that the Duke was not in the fighting line. If ordered into the fighting line, the Duke would have been there; but it was impossible for all the Generals to indulge in a free fight to secure that position. As it was, the Duke had command of the Reserves, which was a position of extreme delicacy and importance. At one time it was said as a joke we only had one General; now the idea appeared to be that we only had two, but he was sure Lord Roberts would be the last man to insinuate that there were no other Generals perfectly able and fit for the command at Aldershot. It was hardly complimentary on the part of hon. Members opposite to interfere with the discretion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Stirling Burghs. He had always looked upon the Secretary of State for War as a strong Radical, a modern Cromwell; but he believed he was capable of exercising a wise discretion. He certainly was not a man likely to yield to Court pressure, as had been suggested, and beyond doubt he had filled the post with credit to himself and advantage to the Service. The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy had stated that the commanding officer at Aldershot should be an officer who had had experience of all branches of the Service. Well, the reply to that was, as the hon. and gallant Member for the Medway Division had stated, that the Duke had had exceptional advantages in that respect.
§ MR. BURNIE (Swansea, Town)
supported the Motion. He put to the Secretary of State for War the first question on this subject some time since with all sincerity, and without having any animus against the Duke. The replies given struck him as very unsatisfactory, and he was convinced, from what he had since heard, that whatever might be the arguments used by hon. Gentlemen that evening, the country would never be impressed with the idea that the appointment was a bonâ fide and a correct one. Questions had been put by the hon. Members for Gateshead and Peterborough with regard to the Duke's service at Portsmouth, the length of his 896 various leaves of absence, and his services in Egypt, but there was a practical question still more worthy of consideration in the interest of the Army itself. Aldershot, it should be remembered, was a training camp for active service. He did not desire to throw doubt upon the Duke's personal courage, but he was sure that if ever this country were again engaged in a great war, it would be thought undesirable, as a matter of State policy, to allow any Member of the Royal Family to take the command of the troops in the field, one State reason being that if our Army were by any chance discomfited while under the command of a Prince, the people might begin to find fault with the Court, and a very serious feeling might arise even against the Sovereign. Aldershot was one of the most important posts in the Service; the duties were most onerous, and surely it would have been better to have selected for the command the officer who had the greatest experience and training, and who had seen more active service. He was not there to champion the cause of Lord Roberts or anyone else. The appointment had been defended on the ground of seniority; but he could not help remembering that while the Duke of Connaught had reached the position of General in 25 years, it took Sir Donald Stewart 41 years, Sir Archibald Alison 43 years, Lord Chelmsford 44 years, and Lord Roberts 39 years. Was it likely that but for the accident of birth—that but for being a son of the Queen—the Duke would have had this rapid promotion? He knew it was stated that this being only a Lieutenant General's command the Duke would only receive the pay of a Lieutenant General. But was it likely he would be long content to receive £1,000 less a year than he was entitled to as a General? They could well understand the pressure that had been brought to bear on the right hon. Gentleman, and they regretted that he had not had the courage to withstand it. He seemed to have forgotten that he was a Member of one of the best Governments they had ever had, from a democratic point of view, and he did wish that the right hon. Gentleman, holding such a responsible position, had ignored the accident of birth, and had treated the Duke of Connaught as he would have treated any other officer. Had he done that, the Duke of Connaught would certainly not have received that 897 appointment. It had been suggested that if the Motion were carried the Secretary of State for War would resign. He hoped sincerely he would do nothing of the kind in such an event, for they all recognised his administrative ability and his geniality. Everything fitted him for the post he held; but certainly it would be better for a Minister to resign than for a Government to be wrecked. It would be regretted on all sides if the right hon. Gentleman took the Debate as a personal attack. That certainly was not the intention of those who had initiated it. They sympathised with the right hon. Gentleman in the position in which he was placed; but they felt bound to go into the Division Lobby against him, because they believed the appointment was in direct antagonism to democratic principles and a disadvantage to the Army.
§ COLONEL MURRAY (Bath)
said, he wished to remind the Committee that the Duke of Connaught had gone through every step of rank, from lieutenant to his present position, in the course of his 25 years' service, and had served in almost every branch of the Service. He had served for several years at, Aldershot before in command of a brigade; he had held commands at Portsmouth and Bombay, and had served with the utmost distinction in every appointment he bad held. The hon. Member had told them the Duke would never have had the appointment had he not been the Queen's son. The right hon. Gentleman had denied that impeachment, but the allegation exposed the real ground of the hostility to the appointment. The hon. Member for Peterborough asked the other day the exact distance the Duke was from the firing of the Egyptian troops. He believed the distance was not exactly measured in yards, but he could say that the Duke was under fire. He had himself seen the Duke marching and bivouacking before the enemy, constantly expecting attack, and it certainly was not the Duke's fault that the attack was not made. Besides, it should be borne in mind that an officer on active service might do valuable work without being constantly under fire. He would say nothing as to the suggestion that Lord Roberts should have been appointed. He had the advantage of serving tinder that distinguished officer in India. He had just relinquished a very important command, and there could be no 898 necessity for giving him another command immediately on his arrival in England. Further than that, Lord Roberts would, he felt sure, be the last person to find fault with this appointment.
§ MR. A. C. MORTON
said, he, like the hon. Member for Swansea, was dissatisfied with the appointment, not because the Duke was a Member of the Royal Family, but because he felt a better choice could have been made. Some days since he put on the spur of the moment a question as to the distance at which the Duke of Connaught was from the fire of the enemy at Tel-el-Kebir. He was now told that the Duke was actually under fire, but he was sorry to have to controvert the statements of military gentlemen opposite, because they did not seem to know anything about the matter.
