§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn until Monday, 30th December."—[The Prime Minister.]
§ Mr. FITZROY
I assure the right hon. "Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty that it is with extreme reluctance I bring forward this question of the resignation of Sir Francis Bridgeman, of -which I gave notice on Wednesday last. In my judgment all this sort of questions are best if possible kept out of discussion in this House, not that I think that this House is either incompetent to discuss them or that it is an unsuitable place for their discussion, but for the reason that the moment any question, I do not care what that question is, reaches the floor of this House it becomes tainted with the party atmosphere with which this House is inevitably tainted. Most questions are in my judgment best kept outside the possibility of being tainted by the party atmosphere, but none more so than any question connected with the British Navy. My only object in bringing forward this question is, if possible, to get at the facts of the case as to the resignation of Sir Francis Bridge-man, because I can assure the First Lord that there is a considerable section of the public, and, what is even of greater importance, of those in the Service to which Sir Francis Bridgeman belongs, who have an uneasy feeling in their minds as to the fairness of treatment which Sir Francis Bridgeman has received, and the methods by which his resignation has been effected. I do not want to disparage the high office of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, but I can assure him that in the Service sailors 1876 look upon the First Sea Lord as the head of the Service, and naturally, therefore, if they have any suspicion or idea that he has not been, I do not wish to say anything offensive, fairly treated by his political colleague on the Board, resentment naturally arises among their ranks. Certainly, if that is so, and I am convinced that it is so, it cannot be a good thing, either for the reputation or administration of the Admiralty or for the Naval service itself, that such a feeling should exist. For those reasons, although, as I said before, it is with great reluctance I bring forward this question, I make no excuse for doing so.
Very soon after the resignation of Sir Francis Bridgeman was announced, my Noble Friend the Member for Portsmouth (Lord C. Beresford) asked in this House for the full circumstances affecting the resignation of the First Sea Lord. The right hon. Gentleman answered that it was for reasons of health, and that no difference in view or policy led to any disagreement. Pressed as to whether the cause of ill-health was made with the authority of Sir Francis Bridgeman, the First Lord said no, that he took full responsibility, and that it required no other responsibility. A further question by the Noble Lord the Member for Portsmouth asked on which side the proposal for resignation emanated, and the right hon. Gentleman replied, "The proposal emanated from me." If the reasons of ill-health emanated from the right hon. Gentleman, why did he not say so at once instead of, as it were, having this statement dragged from him by innumerable questions, supplementary questions, from all parts of the House? It makes it appear at once that no consideration of ill-health induced Sir Francis Bridgeman to resign his post, but that the proposal to do so on those grounds was made by the right hon. Gentleman, but I will deal with that a little later. I ask in passing, and I do not want to do so in any offensive, way, does the right hon. Gentleman, as he suggested in his reply to this House, really maintain that he alone, without any other authority, is the judge as to whether the First Sea Lord is or is not in that state of health which enables him to perform his duties. If that were taken as a precedent, there would be very little security for any public official if on any occasion he disagreed with the Minister at the head of the office to which he belongs, that when that disagreement occurred he, the Minister, could remove him 1877 from that office by suggesting he did so for reasons of ill-health. Constitutional law is, of course, a very difficult question, but I think I am right in saying that the office which the right hon. Gentleman holds is different from any other office held under the Crown, in that the First Lord of the Admiralty is not a Secretary of State, and that the other members of the Admiralty Board are not his subordinates, but his colleagues.
I think that some misgivings on this point must have occurred to the right hon. Gentleman, because on 12th December an hon. Gentleman on his own side of the House asked a question which had not been put down on the Paper, as to whether there was further information on the subject of the resignation of Sir Francis Bridgeman. The right hon. Gentleman gave an answer of very considerable length to this question, on the health of Sir Francis Bridgeman, which he had derived from personal observation, and that he felt bound, with the concurrence of the Prime Minister, to impart this view of his health to Sir Francis Bridgeman, and that he had done so on the 28th November, during the absence of the First Sea Lord on account of illness. Further, in that statement which the right hon. Gentleman made to the House he said that in consequence of this letter Sir Francis Bridgeman, with great propriety, resigned his post, and he added, possibly having an idea of the way his action might be interpreted, what he had said before in the House that no difference in view or policy had at any time existed between himself and the First Sea Lord. I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether it is strictly accurate to say the First Sea Lord was absent from his office on leave through illness. I am led to believe that Sir Francis Bridgeman did duty at the Admiralty during the months of August, September, and October, when most, if not all, of the other Sea Lords were away, and he did this with a view to obtaining his leave later on in the autumn, and that in no way was Sir Francis Bridgeman absent through ill-health, but that he was asking his leave on the 28th November in the ordinary sense of the word. When the right hon. Gentleman said that on receipt of this letter of 28th November, Sir Francis Bridgeman with great propriety resigned his post, is it not really the fact that Sir Francis replied, saying that he had consulted his doctor who assured him that he was quite fit for duty, and that he pro- 1878 posed to retain his post. May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether my version of this transaction is not the correct one, and that in reply to Sir Francis Bridge-man's letter to which I have referred, he wrote a second letter saying that his decision as to Sir Francis Bridgeman's resignation was final and that he had received the necessary sanction.
The fact is that the right hon. Gentleman did write a second letter to Sir Francis Bridgeman insisting on his resignation whether he wished to or not, previously having made every arrangement as to his resignation. If my information is correct, and I have every reason to believe it is so, it leads me to the conclusion that the right hon. Gentleman formed his own conclusions as to the health of Sir Francis Bridgeman on his own responsibility, without in the first place consulting Sir Francis personally on this subject as to whether he was fit for duty or not, and that the right hon. Gentleman had, as a matter of fact, already arranged for Sir Francis's resignation, and had obtained the necessary sanction thereto before he wrote the letter of 28th November suggesting resignation, or, at any rate, before he received Sir Francis Bridgeman's reply. There is one more point, though an important one, to which I should like to refer. The right hon. Gentleman has stated that no difference in view or policy has at any time existed between himself and Sir Francis Bridgeman. May I ask him once more whether, prior to his letter, suggesting resignation, differences had arisen between him and Sir Francis Bridgeman on matters of expert opinion, and, further, whether on one occasion, at any rate, not very long before that letter was written, Sir Francis Bridgeman had threatened that if a course were adopted with which he could not agree he would resign. I have asked the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty some very plain questions, and I hope he will give me a perfectly straight answer. I believe what I have stated in this transaction is the true account of what has taken place. If it is the true account, it is a transaction wholly unworthy of the right hon. Gentleman himself and of the high office which he holds. You want to get the very best men you can in this country to serve in the Navy, and you expect an immense amount out of them through their career. It is not an inducement to get those best men in the Service, if on reaching the time 1879 which Sir Francis Bridgeman has reached, when after a long career in the Service, esteemed and honoured by all who have had the privilege of his acquaintance or of serving with him, he has attained the topmost rung of the ladder, they are to look forward to being cast aside without that consideration which they have earned through a long and honourable career in the State.
§ Mr. A. C. BECK
I submit that the mere circumstance that the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Fitzroy) has moved in this matter is a very remarkable fact, and I am intensely surprised at finding myself on my feet. The originator of these charges, the Gentleman who first brought them forward in this House, was the Noble Lord the Member for Portsmouth——
§ Lord C. BERESFORD
I made no charge whatever. I simply said in this House that the Service was very interested in the matter. I asked the right hon. Gentleman a fair question, he asked me a fair question, and that is all that happened. There was no charge whatever on either side.