§ MR. A. C. MORTON
said, that the testimony of the hon. and gallant Gentleman did not coincide with the information he had from another gentleman who was present. He had in his hands the statement as to the events previous to the battle of Tel-el-Kebir, showing the exact position of the troops.
§ MR. A. C. MORTON
, continuing, said, that the Duke of Connaught was ordered into the rear with the Brigade of Guards, which was in the fighting line, and did not take any part in the advance of that night. An Irish regiment took the place of his brigade in the fighting line.
§ MR. HARE (Norfolk, S.W.)
I was present myself, and that account is incorrect. The hon. Gentleman's informant seems to be mixing up the battle of Kassassin with the battle of Tel-el-Kebir. The battle of Tel-el-Kebir took place about sunrise. The Duke of Connaught commanded the brigade in which I served, and he was certainly under fire.
§ MR. A. C. MORTON
, of course, accepted what the hon. and gallant Gentleman said, but his information was not exactly the same. However, he did not want to go any further into the matter. He did not blame the Royal Duke. If he had been in his position, and with his prospects, he did not-think he would have got any nearer the real fighting than the Duke did. But, with respect to the Alder- 899 shot command, he did not wish to treat it as if it were the case of Lord Roberts. The Committee had a right to criticise any Government who made a bad appointment to an important office. He did not say that they had a right to force Lord Roberts on the Army or on the Government; but they had a right, when they considered a bad appointment had been made, to protest against, the appointment, especially if they thought it was done as a matter of favour. Their duty as Radicals was to fight against privilege, and to do away with privilege in this country. Every man—and woman, if they liked—should be treated according to their merits and not according to their birth, and therefore for all such appointments the best men should be selected. If he were a military man he should consider the pushing aside of capable soldiers and the selection of the Duke of Connaught for the Aldershot command as an affront. He was surprised that military men had not spirit enough to resent such a state of things. It was more insulting to military men than to anybody else. He believed they had good, capable military men in the country whose services ought to be recognised; and they should insist that when honours and emoluments were to be given away they should be given to men who did the real work and who could be depended on in case of need. There was a strong belief entertained that the appointment of the Duke of Connaught to Alder-shot was but a step in the direction of making him Commander-in-Chief. One of the most important recommendations of the Royal Commission, over which Lord Hartington had presided, was that the office of Commander-in-Chief should be abolished; and that the Secretary of State for War, who was responsible to the House and the country, should be the real head of the Army. He would, therefore, like to hear from his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War whether the Government intended to carry out the recommendations of the Royal Commission?
§ MR. BUCKNILL (Surrey, Epsom)
said, the discussion had been interesting and amusing. He was quite prepared to take as his text the words of the hon. Member for Peterborough—"A Member of the Royal Family should be placed on the same footing as any other officer in the Army."
§ MR. BUCKNILL
said, the officers of the Army were generally citizens. He had yet to learn that any special favour had been shown to the Duke of Connaught. That really was the point; for if the Duke was a competent officer to hold the appointment which had been given to him, there could not in reason be any ground for complaint. They had heard of the qualifications of the Duke as a soldier from hon. Members well entitled to speak on the subject; and he, too, was personally aware that the Duke had qualified himself at Woolwich with distinction for service in the Royal Engineers and the Artillery. The fact was that the Duke was probably more highly educated as a soldier, outside the battlefield, than any man in the Army, and, therefore, absolutely competent in every respect for the Aldershot command. There was not a single Member in the House that could suggest that the Duke of Connaught was not an excellent officer, or a most popular officer, or a most industrious officer. It was said that the opposition to the appointment was non-political. He should say, with all respect, that he did not believe it. Hon. Members opposite knew perfectly well that these appointments were not always given by seniority. The hon. Member for Peterborough had quoted history in an amusing fashion. The hon. Member spoke about the campaign in Bombay.
§ MR. A. C. MORTON
I did not say a word about the campaign in Bombay. I spoke about the Bombay command.
§ MR. BUCKNILL
said, he had taken down the words of the hon. Gentleman, and he was in the recollection of the Committee. When hon. Members got up to make speeches on delicate matters like this they should be particularly careful of the language they used. The hon. Member had also declared that he did not press the case of Lord Roberts. They all agreed as to the distinguished career of Lord Roberts, and if Lord Roberts had received this appointment the whole country would have been satisfied. But if the hon. Member did not press the case of Lord Roberts he was left only with the plea of the incompetence of the Duke of Connaught. The hon. Member could not get away from that logically. And if the hon. Member did not press the case of Lord Roberts, and could not make good 901 the incompetence of the Duke of Con-naught, where was he? Logically, he was on his back. The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy had said that all he wanted was fair play for all. He quite agreed with that sentiment. Let there be fair play to all; and let them not be unfair to a man because he happened to be a Prince of the Royal Blood. The real objection to the appointment was that the Duke was of the Royal Blood, though hon. Members opposite had not the courage to say it in so many words. They said the Duke was unfit for the command at Aldershot. He believed hon. Members did not really know what sort of a place Aldershot was. He did, for he had been there scores of times. Aldershot was a large training establishment, and, of course, of great importance as a military station; and if the Duke of Connaught—as had been admitted to be the case—was going to visit his post daily to discharge his daily duties, was it not a miserable plea to complain that he was going to live in a house a few miles off? The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy seemed to hold three briefs in this matter. Did he hold a brief for Lord Roberts? Did he hold a brief against the Duke of Connaught? Did he hold a brief for the rest of the British Army?
§ MR. BUCKNILL
said, the hon. Member said he held a brief for the country. He was reminded of what had been said in another place—"What did the country know about the hon. Member?" What instructions had the hon. Member from the country to make the statements he had made? To him, as a Tory, it was not altogether unagreeable to see the Government attacked by its own supporters; but as he considered the complaints against the appointment of the Duke of Connaught groundless and unjust, if there was a Division he would have great pleasure in supporting the Government.
§ MR. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
It is with no small satisfaction that I find this opportunity provided for me of explaining more fully than I have had yet occasion to do the full and true circumstances of this case. The questions that have been from time to time addressed to me on this subject were questions of fact, and I answered them as such; and I find that I was gibbeted in certain newspapers as having 902 given a wretched and poor account of it, no adequate reason, and a bald and altogether disappointing story. I gave no story. I only answered individual interrogations put to me. I will, at all events, take this occasion to correct an error into which a phrase I have used apparently induced some to fall. I said that the Duke of Connaught was selected for this command by the Commander-in-Chief, and it was immediately said—"Oh, yes, by his own cousin; and the Secretary of State for War is so poor a creature that he was not able to resist the Commander - in - Chief. Everyone who knows anything about it is aware that all the higher appointments and promotions in the Army are made subject to the approval of the Secretary of State for War. Every one of them has to receive my initials before it can be acted upon; and in the case of all the more prominent appointments such as this one, the selection, although made by the Commander-in-Chief—for that is the proper and official phraseology to use—is discussed and considered beforehand between the Commander-in-Chief and the Secretary of State, and it is with the Secretary of State's full consent and authority that the Commander-in-Chief submits the appointment to him for his formal approval. Therefore, this appointment is not the appointment of the Commander-in-Chief, but of the Secretary of State. I have every whit as full and as direct a responsibility in the matter as the Duke of Cambridge, and even in some respects a more direct and higher responsibility; and, therefore, I am glad now to say why it was that this appointment was made. The Committee might have expected to hear two objections raised to this appointment. First, because the Duke of Connaught is the son of the Queen; but that view of the question has been repudiated. It was also supposed that the attack might have been grounded on the theory that Lord Roberts would have been the proper appointment; but, again, the hon. Member who moved the reduction, although he dwelt on that side of the question, dissociated himself from any intention to bring prominently forward the name of Lord Roberts. I think there are three considerations to which the Committee might be invited to look. First of all, there is the question of the fitness of the Duke of Connaught for the 903 command; next, the question of seniority; and, lastly, the question of alternative. As to the fitness of the Duke of Con-naught for this command, I say that, to the best of my knowledge, military judgment is not divided on the subject at all. I have not been able to learn any opinion of any consequence in any quarter which would condemn the appointment. From the private soldier up to the General, through all ranks of the Army, the opinion is, and it has been expressed to me fully from quarters quite outside the circle of my military advisers, that he is admirably fitted in every respect for the post. I received a letter the other day from a distinguished General who is on the Retired List, and therefore of whom it cannot be said that he had anything to gain or lose by expressing his opinion—a General of whom I will say that he is about as competent a judge as exists in the country from his experience of warfare in Europe and Asia. My correspondent, after stating that the Duke had been grounded in every branch of the Profession, said—He has always shown special aptitude for the tactical training and instruction of troops, and he is, therefore, in all respects the General Officer of all others specially fitted for the command of a camp like Aldershot.That is only one opinion among many. As to the contention of the hon. Member for Peterborough, that an officer should have been under fire in some engagement in order adequately to fill such a position as this, the view appears to be taken by the hon. Member that it is the duty of a General to prance on a horse in front of the assembled Armies, and and to reproduce what we are familiar with as the tactics of the days of the Trojan War, by challenging some leader on the other side to mortal combat. I may be allowed to make my contribution to the history of what occurred at Tel-el-Kebir, and I share with my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough the advantage of being entirely innocent of any personal experience in the matter. Lord Wolseley's plan of attack was to advance against the entrenchments in two lines. The first line was to deliver the attack; the second line was to be in reserve and follow it up if the first line was repulsed. The Duke of Connaught was in the second line, and most soldiers will agree that the chances were that the second line would have quite as much of the fighting as the first. The first line delivered the 904 attack before 6 o'clock in the morning, when it was still dark. The Egyptian soldiers fired right manfully, but it being dark, and their rifles being sighted for a long distance, the whole of their fire for many minutes fell on the second line, and the Duke of Connaught, who, according to the hon. Member, was in a place of perfect safety, had his orderly bugler wounded beside him, which was proof that he was not altogether out of the range of fire. But this aspect of the case is really beside the mark. He is not any better nor any worse for having been under fire. He is a good deal the better, however, because of his having commanded a brigade in that short campaign, because the duties of a General's command are not limited to the mere moment of combat, but involve all the responsibilities, through many days, of providing for, and preparing, and bringing up, the troops under him. Besides, the Duke's experience in India has been extensive. He commanded a Division in India, and he subsequently commanded the forces in the Bombay Presidency. I have heard this spoken lightly of to-night. All that I can say is that again and again I have heard from officers who served in the Bombay Presidency at the time, not only of his great popularity and of his mastery of his profession, but of the enormous pains he took to discharge his duties. I have been informed that he learned the native language in order to be able to communicate more freely and easily with the native troops under his command, and in every respect he devoted himself with great zeal and success to all the duties which fell to his lot. This constitutes quite a sufficient experience and qualification for such a command as Aldershot. The Aldershot command