§ Mr. BECK
I think it is within your recollection, Mr. Speaker, that you had to stop the hon. Member from pursuing his questions further. We on this side must really protest, and I hope the protest is shared in every quarter of the House, against a gentleman who has held the high position in His Majesty's Sea Service that the Noble Lord has held, not taking the first opportunity that is given him to prove his charges——
§ Mr. BECK
The Noble Lord would not have heard me at all if, as I fully expected him to do, he had got on his feet at once. Why he should depute the hon. Member opposite to speak on his behalf I cannot imagine. I do not wish to make any heated or unpleasant speech; but I must say that we expected from the Noble Lord, with his peculiarly close connection with His Majesty's Sea Service, that he would have seized the very first opportunity——[Laughter and "Why?"] Hon. Members may laugh, and ask why. We have been told that there is a scandal, and that my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty is such a tyrannical person that no one can work with him unless absolutely 1880 prepared to be subservient to him. The Noble Lord has inspired newspapers and asked questions day after, day. He was the first person to ask a question on the subjects and now he has to be forced to his feet, if indeed he can be forced to his feet, to substantiate the charges he has made. Those who are interested in the Navy consider that this is a matter of the very gravest importance. The hon. Member opposite (Mr. Fitzroy) does not realise the seriousness of the charges he makes. Remember, if there is the least truth in them, if there is the least foundation for them, he is easting a slur, not only upon my right hon. Friend, but upon Sir Francis Bridgeman himself, and upon his successor in the high office which he has held. If there really was an attempt by the First Lord of the Admiralty, for his own private ends, to deprive the State of the services of an admiral whose skill every man who has taken the least interest in the Navy admits, I say that it was the duty of Sir Francis Bridgeman to make the most open protest in his power, and it was the duty of his successor not to take office until the matter was cleared up. The Noble Lord knows the gravity of these things. We know that hon. Members opposite make these charges daily. Inspired by their leader, they constantly say that His Majesty's Ministers are influenced by the most corrupt purposes and inspired by the meanest motives which can influence the human mind. But the Noble Lord knows the seriousness of these charges, and some of us who have noticed that he did not get on his feet, are very much influenced by the fear that he has made these charges, found that they are in the nature of a mare's nest, and is afraid to get up in his own proper person to substantiate them when he is opposite my right hon. Friend the First Lord. I hope that when I have finished the few remarks I have to make we shall have the privilege of hearing what the Noble Lord has to say.
No man in this House with a spark of fairness can deny—the Noble Lord may laugh—that ever since he came back from sea he has been raising these questions in connection with the Navy. Every little bit of scandal, everything that could drive a wedge between different officers holding His Majesty's commission, has been seized by the Noble Lord. On several occasions I have had the privilege of hearing him make statements on naval questions. It is not pleasant for those of us who are younger men to make charges 1881 against the Noble Lord. Some of our earliest recollections are bound up with his courage on the occasion of the taking of the "Condor" into action. It is to us little less than a tragedy that he who has played such an honourable part in the Navy, who has held almost the highest post it is possible for a naval officer to hold, should in this House for what appear to us after the most careful investigation to be merely party purposes, make charge after charge which he is unable to substantiate. I would not have got on my feet to-day to attack the Noble Lord if it had not been that I felt intensely surprised at his entrusting this duty to the hon. Member who has spoken, and with whom we have no quarrel. He made the usual charges, which are customary with the present Opposition, and he did it in a very inoffensive and pleasant manner. But it was the duty of the Noble Lord himself to make these charges. He cannot deny that he is the moving spirit in this agitation which has been got up; he cannot deny that these charges are being used in the Press. I have not had time to look up the whole of the attacks that are being made in the Tory Press, but I have in my hand the "Morning Post" of today, in which I see a letter headed "The Supersession of Sir Francis Bridgeman," signed by another gentleman who has held His Majesty's commission, Major-General Hugh McCalmont. The Noble Lord knows perfectly well that if he makes these charges other people will exaggerate them—though I do not know that it is possible to exaggerate some of the charges be has made It is his duty here, as a Member of this House, not only to my right hon. Friend, whom he has attacked, but to the House and to the nation as a whole, to take the first opportunity of substantiating those charges.
How can we debate this question when there is nothing to debate? What the hon. Member opposite said was that he was informed, he was informed, he was informed. We do not know who informed him. No one knows what these charges are. If one of His Majesty's Ministers has been guilty of one of the gravest derelictions of duty of which it is possible for a Minister to be guilty, this House wants to know and to take action immediately it is possible to do so. We submit with all respect to the Noble Lord, who perhaps has not thought of all these things, that he cannot go on using these backstair methods. He must come out 1882 into the open. If there is anything to be said against the present administration of His Majesty's Navy, let him say it openly and prove it, and let the nation judge between him and His Majesty's Ministers. As it will be impossible for me to speak again on this Motion, I would like to say that, although we have no material to debate, one or two points seem to emerge. One is this: If, as my right hon. Friend says, he has felt it his duty to suggest to Sir Francis Bridgeman that his health was so indifferent that he could not bear the strain of the great office which he held, then I submit that courage amongst Ministers or in any other class of man is not so frequent that it should be censured. It must be obvious, and we all know that it has happened time after time, that the easy and pleasant course is to hold one's tongue and say nothing. It must be remembered that during these last twelve months Europe has been on the verge of war. One of the greatest responsibilities that can fall upon any human being would be cast upon the First Sea Lord in the event of this country being at war. All of us know that, however gallant the courage, however earnest the desire to do one's duty, the mind is always influenced by the body, and that the man who is ill or unwell cannot fulfil to the utmost the duties of a very responsible post.
I would say, further, that in these matters there should be no party. The safety of the State must be the first consideration. Every man must bear in mind that it is better for a Minister to show himself even over anxious, or over eager, to ensure that safety than to sit in his office and let things slide along in the hope that something will turn up. In our history, even our recent history, we have had enough of this method as regards our national defences. We, as Liberals, believe—and I do not think that Liberals alone hold the view; it should be held on all sides of the House—that in regard to a Minister who is responsible to this House for one of the great services of the State, and who, if that service breaks down or fails, has to take the entire responsibility for that failure, that it is part of our constitutional theory that that Minister should be supported in, what he considers the exercise of his duty, unless it can be plainly proved that he has been guilty of favouritism or of a course inspired by unworthy and personal motives. There has been one definite statement in the daily I Press, namely, that the First Lord and Sir 1883 Francis Bridgeman differed on three questions; the manning of the Fleet, the pay of the sea service, and the Canadian proposal. I would ask my right hon. Friend when he replies to say whether there is any truth in that statement. In concluding, I appeal once more to the Noble Lord opposite—I am sorry that he again laughs, because it is not a laughing matter—that he should at the earliest possible moment get on his feet and substantiate the charges he has made. It will be an unpleasant conclusion, but if he does not at once, the moment he has the opportunity, substantiate these charges, there can be but one conclusion conveyed to the minds of all fair-minded men, and that is that the charges cannot be substantiated, and that he is unable to bring forward one jot or tittle of evidence to support the back stairs gossip which has been put forward on the floor of the House.