has been magnified in the public Press and this House as if it were some command of immense dignity. It is a place of drill and training, and, therefore, the qualities of tactical instruction and training possessed by the Duke emphatically justify the appointment. I wish also to point out that Aldershot is a place which is peculiarly under the eye and superintendence of the Headquarter's Staff. The Commander-in-Chief and the Adjutant General are constantly there and constantly superintending and advising, and—I say it in no offensive sense—interfering with the General Commanding the troops, and on 905 that account also it is not a place of such dignity as some others that might be named. These, then, are his qualifications: The Duke of Connaught has worked hard at his profession while he has been in the Army, and with great success; but apparently—not in this House, I am glad to say, but out of it—he is held to possess one disqualification—that, namely, of being the son of the Queen. Instead of that being a disqualification, we ought to rejoice that a son of the Queen should be in a position to be even thought of for such a command; we should rejoice that, instead of devoting himself to a life of ease and self-indulgence, as he might have done, he has lived this hard and useful life in the service of his country. Therefore, I say that the best opinion that I can obtain amply justifies this selection. But selection was not necessary. I am not afraid of selection, and I am quite prepared to dip pretty low down in the list in order to get a better man than can be found at the top of it. I can appeal to the case, referred to to-night, of the appointment of Sir George White, who was only a Major General, to the command of the forces in India. There was no necessity to dip on this occasion. I took the Generals' List as I found it. Aldershot being a Lieutenant General's command, to hold which Generals are eligible, I looked down the list to see who was the senior officer who was fit to hold this command. The condition of the list was this: Above the Duke of Connaught there were 15 Generals. One is Lord Roberts, of whom I shall speak afterwards. There were three Marine officers and three Staff Corps officers, who are not eligible; and taking these seven from the 15 there remain eight. One of these is commanding in Ireland, and the other is the Governor of Gibraltar, both higher positions. That leaves six. Of these there is one in Parliament, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Oxford (Sir G. Chesney). He is a most distinguished man in every way; but if I may use a homely phrase, he is not "in the running" for such an appointment, and does not desire to obtain it. That leaves five. Three of this number are within a short time of being superannuated—that is to say, they will be over age within the next year or so—and it would be absurd to appoint any officer to this command who would have to vacate it within a year or so. That leaves two, 906 who were in one sense eligible for this appointment; but they are engaged upon duties which they are performing so well that they ought not to be removed. One is the Lieutenant Governor of Guernsey, and the other is the Inspector General of Recruiting. And the next officer on the list is the Duke of Connaught. We are told that this is a job, but actually he is the senior officer on the Generals' List available for appointment to this command. He was recommended to me upon all hands, as I have said, by military opinion—I did not consult lay opinion—as being, I will not say the best officer in the whole Army, but certainly fully adequate to the duties of this position. I think the Committee will agree that I, at least, cannot be accused of any favouritism or jobbery. Then I come to a point which has been raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough, and which I believe to be one which exercises the minds of some persons interested in this question. It has been said that this is nothing but a stepping-stone towards the Duke of Connaught's appointment to the Office of Commander-in-Chief of the Army at headquarters. I think it may not be without its use if I read a very short extract from the Report of the Hartington Commission on this subject. The Hartington Commission was not an ordinary Royal Commission in this sense: that it was appointed to consider the organisation of the War Office and the Admiralty, and there were upon it three men who had held the Office of Secretary of State for War. They were Lord Hartington himself, Mr. W. H. Smith, and myself, and there was also Lord Randolph Churchill, who had been Secretary of State for India and Chancellor of the Exchequer. So that from the point of view of these two Benches, and of official experience, and of what could be considered good opportunity for judgment in the matter, you could not have a stronger or more authoritative Commission. What did that Commission unanimously, with one exception, say? The one exception was my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston, who disagreed with us of this very point, and thought that the Commander-in-Chief's Office ought to be continued. The Report says—While we have considered it necessary to indicate the defects in principle which exist in the present organisation of the War Depart- 907 ment, we recognise that the unique position so long held by the present Commander-in-Chief may have rendered it undesirable to adopt any other system in making the recent changes, and that his great experience may have enabled the existing system to work with the success claimed for it during the short period from which it has been in operation. His Royal Highness has on all occasions accepted with the greatest loyalty the changes which successive Secretaries of State have thought it right to introduce, and he has brought to bear upon the work at the War Office a personal popularity with the Army in general which cannot fail to be of public advantage. But it is clear that no possible successor could enjoy a position and influence which years of service to the State are alone capable of establishing. We, therefore, proceed to indicate the general lines upon which we think that the administration of the War Office should be based, and towards which, at the occurrence of a vacancy in the Office of Commander-in-Chief, or at any favourable opportunity future changes should be directed. … It has been contended that the existence of the Office of Commander-in-Chief in its present form is essential to the maintenance of the Royal Prerogative of the Sovereign as head of the Army. We are unable to accept this view. The question of the Constitutional relations in regard to Army matters of the Sovereign, the Secretary of State for War, and the Commander-in-Chief was, as we have already stated, fully discussed by Committees of the House of Commons of 1860, and their conclusion, in which we fully concur, appears to have been distinct, that the authority of the Sovereign over the Army could only be exercised, in the same way as any other power of the Crown, through a responsible Minister; and that no Constitutional question would be involved in any change which it might be thought desirable to make in the Office of Commander-in-Chief.And then the decision is this—It will thus be seen that, for reasons independent of and additional to those which have led us to propose the creation of an organising and consultative department, freed from executive and administrative functions, we are of opinion that the permanent retention of the Office of Commander-in-Chief, as it now exists, should not form a part of the future constitution of the War Department.I quote this in order to make more emphatic the position in which we stand. That recommendation of the Royal Commission was assented to by four Secretaries of State and ex-Secretaries of State, three of whom had been Secretaries of State for War. I cannot conceive, therefore, that any appointment of a permanent nature to the position of Commander-in-Chief of the Army can henceforth be made. Now I come to the third point, and that is the alternative. I have been told that Lord Roberts ought to have been appointed, and that what I said about the dignity of the office he had just quitted was a mere excuse. 908 Was it a mere excuse? I think I am justified in entering a protest against the introduction of Lord Roberts's name. I do not know—I will not say I do not know—I am certain, that this has been done without the knowledge or the cognisance, and probably in the face of the remonstrances, of Lord Roberts himself. Lord Roberts has had a most distinguished career. As we all know, he has been most fortunate in his opportunities of distinguishing himself, and he has taken ample advantage of them. The result is, that he has come comparatively early to the top of the tree; and the worst of it is that, when you get to the top of the tree, there is no further tree to go up. That is precisely Lord Roberts's position. Several Commanders-in-Chief have come back from India at even an earlier age than Lord Roberts. Sir William Mansfield came back at 50, and he was so much impressed with the fact that there was no employment of much consequence for him, except in the case of war, that he actually contemplated taking other employment away from military service. For a Commander-in-Chief coming back from India there are open only three appointments—the command in Ireland and the Governorships of Malta and Gibraltar. To put Lord Roberts—however willing he might be to take it—in command at Aldershot, after having set in order the Armies of India, to bring him down to a drill-master's position, immediately under the supervision of other officers, would be an indignity. You would never expect a Lord Chancellor, his term of Office being over, to accept the position of a Puisne Judge; and these questions of etiquette are peculiarly strong in the Army. I will put a test case. The Quartermaster Generalship of the Army has just been filled. I have some reason to know that Lord Roberts declined that office many years ago. The officer who has been appointed to that post is the officer who retired from the command at Aldershot, so that if Lord Roberts would not accept the position of Quartermaster General, à fortiori it would be unbecoming to propose that he should accept the command at Aldershot. I am most anxious, as I am sure everybody must be, to take the fullest benefit of the capacity and experience of Lord Roberts, but we cannot create an appointment for him. Let me mention 909 this: If he had been appointed to the command at Aldershot an office would have had to be created for him, as it would have to be made a General's command at an increased cost of about £1,000 a year, because an officer who has had a General's command cannot come down to a Lieutenant General's. As I have said before, it was absolutely impossible to contemplate that course; therefore, I never regarded him as available. The Duke of Connaught, I have said, is the best officer for the appointment, or, at any rate, as good as any other. I have endeavoured to do all honour and all respect to Lord Roberts, and not only offered him a vacant Governorship, but the reversion of another Governorship which was likely to be vacant. And I really deprecate and deplore all these personal contrasts, for which I am not responsible, and which, I am sure, Lord Roberts has not raised. I am satisfied, at all events, that this is the best appointment, and that it has been made on its merits in the interests of the Army; and I end, as I began, by saying that I am personally fully responsible for it, and I look with confidence to the decision of the Committee.
§ MR. A. C. MORTON
Do I understand that in the case of the death or resignation of the Duke of Cambridge the position of Commander-in-Chief of the Forces would not be refilled?
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
When I first heard the speech of the Member for the Kirkcaldy Burghs I had considerable doubt whether it was necessary to take part in the Debate, because I am bound to say I never heard him discuss a subject with greater tact. But, at the same time, the upshot of his speech was that the Duke of Connaught was not competent for the command at Aldershot. It fell to my lot to have to make an appointment to the command of the Southern District in England, and that appointment was just vacant when the Duke of Connaught returned from India. I had to make inquiries as to his competence, as to the manner in which he had discharged his duties in India, and as to the way in which he had done his work in any other place. From all quarters, and from every military authority to whom I applied, I obtained information that the 910 Duke of Connaught had done all the work entrusted to him in a thoroughly competent manner. Everybody knows quite well what the experience of the Duke of Connaught was in India; and after he came back from India it was in the full knowledge of everybody that he had not only done his work well, but had earned the love of all those who served under him, and even of the natives also. And if he was thoroughly competent to be appointed to the Southern District, now that another appointment has become vacant, nothing has since occurred which renders him unqualified for Aldershot. Unfortunately, the name of Lord Roberts has also been introduced. Upon this side of the House I am quite sure that we enterain the highest opinions of the merits of Lord Roberts. So far as I am personally concerned, I can claim to have a very high opinion of his services, because I differ from the right hon. Gentleman in thinking that there is one other post to which a man who has served in India might be appointed, and that is the post of Adjutant General. I think, upon the whole, that no man was more thoroughly qualified to fill the office of Adjutant General than Lord Roberts. Therefore, it was with the consent of my colleagues that I proposed, when a vacancy occurred, to ask Lord Roberts to take up the duties. It so happened that circumstances occurred which rendered that appointment impossible, and I had to ask Lord Roberts to continue the excellent work he was carrying on in India which, with that thoroughly patriotic spirit which he has always shown, he was ready and willing to do, and he undertook those duties and, very much to the advantage of the country, continued them until a recent period. I deprecate altogether the trying to draw comparisons between this officer and another. My belief is that the choice must be left to the Executive Government. Certainly I am not prepared to interfere with the exercise of the discretion of the Executive Government, and I believe they have chosen for the post a man thoroughly competent to perform its duties, and I hope and believe that the House generally will endorse that verdict.