§ Mr. COOPER
The hon Member, who has just spoken, surely is begging the question. I only want quite briefly, and speaking as one who has never spoken on naval matters, and who takes no special interest in them, but as a Member of this House, to say this in reply to the hon. Member for Saffron Walden: When the question was asked the First Lord of the Admiralty as to the resignation of Sir Francis Bridgeman, the First Lord gave a reply which, at any rate, carried the insinuation or suggestion that Sir Francis Bridgeman had of his own free will resigned. [Hon. Members: "No."]
§ The FIRST LORD of the ADMIRALTY (Mr. Churchill)
Oh, no, I carefully used language in an ambiguous form, namely, that reasons of ill-health had led to the resignation.
§ Mr. COOPER
Yes, but that was none the less misleading to people who, at any rate, were not "in the know" in these matters. To the public of this country, and certainly to innocent Members of this House like myself, the idea that was conveyed by the answer of the First Lord was that Sir Francis Bridgeman had, of his own free will, resigned his position. Somebody, apparently my Noble Friend, I think, happened to know a little more about this matter. The First Lord was further pressed on this subject, and we discovered that a letter was written which apparently left Sir Francis Bridgeman no option whatever but to send in his resignation. That is the idea—that is the impres- 1884 sion, at any rate—that has got to the public of this country. That being so, I do feel that the suggestion of the hon. Member that last spoke that my Noble Friend was fomenting trouble in these matters is not justified.
§ Lord C. BERESFORD
I was very anxious to hear and to see before I troubled the House with my remarks what was to be said; but I must first answer the statement that the hon. Member for Saffron Walden made. He says that I have made statements that have never been proved. If any hon. Member in the House gets up and names a statement that I have made on any point connected with naval efficiency, that I have brought before my country, that has not invariably been done sooner or later, I shall be much obliged to him. The First Lord of the Admiralty laughs. Perhaps he will give to the House any point that I brought before my countrymen in any way on any question connected with the Fleet that has not been carried out afterwards. The hon. Member charged me with being party. I came into this House in 1874, and I have been fighting questions of the Service ever since. If the hon. Member looks back at old records he will find that I was far harder on my own leaders and on my own party than I have ever been on Gentlemen opposite. I have had one single object in view clear of party, which was to get the Navy in as good a position as it can be got into for strength, and with contentment amongst officers and men.
§ Lord C. BERESFORD
I was charged with being party, and I tried to prove that I never was party. It was unworthy of the hon. Member opposite to say that I used backstairs influence. If I have a fault, I believe it is that I have been too blunt in spitting out my mind too clearly, regardless of the consequences to myself. I do not think the hon. Member meant it offensively; still I do not think it was a nice term to use in this House to a man who has done his level best for the Service to which he has long belonged. I think this matter is so important that without acrimony we should have a full and free explanation of what has occurred. So far as I am personally concerned, I beg leave to tell the House that I have had no communication at all with Sir Francis Bridgeman, either 1885 by letter or in writing, through any third party. I am saying this in view of the question I put to the First Lord of the Admiralty.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I certainly can corroborate that, because it is a matter of notoriety that the Noble Lord and Sir Francis Bridgeman are not friends.
§ Lord C. BERESFORD
Well, I will not say we are not friends, but we do not quite agree. It was a question personal to myself. I will tell the House what it is. I want to be perfectly free about everything. I believe my name was submitted to be made an Admiral of the Fleet. I tell the House it was a matter to which I was perfectly indifferent as to whether I was made an Admiral of the Fleet or not. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"] I trust the House believes me when I say that. However, I was told that Sir Francis Bridge-man objected to it. I am quite sure if he did not object to it he thought I ought not to be an Admiral of the Fleet. It did not exactly cement our friendship, but there is no ill-will, nor have any remarks passed on one side or the other. I can assure the House that that is all that happened in that way with regard to Sir Francis Bridgeman and myself. The only reason I took this question up at all, and asked the First Lord my original question, was because there was a very anxious feeling in the Fleet in regard to the methods of the First Lord with the Sea Lords. I have got very many letters on that point. I say this question—and the First Lord of the Admiralty will agree with me—this question of the health, capability, and position of the First Sea Lord is vital to the safety of this country. What has happened?
Since the First Lord has been in office there have been five—this is the fifth—Sea Lords that have left the Admiralty. It is notorious that four of them, the four predecessors of Sir Francis Bridgeman—Admiral of the Fleet Sir Arthur Wilson, Vice-Admiral Sir George Egerton, Rear-Admiral Sir Charles Madden—these three —were dismissed from the Admiralty. That is notorious. That is public property. Sir Arthur Wilson got very much the same class of letter, which the First Lord will not think me rude in stating was of an insolent character, as Sir Francis Bridgeman got when he received the second letter which left him nothing to do but to resign. Why I say it was insolent was that Sir Francis 1886 Bridgeman was ordered to leave the Board in a few days or a week. Remember, two* of these Sea Lords out of the five have been dismissed. These officers have had very distinguished careers; immense experience at sea, and in the handling of fleets and men, and had the confidence of the service as administrators. One was Sir Arthur Wilson and the other was Sir Francis Bridgeman. It was not reasons of health that necessitated the dismissal of the three Sea Lords in 1911. As I have already said, the second letter that was sent to Sir Francis Bridgeman necessitated his withdrawal, and really meant that he had no alternative but to resign.
The First Lord of the Admiralty will agree with me, and I think the sense of the House is with me, that the First Lord of the Admiralty said that the reasons of ill-health were those that led the First Sea Lord, Sir Francis Bridgeman, to resign. I put it to the House whether everybody in the House did not think it was a voluntary-resignation? [HON. MEMBERS: "No."], Wait a moment! The First Lord of the Admiralty said that his phrase was ambiguous. The ambiguity of it resulted in the House thinking that Sir Francis Bridgeman had voluntarily resigned on account of ill-health. I am only going to-state what has become public knowledge. There is a lot more behind this that I think we ought to know, but I do not know it as a fact, and I am not going to state it or to make any new insinuation beyond what is public property. [Hon. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Perhaps some hon. Members opposite know more about the thing than I do. I am only going to state what I know, because I consider this affair is most serious to the country. The view that I have taken and looked at the matter from is that which from which the majority of naval officers look at it. There were two letters. One I might describe as an affectionate letter, which insinuated that Sir Francis Bridgeman should go, and contained very nice sentences, but which Sir Francis Bridgeman refused to take as an order of dismissal. He refused to resign. He said he was in very good health. That letter, I believe, contained paragraphs to say that the First Lord knew he was not in good health, and that he thought he had bettor go. I want to know from the First Lord: did he convey to Sir Francis; Bridgeman in the first letter that he had consulted with the Prime Minister and with His Majesty, and that it was all definitely fixed—when he wrote the first 1887 letter which I have described as an affectionate letter—that Sir Francis Bridgeman had to go? Will the First Lord of the Admiralty make a note of that because it is a very important point.