§ SIR C. W. DILKE (Gloucester, Forest of Dean)
thought that the matter could be put into a nutshell, and that long speeches were entirely unnecessary. 911 He wished to state briefly the considerations which had made it very difficult to decide which way he ought to vote on this occasion. He entirely rejected, so far as he was concerned, what had been made to form so large a portion of the Debate—namely, the personal question as between Lord Roberts and His Royal Highness the Duke of Connaught. He did, however, think the words "derogatory" and "indignity," which had been used so much by the Secretary of State for War with regard to the offer of the Aldershot command to General Lord Roberts, were rather strong words, seeing that Lord Roberts himself was willing to take the appointment. That appointment was, however, outside the real issue. Another question he wished to put aside was with regard to the future Commander-in-Chief, for there was no doubt that the position in its present shape would not in the future continue to exist, especially after the Report of the Hartington Commission. He had himself never thought that the position would be renewed in its present shape. Of course, it might be continued in a reduced form, but at any rate it would have to be changed considerably, and could, therefore, be dismissed at present from their minds. The real question, he thought, was a very limited one. The Secretary of State for War had defended the appointment because the Duke of Connaught possessed sufficient qualifications, and the late Secretary of State for War had also expressed the opinion that the Duke of Connaught was competent for the post. If that had been the sole question, he was bound to say that he should have supported the Government, but there was another point to which he would like to refer. Aldershot was a training school not only for the men and regimental officers there employed and for the battalions, but also for the Generals Commanding. It might, indeed, be said to be the only school in the United Kingdom where a General Officer could obtain experience in commanding men in battle, and, therefore, only officers who were likely to command Armies in case of serious war ought to be put in command of such a place. Was it likely that the Duke of Connaught, under the circumstances, would be called upon to take the chief command against a European enemy in case of war? He did not 912 believe that any King or Cabinet would think for a moment of entrusting the chief command to any Member of the Royal Family. Political considerations would be overwhelming in such a case, and it was with that firm belief that he had made up his mind to support the view which had been put forward by his hon. Friend.
§ MR. JEFFREYS (Hants, Basingstoke)
observed that it would, no doubt, be interesting to the Committee to learn what were the feelings of the soldiers themselves as to this appointment. He had a good many constituents, both officers and private soldiers, and he had taken some trouble to learn how they regarded this appointment. He was glad to say that both officers and privates were united in receiving with the greatest approbation the appointment made.
SIR H. FLETCHER (Sussex, Lewes)
asked permission to say a few words as, perhaps, the oldest military officer at that moment sitting in the House. He wished, in the first place, to thank the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War for the manner in which he had spoken that evening in reply to the attack which had been made upon the Duke of Connaught; and he wished, as a personal friend of His Royal Highness during some years past, to confirm all that had been said as to his capacity. He (Sir H. Fletcher) had watched the Duke's military career from the very commencement, and he could endorse every word which the Secretary of State for War had said as to his fitness for the post to which he had been appointed. The right hon. Member for the Forest of Dean had stated that in case of war no Member of the Royal Family would be asked to take command of the British troops; but he, as one who had served in the Army both before and during the Crimea, might remind the House that in the course of that campaign the Duke of Cambridge commanded the First Division of the Army. He felt sure the Army would feel indebted to the Secretary of State for War for the kind but just words which he had used respecting the Duke of Connaught, and he assured the Government that if a Division were persisted in they would receive the support of his hon. and gallant Friends on that side.
§ MAJOR RASCH
said, that most people would admit the eminent qualifications 913 of His Royal Highness; and those who had served with him, as he had, would allow that he was a good soldier. But these were not the sole qualifications for an Aldershot command. As the right hon. Member for the Forest of Dean had stated, Aldershot was the practical training school for the British Army. It was the headquarters of the First Army Corps, and the place from which almost all the troops were sent on foreign service. He thought if the Duke of Connaught, instead of being a General had been a Colonel, as most men of his age in the Service were, he would not have had much chance of ever being promoted to this command. He did not think these arrangements were in the interests of the Service or of the country. He remembered some years ago, when he was only a subaltern in the Carbineers, although he was recommended for promotion by his Colonel, yet he was superseded by a gentleman who was a personal friend of an illustrious individual. He was pretty sure that did not do much good to the regiment in which he served, and he knew it put a termination to his own military career. He thought the Secretary of State for War rather gave himself away by saying the Duke of Connaught was the senior officer, and ought to get this berth. The Duke of Connaught was senior, because he had been promoted by leaps and bounds. He had the greatest respect for His Royal Highness, both as a man and a soldier, but as he did not regard these arrangements as being in the interests of the Service he should support the Amendment.
§ Question put.
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 39; Noes 156.—(Division List, No. 302.)
§ Original Question again proposed.