The second letter told the First Sea Lord that he had to go; that it was all arranged that he had to go. What I want to ask the First Lord is: did he make the same sort of statement to His Majesty, to the Prime Minister, and to the Cabinet as he made in this House; because I am justified in saying that the statement he made in this House certainly led the majority of Members to believe that Sir Francis Bridgeman had voluntarily resigned owing to ill-health? If the First Lord of the Admiralty did approach the Crown and the Cabinet with the same misleading statement—[Hon. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"] I said it was misleading. Hon. Members opposite have rather taken me to task on that point. I said it was misleading. I say it was a misleading statement. Why did the House cheer when the First Lord of the Admiralty said it was he that did it and not Sir Francis Bridgeman, if the original statement was not misleading? I maintain I was perfectly right. I want to know whether the First Lord of the Admiralty misled the Crown, misled the Prime Minister, and the Cabinet, by making the ambiguous statement which he made as he told us he did. In the second letter, I believe—for I do not know what he said—was probably this: "You are ill; you shall be ill; I order you to be ill."—That is really what it amounts to—" then if you keep silent"—I do not say he said this, but it is the inference I draw—if you keep silent I will make you a G.C.B. and an Admiral of the Fleet." I daresay there were all sorts of questions put. I believe Sir Francis Bridgeman did take the position of G.C.B., but he refused the position of Admiral of the Fleet. History repeats itself. Sir Arthur Wilson was offered the position of a peer. He refused it. It is very curious that this, what I may call bribes—it is not too strong a term—[Hon. Members: "Order."] Mr. Speaker will call me to order, if necessary, but I want it to be quite clear as to -what I mean. The First Lord of the Admiralty's policy, as I have explained, is a policy of bribes and threats. It has occurred before. Sir Arthur Wilson was offered to be made a peer.
§ 12.0 P.M.
§ Lord C. BERESFORD
Then I made a mistake. The First Lord is quite within his province to say, "I will recommend you to be a peer," or some other honour, I say that that has occurred, and that is the view of a large number of officers in the Service since the First Lord of the Admiralty's tenure of office at the Admiralty. What was the real reason why Sir Francis Bridge-man had to go? Because he did not agree with the autocratic methods of the First Lord, and because he thought on technical questions expert opinion should be taken.
§ Lord C. BERESFORD
The First Lord of the Admiralty has said that Sir Francis Bridgeman never differed from him on questions of policy. He knows perfectly well that Sea Lords have nothing whatever to do with policy, because that is a Cabinet matter. The Cabinet dictates the policy and the Sea Lords only have to do with those technical and expert questions for carrying out the policy.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
The Noble Lord has made a statement that there was a difference on technical and expert matters without having stated the particular questions. Surely he is drawing a bow at a venture, and he would not make a statement of that kind unless he had some incident in mind and I want to know what it is.
§ Lord C. BERESFORD
Does the First Lord think Sir Francis Bridgeman has told me what the question is? I make a definite statement. [An HON. Member: "It is indefinite."] It is a definite statement that there was a question or questions upon which Sir Francis Bridgeman tendered his resignation to the First Lord and on which the First Lord did not agree with Sir Francis Bridgeman.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
Then I say it is the duty of the Noble Lord, if he makes that statement, to state specifically and clearly what it is.
§ Lord C. BERESFORD
The statement that Sir Francis Bridgeman threatened to resign his position as First Sea Lord not on a question of policy, which has nothing whatever to do with the matter, because that is the business of the Cabinet, but I on a question of technical and expert 1889 opinion upon which he differed from the First Lord of the Admiralty.
§ Lord C. BERESFORD
The First Lord of the Admiralty is an extremely clever person. I am simply making a statement, and I want to know if it is a fact. I want to know if it is not a fact that the First Sea Lord of the Admiralty tendered his resignation to the First Lord on a question connected with what he thought was right in regard to the efficiency of the Fleet?
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I am going to reply on the whole subject when I get up, and I shall deal with all the points that have been raised. What I ask the Noble Lord to do is to state specifically what he has in his mind, if he has anything in his mind.
§ Lord C. BERESFORD
The First Lord suggests that my mind is a hollow blank. What I have in mind at this moment is that the First Lord of the Admiralty should answer my definite question. What the right hon. Gentleman is doing at the Admiralty is exactly what he did wherever he has been placed. [An Hon. MEMBER: "It is all supposition."] There is no supposition in my making a definite statement and asking for a reply. [An HON. Member: "It is not definite."] What I want to point out to the First Lord is that the reason so many officers in the Service do not trust his administration is that he will always assume the executive as well as the administrative. This was well exhibited when he was in the office held by the right hon. Gentleman sitting opposite in the Sidney Street not. [HON. MEMBERS "Oh, oh!"] Yes, it was. The First Lord was there to adjudicate on the executive work, and if he goes to where the executive is at work he cannot adjudicate because he is the senior officer. He does the same thing at the Admiralty. On many occasions he took charge of the Admiralty, and he took charge during the manœuvres. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"] "Taking charge" does not mean that he handled the whole thing, but that he took charge.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
That is absolutely untrue. No order, instruction or directions, directly or indirectly, were sent by me. [Hon. Members: "Withdraw."]
§ Lord C. BERESFORD
I do not see why I should withdraw, because "taking charge" is a naval expression, which a landsman would not understand. If a ship's rudder carries away, you say the ship "takes charge." If a man goes and interferes on the forecastle with work that is not his own, and interferes even by his presence, we say he "takes charge." Therefore I am perfectly correct from my point of view. I maintain that the First Lord adds the executive business to the administrative business which is his proper duty. I dare say, when the First Lord gets up, we shall hear a great eulogy and great praise of Sir Francis Bridgeman. That will be his duty. He will probably say, "I thought so much of this officer, and he was so good that, though I did not intend it, I misled the House a little at the beginning, but I did it for the best; I was responsible, and I thought that Sir Francis Bridgeman ought to go." All that is entirely wiped out by what I call the second letter, which was the insolent letter which he sent to Sir Francis Bridgeman demanding his dismissal. I do not say for one moment, and I hope the House will not misunderstand me, that a statesman holding the position of the right hon. Gentleman should not be able to change his First Sea Lord of his Board, but what I object to is the way the right hon. Gentleman has done it; and it has not been done either with Sir Arthur Wilson or Sir Francis Bridgeman in a way that is usually associated with safety, and it could have been done in quite another way. The First Lord is perfectly right to get up and say that this officer does not suit me, but there is a gentlemanly way of doing these things as well as a statesmanlike way. This makes it appear that there was a conspiracy against Sir Francis Bridge-man. As I said before, it is perfectly immaterial whether I am doing Sir Francis Bridgeman harm or good, because I am thinking of the state of the country, which is far superior to any man's position or what his personal feelings may be. The right hon. Gentleman has adopted an unsound principle, and if he goes on doing this he will check confidence, discipline, and, what is more material, good comradeship in the Service. When the right hon. Gentleman went to his present position there was not an officer or man in the Service who did not wish him well, because he succeeded to chaos, and to what I have described as an infamous administration marked by partiality, 1891 favouritism, and divided into two. The majority were the best officers, and the others were those who agreed with the First Lord, who got appointments and decorations and other dignities because they agreed with the Powers that be. On this point what does the right hon. Gentleman say?
§ Lord C. BERESFORD
I am glad to hear it. When the First Lord of the Admiralty went to his present position we thought his method of administration was a very good one, but we have now lost all confidence in his administration because of his method. I say the fact of these five Sea Lords having been dismissed, or having had to resign from their posts during his administration, is fatal to that confidence which we reposed in his authority. I have made my definite statement, and I want to see respect paid to his authority, but respect cannot be paid to authority under circumstances such as I have stated. With regard to the dismissal of Sir Francis Bridgeman, I hope the First Lord will be able to clear the matter up. It will be a very difficult thing for him to do, but, if he does clear it up satisfactorily, I will be the first to say a good word for him. As it is at this moment, I say a system of administration that does affect discipline and confidence and good comradeship in the Navy must end in nothing but fatal disaster if we went to war.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I am very glad that the skilful, but not unnecessary, intervention of my hon. Friend (Mr. Beck) has had the effect of bringing the Noble Lord to his feet. It is his habit in matters of this kind to make a number of insinuations——
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
Insinuations of a very gross character, some of which transgress the limits of Parliamentary decorum; to cover the Order Paper with leading and fishing questions, designed to give substance and form to any gossip or tittle-tattle he may have been able to scrape together, and then to come down to the House, not to attempt to make good in fact or in detail, or to advance any evidence or any authority for the statements he has made, but to skulk in the background, waiting for an opportunity, 1892 after the Minister has spoken and when no further reply is possible, to utter another long string of disconnected statements and assertions which he hopes will confuse the issue and awaken disquietude in the mind of the public. I am very glad, therefore, my hon. Friend was so successful in the delicate Parliamentary operation of drawing him. I have not ever since I became First Lord of the Admiralty made any reply to the Noble Lord's scurrilous and continuous personal attacks, none. I sought no quarrel with him when I took up my new office. On the contrary, I was most anxious that the disagreements which have arisen in former times should not be continued under the new regime, and I was very sorry that he was not made an Admiral of the Fleet, very sorry.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I know how much he has felt it, and I personally was sorry he was not made an Admiral of the Fleet; but, since I have been at the Admiralty, I have come to the conclusion it would be very difficult to get any naval officers who would regard that as a wise or proper step. The Noble Lord has attacked me from within a fortnight of my assuming office. When I was first appointed he said, "Give him a fair chance," but within a fortnight he made a speech in which he said I had betrayed the Navy.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
However, the facts can easily be verified. Within a fortnight of my taking office he attacked me in a violent manner, and ever since he has been going about the country pouring out charges of espionage, favouritism, blackmail, fraud, and inefficiency.
§ Lord C. BERESFORD
I deny that entirely. I never used the word "blackmail." Give the date and the place.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
Espionage, which he not only applied to my right hon. Friend (Mr. McKenna) but also to me. [Hon. 1893 Membeks: "Where?"] Certainly; in the constituency of the hon. Member for Evesham (Mr. Eyres-Monsell)—my memory is very good on these points—he used the great bulk of those offensive expressions, needless to say, unsupported by any facts or arguments behind them. I have never taken these things too seriously. I am not one of those who take the Noble Lord too seriously. I know him too well. He does not mean to be as offensive as he often is when he is speaking on public platforms. He is one of those orators of whom it was well said, "Before they get up, they do not know what they are going to say; when they are speaking, they do not know what they are saying; and when they have sat down, they do not know what they have said." In this country, and I think on both sides of the House, his measure has been taken, not unfairly, but harm is done and has been done often abroad in other countries by the reckless statements which he makes about the Navy and about naval administration, which he has not only made against me and the Board of which I am a member, but which he has made against my predecessors of both parties and of all the Boards, including those under which he has served and of which he was a member. As I say, I do not propose to take the Noble Lord too seriously, but on this occasion I have thought it my duty to reply to him in Debate. Under a genial manner—and I warn the House of this—which is very attractive to the House at large, and which the House very wisely and rightly responds to, the Noble Lord nourishes many bitter animosities on naval matters. He is the last man who ought to make the Navy either a party or a political question, and, as far as I can make out, he is about the only man in the House on either side who does it.
I leave the Noble Lord, and I come to the general charges and the attacks which he has made. First of all, the Noble Lord has sought to excite prejudice in regard to the question now before the House by bringing up the changes which were made in the Board of Admiralty at the close of 1911. I explained those changes very fully to the House at the time, and my explanation was accepted by the House as good and sufficient, and it was also accepted, I think, by public opinion outside. Three officers left the Board when the new Board was constituted, Sir Arthur Wilson, Admiral Egerton, and Admiral Madden. Of those, Admiral Madden had already been ap- 1894 pointed by my predecessor to a sea-going command. With regard to Sir Arthur Wilson, he had only a few weeks he could serve before retiring, and the Estimates were coming on and it was much better the new Board should be in a position to deal with them as a whole. The retirement of those two officers meant that the Board must be reconstituted, and consequently it was necessary to put another officer in the place of Admiral Egerton. Those three officers went together, and three others took their places, a perfectly reasonable and proper transaction which was not challenged in this House or in the country, and about which no complaints have been made until to-day by the Noble Lord.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
Later in the year, about June, the fourth remaining member of the old Board was appointed to a seagoing command. The reason was again perfectly clear. He was Comptroller of the Navy, and by an elaborate series of changes in the organisation of the Admiralty, more interesting to those acquainted with the technical details of naval administration than to the House or to the public, the office of Comptroller no longer exists and another officer has been called into being. In consequence of that change in the character of the office, it was desirable and reasonable for the smooth and convenient working of the administration that the new officer should begin on the new footing. That is all I have to say about the previous changes on the Board. They arose perfectly naturally; they were fully explained to Parliament at the time, and the policy was considered reasonable and received general approval. I am sorry the Noble Lord should have gone out of his way to insult Sir Arthur Wilson and Sir Francis Bridge-man by saying the one was bribed by an Order of Merit which ho accepted and that the other was bribed by a Grand Cross of the Bath. Such expressions applied to officers who at the end of their service received from the Crown marks of distinction are, I think, very odious.
Having dealt with the general matters by which the Noble Lord sought to impart prejudice into the discussion, let me come to the specific case of the circumstances which led to the retirement of Sir Francis Bridgeman. Let me repeat what I have said in the House before, that Sir Francis Bridgeman's resignation was due to reasons of health and to reasons of 1895 health alone. The hon. Gentleman who first brought this topic to our notice this morning (Mr. FitzRoy) has asked me whether differences had arisen between me and Sir Francis Bridgeman on matters of expert opinion. I know of no such differences, apart from the ordinary discussions which take place between colleagues in the transaction of official business. Then he asked me again whether Sir Francis Bridgeman had on one occasion threatened to resign. Neither Sir Francis Bridgeman or any other officer in the Admiralty has ever tended his resignation to me. I do not remember being threatened with his resignation on any occasion, but I say to the hon. Gentleman, who evidently has information at his disposal, What occasion has he in his mind? He says that on some recent occasion Sir Francis Bridgeman threatened to resign. I am not conscious that any such threat was used, and I ask him, "What occasion has he in his mind? [Hon. Members: "Answer."] Surely he would not have made a definite statement like that without having specific information—I am sure he would not, and I make no complaint of his speech—and without knowing exactly what was the subject, which he calls one of technical or expert opinion, on which Sir Francis Bridgeman threatened to resign. I ask him: Has he any definite occasion in his mind? I will endeavour to trace and verify the circumstances, and correct my recollection by that of others with whom I transact business at the Admiralty. I ask him: What is the specific occasion which he has in his mind?