said, he had a Notice on the Paper to move a reduction in the salary of the Secretary of State for War. He did not propose to move that reduction, but he wished to call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to a case revealed in the Report of the Committee on Public Accounts with regard to the loss of stores in South Africa, and to the allegations made against Major Richards who had charge of these stores. He wished to say he knew nothing of Major Richards personally, and he had never heard of his 914 name till he became aware of the facts of the case from the Report of the Public Accounts Committee. On looking into the case, however, he found it was one of great hardship. He had questioned the Secretary of State for War on the subject, but had not received satisfactory answers, and he now urged the right hon. Gentleman to do justice in the matter. The facts of the case were these: Major Richards had the misfortune to have charge of stores in three stations in South Africa which were something like 50 miles apart, and, of course, it was impossible for him to be in three places at once. He had made repeated applications for clerical assistance, which had not been acceded to, and yet he was made responsible for the loss of the stores, and in consequence of such loss was placed on reduced half-pay of 4s. 6d. a day. It was clear from the Report to which he referred that the first loss of stores was due to what was called "gun running"—namely, the stealing of rifles by the natives, which no man could prevent. Application was made to the Treasury to wipe off that loss, which application was declined. Shortly after that the Secretary of State for War and the Commander-in-Chief applied to have this unhappy officer re-employed, after being placed on reduced half-pay of 4s. 6d. a day; but the Treasury declined to permit of his re-employment, and the man had remained on reduced half - pay ever since. On the stores being taken over by Major Richards' successor a further deficiency was found, and he believed that was the reason why the poor man had been kept on half-pay. But they had the Commander-in-Chief, who was the judge of the facts, stating—and the Secretary of State for War agreeing with him—that it was a case where the man might even have been re-employed; therefore the Treasury were out of court in attempting to hold Major Richards responsible for the first loss, representing a value of £336. There was a further deficiency to the extent of £400 on Major Richards' successor taking up the duty, and the late Secretary of State for War, anxious, he supposed, to get this sum of money written off, did not press any further application on behalf of this unhappy officer. He regretted the Secretary of State for War did not place the man on the proper half-pay of his rank, for he committed no offence that 915 would bring him under the rules of Army discipline. There was no imputation on Major Richards' honour; and if the view was taken that he should be made pecuniarily responsible for the loss of the stores, then having been punished for three years by the loss of 6s. a day, he was not sure whether, calculated at compound interest, the Treasury had not recovered the whole of the money. The hon. and gallant Gentleman proceeded to quote from the evidence of official witnesses at the inquiry before the Committee to show that the losses attributed to the officer in question mainly existed on paper, being attributable in some cases to clerical errors, and were not really substantial; while, as a matter of fact, this officer was absent from his storehouses for a month at a time on active service, and three important military expeditions were conducted during his term of office. He contended that under these circumstances it was an act of the grossest injustice to deprive this officer of his half-pay. There was no charge against Major Richards' honour, and it was shameful to treat him in this way. He (Admiral Field) had taken up this case out of pure compassion for the unhappy man, who appeared to have no friends anywhere, and he earnestly hoped the Secretary of State for War would see that he should now receive his proper half-pay, especially considering the fact that after a very few more years' service Major Richards would have been entitled to £1 per day, and that he had been reduced to this miserable pittance of 4s. 6d. a day for losses which, by the evidence of the Government's own official witnesses, he could not prevent.
§ MR. CAMPBELL - BANNERMAN
said, the hon. and gallant Member had asked him a question on this subject some time ago. The case occurred before he came to the War Office under under the present Government, but he had looked into it, and was perfectly satisfied as to the decision. Before the offence occurred which was now referred to, this officer had been twice censured in consequence of the unsatisfactory manner in which his duties had been discharged. Stores under his charge had been stolen, and it was found that the examination by him had been most superficial The stores had been left in the hands of subordinate persons. Notwithstanding this, there had been every 916 desire to regard with leniency what had occurred owing to the special circumstances of duty in the Transvaal; but subsequently considerable deficiencies were again discovered in the stores, and his predecessor had decided that Major Richards could not again be placed in responsible charge of stores. No other course was open in the circumstances except to remove his name from the effective list; but the officer was granted the highest pension which he could receive under existing warrants.
§ COLONEL LOCKWOOD (Essex, Epping)
said, he desired to call attention to the question of counsel being allowed to appear before District Courts Martial on private soldiers, in the same way as at General Courts Martial. The hon. Member for Roxburghshire had previously brought this matter forward, and he recognised that the hon. Member was animated by the idea of obtaining justice for the private soldier. But beyond the broad question of justice he thought some rather delicate questions of military discipline arose. At the present moment, though counsel were permitted to appear for the private soldier before a District Court Martial, he was not allowed to put his cross-examination straight to the witness, but had to appear as what was called the friend of the prisoner, and had to conduct the examination through another person's mouth. The right hon. Gentleman knew how difficult the responsibility of the Commanding Officer had become in recent years, and he was sure he was not anxious to do anything that would unnecessarily increase that responsibility. He had consulted several high authorities on the subject of Courts Martial; and they were all, with one exception, agreed that if this change were carried out it would be extremely detrimental to the well-being of the Service, as District Courts Martial were almost invariably composed of officers of much less experience than those at General Courts Martial, and would probably find their task a difficult one with counsel.
pointed out that the observations of the hon. Member ought to have been made on the Vote for Martial Law.
§ MR. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
said, that the answer he had given on this subject was not a hap-hazard one. He quite appreciated all that the hon. 917 and gallant Member had said, but, on the whole, he thought it would be desirable to extend the powers of the soldier's friend in the District Court Martial, especially where a soldier was tried in relation to his accounts. He appealed to the Committee to allow the Vote to pass.
§ MR. BRODRICK (Surrey, Guildford)
said, the conversation which had just taken place reminded him of a long and interesting Sitting when the right hon. Gentleman promised that the Army Act should be reprinted. They asked him to carry that out within a month.
§ MR. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
said, he did not think they were asked to carry it out within a month. He had no recollection of that. It was done by the Stationery Office, and it had been in their hands. He had asked about it once or twice.
§ MR. JEFFREYS (Hants, Basingstoke)
said, he wished to call attention to the complaint of the Cavalry who were placed under canvas, because of the dispute between them and a Line regiment at Aldershot, that they were denied the allowances usually given to men placed under canvas. It was quite contrary to the Regulations that they should be denied extra allowances when they had not been tried by Court Martial. If the proceeding were illegal some notice ought to be taken of it.
§ MR. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
said, he did not remember all the details of this question, but the opinion of the officer in command at Aldershot, and of others, was that the right course had been taken, and that no extra charge ought to be thrown on the public because of the conduct of the men themselves.
§ COLONEL MURRAY (Bath)
asked for information as to the working of the new system of appointing officers of the non-combatant branches of the Army to the General Staff. He thought that the welding of these different branches would give rise to confusion on active service.