§ Mr. FITZROY
I do not like to refuse the right hon. Gentleman's invitation lo give the specific case to which I refer, but surely he, in his position of First Lord of the Admiralty, must know it is not altogether in the interests of the public service that I should answer a question of that character.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
Of course I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has some extremely secret technical matter in his mind. If so, it could be stated in general terms. What is the specific topic? It rests with him to say on what he bases his statement. I am not aware that on any occasion during any discussion I have had Sir Francis Bridgeman threatened to resign, and I certainly should be aware of it, if on this specific matter of serious im- 1896 portance, a definite statement of that kind had been made. No disagreement existed between Sir Francis Bridgeman and me or the Board in general which had or was about to lead to his resignation. We were in agreement on all fundamental matters of naval policy—I do not mean general policy, though I do not agree with the Noble Lord that the Sea Lords have no right to express opinions on such matters as the strength or distribution of the Fleets—but on no matter, great or small, am I aware of any disagreement which existed which was likely to lead to his resignation. I was asked specific questions on the increase of the pay of the men which was a matter which I initiated myself, a proposal which was not brought to my notice by Sir Francis Bridgeman, but which I brought forward myself on a general consideration of the wages and labour conditions in the country, and on that question we were in entire agreement, and I hold his written minuted agreement to the scheme as now put forward to the public.
In regard to the question of manning provisions, which has been again said was the cause of difference between us, no difference whatever existeds and Sir Francis Bridgeman fully concurred in the large increase, which I regret to say, I shall feel it my duty to propose in the Estimates for next year. In regard to the distribution and strength of the Fleets no difference of opinion has arisen in any way. I am answering these specific points because they were all used to excite prejudice, and in order to give colour to a stream of malicious insinuations in the Press and out of doors, and I am dealing with specific points. Let me say, as it was suggested in one quarter, no difference existed on any question connected with the policy of Canada. These reckless statements do harm far outside the limits of the party controversy they are intended to influence, and on all these matters which I have mentioned we were in full agreement, and I hold Sir Francis Bridgeman's written assent in the official minutes to every act of naval policy large or small, to every definite act of naval administration requiring the assent of the First Sea Lord, on all these occasions, during the whole time I have been responsible for the administration of the Admiralty. These facts are absolutely incontrovertible. I think it is very necessary to deal with that part of the subject, namely, the suggestion that Sir Francis Bridgeman resigned 1897 because of some difference in policy, of some divergence in view, to dispose of that part of the question before I come to the other aspect, namely, the reasons of ill-health.
The duties of the First Sea Lord are of vital importance to the country. I think the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Northampton was quite justified in saying that sailors look upon the First Sea Lord as the head of the Naval Services. It is the greatest office which a naval officer can rise to. It is his duty in time of peace to advise on all questions of naval policy, and in time of war the safety of the country, especially in the preliminary period, would be very largely in his hands. Sir, it is essential that the First Sea Lord should be thoroughly fit and capable. He must have full command during business hours of strong energy and active mind. He must be able to transact a mass of detailed business dark by day without being unduly fatigued. He must have good health and strength, not only sufficient to bear the daily strain, but to bear any extra or sudden strain or stress which circumstances may throw upon him. If the First Sea Lord is not thoroughly fit and capable from reasons of health, it is the duty of the First Lord to tell him so, to suggest his resignation of his office, and, if necessary, to supersede him. No claim of individuals, no question of personal consideration, no regard for individual feelings and rights can stand in the way of the public interests in matters so closely connected with the safety of the country. It is no kindness to an officer to retain him in the situation of great responsibility if his health is not equal to the burden thrown upon him. But quite apart altogether from any personal question, the matter is one which affects the lives and honour of thousands of officers and seamen afloat, and that directly concerns the safety of the State. The First Lord of the Admiralty has also the right, to have adequate and responsible professional advice from the Sea Lords, and particularly from the First Sea Lord. Nobody else can take the place of the First Sea Lord; no other member of the Board can wholly or in part discharge his work for him, and unless the First Sea Lord can give this advice in a satisfactory manner, and unless the First Lord can feel full confidence in the advice, then there must be grave risk that the public interest would suffer.
When Sir Francis Bridgeman came to the Admiralty, I knew nothing of the state of 1898 his health. I found him, where he shone, in command of a great fleet, and I naturally assumed he was in full strength and vigour. It was with much regret that I quite early discovered that his health was impaired. In the ordinary course of business I see the First Lord every day, sometimes two or three times in the day. I consult him in everything, and not only in these matters which are specifically assigned to the First Sea Lord in the Chart for the distribution of Admiralty business, but generally over the whole range of Admiralty business, and even questions quite indirectly concerned with naval matters. That is my practice. It always has been my practice, and always will be my practice. I do not believe I have taken any step of importance at the Admiralty without first obtaining the full concurrence of my naval colleagues, and particularly of the First Sea Lord. There is no one who has had a better opportunity than I have of judging how far from the point of view of official business—and that is the matter in hand—Sir Francis Bridgeman's health was equal or unequal to the strain imposed upon it. I came to the conclusion gradually and irresistibly that it was not so, and was not equal to the strain. I am not going into details; it is very painful to me to have to discuss this subject. I take full and sole responsibility for the advice I tendered, but of course there are many other persons who shared my opportunities of judging, and shared my regrets at seeing the increased signs of failure of health and strength. I am also responsible for seeing that the work of the Admiralty is properly done. Up to the time I suggested the propriety of the resignation of Sir Francis Bridge-man, he always showed the highest zeal, and exhausted himself day by day in the fulfilment of his duties. The necessary work has been done, and I am here to say that there has been no failure by which disadvantage has occurred to the public interest. But I am bound to say that the performance of this work in the conditions that prevailed threw excessive strain, not only upon the First Sea Lord, but upon me and the Second Sea Lord.
Everything moves eventually to a conclusion. Early in November the First Sea Lord proceeded on, I think, a week's leave, and was immediately laid up with illness. It was three weeks before he was permitted by his doctor to return to London. On the 25th November he wrote to a colleague on the Board saying that he had been very much depressed about his 1899 health, that he had had two attacks of bronchitis within a few months, and this, coming on the top of appendicitis, seemed to have weakened his constitution. He sometimes, he said, felt inclined to give up his post, but for the moment he was better and hoped the attack would pass off.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I am speaking briefly. He also said he really ought to go somewhere warmer than England to spend the winter, which was impossible while he remained at the Admiralty.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
No, certainly not. On the same day, or the day before, Sir Francis Bridgeman "wrote to my Naval Secretary, who is the officer specially responsible for advising the First Lord on matters of Naval patronage, and of great command. He is the officer who by long tradition is always entrusted with that function. He wrote to him and said he was so very ill the night before that he had actually taken up his pen to write his resignation, but feeling better the next day he had not done so. I am bound to state these facts at least to establish my case when I am challenged, and, of course, there are many other facts by "which I could prove good and substantial reasons on which I thought it my duty to act in this most disagreeable and painful business. I came to the conclusion, not on these letters, but after their arrival and a general review of all the circumstances, that I should not be doing my duty, having regard to all the circumstances of the situation, in continuing to keep Sir Francis Bridgeman at the helm in these serious times. I therefore decided to take action at once. Having formed the opinion that if a great strain came he would not be able to sustain it, I was absolutely bound to act upon it. I was bound to act at once, and to see that my action was carried through swiftly. We could not have an interregnum in the main administrative direction. I consulted the Prime Minister who, of course, was acquainted, and had been for some time acquainted, with the general state of Sir Francis Bridgeman's health, from the point of view of official duty, and I informed the King that I had come to the conclusion it was my duty to suggest to Sir Francis 1900 Bridgeman the propriety of resigning his post. I wrote on the 20th November to him in that sense. The letter was intended to give no option. It was, however, expressed in terms of the highest consideration, and I do not know whether there is any form of words I could have used, which would have more suitably expressed the regret I felt at separating from Sir Francis Bridgeman, or which would have more carefully considered his personal dignity and feeling. The letter was, in fact, so considerately expressed that Sir Francis Bridgeman misapprehended its character, and wrote back to the effect that he was now better and felt well enough to go on. I say this not in order to suggest that he wished to continue his office after his chief had suggested his resignation. I am sure that is not the case. But he is a simple man, and thought the letter left him an option. It is quite true that its form and wording would cover such an interpretation. My reason in saying this is not at all to suggest that Sir Francis Bridgeman had any ignoble desire to cling to office; on the contrary, office had been a great burden to him all this year. He has for many years, in the Navy, resisted the temptation to ease and leisure on shore, where he has many things to attract him, and nothing but a sense of duty has led him all these years to discharge these functions—this severe and rigorous duty.