§ MR. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
said, his attention had not been particularly directed to the question. He had not heard anything to lead him to think with the hon. and gallant Member.
§ MR. COHEN (Islington, E.)
drew attention to the position of the Second Division clerks, and hoped an assurance would be given that the engagements entered into with them would be kept.
§ MR. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
said, he had obtained with great difficulty from the Treasury seven promotions to the upper grade, which was one of the principal things that were asked for. He had also endeavoured to find out whether any Staff posts could be found to which they could be appointed, but, of course, it was impossible for him to create Staff posts on purpose. He had every desire to do all he could to meet the wishes of the Second Division clerks.
§ MR. A. C. MORTON (Peterborough)
said, that some months ago he asked the right hon. Gentleman several questions in reference to the Adjutant General and the 2nd Battalion Coldstream Guards, then at the Tower. It appeared that according to the Queen's Regulations the Commanding Officer might reprimand, or severely reprimand, a non-commissioned officer, but not punish him in any other way; but it appeared also that when the Commanding Officer either reprimanded, or severely reprimanded, he made the noncommissioned officer forfeit his indulgences, which appeared to him to be contrary to the Regulations, although possibly within the power of the Commanding Officer.
§ MR. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
said, that he remembered looking into this matter, and finding that the action of the Commanding Officer was, in the opinion of his military advisers, perfectly regular, and in accordance with military practice. The indulgences were entirely at the option of the Commanding Officer. He would, however, look into the matter again.
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
desired to know whether the hon. Member who had given notice of an attack on the Chaplain General was going to bring his Motion on? For the last 18 mouths or more the Chaplain General had been the subject of bitter attacks in the newspapers and elsewhere; and as yet no opportunity had been given of answering the attacks. It was most cowardly conduct; and as far as he knew the charges were quite unfounded. He desired to defend the Chaplain General to the fullest extent.
§ MR. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
said, that his hon. Friend had spoken to 919 him on this subject, and asked him to support the case on which his Notice of Motion was based. This he refused to his hon. Friend, and added that he did not see any reason for re-opening the question. On the strength of that answer his hon. Friend had gone away and abandoned the intention of bringing on his Motion.
§ Original Question put, and agreed to.
2. Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £560,000, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the Charge for the Pay and Allowances (exclusive of Supplies, Clothing, &c.) of the Militia (to a number not exceeding 135,546, including 30,000 Militia Reserve), which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1894.
§ MAJOR RASCH (Essex, S. E.)
asked whether the five years' Rule in connection with officers commanding Militia battalions was now carried out, and would be carried out in future?
§ SIR A. HAYTER (Walsall)
asked whether the Secretary of State for War could not raise the number of men who joined the Militia Reserve from 30,000, as he did not see any use in that fixed number?
§ MR. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
said, that in regard to the five years' appointments, he had not inquired into that matter. He was under the impression that they were five years' appointments now. He was certainly in favour of shortening the period. The matter mentioned respecting the Militia Reserve might also be considered.
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
said, he had seen in the newspapers recently a proposal to assist men on the Island of St. Helena to emigrate to the Cape. All Committees that had considered the subject were of opinion that they should depend upon St. Helena for local Militia, but it was said—"You cannot get the men to join. They want to go away, and if you impose compulsory service you will drive the men away from the Island." He did not think these dismal anticipations had been realised so far. He was told that owing to distress on the Island a certain portion of the inhabitants were likely to run away from it; at any rate, it was desirable that some statement should be made on the subject by the Government. Then, he desired to know what steps were being taken to arm the Militia with the new magazine rifle? Everyone agreed 920 that it was desirable to give this force the new rifle. There were great difficulties in the way, the greatest of which was that in many cases there were not at present ranges where the Militia could shoot with the new rifle. At the same time, he put it to the right hon. Gentleman most seriously whether it was not possible to at least arm that portion of the Militia which was included in the, Third Army Corps with the new-weapon?
§ MR. COCHRANE
asked whether it was not possible to increase the number of non-commissioned officers on the permanent Staff during the period of training? The regiment with which he had the honour to be connected had only 20 on its permanent Staff—although there were 800 privates to be drilled—and of these 20 there were always five or six away acting as canteen sergeant, mess sergeant, and so on. The result was that 50, 60, or 100 men had to be drilled by one non-commissioned officer, and that was far from satisfactory. Would it not be possible for regiments that did not happen to be training to supply non-commissioned officers to regiments in training?
§ MR. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
said, he would look into the last point mentioned. With regard to the magazine rifle, he had not the figures at hand as to the number available for the Militia, but he fully realised the importance of completing the work as soon as possible, especially in respect to those regiments which the right hon. Gentleman opposite had referred to. The story concerning the St. Helena Militia was very amusing, almost comic. The upshot was this—they found that if they were to substitute a Militia there for the Regular troops in order to man the fortifications they must have Regular troops in order to create the Militia. Unless they had Regular troops there they were told the inhabitants would leave the Island en masse, so that they must keep Regular troops in order to maintain a population out of which could be enlisted a Militia, to take the place of the Regular troops.
§ MR. BRODRICK
wished to know whether the right hon. Gentleman had yet considered the point he had promised earlier in the year to give attention to—namely, the question of identifying the 921 men in the Militia with a view to seeing that a man did not join more than one regiment. In connection with the Army Reserve, the right hon. Gentleman had said he would consider whether it would not be possible to require Militiamen to report themselves on one given day at some convenient place or places. Would the right hon. Gentleman consider the matter between now and the Autumn Session?
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Resolutions to be reported Tomorrow; Committee to sit again Tomorrow.