But I am bound to bring this fact to the notice of Parliament because it shows so clearly that the suggestion that Sir Francis Bridgeman wanted to leave the Admiralty because he could not get on with me, or that he resigned on some great question of policy, or was about to resign, or was otherwise dissatisfied with the course of events—it shows how all these suggestions are utterly false, because, so far from being anxious to dissociate himself from me and his other colleagues on the Admiralty Board, he was quite willing, in spite of my letter of the 28th, to return and to continue to do his work. I am sure he had no other feeling than a desire to continue. I was, therefore, forced to write again explicitly, but again in the wording of my letter I observed the highest possible consideration for an officer with such a distinguished record and towards a man for whom I had in a year's hard work contracted a great feeling of respect. That is the whole story.
Of course, the Noble Lord and the House may ask, "Why did you not say this at once?" I did not say 1901 it. I should have greatly preferred that the matter should have been left where I put it in my first statement to the House. I chose advisedly an ambiguous form. I said that reasons of health had led to the resignation of the First Sea Lord. I did not choose that ambiguous form in order to shield myself. Why should I be afraid? I hated the discharge of this disagreeable duty. I know I acted only in the public interest. Why, then, should I be afraid to take such an explanation to the House of Commons? No, Sir, I think it would have been much better if the veil of ambiguity had covered from the public eye a transaction which contained some painful features. I have now made a full statement to the House. That I have had to make a fuller and blunter explanation is due to the tact and generosity of the Noble Lord. His is the credit. His warm friendship for Sir Francis Bridge-man, his zeal for the highest interests of the naval service, are, of course, the reasons. If, as some of my critics have alleged, I were desirous of engrossing to myself undue influence and power on the Admiralty Board, and to decide technical and professional matters independently of the opinions of my naval advisers, if I were so desirous I could have chosen no better course than to retain in the first naval station an officer whose health was rapidly reducing him to an invalid's condition. I am satisfied that in taking the step I have done, I have consulted the highest interests of the Navy and of the State. I have only done my duty, and I am confident that the House will not hesitate to approve the course which I have taken on this occasion.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I am sure the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues will admit that I have never made the Navy in any sense a party question. I have always desired to regard it precisely as something which should be left outside party politics, and if I say a few words on this point to-day it is with the chief desire and hope of being able to show still more clearly than the right hon. Gentleman has done my appreciation of Sir Francis Bridgeman, whom I have the honour to know. I can assure the House that we all recognise the difficulty of the position in which in a case of this kind the First Lord of the Admiralty is placed, and if his speech had all been in the tone of the latter part I do not think anyone in the House would have found much fault with it. But I can hardly congratulate 1902 him on the genial methods which he has ascribed to my Noble Friend in the early part of his speech. He made upon him one of those attacks which I think are most futile. He pretended to treat him with contempt, while at the same time he showed an amount of venom which made the House understand there was no contempt in his feeling. But I am not going to enter into that. The position in which the First Lord of the Admiralty in a case of that kind is placed is difficult. He knows that the First Sea Lord is, as it were, the pivot around which the whole Naval Service must travel, and that at any moment this country may be involved in war. Undoubtedly it is the duty of anyone in his position to consider the fitness of anyone in the place of the First Sea Lord from the point of view of health, as well as from any other point of view. I quite admit also that he has the right not to be guided purely by what anyone in the position of the First Sea Lord thinks in a case of that kind. Therefore, his case is he had opportunities of seeing the state of Sir Francis Bridge-man's health, and for that reason he felt he was not competent to fulfil the great duties which might devolve upon him. That is his responsibility.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I would rather say becoming less competent. I am not prepared to say he was not competent, but I am prepared to say he was becoming less competent.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I prefer the way in which the right hon. Gentleman puts it. But responsibility must be his. If ho thinks that, for that reason, he is not a proper man to be in that position, it is his duty to remove him, and, though I agree with my Noble Friend and my hon. Friend who referred to this subject in a most admirable speech, in a tone which, if it were to be raised at all, could not have been better, though I agree with him that the statement as to the resignation was ambiguous, yet the explanation the right hon. Gentleman has given, that he desired to make it as easy as possible to Sir Francis Bridgeman, seems to be not unreasonable, and with that I find no fault. I admit all that. But there are two points which the right hon. Gentleman has left in doubt. One he referred to in the closing part of his speech. He said the fact that Sir Francis was willing to continue was proof that he did not wish to resign on account of differences with the right hon. 1903 Gentleman. But that was not the ground on which this kind of suggestion has been made. My Noble Friend, whether rightly or wrongly, has raised this question from this point of view, that the right hon. Gentleman is a dictator in his Department, and that he cannot stand any interference with his views, and that, for that reason, he was glad to get rid of Sir Francis Bridgernan. That is the ground on which my Noble Friend raised this question. I am at a loss to make what the right hon. Gentleman has said coincide with the information which has reached me. My hon. Friend behind me told me yesterday he was going to raise this question. I asked him to tell me what were the facts on which he based it. He made this statement: That on some question which came within Sir Francis Bridgeman's department he had quite recently said clearly to the First Lord that if he insisted on carrying out his views he would resign his position. I felt that was a most serious thing. I asked my hon. Friend to give me the ground on which he made such a statement. He gave the source of his information, and I was satisfied there was not the slightest doubt about it. What does the right hon. Gentleman do? He asks what was the subject on which there was a difference of opinion. I confess that does not seem to me to be a matter of the smallest importance. It must have been a subject of some importance, or a man like Sir Francis Bridgeman would not have taken up that position. Therefore the whole point, it seemed to me was whether or not it was a fact there had been a difference of opinion sufficiently wide to make him say, that if the right hon. Gentleman carried out his view he would resign.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
If the right hon. Gentleman will state the specific matter, either here or privately, I am quite willing to trace this idea to its source and reduce it to its proper proportion.
§ 1.0 P.M.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
The right hon. Gentleman and I differ entirely as to what is important in this matter consider that the important thing is that Sir Francis Bridgeman thought any subject of sufficient 1904 gravity to make him say that if a particular course were taken he would resign. All that I cay say is that my hon. Friend behind me told me the sources of his information, and satisfied me that there was no room for mistake. Therefore, there is a difference of view as to whether or not this incident took place. That is the whole thing. I do not say, because I have not the evidence to justify it, that the right hon. Gentleman was influenced in what he has done with Sir Francis Bridgeman by the fact that he disagreed with him, but I do say that is the sole ground on which my Noble Friend has raised the matter, and if it were the case, or if the idea were spread in the Service that it was dangerous for a man in his position to be independent, nothing could be worse for the Service. I am very glad that the right hon. Gentleman took so much pains to show his respect for Sir Francis Bridgeman, and did everything in his power to convince the House that he was not influenced by a motive of that kind, which, I think, would be fatal to the Service. The other point is not so important, except as regards the individual. That is, did the right hon. Gentleman treat Sir Francis Bridgeman with proper consideration at the time he asked him to leave his post? Here, again, my information comes from my hon. Friend behind me, and it is to this effect—the House will judge of it—the right hon. Gentleman wrote a letter to Sir Francis Bridgeman which he understood to leave the question of resignation open to him. It was a very nice letter, and he understood it in that sense.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
It did apparently leave an option, but it contained a sentence to the effect that I was certain he could not bear the strain should any emergency come upon us. That sentence was intended to be, and I think it ought to have been understood as decisive in the matter, but, of course, I wanted to put the matter to Sir Francis Bridgeman in a way that would make it as easy and dignified as possible for him to sever his connection with the Admiralty Board.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
The way it was put to mc was that the first letter seemed to Sir Francis Bridgeman to leave it open to-him whether or not he should resign. He so understood it.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
He sent a reply back saying that he thought he could stop on. 1905 My information is that the next letter—I do not wish to use the word "insolent" used by my Noble Friend—was one that Sir Francis Bridgeman could not but regard as insulting. That is my information. I do think that it is of the utmost importance that in a case of that kind, where this disagreeable step has to be taken, that every possible consideration should be shown to a man in Sir Francis Bridgeman's position, or, indeed, to any man who is dependent upon a person in the position of the right hon. Gentleman. I cannot help thinking, from what I know of Sir Francis Bridgeman, that if instead of sending a second letter the right hon. Gentleman had asked him to see him at the Admiralty, and had gone into it as one would like to do with a gentleman you respect so much, he could have got him to tender his resignation without any feeling of soreness and without leaving the impression that a great and distinguished public servant had been badly treated. If the right hon. Gentleman thinks I am putting this unfairly—I really do not think he meant to be unfair to Sir Francis Bridgeman—if there is no objection to it, and I cannot think of any, I suggest that he lays upon the Table that correspondence, and enable the House to judge whether or not he did show proper consideration to Sir Francis Bridgeman at the time he was asked to give up his post. All I wish to say in conclusion is this: I do not pretend to be a friend of Sir Francis Bridgeman, but I have known him for some time, and I have formed, rightly or wrongly, a high opinion not only of his zeal and devotion, but also of his ability, and I desire it to be clearly understood——
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I should be quite willing to read now, if the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to interrupt his speech, the letters which passed between Sir Francis Bridgeman and myself up to the date of his resignation:—
§ "28th November, 1912.
§ "My dear Sir Francis,
§ I am very glad to hear from various sources that you have now somewhat recovered from the chill which so unkindly spoiled your holiday, and I trust you will continue to make good progress in spite of the drop in the temperature.
§ I have been meaning for some time to write to you about your health, which causes me concern both as a colleague and a friend. During the year that we have worked together I have seen how heavily the strain of your great office has told upon yon, and I know that only your high sense of duty and your consideration for me have enabled yon successfully to overcome your strong inclination to retire. That strain will not. I fear, diminish in the future; and if, by any misadventure, we were to be involved in war, I feel that the burden might be more than you could sustain. If, therefore, you should feel disposed at this juncture to retire, I could 1906 not, whatever my personal regrets, oppose your wish, and I believe that such a step would be a relief to you. It would be a cause of very great pleasure to me if I could feel that our association in so much important business had in no way been a cause of regret or dissatisfaction to yon."
§ To that Sir Francis replied:—
§ "29th November, 1912.
§ "My dear Mr. Churchill,
§ I am in receipt of your kindly-meant letter, and will give it careful consideration. I am much better, I am glad to say, and am coining to London as soon as the doctor will allow me."
§ I heard, however from another source that Sir Francis did not propose to resign in consequence of my first letter, so I wrote at once, as the matter seemed tome so urgent, as I was without a responsible head at the Admiralty at this period. I wrote on 2nd December as follows:—
§ "2nd December, 1912.
§ "My dear Sir Francis,
§ Before writing to you I consulted the Prime Minister and informed the King. The conclusion at which I have arrived must necessarily be final, and I am confident that it will command your assent. I. hope you will let me know your wishes in regard to any member of your staff for whom employment should be provided at the Admiralty or at sea.
§ I am very glad indeed to hear you are better. A warm climate during those winter months and relief from office cares will restore your health I trust for many honoured years."
§ I then got Sir Francis Bridgeman's letter in reply to my first letter:—
§ "3rd December, 1912.
§ "My dear Mr. Churchill,
§ You will be anxiously expecting my reply to your very kind and sympathetic letter, suggesting that if my health was not good enough to allow me to contiuue the duties of my office T should apply to resign.
§ I have carefully thought the matter over, and as it seemed to be more a question for the doctors to give an opinion on, I have consulted them. Dr. "Wexley-Smith, whom I usually consult, is of opinion that, having now diagnosed thoroughly the malady, feels himself able to put me quite right, there being nothing organically wrong, but that I have been run down.
§ The change to this place has done me a lot of good and I am returning to London on Monday next."
§ That afterwards proved to be wrong.
§ "I do not think there is a necessity to resign, neither do I think I need go abroad. I shall remain in London for a week or ten days, and then come back for Christmas and return for good to the Admiralty at the new year. This plan is what I originally arranged for earlier in the year with the Second Sea Lord.
§ I wish I had taken your advice six or seven months ago and gone abroad. I should probably have avoided all this trouble."
§ Then came the letter after the receipt of my second letter:—
§ "4th December, 1912.
§ "My dear Mr. Churchill.
§ I am in receipt of your letter, dated 2nd December, and written from the Admiralty yacht. I think our letters must have crossed.
§ I had no idea that my leaving the Admiralty had' already been settled, and that you had discussed it with: the King and the Prime Minister; had I known this, I should not have written my letter in answer to yours of the 28th November in which you express anxiety as to-my health and ask me what I am disposed to do.
§ I now understand that you expect me to resign, and I am happy to be able to meet your wishes."
§ —[Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."]1907
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
Hon. Gentlemen opposite take a very different view of these letters from what I do. I do not want to use strong language, but I am bound to say that if anyone had sent me that second letter following the first, I should have considered I was brutally ill-used. It all comes to this: Suppose any of us were in that position, and our resignation was decided upon, a letter is written leaving you to think it is not decided upon, and you think that it depends upon you. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no."] That is the position. You give an answer saying you are fit for your work, and then the second letter comes saying, "My decision is final," although no decision had been announced. The first letter contained no decision.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
The conclusion at which I did arrive, namely, "The conclusion at which I have arrived is necessarily final"—what is that conclusion? The conclusion was: "That if, by any misadventure, we should be involved in war, I feel that the burden might be more than you could bear."
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
That does not alter the position. The First Lord left upon Sir Francis Bridgeman the impression—I do not want to exaggerate this—that it depended upon him whether or not he resigned. He replied that he did not think it was necessary to resign. The right hon. Gentleman then, instead of what most of us would have done, I think, trying to see Sir Francis Bridgeman and talk it over with him, writes him that his conclusion is final. But before he had sent that letter "he had already decided he must leave. I think that is brutal treatment for anyone in the position of Sir Francis Bridgeman.